Smash: The Big Finish

“C’mon, Karen Cartwright, the show’s over!”

And with that line, and a shot of an empty stage, lit to high heaven, with not a drip of applause, we reach the conclusion of Smash. Ambitious, erratic, emotional, and perhaps misconceived, Smash nonetheless gave the live theatre arts a shot at the network TV big-time that it obviously deserves.

It’s never been a secret that Smash shared this sentiment, but it was never as on-the-nose as in Ivy Lynn’s fateful acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Musical. “I’d like to thank the audience for believing, as I do, that there is nothing more important, or as special, as live theatre,” she says. Smash is obviously thanking the audience that stuck around, and the just-right balance between heart and pretension is one final detail the show gets right (after all, we as theatre folk do have to admit that, as important as it all feels, we really are playing pretend for a living. Or so we tell ourselves when tech gets too stressful).

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Thanks, Smash.    Anjelica Huston as Eileen Rand, Andy Mientus as Kyle Bishop, Jeremy Jordan as Jimmy Collins, Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright, Jack Davenport as Derek Wills, Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Strickland, Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn, Krysta Rodriguez as Ana Vargas, Christian Borle as Tom Levitt and Debra Messing as Julia Houston.

There’s a much longer piece in analyzing the pros and cons of Smash, the “what they got”s and “what they missed”s of it all, and that’s a piece that should be (and probably has been) written by someone much more contemplative than me, your humble recapper. So, for one last time with this crazy show, let’s get together and talk about what happened on Smash.

It’s a relief that “The Nominations” and “The Tonys” ultimately aired as one two-hour block, as I’m not sure I would have had enough to say about “The Nominations” on its own. Sure, much happens, plot-wise: Derek confesses to the scandal, Julia begins divorce proceedings, Ivy gets hormone-mouth, Tom starts epically screwing up with a Tony nominator (who he also loooooves), and, oh, right, the nominations come out.

Against this backdrop, the drama is at a fever pitch, both with the inter-show competition between Bombshell and Hit List, but also the internal drama at Hit List (things actually seem pretty peaceful at Bombshell finally). Jimmy is stilling making me want to punch him every chance I get, plus now there’s the issue that the show needs Daisy to be its new villain. Weren’t we supposed to like Daisy when they introduced her way back when? It doesn’t matter, because Mara Davie has been better than her material here, and I’m glad she’s gotten a chance to be featured a bit, especially in a non-boxing-dance scenario.

To resolve this situation, which is spiking, thanks to legal action from Ana’s lawyer, Derek puts in a good word for Ana with the producers of Once, so she’ll be starring in the national tour! Wisely, Ana accepts the career bump, and wisely, Derek confesses to giving Daisy a shag-part anyway.

So, what do we learn heading into “The Tonys”? That Hit List swept the Outer Critics Circle Awards, and all attentions are on the momentum towards the Big Ones. Tom is stressing about his directing career, though I kind of love how the episode just lets Tom and Julia’s composing nomination feel like a forgone conclusion. Tom and Derek ultimately tie for Best Director, leading to one of my favorite moments of the night, their co-acceptance. Tom shows gratitude to Derek, though not without sniping him a bit (“You start and I finish…sounds familiar!”)

So, with the momentum firmly in Hit List‘s corner, the nominations come out, and…basically everyone we care about gets nominated.

As we move into Hour 2, “Under Pressure” comes in with that familiar bass line, as each character walks through an empty Times Square, joining the chorus, lending to the “all roads have led here” inevitability of it all. And I LOVE it. Spoiler alert: I’m a sucker for an act one finale/act two opener like this. “Man Up”, “Comfort and Joy”, Urinetown’s “Act One Finale”, the obvious “One Day More!”, even South Park’s parody “La Resistance”.

I love the converging of all plot lines into a single, all-encompassing, “hey you’d better come back” number. The fact that they did this with one of my favorite songs was just gravy, as was the fact that it’s the first time this whole cast has ever had a big group-sing. (Loved Derek rocking out to a little Brit-rock there.)

The Tonys themselves occupy most of the episode, but not until – a) Julia sorts a little stuff out with Frank (remember Frank?). She claims she was in love with Michael basically the whole time, and it sabotaged their marriage from day one. Evidently this heals all their problems (but not ours; stay tuned). b) Jimmy finally realizes he’s an expert self-saboteur, and resigns himself to a penance before he can go to the Tonys: confessing to contributing to a girl’s OD and serving 6-18 months for “possession with intent to distribute”. Oh, and don’t worry, the girl is actually ok!

To which I say: that’s it? That’s the big secret? In our final installment of “Let’s Whine About Jimmy”, I’d like to say that this whole buildup has been a colossal misfire. We’re suddenly looking at an insanely soft-peddled backstory for a guy who’s assaulted, stalked, and abused everyone this whole season. He spends the entire first hour ruthlessly attacking people for helping him, in order to get Kyle his due*, and then intends to duck out on the Tonys because…why? Was it the confession thing?

*- I don’t buy FOR A SECOND that a reporter wouldn’t be eating up Kyle’s story on a show like this. Big misfire, Smash.

With all this stuff going on, we finally reach Tony night. We’re in the latter half. Hit List has the momentum, having won (presumably) a bunch of technical awards.

And so come the wins and speeches:

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Daisy for Hit List. After this win, Derek and the cast of Hit List gang up to keep Daisy off the stage for her big number and do “Broadway Here I Come”. Now, getting past the flagrant unprofessionalism of this, it’s actually a pretty cool performance. A cappella, finger snaps, stomps, backup harmonies – it’s the first time Hit List successfully appears as the kind of musical it wants to be, majorly evoking Jonathan Larson’s song “Boho Days”.

Best Book: Kyle Bishop for Hit List. Jimmy, in his most likable moment ever as a character, gives a very grateful acceptance speech, though Jeremy Jordan overdoes the cry-face a little bit.

Best Music and Lyrics: Tom and Julia for Bombshell who, adorably, don’t hear because they’re too busy rationalizing their loss. Like the old pros they are, their speech is short, sweet, and unflashy.

Best Choreography: Derek Wills for Hit List. “Thank you for judging the work and not the man”, he says, movingly.

Best Actress in a Musical: Ivy Freaking Lynn, Bombshell! After a cheese-tastic commercial break tease, Ivy steps up to her destiny, accepting the award, thanking her mother and the fans of Smash as mentioned above.

Best Musical: Bombshell. Could it really have gone any other way? I feel like that backlit shot of the team hoisting their Tonys was the point from which this entire show was reverse-engineered.

And so, victories in hand, we turn over to Resolution-palooza! We get one final Tom/Julia song, “Big Finish”, featuring Ivy and Karen doing their best “Nowadays” impression. In montage form, here comes the end: Ivy finally tells Derek she’s pregnant, and they share a sweet reconciliatory moment. Tom begins flirting with Patrick Dillon (Luke MacFarlane), who is apparently in the closet; what a story for the nonexistent third season! Patrick also offers Tom and Julia the opportunity to make a movie musical. Karen is sort of left on the steps of Radio City, where Eileen tells her to buck up, because she has time on her side now. Also, Karen kisses Jimmy as he heads to the cops. Eileen apparently gets to have office sex with Nick. Julia goes to see Michael Swift.

Sorry, let me say that last one again: Julia. Goes. To See. Michael. Swift.

Because Smash doesn’t want me get through an entire episode without wanting to punch something, they bring back arguably the only character less likable than Jimmy. Our last look at Julia is her giving cry-face at Will Chase’s door, and it’s a pretty sad, telling thing for the character that most directly symbolized Smash itself. It could never break the cycle.

What else is there really to say? Smash was perfectly represented in this sequence. Some wonderful music played, and bits of our Broadway obsession crept onscreen. The writers offered us resolutions we never wanted (Karen and Jimmy together), or nailed things we did want (Ivy’s Tony). Unprofessionalism was celebrated by high level professionals. We had fun, and got frustrated.

We think to ourselves, in this frustration, that live theatre is the most important thing in the world, much like Ivy. But at the end of the day, Smash was people playing pretend for a living. Sometimes it was entertaining, and sometimes it wasn’t. Smash was certainly asked to shoulder a lot of responsibility for us, and even at its best it was never really up to this task (though man, that pilot came so close).

I’d like to think that, in the end, Smash opened doors. Hopefully the takeaway will be that, yes, we will watch a show about theatre, and the things that drove viewers away from Smash had more to do with writing and plotting, and less to do with the subject.

I believe that failed art teaches us just as much as successful art, and I can’t wait to see what the next try looks like.

It’s been a pleasure, DCTS readers. I can’t wait to join you for our next shared obsession.

 

John Dellaporta About John Dellaporta

John Dellaporta is a DC-based actor, singer, and guy who “moves well”. Onstage credits have included performances at Adventure Theatre, the Olney Theatre Center, Toby’s Dinner Theatre, and Washington Savoyards, where he now also serves as a senior staff member. John intermittently posts television recaps and thought pieces on his blog, johndellaporta.blogspot.com.

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