'30 Rock' Review: "Queen of Jordan 2: The Mystery of the Phantom Pooper"

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Love it or hate it, "Queen of Jordan" has returned to '30 Rock.' The faux reality show within the show starring Tracy's wife Angie (Sherri Shepherd) comes back this week for "Queen of Jordan 2: The Mystery of the Phantom Pooper." Unfortunately, the concept falls a little flat.

Last year when Tina Fey hosted 'Saturday Night Live,' she pulled off a similar riff on Bravo's reality programming, and it worked well in the condensed time of a few minutes. It also featured perhaps the best line in the entire 'SNL' episode -- "I'm not so much a person as I am a collection of choices." That line was uttered by a character akin to D'Fwan from "Queen of Jordan," and hell, even last season's "Queen of Jordan" theme episode was much better than this time around.

In this week's episode Angie is back with her reality show crew as she plans a fashion show for her new line, "Cheek," pronounced "chic" because it's French. Jack has to play along with the cross promotion, but becomes distracted when he learns that Avery (Elizabeth Banks, unseen in this episode) is finally returning home. Avery's mother Diana (Mary Steenburgen) pops in for a visit and -- unaccustomed to the camera crew -- blurts out to Jack, "You shouldn't tell Avery about us." This sets off a goofy comedy of errors wherein Diana and Jack try to cover up their slip-up, first with Jack making up a fake business partner named Gus, and then with Diana saying they were referring to "Rus," the Russian restaurant they've been working on opening.

All of this clashes with Angie's vision for her fashion show, where she's forcing the unreliable and irresponsible Tracy (Tracy Morgan) to show up with a big surprise gift at the end. Meanwhile, Liz is trying to cozy up to baby Virginia, who -- although a toddler -- isn't immune to the manufactured drama of television, and Jenna is trying everything to be included in the drama so she can get more camera time.

The basic conceit worked so well last season, but perhaps that's because the concept appeared to be a one-off. This season it feels like a filler episode, and unlike 'Community,' whose theme episodes -- while divisive -- ultimately entertain, this "Queen of Jordan" episode is redundant and feels kind of lazy. It's a harsh criticism to level at '30 Rock,' but this season hasn't exactly been hitting the mark.

Typically we'd rather have creative types take big risks that fail or flounder than never take risks at all, and while some criticize '30 Rock' for its more bizarre humor, I often find those moments to be largely enjoyable because they lack inhibition and feel courageous. This is not one of those times.

Maybe it's Sherri Shepherd, whose portrayal of Angie is grating, and her appearances only really work in small doses. Having almost an entire episode devoted to her character is a doomed enterprise from the outset. Angie is a one-dimensional joke who works better as a punchline than as a method of getting to that punchline. Building a whole episode around a character who is so dimensionless isn't the best idea. Our typical lead actors are relegated to secondary roles, yet are still forced to carry the comedic weight of the show.

A few moments shine, however. Jack trying to back-pedal on the reveal of his affair with Diana during a one-on-one interview with the camera works thanks to Alec Baldwin's commitment and his guilty facial expression. There's a running gag where the camera cuts away and when it comes back an object has been removed or replaced, like a baby toy Liz gives to Virginia, or Jack removing his jacket. These little touches go far in cementing the scripted reality show satire, and work far better than, say, the moments where the actors are acting as if what they're doing isn't scripted, which results in an obvious robotic cadence -- a joke that's a little to on the nose.

And that's the biggest issue with the episode this week. "Queen of Jordan 2" is just too on the nose, relying on easy, obvious humor instead of the witty and often wacky jokes we love about '30 Rock,' resulting in an episode that feels less like it's using a theme and more like it's relying on a gimmick.

Quotable:

"I find that my target customer sweats a lot and often gets thrown into a public pool."

"Don't learn to talk. A woman's power comes from her silence."

"D'Fwine. Please D'Fwink responsibly."

"What's cocaine like?"

"My love tank is empty!"

Filed Under: 30 Rock, NBC, Tina Fey
Categories: TV Reviews
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