“Always happens. You go out of town and all hell breaks loose.”
Yes. This is true, Nameless Chorus Boy.
Ah, it’s time for all the shows to come to their dazzling May conclusions. Every relationship’s dark secret will sniff out in time to smash plots and break hearts. All the preggers folk will go into labor. (Seriously, isn’t it so handy that every television character is born in May? Makes shopping easier, and hey, group discounts!) And if you’re a Broadway baby breathlessly waiting for the debut of that show about the breathless bombshell, well, it’s your month too.
That’s where we are with the Marilyn musical, out of town in Boston, praying that the reed-thin voice of the fragile movie star with the bad hair and the peanut allergy doesn’t crack and split down the middle. And when the Caper of the Peanuts happened (hands: who doesn’t think the bulter, I mean, Ellis, did it?), no one was surprised. Let’s be honest: we knew this day was coming, if only because Uma Thurman isn’t going to play a kindhearted eccentric for the next two years.
That leaves us exactly where we knew this show was headed from moment one: one of these ingenues is about to go out an understudy and come back a star. BUT WHICH ONE? DUM DUM DUM!
Let’s not forget this: you don’t just slot in a new Marilyn. They have significantly changed the show to cater to the less musically talented Rebecca DuSuck. All I can do on my piano is tinker out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when I’m feeling down, but even I can tell you this: throwing Ivy or Karen in that role is going to mean a lot more than a sewing all-nighter for the costume designer. You have to basically reorchestrate the whole dang show. There’s a hole in the choreography where the chorus girl used to be. Not to mention how thoroughly that show has likely been marketed with the marquis name: Someone is going to have to hit all of Boston’s bus stops with a sharpie and an imagination.
I think we all realize it’s going to be Karen. I’ll admit I was blindsided when Ivy originally got the role, but like I said in a previous recap, it made sense later on: it makes sense to get satisfaction out of Karen’s rise if she isn’t the one who’s the gimme. We can be happy for her if two things have happened: a) she’s had to earn it, at least a little, and b) she hasn’t done anything to make us despise her yet. I’m still hanging in there with the tough job of Continuing to Like Karen Because the People Around her are Total Nincompoops. Let’s count them?
DEV. First, he was all Perfect!Dev, and then Hot!Dev, and then AngryButJustified(andThereforeStillHot)!Dev. Lately he’s become Pathetic!Dev and Cheater!Dev, and AREYOUKIDDINGMETHEREAREOTHERWOMENONTHEPLANET!Dev. Karen needs to ditch him. I never thought I’d say it because they were young and supportive of each other and fantastically attractive and full of accents and living in an unrealistically big apartment and doing sexytimes while watching Some Like It Hot. Now I have two reasons Karen needs to kick him to the curb: his instinct when their relationship is going sour is to cheat, twice in two episodes. Second? Because the writers were really, really stupid about him. How lazy, how convenient, how cheap, how many times have we seen this before? Cozy up to the nearest blonde thing and sleep with her? Bored now.
DEREK. Does he really live in a world where cheating on his girlfriend (and the woman he professes to love) doesn’t exist, where he’s doing nothing more than give attention? Is his worth as a director down to his ability to slip it in there when it’s important? This man is supposed to be a genius director, the real thing – he’s even been the only voice of reason at times – and even he equates his own ability to give proper support to an actress to his ability to get naked with her. And he delivers this information with a straight face to the woman he just harpooned through the heart. Great job there, bucko. Now I think less of you and your talent. If that’s what he thinks directing is, fine, own it. But then he can’t give speeches about the show, the art, the music, the talent, coming first. He can’t be a highminded SOB and then equate directing with screwing and be believable.
TOM AND JULIA. Are they or aren’t they? Everyone, the big dramatic cry moments of the episode are whether or not Tom and Julia are a team! Listen, this can be really wonderful in the right moment – a creative partnership, one that has had real fruit, breaking up? This can be important and deep and all the things. But this is another, yet another, earmark of what SMASH has done so rottenly in its first season and hopefully will get better at in its next: we have to put it in the framework of who just got laid or cheated on. OF COURSE Tom and everyone who is being professional about the show is right. It doesn’t matter at ALL if the person who broke up your marriage is in the show. If he’s the best fit for the show he should be in it, and an attempt to equate the two is to really be ridiculously sophomoric. Man up, put on your big boy pants (or in Julia’s case your big girl hippie skirt), and get over it. Hash out the personal when a whole lot of people’s livelihoods aren’t on the line. In the meantime, if you want to have a creative partnership dissolve meaningfully, it’s got to be over the things that made it what it was: it has to be over the creation. Otherwise you let outside factors ruin the partnership and that is never going to be as touching or important, because then there is blame. They haven’t really broken up, but I sure as hell like them a lot less than I would have had they had real, adult, creative differences than seeing them sob and be woeful because someone’s penis entered the wrong vagina. See, I’ve said penis and vagina. I am running out of ways to evade using such technical words, so I just went ahead and used those words. That’s because that’s what this entire show seems to be about. We might as well get correct about it.
To be clear: I am still enjoying the show. It is because I enjoy some parts of it so very much that I watch religiously and spend all the time I’m spending picking apart how I feel when I see it crash a bit. I have such intense hope for it, that I’m actually saddened when I see it go down the cheaper road.
In the spirit of being excited for the Much Better I Am Sure It’s Going to Be When Gossip Girl Showrunner Joshua Safran Takes Over Next Season, let’s talk about what I really did love about this episode:
JULIA. Yes, I know, she appears above, too, but I feel vindicated this episode for standing up for the writers’ choices with her when I said that her experiences being pushed around by men gave her the insight she needed into Marilyn. This week we saw her gain her power back and shove the dirty scummy dirtbag off her dirty scummy lawn. (Sidebar, Will Chase is far too cute to be as scummy as he’s acting, but we cannot call it anything but that. Scummy.) I applaud at least one character working to save her family dynamics in ways that are clear, strong, and forthright.
PREVIEWS. Frank Rich wrote, in Hot Seat, something along the lines of: is there any crime so terrible as missing the opening curtain? It’s always how I have felt about theater, and the writers of this show have not gone so far astray that they did not remember how important it is to us. They even showed us how important it should have been to Karen, and how Dev!Jerkface was screwing up what was supposed to be a really big moment for her. Also, the “Smash” song was sexy and exciting as all hell, a nice reminder that at the end of the day these two girls are really phenomenal performers. (Clearly, Katharine McPhee has been taking some dance classes, but let’s not kid ourselves that she’s a better dancer than Megan Hilty. Still, she commands the eye in a stronger way than Ivy does, and that’s not nothing.)
KAREN AND IVY. Finally some believable bonding. (Though, again, shot through with Unable to Keep It In Her Pantsness.)
Did not like?
PREVIEWS. A seasoned Broadway producer. A hit musical-writing team. The genius director. All of these people ranged together and none of them noticed that the Death ending is not going to get people on their feet cheering? Really? Come on, now. Mimi jumps up from her deathbed and Angel comes back for a curtain call: big, boisterous, enjoyable musicals cannot be ended with quiet, tearful, painful deaths if you want the big ovation. (Although, Julia’s speech was spot on. “Every time? SHE DIED!”) It took them getting to previews to see that? No one really believes that. Something did have to go wrong in order for Rebecca DuSuck to get spooked, but it shouldn’t be something that makes us think that three monkeys are behind the wheel here.
THE GREAT PEANUT CAPER. As mentioned above. Look, we all know Ellis is a little slug, but I do not think murder would ever really cross his mind. A peanut allergy can be fatal, and no one was there. You don’t screw with that. Dude should be in jail. (Come off it, you know it was Ellis.)
THE GREAT ENGAGEMENT RING CAPER. I kind of hope Ivy has it. I hope she has it socked away somewhere as payment in kind for everything Karen is stealing from her. Actually, though, what I’m hoping for is this: Ivy doesn’t get the role and deals with it. Doesn’t enter a pill-popping frenzy, doesn’t bitch someone out or seek inspiration from Carrie. That she, in short, grows up. And away from Derek.
MOST RANDOM GOSPEL ENDING. What do you do when a show is out of town and flailing? Everyone goes to church? Karen sings a (beautiful) gospel song in her perfectly charming but in-no-way-big-black-girl voice and it brings the house down?
ANJELICA HUSTON’S NONSONG. Not everyone has to play, guys. Not even the Baronness von Huston. Like the great once said… this isn’t gym class.
Also, favorite line:
“Jews don’t sing and pray. They complain. And eat.”
“Well complain and eat with God. On Sunday.”
So, what’s going to happen next week besides the welcome drawing and quartering of Ellis McAssypants? It’s the end of the first act! Big moment! Big triumph! Goes out an understudy and comes back a star! Spends intermission receiving congratulations with a death-threat undertone! Goes on to fabulous career, puts work first, becomes big jerk, alienates friends, loses identity, has heartbreak, gets it back! No business like showbusiness, baby!
Before next week, do us a favor, though, will you? Go “Find the Ring” on the SMASH website. I can’t deal with Desperate!Dev much longer.