Liz finds out that her version of the past doesn't mesh with those of her high school mates, the return of Jack's mentor isn't the cause for celebration he hoped it would be, and Kenneth steals the spotlight
30 Rock Reunion
Credit: Nicole Rivelli/NBC
30 Rock
S3 E5
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Reunions can be fraught with anxieties, especially if you were a lonely nerd in high school, as Lemon remembers herself. But they’re also an opportunity to turn the page, to prove to the cool/pretty crowd that the “ugly duckling has turned into a vaguely ethnic swan.” That’s really what reunions are about. (That and hairlines.)

Even though she’s blossomed, Lemon had no intention of attending her high school reunion. Sure, she now runs a popular television show and has settled on a hairstyle that works for her so long as it’s not too humid, but she’s still a broad who buys cream soda in bulk and can clog a toilet with the best of them. Deep down, she’s still that frizzy-haired girl with the telescope. (Could anyone decipher what Lemon mumbled to Kelsey in her flashback?) No one could convince her otherwise. Not Jenna, who apparently went to school at sea. Not even Jack, who’s looking forward to the next Princeton get-together to “wipe that smug smile off Michelle Obama’s face.” The promise of popcorn, on the other hand, is a game-changer, and before you could say, “whittling, jug blowing IHOP monkeys,” Lemon and Jack were heading south on a private jet.

The plane ride to suburban White Haven, Pa., was a disaster, and Jack was already agitated by the recent revival of his mentor Don Geiss. Finally awakened from a coma, he reneged on his promise to name Jack CEO of GE. The aging exec was revitalized, attributing his surge to a beam of energy or an unborn Aztec king. (Wouldn’t surprise me if said “beam of energy” was actually injured jaywalker, Devon Banks, who could’ve been whispering such suggestions into his comatose father-in-law’s subconscious. Just a thought.)

Jackie Boy didn’t handle the news well. After all, he had already ordered new business cards. With Geiss back on top, it will be interesting to see how Jack responds. He idolized the man, but he was incapable of suppressing his disappointment at the sudden change in plan. Can we expect Jack to completely turn on Geiss, or will Jack settle for limiting the number of times the TGS can say “cat anus.” (For the record, 30 Rock can get away with it five times per show.) Feeling suddenly impotent (hahahahahahahaaa…aha…ha), Jack booked the ill-fated jet to Miami, by way of White Haven.

Poor weather forced a rough landing but not before a panicked Lemon admitted to shower urination and the fact that she witnessed an early Lemon Party featuring her grandparents. Apparently, she forgot to bring along her Comanaprisil. Unable to continue to Miami, Jack was stranded in Lemon’s dry town, overrun, apparently, with Vietnamese toughs. Since the only alcohol within 30 miles was at Lemon’s party, Jack bellied up to the reunion bar.

NEXT: Lemon’s history as a mean girl

Not since Phil Connor charmed the good people of Punxsutawney in Groundhog Day has an interloper been so warmly received by a Pennsylvania town. Disillusioned by his own professional setback, Jack began to envy a simpler life where a boat, good friends, and a trampoline were all a successful man needed. When one of Lemon’s classmates mistook him for the mysterious Larry Braverman, he didn’t deny it, and before long he was rehashing old stories about glory days he knew nothing about.

Jack was much more welcome than Lemon, who was equally in the dark about her own glory days. After working up the courage to confront Kelsey, the “mean girl” who once teased her, Lemon learned that her classmates despised her for her cruel wit. She had given Kelsey a facial tic by making fun of her mother’s pill popping; she had told another girl with a birthmark that God pooped on her face; and she had joked that her guy friend was “gayer than the volleyball scene in Top Gun.” Even Jack wanted nothing to do with the White Haven Witch. When the two were secluded in a closet for a round of Seven Minutes in Heaven, Jack had no trouble saying, “Just to be clear, we’re not making out. That would be social suicide.”

Back at 30 Rock, Tracy and Jenna were panicked by Kenneth’s comic reign in the office elevator. Not since Kenny Bania’s post-Jerry slot on Seinfeld has a hack been on such a roll, and his crowd-pleasing banality threatened the stars’ clout. “Attention is what gives us power,” said Jenna. “If we didn’t exist, how would people know who to vote for?” Not only a great nod to Tina Fey’s impact on Saturday Night Live, but the perfect subplot for Jenna to express her irrational insecurities. Jealous about babies? Air conditioning tantrums? That’s our Jenna. Oh, and it also provided the line of the night, when Dot-com used a trip to the optometrist as an excuse. “Making up words won’t save you!” screamed Tracy.

This was the first episode of the season without an A-List guest star, although Janel Moloney (The West Wing) was a pleasant surprise as Larry’s old flame, and I think the show benefited from the refocused attention on its core characters. The reunion plot was so strong, and the Carrie finale so inspired, that I hope the viewership ratings reflect positively and encourage a continuance of this creative trend.

As much as I enjoyed this episode, I wonder if the show’s undercurrent of condescension, if not contempt, for Smalltown, U.S.A. has, over time, alienated potential viewers. This isn’t a complaint. Just an observation. This was at least the second time the show has ridiculed a Pennsylvania town — remember the smalltown OTB that was Jack and C.C.’s rendezvous point? — and they’ve taken more than a few pot-shots at rural Georgia and Cleveland, too. Funny is funny. Period. But is there an elitism to 30 Rock that limits its appeal?

What do you think? Is 30 Rock itself a “mean girl” that picks on the rest of the country? Was last night the last we’ll hear of Jack’s CEO ambitions, or will he and Geiss go head-to-head in future episodes? And why aren’t there any Puerto Ricans on Star Trek?

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30 Rock
30 Rock

Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan star in the Emmy-winning comedy. You want to go to there.

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