More than 10 years on from its debut, NBC’s 30 Rock—unlike the network’s contemporaneous Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip—has earned a reputation as a modern classic, a darling with critics and the TV Academy if never a ratings smash. (The show earned three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, and both creator Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin won Emmys for their inimitable performances as Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, respectively. 30 Rock was a great show, a borderline live-action cartoon packed with jokes and ridiculous characters, and one worthy of a top 100 episode list even though it only aired 138 episodes in total. Despite that fact, working this list down to 100 was tricky. Here are the final results:
This is only the fourth episode of 30 Rock, but it’s the first that really feels like the series that 30 Rock would become. There was still work to do, but the early elements of the Liz-Jack dynamic start to come together here.
There’s plenty of good stuff in this episode, but the reason it’s on this list is for the moment when Jack informs Liz that “top front” is her “worst quadrant.”
It can’t live up the quality of the first “Queen of Jordan” episode, and it can’t be as original and fresh, but it’s still very funny.
Pronunciation of the title of Jenna’s indie movie The Rural Juror became a wonderful running gag for the show, and it all started here.
The stuff about Liz dating a much younger man, and Jenna’s jealousy thereof, is fine, but it’s Tracy, Jack and Kenneth’s Iraq-paralleling antics in the world of Little League Baseball that are worth the price of admission.
Paul Giamatti’s guest appearance is a little broad, but funny, and there’s a lot of good stuff in there about Jack and Avery and Tracy and Angie and parenthood.
Danny never made much of an impact on 30 Rock, and his infrequent appearances, with prolonged absences, speak to that. However, this is the episode that used him best, and it also has some great Jenna stuff when she realizes she’s being offered a mom role on Gossip Girl.
“Hiatus” is the first season’s finale, and, like a lot of finales, it has some big moments. Liz breaks it off with Floyd and returns to New York. Jack breaks it off with Phoebe and her hollow bones. Plus, Elaine Stritch is around as Mrs. Donaghy, which was almost always good. It’s not as strong as a season finale should be, probably, but it’s still a good episode.
Alec Baldwin plays Richard Nixon. Dennis thinks about pushing Liz in front of the subway so he can regain his title of “Subway Hero.” Do you need any other reason for this episode to be on this list?
Liz and Jack’s stuff at the retreat is all fine and dandy, and a big moment in their friendship, but more importantly, Jenna plans to eat a cat because she thinks that’s what Janis Joplin did. Turns out it’s ALF who ate cats, not the late singer.
The titular storyline basically leads up to the final twist, but it’s a pretty good twist. The stuff on the fringes, though, particularly Kenneth’s game show Gold Case, are what really makes this episode good.
The Season Two finale is better than the first, but only by a smidgen. It ends on a very silly joke about a chemical weapon turning a bunch of Republican guys gay. What it does have going for it, though, is funny stuff with Matthew Broderick as Cooter, and Liz’s pregnancy scare. And Pete shoots a page in the leg with an arrow, which is cool.
Look, the main storyline in this episode, about Liz and the guy who offers her money for sex, isn’t really very good. However, this episode invents an entire holiday around Leap Day, replete with a Jim Carrey movie, and acts like it’s been commonplace for years. This is a decision that deserves recognition, and our respect.
The stuff regarding Jenna’s gory horror movie isn’t great, although the more ridiculous it gets, and the more puppets and Phil Rosenthal are involved, the better. What this episode does have, though, is a scene where two tween girls are high on coke, and it is one of the funniest scenes in the history of 30 Rock. That alone got it here.
Bryan Cranston! Catherine O’Hara! Political humor that’s funny but not heavy handed! And that fits within the world of the show as well! It’s not their best political stuff, but this is still quite a good episode.
This episode, in which The Girlie Show is accused of being misogynistic, is kind of weird. It sort of falls apart at the end. But until then, it’s really funny, and Cristin Milioti—as the woman writer Liz hires to counter the accusation, to Liz’s regret—is great.
This episode has the great, metatextual list of things Kenneth has banned from TV shows on NBC, now that he is working for Standards and Practices. However, it has good stuff for everybody, including Jack’s nemesis, Kayley Hooper, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.
This is a great title for a sitcom episode. The episode doesn’t quite live up to that, but it’s still funny, and it’s particularly strong on Jack and Tracy’s relationship, as the former tries to talk the TGS star out of investing in a theme restaurant devised by his “son,” Donald.
Liz starts dating a black man named Steven Black—this is 30 Rock, after all—and doesn’t like him. When he accuses her of not wanting to date him because he’s black, she decides to keep dating him to avoid such accusations. It’s more of a Seinfeld plot than a 30 Rock plot, but it’s a great Seinfeld plot. There’s also a bunch of great stuff at the Source Awards with Tracy and LL Cool J as the rapper Ridikolus.
Andy Richter is great as Liz’s brother. A network sitcom got away with “Lemon party” jokes. And it’s a Christmas episode to boot. Not the show’s best Christmas episode, perhaps, but a good one nonetheless.
In truth, Jennifer Aniston’s appearance is only so-so. What’s so good about this episode is that, in a world obsessed by Friends reunions, in an episode featuring one of the stars of Friends, 30 Rock decided to bring a few people from Night Court back together for a reunion. As themselves. This is truly inspired pop culture ridiculousness, and the show deserves to be commended for it.
This is a big episode, and one of the last episodes of the show. It’s not as funny as others. What it has, though, is great stuff between Jack and Liz, particularly when they talk about why they never got together romantically. Also, TGS is cancelled, which sets the final arc of series’ run in motion.
A strong finale to the fifth season, Liz and Tracy end up as neighbors in the Hamptons, and wacky, 1980s comedy-style antics ensue. And it turns out that an actual sheep is on the board of the Wool Council, which Jenna and Paul run afoul of. Also, fun fact: This episode is co-written by Hannibal Burress.
Hazel was a divisive character, despite the charms and skills of Kristen Schaal, but she’s used fairly well in this episode. But the real strength of “Grandmentor” comes from Liz’s attempts to transition from mentee to mentor.
Despite being the sixth season finale, this is the second lowest-rated episode in 30 Rock’s history, and its lowest rated in the all-important 18-49 demographic. You guys really missed out. It’s a good episode. In the grand history of the show, it’s basically right in the middle, quality wise, but we’re talking about a great show here. That’s not faint praise.
This episode, which ends the “Idiots are People” arc, has Kelsey Grammer improvising a one-man show about Abraham Lincoln. It was also a key episode in proving that Liz’s boyfriend, Criss, played by James Marsden, was not just worthy of her, but a good character for the show as well.
This episode involves three of the great love stories of our time: Liz and Carol, Jack and Avery, and Tracy and Kenneth. Kenneth throws himself in front of a car for Tracy. Jack and Avery have a war of wills. It was a nice start to the fifth season.
Do you want to see Jack and Pete hanging out and strumming the guitar like a couple of college dudes on the quad? Of course you do, and that’s why this episode is so good. Also, some other stuff, but mostly that.
As a Christmas gift, Liz calls in a bomb threat at Penn Station so Jack’s love interest, Nancy, can’t leave the city. In turn, Jack helps Liz fulfill her dream of meeting Larry Wilcox, the guy from CHiPs who isn’t Erik Estrada. If that doesn’t say Christmas, and good TV, what does?
Jack and Elisa (Salma Hayek) bring the old man Elisa is watching along on their dates. Dr. Spaceman is involved. Hilarity ensues.
This is a very farcical episode. It involves a stern authority figure, an adoption agency investigator named Bev (Megan Mullally), getting bonked on the head and losing her memory—giving Liz the titular do-over. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but that speaks to the quality of 30 Rock.
This really feels like the first episode of the second season, as the first is the Jerry Seinfeld-heavy “SeinfeldVision,” which doesn’t work too well. This, though, is classic 30 Rock, involving Jack’s rivalry with Devin Banks, and Jenna finding success and popularity due to all the weight she gained. It really helped kick the show up to the next level, plot-wise.
There is a gibbon dressed as a mariachi in this episode, if that’s your thing, and it’s most people’s thing. There’s good stuff with Tracy and Liz, too, and also Colleen and Jack. In particular, we find out that Jack’s perceived father is not his real father, which sets the table for even better episodes down the line.
Buzz Aldrin and Liz Lemon yell at the Moon. Enough said.
Liz realizes that every year of her life is the same, and uses old journal entries to “predict” the future. This is good. Mayor McCheese does a speech from Macbeth. This is great.
This episode begins to introduce the concept of Tracy’s wife’s reality show Queen of Jordan—in an inspired bit, Tracy insults Liz to the tune of “Uptown Girl” so it can’t be used on the reality show.
Dot Com wants to create a serious show about the plight of an African-American family. It ends up with a talking dog at the center. This is wonderful, but there’s a lot of funny stuff in this episode that attempts to deal with issues of race. None of it is too serious, because 30 Rock was never a serious show even when it had a point to make, but it’s very clever.
Danny is Canadian. That’s… something? Tracy and Jenna calling themselves “The Problem Solvers” and then wearing each other’s shirts? That, on the other hand, is definitely something.
This episode begins a lot of things. It introduces Hayek as Elisa, who was always pretty good, if not great. It also begins the saga of Jenna’s Janis Joplin movie. Tracy wears a shirt made out of money. Most importantly, Peter Dinklage makes a great appearance as a man Liz starts dating to cover up the fact that she originally mistook him for a child. It’s really sharp stuff.
This episode has excellent work from Steve Buscemi as a private investigator named Len, and also a nice twist on harsh Hollywood realities wherein Jack is concerned that Jenna will stop being overweight, and thus become less popular.
Another farcical episode, but a really good one, in which Liz pretends to be pregnant to cover up Avery’s pregnancy so she doesn’t get outed by the ethnically ambiguous Carmen Chao. We also meet Hank Hooper, Jack’s new boss, who was always, you know, fine. Tracy and Jenna wear one sweatshirt at the same time. Tracy and Jenna apparently had a lot of fun bits involving clothing.
There’s no Tracy in this episode, but there is Pete and Frank forming a band, because Pete used to be in Loverboy. And there’s also an elaborate ruse that turns out pretty funny.
The final season of 30 Rock had a lot of political stuff, and this episode is no different. By the end of this episode, Jack and Liz both realize that Jenna, who is now a Jimmy Buffet-esque good times musician, will decide the election because of her popularity in North Florida. It’s a very funny episode, and it includes Kellen Lutz and John Lutz both pronouncing “marshmallow” hilariously.
Liz is on the New York Liberty’s dance team. We meet Criss for the first time (sort of). Most importantly, Jenna gets to yell at children, and Jenna being awful is, generally, very funny.
Avery Jessup wasn’t a great character, despite the efforts of Elizabeth Banks, but her return here was well done. On the other hand, Liz and Jenna fighting some off-brand Muppets is wonderful.
This episode features William “Billy” Baldwin as an actor playing Jack Donaghy in the movie made about the kidnapping of Jack’s wife, Avery. It also has “Weird Al” Yankovic, which guarantees high quality comedy, which is, indeed, what we have here.
The stuff at the bar mitzvah with Tracy and Jenna is hit-or-miss, but Jack and Liz’s negotiations, particularly when it boils down to Jack negotiating against himself on both their behalves, is great.
If you were interested in the Jack-Avery-Nancy love triangle, this was the episode for you. More importantly, it introduced us to the classic Will Ferrell vehicle Bitch Hunter, a controversial bit of television that led to TGS getting the green light.
Liz befriending a pregnant teen in hopes of finagling a chance to adopt her baby is very good. Jack taking Frank under his wing has some particularly silly, perhaps too silly, jokes, but overall it’s very funny as well. This is particularly true when the episode begins aping Harry and the Hendersons.
The world of a sketch show is a place where it makes sense for people to be up all night, and having characters be up all night is usually a good recipe for some wacky antics. This episode is no exception. There’s also some impressive editing work, which you don’t always get in sitcoms.
This episode, sort of a setup for the Season One finale, is better than the payoff. In particular, Liz and Floyd’s adventures in Cleveland, or “The Cleve,” are quite enjoyable. The “Black Crusaders” stuff doesn’t hold up as well, for obvious reasons.
Frank turning into Liz is good, but this episode is built on Liz’s struggle to film even the opening credits to her new Dealbreakers talk show.
Argus is, of course, Don Geiss’ peacock, which Jack inherits. The best stuff from this episode is the introduction of Will Forte’s Paul, the Jenna Maroney impersonator that Jenna’s dating. Also, Grizz has a fiancé named Feyoncé, which is great.
This episode is very similar to “Idiots are People Three!” but, obviously, better.
Susan Sarandon is in this episode. Sure, she’s playing a sexual predator, but Susan Sarandon is great. So is Jenna taking everything she learned from playing Alexis Goodlooking, a good-looking detective who’s also good at looking at things, to solve a mystery.
Jack and Liz’s efforts to convince Jenna to support their respective political parties is great, but Pete also gets good stuff to do in his effort to recreate the magic of the 2008 election so that a woman will maybe kiss him again.
Any time Dr. Spaceman shows up, as he does here to give Tracy his sense of smell back, is nice, and Jack and Pete also make an excellent pair, usually.
Tracy gets his EGOT. Liz and Carol fight and breakup on a plane. Jack and Avery desperately try to keep their kid from being born in Canada (if only Ted Cruz had been so lucky). All the storylines work and are funny, even if none of them are particularly great. Three good stories is nothing to sneeze at.
With their first live show, an ambitious idea, 30 Rock just tried to make a live episode of 30 Rock. It works fine, but they clearly learned from their mistakes before making the second one, which appears higher on this list.
Wedding after wedding after wedding! We get both Michael Sheen as Wesley Snipes and the introduction of Damon as Carol, the misanthropic pilot. Casting Damon was, of course, a coup, but it’s also important that they made good use of him. A big finish to the fourth season, including a goodbye to Julianne Moore’s Nancy and her (presumably purposefully) bad Boston accent.
Dr. Spaceman giving Jenna experimental drugs to keep her awake? It’s basically the perfect storyline for the two of them. Tracy realizing he is rich enough to swear all he wants on live TV is also good, as is Liz finally failing to get out of jury duty by dressing as Princess Leia.
Liz hallucinates that she’s sitting next to Oprah on a plane, and also calls her “Borpo.” This would be the weirdest thing on most episodes of a sitcom, but “Believe in the Stars” also has Tracy pretending to be a white woman and Jenna pretending to be a black man.
Hey, remember Josh? He never got much to do, but this is his best episode. Still, “Hard Ball” is carried by Kenneth’s amazing time in Tracy’s entourage. Kenneth and Tracy can harmonize together forever. It was truly a very special day.
Tina Fey eats a sandwich, on network television, in real time. Nothing else matters.
Don Geiss dies, which means something. The highlight of the episode is Wesley’s bleak proposition that he and Liz should just settle for each other. Also good? The tell-all book that reveals Tracy’s terrible secret that he is a devoted husband and family man. Less good is the “porn for women” stuff, which is too on the nose and is well-trod territory. Still, a very good episode.
Aaron Sorkin’s cameo is great. The chaos caused by the forced hiatus of TGS is great. Everything else is fine.
The 100th episode of 30 Rock, an hour-long event, pulls out all the stops, with cameos and so on, including a nice role for a pre-Birdman Michael Keaton. Did it need to be an hour long? Maybe not, but the episode doesn’t drag too much.
This is one of the best Dennis episodes, because St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect setting for him. Tracy and Jenna have some funny stuff, too, and Dennis and Criss meeting each other was very good.
The final season of 30 Rock begins with a bang with this episode. Jack’s ploys to “tank” the network, and every show that stems from that, is great, and it’s also a good episode for Liz and Jenna’s friendship, which became increasingly less prevalent as the show went on.
The episode that introduces Avery Jessup, which is also probably her best episode, or at least her funniest. Liz’s anesthesia-related mishaps, though, are the best parts of this episode. It also justifies allowing Dean Winter, Jon Hamm, and Jason Sudeikis to act like Caribbean women.
There’s funny stuff about race involving Toofer and Tracy. There’s funny stuff with Jenna and Liz as they spend a night on the town. But this will always be remembered as the episode where Dennis ends up on To Catch a Predator.
This is a great Jack episode, where he breaks into Nancy’s house. It actually works fairly well dramatically. Of course, it’s also balanced out by James Franco dating Jenna and then he, Liz, and his body pillow Kimiko having a freaky three-way.
The return of Tracy, which means he must be in on all inside jokes his friends had in his absence. Liz’s battle with the plastic bag is good, but the highlight is probably Margaret Cho as Kim Jong-Il.
Giving Jack a worthy adversary who also happens to be a teenage girl was a smart move, but this is the best episode of the Kaylie Hooper episodes. Another great aspect of this episode? Octavia Spencer, the difficult actress, and her entourage.
This is the first appearance by Jack’s other nemesis, Devon Banks. There’s a lot of good stuff in this episode, including Tracy’s decision to make a serious drama where he plays Thomas Jefferson… and every other part in the movie.
Corporate Liz is amazing. Pete slapping Liz is amazing. The Amadeus parody revolving around a pornographic videogame is especially amazing.
A lot of wacky, and excellent, stuff happens to start the fourth season. Jenna going country is, of course, great, and the page strike is good, too. This episode set the table for the rest of the season well.
When they did Queen of Jordan the first time, it was a really interesting change of pace, as the entire episode is a parody of a reality show. They even changed the way it was shot. It was ambitious, and, fortunately, it worked out very well.
A huge (and great) episode, in which Jenna and Paul get married at Jack’s mom’s funeral—a funeral that features an appearance from Kermit the Frog. And Florence Henderson shows up, too!
Remember when NBC had “Green Week?” Well, at least we got “Greenzo” out of that, with a great cameo from Al Gore, and some good stuff from David Schwimmer, the most successful Friend from Friends, as the titular Greenzo.
We get to see Liz away from work, hanging out with other non-working ladies. They have a fight club. It’s pretty good. Also, Jenna has to fake her death, thanks to a mistake at the Kids Choice Awards.
Look, is there a lot of great Christmas stuff with Jack’s dad and mom and stuff? You bet. However, if we are all being honest, this episode belongs here because Paul dresses like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, while Jenna dresses as Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Lynn Swann.
We have a real mystery on our hands, with Liz wondering who the “Future Husband” in her phone is. Of course, it turns out to be Sheen as Wesley Snipes, a role he was great in, and they end up not hitting it off. It’s one of the more clever plots the show has done, and, of course, the episode is also very funny.
This episode is not kind to Bazooka Joe gum, but that’s okay, because it’s great. Jack saving the couch factory is sharp, Jenna’s fake breakdown is terrific, and so is Liz’s conversation with her blind date’s daughter.
Every storyline in this episode works, even if the clear focal point of this episode is Jack finding out his dad is dyed-in-the-wool liberal Milton Greene (Alan Alda). And let’s not forget Kenneth singing a variety of songs, including, but not limited to, “It Takes Two.”
This episode’s main point is that women are, in fact, funny, and also features an appearance by Ken Tremendous. Both lift “Stride of Pride” into the top 15.
Liz and Jack go to Liz’s high school reunion. Jack becomes Larry Braverman. It’s delightful.
This is one of the greatest TV episode names of all time, if you’re familiar with the Emmanuelle series of erotic films, at least. The episode also has Tracy filming Garfield 3: Feline Groovy, which is fantastic.
In the last episode before the two-parter that ended the series’ run, Liz adopts kids that are like Jenna and Tracy, but the most brilliant bit may be the Willy Wonka parody that puts Kenneth in charge of the network.
This time around, 30 Rock basically decided to do a sketch show with their live show, and that worked a lot better. (The sketches were hilarious, which helped.)
Liz’s boyfriend, Drew (the always great Jon Hamm), realizes that he’s an idiot, and that he’s been living in a handsomeness bubble. It works because of all the jokes being so solid, and because Hamm and Fey are great together.
This was the first great episode of 30 Rock. Jack trying to act is top notch, and this is also a big episode for Jack and Liz, moving them from antagonists toward something like friendship.
The second season ends with a huge, cameo-filled episode with a bunch of musical artists coming together to sing a song to get Jack’s dad, Milton, a kidney.
The penultimate episode, is great, but it’s really of a piece with the next episode. Which is fitting, because…
30 Rock has one of the best series finales of all time. It’s very funny, but it’s also plotted smartly, and has a great moment in which Jack and Liz tell one another they love each other: They’ve come full circle. (The tag at the end of the episode is a bit much, but, if you’ve been on board for this long, you might as well accept it.)
The moment when you realize that Jack is turning into Batman and Liz is turning into the Joker is one of the funniest, most wonderful moments in television history.
Carrie Fisher is so great in this episode. We also learn a valuable lesson: Never follow a hippie to a second location.
This episode makes great use of the chaos that can surround a TV show, adds to with Liz’s low blood sugar, and also has great stuff from Conan O’Brien. Hectic and hilarious.
In this episode, we meet Drew—who’s subsequently roofied by Liz—we also get to see Alec Baldwin play both jack and his telenovela doppelganger, the evil Generalissimo of Los Amantes Clandestinos.
Weddings are a big part of sitcom history, and 30 Rock is no different. The series aired several wedding episodes, but “Mazel Tov, Dummies” is the finest. Liz and Criss’ adventures in marrying are extremely funny, and end perfectly, with Liz dressed as Princess Leia for her wedding. It’s also a great episode for Dennis. It’s a great episode for everybody. There’s a reason it’s the best 30 Rock episode of all.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.