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Body dysmorphic disorder, '30 Rock' style

April 24, 2009 |  9:57 am

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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.

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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


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