Smash Recap: Liza With a B-Day

liza-minnelli-smash-season-2Nobody puts Liza in a corner! But apparently, NBC can (and will) put her — and her lively guest performance on Smash — in a Saturday-night primetime wasteland. Oh the indignity of it all!

Then again, so what if the Peacock net is using the weekends to burn off the polarizing little musical that could/(n’t)? We’re in the DVR era, for cryin’ out loud, and if we’ve stuck with The Romantic Trials of Karen Cartwright (and Her Inconvenient Frenemy Ivy Lynn) for this long, we might as well ride it out to the end, right? Right? Right.

This week, Karen momentarily regrew her backbone, Ivy Lynn celebrated a birthday to remember (on multiple levels), and Julia and Eileen made tentative strides in their should-be-more-exciting personal lives. Also, Kyle spoke (about something/to someone other than Jimmy)!

KAREN COMES OUT OF THE CLOSET | Respecting Jimmy’s desire to keep their affair a secret, Karen finds herself hooking up with the bad-boy composer/costar in the wardrobe closet, where his romantic gestures include covering her mouth and shushing her (so as not to get on Derek’s radar) and responding to her comment “I’ve been thinking…” with a dismissive “You shouldn’t do that.” (What a peach he is!) Ana, however, exhibiting the kind of good sense a gal wants in a best friend, asks Karen a pertient question on one of their many coffee walks: “Don’t you think this ‘top secret’ thing is a bit of a red flag?” Buoyed by the chat, Karen finally takes a stand and puts the kibosh on these closet encounters after Jimmy can’t even articulate why he needs to keep a lid on their “romance.”

Cut to Karen working late in the theater, and a drunken Derek admitting, “I care about you.” No, care-care, Karen, you dimwit! Karen finally fesses up: She’s seeing someone, and that someone is Jimmy. “I hope this doesn’t make things weird between us,” she says, but come on, of course it will. Sure enough, at their next rehearsal, Derek explodes over Karen and Jimmy’s nonexistent performances. “This is the last time I use untrained actors!” (Good point.) Suddenly an argument erupts between Derek and Jimmy: Derek’s all “I told you to keep away from Karen!” And Jimmy’s all, “Duuude!” And then Karen finds her self-respect under a back-row seat in the auditorium and puts the guys in their places: It’s not Derek’s job to control her personal life or pee on the fire hyrdant outside her apartment. And it was supposed to be Jimmy’s job to be honest and tell her he was keeping their affair hush-hush because he feared Derek’s response. “I thought you were more of a man! I thought you both were!” she says, and finally, it looks like the scrappy Season 1 Karen has returned. Oh wait, she’s gone again! Jimmy shows up at Karen’s apartment at midnight asking for forgiveness and promising to take her on a real date. And just like that he’s giving her his coat and taking her out for a bite to eat — no planning, no forethought, no reservations. To make matters worse, Karen finds that little baggie of drugs (from last week’s last act) in his coat pocket and doesn’t say a damn thing. Oh grrrrllll — you need to take six months off from dating and focus on nothing but your work, mmmkay? (Look, I’m just being the gay BFF this character so desperately needs.)

IVY LYNN HAS THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER | Ivy Lynn, still smarting over the revelation that Tom spearheaded the move to hire her mother (and supporting pal Sam after Tom basically cost him his job), winds up clashing haughtily with her director during “Tech” (ahh…remember tech!?)  — and makes plans with most of the cast and crew to celebrate her birthday with much booze (and possible sex with the guy playing JFK). One caveat: Tom can’t know about it. Meanwhile, Tom, remembering Ivy Lynn’s b’day at the last moment, realizes this is his big chance to restore their friendship by taking her out for dinner, writing her a new song, and getting Liza Minnelli to stop by and perform it. Ivy Lynn agrees to go — what else can she do? — but acts like a she-beast, checking her phone and pouting, until Liza makes her entrance and belts a tune written just for Ivy Lynn. All is forgiven — Ivy Lynn even admits she might’ve overreacted a bit — despite the fact that Eileen made sure the paparazzi was there to capture the moment for posterity publicity.

Things seem back on track for the pals, but when dinner ends, Ivy Lynn decides against inviting Tom to come with her to the cast bash. “We should lighten up on Tom,” she tells her buddies. “Haaaapy birthday…” sings Jessica, holding a cake. And there’s bitchy Bobby outside the bar, eyes popping out of his head, because here comes Tom with Ivy Lynn’s keys. Uh-oh! Tom seems hurt from being left out, but Ivy Lynn makes a salient point: For Bombshell to truly succeed, he needs to be a director, she needs to be an actress, and their personal relationship has to take a back seat. He concedes, and the party rages on, till the birthday girl is the last one left at the bar. And then there’s one more twist, when we hear this line in a hot British accent: “You didn’t think I was gonna forget your birthday.” Yep, it’s Derek, and it appears Ivy Lynn might get her cake…with a side of beefcake. (OK, maybe it’s just platonic, but I don’t think that’s how the scene was played, do you?)

THE “FREE KYLE!” MOVEMENT BEGINS | Scott keeps Julia in dramaturg mode — the better to pump up Ana’s role as The Diva — and the duo meets with Kyle to improve the Hit List story with little time to spare. It doesn’t even help that Kyle can’t use deductive reasoning when Julia asks him if he and Jimmy use a board in their work. (I kinda had a sick thought that she should get up in his face and whisper “waterboard,” but that didn’t happen. Long story short, The Diva is becoming Hit List’s Big Bad — and her expanded presence comes at the expense of Karen’s character. Derek, still pissed that his dreamgirl is now dating the whiniest prat on this side of the Atlantic, turns out to be okay with that idea. “Give Ana some of Karen’s songs,” is the essence of his parting comments.

ETC | Scott admits he had suppressed his romantic feelings for Julia while she was married; she invites him for a drink. NY Times Dude and Eileen go to dinner, he gets pissed when he realizes she’s orchestrated a paparazzi moment during their quiet night out, but then they agree they both have baggage and decide to give it another shot, as long as they take it slow. (How slow can they go? There aren’t that many episodes left. Besides, I’d rather see Eileen throw a martini than get her groove back, if I’m being honest.)

THE WEEK IN MUSIC | Karen sings a pretty lame Hit List number called “Somebody Original,” which is the life story of Lady Gaga with awkward dancing and another awful outfit for the Lady Cartwright. (What’s with wardrobe always putting her in messes that sparkly sweater and flared blue miniskirt?) Liza, meanwhile, belts the sublime, understated “A Love Letter from the Times” and shows these young beeyotches how it’s done. Can she be on the sitcom of my dreams, the one with Derek, Tom and Julia? Or the other one with Bobby, Jessica and Hot Dennis?

What did you think of the first Saturday Smash? Was Ivy Lynn right to back-burner her friendship with Tom? Do you wish Karen had at least waited an episode (or 10) before giving Jimmy another shot? Did Derek and Ivy Lynn’s night end in bed (or something like it)? Sound off in the comments!