Tina Fey’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Performance Ultimately Underrated For Its Liz Lemonness

When Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was first released in book form as The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan back in 2011, Chicago Tribune journalist Kim Barker was compared by Michiko Kakutani as “a sort of Tina Fey character, who unexpectedly finds herself addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.” From the moment Fey herself read this review, it was in the bag that she would play the role, slightly reworked, namewise, to Kim Baker. When the film came out in March of 2106, it seemed as though Fey would be able to parlay her usual success as the idiosyncratic, hopelessly single over fortysomething into a rather respectable “dramatic” role. Or at least as dramatic as someone like Fey can be embraced as.

More than just the fact that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a “war comedy,” and most American audiences (especially the Bush and Trump supporting types) can’t exactly get behind laughing at such a genre, it’s that Fey, in this instance is written off almost immediately for her “Liz Lemonness.” Her performance is so automatically lumped in with this archetype that it’s difficult for many to see beyond it. And yes, from the get-go, Kim is singled out for being one of the only employees at a news coverage outlet that has no spouse or children, and can therefore take the chance on going to Afghanistan, where they need to funnel any reporters that haven’t already been sent to the far more glamorous (coverage interest-wise) Iraq–this is in 2003, mind you. Though Kim says she’ll “think about it,” it becomes pretty clear to her as she runs on the treadmill and watches a newscast from Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie, pre-Harley Quinn icon) reporting from Afghanistan that there’s something decidedly stagnant about her current existence. Noting to herself that the dent from her treadmill is now in front of her, and that she’s literally moved backwards, Kim apprehends that it’s time for her to make some sort of change–even if that means leaving behind her longtime boyfriend, Chris (Josh Charles), the Dennis Duffy of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, if you will.

The instant culture shock Kim feels upon arriving in Afghanistan is almost tantamount to the kind Liz feels when she goes to Ohio for the weekend with Floyd. Meeting Tanya in person, the two strike up a friendship that is, admittedly, at least half based on the fact that they’re among the only women in the bunch. Jokes about Kim being a 9 in Afghanistan as opposed to a 6 in New York also bring to mind the character of Liz Lemon, reamed on a near constant basis for her looks.

And yet, like Liz, Kim has no problem attracting the interest of rather deadbeat types, like Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), a Scottish journalist with an equally self-loathing sort of aura. She even seems to invoke the interest of her good-looking bodyguard, Nic (Stephen Peacocke), and, of course, the two fight over her (the latter in a more protective than lusty manner) before Iain wins out.

Like Liz, Kim seems to find herself settling at every turn, even when she takes the risk in trying something new. Ultimately, however, Kim has a stronger backbone–one that comes from enough time in the “Kabubble” to discover that, if you stay in a non-reality too long (no matter how good it feels) you’ll soon forget what’s normal.

Though the title Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is military code for WTF, audiences didn’t pick up on this–nor did they seem to pick up on the subtle but marked nuances between Kim Baker and Liz Lemon. Yes, they’re both “quirky,” eternally single and committed to their careers more than anything else. But these days, that simply describes the modern woman, not just Liz Lemon.