Posts Tagged ‘mary tyler moore show’

Liz Lemon Vs. Mary Tyler Moore in the battle of dating short men

December 18, 2009

After hearing in class about how Tina Fey was very much inspired by Mary Tyler Moore as well as there being a similar episode to “Toulouse Lautrec is One of My Favorite Artists”, I figured I would find the episode and see how similar they were to each other.  While I wasn’t expecting a direct adaptation, I was expecting it to be a lot more similar than it actually was. I’m guessing that maybe the main reason why I felt like the stories weren’t very similar was because while Mary Tyler Moore seems to really focus on an A story, 30 Rock has at least three stories going on at once, so the Liz Peter Dinklage story was pretty much out-shined by Selma Hyack and Jenna trying to become Janis Joplin (or since they didn’t get the rights, Jackie Jormp-Jomp).

However, it is not to say that there weren’t plenty of similarities between the two episodes. Both Mary and Liz aren’t aware they are about to go on a date with a short person (In Liz’s case since her biological clock is ticking she thinks Peter Dinklage is a small child on the street) and then when faced wit the fact that they aren’t sure how they feel about going out with someone shorter then they are they both immediately go for “You’re not the freak, I am!” to which both short guys agree. Similarly, Liz also goes through the same laundry list of “what if I say the wrong thing that has to do with height” albeit a more modern version: “What if I order a Tall drink, or talk about playing games on my Wii”. Although I have to admit I found the Mary Tyler Moore story funnier. I don’t know if it is because it just held up so well or if it is because I felt like I saw a lot of the jokes in that storyline (in 30 Rock) coming from the beginning. One other interesting thing that I wanted to point out is that Liz and Jenna interact almost the same way as Mary and Rhoda, just a little more playful and less condescending.

The Artistic Influences in Television: From Mary Tyler Moore to Tina Fey

November 24, 2009

Having never watched a single episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show previously (I ended up watching way too much of it subsequently), I was really struck by its similarities to 30 Rock.  While we briefly mentioned that Tina Fey was indeed influenced by the MTMS, it was shocking to see the extent of that influence, which can be best seen through “Toulouse-Lautrec is My Favorite Artist” and the characters’ roles within their prospective shows.

First, let’s examine the similarities between Mary and her long lost stepsister, Liz Lemon.  Both Mary and Liz are in their 30s working on a television program, a job they both seem to have a love/hate relationship with.  The characters also encounter difficulties in dating, which can be seen through Liz’s relationship with Dennis Duffy and Mary’s with the doctor, and they both seem to have amicable relationships with their sarcastic supervisors.

Additionally there are many parallels between Ted Baxter and Tracy Jordan.  Tracy comes onto the Girlie Show in order to use his big, celebrity name to improve ratings; however, his slapstick and improvisation-based humor is problematic in many instances particularly when Tracy refuses to read his cue cards.  Similarly Baxter too has difficulty reading his cue cards providing many problems for those working on the show.  Finally Rhoda Morgenstern and Pete Hornberger serve as the Jewish sidekick/best friend role providing islands of sanity in their prospective seas of craziness.

As mentioned previous, there are some instances of overlap, such as Tracy pretending not to know how to read his cue cards, but in 30 Rock’s “Senor Macho Solo,” Tina Fey seems to be tipping her hat directly to the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s episode “Toulouse-Lautrec is My Favorite Artist.”  In “Senor Macho Solo,” Liz’s biological clock is ticking, and as a result, she gives a little boy on the street a pat on the head.  Of course, this isn’t a little boy, but a midget that Liz Lemon ends up dating.  However, her anxieties about saying something inappropriate in front of him take over, and Liz asks her co-workers questions like, “What if I say something stupid, like ‘Order a tall coffee,’ or talk about my Nintendo Wii?”  While Mary is merely dating a short guy opposed to a legal midget, she too worries about saying insulting things to Eric, and then makes her anxiety apparent by actually saying them out loud.  For example, Mary declares that Toulouse-Lautrec, an artist that suffered from dwarfism, is her favorite artist, she introduces him to Rhoda as Eric Shrimp, and declares that Eric is “short” when he accidentally misses a shot thrown at the garbage can.

Clearly there are many similarities between the MTMS and 30 Rock, for the characters and certain episodic occurrences are extremely similar.  Like great art, great television also tends to be influenced by the works that preceded it.  Just as Manet, Degas, and classical Japanese woodprints influenced Toulouse-Lautrec, Tina Fey was deeply influenced by the works of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  However, due to stigmas against television people tend to see tradition and influence in this medium as “knock offs” and mild forms of plagerism.

Mary Tyler Moore and the Sitcom Genre

November 24, 2009

In Jane Feuer’s article “Genre Study” she suggests three different styles of sitcom: aesthetic, ritual, and ideological. What each of these analytical frameworks has in common is basic format including the half hour time slot, the humorous basis, the “‘problem of the week’ which causes the hilarious situation that will be resolved so that a new episode may take its place next week” (146). The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and for the sake of this posting, the episode “Toulousse Lautrec is One of my Favorite Artists”) observes each of these conventions and for this reason can be considered the ultimate, and one of the original, sitcoms.

This is problematic when considering Grote’s aesthetic approach to the sitcom. Grote argues that the sitcom is “by nature a conservative and static form” whose goal is to “reaffirm the stability of the family as an institution” (148). Under this definition, the Mary Tyler Moore Show might escape the sitcom genre. The MTMS, while essentially conservative by modern standards in the way that it caters to but never moves beyond audience expectations for spectacle and controversy, was very controversial and new in its time. The show was based around the life of a single woman, a premise previously unaddressed due to the still dependent status of women. Additionally, Mary had a sex life that was not a result of marriage, a plot line that moved way beyond the typically conservative television of 1970. Finally, the MTMS only reaffirmed a sense of family in that Mary was aware she did not have one. While she sought out male partners, she was never essentially dependent on them and rarely discussed wanting a family.

According to Horace Newcomb, who takes the ritual perspective in relation to the sitcom genre, the sitcom is a rigid format which must involve “the funny thing that happened this week and the only movement is that which is toward the alleviation of the complication and the reduction of confusion.” In this way the MTMS and the specific episode mentioned above fit rightly within the sitcom genre. In” Toulousse Lautrec is my Favorite Artist” the issue of the week circles around Mary’s inability to reconcile with the small stature of the man she is seeing. The issue is resolved when she realizes her problem is not his shortness but her relative height. The next episode does not reference the previous and this episode makes no reference to any other prior episode that is significant to a non-regular viewer.

For David Marc, the sitcom genre has immense ideological power. This power lies in the subversive potential of the author. By working within the conventions and format of the sitcom, the author has the potential to extend a message to the audience beyond their awareness. Under this assumption, so long as the program fits the format, the audience will not seek to unpack it. This potential works in the other direction also. The sitcom has the ability to satire cultural conventions, to provide the audience with a voice that contradicts the nature of society at a given moment. In this way he makes a similar point as Newcomb in reference to the MTMS. The fact that Mary is a single and independent woman works against social norms of women in subordinate and dependent positions, reliant on strong male figures. Mary is a strong female figure and in this way the show has brilliant idoleogical potential.