Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is everyone ready for the great Leap Day festivities?


"Poke your eyes, pull your hair, you forgot what clothes to wear." Liz gets the situationally mandated eye poke for failing to wear the Leap Day-appropriate yellow-and-blue from -- of all, er, people -- Lutz. Jack Donaghy will register astonishment that "the woman who watches all six pawn-shop reality shows" has never seen the classic film Leap Dave Williams, making her apparently the only American suffering such cultural deprivation. Watch the instant-classic "Leap Day" episode of 30 Rock here.

"Leap Day's not a thing."
-- Liz Lemon, in the "Leap Day" episode of 30 Rock

"We should live every day as if it's Leap Day, and every Leap Day as if it's your last."
-- at episode's end, the real Leap Day William?

by Ken

Politics is one of the uncommon fields in which it's not necessarily a godsend for an incoming officeholder to replace what we would call "an easy act to follow." Look how Barack Obama botched the sweet deal of taking the reins from Chimpy the Ex-Prez. Now there would have been a heap of perilous passage to maneuver based just on the interlocking network of cosmically fine messes the Bush regime psychos and thugs go us into, but it didn't help that the new president often seemed to forget that he wasn't the old one.

In other fields the transition should be easy as pie. Replacing Nancy Franklin as TV critic of The New Yorker, for example. This would have been a cushy gig for anyone from Rose the Talking Parrot to that plucky squirrel you watched climb a tree last weekend in the park. I'm still trying to get a fix on Emily, whose writing at New York magazine I'm unfamiliar with, but there's no question that it's an upgrade. How could it not be? (For the record, I see that New Yorker Editor David Remnick told WWD Media in September, "Nancy decided she was tired of writing for a while, and tired of writing about TV I expect, after she catches her breath, she'll begin writing for us again and I dearly hope so." I'll take the high road and refrain from obvious sarcastic comment, but don't let me stop you.)

I bring this up because just as I've been thinking about the amazing stride 30 Rock has maintained in its belatedly begun new season, I stumbled across a February 23 newyorker.com blogpost of Emily's {"In Defense of Liz Lemon"), in which I learned:
Judging from my Twitter feed, there's been a backlash to "30 Rock" this season, particularly the character of Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey. Here's one example of these anti-Lemon blog posts. [You'll find this link and the following ones onsite. I didn't read them, but you may want to. -- Ed.] Here's another. Here's another. The argument in all these pieces (many by writers I respect) is pretty much the same: "30 Rock" used to be funny, but now it's sour and negative. Liz Lemon was once our heroine -- a sassy, confident, if somewhat neurotic single career lady. Now she's become infantilized and dumb. She behaves as if Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is her daddy. She doesn't trust her own judgment, she's bad at her job, and there's something awfully misogynist about all this! Liz Lemon is pathetic.

At the outset I had to override my instinctive prejudice against anyone who judges anything by anybody's Twitter feed. Emily went on to write:
Well, I can't get on board the hate train, especially after last week's tour-de-force episode, in which Liz morphed from a crazy old subway lady (every New Yorker's dream: she gets her way at every turn) into Heath Ledger's Joker. Someone needs to speak up for the Lemon, and for the Fey. Because from the beginning Liz Lemon was pathetic. That was what was enthralling, and even revolutionary, about the character. Unlike some other adorkable or slutty-fabulous characters I could name, Liz only superficially resembled the protagonist of a romantic comedy, ready to remove her glasses and be loved. Beneath that, she was something way more interesting: a strange, specific, workaholic, NPR-worshipping, white-guilt-infected, sardonic, curmudgeonly, hyper-nerdy New Yorker. In the first episode, Jack nails her on sight as "a New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says ‘healthy body image' on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for … a week." Even Liz had to admit he scored a point.

That was why the show worked: it rarely made Liz an empowering role model, although many women certainly identified with her. The show let her be the George Costanza, not the Mary Richards. And, refreshingly, this appeal had little to do with sex or relationships: a lot of it was about her job. Liz was professionally successful, but she was a sellout. . . .

I mostly kind of skimmed the piece, and there's a lot about women's roles on TV that I wouldn't be allowed to comment on in any event, since you can't unless you're a woman, but since I do frequently watch 30 Rock reruns from earlier seasons, I don't think there's any question that Emily has a better grasp of how the character of Liz Lemon began and subsequently evolved than the Twitterers she's taking issue with. For example, later she writes, "That has always been one of the most radical things about “30 Rock,” the way it has continually punctured Liz’s image of herself as a spunky brunette underdog." And later:
And the thing is, Liz’s confrontations with her worst qualities have actually strengthened her. That’s what so odd about the backlash. This season, Liz is happier than ever—and for once, she’s rejecting Jack’s influence, finding her own bliss, embracing her oddball nature, going on the Oprah-style vacations she feels like taking.

I'm not sure that Tina Fey would express quite such a pluckily cheery view of where and how Liz has wound up. She seems to be enjoying piling on poor Liz, perhaps relishing the ways in which her fictional alter-ego has stumbled down her Road Not Taken. But the Nussbaum piece is still worth a skim.


Kenneth the decommissioned NBC page does his much-admired rendering of Leap Day William. We'll find out that apparently he's not, as we (like Jack) would assume, wearing a bald cap.

There isn't much I can say that wouldn't detract from rather than add to the pleasures. It's true that Leap Day has been featured all over the TV dial -- or rather the cable and satellite program guide, but nobody nailed it the way the 30 Rock people did, making Liz Lemon the only noncelebrant in a world gone quadrennially Leap Day-mad. These days the show's writing is so thorough, intricate, and dazzling, and the characters are so ingrained in the writers' consciousness, that there really doesn't appear to be any separation between writing and acting.

Sure, the celebrity cameo roles can become gimmicky, and this episode was studded with them, but they're usually well done, and I thought one of them from this episode, the very last, with John Cullum at his most ineffably charming, dressed as -- what else? -- Leap Day William, who then reappears after the final commercial break as -- dare we imagine? -- the real Leap Day William:

"Well, I guess we all learned something tonight, about love, friendship, about taking chances, about the true meaning of Leap Day. But these lessons aren't just good for every four years. No-o-o! They're good every year, because we should live every day as if it's Leap Day, and every Leap Day as if it's your last. Oh, and if you should ever see an old man in a blue suit bustin' out of the middle of the ocean, take the time to say, "Howdy." It might just be [takes off his hat] worth your while [opens his mouth and reveals a mouthful of short but fanglike teeth.]"

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At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look b4 you leap!


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