Dear readers, I’m sure many of you have heard the news, but, for those that haven’t, here it is – our beloved Smash is not long for this world.
Earlier this month, NBC announced that starting in April, Smash would be airing the remainder of this season on Saturday evenings at 9pm. In TV world, that is what’s known as “burning off” remaining episodes they are contractually obligated to air. It’s not necessarily a cancellation, but it’s never a good sign.
In the meantime, we can at least be content that a) Smash will actually be airing the rest of the season, and b) that Josh Safran apparently saw the writing on the wall and will be building the remaining story so that it can serve as a series finale.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way… oof. This week was rough.
I’m actually having trouble wrapping my head around the vast amount of stupid presented by so many characters this week on the show. We’ll dissect below, but I think there is an underlying root cause at work here.
See, Smash seems to operate in a universe where theatre work is perceived as some sort of “artistic destiny”. It’s the kind of world where Karen Cartwright would quit a star-making turn in a Broadway show because she missed the old director and her composer friend was piling a guilt trip on her about not being in his tiny little show.
It’s a world where Ivy Lynn has been craving a breakout role for years, and then finds herself working with a manic TV star to intentionally tank a Broadway show, and that most of the participants would be relieved by its closing. Nevermind the dearth of work for an actor in NYC, this is undignified!
For all of its faults, season 1 of Smash managed to at least make it clear that this was a job that was hard to get and that people fight for their positions ferociously. Now, that reality has all but vanished as we enter the literally titled “Musical Chairs” phase of this storyline.
Yes, folks, right from the episode title, you know exactly where everything is going to go – Karen will quit Bombshell to join Derek and Jimmy Jerkface on Hit List. Ivy, magically freed from her first major role on Broadway that she somehow started hating enough to help tank the show (this point bears repeating as often as possible), will rejoin triumphantly as the once, future, and rightful Marilyn. Eileen gets control of the show back thanks to the help of her daughter, Baby Meryl Streep (Grace Gummer), and a massive deus ex machina in a contract with the Marilyn Estate. All is right with the world.
Or is it? All along we start to see seeds planted for the second half of the season, whether it be a little flirtation for Kyle with the show’s lighting designer (Daniel Abeles, who, full disclosure, I actually went to high school with…small world, huh?!), or a mopey face on Ana as Karen returns to reclaim the Hit List lead from her.
Most obviously, Julia starts talking about a “Marilyn’s mother” subplot in her New Book that she apparently can’t live without (let’s forget that that New Book was allegedly the POV of the men in Marilyn’s life and this makes absolutely no sense).
With Ivy back in Bombshell, there is absolutely no way the team ISN’T reaching out to Bernadette Peters’ character to star alongside her daughter and create lots of life-to-stage parallels. This is only underscored by how out-of-nowhere this story idea is.
Meanwhile, back at Hit List, we are watching the unholy beginnings of a LOVE TRIANGLE, ladies and gentlemen! Not just any love triangle though, but a very special one between a girl with no agency, her one-time predatory director, and the man who literally emotionally manipulated her to quit a Broadway show.
The show’s Jimmy Problem seemed to be out in full glory this week (baby Meryl mentioned Carousel right after we saw him at one point, basically putting a bow on the issue). Granted, he eventually came around a little bit, but between his petulant behavior at receiving notes from artistic director Scott (Jesse L. Martin, apparently yet another ex-lover of Julia’s), his ingratitude at basically everything given to him, his abuse (yes, abuse) of Karen AND Kyle, and his ability to emotionally control even Derek, I’m convinced this is beyond the intentional effect. After all, Jimmy basically gets everything he wants at the end of tonight’s episode! Oh, except Karen. Right. Love triangle.
Thing is, I can actually see a good version of this show where a lot of the same stuff happens. I can see Jimmy’s behavior essentially leading him further and further into despair, as he pathologically destroys his great opportunities, and he ODs, a sad commentary on the inability to save the emotionally damaged.
Or Ivy, finally receiving her dream role, only to be ejected from Equity because of hers and Terry’s ludicrously unprofessional behavior at Liaisons.
Derek, unable to conquer his own demons, ends up alone in the Ivory Tower built by his success, having pushed away his only friend, Karen, because of his need to win. The disappointment cycle repeats, with Ana becoming the new Ivy and Karen becoming the new Rebecca. I tell you what, that’d be one dark show.
Video: Sean Hayes leads the Liaisons cast through a disastrous “Ce N’est Pas My Fault”
On the bright side (and yes, of course there were good things; there usually are), we were treated to two solid musical numbers this week. “Ce N’est Pas My Fault” is the Shaiman/Whitman contribution, a frolicking uptempo for Valmont. The staging, choreography, and comedy were all very solid, though I never quite got over how it seemed perfect for the show Terry thought he was doing, but not the real Liaisons that everyone seemed to talk about. Also, the fact that Terry was literally attacking people soured it for me (it was clear in the performing by the cast that these were not planned “bits” in the song). I bet it would have been fun left on its own devices, but then the plot would have had to be different.
The other number, “Rewrite This Story”, was simultaneously great and frustrating. Jeremy Jordan and Kat McPhee, once again, sound fantastic in their pop sound together. And guess what? Jimmy and Karen have great chemistry onstage! A less problematic storyline between the two of them would have made this a very cool, cathartic number, freely enjoyable pop duet. I loved the video close-ups of performed action to set the scene in a stylized way. I found myself curious who the real-life projections and lighting designers were. I bought that it was a number that could convince Scott to bump them to the mainstage.
Finally, the other thing that really worked about the episode is that we were treated to a handful of moments where professional people seemed to happily be working together. Tom and Karen’s make-up, the drinks between Eileen and the writers, and the general demeanors of everyone post-“musical chairs” reminded me that I would, in fact, love a straight-forward version of this kind of show. It reminded me of the hijinks at the Theatre Wing dinner a couple of weeks ago. For a moment, I had hope that maybe the show would move that way.
But alas, we got the Love Triangle of Doom.
We live in eternal hope, dear readers. See you next week, and keep your Saturdays in April and May clear!