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Body dysmorphic disorder, '30 Rock' style


One of the greatest puzzles of "30 Rock" is the fact that Tina Fey plays a frumpy, unattractive character on the show. After all, Fey is glamorous and petite in real life, not to mention impossibly successful; an ideal role model for any young woman. She is, as they say, the whole package; or, as Jack Donaghy might say, "the one."

And yet so often on the show, Fey's character, Liz Lemon, is shot down by the people around her; laughed at even. And nowhere this season have the tongue lashings been quite as brutal as they were in Thursday's episode. It starts in the jewelry showroom, where Jack is picking out an engagement ring for sexy Salma Hayek's character, Elisa. The jeweler, mistaking Liz for Jack's fiancee, announces, "she's very spirited. Like a show horse." Jack quickly -- urgently even -- clears up the misconception by showing the jeweler a photo of Elisa. The jeweler is relieved: "Please follow me to the real showroom," he says. Thus, in the opening minutes of the show, Liz is deemed unfit to have a "real" engagement ring, the assumed symbol of feminine worth in a man's world.

Liz's worth as a female is called into question again in a scene with Elisa. Elisa confesses she has a secret, and Liz guesses that she is really a man. "Really? That's your guess? A man?" Presses Elisa: "You want to see me naked?"

"Sort of," replies Liz, in awe of Elisa's voluptuous body. Liz's curiosity in this moment is not necessarily sexual, but rather the prepubescent curiosity of a girl who is not yet a woman, in awe of one who is.

Things go to the next level when Elisa kisses Liz full on the mouth, and Liz acknowledges that she can see why Jack likes Elisa.  In this exchange, Liz has gone from admiring Elisa's beauty to admiring her sexual prowess. And being at least mildly aroused by it.  

And so it would seem that Liz was being painted as one of the boys, a tried-and-true sitcom category.  Only she isn't that either. As Jack tells her again and again over the course of the episode, she does not understand men. And Liz agrees. So where does that leave her?

It leaves her alone in her "slanket" eating cheese; one of the more amazing images of the season. After a day of not fitting in anywhere -- not with super-sexy Elisa and her ilk, and not with the men she doesn't "understand" -- Liz comes home, wraps herself in a blanket with sleeves, and prepares a cheese platter. Not just any cheese platter, mind you. It is painstakingly arranged, with huge wedges of fancy fromage and all of the proper cheese-utensils. It is even served on a wooden board in lieu of a plate. It is the cheese platter of a woman who has been looking forward to a cheese platter all day. Another great and subtle detail: Liz has lit candles. When Jack comes to her apartment for counsel, she is singing "Working on the night cheese." Yes, "working on the night cheese." She can't hide from Jack, even if she wants to; I heard you singing "working on the night cheese," he tells her when he enters her apartment.


And so, Liz's sanctuary invaded, she allows Jack to vent; that is, until Elisa comes barreling into the room. For a split-second, Elisa suspects Jack of having an affair with Liz. After giving Liz the once-over, however, she realizes this is impossible. The exchange is slightly ludicrous, in light of Tina Fey's flawless physique, but works in the fantasy world set up on the show. Elisa realizes that Jack has come to Liz "because she's your bro," and nothing more. Then, in the most hostile Liz-bashing moment of the episode -- and probably of the season -- Elisa barks, "Lemon, isn't there a slanket somewhere you should be filling with your farts?"

Just looking at Liz, there seems a great disconnect between the way she looks and the way she is treated on the show. Why would a jeweler not want to serve her? Why would a beautiful woman not think Liz capable of stealing her man? The answer is this: Although "30 Rock" is an ensemble series, the action is all, however subtly, seen through Liz's eyes. Sure, there is no voice-over, but in a way, all of the characters, including most prominently her own, are performed in the way Liz sees them. Thus, all of the characters treat Liz the way that she thinks they see her, not the way they necessarily do. The grave disconnect lies, not in the way Liz looks (beautiful) and the way the world sees her (plain), but in the way Liz looks and the way she sees herself.

-- Stephanie Lysaght

Photos, from top: Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin; Fey, Salma Hayek, and Baldwin. Credits: NBC

Comments () | Archives (31)

As someone with a long-standing crush on Liz/Tina, this one was hard to watch, especially because I've found the Elisa character -- physical attractiveness aside -- so grating.

I love 30Rock for it's ridiculousness. And it is ridiculous to think that Lemon/Tina Fey is unattractive, frumpy, unintelligent and overweight. As in last night's episode where she extends her belly as to show Elisa she is fat. In the end we all know she is the smartest, prettiest, etc of the whole cast. And what is wrong with a fabulous cheese plate to enjoy all by oneself?.

Ayn Rand called. She wants her copy of the Fountainhead back.


That is a great take on the episode. Although some people would prefer both Liz and Elisa, there are some that would prefer only one of them, or neither -- but they certainly wouldn't be as crass in voicing their dislike for a person as the characters in 30 Rock.

Very insightful observation.


Or... its a comedy show.

This article reads like a B- paper from film school.

You've completely missed the point. Liz is frumpy on the inside. Liz is tentative and unsure and insecure and all those things that make people unattractive to other people who judge people on their attractiveness.

It's actually very empowering because it seems to indicate that in the 30 Rock world a person can be beautiful on the outside just by possessing those qualities.

Really, there is no one on the show who is actually attractive ... isn't that the point? They're all deeply, deeply flawed characters and we love them anyway.

I think tina fey is a smart and beauitful woman. She is isn't the creastor of 30 rock for no reason. I saw her movie " Baby's Mom" she has a rock body. great legs. She is a SEXY woman. The man who landed her or married her is one luckey man...She might down play her self on 30 rock but i'm sure she is very comfortable in her skiin..

Tina Fey said that she grew up being on the outside. This shows through the way she portrays Liz Lemon, the perpetual outsider, even if she's a head writer for this fictional show.

OMG can this be a more sophomoric-sounding essay? the problem about college is that fifty percent of the people who attend, never really leave...

You actually think this is "One of the greatest puzzles of 30 Rock"..? Are you serious? Do you even understand the show or TF's humor? Has the LA Times become a student paper?

Hey, I missed the show last night so this article was an excellent recap of the best scenes.
A great perspective on the characters as well. Thanks Stephanie.

To which I say: blerg.

Was this a book report for English class?

show tracker? really?

entertainment news?


la times, you guys are kind of sucking at this "news" stuff.

Critiques like this are partly to blame for why there haven't been enough (or rather, ANY) Liz Lemons on TV before Liz Lemon. Any character, male or female, could poke fun at Hawkeye Pierce, Ted Baxter, or Chandler Bing. I haven't seen any editorials whining about how it's just not right that a particular episode of Scrubs was really too hard on Zach Braff's character's, because golly, he's a quasi-handsome doctor, and why don't more people respect him?!

If a crack had been made that Jerry Seinfeld wasn't "real showroom" material, he would have shrugged, agreed, and made a crack about it. If Mary Tyler Moore had been told her slanket was full of farts, her face would have crunched up in tears. See how Liz's reaction is more like the first one, and funnier?

Liz is the witty, attractive one, the one that everyone likes. Jenna is the daft, gorgeous one, and she is generally insufferable. Mainly, Liz is in on the joke. Unlike some people. Lighten up.

This is terrible writing and a terrible thesis. Just goes to show what happens when you fire your amazing film critics (Carina Chocano) and give plucky interns a go at writing in their place. One must more than skim Laura Mulvey to understand what she's talking about.

Liz lacks confidence, and that is what makes her unattractive in the eyes of others. It's not that she's ugly, it's that she feels she is, and is in awe of other women who carry themselves so effortlessly. She feels all the time the way all of us feel some of the time. The idea isn't new. Andy Griffith once described Don Knotts' Barney Fife as someone with the same shortcomings and insecurities as everyone else, only his were on the outside.

The writer I guess missed the point all this time.... Liz Lemon is hot! Haven't you seen the episode when puts out to seduce the accountant? The message is simple: it is how we feel on the inside that it's projected to others no matter how sexy or beautiful we are or not. by the way tina fey over hayek any time.

I find the constant picking on Liz's appearance less about Liz herself and more about Tina Fey and the show poking fun at the ridiculous standards of beauty that exist in our country. Standards that say only extraordinarily attractive women like Elisa or Jenna are worthy of men's attention. Or that only girls who are barely legal and thin as a rail like the blonde assistant to the writers on the show should have packed social calendars and be showered with gifts. I think it's a brilliant satirical look in the mirror for us!

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