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Carrie Fisher’s 30 Rock episode hilariously skewered Hollywood’s sexism and ageism

Carrie Fisher on 30 Rock Netflix
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Carrie Fisher wasn’t just Princess Leia. She was a writer, a mental health advocate, and also just a straight-up hilarious person. Fisher could turn even the dullest of interviews into a quip fest, but to see her at her comedic best, you should head straight to Netflix to watch her 2007 guest turn on 30 Rock.

In “Rosemary’s Baby,” the fourth episode of 30 Rock’s stellar second season, Fisher plays Rosemary, a feminist comedy writer who is one of Liz Lemon’s heroes. Liz invites Rosemary to work as a guest writer on TGS, but Rosemary’s provocative ideas — what about a sketch at a New Orleans abortion clinic? Or some racial humor? — prove too edgy for TGS’s GE-shilling ways. At first, Liz reflexively sides with Rosemary and her radicalism, but when she sees Rosemary’s rat-infested apartment in Little Chechnya (“So gritty and real!”), she’s horrified. “I can’t end up like that,” she breathes.

Fisher’s performance is both riotous and multilayered. She’s nicely acerbic and flinty as Rosemary, with a wide-eyed idealism that becomes increasingly desperate as the episode goes on. But she also carries a certain amount of cultural baggage with her.

It’s nearly impossible to look at Carrie Fisher without seeing Princess Leia, without knowing that Fisher is someone whom Hollywood tried to chew up and spit out in the same way it does with all of its favorite young women. Carrie Fisher is the girl who was supposed to put on the gold bikini and its accompanying chains, smile pretty, and shut up about everything else — and Carrie Fisher is the woman who refused to do it. She’s the woman who refused to stop talking about her mental illness, her addictions, her age, and all the other unglamorous things that Hollywood likes to pretend never happens to its starlets.

So when Liz says, regretfully, “Rosemary says that women become obsolete in this business when there’s no one left that wants to see them naked,” it’s not just a generic one-off line about how ageist and sexist Hollywood is. It’s about how ageist and sexist Hollywood has been, specifically, to Carrie Fisher — and how ageist and sexist it continues to be right up into the present.

See, for instance, the press’s reaction to an aged General Leia in 2015’s The Force Awakens, and how the inescapable discussion of how well Fisher had or hadn’t aged prompted her to remark that it “hurts all three of my feelings.” Or see People’s approving coverage of Fisher’s recent weight loss.

At the end of “Rosemary’s Baby,” the lesson Liz learns is that she can’t rely on her principles alone, the way Rosemary does. She has to accumulate money and power so that she doesn’t wind up unemployable after she’s 40 and powerful men don’t want to see her naked anymore. After all, as Jack Donaghy tells her, “If you make enough money, you can pay people to look at you naked.” In other words, if a woman has enough power of her own, she doesn’t need to live up to anyone else’s standards.

That’s the lesson Carrie Fisher already knew. If she spent her life as the girl in the gold bikini, she would be powerless, so she refused to let that be her story. Instead, she became a writer, and she told her own.