30 Rock's second episode of the new season, "Believe in the Stars," was a perfect example of why it's one of the best shows on TV. If the premiere was a bit awkward and tentative, its follow-up was anything but. Its madcap humor tirelessly delivered one joke after another at a lightning fast speed, adding up to one of the funniest episodes in the series.
"Believe in the Stars" (AKA: The Oprah Episode) saw each character entrenched in some sort of moral dilemma. Tracy and Jenna are at each other's throats over Tracy's stubborn refusal to compensate for her voice acting contributions to his video game. The dispute turns into a battle-of-the-sexes debate over who has it tougher in America: black men or white women. "It's still illegal to be black in Arizona," Tracy claims. "It's hard to be a beautiful woman," Jenna whines. "Everyone assumes I don't try in bed. It's discrimination!"
Naturally, they settle it in the only way they know how: go to the make-up department, change their gender and the color of their skin, and act each other out in a blatantly racist/sexist "Freaky Friday social experiment." Hilarious.
Elsewhere, Jack reveals how NBC was so desperate for ratings during the Beijing Olympics that the network fabricated a number of Olympic sports simply to boost Amercia's medal count. Tetherball, beer pong, synchronized running, octuples tennis, jazzercise. Sadly, none of these events were genuine. When naive little Kenneth catches wind of this, he's understandably crushed and disappointed in Jack, his "hero."
Jack finds out, yet again, that Kenneth is a man of conviction. Jack's attempt to act out his moral dilemma of "if there's nine people on a boat, but only room for eight" leads to Kenneth shooting himself (thankfully, with an unloaded gun.) Jack relinquishes, and comes to respect Kenneth for his moral fiber, leading to a surprisingly poignant moment where Jack buys him a flat-screen TV for his troubles. (But, in true Jack fashion, his gift was a test to see if Kenneth would give in to stealing cable. He did.)
But this truly is a Liz Lemon episode. Or, as Oprah would say it, Liz Lemooooooooooooon! Liz has to fly back to Chicago because she's summoned for jury duty (she's still a Illinois citizen because she "wanted to vote in a swing state, and also wanted to stay on the mailing list for Chicago Pizza Explosion.") Jack suggests she take sketchy prescription drugs that have some nasty side effects: dizziness, sexual nightmares and sleep crime.
Turns out it also makes you hallucinate, causing Liz to think the 12-year-old next to her is her beloved icon Oprah Winfrey (naturally played by the real Oprah, at least at first). She smells like "rose water and warm laundry," Liz admires. Liz spills her guts to fake-Oprah (metaphorically), even admitting she kissed a girl at camp. "But then she drowned." Surprisingly, the spunky tween turned out to be the perfect mediator to resolve the conflict between Tracy and Jenna, probably because both of them are 12-year-olds at heart.
As always, there are wonderfully odd short vignettes and tangential humor that deserve to be singled out. Top three moments:
1. Tracy gets arrested in three different Chuck E. Cheeses. "Do you know who I am? Seriously, please tell me who I am!"
2. Liz as Princess Leia: "I don't really think it's fair for me to be on a jury...because I can read thoughts."
3. Kenneth's response to Jack's moral question: "I don't believe in hypothetical situations, Mr. Donaghy. That's like lying to your brain."
"Believe in the Stars" was unremitting in the rapidity of its humor and heart. Here's hoping it sets the tone for the rest of the season. Now, bring on (future guest stars) Jennifer Aniston and Steve Martin!