They say hair is dead. So why does Jack Donaghy’s “head suit” make me feel so alive?
If you’re anything like me, 30 Rock made you laugh during certain rough patches in early adulthood, and now you use its endless stream of joke-a-second humor as white noise to lull yourself to sleep every night because otherwise your mind would be overrun by the existential fear of death. Or maybe you have a therapist. In any event, after about twenty late-night rewatchings of the entire series, it’s not 30 Rock’s razor-sharp writing that keeps me coming back. That honor belongs to Jack Donaghy’s sumptuous mane of silver hair, which undergoes subtle but significant changes over the years.
I have been itching to rank Jack Donaghy’s hairstyles by season for years now but didn’t think that anyone would be interested. After idly tweeting about it last week, though, I discovered that the fictional NBC executive’s hair had become an idée fixe for a much wider audience than myself. In fact, upwards of ten people have already promised to read this! There is no timely reason for this list to exist; Alec Baldwin didn’t shave his head for a new film role and I’m a year too late for the tenth anniversary of the 2006 series premiere of 30 Rock. I guess Tina Fey is executive producing a new show now if you need to feel like everything you read online is directly tapped into the zeitgeist. But a deep dive into Jack Donaghy’s hair needs no excuse. Here are his styles, worst to best.
Jack Donaghy’s hair never moves. As he himself observes in his 2002 Boca Raton negotiation seminar tapes, “Hair movement is a sign of weakness.” But even though Jack’s coif is always static, it can still look vibrant and dynamic. Unfortunately, neither of those adjectives applied during season two, when every hair on the man’s head was dyed the same dull brown shade and sprayed into place so securely that he looked like a Ronald Reagan bobblehead. To be fair, that’s exactly who Jack’s hair icon was at the time. (“Make me look like this,” he instructs his stylist in the second season’s sixth episode, pointing to a photo of the Gipper.) But let’s not forget that Ronald Reagan’s heavily-pomaded hair looked about as inhuman as his response to the AIDS crisis. So too does Jack’s season two hairdo seem almost disturbingly unnatural, like it belongs in the uncanny valley of bad CGI that Tracy had to overcome to make his porn videogame. This is a definite series low that leaves plenty of room to grow.
Jack Donaghy sports a nineties-esque, fairly messy, gelled-looking quiff sporadically throughout season one, most memorably in “Jack-Tor.” The overall look approximates the perfection of season three hair (see below) but it’s just a little too uncontrolled for a character as devoutly Republican as “Mr. Donaghy,” as Liz called him back then. I can understand why the stylists at 30 Rock would have gone for this youthful flip-front look so early in the show’s run. They might have wanted the character to seem fun and enticing to new viewers, and less like a man who holds McCain fundraisers and reads The Wealth of Nations in his spare time. But Jack the character got better the more the writers embraced the stodginess beneath his sleek exterior—and his hair generally looks better in more conservative styles, too. In a different role, this look might have worked for Baldwin. As it stands, though, it comes across a bit like a baseball cap wearing Steve Buscemi saying “How do you do, fellow kids?”
It’s fitting that Jack plays the Almighty in NBC’s God Cop because he’s the only person on the planet with hair worthy enough for the role. In fact, according to season five Jack, it’s technically too worthy for the part.
“God, why are you punishing me like this?” Jack prays after Avery gets kidnapped. “Is it because my hair is better than yours?”
I don’t think Jack’s season seven style showcases his hair at its most heavenly, but it at least approaches demi-god status. The obvious hair dye this season is nowhere near as bland as season two’s “Reagan” cut and it has an almost auburn tint under good lighting that really brings out Jack’s baby blues. Structurally, too, it’s a good mix of Donaghy’s best styles: piled half as tall as his forehead, a little spiky but still distinguished. This is the season in which Jack refers to then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney as his “hair mentor” which is odd because it really should have been the other way around. Next to Jack Donaghy, Mitt Romney looks like he combs his hair with a chickenbone. Good lord.
“I have to talk to Rachel Maddow. Only one of us can have this haircut,” Jack famously says of the MSNBC host in the episode “Reaganing.”
With apologies to everyone’s favorite lesbian crush, Donaghy wore it better. The “Rachel Maddow” of seasons four, five and six corrects every one of the “Reagan” haircut’s flaws to produce the iconic Donaghy haircut. Jack’s hair is dyed brown without being too monochromatic. It is lusciously thick to the point that he can’t even pull it out when stressed. And although it’s generally slicked back, it retains the right amount of volume and breathability. It’s a look that requires more time and attention than you’d think. As Jack reminds us, he has to look “perfect” because “when it comes to hair, no one is more bitchy than conservative males.” And how does he maintain that consistent level of follicular excellence? We know from season two that he gets a haircut “every two days.” But in season five, he reveals a more disturbing trick: “‘The secret to a strong, healthy head of hair is Dove … blood.” Left unsaid is whether he applies it topically or mixes a few drops in with the tumblers of scotch he’s always drinking while staring out of skyscraper windows. Either way, I’m glad it works for him.
Season three wasn’t the best season of 30 Rock. It suffered from a particularly bad case of Guest Star Overload. But good God, Lemon, how perfect was Jack Donaghy’s hair from 2008 to 2009? High school crush Nancy Donovan famously told Jack that his hair is “thick like a shag carpet.” She wanted to “sit on it and play a board game.” But she was one season too late for the thickest, shaggiest hair Donaghy has ever sported. Colored with beautiful hints of chrome, quiffed up in neat spikes, and faded—but not neo-Nazi faded—on the sides with endearing little whiffs of white around the ears, Jack’s season three haircut makes him look like a sprightly pitbull, ready to pounce on his mother’s nurse. This almost summery haircut suits Jack at his spunky best as he cavorts with Claire, downs McFlurries with Elisa, and decides to fly off to Miami on a whim to enjoy “ass and the burgeoning art scene.” And with hair far more carefully-composed than any of the crap you’ll find at Art Basel, season three Jack deserves all the ass that comes his way. This is the kind of hair that makes you want to stand up, applaud, and proclaim: “He’s a white male with a full head of hair. The sky’s the limit!”
Honorable Mentions: Future Jack’s long silver locks, eighties Jack’s messy ’do complete with headphones, Nixon Jack’s harsh widow’s peak, stubbled Jack from the first sixty seconds of the season five premiere, and, of course, bedhead Jack in “Greenzo” when the TGS cast and crew recap Kenneth’s all-night rager.
Samantha Allen is the Internet’s premier alpaca enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter.