I know that in Shakespeare, the definition of a comedy as opposed to a tragedy, is something that ends with a wedding instead of a death. I know that weddings are traditionally seen as happy endings. I just thought that, by 2012, for feminist characters like Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) on 30 Rock, there might be a different option. Or, as Liz Lemon might say, “blerg.”
I’ve always enjoyed 30 Rock, perhaps as much because Liz Lemon seemed to be the antithesis of characters from shows like Sex and the City as anything. In 2006, seeing a woman who lived mostly in cardigans and didn’t have a fabulous life was a really welcome change. And it was clearly established that Liz Lemon was not going to strap on Manolo Blahniks any time soon, and that was more interested in her job than she was in marrying Mr. Big. In the first episode, her new boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) sizes her up and declared:
“You’re 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.”
You know what? That sounded great. That was incredibly refreshing. It was great that she was able to make it through entire episodes without ever talking about her romantic life. She had other interests! And unlike the wildly narcissistic, well, girls, on Girls or the adorkable women-children on New Girl, Liz Lemon always seemed like someone you might able to be friends with, despite her neurosis. She seemed like a grown-up woman, albeit, one with problems.
All that changed dramatically in the last season, when she met and decided to marry an amiable food cart owner named Criss Chros (James Marsden). After first trying to keep the wedding low-key, complete with a series of trademark eyerolls, Liz then she decides there is a part of her that wants to be a Princess. Her future husband pats her arm and replies ” “Liz, it’s okay to be a human woman.”
Umm, well, yes, of course it is. But she already was. Liz Lemon had a lot of problems, but that wasn’t one of them.
Now. There are certainly women who want big pretty gowns if they get married (I know I do). But there are also plenty of women who do not, and saying that “wanting to be a pretty princess” is a basic “human woman” impulse the kind of thing that Season 1 Liz Lemon would have rolled her eyes at. Hard.
To be fair, she did get married in her Princess Leia outfit. I take a good deal of comfort in that.
Look, I’m happy that Liz Lemon has experienced growth. On a personal level, after six seasons of a show, you just feel like you’ve come to know a character, and you want them to be happy.
And, on a more technical level, I think it’s the mark of a good television shows that characters do develop, just the way real people develop in real life (though in television it tends to be in a more measured way as the main character cannot, say, ditch everything, move to Seattle and get an entirely new group of friends). But while she has progressed in terms of letting people into her life, she’s regressed in other ways. Where once she was secure and went to head to head with Jack Donaghy, she now seems timid and deferential to such an extent than he had to negotiate her own contract for her against himself.
Marriage wasn’t the only way for Liz to have a happy ending. I would have been equally happy if she’d moved on to take Jack’s job, or became a single mother, or received the respect and admiration from her underlings that she always seemed to crave. Those are all happy endings for a much beloved character, and, perhaps endings that would make her even happier than marriage to her food truck driving boyfriend. Honestly, Liz Lemon could have gotten a really delicious sandwich, and it would have made her happier than anything.
All of those would have been happy endings even if they didn’t come with a white dress.
It’s not that marriage isn’t happy. It’s just that the writers saying “viewers want Liz to be happy, and all women want to get married like a Princess, so let’s do that” seems like an easy, unoriginal cop-out for what is typically a very inventive show.
Or I could just be depressed that she didn’t end up with Jack.
Suffice to say: