Pop culture made me a feminist. As a suburban girl in the early 90s, I picked up my beliefs about equality from some books at the library and a copy of Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusal.” After no one at my elementary school opted to join my "Gender Equality Club," I looked back to pop culture to find others of my kind—and I found the most feminists were on network TV.
On television and in real life, home health aides are an underpaid, overworked, and invisible workforce. Like Elisa (Salma Hayek) on season three of 30 Rock, they feed, bathe, cook, and clean for the nation's elderly folks and people with disabilities in their homes. Yet these workers struggle to make ends meet; on average, they make less than $10 an hour. They receive no overtime pay, and their work can often be physically demanding. Moreover, home health aides work in private residences where their labor receives little oversight and where they lack a support network to help them advocate for better compensation. And these injustices to home health aides matter now more than ever because—guess what?—with a growing elderly population, it's the fastest growing occupation in the U.S.
So while Elisa's plight is played for laughs against Jack's one-percenter lifestyle, the sitcom offers a surprisingly frank glimpse of an undervalued workforce, one that's comprised overwhelmingly of women and women of color—and one that hides in plain sight in homes all across America.
Tonight, 30 Rock ends its seven-year run. I'm a fan of the show, but I think it's time to say goodbye to Liz Lemon, Tina Fey's goofy loser star of the show.
Lemon is one of the best characters on TV: she's a hard-working, independent, sloppy person that always flashes to mind when I, say, spill soup down the front of my "professional jacket." Lemon's right in line with what the New York Times said about Fey's influential work this morning, that she's "a pioneer who resists being taken too seriously. She prefers to be revered for her irreverence."
But in recent seasons, it felt to me like Lemon's looks and age became more and more punchlines in the show. Joking about how ugly a woman is gets tired extremely fast. In some episodes, as a viewer it felt like Lemon's character was less an interesting, funny person we could commiserate with and more a foil for everyone else's fat jokes. The constant pokes at Lemon's physique often fell flat, in part because they're such a stretch from how Lemon actually looks. Lemon's a messy woman who is prone to wearing sweatpants, but the show occupied a bizarre reality where staffers agreed that Fey's character was a hideous crone. This was partly a smart commentary on how women in show business are often written off as old and ugly if they're a healthy weight and over 30. But many of the jokes were just easy, unfunny jabs.
For me, at least, the Lemon-needling was always the least funny part of the show. I've got my fingers crossed that Fey will take her excellent writing skills and well-earned prime-time cred to a new character whose looks are less of a punchline. Goodbye and good luck.
Valentine's Day is a tricky holiday for TV shows, no matter if the characters are coupled or single, happy or miserable, or somewhere in between. The TNL lineup (and last week's Parks and Rec) all tackled February 14, with mixed results. Here's what worked, and what didn't in the Thursday night comedies' approach to Valentine's Day.
This week's lineup was an odd one: two new episodes of 30 Rock, a new episode of Parks and Rec and a repeat of Up All Night. (Even though there was no Office this time, it seems we might have a Dwight Schrute-centric spinoff to look forward to next season, so that's...something). So we'll tackle the shows that had new episodes, starting with how 30 Rock dealt with the Tracy Morgan controversy.
In this week's TNL, it's all about 30 Rock—specifically, the problem that arises from Tina Fey so closely identifying with her character, Liz Lemon. This week's episode especially magnified the havoc this wreaks on her long-suffering fictional alter-ego, in both her personal and professional life.
So with the start of 2012 ushers in a new lineup on Thursday nights on NBC. With Community and Whitney replaced by 30 Rock and Up All Night, we have a comedy block in which three out of the four series are headlined by women, which is pretty awesome. So how did the brand-new TNL lineup fare? We kick off this week’s recap with the return of 30 Rock.
Near the end of this tirade, Morgan included an old chestnut for the queers in the audience, something I’ve grown used to hearing from every "edgy" comedian who wants to get a few yucks doing material about sissy men or butch ladies or epicene androgynes or whoever is filling the straight male id with abject terror this week: "If you can take a dick, you can take a joke." The implication being that anal sex is some sort of great feat, like the Iron Man Competition or a Triathlon, that straight men couldn't possibly endure, because they're so strong and manly? Obviously a person who has passed through such a terrible ordeal will be so hardened by the experience that they will lose all ability to be angry that they paid almost 90 dollars to be told their sexuality is a choice. The statement sometimes carries with it a note of begrudging respect, but that respect is in the context of the speaker acknowledging that "taking a dick" would be impossible for them. They use queer sexuality to have something to define themselves against in order to underscore and highlight their own bland heteronormativity, and expect to get a pass for vile shit they've said about queer lives? Fuck that.