Tina Fey is brilliant, successful, and gorgeous — so why is Liz Lemon a hopeless loser?
Love Lessons From… is a Nerve column in which Litsa Dremousis examines the love-and-sex themes of buzzy pop culture.
Tina Fey's Emmy-winning 30 Rock returns for its sixth season tomorrow night, and I'm giddier than a kid hopped up on a wad of Hershey's kisses. It's my all-time favorite show and I think it deserves its accolades and fanatical admirers. But why must Fey's now-iconic TV writer, Liz Lemon, view herself as romantically hopeless? Could this be the season she finally understands her perceived social weaknesses are among her strengths?
After a scheduled delay (Fey's procreative gain was our temporary loss), Liz is back, along with her boss and best friend, NBC exec Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, in case you live in a tree) and stars Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan, ibid) and Jenna Maroney (the preposterously talented Jane Krakowski). Since 30 Rock's 2006 debut, its storylines have been weird and unpredictable, but one constant has remained: Liz's desire to maintain her high-powered career and find a boyfriend who loves her skewed wit, passion for sandwiches, and sometimes time-crunched grooming (rubbing a vanilla candle under her arms after a long flight, fastening her frayed bra with tape and, in a truly ingenious move, substituting a Duane Reade plastic bag for underwear). And really, what woman of a certain stripe can't identify? (Much more so than Liz, I enjoy getting dressed up, but I've long wished it were socially acceptable to wear a burqa during deadline weeks.)
Over the past five seasons, we've seen Liz couple and part with beeper salesman Dennis Duffy (Dean Winters), lawyer Floyd DeBarber a.k.a. "the Michael Clayton of Cleveland" (Jason Sudeikis), Dr. Drew Baird (Jon Hamm, who gets to utter one of the greatest breakup lines in television history: "What? You're too good for me now that I have pirate hook hands?") and Carol (whose last name turns out to be "Burnett"), the airline pilot who hates his passengers (played with gusto by Matt Damon). With the exception of Dennis — whom Liz tolerates because he makes chili and only wants sex on Saturdays — each of the relationships start with promise and the fizzy, hopeful question, "Could this be the one?" only to end in gloom.
As viewers, it's impossible not to cheer Liz in her quest to find a partner. Not so she'll fit into a societally mandated box, but because she's often the smartest person in the room, always the funniest and, perhaps most importantly, she's deeply loyal to her friends and staff, even if she occasionally — and hilariously — eviscerates them. Plus, let's face it, mannish shoes or not, she's damned attractive.
In contrast to Liz's, Jack's love life flourishes like his inimitable coif. Alec Baldwin's still handsome, but Jack has a paunch, is twelve years older than Liz, is a total mama's boy, is divorced, and is even more absorbed by his career than Liz. While 30 Rock knowingly pokes fun at Liz's desire to "have it all", the fact remains that having it all has rarely been a problem for successful men, in life or in television. As Jack consistently demonstrates, ladies flock to him despite his flaws, while Liz finds herself playing singles dodgeball at the local Y. And the premise resonates because we know in real life, this is often the deal.
30 Rock has been openly feminist since its inception, so wouldn't it be thrilling for Liz to finally realize she has going for herself? That she's not still the gawky, frizzy-haired misfit we sometimes see in flashbacks? Of course, much of the show's humor lies in Liz's social mishaps. But if anyone could make Liz liking herself as much as we do funny, it's the peerlessly gifted Fey. Moreover, even some of 30 Rock's most loyal fans have complained that recent seasons have felt creatively stagnant. Genuine growth for Liz would shake up the routine and make whole new stories possible.
In NBC's sneak peek of the new season, we see James Mardsen will play Liz's new laid-back boyfriend, who tries to balance her workaholism. I don't care if he succeeds in fact — in fact, if there's a seventh season, he probably won't — but I'd like to see Liz happy in her personal life, too. Not because her overriding quest has been to find a boyfriend, but because it hasn't. And a woman who occasionally has to Scotch-tape her underthings deserves a relationship that doesn't unravel at the seams.
Litsa Dremousis' work appears in The Believer, Esquire, McSweeney's, MSN Music, The Onion's A.V. Club, Paste, the Seattle Weekly, on NPR, and in sundry other venues. She is completing her first novel. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis. She archives her previously published work at http://theslipperyfish.