For the second time in as many weeks, tonight 30 Rock revives a formal experiment it first tried out last season. Last week, of course, was their second crack at a live show, the dizzily enjoyable “Live From Studio 6H.” And now, as a sequel to “Queen Of Jordan”—one of the highlights of season five—we get “ Queen Of Jordan 2: The Mystery Of the Phantom Pooper.” Like the live show, the original “Queen Of Jordan” was so much fun because although it was a stylistic departure for 30 Rock, it still moved the overall plot forward and, most importantly, it was also very funny—even to those of you who don’t watch a lot of Bravo reality shows. You could probably argue that all this experimentation is a sign that the show is running out of gas, but I don't know. There's a difference between shaking things up and relying on gimmicks, and for now anyway, 30 Rock is still doing a terrific job at the former.
Last season, the appearance of “Queen Of Jordan” felt a little more organic—if that’s ever a word that can be applied to a fake reality show within a real series about a fake sketch-comedy show—both because of Tracy Morgan’s long medical absence and because of numerous references to Angie’s burgeoning reality stardom. When “Queen Of Jordan” first arrived, we’d almost been expecting it. So this time around, it feels slightly more contrived, since it’s been such a long time since we last saw Angie on 30 Rock (in fact, according to IMDB, Sherri Shepherd’s last appearance on the show was in the first “Queen Of Jordan”) or heard talk about her reality show. Nevertheless, the episode is still a lot of fun, even if also feels like a clever way to fill another 22 minutes of screen time.
Like its predecessor, “Queen Of Jordan 2” nails the reality satire without making it the sole purpose of the episode. For someone like me, who’s watched a truly shameful amount of Bravo programming over the years, there’s of course a little jolt of pleasure at picking up on the infamous quotes, and knowing that Tina Fey watches the same drivel I do (though I have to say, “prostitution whore” is pretty out of date at this point; I would have gone with “satchels of gold” or maybe “go to sleep!”). But what’s even more fun is how well 30 Rock nails the visual and narrative tropes that are rife on shows like The Real Housewives: The confessional room decorated with what looks like furniture bought on clearance at Pier 1; the cheesy interstitials; the way cast member will insert themselves into other people’s feuds in order to secure more air time. It’s all very spot-on, and the there are enough fresh observations that “Queen Of Jordan 2” feels like much more than reheated leftovers.
There’s also some very smart commentary on the weird process of reality TV production sprinkled throughout the episode. In the opening scene, Jack picks up the phone in his office and says, “Hello, Angie,” then corrects himself, “Hello, whoever this is going to be.” In the same vein, his entire storyline is an attempt to cover up a mistake made on-camera—in this case, Diana’s suggestion that “I don’t think we should tell her about us.” (“Her” being Avery, of course.) So he makes up a friend named “Gus,” only to discover that Diana’s made up a story about “Rus,” a Russian restaurant. It’s a funny way of dramatizing all the self-consciousness and frantic backpedaling that reality TV promotes. (Even Liz gets in on the act, kissing Jack after he lays one on Diana in order to make it seem normal.) But it’s not all about media commentary, of course, because Jack and Diana finally acknowledge their mutual attraction to each other. Will Avery catch The Queen Of Jordan on Bravo before Jack can have it destroyed? He better hope so.
Similarly, Liz’s story this week works both as satire and as part of the larger serial narrative. She coos over Virginia, Angie’s adorable toddler, saying how much she wants to “eat her chubby little legs.” Little does Liz know that wee Virginia is offended by her comments—“Never talk about a black woman’s leg size,” D’Fwan explains—and a feud erupts. Her efforts to ingratiate herself to Virginia, including a gift of a “crinkly book,” come to naught, and things only get worse when Liz shows up to the Cheek fashion show wearing the same dress as her nemesis. The plot is only slightly more ridiculous than what you might actually find on Bravo, a channel where grown women are known to fight with girls half their age and/or involve their own teenage daughters in their messy personal lives. But it’s also grounded by genuine emotion: Liz wants to have a baby, so she’s trying one on for size. If all goes according to plan, there may just be a fresh, extremely young new face on 30 Rock around this time next year. Jenna is going to freak.
- The joke about Kenneth getting fashion tips from John Mark Karr seemed weirdly dated to me, but a cursory Google search reveals that Jack McBrayer and the guy who claimed he killed JonBenet Ramsey are both from Conyers, Georgia. Also, Karr is now a woman known as Alexis Reich, according to Wikipedia. (You’re welcome.)
- I was on a flight back to New York earlier this week with J.D. Lutz and Sue Galloway, a.k.a. “Lutz” and “Sue.” I know, I know: lame story. I just felt obligated to tell you all.
- Liz Lemon is labeled as “Lisa Lampanelli?”. Hilarious.
- D’Fwan calls Liz “Eliza Beth.”
- Cerie: “Contractually I can only hold beautiful black babies in Benetton commercials.”
- Jack: “Don’t tell Clinton about this. He and Steve Bing will break out their sex plane.”
- Diana: “I suggest you go back to whatever Florida bathroom you crawled out of.”
- Tracy: “I don’t really watch TV, I’m more of a masturbator.”
- Another pitch-perfect reality TV detail is Daphne, the forgotten cast member, who boasts, “I handle conflict appropriately, and I’m up to date on my mortgage payments.” You're in the wrong line of work, lady.
- Biggest laugh of the night, for me, is when Kenneth asks, “What's cocaine like?”