Unless I've gotten one of them in advance, I tend to review the NBC Thursday comedies (minus "Outsourced," whose second episode ditched the lazy stereotypes and settled for simple laziness) in chronological order. I will make exceptions in the event one of the later ones is particularly good or bad, and fortunately last night's "30 Rock" fits into the "particularly good" category - the best overall episode since at least last year's "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001." And in honor of getting a vintage "30 Rock" at a time I wasn't sure such a thing existed anymore, it's first in the rotation this morning, coming up just as soon as I go to middle school in an Exxon station...

"30 Rock" got into a rut last year, where it not only wasn't funny, but where the main characters kept showing my least favorite sides of theirs, over and over. Too much of depressed, self-destructive Liz, too much of panicky Jack, too much of Kenneth being weird for weirdness' sake, etc.

"When It Rains, It Pours" had some incredibly funny jokes, like Brian Williams and Andrea Mitchell acting like snotty junior high kids, or Dr. Spaceman explaining that most of his experience involves putting babies into women, but the best, most hilarious moments tended to come from the characters being the best versions of themselves.

There was some desperation to Jack after Liz helped him realize how little time he'd have with his son, but once he began recording his messages, it was the Donaghy I know and love best: supremely confident and (like Tracy) oblivious to his own insanity. The constant cuts back to the video messages were the funniest thing "30 Rock" has done since Tracy's ghetto horror stories late last year, and so packed with good lines/moments that I'm reluctant to isolate one or two. (Though if I had to, I'd choose "The secret to a strong, healthy head of hair is Dove... blood" and Jack preparing to use Lutz to demonstrate how to make love to a woman.) That's one where I hope there are many, many outtakes on the DVD that got cut simply because the whole episode couldn't just be Jack videos. And the punchline at the end, with Jack so at a loss as to what to say to a woman that he brings in Liz (after telling his "son" to seek her counsel and always do the opposite), was wonderful.

Speaking of Tracy's ghetto horror stories, his trip in the Cash Cab was another fine example of the good things that can happen if you just let the character talk and talk and talk, all the while revealing way too much about the way he sees the world - and yet, like Jack, being able to turn his craziness to his advantage. And affable "Cash Cab" host Ben Bailey made a very nice straight man to Tracy.

And rather than bitter cosmic punching bag of season four, Liz here was back to the woman trying to balance her optimism with the weird, often demoralizing world in which she lives. So she enjoyed her When It Rains, It Pours powers, used them to her advantage with Richie(*), got outraged by his sex lies but then was willing to play along and help him with his horribly-scripted play ("How many guys have been to Canada? Twice?") to try to win his assistant's heart. Funny, but also surprisingly sweet (see also Tracy telling Jack the ways to make God laugh).

 (*) Very well-played by Paul Giamatti, and a role that in no way screamed "Hey, we got a notable guest star!" the way the show has at times in seasons past. This was just a character part, played by a great character actor (in an Islanders sweater).

In fact, I loved this one so much, I'm not even going to trouble myself very much on how a live show like "TGS" could be so at the mercy of the editing department. (Once the main titles are done, what power does Richie have?)

Welcome back, "30 Rock." I've missed you. Hope you can stay a while.

What did everybody else think?