NPR’s Linda Holmes recently deconstructed Liz Lemon’s chronic regression from a woman who takes charge to a naive, co-dependent female character riddled with clichÃ©s. I only just started watching 30 Rock as Comedy Central began showing reruns during dinnertime, so I am by no means a dedicated fan of the show. After watching a variety of episodes from the earlier and more recent seasons, I have to say it: Liz Lemon does not impress me.
One of my biggest issues with Liz Lemon is her constant need for approval from her boss, Jack. Linda Holmes argues that over time, Liz and Jack’s relationship dynamic changed from one centered around mentoring to one centered around parenting. As Holmes put it,
Jack has been fully transformed into a condescending, all-knowing daddy, and Liz has been fully transformed into a needy little girl who is eternally terrified of displeasing him.
I think this dynamic existed in some form from Season One. Their relationship reeks of her desperation to please him, particularly when it comes to her personal life. Freud would have a field day with their twisted, father-daughter relationship (especially with the awkward will-they-or-won’t-they tension that arises sometimes). It’s true that in earlier seasons, Liz seemed to be more in control of her life (both personally and professionally) than she is in more recent seasons. But although Liz maintained the majority of her autonomy from Jack, she definitely leaned on him for more than just professional mentoring. Briefly in past seasons, it seemed like Jack became genuinely interested in seeing Liz happy and successful (again, both personally and professionally).
However, this interest was transformed when Liz did practically anything Jack advised her to do. Jack eventually realized he could basically control Liz, and even mess with her a little along the way. It’s as though Jack took it upon himself to teach that silly, misguided Liz a lesson every time she came to him with an issue.
Liz Lemon has become more one-dimensional over time. Don’t get me wrong, she is easy to relate to (if you’re a single white female), and many young (white) women I know appear to feel validated by her lifestyle. She confronts her “unladylike” eating habits, bad luck with men, and geeky inclinations, but after six seasons of the whole “I live alone, want a man, eat my feelings, and stay in on weekends” story line, I’m left wanting. It’s not quirky anymore, and it’s definitely lost my interest.
I also hate Liz’s relationship with her writers. Here, she’s characterized as a hapless woman thrown into a boys’ club. I’m certain that this industry is largely a “boys’ club,” but I’m disappointed by how she has to act like a bitch in order to get them to listen to her. They spend most of their time messing around, and when she wants to get serious, she cops shit. I’m aware that this dynamic between boss-and-underlings exists in real life, but she never seems to earn their respect unless she sacrifices her dignity in some way. Liz is never cool enough, despite her desperate attempts to appeal to her coworkers.
I get it. Without all of this, there wouldn’t be much of a show. Although, that’s where I think the problem stands. I wonder if Tina Fey isn’t giving 30 Rock fans much credit–instead of showcasing positive personal and professional growth from season to season, she’s slowly killing off Liz Lemon’s autonomy and by extension, her likability.