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'30 Rock': Being Tina Fey [Updated]

December 4, 2009 |  8:18 am
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It was over before it began.  This week was supposed to be the premiere of Liz Lemon’s destined-to-be a hit talk show called “Dealbreakers,” but it didn’t turn out that way. 

Liz’s insecurities -- among them her penchant for junk food, her loudly ticking biological clock, her aversion to exercise -- have always been a part of “30 Rock,” but they took center stage on this week’s episode. Jack is under financial pressure from his nemesis, Devon Banks, and thinks that “Dealbreakers” is going to be a huge hit. But Devon plants the seed of doubt, saying that "four-eyed freak" Liz looks “about as good as I do in capri pants, which you think would be good since I’m tall.”

In his own very cool way, Jack totally freaks out and none too subtly asks Liz if she can do anything about her glasses. And folks, it all went downhill from there.

That request spurs Liz to get discount “Lasig” surgery that renders her tear ducts useless. Then she gets a botched haircut with crooked bangs, forgets how to say “camera” and worst of all, in front of the high-def camera, she looks like a reanimated corpse. By the end of the episode, the scrutiny sends Liz into a downward spiral and creates a schism in her personality: There's regular Liz, and then there's crazy performer Liz, who is a terrifying hybrid of Jenna and Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Meanwhile, Frank takes over Liz’s head writer duties and slowly morphs into a caricature of Liz -- frazzled, desperate to please and wearing droopy cardigans and striped scarves. By the end of the episode, Liz refuses to go on stage, and "Dealbreakers" is all but dead in the water. 

Could this have been the most autobiographical episode of “30 Rock” ever?  

Putting aside the many comedic embellishments (i.e., crying out of her mouth, locking herself in the dressing room), I think this episode shed some insight into what it's like to be Tina Fey -- not just a writer who's made the leap to performing, but one who's also a woman. Virtually every profile ever written about Fey discusses both her physical and professional transformation, from chubby writer with a bad haircut to a svelte, thinking man’s sex symbol and television star with the ability to single-handedly derail a presidential campaign. Despite this, you get the sense some of the time -- well most of it, really -- that Fey still isn’t convinced of her allure. It’s hard to tell whether she believes it or if it’s just a shtick, but my sense is that it’s a little bit of both.

In other news, this week was a big one for NBC Universal, whose parent company, General Electric Co., just signed a joint venture with cable giant Comcast Corp. I have a feeling this means a change in Jack’s job title is imminent. How about “Vice President of East Coast Television, Microwave Ovens and High Speed Digital Cable?” Let’s just hope Alec Baldwin doesn’t quit acting before then.

Best joke: Tracy’s daughterlessness drives him to tell Liz, “Recently I realized there’s a hole in my heart.  And it’s not the one that I got from eating batteries.”

Jack’s Republican talking points: Jack tells Devon that “our healthcare costs are way down since we put something in the coffee to keep women from getting pregnant,” making him sound an awful lot like the junior senator from Arizona.

Most meta moment: Kenneth appears in the high-def camera as a Muppet, a reference to an episode last season, and Jack appears to be a younger version of himself, possibly from "The Hunt for Red October," although I wish it had been this scene from "Knot's Landing."

Proof that Jenna can be funny more often than I care to admit:
Jack tells Jenna he has an actress problem; she responds, "First, don’t try to move the body yourself." 

Meanest thing said to Liz:
This week it was obviously a tough call, but I’m going to go with Tracy asking, “Is it just me, or is Liz Lemon getting hotter?” after seeing Frank in Liz mode.

Quintessential Kenneth:
When Liz refuses to go on stage, he keeps the “Dealbreakers” audience entertained with clean versions of Garrison Keillor stories.

Guest appearances: Of course, there was one of the world’s only living EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award winner), Whoopi Goldberg. But as someone who spent a good deal of my high school and college years watching “Days of Our Lives,” I was thrilled to see Bo and Hope make an appearance…even if it was over the credits.

Nerdiest reference: Whoopi tells Tracy that she finalized her EGOT status by sleeping with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. Tracy says, "So that's how we got the super majority?"

[Updated at 11:04 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said that Whoopi Goldberg was the world's only living EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award winner.) It has been been updated to say that she is in fact one of a few still living.]

-- Meredith Blake

Photo: It'll grow back, right? Turns out performing makes Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) feel insecure. Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

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