Martin and Fey worked together on the 2008 film Baby Mama, so his appearance on the season three episode “Gavin Volure” was less than surprising. He played the title character, an outrageously rich agoraphobe who is smitten with Liz at a dinner party. He invites her to spend the weekend at his home, confessing that he can’t be intimate with women due to his many phobias. Liz, of course, sees this as a plus — until she finds out the real reason that he can’t leave his house. Martin and Fey are terrific together; they’ve got the timing and chemistry of a screwball comedy team, resulting in a delightfully silly episode.
Mr. Franco may very well be wearing out his welcome these days, but his season four appearance in the episode “Klaus and Greta” was a truly inspired satire of his rather ridiculous persona. Playing himself, Franco engages in a business deal with Jenna to concoct a fake relationship, in order to counteract the rumors about his real relationship — with a full-sized body pillow, emblazoned with a Japanese anime character. Franco plays the pompous actor to a tee (“This movie will never be released because my performance will be deemed ‘too provocative’ for America”), and the episode’s final twist (a rare peek at Liz’s sexy side) is priceless.
One of the many pleasures of 30 Rock‘s meta-setting at the real NBC is its handling of the network’s annual week of environmental-themed programming (aka “Green Week” or “Earth Week” or “Green is Universal” or whatever they’re calling it this time). In the season two episode “Greenzo,” Schwimmer guests as Jared, an actor hired to play the title character, NBC’s new environmental mascot. Schwimmer’s work as Ross on Friends was always most interesting when he was willing to be less than likable. He’s negotiating that line here as well, turning Jared/Greenzo into something of a pompous jackass, while also spouting some fairly dead-on criticism of a huge corporation making like they’re environmentally friendly.
Shark-watchers were more than a little worried when NBC announced that 30 Rock would do a live episode in its fifth season; it’s the kind of gimmicky stunt that usually signals a show’s creative dead end. Instead, the wonderfully self-aware episode ended up being one of the show’s most inspired. Many wondered how one of the show’s signature gags —the quick cutaway/flashback to Liz having an awkward moment, telling a bad joke, failing at something — would work in a live format, since they couldn’t very well “cut away” to Fey. The solution was genius: they hired Julia Louis-Dreyfus to play “flashback Liz.” After her first appearance, Jack asks Liz, “Why are you better looking in your memory?” Her reply: “My memory has Seinfeld money.”
The season five episode “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning” centered on Jack’s scheme to pre-tape a celebrity disaster relief telethon, which would allow NBC to rush it onto air and grab huge ratings. The feather in his celeb cap is DeNiro, over whom he holds an embarrassing piece of information; he’s able to sit the Oscar winner down to tape a variety of potential disaster messages (“When the birds first started attacking us, we all thought it was pretty funny and made Hitchcock jokes. But we’re not laughing now, because our laughter excites the birds sexually”). The appearance was unexpected and hilarious — there’s more laughs in this one minute of 30 Rock than in all 98 of Little Fockers.
Fisher played legendary comedy writer Rosemary Howard on the second season episode “Rosemary’s Baby.” The first female writer for Laugh-In (and writer of “all the political stuff on Donnie and Marie”), she’s Liz’s girlhood idol, so Liz brings her on as a guest writer for The Girlie Show. But when her subversive pitches are vetoed by Jack, he tells Liz to fire her; Liz refuses, so she gets the boot as well — and gets a peek at Rosemary’s life, a future she finds absolutely terrifying. Fisher is brilliantly funny in the episode (anyone who saw her one-woman show Wishful Drinking knows that much), and not just with the punch lines, but in how she slowly, subtly reveals just how crazy Rosemary has become.
Okay, we cheated. The NBC Nightly News anchor has appeared on 30 Rock five times over the last three seasons, but his cameos are too funny to exclude — whether he’s receiving Tracy Jordan’s late-night booty calls, auditioning for a spot on The Girlie Show, or dropping into the CNBC newsroom (above). As you may have already gleaned from his appearances on The Daily Show, Williams is easily the most delightfully game newsman in the business.
Agree? Disagree? And who would you like to see turn up next on 30 Rock?