2009: Beam Me Up, Liz Lemon

I wish the stereotypes about redheads weren’t true, but they are. We are sensitive, we have tempers, and we should never be put in charge of the Cincinnati Bengals offense. We are also rather stubborn, which has its ups and downs. In the pro column, I am very perseverant, I don’t back down from many fights, and I have the work ethic of an oxen, even if I think something may not be worth the work.

The downside to being stubborn is that I willfully miss out on things I may enjoy to try to prove my stubborn point. For example, I firmly believe Christopher Nolan is not particularly good at directing movie so, on principle alone, I started avoiding them. Same with Martin Scorsese. But it was only when someone really told me I should give his film Hugo a shot did I realize that I don’t categorically hate Scorsese movies. I just hate most of them.

It feels like forever ago when I discussed Star Trek: The Next Generation, but when I did, I tried to explain away my preference of the second iteration as a familial thing. I take a lot of pride in preferring the original of things. Rarely does a remake live up to the original, yet we live in a world where we are constantly remaking perfectly fine pop culture products. Jurassic World is a piece of crap compared to Jurassic Park. Because of Marvel Comics’ absurd deals with the studios, we have to get new iterations of Batman and Superman nearly annually. And it is one thing to take a foreign show like Homeland and produce it for Americans in English, but no one is going to convince me the American The Office is worth my time when the British version is so absolutely wonderful.

I don’t remember the circumstances that led me to go see the Star Trek reboot in theaters, but I was fully prepared to hate it for the sake of Nimoy, Shatner, Takai, and company. But I really couldn’t. The movie was really funny, particularly the new Kirk, Chris Pine, who, along with Channing Tatum, is pioneering an interesting brand of himbo smart humor I really appreciate. I’d seen the original Star Trek films, but what I really preferred was this one.

Really though, director JJ Abrams did the reboot right by taking some of our favorite things about the campy TV series like Bones and his saying, “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a…” or the weird asocial nature of the Vulcans and finding a spot for them in the movie. Plus you have Winona Ryder in ridiculous old woman make up playing Spock’s Mom. Most impressively, they incorporate the old cast, story, and timeline into their movie, which comes off less as trying to do Star Trek better and more as a reverent ode to something we all really enjoy, even if it is kind of old.

By keeping the focus on the things that made the original great, like say Jim Kirk’s stubbornness, the movie turned out to be one of the few I was willing to shell out the money and see in theaters a second time. The second film wasn’t bad either, though the marketing plan around Benedict Cumberbatch’s role was poorly planned and executed and the fun and vigor of the ’09 movie left me whelmed at best.

Nonetheless, in a summer landscape full of franchises I continue to maintain my snotty distance from, this is one of the few I am willing to stick with. Perhaps stubbornly so.

It might surprise the poker community to hear that a TV show I was very stubborn about watching is one that actually is the source of my nickname within the poker community. It is true though. I waited until Season 3 to start watching 30 Rock. You might remember that 30 Rock and Studio 60 were actually both launched by NBC during the same season. Studio 60 was the hottest pilot of that year, so when it came time to pick sides on which sketch comedy show you were going to watch, I sided with Sorkin. Funny how TV works though. My understanding is that, while Studio 60 had bad ratings, they weren’t exactly terrible, but because it was so expensive to produce, it got the axe after one season. Meanwhile, 30 Rock wasn’t exactly raking in the eyeballs either, but because it was reasonably cheap, it stuck around on the schedule. Then it stubbornly stuck around season after season, largely because every other program was tanking on NBC, so if you displayed even the semblance of a pulse as a show, you would get renewed.

My stubbornness almost made me miss out on my televisual doppleganger, Liz Lemon. The executive producer or a half-good sketch comedy show, Lemon is a woman after my own heart who is very good at getting things done when it comes to her job, but her personal life is generally in such shambles she has to rely on advice from an NBC executive played to perfection by Alec Baldwin. I know in the political space we talk about how impossible it is for the stubborn two-party system to exist, but I always think of Jack and Liz, where Jack mostly has the right answer, but Lemon comes through time and again with something to change Jack’s stance on things too.

What is really fun about 30 Rock is how steadfast all the characters are in their life POVs, and while each gets a turn being ridiculed by others, they all have their time to shine too. If you didn’t hit a double every once in a while, you couldn’t be that stubborn about your outlook on life because, at some point, you would realize you’re batting .000 and have to re-evaluate. But Tracy has his moments, Jenna has her moments, and Jack and Liz get their moments too. They rarely compromise, but the clashing personalities butting heads creates some amazingly memorable humor and some inventive solutions to problems.

If you ever take an improv class, the first thing they’ll teach you about how to do it is to always say yes and accept the premise you are given. When you don’t have a road map of where a sketch is going, it is important to avoid conflict and be fluid with the direction your partner takes things. Tina Fey may have honed much of her comedy skills in improve troupes, but the stubborn relationship of Jack and Liz in situations where one refuses not to bend out of principle will always be the source of my favorite moments of the show.

Like Liz Lemon, I too will take things to extremes to prove a point. One of my absolute worst habits is being an anti-bandwagoner. While others are quick to jump on a bandwagon, if something I enjoy that isn’t flavored with pumpkin gets too popular, I want off and I want off now.

Such was the case with John Mayer, who was first introduced to me in the fall of 2001, shortly before his first single started getting airplay on MTV2. My friend across the hall in the dorm told me about this fun guy with an acoustic guitar and, by November, we were all fans, listening to Comfortable over and over again. We saw him in a bar on a beach in San Diego in an audience of no more than 200 people and felt so very cool when he started to get big.

Here’s where my relationship with John turned into an instance of Heartbreak Warfare. We were wholly dedicated to his first album, Inside Wants Out. We loved his acoustic guitar, live recordings, and generally unpolished feel to his songs. Then came the album most people consider Mayer’s first, Room for Squares. It featured studio-recorded, polished versions of some of my favorite Mayer tunes and, while I bought a copy, I still preferred the original.

As John Mayer proceeded up the music industry ladder, he got more money, more resources, and his albums sounded more and more produced to me. Some songs like Clarity would resonate, but most of them really didn’t feel like the Mayer I had gotten to know. Like the song Heartbreak Warfare (which I thoroughly enjoy btw), it became a destructive battle of me disliking new Mayer singles and him showing up on TV and doing increasingly douchey things, like dating Taylor Swift, making it so that I kinda hated a guy who was one of my favorite musicians in college.

I wanted more of John Mayer, but the person he had become made it perfectly clear our affair was but a phase, and I could continue on this path of badmouthing his songs and behavior, trying to point out other, newer white guys playing acoustic guitar, or I could just accept that John Mayer was never going to be my Ben Folds or Andrew McMahon. He was going to be a guy I really liked once whose songs aren’t going to dominate my life the way they used to. He is someone who simply went a different direction than I preferred he go, and I wish him well and check in on what he is doing now and again, discovering lovely songs like Heartbreak Warfare here and there. I wish I wasn’t so stubborn to not be able to accept the changes and love every album the way I did Inside Wants Out, but sometimes the least stubborn thing to do is to not force something, but to just let it be and let it go.

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One thought on “2009: Beam Me Up, Liz Lemon

  1. Dear Jessica,
    I was impressed with the many ways that you could write about stubbornness–your own and that of others in TV Shows. I’m glad that you are able to see the goodness in stubbornness and not just the downside of it all. Love, Aunt Rebecca

    Like

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