Halloween may have already come and gone, but “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” from 30 Rock is still bouncing around in my head. Thanks to the majesty of the internet, the bit that originally lasted only seven seconds, can now be heard in full:
The fact that the 30 Rock team wrote a three-minute song for a seven-second joke speaks volumes about the show’s attention to detail (something that sometimes entices fans to freeze-frame particular scenes and analyze them more closely). Is it slightly insane that one viewer read, typed out, and shared the text of a sign in a liquor store window from Episode 15, Season 4? Well no. Not when the first line of the sign is “The famed, boggy soils of Scotland produce distinctive wines with short, almost brutal finishes, and an acrid, musty nose that is often compared to the attic of a serial killer,” and just gets better from there.
30 Rock was relevant during its time on NBC, and it remains relevant today. One pertinent example concerns issues surrounding black comedians being asked to dress as women for roles. The subject has been analyzed at length, online, in academia, and even in the debut episode of new Showtime series, White Famous (Jay Pharoah’s character Floyd notes: “It’s just that thing — every time there’s a funny black brother in Hollywood, they try to emasculate him”). Impressive then that 30 Rock managed to dig into this issue on a major TV network over a decade ago (in Episode 8 of its first season, Tracy Jordan was told: “Drag is a way for Caucasians to emasculate you and make you seem non-threatening”).
Truly, the further away from the end of 30 Rock we get — the last episode aired in January 2013 — the more we seem to need to revisit it. This was most apparent in October 2014, after the Bill Cosby scandal first broke. Hannibal Buress was credited with dragging the sexual assault rumors into the light with a biting piece of stand-up, but 30 Rock had hinted at the same thing in a Season 3 episode titled “The Bubble,” all the way back in 2009. Skip to 1:35:
30 Rock co-showrunner Robert Carlock told Entertainment Weekly in 2016 that Tina Fey wanted to overtly call out Cosby on the show and had been “grinding that ax for a long time.” “From my memory,” he said, “the joke was more overt. And because [Cosby] had not been found guilty of anything — and still hasn’t — we had to reword it to be a little more obtuse.”
Remarkably, it wasn’t a one-off. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the official 30 Rock YouTube account posted this clip last month, from a March 2012 episode:
Jenna’s questionable relationship with Weinstein comes up again in 30 Rock‘s final season, when she utters the now-astonishing line, “I know how former lovers can have a hold over you long after they’re gone. In some ways, I’m still pinned under a passed-out Harvey Weinstein, and it’s Thanksgiving.”
In fact, hindsight regularly injects extra layers of meaning throughout 30 Rock. The fact that Jenna owns a holiday home in Clearwater, Florida didn’t mean a lot back when she announced it in the show’s first season. Now, in a post-Scientology and the Aftermath world, we know that Clearwater is a hotbed of Scientology-related activity (the church is currently responsible for more than a quarter billion dollars of real estate in downtown Clearwater). Eleven years later, we’re finally in on a joke that most of us probably missed before.
It begs the question: How many other people and institutions were called out in 30 Rock‘s seven seasons that we simply haven’t noticed yet? If anyone is going to figure it out, a mass 30 Rock binge is in order. Now is a great time regardless: Alec Baldwin’s popularity is riding particularly high, thanks to his iconic Donald Trump impersonation, and Tina Fey’s guest appearances on Great News are currently reminding America just how much it misses her.
When 30 Rock ended after 138 glorious episodes, The New Yorker called the show “a surreal machine capable of commenting on anything, from feminism and prismatic perspectives on race, to national politics, reality television, and corporate culture.” And that’s still as true as Kenneth Parcell’s commitment to telling tragic family stories with a smile on his face.