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.
Before I begin to discuss all this Rebecca Duvall business, I’d like to start on a happy note. And that note is the moment when producer Robyn Goodman, dressed in a little pink suit, shows her face as a concerned potential investor in the opening minutes of the episode. Robyn makes anything better. (Like on closing night of Altar Boyz when she subbed in as the hoodie-wearing, fog machine guy who opens that show. But I digress.)
I’d be concerned about this circus if I were her too. We talk about the reality/preposterousness of this show a lot. And for the most part, I surrender to the show’s realism flaws. Except for when they are so illogical they actually offend me. So… let me get this straight. Sight unseen, no read through, no audition I presume (has anyone even asked if she can sing?) they schedule a backer’s audition and Sister Uma/Rebecca isn’t even in the country? And no one knows that? Why would you schedule that? Like…no… seriously, am I missing something? Why? I get it, you have a star now and some new material. So, leak it (you won’t even have to. Everyone will know anyhow!) Then REHEARSE the new material…. THEN show it to Robyn Goodman, et al. Right?
Speaking of this “star” for moment… I think this is the part that offends me. Perhaps it offends me as a blonde. We don’t all look alike, you know. We aren’t interchangeable. Uma Thurman/Rebecca Duvall looks NOTHING like Marilyn Monroe. She has a big, masculine face, with big features and man hands. Their bodies don’t look alike. They don’t act alike. Marilyn was famous for a specific set of attributes. When you swap those things out for an also famous DIFFERENT set of things, you distract from your own show. I wish I could let it go, but I can’t. Oh, and they make Karen the Marilyn understudy.
Anyhow, moving on to more positive things. Eileen! So this movie star is stuck in Cuba because she’s such a magnanimous boss, she refuses to leave her assistant who’s having visa issues– girl, I can relate. Eileen is all over it though, and promptly gets on the horn to start offering (in her adorable Spanglish) the highest bribe of them all: “…y para tu, quatro centrados a los Book of Mormon! Por supuesto!” Other great Eileen developments this episode: she yells at Ellis again several times, she gets involved with some aging rocker investors/maybe criminals, and she sets Robyn Goodman & Manny Azenberg’s contracts on fire in a trash can in a Lower East Side Bar. Whatever their strategy is with Eileen and criminals, I don’t even care. I love it. The lack of realism here is best when it’s camp and handled by Anjelica Huston.
I keep waiting to see what their long-game strategy is with Dev too. Why there’s so much side plot about politics? It’s clear that his job dissatisfaction and ambitions towards jobs in DC (because we have so many Brits in our federal government) are going to serve as a wedge between Karen and Dev, but to what greater end? I’m guessing all this is a set up comparing his reaction to, say, Joe DiMaggio with regards to Marilyn’s success and men’s reactions to her. We’re already seeing bits of it with that whole Dev/Derek fight scene later in the ep, and with the chauvinist dude who stole Dev’s job and grossly propositioned Karen in an earlier episode. Not to mention, we know that most of these actors, including Raza Jaffrey as Dev, are all musical theatre actors. Raza had a good old stint in Bombay Dreams and Mamma Mia! in my fair city of London. I wonder if they’re going to give him some kind of musical number, like they have other technically non-singing parts: Tom & Frank.
Proving I was right to put my faith in my newest favorite relationship: Tom & Sam, their chemistry totally steals the scene when Tom is meant to be on a date with Lawyer Boy. Sam mentions “schadenfreude as art form–” one of the governing dynamics of the theatre industry– but Lawyer Boy isn’t paying attention. Then its time to see the show. Oh, right. The date! Sam says, “Have fun. It’s a trainwreck.” Then, Lawyer Boy says, “Then why are we seeing it?” Cretin. “Because it’s a trainwreck!” answer Tom & Sam in unison. Man, I love it when people speak in unison. Especially when it’s about schadenfreude.
As for Tom’s other “&” relationship, I don’t know that I can take much more of Julia’s personal life. I only like Julia when she’s working. And more specifically, when she’s Tom & Julia, talking about business. She makes valid points, often loudly and a bit hysterically (I can relate) about the potential major problems with hiring this movie star. Her little rituals with Tom make me smile. I have a hard time believing that first show of theirs was ever being performed professionally, but…okay, I can take it.
What I can’t take is anymore weird sucking up over grilled cheese sandwiches to Leo and pouting over the misery of her own making. She’s so selfish she just mentally abandons or physically walks out on all her other obligations. I’d like to see her take the reins of some situation and be excellent.
She has excellent moments. But they happen off screen. And then someone else acts them out. In this episode, by her delightful writing partner in the Zanuck number. I wish we had a few more scenes that connected her to the creation of this great material. Because in my mind–because I never see her write any of it– I don’t buy it as the show world, and I’m always either congratulating or shaking my head at Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
But let’s talk some more about the music in this episode. I didn’t love the Yes Men Zanuck locker room number until Christian Borle joined it. Then, it became one of my favorites. It still felt very Catch Me If You Can, but it had lots of good ideas in it and lots of nuance and specificity and I laughed. Finally. I hope the guy playing Zanuck calls out more often so Tom can perform his own numbers.
Every time they give Ivy another pop song dream sequence, it feels like different show. I realize that they’re trying to soften her, now that she’s come down from her drug cloud– and she’s even playing nice to Karen– but “Breakaway” is about seven years old and I just didn’t get much out of that montage. Sorry.
What worked well for me though was… and I can’t believe I’m saying this… Karen’s “Never Give All the Heart.” I like that she didn’t really sing it in character (though it was nice to really see her as Marilyn in those earlier flashes) because somehow, it managed to be more authentic. And it set up the sad fact that just as she was starting to get good, in walks some miscast movie star. And the applause that should have been for her sweet, well-sung performance, instead were merely entrance applause for a bigger fish. But that’s show biz. Until next week….
Miss last week’s? Read it here!
Ryann Ferguson is a London & NYC based writer/producer. She runs a daily Arts & Travel blog, Fergie & Fife. See more from her here!