Last week, we got 30 Rock’s second live episode. This time around, it’s the show’s second episode set entirely inside a reality show. Both concepts felt clever and vital when they debuted in season five, but while the live show only improved with repetition, “Queen of Jordan 2” wasn’t quite able to surpass its predecessor.
That’s okay: “Queen of Jordan” might just be unsurpassable. That episode revealed that 30 Rock’s writers and producers have been watching a ton of Bravo. The attention to detail was breathtaking, and the humor was derived largely from the accuracy of the parody. This time around, the details were equally funny — the writers’ credit with “written by” in quotes was a great touch — but they weren’t surprising. (Except for that Game of Thrones spoiler, which may legitimately surprise the hell out of people who haven’t finished season one. When does it become acceptable to talk about that stuff? Sorry, that’s probably an off-topic discussion question for this recap.)
30 Rock has already proved it can morph into a wholly believable reality show, so it would have made sense for this episode to improve on the form, or at least to comment on it. But the show was mostly content to leave the meta behind for once. At first it seemed like Jack and Diana’s escalating series of lies would turn into some kind of statement about truth and fiction on television, but nope. We did get Liz Lemon overturning a chair and shouting, “There’s no such thing as reality on reality television,” but that’s just the sort of high-drama behavior that plays well on reality shows — as Angie and Tracy could both tell you once they’re done smashing things.
It’s definitely a comment on the superficiality of Real Housewives–style shows that the Queen of Jordan crew doesn’t care about Avery’s homecoming, even though it’s breaking international news. But then, 30 Rock doesn’t focus on that much either. Instead, it uses Avery’s homecoming to up the ante on Jack’s relationship with his mother-in-law.
North Korea has announced that it will trade Avery for one of their captured spies, a crate of Hollister sweatshirts, and a signed head shot of Don Johnson. (They just got Nash Bridges.) Once Avery’s back, Diana says to Jack, they must never let her find out “about us.” Spit take! Diana clearly has no idea how reality TV works. Here’s how she reacts to finding out she’ll be on Queen of Jordan: “Is this one of those ridiculous reality shows like Ken Burns’s Jazz? Disgusting.” So it takes her a while to realize that she shouldn’t have said anything about the relationship in front of the cameras.
Someone more savvy about reality TV might have found a clever way out by playing with the medium (“I just said that to steal attention from Angie!”), but instead, Jack and Diana go with the most ridiculous lies they can think of. Jack says he’s doesn’t want Avery to find out about “Gus,” his business partner, who happens to be a professor Avery dated at Yale. His Gus stand-in shows up wearing an enormous tinfoil hat and mumbling about electricity. As for Diana, she claims she didn’t want Avery to know about Rus, the mythological founder of Russia, because she and Jack are opening a Russian restaurant. That would make Gus the chef, if this story made sense, which obviously it doesn’t. At least Gus understands what makes for good reality TV. Smiling at the camera, he announces: “The grand opening is tonight!”
Tonight is also the launch of Angie’s clothing line, Cheek, pronounced chic, which she’s launching in order to become an octuple threat. Her other skills: reality star, actress, singer-songreader, perfumist, IBS survivor, best-selling author of a book she didn’t write, and catchphrase-coiner. For some reason, the launch has to take place in the same space where Jack and Diana are opening their restaurant, which appears, in true reality-TV style, to be a hotel ballroom that will go back to hosting conferences and weddings as soon as the last plate is cleared.
While Angie’s working (or, um, “working”), her friend Randi is babysitting little Virginia, the youngest Jordan child. Randi needs to find a date for the runway show, so Liz Lemon volunteers to watch the baby. It soon emerges that Liz has offended Virginia by referring to her “fat little legs.” Virginia might not be toilet-trained yet, but she’s already mastered the job of reality-TV character. Or maybe the adults around her are so used to Bravo’s rhythms of feuding and drinking that they incorporate her into their drama without noticing that she’s a baby. It’s hard to tell.
“Look, a baby doing something un-baby-like!” is a pretty old joke, but the part about the clueless grown-ups is new. D’Fwan runs interference between Virginia and Liz, while Jenna tries to butter her up: “Do you act? Because we should do a movie together. We’ll go on a road trip just being sluts.” Poor Liz doesn’t have a much better grasp of the situation than Diana and Jack. She worries she’s bad at dealing with children, but Virginia is not a normal child.
The best part of these reality episodes tends to be the change in perspective. Watching 30 Rock through the lens of faux-Bravo, you get to see the characters in a whole new light. Liz desperately does not want to kiss Jack, but of course all the men in the Queen of Jordan entourage do. (This is a reversal from last time, when he was dismissed as “some clumsy, gay flatulent.”) And while Tracy’s usually the show’s repository of nonsense, on Queen of Jordan he’s also a long-suffering husband with weird, husband-y habits like playing video games with a teenager in Japan. His description of Liz Lemon’s love life was accurate — “Dr. Guy, pilot guy, Cleveland dude, British guy, rich dude, James Franco” — but it came with a vertigo-inducing perspective shift: “I’ve been with the same woman for 22 years. No judgment, but to me, Liz Lemon is a sex maniac.”
Then there was that bit about Lutz’s office, which has been turned into the Queen of Jordan confessional, and which Tracy has long believed to be a bathroom. “I think I just solved the mystery of the phantom pooper,” he says. That joke gave the episode its title, which is odd because it felt like a throwaway line. But it also provided a Bravo-like glimpse behind the scenes into a whole world of 30 Rock high jinks that we never get to see.