30 Rock season 5 episode 16 review: TGS Hates Women

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Review Louisa Mellor 28 Feb 2011 - 06:25

Louisa salutes the ambition of the latest episode of 30 Rock, mixing in debate with some strong laughs. Here's her review...

5.16 TGS Hates Women

Tina Fey hates women. She must do. Why else would she persist in portraying them as ditzy, shallow and child-like if not because of her thoroughgoing hatred of womankind?

Fey also hates feminism. She has to. Otherwise, why create a character like Liz Lemon? Hopelessly failing to 'have it all', Lemon is a cautionary tale for women who prioritise careers over families, single, lonely, sandwich-obsessed and shorthand for Fey's obvious message that without a man, women are nothing.

Even Fey's callous mockery of Alaskan beauty, Sarah Palin, must come from nothing more than a bitter desire to destroy strong, successful women, because deep down Fey believes we're all hysterical messes who can't be trusted with power.

As a symbol of all women everywhere, it is Fey's responsibility to refute harmful stereotypes which portray women as neurotic, oversensitive or hypersexualised. As a writer and actor, Fey should use every opportunity presented by her public platform to further the cause of women and show our gender as capable and in control, rather than hopeless and directionless. In this duty, Tina Fey has failed women time and time again.

Except, of course, that's all complete bullshit. Tina Fey is a clever, funny actor and writer whose job is, thankfully, to be just that.

This week's episode jumped headlong into the hot question of comedy's woman problem. Understandably, those of you with real jobs may not have had time to keep up with the online discussions, so I'll try to be succinct. The questions run thusly: why are women underrepresented and underused in satirical TV comedy? And why do many of the ones who are visible have a more than a touch of the fuck puppet about them?

Hot dog fellating, Playboy-posing Olivia Munn, last year's controversial recruit to The Daily Show, is an oft-cited example of this alleged trend for beautiful, non-comedian women being used as token X chromosomes in Y-dominated casts. Fittingly, it is Munn, along with a slice of Chelsea Handler and a sprinkling of Sarah Silverman, who served as inspiration for this week's TGS guest writer, stand-up Abby Flynn (a brilliant turn by Cristin Milioti).

Hired by Liz to redress the gender balance after her show is accused of misogyny, Flynn skips into the TGS studios as a giggling, thumbsucking, sexy baby, whose talents include lollipop licking, not wearing underwear and regaling the TGS writers with accounts of her lesbian orgies. In short, she's an embarrassment to Liz and a threat to Jenna, both of whom set about trying to ‘fix' her in their own unique ways.

For Liz, this meant a speech explaining to Abby that her sexy baby act degrades women and reflects poorly on their gender in the TV business. This, along with a couple of other lines in the episode, seemed to be rare moments of irony-free Lemon. Telling her writing staff "at the very least, we should be elevating the way women are perceived", then rebuking Jenna's attempt to destroy rival Abby with "that is exactly the problem, men infantilise women and women tear each other down", it seemed that the show, for once, was asking us to take Liz Lemon seriously.

That's not to say we were in pious ‘afterschool special' territory. The gross gags and mean one-liners flowed just as readily as usual. (I had to look up what Belvedering was and now wish I hadn't.)

While Liz was clumsily trying to convince one young woman just to be herself, Jack was attempting to steer another off course.  Trying to make sure Kabletown boss' fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Kaylie Hooper (Chloe Moretz of Kick-Ass fame) wouldn't present a future challenge to his leadership at NBC by getting in on the family business, Jack pulled strings to distract her from the world of television.  Like Abby Flynn's, Kaylie's sweet young thing persona fell away by the end of her enjoyable cameo, to reveal something a little more worthy of Hit-Girl.

Women's representation is a complex issue, but one moment near the beginning of the episode more or less sums up. for me. where we currently are in the debate. Attempting to defend TGS's reliance on lazy, outmoded jokes about women going crazy when they get their periods, Liz starts to argue. "But that's an ironic reappropriation..." before cutting herself off and, shoulders slumped, admitting "Ugghh. I don't know anymore."

Brilliantly, TGS Hates Women took on a lot of the debate's complexities, but (understandably for the limits of time and format) sidestepped any real resolution. Satire and irony seemed to spill out in so many directions it was difficult to know exactly what was being lambasted and what held up as a virtue. In short, ugghh. We don't know anymore.

Yes, Fey and her team do write absurd caricatures of pathetic, irrational, hormone-driven, self-absorbed women. And they also write absurd caricatures of pathetic, irrational, hormone-driven, self-absorbed men. In 30 Rock, everyone is equally stupid, and if that's not progress, then I don't know what is.

Read our review of episode 15, It's Never Too Late For Now, here.

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