The end of 30 Rock tonight doesn't just mean happy endings for Jack, Liz, and all of the familiar members of the TGS crew. It also means the last we'll see from 30 Rock's vast universe of side characters, the families and girlfriends and boyfriends of our main characters as well as the random recurring roles who help make this world uniquely bizarre and fun to visit. 30 Rock's tendency to cram in jokes and flashbacks means that a ton of actors have appeared on the show, some of them as one-note jokes that grew into actual roles and some of them in short arcs that brought in famous people just long enough to advertise them and send them on their way.
But only some of those recurring characters truly made their impact. And only 20 of them have made this highly scientific (read: deeply personal) list, in which I rank the top recurring characters of 30 Rock. To qualify for the list the characters had to appear on at least two different episodes (sorry, Greenzo and Pam the Spunky Tween) and fewer than 25 (Jonathan, Dot Com and Grizz, much as I love them, were too big on the show). And the characters had to be memorable, with a single good joke you could instantly remember, or a major impact on one of the main characters that could be felt even when they were offscreen.
Obviously some excellent characters had to be left off, and some insane choices in the rankings had to be made. But this is my list, not yours. Take a look below, and let me know in the comments which of your favorite recurring 30 Rock characters you'll miss the most once the show is off the air.
#20: Bianca Donaghy (Isabella Rossellini)
Because she appeared so early in the show's run, for just two episodes in the first season, it's easy to forget the amazing fact that Isabella Rossellini was on 30 Rock. But as the first of Jack's love interests that we ever met, and by far the most alluring and mysterious, Bianca established Jack as a worldly character in direct contrast to crazy Liz-- while also revealing a weird streak, what with the Arby's franchise outside Telluride. Bianca didn't get to be part of 30 Rock's golden years, but she was definitely a strong sign of the goodness to come.
#19: Verna Maroney (Jan Hooks)
Jenna's trashy background, from the Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks education to the mall Santa father who abandoned her, was so well-established by the fourth season that it seemed impossible her mom could actually live up to it. But as Verna, crashing her daughter's birthday party for her own attention and making them matching denim jackets, Jan Hooks was exactly the mom you thought Jenna grew up with-- domineering, constantly insincere, and 100% Florida. She may not have had the staying power of Jack's mom (we'll get to her later), but she and Colleen could probably take over the world if given the chance.
#18: Paula Hornberger (Paula Pell)
Paula only appears in a handful of episodes, probably because Paula Pell was busy as a writer on SNL, but it's her threat that looms over Pete that makes her so funny. Pete might be more terrorized by his kids, but Paula has way more power of him, both sexually appealing and completely domineering when she was to be. And in season 2's "Greenzo," Pete's afternoon delight with his wife-- using a Pop-Tart, for some reason-- is both awkward and unforgettable.
#17: Subhas (Subhas Ramsaywack)
Played by an actual janitor working at Silvercup Studios, where 30 Rock is filmed, Subhas is a minor enough character that he can be the subject of just about any joke-- a scattershot kind of character development that makes him totally bizarre and fascinating. Subhas identifies with the gay community, as we learn when the show is protested by gay rights groups, and Kenneth explains "Sex is a continuum, and he is but a voyager on a vast ocean of pleasure." He is also married to Ann Curry. In "Khonani," Subhas helped re-enact the Jay/Conan late night wars with a battle over the first janitorial shift. Subhas may not make sense as a human being, but as texture to the weird world of 30 Rock, he's perfect.
#16: Sherry (Adriane Lenox)
30 Rock has been impressively deft at depicting how cowed white people by women of color with accents who are theoretically "beneath" them-- see Elisa subduing Jack with rapid fire Spanish, or the Caribbean women at the dentist's office where Liz gets a root canal. The best of them all, by far, is Sherry, the nanny who hardballs a negotiation with Jack by eating a clementine and saying absolutely nothing. She's a better business icon than Don Geiss.
#15: Sylvia Rossitano (Patti Lupone)
Tons of people famous only in New York have appeared on 30 Rock, from Mayor Bloomberg to former news anchor Sue Simmons, but the grandest of them all has to be Broadway star Patti Lupone, who channels all her diva powers to become Frank's bossy and overbearing mom. Who else gets away with hitting Alec Baldwin upside the head for encouraging Frank to find his real mom? For that matter, who else could be as terrifying as Frank had always made his mom out to be?
#14: Kim Jong-Il (Margaret Cho)
There's something amazing and deranged about a sitcom depicting one of the world's most powerful and feared leaders, one who could very well be pointing a nuclear missile at us this minute, and making him a complete buffoon. Avery Jessup's kidnapping in North Korea had its ups and downs as a plot point, but every single appearance from Kim Jong-Il was lunatic gold-- including when he faked his own death and started life anew as a waiter in New York only to break up Avery and Jack's wedding.
#13: Moonvest (Craig Castaldo)
Played by real, famous New York homeless person Radioman, Moonvest first appears as a visual accompaniment to a joke-- Kenneth pitching a show idea to Moonvest at CBS instead of the actual president of that network, Les Moonves. But in classic 30 Rock fashion Moonvest kept coming back, always there to yell at a character or, in the 100th episode, show up in a pack of "recurring hobos" as the gang rushes down the stairs. He's probably the least important character on this list, but also the one you're most likely to actually see on the streets if you visit New York.
#12: Dr. Drew Baird (Jon Hamm)
Jon Hamm completely shed his Don Draper reputation to play the ridiculous, ridiculously handsome Dr. Drew, who doesn't understand why everyone doesn't get free muffins at brunch, loses terribly at tennis ("This racquet is a fart!") and eventually replaces his hands with hooks, after losing one to a firework and one to a helicopter. Drew is probably Liz's most absurd boyfriend (yes, even more so than Dennis), but the way both Hamm and the show were willing to skewer his good looks was just one of the many things that helped set all of Liz Lemon's insane relationships apart.
#11: Elisa Padriera (Salma Hayek)
So many different, amazing conflicts emerged when Jack began dating Elisa, from the class differences ("I've never eaten at a restaurant that didn't have a TV in it.") to the culture differences ("What do I call you?" "Puerto Rican." "Wow, that does not sound right.") to Liz awkwardly getting between them ("Lemon, isn't there a slanket somewhere you should be filling with your farts?") Elisa's bizarre traits-- her history as a Black Widow, her Battlestar Galactica T-shirts-- only somehow served to make her feel like a real human being, and though it was never really going to last between them, she somehow seemed a better match for Jack than any of the women who came before or since.
#10: Don Geiss (Rip Torn)
A central figure of the show's early seasons, and killed off when Torn ran into his own real-life troubled, Geiss was the perfect grizzled father figure for Jack to aspire to impress. It made no sense for him to appear on the show as often as he did, but the details of his bizarre family (and second family in Canada, and attic family) and Torn's own knack for one-liners ("Is that the gay guy from Project Runway") made him fit right in. I'll even give him credit for Argus, the peacock Jack inherited after Geiss's death whom he believed contained Geiss's spirit. Why not, right?
#9: Carol Burnett (Matt Damon)
Liz always said Drew looked like a cartoon pilot. Carol was the real deal, and not only was he handsome, but he matched Liz in complete intolerance for the rest of the world, from people who fly in gym clothes ("They think that $300 and a photo ID gives them the right to fly through the air like the guardian owls of legend!”) to the NBA tattoo situation. Of course, those similarities eventually led them to realize they were basically the same person, and the most hilarious and vaguely terrifying showdown on board one of Carol's delayed planes. They might have been a little too much of a match made in heaven, but at least that leaves Carol to find some other cranky woman to love.
#8: Kathy Geiss (Marceline Hugot)
On another show Kathy could have been just a pawn, the heir to Don Geiss whom Devon Banks agrees to marry solely to take over the company, an idiot not at all capable of the job. But in the hands of 30 Rock Kathy become a grade-A weirdo, obsessed with unicorns and Mark Wahlberg, prone to fits of violence and putting in appropriate things in her mouth, and-- just when you thought you'd seen the last of her-- performing a beautiful rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" to audition for TGS. Kathy Geiss did more with the fewest lines than nearly anyone else on the show, and kudos to 30 Rock for making her terrible haircut and flushed cheeks maybe the 10th most bizarre thing about her.
#7: Paul L'Astname (Will Forte)
Jenna falling in love with the female impersonator version of herself is such an obvious joke it's surprising it wasn't a punchline earlier on the show. But maybe the writers were saving themselves for the actual character of Paul, who is somehow even weirder than Jenna and coaxes her into sex acts that somehow even top Mickey Rourke's sex grill. As the show got closer to wrapping up this season, Paul and Jenna's relationship became legitimately sweet-- their wedding may have required crashing Jack's mother's funeral and Paul dressing up as a stone gargoyle, but hey, it was love.
#6: Devon Banks (Will Arnett)
From seducing Kenneth the Page in a robe he cut short himself to starting life over again as a spin instructor ("I quit, cows. Tell your husbands I tried."), Devon Banks threw himself into absolutely everything he did, which made him a surprisingly versatile adversary for Jack right up until the very end. He might legitimately be one of the best gay characters ever on TV-- not the most sympathetic, of course, but an evil mastermind whose sexuality rarely had anything to do with his schemes. Whoever dreamed up the idea of Arnett and Baldwin matching each others' gravelly tones (in a "talking like this contest") deserved to share the Emmy Arnett got nominated for.
#5: Brian Williams (Brian Williams)
The first time Brian Williams poked fun at himself on 30 Rock, he wasn't even on the show-- Kenneth was charged with cleaning up Williams's destroyed dressing room, with a pizza stuck to the ceiling and a tube sock full of birdseed. Eventually, somehow, the legitimately powerful news anchor started appearing on the show himself, as an increasingly weird version of his actual self. Why in the world would a news anchor want to look ridiculous on the same network where he's required to look serious and respectable? I have no idea. But thank God he did.
#4: Dennis Duffy (Dean Winters)
No character better sums up Liz Lemon's insecurities, her willingness to settle and her aversion to making tough decisions than Dennis, her on-again, off-again boyfriend and Beeper King and former To Catch A Predator perp. There's nothing immature and ridiculous that Dennis won't do, and he even uses a moment of genuine heroism-- rescuing a man from in front of a speeding train-- to promote himself and try to get back at Derek Jeter. There's something inherently New York in Dennis's obnoxious bravado, and you can kind of see why Liz would keep coming back to him-- but also why the woman he eventually married, loudmouth Megan, is even more perfect for him. Mazel tov, dummies.
#3: Colleen Donaghy (Elaine Stritch)
Colleen has become a surprisingly important part of 30 Rock's final episodes, as Jack copes with her death and the revelation that was actually happy, which just goes to show how invaluable she was the entire time. Her terrible actions from the past-- blaming JFK's assassination on Jack, leaving the dog in the street to die-- are somehow actually matched by what she does on the show, like trying to tear apart the Lemon family at Christmas or telling Jack "his mother loves him… but not in a queer way!" But Jack's love for his mom was one of the show's earliest threads of real heart, and it concluded itself nicely at Colleen's funeral, where Jack gave the greatest eulogy of all time-- right down to Kermit the frog. Colleen probably hated the Muppets for some reason, but the thought counted.
#2: Dr. Spaceman (Chris Parnell)
It's almost cheating to include Dr. Spaceman on this list-- he's the sole reason I included characters who have appeared 25 times instead of just 20. But it's impossible to imagine the show without Leo, who's an excellent physician and a pretty good dentist, and who shows up to treat everyone at TGS for everything from the flu to diabetic coma to giving birth. It's amazing that a character this rich and bizarre started essentially as a punchline, when Tracy is calling for "Dr. Spaceman" and Liz assumes he's hallucinating until seeing the name on his prescription bottle. With Parnell's deadpan delivery the character somehow fits right into this world, and it's kind of inspiring, really. A guy with a degree from the Ho Chi Minh City School of Medicine and a dream has managed to become America's Surgeon General. That's a series wrap for Dr. Leo Spaceman, suckers!
#1: Angie Jordan (Sherri Shepherd)
How do you rank any recurring 30 Rock character above Dr. Spaceman? It was a hard choice, but just like the Ham Council, I can't resist the way Angie says "ham"-- or pretty much anything else about this amazing character, whose freaky and probably too affectionate relationship with Tracy is probably, no joke, one of the best TV marriages ever. The show clearly knew they had a breakout star when they crafted the "Queen of Jordan" episode around Angie, but Shepherd and company completely delivered on that one, proving Angie was enough of a rounded character to hold her own story. Angie gets more of the show's best lines than some of the actual main characters, and Shepherd nails every single one of them. It's not easy for a comedian who's very well-established on her own to slip so seamlessly into another show, but Shepherd made Angie not just a standout, but a crucial part of the 30 Rock ecosystem. If a Queen of Jordan spinoff is our consolation prize for 30 Rock going off the air, we'll take it.
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