Art vs. commerce. God-given talent vs. time-honed craft. Easy laughs vs. hard tears. Brain vs. libido.
This week’s episode of Smash brought several of the stage’s favorite philosophical clashes to the screen this week. And by and large, it did wonders for the show, as this was the best episode of season 2 thus aired.
I’ll admit I started out a little worried, as we started things off with Tom dreaming himself into every ensemble role of Bombshell in a musical sequence for his hypothetical act two opener, “Public Relations”. This was a snappily-staged Shaiman/Whitman ditty, featuring impressive choreography throughout, and a game Christian Borle adopting every accent he surely didn’t get to use in Peter and the Starcatcher (though I wouldn’t know, having not seen it yet).
Kat McPhee is getting a bit better at her Marilyn thing, though I’m still not buying her as the “better than Ivy” option.
Concept-wise, I thought it was a bit kitschy on first view, but after watching the episode as a whole, I think the idea works.
Tom visualizing himself into every role nicely illuminates his dilemma with Julia – he feels left out of the new, “artsy” version of Bombshell which Julia and Peter have been scheming and hits big at the reading, and his dreaming of living up on the big Belasco stage (via his music) perfectly encapsulates his point-of-view, and tells us exactly what kind of musical he really wanted to write. And we get it, it makes sense, and makes for a really solid conflict.
This actually feeds quite naturally into Tom sending Jerry the old script, an impressive feat for Smash (also impressive: the fateful nature of “Tom and Jerry” as a team-up. It’s almost like they planned it!). The episode earned the dilemma of crowd-pleaser vs. Tony-bait, and the cliff-hanger we are left with is genuinely suspenseful, as we wait for Eileen to tell us which version she wants.
HOWEVER, I still don’t quite understand why Eileen even gets a vote…wasn’t the deal at the end of last week that Eileen had to resign from the show? Is she suddenly technically a “silent partner”? Is she even legally allowed to do these things that Jerry says she can’t? I get Eileen as strong and defiant, but I’m confused when I’m wondering if she’s actually endangering the show by participating.
Legalities aside, this is a decent use for Eileen though, and a good way to organically give her power. I especially like that Jerry is no longer a cat-stroking cartoon villain, but (gasp!) a pragmatic producer who just wants to make money! Perish the thought!
Meanwhile, over in B-story land, Karen and Ana (hi Ana!) get the ball rolling on a first reading of Hit List. I’m still not crazy about Karen’s ability to have these pragmatic heart-to-hearts with Derek, but I think the show ship has sailed and I’m just gonna have to live with that one. Anyway, Kyle and Jimmy are getting the script ready for a Hit List reading, to see if it can be a contender for Winter Fringe.
As they prep, Karen grapples with her troublesome, complicated feelings for Jimmy, and sings “Some Boys” in a pseudo-fantasy sequence. I really liked this, as well. I’m a big fan for a musical sequence having a clean reality shift, and I liked the concept of the song as her thought bubble while we still see her actions around the apartment with Jimmy, handing him things and whatnot. And Kat McPhee always gets into her comfort zone when the show just asks her to do pop singing, and here we benefit from that as well.
Actually, this brings to mind a conversation that I seem to be having with people more and more in this renaissance of movie musicals. See, for my money Smash is actually some of the most effective musical theatre being filmed for this simple reason – it understands how to shift reality. Let the lights change in Jimmy’s apartment. Let’s put Tom in 12 roles, and roll out the fog and the plane. It pretty much always works conceptually, and that is worthy of our weekly applause.
Smash‘s problems tend to lay elsewhere, and sadly we overlook its strengths. After all, well-executed crap is still crap, on some level. Not that Smash is crap. It’s not, especially this week.
Kyle’s book for Hit List, however, is absolutely crap. In a hard moment for the character, he becomes the Jimmy of the Week and starts whining about how much it sucks that The First Thing He Ever Wrote Ever (First Draft Edition) is not above reproach. I was annoyed until the episode played the “vs.” idea in this storyline – that Kyle is frustrated by Jimmy’s natural talent, whereas his will need work.
I bought this quite a lot, as it’s a pretty powerful sentiment and very true to my own observations in the theatre world. In the end, Kyle decides it’s best for his story to be told completely via Jimmy’s songs, making Hit List officially a rock opera.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also quickly mention that Sean Hayes guest-starred this week as Terry, a movie star attached to Ivy’s Liaisons, playing the whole thing for laughs. The cringe-worthy comic scenes were worth enduring for the payoff of Ivy Dramatic Acting the pants off of her scene, and the tease of a new, unmedicated Terry performing some drama in the coming weeks.
In all honesty, I’d be a pretty happy camper if Smash hits this level every week for the rest of the year. Interesting questions were posed, the process was explored in a cool way, and I genuinely don’t know where the story is going at the beginning of the episode.
In other words, it was most decidedly “not crap”, and well-executed. What a win!