Life in your late 20s is essentially just waltzing around the outskirts of being a thirtysomething. You know you’re definitely getting old when hitting the big Three Oh is just fraught with terrifying tales of adulthood and responsibilities. If it weren’t for healthcare and technology, our life expectancy wouldn’t have allowed our leisurely exploits to evade marriage and knowing what a 401K really is. Now, I know I’m starting to sound like a First Generation iPod preaching to a choir of Apple Watches about the hardscrabble life during the Pre-Spotify era — in a section that trumps all things “young” — but as I inch closer to turning 30, life isn’t exactly a BuzzFeed listicle anymore. Suddenly, I’m Hilary Duff burying the best of my Lizzie McGuire days and jumping into a show about a 40-year-old pretending to be in her 20s. Yikes.
Like everyone else my age —who once were kids partying hard at Cubao X, consuming blinding amounts of alcohol during gigs, and slamming with other bodies in Ang Bandang Shirley’s “mushpits” — our weekly cavalcade of emotions include: paranoia, neediness, self-loathing, and a constant need for attention. As I go on, scrounging for the dregs of my youth, I realize that these fits of madness are already familiar to me, this relentless pursuit of self-interest, the aversion to being around people younger than I am, and the bursts of homicidal thoughts when things don’t go your way. I have become Jenna Maroney, 30 Rock’s embodiment of “self-indulgent narcissism.”
30 Rock was a strange show. It was too smart, too self-aware, and too absurd for a network sitcom. “I feel like we made a lot of good episodes of the kind of show that usually gets canceled,” series star and creator Tina Fey told Rolling Stone in 2013. “The kind where there’s 20 episodes and ‘only me and my hipster friends know about it.’ That part’s still true. But we made 140 of them!” It had six years of dwindling viewership (its premiere had eight million viewers then steadily declined each season until it was only watched by three million people by the time it ended in 2013), critical acclaim and awards (it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series thrice), a stellar crowd of cameos and guest stars, such as Oprah Winfrey, Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and two of the biggest male TV leads, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston — both cast as idiots. At the center of the universe of this comedy show within a comedy show — or so she thinks — is Jane Krakowski’s Jenna Maroney, a washed-up actress clinging to her youth and fame.
In the first few seasons of 30 Rock, Jenna was merely an insecure actress who does things for attention and was jealous of babies for their soft skin. As the show went on, she became a high-strung psychopath who insults kids for their singing abilities (“Listening to you sing is like eating steak out of a dumpster” and “Go jump back up your mother!” are some of her memorable Simon Cowell-style insults) and only reacts to conversations if she hears her name in them. Jenna has the hallmarks of your garden variety—I will only use this word once in this entire article—millennial, an “unceasing onslaught of dysfunction” in constant need of approval. Her narcissism knows no bounds; she actually marries her own drag impersonator (played by Will Forte) and interrupts any form of singing around her only to prove that she is better (Krakowski is actually a Tony Award winner).
Jenna knows she’s a star, a self-entitled brat who sets up her own intervention (“Everyone shout out words that describe my beauty,” and in response, someone yells “Fading!”) and her attempts at learning life lessons prove to be nonsensical because they always end up being about her (“I’m not gonna be pushed aside and forgotten, like that time at my sister’s funeral.”). All this actually sounds like a regular day at my social media feed, what with all the needless one-upmanship, like-baiting selfies, and gratuitous displays of well-curated lives being lived. Hannah Horvath isn’t the trainwreck and cautionary tale of a generation, it’s Jenna Maroney. She is the devolved, hyper-sexualized version of anyone in this generation’s age bracket, a vision of a not-so-distant future when all our quirks and tics just degrade to annoying traits and hindrances to developing into a functional and emotionally healthy human being. Unless, like Jenna, you just cling to fame (stick to that blog!) and try desperately to be a D-list celebrity.