Tina Fey and co. lampoon reality television but waste their Oscar-winning guest star
To create a successful spoof, writers must know their subject inside and out. To prevent leaving a bad taste in the audience's mouth, they must be genuine fans of what they are lampooning, so that the skewering is done with a lighthearted wink. With "Queen of Jordan," 30 Rock's spot-on, uproarious send up of trashy reality television, the sitcom's writers proved themselves to be superfans of the best of the worst of the genre. What one can only imagine to be the roster of programs saved on Liz Lemon's DVR, Real Housewives, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Intervention, and Millionaire Matchmaker all find themselves subjects of one of the sharpest satires 30 Rock has ever produced.
Born from a catchphrase—"It's my way 'til payday"—last night's episode was devoted to Queen of Jordan, the Bravo-esque show-within-a-show reality series starring Tracy's wife, Angie, her gay hairstylist, D'Fwan, and the staff at TGS. The outing perfectly replicated the mood of that alternate universe that reality stars seem to live in, devoid of sense, civility, or compassion. (And what alternate universe are we living in when Sherri Shepherd, as Angie, outacts Susan Sarandon on an episode of 30 Rock?) Angie puts on her best business wig and pulls a Kim Kardashian, deciding on a drunken whim to produce a song, called "My Single Is Dropping," and plans a performance at the recently vacant TGS studio. The show has been on hiatus ever since Tracy fled to Africa, a trip that Liz is desperate to get him back from, shamelessly scheming Angie to get her help in the endeavor.
With cameras turned on them, the staff reacts predictably (thus, hilariously). Jenna, obliviously promoting her new website Jenna-side.com, mugs for the camera and fabricates drama to score more airtime (wine throwing, alcoholism, the need for an intervention). Jack becomes self-destructively vain; his attempt to mask an on-camera trip and fall devolves into a story that eventually has his "co-stars" believing he is a closeted homosexual. It's all done with SNL-worthy nods to the reality genre, from the transitional muzak to the wry titlecard character descriptions ("Pete, Powerless Bald") to the characters' nonsensical, cyclical arguments ("I didn't say it!"). Jack even pitches a spin-off starring D'Fwan as a matchmaker for wealthy dogs, while Liz pays homage to reality TV's two most epic meltdowns: The Real Housewives of New Jersey's "we are thick as thieves" speech about family and infamous table flip.
Whether going toe-to-toe with Tina Fey's Liz or confidently rocking an Amy Grant-circa-"Baby Baby" costume, Shepherd was borderline revelatory in the showcase. Her winning performance makes it all the more confusing that Susan Sarandon was booked for the same episode. Playing Frank's former middle school teacher, who went to jail for her inappropriate relationship with him when he was 14, Sarandon was given very little to do in a storyline that seemed like an afterthought. It was the one weak spot in a stellar, refreshingly original outing for Rock. Often called the smartest comedy on television, the show skewered—and, really, paid tribute to—the medium's most derided genre. How spectacularly brilliant.