“Ivy Lynn! Where are you going? Sit down!”
Let’s talk about “A Love Letter from the Times” for a second.
First off…where the hell has THIS show been? As I sat watching with a borderline catatonic smile on my face, Smash demonstrated a remarkable ability to channel a very special, unique absurdity, one that represents a strength this show has always had, but never really used.
Smash’s greatest strength has arguably always been the Broadway sandbox in which it gets to play. And here, at last, we milk it for all its ridiculous glory, as Tom, in an effort to make things right with Ivy, reaches out to Liza Minnelli, with whom he, of course, just so happens to be buddies.
After quickly settling a little plot-complication BS, he sidles up to the piano. For you see, Smash has decided to give us a tongue-in-cheek duet between a sassily charming gay pianist and Liza Minnelli.
One can not understate the geek-tacular perfection of this whole sequence. Liza sings at her most Liza-y, Christian Borle knows exactly how to play it, and Megan Hilty basically just sits back and plays the viewer. There is heart, there is humor (on both the literal and meta level), and I was so joyously entertained by it all that I found myself wishing that Act Three was in and of itself a secret pilot for a much better Broadway TV show.
Alas, Liza was simply a brief respite from Smash-as-usual. Tom and Ivy’s friendship will not be mended so easily, as they agree that their friendship and director-actor relationships must be mutually exclusive (let’s ignore how stupid this is). They must be “professional”, after all.
“Professionalism” seems to be the overall theme of this episode, which amuses me because of the hundreds of words I’ve seemingly already written about how little professionalism exists on this show. I watched this week mostly in confusion, because I had no idea how to feel.
Now, a little moral vagueness is often good for TV, but I’ve finally put my finger on something: this is Smash‘s greatest problem.
Smash has never defined an internal morality for itself, which is especially confusing for viewers like me (and I recon most of you readers, and in fact most of Smash‘s viewership), who come into it with a decent amount of exposure to the real world of theatre.
When Derek proudly boasts that he “doesn’t care” what Karen and Jimmy think, after Kyle reveals a pretty major overhaul in Hit List‘s structure, are we suppose to read this as a good thing or a bad thing? Obviously Derek is acting out of petty jealousy, having just found out about Jimmy and Karen’s relationship. But in the parallel storyline, we’ve just been told by two characters we like, in a happy scene, that a director might need a clean palette to make the best decisions for the show. Which do we believe?
I don’t know what to root for, and it’s not good ambiguity because I’m constantly being told things as opposed to being shown character impulses for which to root. Does the show want me to favor Derek over Jimmy for Karen? The slow-burn of their friendship (and the utter despicableness of Jimmy) might suggest this, but Derek’s strong-arming of Jimmy puts him in the “bad guy” column.
This leads to my second-favorite moment of the episode – Karen grows a spine at last, kicking both men to the curb.
This is the most I’ve ever liked Karen, and it seemed to put her on track for a serious character-rehab storyline. That Smash did this mere minutes after Julia had the audacity to mention a female character’s agency ON THIS SHOW was a huge surge of confidence, and I thought we were about to see Karen start growing up, owning up to a little dependency, maturing.
Instead, she immediately capitulated to Jimmy, who wants to make it up to Karen by taking her on a “real date”…y’know, to one of those “tons of places” that are still open at midnight. She takes his coat for warmth, puts her hands in his pockets, and finds a baggy of heroine. And she…does nothing but look a little dismayed. So much for Karen’s agency. I guess Jimmy was right when responding to Karen’s earlier assertion that “[She’d] been thinking…”. Quoth Jimmy: “You shouldn’t do that.”
Yup, here we go, back to the “Jimmy is a monster” place, but here’s the thing, Smash – if you stop demonstrating it actively, I’ll stop having a problem with it.
Just look at Kyle’s storyline this week. With Scott and Julia’s help, Kyle begins the process of tweaking the story of Hit List. As the duo press him more and more to confidently revise the piece, Kyle can be seen pushing through abject terror at changing things without Jimmy’s permission. Karen actually calls Jimmy a “good friend to Kyle” this week, presented in direct opposition to these irrational feelings of betrayal that Kyle feels as he hits his stride.
And boy, does he! It’s another wonderful thing to be found in Smash, the joy of watching a character find his talents and embrace them wholeheartedly. I hope they don’t punish Kyle for this in subsequent weeks.
In other news:
Tom, to Siri: “Call Liza.” This is the exact tone I never knew I wanted from this show.
“She Wants to Be Original” – a fun little ditty in an otherwise angsty piece. I liked the conceit of the different actresses representing the different phases of an artist’s career, as well as Karen/Jimmy’s ability to hover through that story (fascinatingly, I just discovered that I have no idea what their Hit List characters’ names are supposed to be).
Derek is seen huffily directing the lovebirds in a book scene…whereas I thought that Hit List was sung-through now.
Julia, to Scott: “You’re not asking me to be a dramaturg.” Actually, yes Julia, he is. He said this verbatim last week.
The fact that Michael Riedel of the NY Post is the “Puck” of this show’s universe really does delight me to no end.
Eileen and the guy from the Times are taking it slow.