#TinaFey turned 46 this week, and we could celebrate by watching Mean Girls, or reading Bossypants, but there is perhaps no better way to honor Fey than by spending time with her messy, manic, masterpiece— #30Rock alter-ego, #LizLemon.
Liz is an amazing character, not only because she’s hilarious, but because she’s painfully real. She’s the version of us we like to hide— geeky, judgmental, often preferring TV to people, lacking follow-through in personal growth, using humor as a defensive mechanism, and going overboard to win the approval of others. Tina essentially roasts a fictional caricature of herself for seven seasons and holds nothing back.
30 Rock is a zany, goofy comedy and Liz is always ultimately comedic fodder, but she is allowed to grow and evolve over the course of the series. She regularly is confronted with her insecurities and flaws and, like in real life, she is able to overcome some of these, and others she continues to struggle with.
Let’s take a look at Liz's funniest and most important episodes:
Season 2, Episode 10: "Episode 210"
Liz attempts to buy an apartment, but must first impress the building's co-op board. As she waits to hear back, it starts to resemble a romantic slight more than a real estate transaction, and she ends up drunk-dialing the co-op board into the early hours.
Season 2, Episode 14: “Sandwich Day”
One of 30 Rock’s best outings and an absolutely terrific Liz episode, “Sandwich Day” highlights two important relationships in Liz’s life— Floyd (her “one that got away” ex, played by Jason Sudekis) and sandwiches. There are at least four fantastic, laugh-out-loud Liz moments in this episode and it's not one to miss.
Liz attempts to stay cool and maintain the upper hand during a visit with her ex, which of course, she ends up not being able to maintain. This episode really poses the question, “Can you have it all?” with “all” meaning both healthy closure with an ex and an amazing sandwich.
Liz attempts the classic rom-com trope of running through the airport to give a message to a loved one, but she is stopped at security because she can’t bring outside food in, leading her to scarf her sub in seconds rather than toss it out, giving us one of Tina’s best performances in the whole show. As the TSA agent notes, “Choosing a sandwich over a guy? That’s less cliche.”
Season 3: Episode 5: “Reunion"
Liz and Jack travel to Pennsylvania for Liz’s class reunion, so she can show off her great New York life to all the cool kids who made fun of her in high school. Except Liz comes to realize the rest of the school actually saw her as the bully, as her sharp humor often insulted others. It’s a great episode for Jack as well, and features terrific interaction between him and Liz, as he is instantly beloved by her classmates, while she realizes that she wasn't the lovable nerd she thought she was. Plus, any episodes that reference teenage Liz are always gold, particularly because of Tina Fey's flashback wigs.
Season 4, Episode 7: "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001"
After the success of the "Dealbreakers" relationship advice sketch, Liz gets her own TV show, but immediately crumbles under the pressure of being in front of the camera. Seeing Liz turn into the same kind of high-maintenance, insecure, egomaniacal performer that she's been burdened with wrangling the whole series is a delight. Between her inability to act "like a human" in front of the camera and her Gollum-esque meltdown in the mirror, it's the craziest we ever see Liz get and it's amazing.
Season 4, Episode 9: "Klaus and Greta"
After Liz outs her cousin to their family, he comes to stay with her in New York. There some priceless exchanges between the two of them as Randy embraces the stereotypical, wild and experimental New York gay experience and Liz fluctuates between trying to be cool and trying to contain him.
However, it's James Franco's utterly insane and completely hilarious guest arc as himself that really steals the episode. In the episode, James enters into a relationship with Jenna for the publicity to cancel out some rumors about his personal life, and it's way weirder and funnier than you could guess and possibly the finest use of a guest actor in any sitcom, ever. The way the James Franco plot converges with Liz's storyline brings it all together to make it a standout episode.
Season 5, Episode 5: "Reaganing"
Jack, while on a perfect problem-solving streak he refers to as "Reaganing", attempts the ultimate challenge— to help Liz with her relationship issues.
Jack attempts to get to the bottom of Liz's intimacy issues (well-documented over the course of the series) while they're stuck in a limo together in traffic. It's funny and absurd, but also represents real insight into and breakthrough for Liz. Plus, there's a subplot about Kelsey Grammer running a long-con on an ice-cream shop, and who doesn't want to see that?
Season 5, Episode 14: "Double-Edged Sword"
Liz Lemon may have the most hilarious roster of love interests in sitcom history and one of the best was Matt Damon's Carol Burnett (there's a running gag that Liz's boyfriends all share their names with famous people). A stubborn, sensitive pilot, he seems like a great fit for Liz because they have a lot in common, including a shared disdain for people. But this episode highlights the danger of dating someone who is too similar to you, as Carol and Liz get into conflict when she is a passenger on one of his flights. Matt Damon is a gift and a hangry Liz is at her most explosive.
Season 5, Episode 16: "TGS Hates Women"
When Liz's show is called out for being degrading to women, she hires a guest writer, Abby Flynn (Cristin Milioti) who ends up not being the kind of strong female voice Liz was hoping for. Liz tries to take it upon herself to "fix" her and show her she doesn't need to put on the "sexy baby" act, but she ends up finding herself way out of her depth. As is typical of Liz, she jumps into a social-justice crusade for a well-intentioned, but misguided reason and it backfires. It's both a hilarious episode and a gentle reminder not to criticize others for not doing things the way you do.
As a bonus, this episode also features the introduction of one of 30 Rock's best guest characters, Chloe Grace Moretz's Kaylee, Jack's teenage nemesis.
Season 7, Episode 2: "Governor Dunston"
Liz's second sexual breakthrough episode comes when she finds that meticulously scheduling her sex life actually works wonders for her libido. The episode pits Liz and Jack's dueling ideologies against each other, while also calling into question their priorities, as the show often does. Ultimately, do they most value their political beliefs, careers, images, personal lives, or principles?
The highlight though is just watching Tina and James Marsden foreplay in a Staples.
Season 7: Episode 7 "Mazel Tov, Dummies"
This is a quintessential Liz episode and also an incredibly refreshing TV wedding. It's not a big, built-up, dramatic finale piece; Liz and Criss (played by James Marsden) just decide to get married. Liz refuses to make a big deal about it, because as a modern feminist, she doesn't buy into the princess-y fantasy mythology surrounding weddings. She comes to realize, however, that she does actually want her wedding to be special and that's okay.
It doesn't mean it's the usual kind of special—in this case it includes wearing a Princess Leia costume ("it was the only white thing I had... I'm a princess!") and exchanging grillz instead of rings because of the impromptu nature of the wedding. Liz's marriage represents how far she's progressed in seven seasons. It's a huge victory for her, not simply because she's no longer single and has found herself a man, but because of the personal improvements she went through via the relationship, including stopping unhealthy patterns, learning to be vulnerable, contending for a relationship, and surrendering pride.
Thank you, Tina, for creating this wonderfully weird character for us to enjoy, relate to, and laugh at. Enjoy your birthday, we'll just be over here Lizzing.