Back in the day, Tina Fey aka Liz Lemon aka Sarah Palin was in her element alongside Amy Poehler aka Leslie Knope tearing it up on “SNL” with her weekend updates. The comic duo were sassy, sharp, and never missed a punchline. They represented a new prototype of feminist – they weren’t your mom’s brand of feminist whose extremist tendencies of either too traditional or too workaholic repelled you from the whole notion of “women’s lib.” Poehler & Fey proved that funny, smart, and confident with a hint of vulnerable could work and moreover, women could be successful at this shtick.
So imagine my disappointment this season as I watch Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” pathetically whining, mooning over past loves, and contemplating the concept of settling for the dreamy Michael Sheen over going at it solo. Her cynicism reaching new heights, Lemon’s once empowered femme drole is merely a shred of her former hip lady self. The compelling storyline involving Liz’s desire to adopt a baby (something many single, career-minded women in their late 30s might be able to relate too) which was ongoing for the past few seasons has all but vanished with her character shifting into more of a slapstick sidekick providing occasional comedic relief for the venerable Alec Baldwin. On a side note: Do I really care if Jack chooses Julianne Moore or Elizabeth Banks? Just bring Selma Hayek back! Note to network television: In case you didn’t notice from the ratings success of “Modern Family,” Latina relief is the only thing working on sitcoms these days…
On the other hand, Amy Poehler has managed to transform Leslie Knope, a rather plain yokel and no doubt the anti-Liz Lemon hipster chick into a comedic heroine by steering clear of the “SNL” footfalls of vitriolic NY-bred humor – the type of bagel humor that might have worked with “Seinfeld” 15 years ago but doesn’t do it for the iGeneration. In contrast to Liz Lemon, Leslie is kind and giving to a fault and like Liz, she is not without her ambitions and her desire to win at all costs. The difference is Poehler’s affable delivery – it’s her refreshingly candid demeanor that endears her to us and also at the same time represents a true shift in in what we want our female role models to look like.
Today’s Mary Tyler Moore doesn’t need to wear black, live in the 100- zip code, walk around all day muttering “oy vey” under her breath, and sip soy lattes while dreaming up the wittiest retorts in preparation for their next rendez-vous. They can date park rangers, go hunting with the boys, and put it all on the line for a friend in need. They don’t need to arm themselves with sarcasm to shield themselves from being vulnerable or employ self-deprecation as a means to communicate with others for fear of actually conveying any shred of authenticity.
Today’s lady can be geeky, socially responsible, single, self-aware, sassy, and genuinely happy. Welcome to the ’10s ladies. It’s a bold new world and you, too, can be cool in this one – even in NBC’s impossibly hip Thursday night line-up.