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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

30 Rock: "TGS Hates Women"

Illustration for article titled i30 Rock/i: TGS Hates Women
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Once again, unto the breach, 30 Rock fans. Nathan’s stuck inside the American Museum of Natural History this week reliving childhood memories, so I’m back for another week. Last time out, we saw a brief glimpse of camaraderie on the show, as the staff of TGS rallied around Liz in her time of crisis. But this week managed to take a rather serious issue (gender) and turn it into something that didn’t shy away from the issues it raised but chose to ultimately sidestep them in order to show flaws in personal perception, rather than societal ones.

Gender has always been at the forefront of Tina Fey’s comedic stylings, dating back to her time on Saturday Night Live. She continued to explore them in Mean Girls and has sprinkled them throughout her time on 30 Rock. But while she can hardly be accused of being a “Judas to all womankind” as Liz is by episode’s end, Fey is not afraid to make her fictional self overreactionary to the point of subverting Liz’s goals. Put another way: Tina Fey and Liz Lemon might read the same books, but Tina actually reads more than the cover flap in order to obtain knowledge. Actually, that’s not quite fair: Liz will read a few pages but soon succumb to a food coma which causes her to fall asleep on the couch for the 12th straight night.


With the reveal of Abby Flynn/Grossman as hiding from a crazy ex-husband, rather than hiding from her true comedic voice, Fey and Company get to have their cake and eat it too. They can spend an entire storyline that essentially calls out figures like Lady Gaga and yet pull back at the last minute to reveal something beyond mere famewhoring as the reason for the transformation. Having the show use “Sleeping with the Enemy” instead of Her Gaga-ness as the ultimate source of parody took away from the punch the episode could have had but also revealed the T&A side of the episode to be almost as naked a grab for attention for the show as much as the character of Abby. (Couldn't Abby have transformed into some other, less porno-y iteration in order to escape detection from her ex?)

But if Abby’s in-your-face-and-on-your-lap character sometimes bordered on the cartoonish, it did provide a way in which the show could talk about the ways in which what’s “funny” about being female could be explored in a sneaky fashion. On last week’s Saturday Night Live: Backstage special, NBC showed a segment where Norm MacDonald told an overtly sexist joke, only to follow up by saying that a female writer came up with it. All of this was a way in which to nakedly expose the thin line between what’s funny and not based on not the source material, but the literal source OF the material. Does Liz Lemon writing a series of menstruation jokes for Jenna’s characters on TGS mean that the jokes are somehow better or worse than if Lutz wrote them? Does the fact that Abby is in fact playing up a stereotype in order to indulge/exploit male fantasies ultimate overcome the incorrect impression of its authenticity once you’re aware of it? (Somehow I imagine a few of you will have something to say about this in the comments.)


The other story, which wasn’t a B-story so much as a parallel A-story, featured another episode-long misperception of a woman. Rather than dealing in issues of gender, this one dealt purely in issues of ambition. And Lord, let’s hope the show has signed on Chloe “Hit Girl” Moretz for a multi-episode arc, because watching her and Alec Baldwin square off for the remainder of the season over future ownership of Kabletown might provide as much awesomeness as this show has ever produced. Just as Liz underestimated (in addition to also misrepresenting) Abby’s secret, Jack underestimated Kailey Cooper because of her age. But any 30 Rock viewers who have seen Moretz’ film career knew all along that lurking under that charming façade lay a girl who could layeth the smacketh down much more fiercely than any WWE wrestler could ever dream.

The joy in watching Kailey systematically break Jack down came not only from her skillful misdirection, but in the way Jack helplessly drifted back to his own days as a would-be oceanographer. This quick drift back into childhood married with a vision of a potential future, a delirious fantasy adjacent to The Blue Whale in which he seemingly drifted into the video for Modest Mouse’s “Dashboard.” The childlike-side of Jack is always a joy to behold, a side that sees microwave technology as something to mock, not boast about. Sure, we all love the Jack Donaghy that likens himself to Hercules or The Highlander, but that façade really isn’t all that different from the one Abby put on when she put on her blonde wig and fake breasts. The only difference? Jack’s man-boobs might be bigger. Other than that? Pretty much the same.


Stray observations:

  • I knew a few kids in college whose parents succumbed to the dreaded “Trust Fund Baby Disease.” I could identify them due to their flannel shirts and impossibly large collection of Phish bootleg cassettes.
  • Lutz’s Kinect session may send Microsoft’s stock downward when the stock market opens tomorrow.
  • Nice to see The Office’s prolonged good-bye to Michael Scott made it onto 30 Rock tonight, with Liz’s shout-out to Steve Carell.
  • In the future, I look forward to my many conversations with whales, the lasting legacy of Jack Donaghy.
  • I’d tell you about what sucked about MY last lesbian orgy, but then I’d just been telling tales out of school.
  • “They say I’m the freshest female voice in comedy! Take that, Courtney-Thorne Smith.”
  • “I’m Amelia Earhart. I’m almost across the Pacific. Oh no, my period!”
  • “I support women! I’m like a human bra!”
  • “I sent it in, but AquaFem did not choose it!”
  • “He discovered the Titanic, The Lusitania, and according to his website, a guilt-free cheesecake recipe!”
  • “Give me strength, oh, Oprah!”
  • “She should be careful around the crew. New York gives us a tax break for hiring sex offenders. It’s a terrible program.”
  • “Is this where you got your V card punched?” “What? No! Does this look like the make-up room of a clown academy?”
  • “I am smart. I placed out of freshman German!”
  • “Children’s book idea: ‘Baby Hooker.’ Don’t tell Liz.”
  • “Quiet, Chalk Hands. A real man is talking.”
  • “The ocean is awesome and for winners. YOU’RE for tools.”
  • “A young person helped me online post this!”

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