Of all of the characters in the “30 Rock” universe, Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”) certainly has the most fascinating backstory. Originally simply a hyper-modest, folksy NBC page, by the end of the series (spoiler alert, also why have you not seen 30 Rock?) he has become an immortal being who will serve as head of NBC presumably forever. In this post, I’ll break down the transformation.
As I mentioned, Kenneth began as a rather flat character. In the show’s first season, much was made of Kenneth’s innocence. However, Jack prophetically predicts, after an intense game of cards, that Kenneth will one day either rule them all, or kill them all. (Does this also explain what happened to Josh?)
Gradually, bits of Kenneth’s background began to fill in. His folksiness grew, and he often referred to his hometown of Stone Mountain, GA (actual hometown of show writer Donald Glover) and the simpler life he left back home to fulfill his page duties. He would also begin referring to his stepfather Ron, who is implied to be quite the awful man.
Starting around season three, the show begins working in hints about Kenneth’s agelessness. For example, he refers to his birth year as “nineteen[mumbling]”, and gets strangely defensive whenever the matter of his age is brought up.
Furthering the mythology, in the show’s second live episode, flashbacks of television shows from the past seem to indicate that Kenneth has worked as a page at NBC perhaps since the very beginning. It makes sense — who would make a better tour guide to visitors than someone who not only knows the history, but lived it too?
By the end of the series, all subtlety is gone. The show continues to reference his agelessness, and his status as some sort of otherworldly entity; his mom refers to how Kenneth spoke to her moments after his own “birth”. Ron (Bryan Cranston, winner of television) turns out to be an okay, if pretty dorky, guy. And in the finale, we learn that Kenneth will one day ascend the ranks to become the leader of NBC (and greenlight “30 Rock”… Does that make Tina Fey Liz Lemon’s granddaughter?)
Naturally, this is all confusing. Why is Kenneth immortal? How is he immortal? Why would an immortal, otherworldly being’s purpose in life be to become head of NBC, of all things?
The answers lie only in the comedic genius of Tina Fey and her writing staff. If for some reason you haven’t already, check out 30 Rock on Netflix or in syndication.