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’30 Rock’ Review: “There’s No I in America”

NBC

The fate of our presidential election rests in the hands of ‘30 Rock‘s Jenna Maroney, but first Jack and Liz will have to campaign for her deciding vote in “There’s No I in America.”

While not as successful comedically as last week’s episode, “There’s No I in America” finds pockets of humor in the smaller moments — moments where characters reminds us why we love them, like Liz asking her gynecologist if anyone left a bag of Burger King in the waiting room, or Tracey’s offensive humor in the wake of celebrity deaths. Perhaps putting so much weight on Jenna this week isn’t the best idea, just like it’s often not the best idea to give Kenneth such large storylines. These characters rely on one note — a funny note, but a singular one — so giving them equal play in an episode with three arc is better than, say, giving them a majority share.

Since Northern Florida is the deciding factor in the upcoming election, and Jenna has a huge tanned and trashy fanbase there, Jack and Liz have to engage in an old-fashioned debate to decide which president she’ll tweet about, thus swaying her fans to vote for that nominee. Jack fashions an attack ad, painting Liz as a friend who isn’t invested in Jenna’s chief interest — herself — and continues this plan of attack during the debate itself. While Liz tries to appeal to Jenna by proving that they’re good friends and Liz has always known what is best for Jenna, Jack manipulates and caters to Jenna’s narcissism, promising that she’ll be the coolest, best-looking Republican, and since Mitt Romney wants to get rid of arts programs in schools, there will be no new actresses with whom she’ll have to compete.

In the end, as seems obvious, Jack realizes that he doesn’t want a president that Jenna has chosen, even if it’s the president he wants. But the best moments of this plot aren’t the debate or the political aspects, but the stuff between Jack and Liz as they try to one-up each other, and Jack reveals his disappointment that, in all his years of mentoring Liz, she’s never come close to being anything like him the way he’d hoped. When you cut to the heart of these pissing contests between Jack and Liz, it’s always about Jack wanting what’s best for Liz, and even if the stuff he projects onto her isn’t right, it still shows how much he genuinely cares for her.

Meanwhile, Pete is trying to recreate the magic of the 2008 election night, when the pretty security guard Maria kissed him after Obama won. Unfortunately, no one is really excited about the prospect of Obama winning a re-election, and Pete spends the episode trying to engineer a way in which Obama can be announced president before Maria leaves work, which leads him to begging Brian Williams to help in a never unwelcome appearance from the news anchor — this time, he launches into a random show of gymnastics. Always surprising, that Brian Williams.

And Kenneth is voting in his hometown’s election, which means he’s struggling to decide where he stands on issues like letting the crazy mayor fix the town clock herself or letting a guy marry his dead daughter. His conundrum is that which is familiar to many first-time voters: even if we think we’re voting for the right thing, is it truly the right thing? How do we know we’ve chosen what’s best? What if our opinion is wrong?  What if our vote changes everything and we’ve made some huge mistake? It’s not so much comedy (other than the list of things Kenneth is voting for) as it is almost like an after-school special within the show.

Mostly, at the end of this week’s episode, I feel glad that it’s over. ’30 Rock’ has never been especially successful spreading a storyline over two episodes, and here it just feels as though they had too much material they were afraid to cut, and rather than make the hard decisions, they let the bloated script ride, which is disappointing in this, the show’s final season. It’s not horrible or bad by any stretch — it’s just not up to par with the other episodes this season, namely “Stride of Pride.”

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