The ugly duckling has turned into a vaguely ethnic swan.

And we’re back with a great episode. Jack does this amazing thing where he spirals out of control while giving good advice and being very wise. There’s something to be said about vulnerability in this episode, and “30 Rock” in general, which I’ll get to in a second.

First a summary. Our plots:

1) Don Geiss wakes up and Jack assumed he’ll be CEO in a flash. Instead, Don Geiss tells him he’s staying on as CEO. Jack reconsiders every life choice he’s made, since he’ll never get the job he’s been aiming for his whole life.

2) Liz goes to her high school reunion and Jack comes along. She wasn’t really the nerd — everyone considered her a bully. Jack is mistaken for a beloved classmate. Donna Moss from “The West Wing” is his fake high school sweetheart:

Screenshot 2014-08-08 20.25.27

3) Tracy and Jenna freak out because Kenneth is funny in the elevator and stealing their attention.

All three plots are very funny. But I want to talk about this seemingly unrelated article by Caitlin Dewey in WaPO, called, “The surprisingly profound reason why teenagers love YouTube celebrities.” (For the record I don’t like that headline because it sort of implies that teenagers being anything but dumb and vapid is a surprise, which, as a former teenager, is not true. But my rant about societal mistreatment of teenagers is for another time.)

Anyway, Dewey’s “surprisingly profound reason”:

[Teens] were captivated by the idea of “realness” in a way their parents or grandparents were not.

“Authenticity is becoming more important among teens and millennials,” Sehdev said. “They’re more jaded as a generation.”

To wit, teens in Sehdev’s survey overwhelmingly agreed that traditional celebrities were “faker” than YoTube stars. They felt YouTube stars were more engaging, “extraordinary,” humorous and relatable. …

There was a time when we would have defined celebrity by exactly that quality of not being real — of being perfect and distant and unattainable, a kind of hyper-glamorized demigod that we mortals could only aspire to. In fact, historically, the fact that celebrities were not like was the very thing that made them celebrities.

Does wanting authenticity make you jaded? Jaded doesn’t seem like the right adjective. Anyway, I generally agree with this conceit that teenagers and millenials want more authenticity from their celebrities. I wrote about this a year ago, in the context of Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, if that interests you.

In context of this episode, Liz, Jack, Tracy and Jenna are all dealing with inauthenticity as a barrier to their happiness. Jack calls Liz out for using humor as a way to keep herself from engaging with others; in high school, she used it as a barrier against what she perceived as bullying, but actually it made her the mean one. Liz is alone and unhappy because she won’t be authentic with anyone.

Meanwhile, Jack is realizing how unhappy he is and how inauthentic his life is. He envies the Pennsylvanian who tells him his boat, good friends, and a trampoline are the keys to his happy life. He thinks he can “win” the disappointment if he doesn’t show his feelings:

What are my other options? Cry? Wallow? If i do that Geiss and the beam win. If I control my feelings I win.

Talk about conceal don’t feel, amiright?

Currently taking donations to buy Photoshop

Currently taking donations to buy Photoshop

Meanwhile, Tracy and Jenna are sort of realizing that they’ve set their happiness on always being the center of attention, and maybe that isn’t as stable as they once thought. Of course, they manipulate the situation back to what they consider normal, but there’s a moment where they sort of confront their fears. Sort of.

Since this is “30 Rock,” no one really learns the lesson of authenticity. Or, if they learn it, they definitely don’t figure out how to apply it to their own lives (see seasons 3 through 7).

But that’s more realistic, I think, than if they learned the lesson and moved on. Human experience is trying and trying until one day, somehow, you manage to get it right. Ish. That’s Jack and Liz.

On a more meta-level, I think Liz is a very authentic character, and that’s why, as I might have mentioned, so many girls think they’re just like Liz. Real humans are messy and gross. They eat junk food, they have frizzy hair, they get frustrated, they go temporarily insane and need their best friends to pull them back in. This isn’t Carrie Bradshaw or Claire Huxtable (I love you Claire, but you’re ***Flawless). Liz is a mess and it’s refreshing.

And Jack is also a mess! A huge trope of early sitcoms is the patriarch at the center who answers everyone’s problems: One of the first was literally called “Father Knows Best,” and the trope reappears in everything from “The Brady Bunch” to “The Cosby Show” to “Full House” to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” And at times it shows up on “30 Rock” with Jack as the mentor instead of the father.

Except Jack is extremely unhappy and totally floundering in his own life. He rarely gives good advice. This episode is a notable exception, since he urges Liz to open up to people and to stop using humor to distance herself. He also tells her to stop thinking of herself a nerd because she’s actually cool and pretty, the “vaguely ethnic swan.” I think this has something to do with the fact that he’s finally vulnerable here. Cut open, he can see through the bullshit and give good advice. To quote my friend, “That’s when he’s giving advice as a human being and not a corporate caricature.”

And that’s why this show is so unendlessly quotable. Tina (and Robert Carlock and the other writers, obvi) took our deepest fears and put them in witty sentences. “30 Rock” might exist in a surreal universe, but there’s more than enough human emotion there to keep things real.

Perfect Pairing

Before Donna Moss showed up, I was already planning on picking “The Long Goodbye,” the episode of “The West Wing” where CJ Cregg goes to her high school reunion. CJ also struggles with authenticity and opening up and expressing emotion, though in a less hilarious way.

Bits & Pieces

Jonathan is totally willing to kill Kathy Geiss for Jack, especially since it would be “a secret that bound [them] together.” What a keeper.

Kathy is amazing, as always:

Screenshot 2014-08-08 20.02.25

Liz utters this iconic line for the first time in this episode, responding to the promise of popcorn on the G.E. jet:

In the same scene, this amazing forehead kiss happens:

I will go down with this ship.....

I will go down with this ship…..

When Kenneth cries out of sadness that he hurt Jenna and Tracy’s feelings, she tells him to keep crying so he never does it again. What a keeper.

Jack and Liz end up in a closet during 7 minutes in heaven:

Jack: Just to be clear we’re not making out that would be social suicide.

How platonic of you, Jack.

Best Jack one-liner: “Rich 50 is middle class 38.”

As Jack and Liz flee the reunion, Liz says, “Lemon out.” Best line.

Jenna sings in an elevator for attention:

Screenshot 2014-08-08 20.29.35

Character I related to most: Liz, when she introduces someone as “the first gay guy I ever kissed.”

Hints that Kenneth is immortal/mystical/terrifying: None? Those elevator jokes sucked, though.

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