Kenneth from 30 Rock really does seem to be on his way to becoming the “Urkel” of that show, the cartoony idiot who overtakes most of the other characters. 30 Rock has already signaled this by doing an episode where Tracy and Jenna (two characters who are now playing second banana to Kenneth) get jealous of Kenneth’s overwhelming popularity, and then Alec Baldwin’s SNL monologue included a skit about how audience members like Jack McBrayer better than him.
And now Kenneth has a pop-culture icon who immediately comes to mind when people see a dorky guy who talks in a weird, over-emphatic way: last night’s speech by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has caused many high-profile bloggers to compare his speech patterns to those of Kenneth the Page. They’re young, they’re Southern, they’re adorable and they talk like they’re filled with awe and wonder at the sound of every word they say. There’s already a Facebook group devoted to that proposition.
Luckily for Jindal, any problems he had with delivery may have been overshadowed by Chris Matthews once again proving that he is completely dumb and insane. (But he’s insane and dumb in a bi-partisan way, so I guess that’s supposed to make it all OK.)
I don’t know if Jindal will be the Republicans’ 2012 nominee, but he does represent what has become the Republicans’ strategy: the same policies in a more appealing package. Jindal was an extremely conservative Congressman who became an extremely conservative Governor; he is an orthodox Republican on taxes, guns, social issues etc. (Part of the problem with his speech last night was how it dwelt too much on things that only conservative Republicans are obsessed with.) But he doesn’t fit the traditional demographic profile of conservative Republicans. Sarah Palin, an attractive woman who happened to be a very conservative Republican, is also in this mold. The strategy, if it is a strategy, makes a certain amount of sense, because Obama is basically a orthodox Democrat in most of his policy positions, but has an appeal that goes beyond orthodox Democrats; the Republicans could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all about marketing. On the other hand, many conservative Republican policies are genuinely unpopular at the moment — but who knows if that will still be true by 2012? Elections are more about timing than anything else.
But back to Kenneth: The unusual thing about 30 Rock is not that it has a breakout character but that it hasn’t been revamped to focus more on him than it already does. If this were any other low-rated comedy with a spastic nerd who unexpectedly becomes the show’s most popular character, the network would long ago have had the whole show rewritten so he’d have as much screen time as the nominal stars. (Exhibit A: Family Matters.) But while Kenneth has more to do on 30 Rock, he doesn’t have that much more to do than he used to. NBC has been unusually indulgent of 30 Rock because Ben Silverman loves the show so much, and because the awards keep coming in, and so they haven’t ordered the kind of changes that a network would normally insist upon for a show with those ratings. Which is another way of saying that Tina Fey is lucky her producer is Lorne Michaels, not Miller-Boyett.