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’30 Rock’ Review: “Stride of Pride”

NBC

30 Rock‘ gets feminist this week and it’s absolutely fantastic. “Stride of Pride” has Liz battling Tracy over whether or not women are funny, Jenna fighting to be retain relevancy with her age, and one of Jack’s latest girlfriends showing him that ladies can be players too.

Liz has had an awakening “in her bathing suit area” and can’t wait to gab with the women at work about her new and exciting sex life, ‘Sex and the City’-style, but she’s derailed when Tracy makes a comment on Twitter that women aren’t funny — at all. In a move that evokes Adam Carolla’s remarks over the summer that women can’t be funny, ’30 Rock’ sets out to let Tina Fey respond through Liz Lemon, and in true Lemon fashion, she does so eloquently and concisely. When Tracy asks Liz for a list of funny women to prove him wrong, she refuses to comply because she — and we, as women — shouldn’t have to prove anything with a list to back ourselves up when faced with such crass, sexist claims. Just like, as Liz says, Asian people shouldn’t have to proffer a list of good Asian drivers. This evolves into Tracy thinking monkeys are funny, but women are not, and using the same logic to tell Liz that he shouldn’t have to prove it.

What’s so great about this thread is the way Liz turns the logic around, arguing that women never write articles about all the “manly” things that we think are terrible — like motorcycles. But here’s the thing — there are some women who like traditionally manly things and there are guys who like things that you might consider very feminine. ’30 Rock’ embraces the idea of broad strokes and Liz flips it around in a way that isn’t quite as sound, but the point is loud and clear: women are funny and we shouldn’t have to prove it. The hilarity arrives when Liz plays right into Tracy’s trap by setting up an exhibition of a sketch she and Jenna used to do in college, opening with noted riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney’s “Joey Ramone” (heck yes, ’30 Rock’ — well done). Tracy still doesn’t get it, thinking the sketch funny for all the wrong reasons, but Liz accepts because it’s the most she’ll get out of him — baby steps, and all that.

Over in Jenna-land, she’s planted a story in a gossip rag that she’s 56 because she wants to avoid the middle-age slump, where she’ll be relegated to roles like playing Kevin James’ bitchy wife in his next movie. It’s accurate — actresses of a certain age are often restricted to the same types of roles, while younger and older women are given more options, but the bottom line here is Hollywood’s ageist culture that leaves women with fewer options based on age. Liz, not aware that Jenna planted the story herself, plants her own rumor that Jenna is really a teenager, but Jenna confronts her about it and lays claim to the control of her own appearance and career, which is a great commentary on the way that we often try to defend those who never asked for our help — particularly celebrities. Jenna plays against type brilliantly this week, taking charge of her future and teaching Liz something about empowerment from a different angle.

Jack is busy dating several women, each of whom provides him with something different that the others cannot. But when Zarina Sbarro (short for Pizzarina — how amazing), the heiress to the Sbarro fortune, flips the script and Jack finds out she’s been dating a whole host of men (Pokemon-style, “gotta catch ‘em all!”) and doing the same thing behind his back, he’s not too thrilled with it, gathering all of the men to figure out what each of them can give Zarina that he can’t. Jack becomes irrationally jealous because he believes that women shouldn’t be allowed to do the same things men do — that they shouldn’t have the same freedoms he enjoys, but it’s also driven by his own irrational emotions because Jack isn’t always as cold and conservative as he’d like to think.

“Stride of Pride” is one hell of an episode that blends cultural commentary into its ongoing arcs, both serving as a comedic half hour with some great feminist ideas and letting Tina Fey and Liz Lemon do what they do best: be damn funny.

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