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.
Yet again, I’d like to propose an alternate title for this episode. I’d call it “The Waiting Game.” Most of theatre feels like that anyhow. And more than any big dramatic coup-filled tour-de-force with deception and ousting, the moral of this episode felt like “Just wait. And whatever you did, you’ll be forgiven.”
So it’s been a week since the workshop and no one knows what the next steps will be. No one is returning anyone’s calls. And Julia vocalizes the age-old fear after a massive creative push like that: that it’s all over. “We’re dead,” she says. Sweet fabulous unsuspecting husband Frank reminds her that this is still the beginning. That they might not be ready for Broadway, but this is first steps. ”I hate first steps. I want to be there,” says Julia. Despite her more frequent default setting of ridiculous, sometimes Julia speaks the truth.
But it’s funny how people talk about shows. We call them our children all the time. But you wouldn’t start sulking when your five year old was unable to do Calculus. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the kid. It just means they’re ready for kindergarten and not ready for college. Nothing matures over night. Nothing is born ready or fully formed. Even when you have big producers backing you and several hits under your belt.
To the shock of no one, Ellis is still spying. For allegedly being a straight man, he’s a pretty serious drama queen. It’s been a long time since I saw someone who liked to stir the pot as much as that guy. And on that note, I’d really like to point out that I don’t think we need to follow the love lives of EVERY character on the show. I don’t need to see Ellis’s romantic bedroom time with his nondescript girlfriend who serves no dramatic purpose other than for Ellis to deliver what would be his Shakespearean villain’s soliloquies to someone other than the audience. Personally, I’d like to see them just go there and have him deliver his “Artists are losers. I want to be a producer” asides to the camera, followed with an elongated cackle.
Every time they try to sex up this show, much like a majority of the times people try to edge or sex up musical theatre, it just takes everything to the most awkward place possible. Not just with Ellis, but every time. “Touch Me” lyrics taken out of musical context? Whispered by Karen to Dev? No thanks. Just stick to the artistic double-dealings, please.
Speaking of which, I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind showing the composers who you’d like to replace them with. Okay, so I see the point was to give them an example of a tone they could be aiming for. But two things:
1. Is Ryan Tedder currently spec’ing for musical theatre?
2. One of the differences between musical theatre songs and pop songs is that pop songs don’t have to escalate lyrically, whereas musical theatre songs do. If “Touch Me” were actually a musical theatre song, those chorus lyrics and the later verses would have to reflect the change happening in the character. In this instance, being that first she’s anxious for the attention and then it becomes her prison and her death. It’s one of the best things about musical theatre songs. That with the right lyrics, you can turn the meaning of the song on a dime. That’s how you fuse the song to the staging and it’s what makes cohesive theatre.
So Derek and Eileen blew it all on a sexed up idea (or maybe just an attempted Kat McPhee vehicle?) that has now ruined their relationships with EVERYONE.
Or not. Because, as always, in the world of SMASH, everyone meets wearing sunglasses indoors, or gets a post-performance come-to-Jesus talking to, or shows up at each other’s apartments at night and then all is forgiven. The show goes on. (Except for Michael Swift.) No relationship is irreparably harmed no matter how much spying, shit-talking, cheating or coup-ing.
I’ll tell you, the one and only person to ever truly screw with my career? I fired him. I never spoke to him again. And I never will. But then again, I suppose choosing when to officially make someone your enemy is as important an artistic decision as choosing to make someone your collaborator.
And, if we’re being honest, what Eileen and Derek did, while slightly illogical, wasn’t that devious. Devious would have been simply hiring new writers and moving forward. Not inviting the writers to watch an example of how to edge up the show. Unless the stunt was more like, “We’ve rewritten your show and now we’re inviting you to come see how much better it is.” That would be cold.
Watching from London, I don’t have access to the scenes from next week, so I’m left wondering what plot direction they’re going to go next. Everything seemed to lull at the end of this episode. Sure, they’ve introduced a million side plots: scandalous political operatives, (listen, I’m obviously a fan of drawing politics and theatre parallels, but do we need that plot?) 1600 romantic sideplots, reappearing do-gooder daughters with their convenient parent-reconciling skills, but even those seem to have wrapped up at the end there.
The thread we have left is that they want “a star” for Marilyn. Which to me still seems counterproductive. If you cast a star in their own right to play Marilyn, you cloud the issue. Scarlett Johansson for example 1. looks nothing like Marilyn Monroe and 2. makes it next to impossible for you to see the character. You see Scarlett Johansson or at the very best Scarlett Johansson as Marilyn. But you never seen Marilyn.
And can we really be expected to stomach a third Marilyn candidate? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
Miss last week’s SMASH cap? 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!