Smash 2:8 Bells and Whistles

I talk a lot about “professionalism” when I write about Smash. Maybe it’s a personal sticking point, but I have to imagine that a large portion of this show’s weekly audience can actually see the things I see, and this isn’t just a product of the fact that I’ve been living a theatre-based life for the last nigh-on ten years.

For example, I harp on Jimmy a lot (basically every week, in fact; I’m starting to bore even myself with my weekly “Jimmy rants”). The truth is that I can’t seem to figure out what ANY of the character’s supposed “redeeming qualities” might be at this point, or why anyone would even like him at all. In my mind there was a “WAAAH! WAAAAH!” attached to the end of everything he says.

Derek (Jack Davenport) and Scott (Jesse L. Martin) agree to just give Jimmy what he wants.

Derek (Jack Davenport) and Scott (Jesse L. Martin) agree to just give Jimmy what he wants.

He descended into full-blown petulance this week, butting heads with Derek over just about every detail of Derek’s production. “I don’t WANT sets or costumes; the show is too good for that!” “NO, I WON’T meet you halfway, because we’re doing it my way! This show is MINE MINE MINE!” He can stand to learn so much, and yet is pathologically opposed to changing in any ways whatsoever.

The worst part is that, continuing a trend, he still manages to get everything he wants in the end. By going over Derek’s head to Scott, Jimmy ensures that Derek’s impulses will be controlled. Scott says to Derek at one point, “Listen to Jimmy and he’ll be better”, and all I could do was throw my arms up in the disgust that yet another character had managed to be worn down by Jimmy’s abusive behavior.

Of course, this is all really about Karen, as every conflict always happens to be. Derek, after so many months cultivating a healthy, perhaps-a-little-too-collaborative friendship with her, seems to be developing a little crush, or at the very least a protective instinct. Meanwhile Jimmy, her soulmate-by-default, needs to assert his dominance. At one point it is posited by Tom (in a brief moment of peace between two directors) that Jimmy is a young Derek. And this information made me like Derek less, knowing that his charm and articulation abilities grew from his stubbornness and megalomania, and not vice-versa.

So Jimmy and Derek sit down and have a nice, subdued conversation about the appropriate direction from Hit List. As Jimmy sits quietly and listens to Derek, answering his questions without whining, I finally realize I am, in fact, capable of liking Jimmy, if he can just grow the hell up a little, or at least act like he’s trying.

Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) sings 'Your Voice in a Dream' his way, no one else's.

Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) sings ‘Your Voice in a Dream’ his way, no one else’s.

All of this culminates in the number “Your Voice in a Dream”, a beautifully staged concept-number about the emotional distance between the two stars of Hit List, even though Jimmy’s story for it will build inexorably towards the woman betraying the man. Nonetheless, the choreography was great, the idea of Jimmy Hero trudging through the sea of people, very cool, the pop vocals of Jordan and McPhee great as always.

After in-rehearsal problems settle down for the week, Jimmy decides it’s time to make a move on Karen. After their cast party (celebrating…rehearsal?), Jimmy says goodnight and Derek walks her home. Karen politely lets Derek go for the evening, declining a night-cap. She heads upstairs, then, moments later, hears her buzzer, and decides “eh, why not, I like Derek” and buzzes him in.

Only she didn’t buzz Derek in, it was Jimmy! Jimmy had followed them home from the party, and comes up to Karen’s apartment without her even knowing it was him. She opens the door, sees him, and, before she has time to presumably scream “What the hell are you doing here?! Get out!”, he grabs her and starts kissing her. But it’s ok because she had said she likes Jimmy earlier in the episode! By the time I finished wretching and physically convulsing from how awful this was, the making out appeared to be consensual.

Watch Bells and Whistles on Hulu

I hope I don’t have to explain why this was the most awful thing ever, right? Jimmy stalks Karen walking home with another guy. Gets himself into her building without her awareness. Into her apartment even. And then just grabs her and goes for it. For a split-second, I thought Smash was about to become incredibly bold, as it appeared Karen was fighting him off for a second. But nope. Soulmates.

Not much else to report on Karen this week. She chimed in to break a tie between Jimmy and Derek at one point, because that’s totally how a professional production process would work. She also convinces Ana to audition for a bigger role by singing “If I Were a Boy” drunk to the director in a bar. Because it was Karen’s idea, it totally worked! Krysta Rodriguez is cool, so we’ll take more of her.

Ivy (Megan Hilty) gives her best ever "Let Me Be Your Star"

Ivy (Megan Hilty) gives her best ever “Let Me Be Your Star”

Meanwhile, over in the Bombshell-verse…Ivy’s back! As she belts “Let Me Be Your Star” again, memories came swirling back from this show’s excellent pilot episode. Joy escapes from ever pore. Ivy Lynn has ascended the majestic Throne of Marilyn, and all is finally right in the universe!

Tom, in his efforts to be the Best Director Ever, decides he wants to hear everybody’s input on the show, and every professional theatre artist watching in that moment goes “yuh oh”. Ivy asks for a break in act two, suggests a catch-breath in a song, and then mentions something about book tweaks. Jessica and Bobby silently scheme how they’ll get themselves upgraded into breakout supporting roles.

They don’t have to think too hard though, because Sam is back from Book of Mormon tour for a bit! He immediately starts telling Tom about how awful it is that he has a major role in the biggest hit musical out there, and how he wishes he could just be hanging around his boo.

When Tom busts out “Let’s Start Tomorrow Tonight”, a forgotten trunk song of his from a ’60s Vegas musical, Leslie Odom, Jr. gets to step up and bring Nat King Cole to life (once again at a full-company drunken shindig thrown for no reason). Odom sounds fantastic, dances with energy and verve. Even Jessica and Bobby get to join in the fun! I love it when tertiary characters get little features like this.

So Tom, at this party, presumably drunk, convinces Sam that he will write this song into Bombshell for him and wants him to quit Mormon. Sam allegedly does this immediately, because he shows up at rehearsal the next day and gets some bad news, once everyone has the chance to tell Tom, “no, seriously, that’s a terrible idea”. Sam somehow has the gall to blame Tom for losing his job (you know, the one in the biggest hit Broadway tour of the decade that he quit after being drunkenly offered a song in a new show), and storms out.

As Tom’s story arcs towards conclusion, he begins to show more assertiveness himself, inspired by the aforementioned conversation with Derek (good thing “closed rehearsals” don’t seem to exist in the Smash-verse). As they talked, even laughed, I found myself liking those characters once again. I like it when people behave like adults, and work together to solve problems. I’d watch the heck out of that show. Give me the version of Smash that seems to take place exclusively on the stoops of the characters’ brownstones, where they decompress and talk straight with each other!

Elsewhere, Julia runs into Scott, and apologizes for a betrayal she made years earlier in casting him aside for Mike Nichols. More groundwork is laid for their pairing later this season (will we ever see Peter again though?)

Kyle continues to flirt with Blake, who apparently is also the projections designer for Hit List in addition to being the lighting designer. Actually, think about if Blake were just doing projections; now THAT would be a conflict. Jimmy, in his relentless pursuit of a minimalist, “pure” production, gets Derek and Scott to eliminate the need for projections at all, and Blake is fired from the show, setting off Kyle against Jimmy! Who knows, maybe we’re still building to that point.

Once again Smash has reached a point of supposed stasis, where everyone seems to get along and want the same thing. I’d like to hope things stay that way, but I can already smell seeds of conflict – newly assertive Tom will butt heads with Ivy upon hiring her mother for the show. Of course I love me some Bernadette, but will the show be able to spin this into a bearable storyline?

“We shall see” is the only answer I’ve got. And thanks to NBC, we shall! Though only on a few more Tuesdays.

—————————–
Smash
switches to Saturday nights, starting April 6th on NBC.

Comments

  1. Great work, John Dellaporta. You didn’t doze through any of the SMASH chapter you reported on; I’m afraid I did so I couldn’t possibly have hit so many nails on the head. What bothers me most about the show, what disappoints me most as, like you, someone who’s been around the real thing is how phony so many of the conflicts are. Never would there be the kind of faceoffs that this one allows — the most egregious of many was the one in which Ivy told the star of her ill-bebotten “Liaisons” that he was terrible, and needed direction and help. She, an ex chorus girl, playing her first lead! She’d have been left in the alley, given her walking papers. That first episode, all those months ago, was so promising — and each week as the stories spin into oblivion, the ratings drop proportionately. Season 3? Who is going to interrupt their Sat. night at 9 o’clock to tune in? Only those with a morbid streak of curiosity.

  2. Michele Bousquet says:

    I was put off by SMASH early on because of the fakeness of the situations and conflicts and even some totally wrong vocabulary of the theater, but then I realized it’s a MUSICAL. Since when do the plots and situations in a musical make complete sense? So now I watch it for the fantastic performances and songs (“Let’s Make Tomorrow Tonight” was a wonder, and I love all the new takes on Billy Joel songs) and just enjoy the little bit of plot I get in between. Yeah Jimmy’s a jerk, but he’s pretty to look at and he sings like a dream. Glee originally put me off for the same reason until I got the concept. Now I just enjoy seeing the talented newcomers. And face it, realism can be boring. Who wants to see the reality of endless, repetitive rehearsals and minor, easy-to-resolve disagreements between directors and actors?

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