Our industry is in the spotlight more than ever with NBC’s hit series SMASH! Each week, Ryann Ferguson takes us through what happened in the most recent episode. Be careful though! This article does contain spoilers.
The alternate title I’m proposing for this episode is “Let’s Have Bad Ideas” (while drunk.) I cringed with discomfort no less than six times during this episode, causing the various East London hipsters in the cafe on Broadway Market (the other Broadway) where I’m writing to you from to scowl at me from behind their handlebar mustaches.
We open the ep on Eileen finding that her ex has poached yet another of her precious projects. This one–I think we call agree crosses the line– is her extremely well-trained assistant, aka the only person in the world who knows her Mac Keychain passwords. As the producer’s assistant now drives a Porsche (IN MANHATTAN) we know without a doubt that Jerry did indeed make him a very generous offer. Pondering this caused me to have a mild existential crisis that perhaps I’d thrown in the towel too early on working for producers. Things must have come a long way since my day as a producer’s assistant in 2005 when the going rate was lunches at Vynl and a metro card. Then I remembered I was watching television.
Mercifully, they take us to rehearsals– always my favorite place to be in this show– where we learn that Julia’s husband is out of town at a teaching conference to get re-certified because he hadn’t worked in years and years while they lived high on the Broadway musicals hog in their Brooklyn brownstone. Not only that, but we learn pretty much everyone (especially Eileen! She’s assistant-less) is stressed out about the lack of a book for this musical.
One day, I hope to have the luxury of leaving the book of my musical to be written 10 days before the show, working from home, and letting my delightful writing partner, Steven, vamp with our producer by saying “the pages are done– she just doesn’t want to show them to anyone.” Steven and I also share the same brain, so this seems like a possibility.
Our Joe DiMaggio can’t stop using questions about his character as an excuse to pursue Julia, but at least the two have the good sense to dine at Westway while they talk about the quote unquote “Bigger Themes” Julia wants to deal with in the Marilyn Musical. To which I said out loud, “Such as?” Do you think the creators haven’t told us what exactly the “non-linear” “bigger themes” structure of the Marilyn musical is because they themselves do not know? Five episodes in, I have to wonder.
Meanwhile, back at Westway, Julia doesn’t even wonder who the strange number might belong to and turns over her iphone so she can go back to licking ice cream off her fingers in her odd nervous flirtation with Michael Swift.
Turns out, she should have answered it. Instead, the task fell to Tom who wasn’t even attempting to flirt on his date. Luckily the date was with a lawyer though, who came in handy when man-boy Leo needed Mom’s show husband to come deal with him after being arrested for loitering/soliciting drugs in Central Park. Then, in a lengthy section of the episode where Tom proves he’s one of only two both sane & charming characters on the show, he musically improvises some delightful situational ditties and calls Julia’s ass out on playing with adulterous fire.
I was confused slightly by the timeline of this episode. Many days seem to go by while Julia continues to “Work from home” while Leo is on house arrest. (Speaking of which! After that whole speech from Leo in the backyard about “you promised me a Chinese sister” he goes and blows it with a kind of sort of pot arrest? What are you trying to do to me, Theresa Rebeck?) On the date where Tom & the Lawyer guy “finally” do the deed… “finally,” I thought, “finally?” How long has it been? But then again, there has been a lot of rehearsal. And yet, people don’t seem to be getting too concerned about how much time is passing.
Finally, they pull it back around to what the show does best. Talking about the creation of this musical. (To be honest, there are so many side plots at this point, I can barely find logical links to discuss them here. Oh yeah, there is a kerfuffle with an Iranian reporter Karen is jealous of. And oh yeah, Karen lies about being Marilyn and tries to sex it up at her satellite table at the banquet on the Intrepid where she stealthily, yet pointlessly discovers the name of the guy who beat out Dev for his promotion. Huh? Exactly. I think I might know why Dev didn’t get the job. He’s not a US citizen, perhaps?) Anyhow. They rehearse what I think is going to be yet another “National Pastime” “Wolf/Howl” type number, (based on the constant use of that inverted V with Marilyn at the center the choreographer uses for every number.) but a couple of things happen which make this particular breathy number psychologically a lot more interesting.
First, we see the glimmer of what might make Derek the Dark Lord. Which is mostly just a kind of flagrant manipulation of both Ivy & Karen. Having Karen show Ivy “how it’s done” vocally in front of everyone seemed a bit harsh. And for my money, I still saw no Marilyn in McPhee. But the scenes with Karen and Ivy were deliciously uncomfortable. While Ivy certainly pulled off the “ouch” factor with Karen, she didn’t succeed in convincing any of us that it didn’t bother her when Derek assigned her “voice lessons with a chorus girl.”
All this only added steam to the big original musical number of the episode, “Let’s Be Bad.” Ivy has to take time to pull herself together (not unlike Marilyn was known to do… get it, get it) but when they finally flash to the fully staged idea of the number they give us a little My Week With Marilyn action that actually really works. Not only that, but it’s just one more example in an ever-growing list of why Megan Hilty is the real star of SMASH.
Compare her work in that number to, say, Karen as her own private dancer in front of the mirror. The most awkward moment of the show to date. Wait, I spoke too soon. Flash forward to bad ideas while drunk. Both Ivy & Michael Swift have too many shots at a sports bar on 8th Ave (In my mind, it’s somewhere like Smith’s) and decide to confront their respective love-objects in the middle of the night. Derek continues to speak sanity and all ends well there. But while Michael gets invited by Leo to stay for dinner, the evening culminates in him busting out into “Song For You” on Julia’s stoop.
On Deb Messing’s twitter, she said “you are NOT going to believe what happens” on this episode. And I’m choosing to believe this tweet was in reference to the awkward moment when Will Chase starts singing and I’m wishing for Michael Buble or Ray Charles or even Christina Aguilera with her superfluous riffing. Or, here’s an idea. Stick to the original music. They might not be my favorite Shaiman and Wittman’s songs, but they’re still the heart and soul of why SMASH was a good idea in the first place.
Ryann Ferguson is a London & NYC based writer/producer. She runs a daily Arts & Travel blog, Fergie & Fife. See more from her here!