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The Unstoppable Rise of TV Shows That Sound Like ‘30 Rock’ Jokes

·5-min read

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

This week:

  • Struggling to say something nice about Ellen.

  • “That could’ve been a 30 Rock joke” is our new reality.

  • More great Girls5eva content.

  • Could the Friends reunion BE any weirder?

  • Two Wendy Williams are better than one.

All TV Is Just “30 Rock” Now

“Twenty-five super-hot moms. 50 eighth grade boys. No rules.”

MILF Island was one of 30 Rock’s best jokes, a fake reality series dreamed up by Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy that was so outlandish in premise it could only be a comedy-series gag, but so cynically observant about where society was heading in its craven tastes that it only barely counts as satire.

You could say the same about God Cop (“Crime just got a worst new friend”), the game show Homonym! (“au pair” or “oh, pear”), and Black Frasier (no tagline needed). Jenna Maroney’s ridiculous stint on America’s Kidz Got Singing is even given a self-referential send-up in Tina Fey’s new series Girls5eva, on which Renée Elise Goldsberry’s character is hired to judge American Warrior Singer: “I loved your vocals and your backstory was moving, but you left your neck unprotected so it’s a no from me.”

Who knew how prescient all of those jokes would be in the age of the streaming boom, in which new streaming services and content to fill them are announced every day and the bar for what discerning viewers will actually watch is apparently in the basement.

The announcement this week that NBC would be making an actual televised game show called Ultimate Slip ’N Slide, based on the summer backyard toy, would seem outrageous had game-show versions of putt-putt golf, tag, and even “the floor is lava” not already existed. (To be fair, Floor Is Lava is a delight.)

But this week also saw the announcement of Unidentified with Demi Lovato, in which the pop singer and her friend and sister “help uncover the truth about the UFO phenomena” on Peacock—a TV-development Mad Libs that Liz Lemon herself would give the famous eye roll.

And Peacock is really on one. This week it also announced Baking It, a series in which contestants will be judged on their baking skills by actual grandmas; The Kids Tonight Show, a version of Jimmy Fallon’s late-night series hosted by and programmed by children; and America Ninja Warrior Junior, which barely skirts being its own 30 Rock joke.

There has never been more television and, more importantly, more great television. Or, as Jack Donaghy predicted, you could just watch adults belly flop onto a lubricated slide while cameras roll.

Never Not Thinking About “Girls5eva”

The great thing about having binged the entirety of Girls5eva three times in its first week of release is that now the constant ticker tape of anxieties, regrets, and stresses that run through my head is soundtracked by the show’s ridiculous earworm theme song.

In the shower? “I’m gonna be famous five-eva…” Doing the dishes? “Cuz forever’s too short…” Walking down the street. Cooking dinner. Writing this newsletter. There is not a moment in the day that I am not singing those two lines to myself on a loop.

  <div class="inline-image__credit">Heidi Gutman/Peacock</div>
Heidi Gutman/Peacock

The good news is that on Thursday, a full version of the song and an accompanying music video—a pitch-perfect homage/skewering of Y2K girl-group videos—was released, and the lyrics are, of course, amazing: “People staring at us / Thinking that we’re badass / Watchin’ as we wave goodbye / Our stomachs are the flattest.”

In related, equally wonderful news, Girls5eva star Sara Bareilles released a concert video performed from the Hollywood Bowl. The arena was empty because, you know, pandemic, but it was meant to usher in hope for the future of gathering together. You will likely cry intensely while watching it, since it is impossible not to when Sara Bareilles sings. Try. I dare you.

The surprise delight of Amidst the Chaos: Live From the Hollywood Bowl, however, was the cast of Girls5eva—Bareilles, Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Philipps—performing “Four Stars” live together, and then the singing backup for Bareilles as she closed the show with “Brave.” It’s all just a very happy thing that I can’t recommend enough that you watch. (Watch here.)

The “Friends” Cast Is Reuniting, Or Maybe They All Died

I cannot explain the depth to which I have no idea what in the world is going on with this Friends reunion.

It was announced this week that it will premiere May 27. Yay! That’s soon! That announcement was also accompanied by the world’s weirdest trailer, with footage of the cast from behind walking in slow motion at dusk while music plays that is so morose it would be out of place at a funeral. Is the Friends cast reuniting? Or did they all die? Based on the trailer, who could say.

In other reunion news, the special will feature appearances from James Corden, BTS, Lady Gaga, Reese Witherspoon, Cindy Crawford, and, of course, Malala Yousafzai. Malala Yousafzai, famously Team They Were On a Break! It is, as Jarett Wieselman said on Twitter, “the most random collection of names since Renée Zellweger’s Oscar acceptance speech.”

When Wendy Met Wendy

I truly believe that if I stare at this photo of Wendy Williams with her Madame Tussaud’s wax-figure likeness long enough, I may unlock the secret to life’s fulfillment at the center of humanity’s existence.

What to watch this week:

The Underground Railroad: It’s an astonishing series. But take your time; it’s tough. (Fri. on Amazon)

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: Before she was the “driver’s license” girl, Olivia Rodrigo was the star of this shockingly smart and funny series. (Fri. on Disney+)

Pride: A remarkable attempt at chronicling 60+ years of LGBT history. (Fri. on FX)

What to skip this week:

The Woman in the Window: Putting Amy Adams in a bad movie should be a felony. (Fri. on Netflix)

Ellen DeGeneres’ Farewell Tour Is Already a Whiny, Tone-Deaf Disaster

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