Inside Jokes and Dedicated Viewers: 30 Rock S05 E17 and Community S02 E18

The cast of Angie Jordan's housewives-esque reality show, Queen of Jordan

“Queen of Jordan” was an interesting move for 30 Rock: the entire episode was staged and shot as if it were actually an episode of the titular reality show that documents that burgeoning music career of Tracy Jordan’s wife, Angie Jordan. Longtime viewers were undoubtedly familiar with tossed-off references to Queen of Jordan throughout this season of 30 Rock, but an entire show masquerading as The Real Housewives of Sass was somewhat unexpected.

This episode of 30 Rock almost reminds me of the first season of Community, in which every episode was rife with inside jokes that built upon one-liners and offhand comments from earlier episodes. Community has lately adopted the traditional sitcom formula, meaning that its characters tend to experience strange and hilarious events together, which ultimately unite them as a study group and as friends. On last night’s unremarkable episode of Community, Britta has a reputation for seducing Abed and Troy’s new male friends. She reveals that their latest find, a guy from the Balkans named Luca, is responsible for mass genocide. At first Abed and Troy don’t believe Britta’s accusations, but when they discover Luca’s past for themselves, the show ends with a renewal of their commitment to friendship with Britta.

On 30 Rock, however, more episodes are airing that seem to contain satirical representations of other types of television, but they don’t move the narrative along. At the end of last night’s episode, Liz and Angie bond over their respective relationships with Tracy, but the episode is ultimately a send-up of reality television, particularly the shows that depict either tedious housewives who need day jobs or untalented siblings whose names begin with the letter K.

We also saw television satire in another episode from this season. On “Live Show,” the cast of 30 Rock performs a fairly standard episode live. Script in hand, Tiny Fey flubs an early joke, but the show goes on since it’s being broadcast live. The live show recalls Fey’s roots as a comedy writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, while gently mocking the idea of live television (Jack notes that the live video feed makes him feel as though he’s in a “Mexican soap opera”).

These heavily satirical episodes are often incredibly funny, but only to the dedicated viewer. Community may have had difficulty attracting new viewers during its first season because much of the comedic effect was dependent on inside jokes from earlier episodes and obscure cultural references that weren’t immediately clear. It makes sense that 30 Rock would air episodes like “Live Show” and “Queen of Jordan” in its fifth season, having already established its presence among similar comedies, as well as a devoted fan base. A longtime audience is more likely to tolerate episodes that stagnate the narrative (in this case, the TGS is on hiatus storyline) than viewers who are just tuning in.

I like the variety that these satirical episodes provide, but a show won’t exist for long if it only derides other forms of television and media. As the second season of Community progresses, its writers seems to be recognizing this fact more openly. Distinct efforts are being made to introduce plots and relationships that evolve over the course of multiple episodes. Even so, I am looking forward to next week’s Community spoof of Pulp Fiction. Stay tuned!

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