Tina Fey, Stephanie March Get Lesbians Right on 30 Rock

As always, the devil is in the details —
or in this case, the language. “Straight girl” is
a term lesbians use all the time, but straight people, and straight TV
writers, usually never do. Gretchen’s
comment that she had to move on unless Liz was ready to make a
“big life change”
was also a nice departure — I was
expecting Gretchen to use the much more common but annoyingly
inaccurate word
“lifestyle” (as in,
“big lifestyle

The word
“lesbian” is used
several times throughout the episode, and most of the time
it’s in a casual, routine manner, the
way one might refer to someone’s race or
vocation. When it is used as a punchline,
it’s in a good-natured way, like when
Liz describes Gretchen as a “brilliant
plastics engineer slash lesbian”.

Or when Gretchen jokes to Liz
at dinner that Jack “tends to approach
everything the same way: locate the problem, isolate the problem, set
the problem up with a lesbian”.

These are small, subtle
nuances, but combined with references to Margaret Cho, Ikea, and Oprah
and Gayle — and the absence of the tired u-haul and turkey baster jokes
sitcoms often resort to – they invite lesbian viewers to be in on the
joke, instead of being the butt of it, and make the comedy more
realistic and less cartoonish.

It also helps that
Liz is not threatened by being perceived as gay, and that none of her
coworkers, or her boss, have a problem with the idea that she might be
gay. The humor is located squarely in the fact that Jack thinks
she’s gay when she
isn’t, not at the very idea that she
might be. When a male coworker suggests Liz give being gay a try, Liz
ponders aloud why “guys think women can
just flip a switch like that?” He
doesn’t answer, but
it’s an interesting and more in-depth
question than most sitcoms raise.

Stephanie March brings a nice
mix of assertiveness, confidence, and humor to her character, which
takes some getting used to after her years of playing the much more
restrained ADA Alex Cabot on Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit.

Gretchen’s appearance is conventionally
feminine, her chic Bette Porter power lesbian attire has an interesting
hint of masculinity. And she certainly is popular
— Jack
can’t stop talking about how great
“Thomas” is, the
guys all want to date her, and Liz would marry her if only Liz were a

In short, Gretchen’s
not the answer to anyone’s prayers for
more lesbians on network TV, but for a single-episode lesbian sitcom
character, she’s one of the best we’ve seen. And the episode itself was
one of the funniest sitcom episodes I’ve seen so far this season.

If 30 Rock doesn’t
work out, maybe Fey can write a spin-off show just around Gretchen’s
character – because, as everyone knows, the future’s in plastics.

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