30 Rock is ending after this season, which is enough to bring a comedy lover to tears. To make matters worse, there are rumors that the same is true for Parks and Recreation. But, the worst news of all: they might both end with weddings. Leslie Knope recently got engaged on Parks and Recreation and there's speculation that the same is coming for 30 Rock's Liz Lemon.
Traditionally, Shakespearean comedies end in a wedding. Fairy tales end with “happily ever after,” and romantic comedies end when the guy gets the girl. It’s a time-tested trope and a satisfying way to tie everything up in a bow. But that’s exactly why it’s the wrong way to go for these two shows.
Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope have been the leading ladies for women who care about their careers as much as, or more than, their love lives, for women without grace or poise who say inappropriate things when they try to flirt and never mastered the demure giggle. They’re heroes for women who aren’t ashamed of their deep, abiding love for giant sandwiches and waffles or their disdain for salads. They’ve broken the mold of the ditzy female sitcom character, and dared so say that finding a man isn’t the only object of a woman’s ambition.
Sure, they both want to “have it all,” and several of plotlines on both shows are about the hapless heroines’ often-ridiculous love lives. But their true, abiding passions have been their careers. When Leslie had to choose between running for office and being with the man she loved, she chose her lifelong dream to rise to the ranks of the political leading ladies displayed in frames in her office: Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Condoleezza Rice.
Yes, she ended up with her man, but it was an important moment when Leslie chose her own ambition over love. And while Liz complains that her job has made her give up on dating, family, and personal hygiene, she still comes in every day and does everything that needs to be done to make sure her show goes on. Like Leslie, she’s great at her job and she makes it her top priority.
They’re icons for women who care about more than just love. It would be a damn shame to destroy all of the progressive, feminist clout these two great shows have built up by going with the easy wedding ending. It would be a betrayal of what makes these shows more than funny sitcoms, but important agents and records of changing social structures.
This is not at all to say that Leslie and Liz should never find love. I’m glad they both found their quirky, dysfunctional matches. I’d be interested to see the shows continue with the leading ladies balancing marriage and career rather than dating and career. There would be plenty of opportunity for them to push the same barriers they have all along, but in an even more tradition-entrenched situation.
But think for a minute about what it says about their passion-driven, unladylike, stereotype-busting personas: even the strongest woman’s story ends when her prince charming comes to carry her away. It’s great for a woman to be ambitious, motivated, and intelligent, but none of that matters anymore when she finds a man.
Do Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, poster-women of leading ladies in comedy and vocal feminists in real life, really want to send that message?