30 Rock is my favorite show currently on the air, but boy has it stumbled coming into its fourth season: from Jack’s pat microwave redesign to Liz and Pete’s continually unfunny search for a new cast member, the show’s been misfiring left and right. And this week’s episode featured the return of my least-favorite 30 Rock trope: the Liz-Lemon-in-gastrointestinal-distress joke, a recurrence that is representative of the uneasy way that 30 Rock deals with Liz Lemon and her personal life.
Look: we already had an episode in which Liz eats something unwise, gets violently ill, and spends much of the episode on the toilet. Remember? It was in the episode in which she dated the guy who she eventually decided was too attractive for her. (For the record, it was this guy.) And that’s hardly the end of the jokes about Liz’s bodily emissions, either: toward the end of season 3, Jack’s ostensibly-younger, bustier girlfriend (played by Selma Hayek, who is in fact four years older than Tina Fey) snaps, “”Isn’t there a Slanket somewhere you should be filling with your farts, Lemon?”
Liz Lemon’s personality quirks are manifold, and for the most part I have no problem with them; indeed, they’re part of why I love the show. She’s a geek, she’s neurotic, she eats compulsively, she’s awkward around men – these are all aspects of her personality from which the highest quality of humor has been mined. But 30 Rock also goes a step farther; in addition to saddling her with unattractive personality traits, it’s taken as a given that she’s ugly, too. And not just a little ugly, but actively unattractive in every way – in look, in affect, in age, in hygiene.
In addition to having a strange sadistic streak to it, this is also patently untrue. Tina Fey is a beautiful woman. Liz Lemon, as portrayed, is a beautiful woman. And I can’t figure out whether the show’s protestations to the contrary speak to some deep-rooted anxiety manifest in Fey’s writing, or if they’re trying to make some sort of point, but it just comes off as disingenuous and a little bizarre. There’s not much humor in something that isn’t true, and I wish the 30 Rock writers would stick to making fun of the traits Liz Lemon actually possesses.