All hail middle-aged character actors!
At varying points in this episode, I found myself singing the praises of guest stars, as we got visits from not one but two parents of our leading ladies, offering veteran charms and instant chemistry that elevated everything they touched.
For starters, I’ll sing the praises of the great Dylan Baker, appearing once again as Papa Cartwright, he of folksy midwestern charm and “something smells like poop” faces (and taking a brief vacation from my nightmares, where he lives as his recurring character on The Good Wife).
In his brief visit, he proves to have excellent judgement – namely, that Karen made a terrible career move in leaving Bombshell – and to be an excellent judge of character in his instant dislike of Jimmy. He momentarily disapproves of Derek as well, but that’s only because he and Jimmy both like leather jackets, and they go on to have a couple nice little scenes. In the end, he also proves to be a great dad, letting his daughter continue making the obvious mistakes she’s made and being there for her anyway.
On the opposite end of the parenting spectrum, we have Leigh Conroy, played by Bernadette Freaking Peters, mother to Ivy “Once and Future Marilyn” Lynn. This isn’t Bern’s first run at the character, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the best she’s gotten to do on this show.
Things begin quite tenuously between mother and daughter, with both making extreme efforts to politely deal with the other, and leading to rather…dead scenework between the two. It takes the direct efforts of Tom, running out of time to get brilliance from the piece, to shore up some real-life drama between the two actresses. This leads to emotional work, but a huge rift forms between not only mother and daughter, but daughter and bestie, with Ivy “friend-dumping” Tom for his involvement in the hiring of Leigh.
From this freshly-opened wound, however, springs “Hang the Moon”, which is basically my favorite musical number that Smash has ever done. Bernadette sounds about as good as Bernadette sounds (which is, y’know, ok), but her emotional connection (both in the studio and on the set) is absolutely palpable. She breaks your heart in this sweet number. The beautiful hanging lights? Gravy. The well-employed background dancers? More gravy. The further-still glance at Ivy Lynn fully made-up as Marilyn? I dare not assign more points based on that, as I am now pretending that it was never any other way. Ivy just is Marilyn.
Over in the Hit-verse, things start off on an icky note, as we meet Karen and Jimmy post-hookup. And Jimmy, in the harsh light of day, is … charming? Huh?
Yes, folks, all Jimmy needed all this time is a good lay! Apparently Karen’s bedroom performance contains the same magical properties as her voice, because her night with Jimmy has cured him, and turned him into a real boy! He jokes, smiles, laughs, has civilized conversations. It’s a miracle! Even Kyle remarks, “What’s gotten into you? You sound…happy.”
Well, ok, fine, he’s not totally cured. His elated state makes him late to his own rehearsals. He whines a bit about how he can’t get an advance from his not-for-profit theatre gig (oh Jimmy…JimmyJimmyJimmyJimmyJimmy…). He even tries to steal a wealthy arts patron’s necklace to pay off his debt to his old dealer!*
However, Karen’s, um, magic remains in him, and he actually has an honest, emotional conversation with Derek, who loans him the eight grand, because he’s Derek Freaking Wills, and that’s chump-change to him. And I suddenly found my ability to enjoy a scene with Jimmy Collins in it. If that even is his real name…bwah ha ha…
Julia flirts more with Scott, and offers her services as a “dramaturg” (by which Smash means script-doctor) to Hit List, behind the team’s back.
Eileen starts flirting with the New York Times writer.
Ana performs “Reaching Out for You”, a weird song where everyone is dangling from the ceiling (evidently the one number missed by Jimmy in his quest to DESTROY ALL PRODUCTION VALUE). She sounds good, but again, it’s a weird number, and seems very un-Hit List. Curious to see where the storyline of bolstering her role goes.
*- Ok, I can’t let this go without mentioning – they started making Jimmy more bearable right when a character shows up who could finally give him a deserved beat-down! And then he doesn’t get beat down at all! Sometimes we just can’t win.
Til next time, Smashers!
Reminder: Smash switches to Saturday nights, starting April 6th on NBC.