30 Day Television Challenge: Day Fifteen

Your favorite female character: Liz Lemon (30 Rock)

Liz Lemon is a woman after my own hear; she’s a professional writer, Star Wars aficionado, and chronic stress eater. Portrayed by Tina Fey, Liz is the head writer/showrunner of the fictional sketch comedy show TGS, 30 Rock‘s fictional television show. As the showrunner, Liz has to deal with corporate and talent, which means trying to negotiate business demands and celebrity egos.

Typical of Tina Fey, Liz’s humor is often self-deprecating. As a child, Liz was an ugly duckling who, despite having developed into an attractive and successful adult, has never grown out of the social awkwardness that comes with being a social outcast. As a result Liz is unlucky in love and constantly getting herself into all kinds of misadventures. In short, Liz is unable to keep her eccentricities to herself. This manifests in flashbacks to her awkward youth and public displays of her slobbish personal life.

Although a likeable character, Liz is actually a bit of an asshole – or maybe that’s precisely why she’s so likeable. Accordingly, Liz is oftentimes unaware of her lack of social grace. The episode “Reunion” is a great example of this. Deciding to attend her High-School reunion, we see that Liz was in fact the school bully, not the misunderstood geek she claims to have been. Liz is always constructing the classic narrative of herself as the bullied nerd in High-School. However the truth is that Liz cut down anybody who reached out to her.

This acerbic demeanor is characterized by her alliterative name Liz Lemon. She is a lamb in sheep’s clothing, and not even she realizes this. Liz is always painting herself as a passive submissive, but she really runs the show like a tyrant: demeaning her writing staff with sardonic humor, throwing temper tantrums when she doesn’t get the snack food she craves, or lying and manipulating others to achieve her goals.

This is what sets Liz apart from traditional female sitcom protagonists. Many female characters are socially awkward, but it’s often some kind of cutesy, redeeming way. Liz’s awkwardness, though, is believably problematic. For example, Liz is always reminding the audience of her sexual incompetence (she lost her virginity at 25). She’s sort of like Elaine Benes without the self-awareness.

Perhaps what’s most endearing about Liz Lemon is her autobiographical nature. Indeed, it is very difficult to see where Tina Fey ends and Liz Lemon begins. Fey herself was the head writer of Saturday Night Live from 1999-2006. Drawing from this experience lends a sense of legitimacy to Liz and 30 Rock itself – a show that is very much irreverent and over the top. Likewise, what makes 30 Rock such a success is that it seems so personal; Fey’s fingerprints are all over it. Many moments of the show are so strikingly authentic that one cannot help but wonder what real life moment inspired it.

30 Rock is Tina Fey’s baby. She is the creator, showrunner, and star of the series. Accordingly, Liz Lemon is its heartbeat. Liz blurs the line between self-insertion and author surrogate. Mostly, Liz is a character unto herself, a composite of Fey’s experience whom she uses as clay towards whatever comedic ends the show is working towards. However, there are moments where you feel Fey’s voice speaking through Liz. This is often the case with opinions on aesthetics, ethics, and politics.

Ultimately, it is this highly personal investment on Fey’s part that makes Liz Lemon such a great character.

My one issue with Liz and 30 Rock is they sometimes push the self-deprecation and slapstick a little too far. Liz never seems to be able to pin down a relationship and is constantly being razzed for her slovenly appearance and borderline masculine aesthetic. Sure, Liz’s awkwardness is authentic, but as a superficial male I can confirm that many men would be more than willing to look past it; Fey/Liz is demonstratively attractive. Nonetheless, 30 Rock is an excellent show, and this is only a minor squabble.

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on October 9, 2012.

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