My dear readers, I am so, so, so sorry.
After my praise of last week’s episode, I have to imagine that a handful of you, or perhaps even one, responded along the lines of, “Oh, how exciting! John clearly knows what he’s talking about and I will hereby watch next week’s Smash with a renewed interest, when instead I might have skipped it!” You took your seat on the sofa to watch live during the television graveyard shift that is Saturday evening, and braced for a riveting payoff to the tragic end of a loved character.
And you got this.
Last week, I speculated that Smash was going to be pulling a RENT homage, having lost a creator on the journey to Broadway. I also gave the show credit for pulling a long-con on us by making us think it was supposed to be Jimmy, and all along intending it to be Kyle.
Well, turns out, nope, they’re just basically doing RENT outright, right down to the concert reading on the night of the artist’s death. Some conflict was drawn up, sure, but as soon as talk started stirring about canceling the show, you knew it was happening. You even knew that the audiences were going to be coming in in droves. You probably even figured that the death of Kyle would lead to the magical resolutions of (or at least starts to the resolutions of) tons of conflicts between characters. Well, turns out you were right!
I want to make something clear: this is the first episode of Smash that I’ve actively, viscerally hated. It was manipulative, obvious, heavy-handed, and several other reductive adjectives that I am currently struggling to think of but I desperately need because it was THAT bad. It played out like the “very special episode” of your favorite 80’s sitcom.
– Watch “The Phenomenon” on Hulu –
Even the musical numbers didn’t do much to help. Jimmy sings two, “High and Dry” and “The Love I Meant to Say” (a Hit List original), while Tom does a round of Billy Joel with “Vienna”. “High and Dry” and “Vienna” are both songs I happen to like very much, and both performances left me pretty cold. Tom’s Joel piece was inoffensive and uninteresting. “High and Dry” decided to try a new trick where Jimmy is literally singing to himself as he’s waking up to the morning after being friend-dumped by Kyle, which becomes confusing when the “singer Jimmy” switches at the end (on Karen’s stairwell…to repeat myself a bit, ICK). By the way, for the first time, I found myself not liking Jeremy Jordan’s voice, as I found his falsetto grating. And not grating in an, “Oh, the singing doesn’t have to be pretty because this is about the character and the emotion” way, but in a, “I actually think your falsetto is bad” way.
“The Love I Meant to Say”, meanwhile, strains credulity for two completely separate reasons. One, it’s the obvious “Jimmy sings about how much he misses Kyle” song magically already in the show. Two, Jimmy’s arrival and insistence they do it fully staged is absolutely ridiculous, for no reason more so than everyone’s scrambling to accommodate him (it is at this point I picture the SM and board op scrambling into the booth, calling out, “Run, quick! That awful guy we fired demands we do this full-out! Hurry, band, get back in the pit!”)
The phrase “on the nose” has been mentioned, and indeed came up in my notes no fewer than four times, one for each flashback. You see, in this, our “farewell to Kyle” hour, we must see one more scene of him with each of our heroes, imparting one heretofore ignored bit of wisdom to each, through the guise of talking about character “Amanda”‘s death. To Julia, he talks about structure and how awesome dimming Broadway lights for the dead is, prompting her subplot. To Tom, a note for Bombshell, which he somehow implements post-opening. To Karen, something about how she is the one for Jimmy or something. To Jimmy, talk about how the girl has to die so that Jimmy’s character learns something (ALL THE GROANS IN THE WORLD).
And it is here we talk about the most egregious sin of “The Phenomenon”, and that is, of course, all together now, Jimmy. How sad for Jimmy this all is! Kyle died so Jimmy could finally be the likable romantic lead Josh Safran wanted! Let’s make him cry, and he’ll go sober at the end of the hour! It comes off as really hollow.
What strikes me is that my observation of the careful setup was totally bogus. This reeks of adjustment. I now believe that Jimmy was the one meant to die, and give Karen a great heartbreak. The charismatic songwriter with the rough past would succumb to the pressures of Broadway, and everyone else would learn something about their attitudes, world, etc.
And then Jeremy Jordan botched it and they had to fix it mid-stream. By fix, I simply mean change to the train wreck you just watched. Please do not confuse metaphors involving repair for words implying that Smash is a functioning object in any way.
So…yeah. Good times, right? In retrospect I think “The Producers” was bathed in a bit of the afterglow of “Opening Night”, which will continue to be an actual good episode of television, despite this detour. As for Smash itself, it seems we’re back to business as usual.
Well, no, scratch that actually. For the first time, hating Smash isn’t actually fun. This was a miserable episode of television, indulging in all the worst instincts of the medium, manipulating gracelessly, and dampening any kind of enthusiasm one might have for a strong finish. It all feels so … hollow, now.
Two episodes to go, guys. See you next week!
Next: Saturday night, May 11 at 8pm on NBC, episode: ”The Transfer”.
John Dellaporta says
At the pace things are moving, and with three eps to go, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they still managed to squeeze it in. I’ve read that Safran saw the writing on the wall and is treating it like the end of the series, basically.
Steven McKnight says
I am sorry that the odds of “Smash” having a third season are zero. The inevitable Tony Awards episode where “Bombshell” and “Hit List” square off would have been wonderful, if only for the amazing Broadway cameos it would have attracted.