Liz Lemon and Tina Fey: A Life in Parallel

The Atlantic

Well, good God, Lemon, it's time to say goodbye. Tonight 30 Rock will end, and with it will end the reign of one of the funniest characters television has ever known: the one and only Liz Lemon. It will also mean that we won't get to see Liz Lemon's creator, Tina Fey, on our television nearly every week. (At least until she returns with another show.)

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Lemon has always been more or less a fictionalized version of Fey herself: a woman in charge of her own television show. But the two are not quite equal. Tina Fey is an award-winning writer, producer, and star who has appeared on magazine covers and has two young daughters with her husband. Liz Lemon is a harried head writer on a flailing show who desperately wants a child but has a series of boyfriends with debilitating quirks. Today in the New York Times Alessandra Stanley writes that the put-together Fey "was never fully convincing in the role of a loser." When Lemon's status as a feminist icon was criticized and defended, it also became a critique and defense of Fey herself. In an interview with TV Guide posted today Fey joked when asked what she learned from playing Lemon: "I have learned that every woman is responsible for being a feminist example. At. Every. Moment. Or not. [Laughs] I don't know. I still don't know, but I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of women who identified with Liz, and that's been great." 

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While life for Lemon changed incrementally on the show — this season she got married! And she adopted kids! — these past seven years have been a whirlwind of successes for Fey. To say farewell, let's compare their trajectories, looking at some of the highlights of their respective lives. 

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2006

Tina: Fey leaves her job as head writer of Saturday Night Live and anchor of its "Weekend Update" to develop 30 Rock, a show ostensibly based on SNL. With Lorne Michaels producing, she tells reporters of the task ahead: ''I do not understand the train that is about to hit me."

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Liz: In the first season of 30 Rock Lemon also faces a daunting amount of work as NBC executive Jack Donaghy enters the picture to retool The Girlie Show and place her in control of volatile (read: crazy) movie star Tracy Jordan.

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2007

Tina: Fey accepts 30 Rock's first of three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Liz: Lemon buys a wedding dress that she ultimately can't use.

2008

Tina: In April, Fey's movie with pal Amy Poehler, Baby Mama, comes out to okay reviews, but Fey's profile grows enormously as she returns to SNL to play Sarah Palin. She scores a $6 million book deal. 30 Rock wins another Emmy, and Fey wins Best Actress in a Comedy Series. She also wins a Golden Globe and a SAG award.

Liz: Jack offers Liz the job of Head of East Coast Television and Microwave-Oven Programming, which unfortunately doesn't work out. The following month she thinks she's pregnant with the baby of her ex-boyfriend, beeper salesman Dennis Duffy, but it turns out to be the side effects of eating Sabor de Soledad. As the third season begins, Liz tries to make headway in her adoption process.

2009

Tina: As the year begins Fey covers Vanity Fair in a patriotic photo shoot for Annie Leibovitz. Fey wins another Golden Globe and so does the show. She also nabs another SAG award. 30 Rock wins yet another Emmy.

Liz: By February, things are looking up for Lemon as she starts to date the extremely handsome (but kind of dumb) Dr. Drew Baird. By May she's signed a book deal because of her popular "Dealbreakers" sketches, and by December she has her own talk-show deal, which quickly turns sour.

2010

Tina: Fey wins yet another SAG award, and appears on the cover of Vogueposing in Mini Mouse ears. The cover creates a minor controversy when it is discovered that the scar on her face was airbrushed out. In November she's awarded the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize

Liz: That Valentine's Day (actually, Anna Howard Shaw Day) Lemon has dental surgery.

2011

Tina: The debut book from Fey, Bossypants, comes out in April, and becomes an instant bestseller. In August Fey's second daughter is born.

Liz: Tracy goes AWOL. Lemon has to deal with Tracy's wife Angie, who says "ham" impeccably. The 100th episode of TGS (and 30 Rockapproaches in April, but there's a chance the show might be canceled — only to be saved by, well, a gas leak

2012

Tina: Fey and Poehler are tapped to host the Golden Globes.

Liz: Lemon gets married to her boyfriend Criss Cross, despite her concern about being overly conventional, in order to make adoption easier. 

2013

Tina: The Golden Globes hosting stint is a hit. Fey wins a SAG award

Liz: Lemon and Cross adopt two children who end up being mini versions of Tracy and Jenna, the two adult-children she's been taking care of on TGS, which ultimately succumbs to cancelation. Tonight we'll see where the series leaves our hero(es). 

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