Monday, March 9, 2009

30 Rock's Liz Lemon

I'm in love with Liz Lemon.

For those who are unfamiliar, Lemon (played by Tina Fey) is the chief character on the hit show 30 Rock, a sitcom about a Saturday Night Live-ish variety program and the people who run it. The show also stars Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and a bevy of high-profile celebrity guest stars. Past visitors have included Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin and Jennifer Aniston.

Anyway, the reason I love Liz Lemon is the reason most of us love our sitcom characters: they are flawed and they are funny.

And Fey, who is also executive producer and a writer on 30 Rock, provides laughs in a number of ways. We laugh as the cringe-inducing Lemon tries her luck at dating and falls flat - with a soothing consistency. We laugh whenever she loses patience with her harmless, but ultimately hopeless, underlings. We love knowing that any character with a racist, homophobic or other offending nature will be skewered - for humor - in the end.

Besides having a knack for zippy dialogue, somehow Fey has figured out both why her own life is funny and how to skillfully translate that onto the screen.

For example, her line "I want to go to there," delivered robotically whenever she sees something - or someone she wants (such as love interest and recent guest star Jon Hamm of the hit TV series Mad Men) kills every time. Fey's source? Her three-and-a-half year old daughter, who, according to Fey, uttered the words after viewing a commercial on TV for Disney World.

Of course the line wouldn't be funny without the extra "to." It would also fail if used in context; ie: if a kid said it. Fey's delivery, and the way she morphs it into something for the adult world, makes it great.

When it comes to acting, I'd say Fey was the weak link among the principals in season one. I wouldn't say that anymore. Unlike Seinfeld, whose horrible acting you could forgive on an ongoing basis because it was happening inside the bubble of a dream ensemble cast, Fey has elevated her game and now fits alongside the rest of 30 Rock's stars.

What about the supporting cast? Alec Baldwin has proven his knack for comedy several times in recent years as guest host on SNL and frankly his Jack Donaghy character could have his own show and I'd watch it (as long as Fey was still writing it). Tracy Morgan, playing a kookier version of himself, is usually good for several chuckles per episode.

So 30 Rock and Liz Lemon equals good comedy. Why is that blogworthy?

Because I believe Fey is providing something we can really use on television: a hilarious female character who: isn't a nasty, House-like or Glenn Close in Damages-type meany; doesn't rely on double entendres to make you snicker; and who definitely isn't a character who tickles your heartstrings along with your funny bone.

Liz Lemon is silly, she's goofy, she's wacky - take your pick - but Fey's comedy is smart. And 30 Rock is working for me. On a weekly basis, "I want to go to there."

That's why I'm in love with Liz Lemon.

3 Comments:

Blogger corvus said...

You could do this for a living.

And I love Liz Lemon too. I hadn't thought about the non-meanness aspect, but you're right. Incidentally, that was always something I liked about Mike Myers' comedy. I haven't seen anything by him for years now, but I remember being impressed by the way he tried to be funny without being hurtful. There's a lot of 'comedy' out there that 'connects' with its audience by establishing a shared sense of contempt for third parties (there's some that even tries to get laughs through direct contempt for the audience itself - weird). Remember Roger Rabbit?

March 10, 2009 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger geekmonkmom said...

Adam, this is great! I too would watch a show about Jack Donaghy, also with the same caveat. Hey, you should subscribe to urbandictionary.com if you want to feel even closer to Fey. She's always using slang and she just used the term "Dutch Oven" in her twitter. It's quite gross. Typical Fey.

March 11, 2009 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Adam Pletsch said...

Yes Corvus, Mike Myers is also an example of a comedian who sets up situations where he himself will be the butt of most of the jokes (ie: Fat Bastard, Dr Evil). Sounds a lot like Liz Lemon.

March 12, 2009 at 11:14 AM  

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