I always love a comedic meltdown, and 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is brilliant at them. In one of my favorite episodes, The C Word (Season 1, Episode 14), Lemon tries to earn a reputation as a nice boss by spoiling her staff. Of course, her subordinates quickly exploit her kindness, resulting in an all-nighter to finish their work and one of my favorite breakdowns of all time: Lemon forces her employees to watch a Designing Women episode she taped at 5:30 a.m., hoping to channel Julia Sugarbaker’s (Dixie Carter’s) strong-willed feminism, but succeeding only in destroying the tape and breaking into hysterics.
Like in a later episode’s meltdown (Season 1, Episode 17), when Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) says Lemon has “gone chicken killer” on him, Fey plays the moment perfectly. I am a Designing Women fan as well, but if Lemon really wanted to see histrionics for the ages, she should have put All about Eve into her VCR instead.
In the film, theater star Margo Channing (Davis) has been generous to her one-time fan, now employee, Eve (Anne Baxter), whom she finds destitute at the start of the story. But slowly, Margo begins to question Eve’s loyalty. Once she suspects Eve of flirting with her boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill), Margo begins insulting everyone, essentially sabotaging her own party for him, and it’s hilarious to watch. Early in the night, her friend (the gifted Thelma Ritter) asks, “And there’s a message from the bartender. Does Miss Channing know that she ordered domestic gin by mistake?”
“The only thing I ordered by mistake is the guests,” answers Margo.
And the party’s just the beginning.
If you want to see rage done right, you can’t do better than Bette Davis, and with a script this perfect, there’s no holding her back. As Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), the drama critic, says about Margo’s increasingly bad behavior as the party progresses, but could just as easily have characterized Davis’s entire performance in the film, “You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent!”