Broadway, Here We Come!
It's a tune you can hum. And will, for days. Sorry.
As it starts its second season, Smash makes a lot of explicit breaks with its past: it almost immediately dispenses with some longtime relationships; it has Tom tell Julia to ditch the scarves; and it introduces a character who HATES KAREN'S GUTS. And I am not mad about any of it!
I commented in our first conversation on the efficiency of the pilot, and this season premiere puts that to shame -- and in a fantastic musical montage to boot!
I'm a big fan of what's to come (I'm only realizing in the comments on this series of posts that a lot of fans didn't like Season 2!), especially Hit List, but after our marathon rewatch, I'm a little sad we'll never know what Theresa Rebeck had in mind. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the story course seemed steadier than I remembered. And I'll miss actual Broadway director Michael Mayer as Consulting Producer -- not that I really know what that means, but I suspect he had a lot to do with how right those Boston scenes felt (my nitpicks aside). Though the very first shot of the premiere embodies everything terrible about Karen as Marilyn, so maybe it's best that we cut, print, and move on.
So far, what bugs me the most about Season 2 is Ivy's storyline, which pretty much boils down to "Ivy, Demoralized Supplicant." That's not to say Ivy should feel awesome about her part in Karen and Dev's split, but (a) as we said, those two were headed for a crash anyway, and (b) top dog is not a look Karen wears well. She's so smug and snotty -- the scene where Derek makes Ivy watch Karen in rehearsal to "give notes" (and fantasy-Ivy turns it into a Robyn number) is particularly gross.
Though I guess I have to give Karen credit for finally using her elevated position to get Ivy fired, though apparently nothing will ever get Ivy out of her face.
Anyway, seeing Ivy having to mince around Karen acting heartbroken about her past misdeeds is what makes Jimmy such a bracing and necessary tonic for the season. Keep calling her an uptight princess, Jimmy! You are speaking for me!!!
I actually kind of like the apology bit, but for as quickly as everything else happens, it takes an awfully long time to get there. And Karen seems to accept it but then is still a bitch to Ivy. I do like the rest of Ivy's story, though, where she's trying to get her career back on track after the events of Season 1. That's actually something I wished for from Karen's story back at the beginning -- how getting the workshop is great and all but what happens next? Ivy has to book the next gig and things have been hard for her. And I love the scene between her and drunk Derek -- "You weren't MY Marilyn, what do I know?" It's more of the Broadway realness that I like about the show. Plus it involves the surprise return of Annaleigh Ashford as her super-annoying friend!
Which just makes Karen's arc all the more grating. First we see her waiting tables again (good!), but then apparently she has all the time in the world to stalk Jimmy and Kyle and act like she's in a position of power to get their show produced. Yes, she has Derek, but she's still basically nobody. And how is she paying her bills? "I'm still your muse, aren't I?" Oh, SHUUUUT UUUUUP!
Oh, look, I hate Karen now! It finally happened!
This is exactly what I mean: it was bad enough when she was doe-eyed "Iowa," tentative about everything; the Karen who thinks she's a real player is so much worse! The way she commandeers Jimmy and Kyle's party so she can ambush Jimmy with her performance of his song is incredibly obnoxious.
Props to Jeremy Jordan for not at all underplaying Jimmy's horror at this display: even if he's probably already acquainted, through Kyle, with some show types, it's clear to all that Karen's behaviour in this scene is beyond.
I'm a little confused by who Jimmy and Kyle's friends are and what they've been doing with their writing, since Kyle at least is a total show queen...
...but I don't really care because I love their introduction so much. This is another one of those "remember when" moments with Smash for me. I know composer Joe Iconis a little and am pretty familiar with his work, but I'd never heard "Broadway, Here I Come" before this episode aired.
The moment when the strings and drums kick in and the camera swings around to Jimmy still excites me more than anything in Bombshell ever did. Who cares if the song (which wasn't written specifically for Smash) is actually about suicide? Or if Karen is ridiculous? It sets up the rest of the season, and how different (and equally valid) the two shows are as representations of musical theater.
You can tell they know that song is fire because it ends all three of the first episodes of the season. I just went to look up the clip embed code and...yep, just sitting here listening to it again.
Here's a fierce version from the Hit List live event last year.
I could YouTube rabbit-hole that song all day, but I'll stop. No, okay, one more.
Using a bunch of different composers to write Hit List could have been a disaster but it totally paid off, and was a great showcase for some incredibly talented people. Major props to new showrunner Josh Safran for that. Apparently, it was part of the pitch that got him the job:
Oops, that was another clip of the song too. Sorry not sorry!
We should probably talk about the unofficial American Idol homecoming that is Jennifer Hudson's guest role. I forget if Ronnie became more consequential as the season went on, but so far she seems like she just got cast for her name value; her story doesn't feel integrated with the rest of the proceedings at all.
Yeah...I am...not a fan of Ms. Hudson as an actor? Like I know she has an Oscar and all, but...the talking...maybe isn't what that's for? But I like that Smash is expanding its world, which it did a little with Heaven On Earth last season, now with Ronnie's show and The Wiz and Hit List and Liaisons. And I absolutely love the performance of "On Broadway," which is especially ballsy considering that song is iconically the opening of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, and the two Idolers more than pull it off. It might be my favorite cover on the show.
I can't believe I'm about to say this but the one character who's even more insufferable than Karen is Julia. She's ignoring the reviews (or is she?!); she's starting fights with her husband in the middle of a party; she's just SEIZING THE STAGE at a gala to impose a musical number on the assembled guests; and she's incredibly defensive about the suggestion that her shitty book could use help from someone who's going to push her harder than Tom apparently ever will. On that: speaking as someone who's spent most of her professional career in a close partnership with another person -- shout-out to my non-carnal wife, Sarah D. Bunting! -- Julia is the worst collaborator I've maybe ever seen. My heart bleeds for Tom having to put up with all her bullshit and handle her with kid gloves. (When she yells at him for not being honest -- "I'm not made of glass!" -- it's a real O RLY moment: bitch, you just took your first shower five minutes ago: you ARE made of glass!) Anyway, Eileen hasn't been my favourite character either, but I have to give her credit for giving Julia her own Jimmy in THE DRAMATURG.
I just need to point out, on behalf of our esteemed colleague Mark Blankenship, that Peter Gilman isn't a dramaturg, he's a script doctor, and their choice to use those two terms interchangeably is extremely odd. But anyway, yes, if you thought "It's time to ditch the scarves" was meta, how about Julia reading the reviews? It was all a bit much, and frankly started to feel a little mean to Rebeck! Also, is Frank new? Theater people gossip -- no shit! I'll miss you, Brian d'Arcy James, but good riddance, Frank. Workwise, once Julia eventually snaps out of it, it does seem like Peter is right and it sets them on the right track, which is nice to see. Portraying writing on screen is incredibly difficult, and that's one of the things that makes Julia so tough to pin down (not that she's not annoying all on her own), so giving her someone to really fight with to dramatically help us understand what was wrong with Bombshell is nice. And as for crashing the benefit: I will never complain about getting to see Margo Martindale make this face:
Haha, AGREED. But to back up: Peter's definitely right that the Marilyn/JFK number Julia's so fucking proud of is a weird misfire.
Who would be interested in this Marilyn? She's such a simp! (Though...again, maybe that's Karen.)
Even Derek seems bored by her, but maybe he's just avoiding looking too interested because of his legal troubles. The sexual harassment plot is a complete contrivance but on the other hand I like how they're addressing it because it's totally true, as you noted when we discussed last season. I can't believe Derek would be dumb enough to accost a woman on the street who's suing him for harassment, but the scene that ensues -- where she reminds him that as an important director, simply asking her out (during an audition process?!) is inappropriate -- is something I'm glad the show addressed. But I don't know why the press cares at all, let alone to the level they apparently do (news flash: Broadway directors aren't that famous), and I definitely don't know why it would affect Bombshell getting a theater.
And boy, am I ever NOT interested in Eileen's legal problems! I never thought anything could be more boring than her financial problems, but Season 2 is setting me straight in a big way! Fortunately, while that's on pause, we have lots of fun stuff to look forward to instead, from Ivy's problems with a messed-up Liaisons leading man (Sean Hayes!) to Jimmy getting more opportunities to be mean to Karen on Hit List.
Broadway, here we come!
"Broadway, Here I Come"
"Would I Lie To You?"
The Pedant's Guide To Smash
With no production and very little rehearsal this week, I have very little to nitpick! But why let that spoil our fun?
- The meeting in the studio where Eileen tells everyone the plans for the show would never happen. If anything, it would happen at the closing before everyone left Boston, but then we wouldn't be able to start the episode with a musical number. Generally (though not always), out-of-town tryouts are on the same contract as the Broadway production, with out clauses in case the whole thing gets massively delayed (like, say, the theater gets pulled because of your director's sexual harassment suit) or a rewrite eliminates or so thoroughly changes a character so that the actor is no longer needed. At the very least, if no Broadway production was guaranteed, the cast would have right of first refusal. Producers can always get rid of people, but they have to pay them. So the whole "we have every intention of picking up your contacts" thing is silly. Why rent a studio (though I guess Eileen has some kind of long-term lease on that space?) and make everyone come in for that? I mean, because it's a TV show and watching Eileen email everyone's agents is boring, but...
- No one eats at those tables in Times Square. They're filthy. Ew.
- Fretting over which theater you get is totally real. It matters in so many ways, from location to size to general vibe. But there are so few and availability is so limited, shows often just grab whatever they can get, often to their detriment.
- In her dressing room, Ronnie is brushing out her hair as if she just took it down from under her wig...but it is clearly also a wig.
- Why are there paparazzi waiting for Veronica outside the stage door of her show that's closing in a week? Fans waiting to get autographs do not set off a million flashbulbs.
- My friend Jennifer Tepper is writing a great series of books called The Untold Stories of Broadway, which include many official Smash tidbits, but this unofficial one jumped out at me while reading after the show had ended: "Everything ended on the morning of the fourth preview with Adela being arrested at a phone booth and being taken to Rikers Island. To this day, I do not fully understand how she was financing our production." So Eileen and Nick's story isn't so far-fetched!
- There's no continuity whatsoever on fake shows playing in real theaters. We see Ronnie's show playing at the St. James when it's her scene, but two scenes later Ivy walks past and Bring It On (I still miss you!) is there. The same was true for Heaven On Earth last season. (Later in the season, they'll use empty theaters for Bombshell and Hit List and put up real marquees to avoid having to do this digitally. They covered Karen's and Ivy's names on the posters so passersby wouldn't be spoiled, which, given Smash's ratings at the time, struck me as hilarious.)
- I don't know much about the Wing, but everything about that gala seems like nonsense. Who cares when it gives us "They Just Keep Moving The Line" and Margo Martindale?
- I like when they use the names of real people, but the actors Ivy mentions as her competition for Cecile (played by Uma Thurman in the movie of Dangerous Liaisons -- does that mean Rebecca Duvall played her in Smash world?) are entirely different types from her. Maybe that's the point, but she says the reason she won't get it is that they're names.
- I'm sure there was some production reason for this but they've changed the exterior location of the rehearsal studio, which had been around the corner from Eileen's office in Midtown, to near the Flatiron building. There is a big studio where Broadway shows rehearse near there, so it's not unrealistic, it's just odd.
- When did Derek stage the JFK number? They just walked in with it!
Adam & Tara's Smash Rewatch
- Norma Jean May Be Gone, But We Can't Move On (From Smash)
- Workshopping And Pill-Popping
- Smash Found A Peanut
- Broadway, Here We Come!
- Smash Celebrates The Voices Of A New Generation
- Smash Finally Wins Pin The Leading Lady On The Musical
- Why Couldn't NBC Give Smash That One More Chance?