Marilyn -- and Julia -- are shaken up when the production finds its Joltin' Joe DiMaggio

By Hillary Busis
Updated February 21, 2012 at 07:00 AM EST
Patrick Harbron/NBC

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We all learned a valuable lesson tonight: Beware any episode of Smash that doesn’t feature that gorgeous, airy rehearsal room. While “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” did set up a few important story lines, it also spent far too much time reiterating stuff we already know: Eileen is having a rough time financing the workshop. Karen is a small town girl with big girl dreams. Terrible Ellis is terrible.

I’ve seen next week’s episode, so I know that things will seriously pick up once Marilyn‘s rehearsals begin. I can only hope that you’ll all take my word for it — and that Nielsen families will keep watching even after this relatively wheel-spinny hour.

Smash‘s first two episodes opened with sequences set inside Karen’s head. Tonight, we ditch that device for a peek at Ivy’s bed…which is currently occupied by both the blonde and Director Derek. Yes, these two are still doing the Horizontal 20th Century Fox Mambo — and by the way Ivy’s fretting to her friend Jessica, it seems like she might actually want to have a real relationship with Derek. I’m a fan of this development, since it seemed out of character for Ivy to sleep with someone just to get a part; these opening scenes prove that whatever’s going on between her and Derek is more complicated than a simple casting couch encounter.

The next time we see Derek, he’s meeting with Karen in a sleek bar. Is he trying to bag both Norma Jeane and Marilyn on the same night? No — he just wants to let Karen know that he’d like her to take a role in the ensemble. (Not as Ivy’s understudy? Maybe we’ve got a few more episodes before Smash goes full Showgirls.) Their chat is interrupted by an impromptu visit from Dev, who’s clearly threatened by other handsome dudes with dreamy British accents. Sigh! I could listen to these two argue about who’s Englisher all day.

Now that the creative team has their Marilyn, it’s time to start thinking about casting the show’s other major roles: Arthur Miller, JFK, and Joe DiMaggio. The leading contender for Joltin’ Joe is one Michael Swift, played by Will Chase — a Broadway star who’s had the distinction of playing both Roger and Mark in Rent. This automatically makes him my 13-year-old self’s favorite person.

Michael is currently performing in a Bruno Mars revue — yes, you read that right — at La MaMa. We’re treated to a brief snippet of the show, a loud, unholy amalgamation of Movin’ Out and American Idiot. One might call this performance of “Grenade” Smash‘s most naked attempt to sell iTunes singles. Unfortunately, one would be wrong, since Karen has yet to do a gratuitous cover of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”

Even so, Eileen and Derek love the show and its star. They’re discussing Michael over dinner when Jerry suddenly approaches. Of course, since Eileen happens to be within a twenty-foot radius of a martini glass, it isn’t long before her ex-husband has another drink thrown in his face. Jerry should really start tucking a pair of goggles into his cummerbund.

NEXT: Gonna smoke up some doobies — down by the river side!

Julia and Tom are trying to write a duet for Marilyn and DiMaggio. Unfortunately, it’s tough to compose when you’re constantly being interrupted by a rat in preppy clothing. After Terrible Ellis finally prances off to the dry cleaner — also known as “the other side of the door” — Tom asks Julia why she doesn’t like his assistant. Maybe because she can smell an intellectual property lawsuit waiting to happen? The subject soon switches to Michael Swift. Tom mentions that Eileen and Derek want to offer him DiMaggio; Julia tries to come up with reasons why he shouldn’t or won’t take the part. Yo, lady: This is what we call “protesting too much.”

The man in question, meanwhile, is busy playing Starlight Express with his adorable baby in an unbelievably bright apartment. Seriously, I think this place must be located at the intersection of 8th Ave. and the surface of the sun. Though Michael’s wife is excited about him joining Marilyn, Michael himself is a lot less certain. Just like Julia! But what does it all mean, Basil?

As Eileen struggles to sign up investors and Karen struggles to pack a suitcase, Ellis and two undoubtedly terrible buddies drink and smoke pot down by the river. Careful, kids; you wouldn’t want to end up like Matt Foley. One of them — we’ll learn later that her name is Cyn — asks Ellis if he’s being paid for coming up with Marilyn, since the musical was his idea. Oh goody; now the show’s most problematic character has his very own annoying Lady Macbeth.

Marilyn‘s writers are still struggling with their Marilyn/Joe duet. Tom proposes that all those two really wanted was to be left alone and live in a nice little house filled with meatballs. Julia argues that the couple actually wanted a simple life together. Wait, how is that different from what Tom said? Regardless, she rushes off to jot down the idea in her notebook — only to find that it isn’t where she left it.

That’s because Terrible Ellis has graduated from simple eavesdropping to grand theft journal. He spirits the notebook away to his hidey-hole, where he quickly gets to work shredding its pages to make a cozy nest. Just kidding! Ellis leafs through the book, then makes out with Cyn. Oh, come on, Smash. If Ellis is straight, then I am Marie of Romania.

Backstage at Heaven on Earth, Dennis and Jessica try to reassure an anxious Ivy. She hasn’t heard from Derek in three days, but she doesn’t want to call him because that would be pushy — and “every time Marilyn tried to be pushy, it backfired.” Thankfully, Ivy has no reason to worry, since Derek materializes almost as soon as his name is invoked. He’s like Sexy Beetlejuice! Before long, the director and his star are getting it on right there in the dressing room… as Jessica and Dennis listen from the other side of the door. Gross, guys. Whatever happened to class?

NEXT: We’ve got to give Iowa a try

Julia bumps into Michael in Eileen’s office. As the two of them make awkward small talk, I keep getting distracted by Debra Messing’s hair, which looks especially fabulous tonight — did she just color it, or something? Smash grabs my attention again, though, when Michael whispers to Julia that she “smells good.” That’s something that only a lover or a serial killer would say, and I’m not totally sure which side of the fence Michael falls on.

Eileen spends more time in restaurants than Karen the waitress does. She’s supposed to have a meeting with Manny Azenberg, another real-life Broadway super producer. Instead — all together now — she again finds herself face to face with Jerry. I’m starting to think he might have a thing for alcohol facials. The two have a characteristically caustic exchange; this time, though, Jerry basically begs Eileen to take him back. Alas, all he gets is a Manhattan to the retinas.

Dennis and Tom are having a lovely lunch date in a lovely outdoor restaurant. Hooray, Dennis and Tom! Unfortunately, their idyll is ruined when Dennis lets slip that Ivy is dating Derek. Tom’s kind eyes immediately cloud over with rage. He swiftly runs to Julia, telling her that the director is taking advantage of their leading lady. But Julia doesn’t agree with her collaborator — instead, she proposes that Ivy might be taking advantage of Derek, then says that people who are in shows together just tend to sleep with one another. As she speaks, it becomes more and more obvious that she isn’t just talking about Ivy.

An angry Tom storms out of his apartment. Julia makes to go after him — until Terrible Ellis swoops in on wings made of ties and overheard information. This time, he doesn’t bother making noise about going to the dry cleaner. Ellis tells Julia to give Tom some space — and when she snarls that he should just get the hell out of Tom’s apartment, he calmly replies that since he doesn’t technically work for Julia, she can’t tell him what to do. Enraged, Julia says that she’d be happy to fire Ellis again. His reply is so nonchalantly snappy that for a minute, I almost — gasp! — like him: “You can try, and we can see if it sticks. Because it kiiiiinda didn’t the last time, did it?” Fasten your seat belts, people; it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Karen has arrived in Iowa: land of corn, palatial single-family homes and (apparently) southern-fried karaoke bars. After having another unsatisfying conversation with her sweet but undermining parents, she heads to said watering hole for her friend’s baby shower. (It’s cruel and unusual to bring an expectant mom to a karaoke bar. What’s she supposed to do, just sit back and sip Sprite while her friends get hammered and shriek along to Celine Dion songs?) Karen’s airheaded pals think it’s awesome that Dev has offered to help support her while she does the workshop: “You know, feminism’s overrated!” one actually chirps. I love when coastal writers assume that everyone who lives in the Midwest is stuck in 1962.

NEXT: What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin’ Joe has had an affair with the lyricist? (Woo woo woo)

Suddenly, one of Karen’s friends realizes that we haven’t had a musical number since “Grenade.” “Tiiiime for some KARAOKE! Hey, Broadway!” she crows, excitedly pointing at Karen with both hands. Real subtle there, Smash. Then Katharine McPhee sings “Redneck Woman,” because Iowa is the same thing as the Deep South. This sequence is almost worth it for its very end, when Pregnant Friend pretends like her fetus is clapping for Karen. Otherwise… yeah. Here’s hoping future episodes try a lot harder to organically integrate songs into the story.

As Derek gets dressed after his latest tryst with Ivy, the blonde asks him why they never go to his place. Derek’s excuse: His neighbors’ new stove has broken his building’s gas pipes. Methinks those pipes aren’t the only thing filled with hot air. Ivy appears at first to accept his obviously fake excuse, but the sad expression she wears when he’s not looking speaks volumes.

Did watching Mommy and Daddy fight make you upset? Don’t worry — Tom and Julia eventually reconcile by singing an impromptu duet. And then Julia finally comes clean, admitting to her BFF that she and Michael had a slo-mo, soft-focus affair five years ago. She asks a shocked Tom to help her stay away from Michael, then says that nobody else can know about her infidelity. But hey, guess who happens to overhear everything Julia just said? That’s right: Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Ellis. (That’s his full legal name.)

Thank goodness for tonight’s final musical number, a finished version of the duet Tom and Julia have been working on all episode. The sweet, simple tune is called “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” No, Marilyn and DiMaggio aren’t fantasizing about becoming super spies — they’re dreaming of being a normal couple, the kind of people who have a grill out on the patio and disposal in the sink. I love the staging in the fantasy sequence — there’s something very Carousel about it. It’s also great to see Ivy nail a song that isn’t all about the belt. As Ivy and Michael croon, Julia thinks about her own marriage and resolves to stay true to her husband. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Footlights:

– If you played the Smash drinking game tonight (take sips whenever tea is mentioned or scarves are shown), then congratulations: You are officially Smashed.

– Have you seen a cappella group Delilah’s rendition of “Grenade”? If not, go to YouTube, stat. I’d definitely be into the Bruno Mars thing if they were its stars.

– In the comments last week, a few people theorized that Jerry might tap Karen to play Eliza Doolittle in his My Fair Lady revival. Based on her adorable but abysmal fake British accent, I’m thinking this might be a long shot.

– Did you notice Eileen’s computer screen when she had that meeting with potential investors? YouLenz makes its triumphant return!

– Actors make $200 a week in a workshop? Yikes.

– How great is the show’s opening title card? Hearing an orchestra tune up gives me chills every time.

– Thank you, Smash, for teaching me that “chorus” is a dirty word. Though An Ensemble Line doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

– According to Tom and Julia’s bulletin board, Marilyn may include a Sinatra number. Iiiiinteresting.

– Fun fact: Ellis’s girlfriend is played by Phylicia Rashad’s daughter Condola.

– When Eileen told Jerry that she bought her own earrings, I crossed my fingers for a scene of Anjelica Huston performing “Independent Woman Part 1.” Someone get Eileen to a karaoke bar!

– I’m glad the show is self-aware enough to hang a lampshade on Eileen’s drink-throwing problem. Still, that doesn’t make the gag any less corny.

But enough about me! How did you feel about tonight’s episode?

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