Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bechdel Test: 30 Rock, Season 4

I cannot believe we haven't done one of these in so long, but I decided to trudge one of the most popular series we've ever done at the blog, which is the TV Bechdel Test, and what better way to do so than with Tina Fey's critically-acclaimed 30 Rock.  Though the series is off-the-air now, Fey has become sort of the poster-child for women-in-comedy, a producer/writer/actor who saw, say, the potential of Ellie Kemper and decided to build a show around her or continually has supported women like Hillary Clinton for president.  Her years on Saturday Night Live ushered in an era where the show has become dominated (pop culturally) by young female comedians ranging from Kristin Wiig to Kate McKinnon.  As a result, I was curious if her iconic Liz Lemon was able to pass the Bechdel Test.

I went with Season 4 principally because in the early days of the show, there was less focus on some of the characters' personal lives and the show was more confined to the workspace.  As a result, Liz (who does work in a male-dominated environment) rarely got out and was less likely to interact with other women aside from Jenna.  By Season 4, though, Cerie, Sue, and Jack's many female love interests had started to take up more of the timeline, and so I figured 30 Rock would have a fighting chance.  Take bets now on what our final score is, and let's dive in to see if Tina Fey's 30 Rock manages to get our second passing grade of this project.  Before we begin I will state that every episode of the show ended up passing the reverse Bechdel Test.

As a reminder, these are the criteria for passing the Bechdel Test:
1. The show needs to have two named, female characters.
2. The two characters need to talk to each other.
3. The conversation needs to last thirty seconds and be about something other than a man.  This thirty second rule is something that has been added specifically at the Many Rantings of John to ensure that a simple “hello”/”hello back” conversation doesn’t get a show an accidental pass.

Season 4 (#4.1)

While the opener of the season starts with a meta wink at the viewers (the name of the restaurant is Season 4), the episode is a FAIL for the test.  There are some female conversations, but none weren't about a man or were long enough.  Paula and Liz discuss having a threesome with Pete, and Jenna chastises Liz, but the conversation quickly turns to Jack.

Into the Crevasse (#4.2)

This is an interestingly gender-focused episode, as Liz's recent bestseller Dealbreakers has made all of the men in her life save Jack extremely angry at her for using their personal foibles as fodder for her book (particularly Tracy).  However, the episode does get a PASS as Jenna, still mad about a new cast member being hired, discusses her ridiculous sounding Icelandic vampire movie with Liz.

Stone Mountain (#4.3)

I always thought this one was a little bit cloying (anything involving Kenneth and his ridiculously murky past always seemed a bit stupid as it made the show more cartoonish than it was even attempting to be at this point during the run).  The episode is also a FAIL, as Liz heads to Stone Mountain with Jack and Jenna hangs out with her gay male pals in the meantime.

Audition Day (#4.4)

A considerably stronger episode, one where almost every character gets two seconds to shine (and we get the best of Brian Williams' multiple cameos on the series), we still don't get a hit on the Bechdel Test, as the only discussions between women are Jenna and Liz discussing Jenna's feud with Jayden. FAIL

The Problem Solvers (#4.5)

Another FAIL for the show.  The episode is good (gotta love Jenna/Tracy-themed episodes), but the only conversations between women are either Cerie and Liz chatting (but for too short of a time) or Jenna/Liz discussing how Jack is taking advantage of he and Liz's friendship.

Sun Tea (#4.6)

Am I the only person who watches this episode and secretly wants to pull Nate Corddry's gay hipster cop out of the screen and make him my husband?  No?  Crickets?  Anyway, this is another FAIL, as the only discussions between Liz and Jenna are surrounding the crushable Brian.

Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001 (#4.7)

I have a complicated relationship with this episode for two reasons.  One, I hate that Liz finally gets a chance at happiness and success in her career and totally blows it even though she's been fine before (remember when she went on that talk show and gave out relationship advice, and how she never gets stage fright in any other situation?), and the entire panicky performer line seemed like a convenient plot point to keep 30 Rock in Studio 6H rather than a new setting.  I also don't like the way that they treated Tracy's EGOT story as he just randomly gets them without at least a couple of episodes where Tracy has to compete with A-listers (considering the guest stars on the show you know they could have gotten a Machiavellian Tom Hanks or George Clooney to guest star as someone trying to beat Tracy at the Oscars).  Either way, Jenna and Liz discuss performance anxiety, so PASS.

Secret Santa (#4.8)

A slightly better episode, even if most predictable when Danny has to stunt his gorgeous singing voice to make sure Jenna feels better (this is the classic "rage stroke" episode).  The Bechdel Test is a FAIL though since the only conversation between women is Cerie, Nancy, and Liz, but they're all talking about Jack.

Klaus and Greta (#4.9)

Again, James Franco is also an A-lister who could have made a play for Tracy's Oscar.  Instead we got him in love with a random Japanese body pillow.  Still, though, this episode (the Liz parts, anyway, not the lovelorn Jack portion) is superbly funny, even if we FAIL once again (the only conversations between women are Jenna and Liz discussing James Franco).

Black Light Attack! (#4.10)

Jack is exposed once again as a hypocrite (a recurring theme as the series would continue), as Liz starts an affair with Danny, but this is a definite PASS since Liz and Jenna discuss Jenna's role on Gossip Girl as well as Liz's "Tom Selleck"

Winter Madness (#4.11)

For the first time in this writeup, we have not only a PASS, but a pass that doesn't involve Liz.  Jenna, Cerie, and Sue all discuss rooming together and talking behind each other's backs as the team heads to Boston.

Verna (#4.12)

I miss Jan Hooks.  The SNL veteran showed up as Jenna's mother Verna, a woman who somehow finds a way to work the phrase "jacuzzi water" into a business pitch.  This is actually the first case this season where the show PASSed the Bechdel Test during the cold open, with Liz and Jenna discussing Verna.  The rest of the episode is a series of Verna and Jenna talking about their relationship.

Anna Howard Shaw Day (#4.13)

It would have been nice if during the episode where Liz claims she didn't need a man and then suddenly she has to have one (hit one for feminism) that we at least would get a star on the Bechdel Test, but no dice: Liz's conversations with Jack and Avery centered around Jack and Jenna's stalker. FAIL

Future Husband (#4.14)

For an episode that is about Liz's alleged "future husband," this episode seems to be the Jack-and-Tracy show, with Don Geiss having died (amidst Rip Torn's scandal involving breaking into a bank) and Tracy trying to get a Tony. FAIL

Don Geiss, America and Hope (#4.15)

Avery is nowhere to be seen, and Liz and Jenna are on opposite plotlines here, so while Jack has a funny scene where he tries to pitch the idea of porn for women, there's no pass for the cast here. FAIL

Floyd (#4.16)

Jenna and Liz discuss a sex dream about Kenneth and Katelyn/Liz briefly discuss Katelyn's wedding, but not for long enough so another FAIL as we once again go four-in-a-row.

Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter (#4.17)

One of my all-time favorite episodes, we get the weird face-off between Nancy and Avery and the ways that they bring out a different side of Jack.  I particularly adore the Avery story, and Elizabeth Banks' wonderful comic timing during her phone call to Jack.  The episode also has Nancy and Liz discussing singles dating and Liz's poor attitude, so PASS.

Khonani (#4.18)

We get another PASS, with Cerie, Jenna, and Liz discussing Cerie's wedding shower, but easily the best part of the show was an NBC program having the chutzpah to make their parent company look like a fool during the whole Jay/Conan debacle.

Argus (#4.19)

I was never wild about Will Forte's character-I felt like he pulled Jenna, who was already off-kilter, into a cartoonish area that even she couldn't sell.  This episode introduces him, but since all of the discussions between Liz and Jenna are about Paul, this is a FAIL.

The Moms (#4.20)

Considering we bring on a half-dozen female guest stars, it's impossible that this would fail, and indeed Verna and Jenna discuss their relationship late in the half hour for a PASS.  Still, the best part of this episode is Liz and her mom and the flashback where Liz, eternally pining for Astronaut Mike Dexter, finds out that her mom could have married Buzz Aldrin.

Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land (#4.21)

Once again we get a FAIL, as Liz and Cerie discuss Wesley, but that's the only female conversation in the episode.

I Do Do (#4.22)

We finish off, though, with a PASS as Nancy and Avery discuss Avery's career and pregnancy in their only scene together in the series.

Final Scorecard
Bechdel Test: 8/22 (36%)
Bechdel Grade: F

I have to say, I'm pretty disappointed in this.  Frequently I write about how rare passing the Bechdel Test is, but a show written by a woman, created by a woman, and starring a woman, one who has become famous for her stances in favor of more women in entertainment should be able to pass the Bechdel Test at least enough to get a passing grade, but it didn't.  As always, every episode passes from a male perspective, but somehow 30 Rock couldn't even get to half for the ladies.

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