Outside her rabid fan base, Tina Fey is best known for her flawless impersonation of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, don’tchaknow. But binge-watch enough Netflix and/or C-SPAN Benghazi hearings — perhaps under the influence of pinot noir — and you’ll notice additional Tina Fey-ian political connections.
If 30 Rock is the Hillary Clinton of Tina Fey sitcoms — corporate, liberal, still struggling with race--then Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the Bernie Sanders — populist, radical, and, well…still struggling with race.
30 Rock centers squarely around White Feminist™ Liz Lemon, who spends her days navigating a cynical, male-dominated world and routinely resolving the bizarre, petty problems of her coworkers, much like what Hillary had to do in her years as Senator and Secretary of State.
30 Rock is the adopted New Yorker, who knows how to work the system and maybe just moved to the Empire State to snag a high-profile gig in television...or a Senate seat. While 30 Rock rarely ventures outside the confines of its titular office, Kimmy Schmidt romps around New York City, elbow to elbow with the people, trading in authenticity and quirk like a certain wispy-haired septuagenarian.
Class divisions are a frequent punchline on both 30 Rock and Kimmy Schmidt. Three of 30 Rock’s major characters — Jack, Tracy, and Jenna— have transcended their economically humble origins to the (frequently mocked) life of one-percenters. Despite rapid social mobility in their personal lives, these three are doing little to radically overhaul the systems that benefit them and shut out others, similar to a certain presidential candidate whose net worth is over $30 million.
While 30 Rock’s characters were primarily upwardly mobile, as of season two, Kimmy Schmidt’s core crew remains broke. Kimmy and her roommate Titus bounce between typical New York gigs: Uber driver, baby-sitter, Santa’s helper, dinner theater werewolf. Kimmy and Titus’ similarly working-class landlady, Lillian, ferociously defends her neighborhood against impending gentrification. In the new season of Kimmy Schmidt, Lillian becomes aggravated when her neighbors mistake her for a kindly old lady, instead of the hell-raiser she is. She chains herself to bulldozers, intimidates invading hipsters, and bludgeons unsuspecting SUVs. Take note of these tactics in the event of the revolution Susan Sarandon speaks of.
As conscious as both Kimmy Schmidt and Bernie Sanders are around class struggles, race is more loaded. On the campaign trail, both Sanders and Clinton have often stumbled in addressing their policies and histories around racial justice.
30 Rock and Kimmy Schmidt frequently flail when attempting provocative plot lines around race. On 30 Rock, Tracy often encapsulated every possible stereotype of a black, heterosexual man (though he was slyly undercut by erudite posse, Grizz and Dot-Com). The show also delved into blackface…multiple times. On the latest season of Kimmy Schmidt, Titus takes on the persona of a geisha for a one-man show; Kimmy’s good-at-math GED class paramour, Dong Nguyen, feels like a passive cliché at times; and Jacqueline's (played by the inescapably white Jane Krasowski) continued attempts to reconnect with her Native American heritage fall flat.
Whether in the next season or on the campaign trail, Tina, Hillary (plus Bill), and Bernie all have the opportunity to shine when it comes to racial issues. Rather than belittling activists, Sanders and Clinton can take a lesson from Fey’s comedy, in which the funniest plot lines always “punch up.” In season one of Kimmy Schmidt, for instance, Titus realizes that his fellow New Yorkers treat him better in his werewolf costume than as a Black man.
Comedians and politicians alike must name and mock the absurdity of racism, from the writers’ room in 30 Rockefeller Plaza to a fried-Twinkie-saturated rural Iowan campaign stop. Though Tina Fey’s shows occasionally fumble, both 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are far better alternatives to the garbage fire that is The Apprentice.
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