Sitcoms are a tough genre to plod through, generally speaking. Especially these days, with such an abundance of alternatives. But Tina Fey is a comedic genius, and she flawlessly brings her flavor to the workplace comedy. 30 Rock focuses on relationships and is far more innovative than most sitcoms.
It has no gimmicks, no laugh track, and witty writing. The show isn’t confined to a single room, and the wackiness carefully toes the line between too much and clever. Here’s how fans rated the best and worst of this classic sitcom, which transcends the reputation of its own genre.
10 Worst: Winter Madness
Once again, Liz’s empathy for her staff doesn’t turn out as expected. Many of Liz’s problems stem from her altruism. This season four episode featured a cameo from talented actress Julianne Moore. She’s worked comedic chops before, as in the hilarious classic The Big Lebowski, to great effect.
Unfortunately, her character’s romance with Jack is probably the main culprit for the lower ratings. Liz tries to put a TV show on the road, to relieve her staff from a tough winter. But Jack steals the opportunity to force them all into Boston instead of Miami. Liz’s storyline with her staff is hilarious. Unfortunately, Jack ends up quite out of character, and Moore’s cameo just isn’t funny enough.
9 Best: Live Show
This is an iconic episode, literally living up to the title with some very sharp writing and superb casting. Hiring Julia Louis-Dreyfus to play Liz herself in cutaways was an absolute stroke of genius. After all, before Veep, she was famous for playing Elaine on Seinfeld.
That show remains one of the most successful, highest rated sitcoms of all time. This episode was a loving homage to a time when sitcoms reigned supreme on television, and every joke works. The writing is both original and nostalgic. The meta-humor is spot on when it could’ve easily gone overboard. And the guest stars are all terrific, including Bill Hader and even Matt Damon.
8 Worst: The Aftermath
Jenna is both a terrifyingly vain and insecure character, but she can also be pretty sympathetic. She’s pushed to the sidelines for Tracy Morgan, who has two modes. There’s the serious side, occasionally seen on interviews, and the radical, flamboyant character seen here.
His intrusion is the result of Liz’s new boss, Jack, who is the quintessential male superior. As the second episode of the inaugural season, this show was really still figuring itself out. In fact, season one has three of the lowest rated episodes of the entire series. The zany antics breach comfort levels, simply leaning too far into silliness. Fortunately, that all changes early on.
7 Best: I Do Do
This season four finale is absolutely filled to the brim with guest stars, all of whom are welcome additions. Will Forte is always willing to make a complete fool of himself for a laugh, and no one does it better. Jack’s love triangle with Avery and Nancy is finally resolved, which is a great relief. It had been drawn out, and mostly unsatisfying, but the final confrontation is actually executed well.
Liz also screws up her chances with an ideal guy, played by Matt Damon. The plot is heavy on the romance, which was consistent throughout the series. Overall, the episode has a great pace and offers an equal share of conclusions and forward momentum.
6 Worst: Jack The Writer
This is another case of a superior mishandling their control. This is common amongst bosses, particularly in creative fields. Because they have the final say, they often impede on the work of the creatives who were hired to fulfill that duty to begin with.
Jack needlessly invades the workplace with strange, awful ideas, and foolishly believes they’re genuinely decent. The jokes involving this toxic relationship are hit or miss. However, Cerie is probably the issue, here. At this point, it was still unclear that she’s smarter than she appears. The concept of a young sex object in revealing clothing can seem rather tacky, but she develops into a great comedic asset.
5 Best: Kidney Now!
Here’s another season finale, this time for its third outing. Once again, the finale does a great job of tying up some loose ends. If you’re trying to place this episode, it’s the musical one. There are countless musical guest stars, in one surprising cameo after another.
It had everyone from Mary J. Blige to the Beastie Boys! Just by the fans of those artists alone, the episode was sure to become iconic. And yet, the way Jack's character incorporates them feels very organic. It’s very plausible that he has those connections, and his motivation makes plenty of sense. One could only imagine the relationship a character like Jack had with his father.
4 Worst: Queen of Jordan 2: The Mystery of the Phantom Pooper
This is an experimental episode from season six, involving a reality show angle. Angie Jordan’s character assumes control of the entire story, and the result is understandably divisive. Veteran character actor Mary Steenburgen, who gained early popularity in Parenthood and Back to the Future Part III, is fantastic.
But the content itself just isn’t quite there. Jack’s reprehensible behavior is less comedic this time and making him kiss everyone only works to a point. One can’t help but wonder if the episode would be more effective without Angie’s frustrating point of view. Liz’s doubts about being a mother are actually pretty interesting.
3 Best: Live from Studio 6H
And people say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place. This episode revisited the live broadcast experiment, after finding so much success in it. And despite going back to the same well of humor, every single joke lands from beginning to end, yet again.
The meta-humor and fourth-wall-breaking never get out of hand. Also, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are already the funniest women on the planet. So, when you put them together, it’s gold. A cameo from the latter is always welcome—anywhere, really. Overall, this episode’s success is further proof of how thoughtful, balanced and clever this series is. Those characteristics truly set it apart from its peers.
2 Worst: Pilot
By the end of this episode, Liz ends up at a strip club and dances herself. There’s no question that this first episode has no idea where the show is going yet. Tonally unbalanced, it isn’t terribly convincing for newcomers to continue watching the show. Still, the episode establishes certain core elements that are indeed successful.
The staff is quickly distinguishable, and Liz’s stubbornness is represented by purchasing “all the hot dogs”. Unfortunately, the plot is all over the place, and the flaws are far more glaring than in future episodes. 30 Rock quickly finds its footing, but it’s difficult to plod through its earliest work.
1 Best: Hogcock!/Last Lunch
You know you’ve done something right when the series finale is your highest rated content. Particularly with such a vast ensemble of beloved characters, it can be difficult to deliver a satisfying conclusion. This two-part finale somehow manages to give everyone a happy ending, without it feeling cheap or forced. What’s interesting is that season seven's reduced episodes ultimately allowed for tighter plotting.
This improved the show, compared to certain unfulfilling tangents in prior seasons. This finale was clearly a sentimental good-bye for the cast and crew, and that sincerity radiates from the screen.