’30 Rock’ Is The Most Rewatchable Comedy Of TV’s Golden Age

A friend recently texted me to see if I wanted to go to a Shaun of the Dead quote-along with him. I told him I wasn’t able to, and added, “I know every line, without even seeing the movie.” This wasn’t a brag; merely a fact. (He said he could do the same thing with Ghostbusters and 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). There are certain films and shows, usually comedies, that I’ve seen so many times that I know them by heart: Blazing Saddles, Billy Madison (okay, every Adam Sandler movie from 1995 to 1998…), seasons 3 to 8 of The Simpsons, each episode of which I’ve probably seen at least two dozen times.

I’m not quite there with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock, but it’s getting close. Yet I don’t have any single episode memorized the way I do “Last Exit to Springfield,” or “22 Short Films About Springfield.” That’s because every time I watch 30 Rock, I laugh so hard at one joke that I end up missing four more.

30 Rock premiered on NBC 10 years ago today, on Oct. 11, 2006, during the same season that brought us Heroes, Friday Night Lights, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I hate admitting this now, but I was actually more excited for Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60, which was also a behind-the-scenes look at an SNL-like show, than 30 Rock, because, I mean, look at that cast: Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson. I even thought it had the stronger pilot of the two. But when “Tracy Does Conan” aired, everything changed. It was 30 Rock‘s first truly great episode (“What else is on my mind-grapes?”), and an all-time show was born. (Studio 60, meanwhile, sputtered and was canceled after one season. I haven’t seen the finale.)
In my defense: it takes times to adjust your brain to 30 Rock‘s wonderfully weird, surreal, lightning-fast style. The show’s mix of character-based jokes, visual gags, and witty pop culture references is not something you see that often on television. Splitsider calculated there are somewhere between nine to 11 jokes per minute, while The Atlantic counted exactly 7.44, more than South Park (5.03), Family Guy (5.20), and New Girl (7.11) — either way, that’s a lot of jokes flying at you constantly. Take any five minutes of literally any episode, and you’re bound to laugh at least 30 times. It would be exhausting, if it weren’t so funny. To test my theory, I picked a random moment in a random episode on Netflix and landed on this scene from “Generalissimo.” I chuckled.

30 Rock is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book: Every time you watch, you discover something new. It could be a double entendre you didn’t pick up on (I’m sure there’s someone out there who woke up one night and said, “Now I get that ‘lemon party’ joke”), or a line you’ve somehow never heard before, or a pop culture reference you didn’t get, or a cameo that only gets funnier. That’s why I consider 30 Rock the most rewatchable show of television’s golden age. Is it the most consistent show of the 2000s? Probably not. But 30 Rock is the most rewarding to revisit time and time again. You’ll always be pleasantly surprised, which is why I don’t watch it all the time, actually. It demands your undivided attention — I like having the television on when I’m trying to take a nap, but there’s no way I’m falling asleep if 30 Rock is playing. Same with cleaning the apartment; I’ll inevitably pause what I’m doing and stand in front of the television like a guffawing idiot. That’s what separates 30 Rock from other golden age comedies. It’s so sharp and quick, and the only way to catch every Jenna Maroney insult is to start the episode over as soon as it ends. It’s just as funny the second time.
In terms of rewatchability (pretend that’s an actual word, like “blerg”): Curb Your Enthusiasm is too uncomfortable; You’re the Worst and BoJack Horseman are too depressing; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is too new (although it’s gaining ground); Happy Endings wasn’t around long enough; The Office has too many down seasons; I need the occasional pause from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s morally despicable shenanigans; and Parks and Recreation is so comforting that it turns into white noise. (That’s not an insult.) Community and Arrested Development come close to 30 Rock‘s replayability, but those shows were often thematically complex — 30 Rock only cared about making you laugh. And no comedy in the last 16 years has been better at that.

Also, it gave us MILF Island, “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” a Liz Lemon GIF for literally every situation, Grizz and Dot Com, Dr. Spaceman, Ross from Friends as Greenzo, Bitch Hunter, comedy Jon Hamm, Buzz Aldrin yelling at the moon, the entire “TGS Hates Women” episode, “never follow a hippie to a second location,” “a book hasn’t caused me this much trouble since Where’s Waldo went to that barber pole factory,” “goodbye forever, you factory reject dildos,” Fresh-Ass: Based on the Novel Tush by Assfire, and the best account on Twitter.

In 50 years, or after an ageless Kenneth becomes the president, when it comes to rewatching 30 Rock, I’ll always want to go to there.