Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

30 Rock: “There’s No I in America”

Illustration for article titled 30 Rock: “There’s No I in America”

“There’s No I In America” picks up right where “Unwindulax” left off last week. Liz and Jack have simultaneously come to the realization that the next President of the United States will be decided by Jenna Maroney, a self-obsessed celebrity who wouldn’t hesitate to stick her head in a microwave just to make her hair blonder. The complete absurdity and narcissism of Jenna is one of the most consistently hilarious things about 30 Rock (and, as many of you have pointed out in the comments, it’s really a shame that Jane Krakowski isn’t rolling in Emmy Awards), so the idea of her choosing the person to run our country for four years is gold. It’s a premise that should be bursting with humor, yet it fell a little flat.

“There’s No I In America” tries to mine laughs from paralleling the actual campaign with Liz (campaigning for Obama) and Jack (for Romney) each trying their best to convince Jenna to endorse the candidate of their choice. All she has to do is send out a tweet to her millions of followers, most importantly the undecided folks in Northern Florida that idolize her, and she’ll decide the election. The storyline hit on all the expected political jokes (a debate, an attack ad, etc.) but I found it a little disappointing. Of course, there were still a few good moments in the debate, such as Jenna signaling the end of the allotted speaking time by singing the entirety of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Jack’s meaningless string of vague buzzwords during his closing statement. I also loved how both Jack and Liz managed to appeal to Jenna’s self-absorption in opposite ways. When Liz warns Jenna that Romney will cut a music appreciation class and students wouldn’t know how much they appreciate Jenna, Jack cleverly turns it around by explaining that without these art programs, there will no longer be any young actresses to compete against Jenna. Despite that, however, I just kept wishing the episode was funnier. Sure, I loved Liz’s impression of a young Jack with a horrible Boston accent and Jack using his drink to “let a moment land,” but there was nothing particularly uproariously funny about these last two episodes.

For the most part, I was just curious as to what route the writers would take. It turns out that Jenna endorses neither candidate—Liz gets Jenna kicked off Twitter, and Jack decides against the entire thing after a young girl helps him realize that he doesn’t want anyone to grow up in “Jenna Maroney’s America.” It’s just a way to show that Jack and Liz have spent the last seven years rubbing off on one another (Liz does something devious; Jack acts out of sentimentality), but it’s a little too on-the-nose, especially because the characters pretty much explicitly have this conversation in the last scene. There is nothing wrong with these characters discovering their new traits, and it’s definitely natural for two friends who spend this much time with each other to take on each other's characteristics, but 30 Rock could have probably done this better without throwing a two-part episode about politics into the final season.

Thankfully, “There’s No I In America” does redeem itself with a great storyline featuring Pete. Pete’s sad-sack qualities sometimes teeter on a tightrope between depressing and downright creepy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the wave of emotions he went through in this episode. He has an over-the-top excitement about Election Day that he tries to pretend is about Obama but is really about reliving the moment in 2008 when a pretty security guard named Maria kissed him in elation. However, his hopes are dashed over and over. Everyone can see right through him, no one else is as psyched as they were four years ago, Maria has to go home before the returns come in, and Brian Williams refuses to call the election early. There is a sadness to Pete’s ongoing desperation and disappointment, especially during the moment when he breaks down in the writers’ room and reveals just how much that kiss meant to him: It represented all of the changes and possibilities that were supposed to happen in his personal life but never did. It’s obviously to be viewed as a parallel to the disappointment many people feel about Obama’s first term but aside from that, it’s just a really funny scene in its own right—if only because Pete’s probably the only person to lament the fact that he doesn’t say “Wiki-what!” on a regular basis. It also results in Pete running into his doppelganger, Peter Horn, a guy with a full head of hair, a sports car, and Maria. Pete’s storyline was an example of how funny 30 Rock can be when it dips into politics in small doses, instead of letting it completely overtake the episode. Fortunately, with the election coming to a close next week, let’s hope 30 Rock abandons the politics and gets back to the highs it hit earlier this season.

Stray observations:

  • I also loved Kenneth’s storyline about him voting for the first time although he was more concerned about things like whether a man should be allowed to marry his daughter or if he has to bury her with the rest of the dead.
  • Who had the worse Boston accent: Tina Fey or Julianne Moore during her arc?
  • This week’s random cast member return: Danny! I always completely forget about him, but then I always love him when he shows up.
  • Jack: “First of all, I have never dropped a hat in my life.”
  • In all honesty, it’s possible that “There’s No I In America” and “Unwindulax” might be episodes that I end up liking more if I watch them again a few months from now, after this election is over.