My favorite episode is a new feature for this blog in which I look at my favorite episode of a TV show I like. Some of the shows will be classics – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, etc., and others may be shows that I personally loved, even if they haven’t endured or stood the test of time, like Ugly Betty, for example. I won’t go into the history of the show too much, but will give some context if needed – and I’ll also go into the show’s historical significance and if the episode is a much-beloved classic, I’ll also discuss that.
The best thing about 30 Rock was the show’s ability to skewer pop culture tropes. So it was only a matter of time before reality television, particularly Bravo reality television, would be lampooned. In the fifth season, Tracy Jordan went MIA to Africa, creating a vacuum on TGS. In his absence, his opportunistic wife, Angie (Sherri Shepherd), found her inner Nene Leakes and created a reality show around her outsized personality, Queen of Jordan. What could’ve been a tiny, funny subplot became a hilarious episode of 30 Rock.
What’s so genius about “Queen of Jordan” is the delicate balance it strikes when it makes fun of housewife reality television. Tracey Wigfield, the credited writer of episode, is able to capture the absurdity of Bravo TV-styled with an incredible skill, but manages not to alienate viewers who either hate reality or don’t watch it. Like The Real Housewives of Atlanta, the fictional Queen of Jordan has similar archetypical characters:
- A flamboyant, overzealous central character, with absurd delusions of grandeur, and a laughably hopeless desire for a music career: Angie
- A sassy girlfriend who “tells it like it is”: Portia (played by Moya Angela)
- An effeminate, swishy gay sidekick, D’Fwan (Tituss Burgess)
- A crazy, oversexed middle-aged white woman: Randi (Paula Leggett Chase)
Along with these nutty folks, the regulars from TGS are peripheral players on Queen of Jordan. Jack, trying to maintain his dignity, comes off as an uncharacteristic buffoon, a victim of the manipulative editing reality TV shows boast; Jenna, on the other hand, sees Queen of Jordan as a way of latching on to another career avenue to supplement her TV career and her nonexistent musical career. So intent on becoming a breakout star, she madly inserts herself in the stories, throwing wine in people’s faces, and orchestrating an intervention for herself.
Of course, Liz is suffering from all this nonsense. She doesn’t appreciate the reality show, and is terrified at the prospect of Tracy never returning. Tasked by Jack to get Tracy back, Liz tries to convince Angie to get her husband back; it’s not easy because Angie not only is weary of Tracy’s antics, but she’s also enjoying the attention. Angie also doesn’t appreciate Liz’s meddling (even yanking off Liz’s weave, a key feature of housewife reality television), and moves forward with her ridiculous drama which culminates with a record release party at the studio.
“Queen of Jordan” isn’t the show’s best episode, but it’s my favorite because it’s really goofy and it’s a welcome break from the live-action cartoon aesthetic the show has. And even though 30 Rock star/writer/creator Tina Fey didn’t write the show, her brainy, sarcastic brand of humor is all over this episode, puncturing the absurdity of the faux reality television show. And the show’s strongest characters: Jenna, Jack, and Liz all appear at their funniest; it’s only a shame that Tracy Morgan is missing, as his lunacy would be wonderful in the fake reality show. Also a shock, Shepherd as the monstrously self-involved, is brilliant. I’m not a fan of Shepherd – especially her head-scratchingly awful performance as co-host of The View, but in this episode, she’s a glorious mess, wonderfully hostile, without an iota of subtlety.
As Jenna, Jan Krakowski also gets to mug furiously, and threatens to walk away with the show. She plays Jenna’s desperation and delusion brilliantly. Like Shepherd’s Angie, Jenna is utterly unlikable, and doesn’t do anything to be appealing. Fey and Alec Baldwin are relatively subdued – Baldwin is especially fun playing Jack as a goof, which hardly ever happens (Jack is always the epitome of self-possessed cool, but on Queen of Jordan, the guy can’t do anything right – he trips and falls, accidentally passes gas, and obliviously comes of as gay by cluelessly spouting off double entendres.
The only subplot that doesn’t work is Frank’s doomed love affair with his junior high school teacher, Lynn Onkman, played by Oscar-winning superstar Susan Sarandon. She does mousy well, but the story line veers perilously close to joking about rape – and it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to be in contempt of the other male writers and their admiration for Frank’s dalliance with Lynn, or are we to take their reactions at face value.
After “Queen of Jordan” Liz and company deal with the fallout of Tracy’s disappearance, possibly facing cancellation. The episode works as a stand alone, and though it has some faint ties to the story arcs, it works as an appealing filler ep.