Tina Fey and the writers of 30 Rock have never been shy about letting their geek flag fly, both in extended parodies and homages and in delightfully random, obscure references peppered throughout the rapid-fire dialogue. Liz Lemon’s affection for/obsession with Star Wars, for example, is undeniable—as she insists to Jack in a recent episode, “I am not some kind of nerdery slut—I like Star Wars!”—and not since Spaced has a show featured quite so many jokes about Leia, Jedi, Sith Lords, and Admiral Ackbar.
Liz’s deep-seated fan loyalties aside, the show itself has always played the field when it comes to nerdery, gleefully getting down and dirty with everything from Batman and Lost to Ghostbusters and Game of Thrones. So in honor of the series’ finale this Thursday, here are some of our absolute favorite geeky references from all seven seasons of 30 Rock:
“I AM A JEDI!!!” (Pilot episode): In the show’s very first episode, new studio head Jack Donaghy insists on adding eccentric movie star Tracy Jordan to the cast of Liz Lemon’s floundering comedy show. When Liz objects that Tracy is completely crazy, there’s a brilliant smash cut to Tracy in his underwear, wielding a red lightsaber and repeatedly yelling “I AM A JEDI!” while running through traffic, effectively setting us up for seven seasons of absurd antics and non sequiturs (as well as all the aforementioned Star Wars references to come…). Of course, the gag was loosely parodying the similarly bizarre behavior of Martin Lawrence ten years earlier, but it’s still funny enough to get a great callback this season thanks to Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (who showed that she can swing a crazy lightsaber with the best of them).
“Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” (S2, Ep. 2): Tracy is having marital problems, and his wife Angie drops off a box of his stuff…including his gold record for the novelty party song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.” Cue flashback to six seconds of the gloriously cheesy video/“Thriller” rip-off and the catchiest monster-themed Bar Mitzvah song you will ever hear. The song was written by genius/rapper/future Spider-Man Donald Glover (who wrote for 30 Rock before starring on Community), and Glover actually provided most of the vocals for the extended version—the parts where Tracy’s talking to his producer? That’s actually Glover as the producer, plus Glover’s Tracy Morgan impression. Neat, huh?
Carrie Fisher guest stars/“Rosemary’s Baby,” (S2, Ep. 4): Over seven seasons, Liz Lemon’s Princess Leia obsession has been well documented: she’s worn her Leia costume, proudly and repeatedly, on multiple Halloweens and in an attempt to get out of jury duty; she once gave a baby version to Jack’s infant daughter, Liddy, and even got married wearing full Leia regalia. And at this early point in the series, the show was averaging at least one Star Wars reference per episode, so Carrie Fisher’s appearance as Liz’s childhood idol was a perfect fit, and a major triumph—as is the episode itself. Fisher is enjoyably brassy and manic as Rosemary Harris, a trailblazing comedy writer whose career inspired a younger Liz, even as it becomes painfully clear that she’s a raving nutjob. As Liz finally escapes her clutches (and her sketchy apartment in “Little Chechnya”), Rosemary tries to stop her, pleading, “Help me, Liz Lemon! You’re my only hope!” BOOM. Well played, 30 Rock—well played.
“You used Ghostbusters for evil!” (S2, Ep. 14): Liz’s long-distance relationship with boyfriend Floyd DeBarber is starting to fall apart, and when she finally confronts him with her suspicions about another woman, he uses his “partner meeting with Peter Venkman” as an excuse to put the conversation on hold and supposedly take the first flight back to Cleveland. Later, Liz runs into Floyd hiding out in Central Park, and realizes that he’s just been lying to her and that there’s no Peter Venkman—as the pieces fall into place she gasps, “You used Ghostbusters for evil!” It may not be the ultimate betrayal, but taking Dr. Peter Venkman’s name in vain certainly spells the end for Liz and Floyd. And just for the record, this episode also gets points for the very quick (but hilarious) flashback to Liz playing D&D in her wild and crazy college days, pictured above.
Kenneth takes on Teen Witch, (S3, Ep. 7): Kenneth the Page has actually had a lot to say about witches over the years, in the course of doling out tidbits of homespun advice and anecdotes that straddle the line between odd and downright disturbing. Describing his confidence in entering a pig eating contest, Kenneth tells Jack, “I knew I could win that contest. I once ate an entire witch. A pig was nothing.” In another episode, when Jack instructs him to crush his corporate rival, Kenneth responds, “But I’ve never crushed anyone before, except for accused witches!” Kenneth also believes in the legend of “the Hill Witch,” an ancient crone who eats people’s brains, which he uses to terrify Tracy into adopting a healthier diet. And yet, when forced to fill in for TGS’s warm-up comic, Kenneth delivers an impressive performance of the “Top That” rap from 1989’s Teen Witch, to the utter delight of 80s nerds everywhere, making us wish we could go back and watch the entire movie through Kenneth’s warped, witch-fearing eyes…(Totally unrelated: this episode also features an appearance by a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage, in case anyone needs fodder for their steamy Tyrion Lannister/Liz Lemon fanfic.)
Space makes you inspired/crazy: Season 3 contains “Apollo Apollo,” an unabashed 30 Rock love letter to the concept of space exploration, revealing that just the idea of going into space was a significant driving force for both Jack and Tracy during their childhoods, regardless of their substantially different backgrounds. “Apollo” does a hilarious job of mixing the brazen wonder of space travel with the cynical disdain of adulthood. Tracy wants to travel in space, but he also wants to kill an Ewok. Jack agrees to talk to his friends at NASA—but has none because they’re “a bunch of nerds…” (Then Adam West actually shows up in the middle of all this, but can’t stay long because “the Penguin’s in town.”) In the end, both Jack and Tracy fulfill their desires. Tracy is fooled into thinking he’s been sent into space, while Jack finds the lunar module toy he loved as a child.
Liz’s own love of space (and astronauts! She calls her idealized man “Astronaut Mike Dexter”) is dampened in season 4 episode “The Moms,” when it is revealed that Liz’s mom turned down a marriage proposal from Buzz Aldrin. Wondering why, Liz goes to meet Buzz, who turns out to be a nonsense-spouting crazy person. (He doesn’t believe in doors. He flipped a Saab. He once woke up in the Air and Space Museum with a revolver!) He’s calm and sober now, but he admits he would have been an awful father to her and awful husband to her mom. Aldrin offers Liz an olive branch, however, asking “Would you like to yell at the moon with Buzz Aldrin?”
Wouldn’t we all?
The marriage between Muppets and Tina Fey: The aforementioned “Apollo Apollo” episode is really a tour-de-force of nerdery, as it also reveals that Kenneth sees people as Muppets who occasionally break out into song. One season later, we actually learn why this is (aside from his general otherworldliness) when Kenneth happens to pass in front of an HD camera—he himself is a Muppet!
The alliance between The Muppets and 30 Rock becomes even more obvious when you look at the show overall. Kermit (who Liz reveals was her childhood crush) shows up at the eulogy for Jack’s mom in “My Whole Life is Thunder.” Another recent episode played on a running joke that Jenna’s go-to replacement is Miss Piggy. Sesame Street even did a 30 Rock parody on its own show, and Tina Fey is showing up in the next Muppets movie! The love runs deep between Jim Henson and 30 Rock. It’s not hard to understand why.
“Klaus and Greta” (S4, Ep. 9): James Franco has a secret. A very soft, non-speaking secret. In season 4 episode “Klaus and Greta,” Jenna is tapped by James Franco to be his fake girlfriend in public in order to cover up his relationship (and common law marriage!) with Kimiko, a Japanese body pillow. Jenna doesn’t care, and jumps eagerly at the chance to be publicly associated with Franco.
While at first the prospect of Franco’s pillow-relationship is treated as a mental disorder, both Liz and Jenna eventually accept that Franco is perfectly happy and accept Kimiko as a real person. (Each in their own way, that is: Jenna genuinely falls for Franco and gets jealous and envious of Kimiko, while Liz decides to be more outgoing, eventually falling into a three-way with Franco and the pillow.) Franco prefers the fiction that exists between him and Kimiko and forcing him into normative roles visibly pains him. The episode acknowledges it as weird, but isn’t condescending about Franco’s choice (perhaps in opposition to this New York Times article) which results in an inclusive atmosphere that most geeks often strive to create in their own lives.
Liz Lemon: Mutant and proud? (S4, Ep. 16): Liz has hit a new low: her latest attempt at dating—using the personal section of the Kraft Foods website (“K-date”)—isn’t going so well. Then she sees Floyd, her ex, on The Today Show with his new fiancée. To top it all off, Jack tells her that she can’t be part of his secret club for handsome pranksters, the Silver Panthers. As he leaves her office, she yells after him, “I don’t care—I’ll start my own group! Rejection from society is what created the X-Men!” Sigh. We’ve all been there, Lemon. It’s a funny line, made even better by the fact that two seasons later, Liz starts dating adorable “little elf prince” Criss Chros, played by James Marsden, aka Cyclops/Scott Summers in the X-Men movies. Now married and the proud adoptive parents of twins (as of the most recent episode), Liz and Criss are one of our favorite TV super-couples: two oddballs who’ve successfully joined forces because of, not in spite of, their quirks. We think Professor X would approve.
A bunch of random Lost jokes: For an NBC show, 30 Rock made a surprising number of references to ABC’s Lost while it was on the air (and even afterward). Not only were Liz, the writers, Tracy, and guest star Jerry Seinfeld dedicated fans, but there’s a running joke in which NBC page/resident bumpkin Kenneth is caught dramatically addressing Lost’s mysterious “Jacob.” The gag plays into the writers’ habit of hinting that Kenneth may be much older than he seems (or possibly even immortal), and the absurdity of the joke has only been enhanced by the decision to keep it going well after Lost’s not-so-satisfying conclusion. And in addition to one “Jacob” reference so far in the final season, Lost alum Rebecca Mader (she played Charlotte) made a recent cameo as a nymphomaniac-virgin-widow interested in Jack. So that was fun.
“The Tuxedo Begins” (S6, Ep. 8): In this extended Batman parody, Jack gets mugged, sending him on a crusade to make New York safer for incredibly wealthy millionaire playboy-types. Meanwhile, Liz gets so fed up with the rudeness of everyday New Yorkers that she attempts to turn the tables by dressing in a crazy old lady costume and scaring her fellow subway-riders into good behavior. But soon, Liz is out of control, terrifying the average citizen to get whatever she wants, armed with a gym bag full of stinky clothes and some pretty authentic-sounding subway gibberish. Jack hasn’t left the building or changes out of his tuxedo since the mugging, and in the end, the two find themselves in a classic Batman-style rooftop showdown, with Jack’s formal Bruce Wayne facing down Liz’s deranged, Joker-esque villain. Oh, and along the way, Tracy mentions that the first time he was mugged, he stayed home for a week wearing ”a Chewbacca costume made from used hair extensions"—just in case you like your Batman parodies served up with a weird side of Star Wars.
The Colonizers of Malaar (S6, Ep. 12): TGS’s writers decide to avoid New York’s rowdy St. Patrick’s Day festivities by hiding out in the office (“because we all have faces people naturally want to punch”) and playing an epic, Settlers of Catan-style board game called The Colonizers of Malaar. Jack, facing a crisis of confidence in his career as a cut-throat uber-exec, wanders down and gets caught up in the game, but his experience and well-honed instincts get him nowhere in Malaar (literally—he’s trapped in a barren desert with a dying yak). Seeking guidance, he finds a kind of warped inspiration in the story of St. Patrick (“His only worldly possession was…no snakes.”), and returns to 30 Rock with a new focus, restored confidence, and a triumphant, game-winning strategy. As much as the show is poking fun at the game (from the makers of Goblet Quest and Virginity Keep), as with all of these references, there’s far more affection than mockery involved, and it’s no coincidence that writer/actor John Lutz—whose character spends the game inexplicably obsessed with collecting fancy beads “for the pirate ball”—is a huge Settlers of Catan fan in real life.
Various shout outs to Game of Thrones: As in the case of Lost, it’s clear that there are some serious GoT/GRRM fans behind the scenes at 30 Rock. So far we’ve noted at least three references in the show: one involved a shot of Tracy’s crony Grizz putting down his book in shock and revealing a major spoiler about Ned Stark. Another showed the “reward board” Liz set up for her boyfriend Criss: the second chore listed reads, “Referring to me as Khaleesi” (Criss earned himself a gold star!). But the most developed reference came in the form of the 3D internet company “Xaro,” which Jack acquires for NBC. As it turns out, Xaro was created by an internet billionaire who’s been carrying a torch for Liz since college; as he explains during an awkward attempt at seducing her, he named the company in honor of Xaro Xhoan Daxos, “the rich merchant prince who wishes to acquaint himself with the mother of dragons.” The same episode, “Leap Day,” also features an Avatar reference, a frakking awesome D&D room with a table that rises out of the floor, a living Ewok in a glass case, and Liz’s lyrics to the song played by the Cantina Band in Star Wars (“Figrin D’an the kloo horn man…he’s from Clak’dor VII!”), so if you’re ever in the mood for a weird, buffet-style smorgasbord of fandoms, check it out.
“Pokémon-ing,” (S7, Ep. 3): In the episode titled “Stride of Pride,” Jack is casually dating a bevy of beautiful women, including the much younger socialite Pizzarina Sbarro. Rather than tying himself down to one partner, he tells Liz he’s modeling his love life after The Great Escape, creating a perfect team of women to fit all his various needs. He soon realizes that Zarina is employing the same strategy, but as she tells him, “My generation calls it Pokémon-ing. You gotta catch ‘em all.” And while Jack is temporarily taken aback to find that he fulfills the “Father Figure” role in Zarina’s dream team (it doesn’t help that she has to explain her references to him: “Jack, the plural form of Pokémon is Pokémon”), it could be worse. Apparently the five other “classic boyfriend archetypes” include the Mean Wall Street Guy, the Perfect Head of Hair, the Filthy Hippy, Someone To Make Her Parents Angry, and (best/worst of all), the Sex Idiot (in this case, swimmer Ryan Lochte). We like to think of Lochte the Sex Idiot as the Pikachu of the group.
Lemon’s miscellaneous catchphrases: One of the things we’ll miss most of all, now that the show is ending is Liz’s habit of blurting out ridiculous exclamations of surprise, frustration, or disbelief—from “Blërg” and “I want to go to there” to “nerds!”, “nerf herder” (of course), and our favorite, “…by the hammer of Thor!” Effective, if not strictly eloquent, Liz’s dorky outbursts have become catchphrases in their own right without wearing out their welcome, perhaps because there’s just something inherently likeable about the fact that her brain is a crazy Jell-O mold of fun-sounding gibberish studded with random pop culture references. We can totally relate to that.
As we approach 30 Rock’s grand finale, it seems like the writers have actually stepped up the geeky synergy over the course of the last few episodes—in spite of her attempts at proclaiming herself a Star Wars purist, Liz ended up in Harry Potter jail (it seems inevitable, in hindsight). Last week’s show featured an episode-spanning parody of Willy Wonka (it was titled “A Goon’s Deed In A Weary World”), and we’re sure there will be plenty of weirdness and hilarity packed into tomorrow’s hour-long farewell episode. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your favorite jokes, gags, and geeky references from the series, so have at it, nerf herders!
Bridget McGovern is the managing editor of Tor.com. She loves Elaine Stritch, night cheese, and White Haven, PA, and would like to one day visit The Smiling Irish Bastard Hall of Fame.
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and is being such a non-pillow right now.