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When Life Gives You Lemons

By Sarah Carlson | Think Pieces | May 28, 2011 |

By Sarah Carlson | Think Pieces | May 28, 2011 |

Everyone I know is getting married and popping out babies. Everyone. Even you. I tweeted as much about a month ago and I got some interesting replies. “When do you go from bachelor to Clooney-status?,” one guy asked. But wait — is there even a female equivalent to “Clooney-status”? I wanted to know. He suggested Liz Lemon, which I went with because, as I tweeted, “I’m already Liz Lemon. It works.”

If the neurotic heroine of NBC’s “30 Rock” really is the paragon of bacheloretteness, though, I fear I’m in trouble. I and others have felt a kinship to her (and therefore Tina Fey) for years, but as the comedy finished its fifth season this year, my appreciation began to wear as thin as my patience. No, without even changing the dial, I’d go with another single lady as my idol: Leslie Knope, of “Parks and Recreation.”

I’d not only rather emulate Leslie, played by the glorious Amy Poehler, I’d often rather watch her fictional world unfold in “Parks and Rec” than tune into the shenanigans of “30 Rock.” Hell, I’d rather live in Leslie’s fictional Pawnee, Ind., than be forced to slug it out at an “SNL”-type show in New York. Because as silly as the storylines can be involving the employees of the Pawnee Parks Department, there’s a sweetness and a realness to the show that “30 Rock” has never had. While Leslie and her vehicle are evolving, Liz is, along with her show, standing still at best.

Liz is lovable in her own way, from her self-deprecating humor to her knowledge of Star Wars and use of a Princess Leia costume to try to get out of jury duty. She’s loyal to her friends and co-workers — mostly — although she can play the martyr. But it’s her work situation that has her trapped, sacrificing her well-being and happiness for a TV show, “The Girlie Show,” that’s barely successful or even good. Its star, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), was AWOL for a piece of Season Five, which put “TGS” and Liz’s career in jeopardy. She fought to get him back, even though she realizes he’s holding her back. She flees to the Hamptons to escape for the summer break, only to have him as a neighbor. She finds a way to get community service picking up garbage around New York, only to run into Tracy again.

Liz is stuck. Even her relationships are all duds. The bright spot was when she was with the sweet Floyd, but that was only until the show’s writers made him out to be a jerk. Fey has said she gravitates to the more negative, if you will, side of comedy when it comes to Liz; she likes the jokes that flow once Liz is at the bottom. But how long can viewers stay down there with her? I don’t want to take refuge picking up garbage.

Season Three of “Parks and Rec” ended with Leslie realizing she has big choices to make regarding work and love. Leslie is just as hard-working as Liz, but she’s more productive — It takes talent to stay up all night making mosaic-tile portraits of all your friends for Galentine’s Day. She’s got a drive and passion Liz doesn’t have, and lately, she’s been successful at work. The Harvest Festival went great. The memorial to Lil’ Sebastian was moving. Local leaders even want her to consider running for office. And, she’s in a blossoming and adorable relationship with a co-worker, Ben (Adam Scott), even though that presents its own obstacle considering boss Chris Traeger’s (Rob Lowe) no-dating policy among government employees.

But she’ll find success somehow because, most importantly, Leslie is loved by her co-workers, even if they can’t always understand her enthusiasm for public service and don’t appreciate her signing them up for an all-night telethon. But they show up anyway; letting her down isn’t an option. They’re a family — even Jerry! — and one viewers want to be a part of. In fact, Jerry’s (Jim O’Heir) infamous painting of Leslie, depicting her as a well-endowed centaur, was fitting. Leslie is a powerful and unique woman, and her friends know it. She can be just as over-the-top as Liz, but somehow not as pitiable.

In her new book, Bossypants, Fey devotes numerous pages to her longtime friend, Poehler, heaping praise on the comedienne who hasn’t garnered quite the same amount of attention in pop culture. In one anecdote, Poehler shuts down Jimmy Fallon as he pretends to react squeamishly to her off-color joke. “My friend is here! My friend is here!” Fey thought, and weirdly, I tend to think the same thing when it comes to Poehler’s Leslie. At least, I want her to be my friend.

And that’s the difference: Liz reminds me of who I am — a writer and editor who can go a day with only eating donuts and who takes her bra off at her desk — while Leslie is more of who I want to be. Both are quirky, but they’re moving in different directions. The “Knope-status” is what we should be after, ladies. We can’t stay Lemons forever.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

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