B

30 Rock: "Reunion"

 

Nobody thinks they were popular in high school. How often have you seen some impossibly gorgeous, glamorous supermodel on television profess to be a skinny, scrawny ugly duckling until that magical moment they blossomed into a radiant creature with shiny hair, a blinding smile, high cheekbones and a figure to die for?

I will always remember watching Christina Ricci tell some interviewer that she was a reviled, geeky prude in high school. Gosh, for some reason I have a hard time believing that. I can't imagine Ricci stalking glumly through the halls of Self-Delusion High while the popular kids gawked and pointed and hissed, "Hey look, there's that horrible Christina Ricci nerd with her amazing breasts and millions of dollars and international fame and movie star friends. Hey, Ricci, why don't you go hang out with Johnny Depp? Let's go hang with someone really cool, like that girl that works at Olive Garden after school."

Tonight we learned that while good old Liz Lemon might have viewed herself as a virtuous, guiltless Dork-American, the rest of her high school class viewed her as an evil Poindexter who used her cutting wit to tear apart their fragile egos. It was all Rashomon and shit, only with braces.

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Today's episode witnessed the surprisingly anti-climactic return of Rip Torn's Don Geiss, who awakens from a coma with terrible news for Jack: instead of handing over the reigns to his protégé, he now intends to stay on indefinitely. This sends Jack into one of his periodic existential crises. He has devoted his entire monomaniacal existence to becoming CEO, only to watch his dreams fall apart in an instant.

Feeling morose and dejected, Jack ends up accompanying Liz to her high school reunion in White Haven, Pennsylvania. Liz hopes to get tardy revenge on all the popular girls who made her life a living hell, only to find out that all the ostensibly popular girls viewed her as an evil shrew who made their lives hell with her cutting remarks and acidic putdowns.

In the episode's most inspired twist, Jack is mistaken for a classmate named Larry Braverman and, feeling miserable about his own life, decides to go along with the charade. Jack decides to enjoy a mini vacation in someone else's skin, slumming amongst IHop monkeys and getting a brief voyeuristic glimpse into how his social and economic inferiors live.

Tonight's episode was all about the rich, famous and powerful envying the broke and anonymous. In the b-story, Tracy becomes incredibly jealous when his elevator wisecracks meet an icy reception while everyone laughs at Kenneth's jokes. He ropes Jenna into his bizarre crusade to punish Kenneth for upstaging the stars of the show by stealing Kenneth's identity and with it his mojo. I found this subplot a little underwhelming though I thought there was a neat meta-textual element to it.

After all, when 30 Rock went on the air, it was supposed to be partially a vehicle for Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski, name actors with big, iconic shows like Saturday Night Live and Ally McBeal on their resumes but it was unknown Jack MacBrayer, with his goofy charm and infectious smile, who emerged as the show's breakout star. In the end, the public elevates actors to stardom, not producers, writers or network bosses. The subplot scored some nice shots at the vapid narcissism of actors but it promised more than it could deliver.

Back in Pennsylvania, Jack and Liz regressed alongside Liz's lynch mob of a peer group and played spin the bottle. The platonic pals ended up in a closet after a wayward spin ordered them to punish each other with seven minutes of heaven but thankfully nothing physical transpired. I think it would be a terrible mistake for Liz and Jack to become romantically involved on any level. It would kill the show. I similarly like that the sexual tension between the two is subdued and subtle to the point of barely existing; if they were to hook up it would reek of desperation.

The reunion hijinks eventually built to an amusing if awfully familiar Carrie homage, with Liz's enraged former classmates intent on pouring a bucket of blood on her as tardy revenge for all her cruel jibes. I was much more amused by the still-simmering rage of the first gay guy Liz ever kissed, who scored many of the show's biggest laughs. Incidentally did anyone else read Nancy Franklin's sorta-pan of 30 Rock in The New Yorker. She gushed all over Alec Baldwin, deservedly, but otherwise dismissed the rest of the show and called Tracy Morgan irritating and hard to watch. Even worse, she called his vanity license plate inscrutable!

It's a testament to how fiercely protective I am of the shows I love–say what you will about my crappy mother but diss Tracy Jordan and fisticuffs will ensue–that I got viscerally angry. I actually found myself yelling at the magazine. I don't know that I can ever trust the judgment of anyone who thinks Tracy Jordan is an annoying, unfunny character. That is some straight-up pop culture blasphemy right there. To paraphrase one of my other favorite shows, you're officially on notice, Nancy Franklin. You're lucky I don't cancel my New Yorker subscription in protest.

Grade: B

Stray Observations–

–"Making up words won't save you."

–"Don't let them win! Cat anus!"

–"do you like Methodist churches full of the Vietnamese?

–"He was the first gay guy I ever kissed!

–"She's the gay one!

–"I want to go to there"

–"You're more than perfect, Larry Braverman!

–"I use sex and awesomeness."

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