Smash Celebrates The Voices Of A New Generation
It's fun, but it's not perfect: rewatchers Adam and Tara decide whether to let the broken pieces go.
I alluded to this last week, but marathoning Smash at this pace, without the odd preemptions for anything with higher ratings (i.e .anything) and the interminable year-long break between seasons (I was so excited for its return I actually threw a season premiere party, complete with themed hors d'oeuvres) has made me really see these two seasons in a different light. I still adore the broader look we're getting at New York theater in Season 2, seeing other shows, and Off and off-Off Broadway, and there's no question that the writing is better and the new songwriters are exciting. But there was also something great about how focused Season 1 was on the making of Bombshell from conception to previews. It was really a process nerd show. These first seven episodes of Season 2 have felt a little all over the place, taking a full half of the season to get Ivy to Bombshell and Karen to Hit List. Of course that tight focus last season is exactly what made Leo and the adoption and all of that stand out so horribly, so it's a fair trade, but it's something I really hadn't noticed the first time through. What do you think? If given the chance, would you rewrite this story?
I would definitely write out Ronnie, because who cares. But you're right, given that Karen's decampment to Hit List is never in any real doubt, all the machinations intended to keep her away from it do seem increasingly unbelievable (Eileen sides with Jerry on a creative matter?) and like a real waste of our time. That said, if everyone were really on task, we wouldn't get the sojourn into 18th-century France with Ivy's role in Liaisons and that would be a shame. Sure, a lot of that drags too (and I'm eager to see what the Pedant has to say about it), but there's funny there, too.
The Pedant largely gives Liaisons a pass, if only because we see so little of it that it's hard to really tell what's going on. Megan Hilty is delightful, as always (and it's nice to see Ivy succeeding and doing something so different from Marilyn) as is Sean Hayes, and Shaiman and Wittman get to write some songs that are totally different from Bombshell (why should the Hit List kids get all the fun?) As with those two shows -- and with Ronnie's concert and the glimpse of her Broadway show (though I agree with you that it's a long detour, even if it jump-starts Jimmy and Kyle's success and plants the seeds of Tom directing) -- I like getting to see lots of different styles of musical theater. I don't know that anyone was watching Smash who needed to be taught this, but it's much more diverse than I think non-fans realize.
The songs and performances are really fun -- Cecile's big number is a complete delight.
But the more of it we see, the less off-base Terry seems when he arrives with the idea that it's a comedy. Ivy tells him people cried, but like, this song isn't from a comedy?
Even if everyone had toned down the farce, that's not a tragic piece, and neither is "A Letter From Cecile."
Yeah, that's all very confusing. I'll be honest, it's been a long time since I've seen any version of this besides Cruel Intentions, but I'm pretty sure there are both comic and tragic elements in the original play. But we just don't spend a lot of time with this process, so we get a lot of shorthand of "Terry is a mess." The director character is a non-entity, so who knows what his vision ever is? I have problems with the various arguments about the direction Bombshell should take (doing the whole thing from the men's perspective when you have lots of first-hand source material seems kinda misogynistic, JULIA) but we get to see those conversations and see those rehearsals succeed or fail (hi, process nerd again). The Liaisons stuff is just to show a production falling apart, and the reasons don't seem very well thought out.
Much as I love Ivy, I have a really hard time with her unprofessional "Eh, let's just have fun!" moment on opening night, which, while nice in spirit, completely undermines the director and her fellow actors. Though I guess it pays off...well, until Terry almost dies. And was the "Ivy is 'too good' in Liaisons" stuff another case of Season 2 being too meta for its own good? Still, it's entertaining, and anything that puts Broadway treasure Veanne Cox on national television, however briefly, is to be thanked.
But Liaisons is just the contrivance that keeps Ivy out of Bombshell, allowing for the actually nice moment when Karen gets to be magnanimous and tell Tom -- now directing -- that she knows Ivy's always been his Marilyn and that he should get her back...but, of course, that's also because Karen's magnanimity positions her to return to the production her two boyfriends are working on, and which -- in classic Karen idiot style -- she'd thought she could just keep doing while also starring on Broadway. Jerry's a piece of shit, but when he tells off Karen about her lack of professionalism OR SENSE, it makes me fall in love with him a little.
More on this in the Pedant's Guide, but if nothing else, it was pretty uncool of her to make promises of her time to Jimmy and Kyle considering her response to a marriage proposal was "I'm in tech." Can I just say how glad I was that they actually discussed contracts when all of that went down? I don't know that an actor as early in her career as Karen (hot shit though she thinks she is) would ever really leave a Broadway lead for an Off Broadway maybe, but that was a really nice moment. Business sense aside (her agent, if she had one in the world of the show, would KILL her), it shows good artistic instincts -- she finally knows what we've known all along: that's she'll be terrible as Marilyn, and rather than make her Broadway début that way she leaves for something that feels right and could have buzz. And because she's not fleeing a sinking ship but actually making the right move for Tom too, it creates good relationships all around.
Though it seems like now Bombshell is the definition of "troubled," much more than it was in Boston when everyone seemed so worried about "the press." First Rebecca, then Derek, a whole new book, now Karen, plus Jerry...Michael Riedel would be having a field day.
I do love that the episode where we left off has everyone mad at everyone. Karen can't stop arguing with Tom and telegraphing how little respect she has for him; Tom cheerfully gives her a line reading, making the ensemble gasp in horror; everyone's annoyed by the new PG "National Pastime" choreography. Even St. Katie comes back in her flared jeans IN 2013 to manipulate Jerry into giving Eileen her way by acting all judgy about him. And even though some of this soapiness gets resolved -- Julia saves the day by finding the one document that can help them in court (and without winking, which must have killed her); each director is reunited with his leading lady -- there's a new power struggle that remains to rankle in the episodes to come: Karen's return means Ana's usurped. Not cool, Karen.
I love how Ana is written (and full disclosure again: Krysta Rodriguez is a friend) in that she's all "You were way better than me, I was just filling in," but then she's SO BITTER when Karen actually comes back. No shade to any of my actor friends, but this feels very real. Ana will be okay though, as Hit List has many rewrites to come. Knowing what's coming I find Kyle's arc a little odd. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone watching with us for the first time, but I do wonder what the implication that he's not actually very talented might be saying about some real-life writers he may or may not be modeled on.
But as with Season 1's Bombshell process, it's nice to see Derek (and Karen, sigh) pushing Jimmy and Kyle to better work, nice seeing the artistic process rendered sooooort of faithfully (if compressed), and very nice seeing a different model from Eileen and Jerry's big money Broadway world, with the Fringe and "Manhattan Theatre Workshop" -- if, again, very compressed ("Musicals take years to develop, there's no shortcuts," Kyle actually says. Yyyyyeah, about that....)
haha, I noted that howler too, because how can you not. And I'm stumped by Kyle's arc too. Is the point that really loving musicals doesn't mean you'll necessarily be good at writing them? But then if the show's thesis is that desire doesn't always guarantee success, why have we spent so much time dicking around with Karen? Other than cute new guys he's meeting digging Kyle's chili, every time we see him, he's more and more beaten down. After the disastrous read-through, his shitty book drives everyone out of Brooklyn making excuses; even when things start to go his and his partner's way, he has to spend every interaction he and Jimmy have with Derek apologizing for Jimmy and grovelling for Derek's approval ("Don't listen to him, he's not good with feedback, we'll do whatever you want"). Kyle's dream is in the process of coming true and it kind of sucks. Poor Kyle!
Well, except Kyle's right? It's a blow to his ego but at least he can take criticism, and given the night-and-day change in reception from the loft to the presentation to Scott, it seems like Derek's notes worked. If we're being charitable about Kyle's talent, Hit List was his idea (Jimmy just writes songs and doesn't care about drama...well, not that kind), and it was a good one, but he doesn't have the training to actually write it. (Though again, I asked this last week -- who is this show queen who doesn't seem to have ever worked on a show, like in college or anything?) They keep beating the Rent comparison over the head and that workshop definitely needed help, too; I mean, it was better than that reading of Hit List apparently was, but you get my point. I think they're trying to make a point about collaboration. Karen needed to be taught to find the star inside her too. Barf. Basically, Derek's a genius. Which, barf again, but...he maybe sort of is. I love the glimpses inside his head we get, seeing him imagine Hit List like we have Bombshell, now with a totally different aesthetic.
Maybe in an alternate universe, Smash is a show about the charming cad director/choreographer and the women in his life, and each season he's working on a different musical. Sort of All That Jazz: The Series. Though speaking of, Derek, "Gwen Verdon would have bailed if Fosse quit" is an overreach on every level: you're not Bob Fosse, Karen's definitely not Gwen Verdon, and you guys aren't even dating. Not that that stops him from cock-blocking Jimmy.
For the record: of course Kyle is right to pay attention to criticism; I mostly meant it sucks for him to be in the middle of these two alpha males constantly pissing on Karen, FIGURATIVELY. Speaking of whom: of all the time-wasting story cul-de-sacs of the season, Karen the saintly baby-voiced angel and Jimmy the Bad Boy is probably the most boring.
I do really love the moments when Jimmy allows himself to be impressed. Like backstage at Ronnie's concert, when she starts singing his song (which is so clearly a Shaiman/Wittman song -- not that there's anything wrong with that!), and he drops the act, it's entirely delightful. Then again, it gets pushed a little far when he sits at a piano and sings a "Hey kids, let's put on a show" number at Fringe, which seems like a thing he'd die before doing.
But even bigger trials await Jimmy in the episodes yet to come that suggest maybe his next show will have more of a Les Mis feel.
And Bombshell, after its incredibly rushed out-of-town tryout, also seems to be lasting as long as the French Revolution, with a new lead, a new character on the way, and a new director...
...and that guy REALLY likes to cameo.
Good luck with your handful, Ivy!
The Pedant's Guide To Smash
- Bravo is filming Ronnie's concert. Is it 2002? [Or is she Kathy Griffin? - ta]
- This isn't pedantic, but I have extra space here so I'm abusing my power: I'm in love with the idea of a production of Little Shop Of Horrors where Ronnie played Audrey and Ivy was a swing. Swings by definition cover the ensemble, which in Little Shop means Ivy was covering the "Urchins," making this at least a colorblind production, and at best a completely race-reversed one. I'm dream-casting the latter in my head.
- Why are the director and the composer touring the theater and "checking the fly space" without the set designer or any other technical people?
- Does Bombshell end up in the Belasco (where Tom and Derek were scouting in these episodes)? Because they definitely don't end up shooting at the Belasco.
- I questioned that Terry really wouldn't know what "stage right" meant, but then I looked up the film term "camera right" and it in fact means the opposite. So: real!
- The real New York International Fringe Festival takes place in summer, as do most of the various festivals like it in town, which isn't a problem at all because Smash made up its own for whatever reason (copyright?). But why on earth did they decide to call it "The Winter Fringe" when IT IS CLEARLY SUMMER? Like, they're shooting on the street and everyone is in t-shirts, including the main cast. They're not even trying to pretend it's winter!
- I'm baffled by the suggestion that it's a good idea to present just the first act of Hit List to a paying audience, especially given that it's Karen's advice, and what the fuck does she know?. There's precedent for it, notably Sunday In The Park With George, but that show has two very distinct and self-contained acts, and Jimmy and Kyle are no Sondheim and Lapine. Though given the Twitter review they received, "#60minutesclosertodeath," maybe it's for the best.
- The suggestion that Julia and Peter's version of the show is "too good for Broadway" is real. We talked about this when Rebecca Duvall was cast; theater is expensive and has limited capacity for income (only so many performances with so many seats), and the market can only bear so much "art." Of course your show can be completely crowd-pleasing and still fail to get enough people in the door, so in the end there's no magic formula, but Jerry's concerns are valid. A non-profit theater has lower costs, and other sources of revenue, plus audiences with different expectations; it's their job to take risks. Though I can't imagine The Public would ever do any version of Bombshell. Hit List, maybe.
- Wait, the studio is IN the Flatiron Building? A world of no. All else aside, I imagine the triangular floor plans would make that a nightmare.
- I'm skeptical that Jerry would actually have the right to approve or deny outside projects for Karen if they don't conflict with her Bombshell duties, but it's certainly possible. On a purely practical level, it's not unheard of for an actor to finish a run in one show while starting rehearsals for another, so the idea of rehearsing one thing during the day and performing something else at night for a couple of weeks isn't insane (not to mention stock and repertory theaters, where it's the norm), but we also see her painting sets and wandering to Brooklyn in broad daylight when Broadway rehearsals are eight hours a day, six days a week, and Marilyn basically never leaves the stage, so it's a reach.
- Speaking of Bombshell rehearsals: even by Smash standards, they're up and running again awfully quickly. Do they even have a theater? There appear to be new cast members; when were auditions? Who's playing DiMaggio? After the rush of Boston, this is a long enough rehearsal process to be changing the book seventeen times; replacing the director; replacing the choreographer and then going back to the original choreography; adding and casting an entire new character; and replacing the lead. Did they actually go back into workshop (not unheard of after an out-of-town tryout)?
- "There's no heat in the theater." WHY IS THAT A PROBLEM? IT'S SUMMER!
- I've been (lovingly) called out in the comments for being (lovingly) too hard on the post-Smash retconning of Hit List's story, but they're only doing Act 1 at the Fringe and "Heart-Shaped Wreckage" is definitely in Act 2. JUST SAYING! (Still, at least Hit List has a book, which despite this week's news, Bombshell still doesn't.)
- How do these people constantly find each other when they're out at restaurants? Do they all have assistants with no sense of privacy?
- Those projections in "Rewrite This Story" probably wouldn't be much cheaper than building actual sets, though I suppose they're "edgy."
- During Liaisons previews, we see Ivy and a friend watching from the wings in full view of the entire audience.
- If you can see them, they can see you!
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?