Jenna-centric episodes of 30 Rock do not have a history of blowing me away. She's a one-note character good for a few laughs, but hard to hang an entire episode on. If you're going to have an episode about a visit from her mother, that mother better be able to carry the weight of the episode. In the case of "Verna," that's exactly what happened. Jenna was pushed to the background as Jan Hooks (SNL, 3rd Rock From the Sun) took the spotlight. It helped the half hour, but this Jenna-centric episode still didn't blow me away.
Jenna's mother, of course, simply could not have been a normal, nurturing, loving mother. Instead, she was written as a drunk, aggressive stage mom who used OxyContin prescription bottles as her identification. Hooks filled the role nicely, showing a sweet side as she tried to reconcile with her daughter, and a conniving, manipulative side when she was trying to sell her reality show idea to Jack. Though the story was centered on Jenna and Verna, Jack had some of the plotline's best moments. His presentation to Jenna about "Saying No To Mother" was funny and informative: "Say no, talk low, let her go." And his line delivery to Liz during the mother-daughter rendition of "Do That To Me One More Time" was the biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the episode for me. Liz: "How are you not moved by this?" Jack: "Because I'm listening to the words."
Aside from those funny moments, there wasn't much else to invest in. Jenna isn't at all a likable character, so it's not like you were rooting for things to work out between her and her mother. And even after Jack paid off Verna to become a better parent, keeping this fact a secret from Jenna, there was no sentimental release. It was just a way to end the story. I wouldn't be put off by another visit from Verna, as Hooks is a good enough character actress to build on the role, but "Verna" the episode fell a bit short of the duo's potential.
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