The past few seasonal cycles of television shows have been defined by real people doing slightly interesting things, like singing and dancing, and dramas that spend all season (Hey Lost, get to the point!) attempting to wrap up story arcs that are more intricate than a James Joyce novel. So it's extremely refreshing to see a good sitcom finally rise out of the ranks of American network TV (we have to discount The Office because of its BBC roots). 30 Rock has so far proven itself to be a show that can mix high- and low-brow humor, putting ideas about race relations and patriotism next to gags about Star Jones vomiting. To commemorate a season of 21 totally watchable episodes of an American sitcom, here are the 10 most memorable moments of the premiere season of 30 Rock.
#10. Liz Lemon first meets Tracy Jordan
Tracy Morgan's character on 30 Rock hits a balance of paranoia and egotism perfect enough to make him a thoroughly credible celebrity. In this clip, Morgan runs through a string of ideas that all could conceivably flow together, yet somehow manage to be just far enough out of sync with reality to make a normal person concerned. And boy, can Morgan ever sell "unhinged." It's like the guy was born to play the role of Insane Black Guy on a show written by Tina Fey.
#9. Jack's promotional video outtakes
Television writers, who started experimenting with joke recycling sometime around the great Laugh Famine of the 1970s Sitcom Era, found that seven repetitions bring a joke back to the point of hilarity. Alec Baldwin takes that premise overboard in this clip, delivering nearly three straight minutes of nothing but outtake-style gags. The joke almost gets worn out before finding its way back to hilarity right around the time that he starts swearing at a pigeon. Again, we have to applaud the casting: Alec Baldwin as a rageaholic asshole. Ingenious!
#8. Jack explains the hierarchy of GE to Tracy
30 Rock often finds a way to relate the conglomerate nature of GE back to the salad days of 1950s prosperity. Having a complex diagram reveal itself from a roll-down holder like a map from an elementary school classroom is a great example of this running motif. The exchange between Morgan and Baldwin about the Phil Collins mix tape, on the other hand, stands on its own. We're pretty certain you could insert that exchange into the Zapruder film and it'd be funny.
#7. Rachel Dratch as Liz Taylor
At the start of her run on SNL, we thought Rachel Dratch was a bit of a one-trick pony, her trick being to play against the fact that it's extraordinarily creepy to imagine her in an erotic setting. But looking back, she could always be counted on to not try too hard (ahem... Molly Shannon) and she always managed to come up with inventive ways to weird everyone out. Plus, she's been something of a scene-stealer during her run on 30 Rock so far, playing a lesbian cat wrangler, an eastern-European prostitute, and perhaps most notably, Elizabeth Taylor.
#6. Mind grapes
The writers of 30 Rock are in love with repetition when it comes to non sequitor nonsense jokes. Here, the ridiculous term "mind grapes" highlights Jack's failures as a writer (later in the episode, Jack attempts to write for the show by coming up with the punchlines first, which we're pretty sure qualifies him to write for SportsCenter) and Tracy Jordan's insanity, both coming in so close to one another that you might miss them.
#5. Tracy Jordan might be white
The parody of "white guys do X [lame], but black guys do Y [infinitely bad-ass]" comedy (always done best in front of a brick wall) is so prevalent that it's hard to remember whether or not anyone in the 1980s actually made the jokes to begin with. Regardless, this is our favorite parody of stale, 1980s race-related comedy to ever appear on a major network.
#4. Liz Lemon on acting
Usually, watching actors act like bad actors brings us too close to meta-irony for comfort, but Alec Baldwin's performance as a CEO attempting to act because he wants to do whatever he sets his mind to ("I once drove a rental car into the Hudson just to practice escaping") is pretty fucking funny.
#3. Jack's Valentine Day montage
Jack's character is introduced as some sort of super-human Vice President, capable of doing anything, and yet half the season's episodes involve him getting into trouble he can't seem to find his way out of. This is especially evident here, when he finds himself unable to decide whether or not he really wants to divorce his estranged wife, Bianca (played by Isabella Rossellini). The montage itself is a tribute to creative editing, with Jack moving through New York as he gets progressively drunker and less coherent, topped at one point by one of the best Isabella Rossellini impressions ever performed.
#2. A Donaghy family fight
This may well be the most accurate depiction of an Irish family reunion this side of Eugene O'Neill. We've heard many drunken relatives discuss other family members similar to the way Jack, at one point, describes his mother's side of the family the Murphys as "...nothing but a bunch of mud farmers and sheep rapists."
#1. The birthday party
This clip might best highlight the way 30 Rock swings between high- and low-brow. Here, the show mocks the concept of the aristocracy by having Paul Reubens sit inside a puppet. It's so gloriously silly that the humor never reaches a level of being preachy, which is one of the best qualities of the show: its messages, when it has them, are usually accompanied by an ingenious pratfall or a nicely placed vomit tube.