Don’t get me wrong: I love Smash. I love that it’s made me a huge fan of Megan Hilty. I love that it’s employing not one but two American Idol divas. I love its music and its inside-Broadway politics and, yes, even its sometimes inconsistent storytelling.
That said, if ratings don’t improve on the not-so-hot returns from the show’s Season 2 premiere, maybe NBC could reconcieve it as a half-hour comedy entitled Tom & Julia. Picture it: He writes the music, she writes the stories, and together they create Broadway magic with the help of their wacky theatre buddies: Ivy, the brassy triple-threat who speaks before she thinks; Karen, the wide-eyed midwestern gal perpetually aghast at their big-city ways; Eileen, producer extraordinaire who’s quick with a quip and even quicker with tossing cocktails into her enemies’ faces; and Derek, the on-the-make director who’s always dodging starlet-shaped bullets.
Okay, okay, that’d be same cast, different show. I just had that flight of fancy watching this week’s episode — entitled “The Dramaturg” — with Christian Borle and Debra Messing’s Tom and Julia slyly sneaking into a Manhattan eatery to meet the man assigned to fixing the problems plaguing their Broadway musical. Thank goodness the story arc allowed Messing to bring some of her deft comic timing to a role that’s occasionally been too dour. “Russell Crowe is more collaborative!” she complained to Tom of their new colleague Peter (Broadway vet Daniel Sunjata). “North Korea is more collaborative!”
Anyway, before I delve too deeply into sitcom-that-isn’t territory, let’s break down this week’s main plot developments:
A BOMBSHELL DROPS ON BOMBSHELL | With the Marilyn Monroe musical’s fate still murky — and the early reviews pointing to Julia’s book as a major problem — Eileen hires a dramaturg to help with the writing process. Naturally, he’s hot as a thousand klieg lights, but when Julia sees how many Post-Its he’s stuck to the Bombshell script, she goes into angry artiste mode. (No, Peter’s assessment that Bombshell in its current form is a “biopic — and a “two-dimensional” one at that — doesn’t help. Oh, and asked what he likes about the book, he cheekily notes, “I think Marilyn Monroe is an interesting subject for a musical.”) Later, she confronts him while he’s out to dinner with pals (“You have a chatty doorman!” Julia says, explaining how she tracked him down), and Peter demands to know why a musical about one of the world’s greatest sex symbols is so totally void of sex. “Where was the steam on the windows?” Julia takes out her aggression by enlisting Tom and writing a new Kennedy-Marilyn seduction number that they stage the next day for a delighted Eileen. But wait — it’s far from perfect, notes a very astute Peter, who points out Julia’s clichéd idea of “Marilyn as prey” and dismisses those old “shadow selves” from the original script with extreme prejudice. (Huzzah!) I’m looking forward to the duo banging heads (and other body parts?) while breathing new life into the show (Bombshell, but also Smash) for weeks to come.
IVY LYNN SCORES A LIAISON (NOT THAT KIND OF LIAISON) | Our former (and I still hope future) Marilyn takes a chance while auditioning for the chorus of the musical revival of Liaisons and asks to read for the juicy role of Cecile. She turns to Derek for some advice on how to land the part, but winds up being forced to watch his Bombshell rehearsals and offer him constructive feedback. (Ivy’s subsequent fantasy sequence, with her reimagining Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” as a plaintive ballad, showed how music really can advance the plot, no?) Later, Ivy refines her take on the character — “she sounds like Karen Cartwright,” she says with an evil grin when Tom points out the gal is “innocent and nice and yearning” — but eventually draws parallels to the character with Marilyn and herself, and ends up getting the part. (Finally a win for our hard-trying veteran!) As Ivy thanks Tom, she plants a seed in his brain: Maybe he should consider directing, considering he has a wider understanding of theater, and gets good performances while being a decent human being to his cast. “Art without torture,” Tom muses. “I don’t think it’s possible!” But methinks he doth protest a little too hastily.
THAT IRRITATING SONGWRITER FROM BROOKLYN CONTINUES TO IRRITATE | The episode opens with a purple-haired Karen belting a dance-pop number surrounded by elated nightclub patrons, but it turns out she’s just imagining a number from The Hit List as Derek listens to a demo of one of the songs from Kyle and Jimmy’s incomplete musical. She scores the duo a meeting with the big-shot director, and Jimmy uses news of the opportunity to make an unseemly suggestion about Karen’s recent successes.: “What did you have to do to get your [break with Derek]?” Ugh, could the guy be any worse? Actually, yes. After breaking into his and Kyle’s old apartment and getting punched in the lip — in order to retrieve some vital notes on their show…I’m sure there’ll be more on that in future weeks — Jimmy gets into a huff when Karen and Derek have to postpone because of actual paying work. “Let’s bounce!” he says to Kyle, making me dislike him even more. (I mean, really, “Let’s bounce“?) He then busts in on Bombshell rehearsals, makes a spectacle of himself and yet comes away thinking he’s the injured party. Somehow, Karen convinces Derek to head to the fledgling writers’ Brooklyn apartment, where a pitch is made, music is played and a possible collaboration begins. Oh, and also Karen hands a beer to Kyle before she hands one to Derek, so you know that means a triangle is a’formin’! Gawd, Karen needs to see a therapist who can help her stop having terrible taste in men.
DOROTHY DECIDES TO BREAK OUT OF KANSAS | In other news, Veronica, displeased with the tame direction of a proposed revival of The Wiz, drops out of the show (but not before a gorgeous rendition of “Home”). Now she wants to do a (brace for Dreamgirls reference) “one-night only” concert that will go down in history as one of those things so many New Yorkers will regret having missed. She doesn’t want to be a Broadway baby anymore; she’s a grown-ass woman of 30, and Derek is exactly the director who can dirty up her image a little. I know J.Hud sings it in her Weight Watchers ads, but is it wrong for me to want Veronica to belt “Feeling Good” during her concert? If it is, I don’t want to be right, people!
Anyhow, did you think of this week’s Smash? Are you excited about the sexy dramaturg? Were you gasping over how he looked in that brown shirt with the white collar (or was that just me)? Are you excited with the direction Bombshell is taking? And do you sometimes wish someone would drop a bomb on Jimmy? Sound off in the comments!