This is the kind of episode of 30 Rock that defines what the show is widely considered to be: smart and funny. That usually means bad ratings. Not tonight. Because tonight they released THE OPRAH.
Lemon is off to Chicago to report for jury duty. She never changed her address because she wanted to vote in a swing state, making me wonder: “If this is a 1984 flashback episode why doesn’t Lemon’s shirt have shoulder pads?" Jack bumps her up to first class and gives her pills that will relax her on the plane. [And possibly cause sleep crimes and sexual nightmares. - Zach] His story thread begins rather inventively, with a potential Olympic scandal. NBC created fake sporting events in order for more Americans to win medals, thereby boosting network ratings, and now the silver medalist in tetherball is threatening to go to the public and reveal the entire charade. The final story thread is all politics. Jenna and Tracy are suing and countersuing each other over her compensation for doing a voice in his porno video game. Lemon convinces them to sit down with a HR mediator, but it quickly devolves into what sounds like dumb people trying to argue for Hillary vs. Obama during the Democratic primary. Jenna thinks it’s easier being black and Tracy thinks it’s easier being a white woman, and they both cite Adrian Brody planting an unsolicited kiss on Halle Berry during the Oscars as their example.
Kenneth, who went to the Beijing Olympics if you remember, is a big fan of the tetherball medalist, and so he's shocked and disillusioned when he discovers that the tetherball competition was just a big sham. Jack tells him that white men (well, rich white men) have to make tough decisions, and Kenneth lectures Jack that “there’s always a right thing to do. Just sometimes it’s not the easy thing to do.” Jack takes his words to heart and spends the entire rest of the episode trying to convince Kenneth that the world is too complicated for just a right and a wrong answer (of course sometimes the answer is easy). He wants to test Kenneth, who reminds Jack that he never strays off the path of righteousness even when it comes to stealing cable at home. It doesn’t deter Jack, who tests Kenneth by trapping him in an elevator with a gun then convincing him that in order to survive one of the other people on board has to die for sake of oxygen. Kenneth tries to shoot himself instead, but the gun is unloaded. Jack gives up: "Kenneth Parcel, you are one Latina fantastica." He offers his admiration of Kenneth’s forthrightness, but when Kenneth gets home from work, there is a brand new flat screen television waiting in his living room, courtesy of ol' Jack Attack. Behind the television is an illegal cable wire just waiting to be plugged in. The next day, Kenneth tells Jack "he’s glad he’s not a white man" meaning he watched a whole lot of illegal cable last night.
Lemon worms her way out of jury duty by showing up to the courtroom dressed as Princess Leia. On her way back on the plane, both Tracy and Jenna call her to complain about how unfairly the other is treating them because of race/gender. Tracy yells in the phone: "You can’t fix this, Liz Lemon! It’s about race. It’s about being a woman. It’s about money. It’s about being on TV, and no one understands all that!" Enter OPRAH. She sits down next to Lemon, who is so crazy on pills she unloads on Oprah all of the problems in her life, including the bad blood between Jenna and Tracy. OPRAH rather graciously agrees to stop by 30 Rock while she’s in New York to help her handle the dispute. So Lemon gathers Jenna and Tracy in Jack’s office when she gets back, and they wait for OPRAH. OPRAH arrives, only it’s not OPRAH. It’s a 12-year-old middle school student named Pam. PAM! She is black but she’s also a tween and definitely not the queen of television. She’s also funny, and for all the Oprah -- excuse me -- OPRAH hoopla, it’s her that steals the show. Suffice it to say, those pills Lemon was popping played a few tricks on her mind.
The episode was very good, and it proved that all this talk lately about 30 Rock having too many guest stars doesn’t really hold water when you let them actually tell the story. Even when the guest spot is clearly just for a ratings grab like Oprah, or Seinfeld last year, the jokes stay funny and on-time. Plus, this isn’t soap-opera comedy; its absurdist lampooning at its finest. So lay off, pre-backlash.
I was meant to recap this episode. "Believe in the Stars" was in the stars for me not only because I once worked at 30 Rock (the building) but because I also worked at O, The Oprah magazine. It's like the last two years of my resume gave birth to a television episode. Little inside baseball for you, much better cafeteria at the Oprah gig but not a lot of Lorne Michaels sightings. It's a tradeoff.
External. The offices of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Internal. Jonathan leaves Jack's office. Jack is on the phone TCB'ing as Lemon enters. Lemon is off to Chicago to report for jury duty. She never changed her address because she wanted to vote in a swing state, making me wonder: "if this is a 1984 flashback episode why doesn't Lemon's shirt have shoulder pads?" Jack bumps her up to first class and gives her pills that will relax her on the plane. The pills' only side effects are "may cause dizziness, sexual nightmares and sleep crime." Jonathan announces a call to Jack's office from Tyler Brody. "Tyler Brody, the dude from the Olympics?" asks Lemon. Jack shuts the door and lets her in on a tiny secret about the Olympics. NBC made up fake sporting events and let Americans win medals thereby boosting network ratings. Now the silver medalist in tetherball is threatening to go to the public and reveal the entire charade.
Jenna stops Lemon in the hallway without so much as a hello. She's kinda pissed because Tracy is kinda countersuing her for defamation of character after she sued him for lack of compensation for his uncanny valley video game. Lemon refuses to take sides even when Tracy joins them in the hallway to defend himself. She tells them she's calling human resources to set up a mediation between the two. Tracy leaves and Jenna points out to Lemon that while she's gotten zero payment for her work Tracy bought Grizz and DotCom a boat. Lemon concedes that she's being taken advantage of because of her gender. "Men think they can get away with anything. It's like when Adrian Brody kissed Halle Berry at the Oscars." Lemon full on empathizes with her, citing how women have it tougher in this country than anyone else. "It turns out we can't be President," she laments. I'm guessing this episode was written sometime in the summer, oh say when Obama clinched the Democratic nomination. It's the only overt reference to the Primary race between Clinton and Obama and it sets up a "who suffered more" storyline angle between Jenna and Tracy.