What would you say is the toughest sitcom to have an encyclopedic knowledge of? “The Simpsons” is likely the first show that came to mind, considering it’s been on for 23 seasons and will soon air its 500th episode. Maybe “Seinfeld” or “Friends,” too. But a dark horse – possibly one ridden from Heaven by Thomas Jefferson – candidate is “30 Rock.” Unlike “The Simpsons,” “30 Rock” rarely has a coherent plot; the show’s nothing more than a string of time-spanning jokes and pop culture references (everything from a porn parody of Amadeus called I’m-a-Do-Us to Liz getting mad at her mom for not marrying Buzz Aldrin because she could have been played by Laura Linney in HBO’s Moon Wives), with dialogue so rapid fire that you remember individual lines more than actual scenes – and that’s why it’s so great.
To celebrate the beginning of the show’s sixth season, which airs tomorrow on NBC at 8 p.m., here are the 15 Greatest “30 Rock” Pop Culture References. And if you’ve ever participated in a “30 Rock” Trivia Night: props.
Episode: “The Fabian Strategy”
Pop Culture Reference(s): “Family Matters,” specifically Urkel
I would much rather be Siamese twins with Sharon Stone than have to start every sentence for the rest of my life with “Did I Do That?” I honestly don’t know why you’d pick Urkel, in any situation, ever.
Episode: “TGS Hates Women”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Steve Carell and “The Office”
Funny, but inaccurate. Any true pop culture connoisseur knows “that’s what she said” dates back to another NBC show: “SNL.” Chevy Chase said the phrase all the way back in 1975. The more you know…speaking of.
Pop Culture Reference(s): Star Wars
Probably the first moment from “30 Rock” you remember, unless you really like that scene of Kenneth making Liz introduce herself to an NBC tour group. So, yeah, the Jedi thing.
Episode: “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning”
Pop Culture Reference(s): “Lost”
“30 Rock” has referenced “Lost” numerous times — from Jenna telling the writers that she met J.J. Abrams once and he told her that the Island’s just Hurley’s dream, to Jerry Seinfeld asking Jack if the show’s on NBC — but my favorite is the one above. It’s framed like a good pop culture reference should be: inserted randomly, said briefly, and then it’s on to the next joke. (Some sex-crazed comedian needs to write a book with that as a title.)
Episode: “Believe in the Stars”
Pop Culture Reference(s): “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and Oprah herself
At the time “Believe in the Stars” aired, it was incredibly over-hyped — this was the episode of “30 Rock” that got Oprah. THE Oprah. For a lot of people, that’s a big deal; for the Oprah haters, which I am one of, it only riled us up more. Three years later, with the hype all but forgotten, it’s easier to look back at this episode, and this scene in particular, and say: Oprah wasn’t that bad — but I still hate her.
Episode: “The Source Awards”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Nickelodeon
Every argument should end with, “I’m-a eat your family.”
Episode: “The Aftermath”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Theo Huxtable and Superman
Never forget: Freaky deakies need love, too.
Episode: “Queen of Jordan”
Pop Culture Reference(s): “Real Housewives” series
The entire episode is a spot-on parody of the Real Housewives of Whatever, and this is the best scene.
Pop Culture Reference(s): Breaking the fourth wall
“Breaking the Fourth Wall” is used all the time in TV and movies, and that’s reason enough for me to include it. It’s not a solitary reference; it’s a reference to everything. Dennis Duffy would be proud.
Episode: “Anna Howard Shaw Day”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Don Cheadle
In which it became totally acceptable for a straight man to say that they want “Don Cheadle on a bed of rice.”
Episode: “Kidney Now!”
Pop Culture Reference(s): “We Are the World”
Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Rhett Miller, and Ad-Rock and Mike D from Beastie Boys more than make up for the appearances of Clay Aiken, Wyclef Jean, Sara Bareilles, Sheryl Crow, Adam Levine, Norah Jones…yeah, there are a lot of terrible singers who sang the “We Are the World” parody “Kidney Now,” but the scene’s good enough that the mere sight of Moby’s sweaty head doesn’t make you immediately shiver in horror.
Episode: “Jack Gets in the Game”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Novelty party songs
From a New York Times article about the clip:
Robert Carlock, an executive producer of “30 Rock,” said he came up with the idea as the writers mulled the breakup of the marriage of Tracy, played by the comedian Tracy Morgan. In the box of detritus that his wife delivers to him is the gold record from his recording of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.”
“I imagined that Tracy probably went to a bar mitzvah and thought, “Why are there no bar mitzvah songs playing at this party?’” said Mr. Carlock, who wrote the segment along with Tami Sagher.
It took three days to prepare the set, a combination of a rented spooky backdrop, branches hanging from metal light stands and carved-foam Jewish tombstones. The segment was shot on video — four takes totaling about 15 minutes, Mr. Carlock said — and was intended to look shlocky, “like Tracy was rushing to get it done in time for bar mitzvah season.”
Episode: “The Moms”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Every ridiculous show NBC has tried to make a hit in the post-“Friends” era
Of the many fictional shows on “30 Rock,” including “Sports Shouting,” “Chums” (starring Russ and Rebecca, NOT Ross and Rachel), “Are You Stronger Than a Dog?”, and “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” my favorite is “Bitch Hunter.” NBC really should just say “fu*k it” and adapt it into a real series. I’d watch.
Episode: “Rosemary’s Baby”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Ann Curry, To Kill a Mockingbird, and “Good Times”
Alec Baldwin is the greatest.
Episode: “MILF Island”
Pop Culture Reference(s): Cathy
Here’s how much I love this scene: I prefer it over “The Simpsons”’ Cathy joke (in “Treehouse of Horror XI,” Homer comments that the comic strip has “too much baggage”). That’s not a compliment I give out every day, or ever.