In a few months, I’m going to sink into depression. It won’t be because the Miami Dolphins will be 0 and whatever and it won’t have anything to do with the Orlando Magic embarking on a 4-win season. My misery will stem from 30 Rock airing its final episode and NBC turning its back on one of the greatest comedies in TV history in favor of low hanging fruit like Guys with Kids. But that’s what happens when only a few million people tune in. The Two and a Half Mens of this world win.
One of the many – many, many, many – reasons that I love 30 Rock and consider it in the same category as Seinfeld and Cheers is because of the writing and the lines that most people don’t even hear. With 30 Rock, there’s always a main joke, but beneath that first layer is another layer and another layer, which makes each episode as re-watchable as the next. And within those jokes and layers are some of the smartest and funniest sports jokes that have ever been written for a sitcom.
I actually started working on this before Brandon started this wonderful series, and I had about 60-something scenes and jokes picked out, but I narrowed it down to my favorite moments. Enjoy and reflect, because after this season we’ll have to hope that Tina Fey and Co. take their talents elsewhere.
Episode: “The Problem Solvers” – Season 4, Episode 5 (2009)
What Happens: After Liz Lemon strikes gold with her “Dealbreaker” sketch, Jenna convinces her that Jack is taking advantage of her by just assuming he can produce her talk show. So Liz sets out to meet with her agent, whose only experience is with animals. Fortunately, Tracy sets her up with a meeting with Scottie Shofar, whose producing credits include “Sports Shouting”, which is a hilarious send-up of shows like Around the Horn.
Key Line: When Jack meets Liz’s agent, Simon, he knows that his adversary is no match.
Jack Donaghy: You look like you’ve been around.
Simon Behrens: Yeah. I’ve seen a bra or two.
Jack Donaghy: I’ll bet you have.
Eventually, Jack realizes that his second choice to host, Padma Lakshmi, doesn’t need the success as much as Liz does and they move forward with “Dealbreaker” at NBC. But we get “Sports Shouting” and it’s the best 5-second clip of the entire episode.
Episode: “Plan B” – Season 5, Episode 18 (2011)
What Happens: With Hank Hooper and Kabletown now running NBC, Jack is in over his head as he tries to develop new programming. He purchases a network called TWINKS, which caters to gay men, and Jack realizes that he needs to enlist the “gay Jack Donaghy” so that it’s not a failure in Hank’s eyes. The man for the job, or so he believes, is his nemesis, Devin Banks. As expected, Banks makes a power move and tries to steal Jack’s job, but he ultimately realizes that he wants to be at home with his gaybies.
But included in the TWINKS programming is a gay version of SportsCenter that features a hilarious rundown of actual, relevant sports stories.
Key Line: “You must be desperate, Jack. TWINKS must be exploding and not in a good way.” – Devin
Episode: “Jack Gets in the Game” – Season 2, Episode 2 (2007)
What Happens: After Jack suffers a mild heart attack, he knows that his nemesis, Devin Banks, is going to let GE’s CEO Don Geiss know about it in a power play to become his No. 1 choice to replace him at the top of the ladder. Of course, at Don’s company get-together, football is the game of choice, so Jack does his best to make it seem like he’s healthier than ever. Once Devin lets Jack in on his diabolical scheme, Jack uses his enemy’s greatest weakness against him – his love of shirtless men.
Jack calls over one of the younger employees, Winthrop, who wrestled in college, and he tells him that Devin thinks he can beat him. Winthrop tackles Devin and he absolutely loves it.
Key Line: “You’re so strong. You’re having your way with me. Your back is like a barrel of snakes.” – Devon Banks
Despite his homosexuality, Devin ends up marrying Don’s simple-minded daughter Kathy, who, despite a tendency to put random objects in her mouth, can sing like Susan Boyle.
Episode: “Season 4” – Season 4, Episode 1 (2009)
What Happens: Jack informs Liz that changes need to be made, as the network is losing money and TGS ratings are in the crapper. Kenneth starts a page strike when he accidentally sees Jack’s bonus check, and Tracy tries to go back to his roots to connect with the common man again. But Jenna has Jack’s back and she agrees to “go country” for the sake of pushing TGS to a demographic that it isn’t quite popular with – middle America.
That starts with Jenna recording NBC’s new musical promo for “Tennis Night in America”.
Key Line: Ever the right-wing flag bearer, Jack tells Liz that TGS will win over the common man.
Jack: We’ll trick those race card lovin’ wide-loads into watching your lefty homoerotic propaganda hour yet.
Liz Lemon: You just don’t like anybody, do you?
The funniest part about this episode is that it unapologetically kicks dirt at the network for being so lousy for so many years with the way its handled sports coverage. But hey, at least NBC broke even with the 2012 Summer Olympics. Moral victory!
Episode: “Greenzo” – Season 2, Episode 5 (2007)
What Happens: With TGS being tasked to go green, Jack introduces the obnoxious Greenzo to help lead the effort. But Kenneth is also planning for his birthday party, and Liz is worried because nobody ever attends but her. Tracy decides that he’s going to turn it into one of his classic parties, so he spreads the word that a variety of guests are going to attend, including Fall Out Boy, which somehow makes people want to go.
The party turns into chaos, with Liz forcing herself on Grizz while Lutz eats all of Kenneth’s parakeet’s medicine and Pete and his wife engage in their own bizarre sexual acts. The next morning, Kenneth tells everyone how disappointed he is in them, and for some reason there’s a Harlem Globetrotter among them.
Key Line: “Harlem Globetrotter, does that name mean nothing to you?” – Kenneth
I couldn’t find a good clip of Kenneth’s speech, but here is Liz with the perfect reaction for any time David Schwimmer enters a room.
Episode: “Believe in the Stars” – Season 3, Episode 2 (2008)
What Happens: After the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Jack is confronted by an angry Tyler Brody, who became an American hero after he won silver in Olympic Tetherball. But he’s angry because Jack didn’t let him win gold, so he threatens to expose NBC for creating events to help America win more medals. While Jack talks him down, Tyler spills the truth to Kenneth, whose faith in heroes is destroyed.
Key Line: Jack bribes Kenneth with cable TV at his apartment and it opens his eyes to a whole new world.
Kenneth: I’m glad I’m not a white man, Mr. Donaghy… Is Spongebob Squarepants supposed to be terrifying?
Jack: You’re darn right he is, Kenneth.
Among the sports that Tyler informs Kenneth are fake are synchronized running and octuples tennis.
Episode: “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” – Season 6, Episode 1
What Happens: Tennis legend John McEnroe actually appears in multiple episodes as himself, with my favorite appearance being in the 2008 episode, “Gavin Volure” with Steve Martin. In that episode, he’s introduced as a representative of the “art world and yelling”. Prior to that, McEnroe appears as the host of a game show developed by Kenneth and called “Gold Case”, which is an immediate flop.
McEnroe’s latest appearance was in season 6 as the “nice” judge on America’s Kidz Got Singing to Jenna’s horrible Simon Cowell type.
Key Line: Jenna’s takedown of children is amazing television.
“Even if you could sing, with that face, it would be like eating a steak that just came out of a dumpster.”
“Emma that was pretty good. You were trying to get me to commit suicide, right?”
“You don’t have a little rat face, you opposite of a turd with eyes.”
McEnroe’s appearances on 30 Rock help me forget about Mr. Deeds.
Episode: “The Ones” – Season 3, Episode 19 (2009)
What Happens: Jack has become quite serious with his latest love interest, but she reveals to him that she once killed her husband in a jealous fit. So he tags along with Tracy for a night of partying to test himself to make sure that he can be faithful to the woman he refers to as “The One”. While at a nightclub, Jack invokes one of the show’s best examples of the random one-liner that probably flew over a few hundred thousand heads.
Key Line: “This is decadent, and I once went to Miami with Daryl Strawberry.” – Jack Donaghy
Salma Hayek’s stint on the show also led to a great deal of harmless racial jokes, which is what we’ll settle for here.
Episode: “Winter Madness” – Season 4, Episode 11 (2010)
What Happens: While Liz and Pete scheme to get Jack to let them take TGS to Miami for the winter, he instead uses it as a chance to meet up with his high school crush, Nancy Donovan (Julianne Moore at her cougar finest) in Boston. TGS is forced to share offices with Bruins Beat, which features a staff of writers all named Sean as they torment poor Kenneth.
This episode actually featured a number of sports jokes, mostly about the Patriots, and Tracy’s inability to filter himself while on the road leads to a run-in with some typical Pats fans.
“These gentlemen are the writers for Bruins Beat. They are all named Sean, they are mean, and I hate it here.” – Kenneth
“You know how it is around here, people don’t talk and then they move to New Orleans and hop on that BS Saints bandwagon… Go Pats.” – Nancy
“Who cares what people think? Your neighbors named their daughter Belichick.” – Jack
Also, huge bonus points for working in a snowball and a battery.
Episode: “Verna” – Season 4, Episode 12 (2010)
What Happens: Jenna’s estranged mother Verna (Jan Hooks) arrives at 30 Rock using a bottle of Vicodin as identification and Jenna enlists Jack’s help and his own mother issues to help her stand up to the woman who has stolen from her for so many years. But desperate for a normal relationship in her life, Jenna falls for Verna’s faux affection when she throws her daughter a surprise birthday party.
Verna lets Jack in on her plan, as she wants her own reality show and money for the second half of her boob job. When she invites Jack to the party, she utters what is probably my favorite line of the entire series.
“Wear something nice, like a pair of white jeans and a Dan Marino jersey.” – Verna
Meanwhile, to lure Jenna to the surprise party…
“Hi, I was told I’d get paid if I came and danced while the Atlanta Hawks eat dinner.” – Jenna
And Jack reveals his own problems with his mother, which are also connected to sports.
“Colleen once won a contest to announce the lineup at Red Sox game and she used the opportunity to make me promise to never put her in a home. What could I do? Carl Yazstremski was looking right at me.” – Jack
Episode: “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” – Season 6, Episode 1 (2012)
What Happens: At the start of the most recent season, Liz is inexplicably happy and that naturally has Jack worried, because Liz is always miserable. He eventually follows her and learns that not only does she have a secret boyfriend, but she’s also joined the volunteer dance team for the New York Liberty, known as the “Timeless Torches”.
But Kenneth is also convinced that the rapture is upon them and he wants to enjoy his final days doing what he loves most, and that’s when Liz offers him a very beautiful piece of advice that includes one of the most obscure baseball references I’ve ever heard.
Key Line: “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching. Enjoy these Satchel Paige brand tampons.” – Liz
Episode: “100 Pt. 2” – Season 5, Episode 22 (2011)
What Happens: In this two-part episode, Michael Keaton guest stars as a custodian who has to keep tending to gas leaks throughout the building. The leaks, though, are conveniently affecting people on the TSG studio floor and Jack’s office, which leads to a number of hallucinations. Probably the greatest happens to Jack, who is visited by “Sideways Jack”, who is a much more successful version of him from a dimension where he did not accept Liz as a mentee. Sideways Jack informs himself that in his dimension he is the CEO of GE and owner of an NFL team, and he has even invented power clashing… because he can.
However, as Sideways Jack has convinced regular Jack to ditch Liz, his future self shows up and tells him that he’s much better off with Liz in his life, even with that NFL team.
Sideways Jack: “Aw, shut up. Don’t listen to his crap, Jack. If you choose my path you’ll be plenty happy. You’ll spearhead GE’s development of the electric vagina! You won’t be married but you’ll have a house with a lot of glass and it’s cold. And you’ll own the Buffalo Bills.”
Jack: “You didn’t say it was the Bills.”
They also make a few jokes about Jacksonville, which are also always fun. And then Future Jack, Past Jack and Sideways Jack have sex with each other, because you would. You know you would.
Episode: “The Fighting Irish” – Season 1, Episode 17
What Happens: While the episode’s title borrows from Notre Dame to describe what happens when Jack’s conmen brother and father arrive and try to swindle the TGS gang, Tracy is also busy trying to repair his reputation as a crackpot. So he inquires with Liz about a religion that he can join so that he can make good with God for public forgiveness the next time that he does something stupid.
She mentions the Church of Practicology, which is a swipe at Scientology that hopefully didn’t land any writers on the cruise ship to nowhere, but he’s already given them a shot and they, of course, declined. However, he does admit quite the conspiracy theory to the church.
Key Line: “I believe that vampires are the world’s greatest golfers but their curses won’t let them prove it.” – Tracy
Episode: “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell” – Season 6, Episode 4 (2012)
What Happens: With Jenna’s star on the rise, thanks to her role on America’s Kidz Got Singing and the new ensemble film Martin Luther King Day, she believes that she needs more famous friends, so she enlists an entourage of Knob Kardashian, Charlie Bit My Finger and WWE superstar Mankind.
At the same time, Tracy is suffering from a crisis of wealth, as he believes there’s nothing else on this planet that he hasn’t already bought. That leads to another fantastic one-liner.
Key Line: “You just bought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s bones, and he’s not even dead!” – Dot Com to Tracy
But Mankind also plays a great role, as Jenna’s entourage implodes when they all individually believe that it’s their entourage.
Mankind also has a role in Martin Luther King Day.
Episode: “100 Pt. 2” – Season 5, Episode 22 (2011)
What Happens: As mentioned before, a series of gas leaks cause the cast and crew of TGS to act strange, including Liz, who calls her old boyfriend Dennis Duffy when she’s hallucinating. He shows up ready to force his way back into her life and he causes an even bigger gas leak while attempting to get Liz to sign him to her lease. Michael Keaton reveals that someone has tampered with the gas, and Jack threatens Dennis.
Security shows up to escort him from the building, and he warns them to be careful with his leather jacket.
Key Line: “Hey hands off the jacket. It’s from Amar’e Stoudemire’s evening wear collection.” – Dennis
And I couldn’t find that clip, so here’s an even better clip of Jon Hamm, Jason Sudeikis and Dean Winters acting like Jamaican women. Bobsled. Cool Runnings.
Episode: “Black Light Attack!” – Season 4, Episode 10 (2010)
What Happens: Now that Danny has arrived at TGS, Jack feels like he actually has a bro he can hang out with, which is good since he has season tickets for every New York sports team and everyone that he takes ruins the games for him, including Liz, who spends Yankees games trying to get on the jumbotron by dancing. And the rest of the TGS gang isn’t much better.
“I want to be TGS’ Steve Nash. Come down from Canada and make the black guy look good.” – Danny
“Hey Jeter! Are you jealous! I’m with my new boyfriend!” – Jenna
“But my biggest problem with Quidditch is that if a snitch is worth 150 points, why does anybody bother with a quaffle?” – Twofer
Danny actually pulls off a few sports jokes in his limited appearances (more later), but he does combine them with my love of Canadian jokes.
Episode: “Cooter” – Season 2, Episode 15 (2008)
What Happens: Kenneth desperately wants to go to the Olympics in Beijing so Pete agrees to help him with his application. While discussing his plan, Kenneth asks Pete if he’s ever been to the Olympics and he reveals that he was a world class archer for the U.S. in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. However, the athletes boycotted and Pete’s dream was never realized.
In season 6, Jack also volunteers to help Pete create a life plan to move beyond just being a producer on a crappy sketch comedy show and Pete tells him that he actually doesn’t mind where he’s at because unlike his brief archery career and his stint with Loverboy – that overlapped and thus made no sense – he actually has normalcy.
Key Line: “Kenneth, I like you, because I am attracted to your two healthy kidneys.” – A Chinese girl to Kenneth, in Mandarin
Pete is an unsung hero of 30 Rock because his plotlines involve him being pathetic, like when he daydreamed an entire episode based around him arm wrestling Rob Riggle. But I love him because he offers gems like this.
Episode: “Queen of Jordan” – Season 5, Episode 17 (2011)
What Happens: This episode was based around Tracy’s wife, Angie, as she was launching her reality show, Queen of Jordan, while Tracy was about to pretend to go to Africa. During this episode, Angie’s gay stylist D’Fwan accuses Jack of lying about his sexuality, so he tries to put on a macho show in front of the camera after he’s caught tripping over a chair and making a farting noise.
After throwing a football at a distracted Dot Com, Tracy’s giant assistant coaxes Jack, who is boasting about his career as a college athlete, into making several sports-related comments that are also euphemisms for homosexuality, including going both ways, playing pitcher and catcher, and being on the DL.
Key Line: “I am extremely secure in my athleticism, my masculinity, and my rectal integrity.” – Jack
Here’s a fun fact about this episode: This clip cracks me up every time I watch it.
Episode: “The Problem Solvers” – Season 4, Episode 5 (2009)
What Happens: While Liz is busy dealing with her new agent and trying to decide what she wants to do with her “Dealbreakers” show, Danny the street robot is making his debut. The ultra-polite Canadian isn’t used to the idea of Kenneth waiting on him hand and foot so he tells Kenneth to stop, which leads Tracy and Jenna to think that maybe Kenneth will end up resenting them.
But Danny reveals that he has some experience with acting, as he starred in a Canadian movie about football.
Key Line: “I’ll tell you everything you need to know, Danny: never do business with a friend, never be friends with a woman and lose the leather bracelet.” – Jack
Episode: “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell” – Season 6, Episode 4 (2012)
What Happened: In order to save money for Kabletown, Jack eliminates the entire page program and replaces Kenneth with a robot called “Not Kenneth”. However, the robot screws up a special present that Jack sent to Hank Hooper to celebrate his first year as the CEO and the crew at TGS received a scotch fountain and a visit from the Phillie Phanatic.
Again, like the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar line, this episode was laced with great sports jokes.
Key Line: “It’s like I’m in a cage, and not the fun kind where you dance while USC football recruits throw hot coins at you.” – Jenna
But the Phanatic was the scene-stealer in what may be the greatest sports-related scene in all of 30 Rock’s 6 seasons.
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