So the thing that's been bugging me lately is an article I read the other day that claimed that these two shows are unfairly grouped together merely because they both feature female leads, despite the fact that the shows are so different (Parks and Rec being a much more optimistic, heartfelt show; 30 Rock being more cynical and farcical). I have also heard criticism that Leslie Knope is a better female lead than Liz Lemon, because while Leslie Knope is perky and enthusiastic, Liz Lemon comes off as pathetic, and obsessive over the ideal of "having it all."
However, I'm not sure if I agree with either of these criticisms. Before I start, let me just say that I have watched and enjoyed both shows. I also strongly identify with both Liz and Leslie, and have been repeatedly compared to both Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon (as well as Amy Poehler and Tina Fey).
Okay, so the thing about 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation is that they can and should be grouped together. Not just because both are NBC shows. Not because their respective creators hosted the Golden Globes together. Not because they did Weekend Update, Baby Mama, and Mean Girls together. Not because both feature female leads. But because they compliment each other exceptionally well.
Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope are yin and yang: complete opposites, but nevertheless equals. Leslie Knope comes off as more empowering, reflecting on the oft-embraced ideal by feminists that women are capable of anything. However, the problem with this is that Leslie lives in Pawnee, Indiana, fictional not only in name but also in its heartfelt, goofy, optimistic mood. While Leslie Knope's optimistic, enthusiastic humor is definitely appealing, this does not in any way make Liz Lemon inferior. Liz Lemon represents the other end of the spectrum for the modern feminist: she is very flawed, and the sense of humor around her character is one that is self-deprecating rather than kindhearted and enthusiastic. She is judgmental. She calls her writing staff "dummies." She is stubborn and sarcastic.
The point I guess I'm trying to make is this: both are great feminist characters because both are intelligent women who love their work. They do their own thing, and both are incredible in that they develop platonic male-female friendships (and while some may argue that Jack and Liz have a relationship that is less equal than that of Leslie and Ron, it should be noted that often times Liz ignores Jack's advice, or he calls on her for help).
I feel like Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope represent two "selves" of modern feminists (at least the ones that are straight, white, and cisgender): Leslie Knope is that part of yourself that encourages you to do anything. She is the voice inside your head that tells you anything is possible: that gay penguins can get married, that pits can become parks, and that all female politicians (regardless of political party) can be equally respected. She is the part of yourself that you aspire to be all the time. She is ambitious, happy, and ignores limitations. Liz Lemon is the most flawed part of yourself. She is the version of yourself that is sometimes accepting of failure (like being willing to get a cat named Emily Dickinson when resigning herself/yourself to spinsterhood). She is harshly judgmental, even discovering to have been a sarcastic bully in high school. She is dishonest at times. She is the voice inside your head telling you that, if all else fails, don a Snuggie and work on your night cheese. While Leslie Knope is what many feminists aspire to be, Liz Lemon allows women to embrace their flaws and failures, rather than thinking poorly of themselves when their aspirations fall short.
In short, the shows are different, yes, but deserve to be grouped together. Leslie Knope is not a better feminist role model than Liz Lemon, nor is Liz Lemon a better role model than Leslie Knope. It's important to recognize that both women can be seen as fictional feminist role models. Together, they embody a 21st century feminism that is ambitious and yet flawed. A feminism that loves food (perhaps too much) but doesn't care. That recognizes the value of platonic male friends. That is nice to everyone and yet still judgmental. That both gracefully admits to not understanding youth culture, and exclaims, "oh God, youths!" when seeing teenagers pass by on the street. That recognizes both Galentine's Day and Anna Howard Shaw Day.
And one that recognizes the strides women have made in both politics and television.