30 Rock has always been a show that I have never loved as much as its biggest fans. When it aired at the time, I did not start watching until season 3 or 4, and I just didn’t think it compared as favorably to what at the same time I was seeing from The Office (seasons 4 & 5), Community (Season 1), and Parks & Recreation (Seasons 1 & 2). While I would still maintain that 30 Rock was not as good as those shows in that time period, 30 Rock‘s sensibilities have obviously aged the best. That being said, it was unfortunate that I started watching the show during one of its weaker eras as it clouded my opinion of the show for a long time. With that in mind, here are all the seasons of 30 Rock ranked.
7. Season 6 – James Marsden Season 1
By the time we got to season 6, the show had fallen off significantly. While you can always count any 30 Rock episode to deliver laughs on the margins, the core of the show just was not at all that funny by this point. That may be the fundamental issue that caused this season to be so comparison to what came before it, but it was not helped that the show fell back on two of its weakest storylines: Jack and Liz’s love lives. Jack developed a weird and unfunny will they/won’t they with his wife’s mother, and Liz began a serious new relationship with James Marsden. Neither story was much of a success. (Also the Hazel character/story was TERRIBLE.)
6. Season 4 – Elizabeth Banks vs. Julianne Moore
The general pitfalls that 30 Rock were creating for themselves were getting more and more prominent here. Instead of just one lifeless Jack romantic story, there were two simultaneous ones! (The Julianne Moore one was especially unfunny.) The highlight of Liz’s personal life story was a multi-episode arc where the gag was that he and Liz had no chemistry together. By this point, the show was also starting to focus too much on Jenna and Kenneth which were never parts of the show that needed too much screentime. Beyond that, the show had its usual laughs and remained a very easy watch.
5. Season 3 – Attack of the Guest Stars
While season 2 merely felt like an ever-so slightly less great version of season where you started seeing some bad decisions at work, season 3 is where you actually see a significant dropoff in overall show quality. Not especially funny huge guest stars. Jack’s seasonal girlfriend proved wanting. Liz’s desire to have a children was not leading too much. The show gradually dropped the premise that these people are actually making a weekly television show. It never needed to be the centerpiece of everything, but it did help to create a well-rounded sitcom.
4. Season 5 – No more personal lives!
This season featured a significant upgrade in one major way: the focus on Liz and Jack’s love lives was much less prominent than the last few seasons. It was not a perfect season by any stretch of the imagination, but moving beyond those stories just made for such a more pleasant experience the previous two seasons.
3. Season 7 – The End
After season 6 was by far was the weakest season of the show by far, season 7 allowed the show to go out on a really strong note. The key to the season’s success was simply that the show seemed to commit to focusing more on being as funny as possible without getting too caught up in the personal lives on Liz and Jack. Less was always more with those stories, and it worked out much better. Combine that with the shockingly poignant (without selling out) conclusion to the series, and you have yourself one of the best seasons the show ever did.
2. Season 2 – Succession
Season 2 really revealed some of the cracks that would begin to spread in the ensuing years but still remained insanely funny. The big issues in the years to come would the focus on Jack’s relationships, Jack’s power struggles with NBC’s parent companies, Liz’s desire to “have it all,” over-reliance on major celebrity guest stars, pushing the majority of supporting characters to the margins. WITH THAT MAJOR CAVEAT IN MIND, this season – as stated – was insanely funny. In fact, most of those future issues with the shows were not issues here as they were all done well. Jerry Seinfeld was great as a mild parody of himself. David Schwimmer hilarious as an against-type funny character. Edie Falco was probably the most entertaining partner Jack ever had on the show. Liz’s “desire to have it all” was not overwhelming and the writer’s room still got some decent stuff. The real failure of the season though was the palace intrigue with Jack. He and Will Arnett just was not nearly as funny as the show thought it was and they just kept going with it.
1. Season 1- Actual Human Beings
Every time I watched season 1 again, I almost talk myself into believing that 30 Rock has an authentic case for best sitcom ever. It is just a beautiful and hilarious season of television. It’s just a goofy cast of characters trying to put on the worst sketch show ever. Incompetent writers. Sad middle management like Pete. Kenneth is a mere garnish good for a couple of gags per episode. Tracy and Jenna are the most ridiculous characters by far, but they still remain tethered to a recognizable world that we all live in. We don’t know much about Jack’s personal life. We don’t want to know much about Jack’s personal life. Jack barely had a personal life. It is the very best version of the show, and the show’s peaks and valleys throughout the rest of its run can mostly be determined by how far away they got from the tone of the first season.