Ivy finds that even stars feel insecure as Karen learns how to fade into the background -- well, sort of. Also, Nick Jonas!

By Hillary Busis
Updated February 28, 2012 at 07:00 AM EST
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Nick Jonas
Credit: Patrick Harbron/NBC
S1 E4
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At the end of my very first Smash recap, I asked whether readers found themselves rooting for Karen or Ivy. It was a legitimate question; according to the show’s pilot, both characters were talented, likeable, and deserving. But tonight, Smash started bending over backwards to get us to favor Karen over Ivy — and I’m worried about what’ll happen if the show continues down this path.

In “The Cost of Art,” sweet Ivy suddenly transformed into a catty, cruel diva hellbent on making Karen miserable. As if that weren’t enough, the rest of the ensemble immediately got in on the act, sneering about Karen’s corn pone roots (like they’re not all from Trenton or White Haven, PA) and telling her that everything from her clothes to the way she walks into the rehearsal space is wrong. (I was just waiting for one of them to say her outfit was country, and she looked country in it.) Smash‘s creators are clearly smart, and it seems like they want their show to appeal to an equally savvy audience. I wish, then, that they’d stop making the beats of their story so anvilicious. Ambiguity is good! We’ll be invested in the series even if it has no obvious heroes or villains. Heck, I think that’d actually make us more invested in the series.

Granted, Megan Hilty is doing her best to make Ivy’s attitude seem like the result of deep insecurity rather than inexplicable bitchiness. That should at least keep her character from becoming irredeemable. Tonight’s ending — in which Derek gives his leading lady some much-needed tough love — also gave me hope for Smash‘s future. Still, I wish this unconventional, potentially awesome show were truly brave enough to reject a plot line as boring and predictable as “small-town girl overcomes endless obstacles, including an entitled enemy.”

Okay, rant over. As tonight’s episode opens, rehearsals for Marilyn are finally getting underway. Even though the show’s book is about as finished as this basement. Suspension of disbelief, people! After Julia endures an unwelcome encounter with Terrible Ellis and an incredibly awkward conversation with ex-lover Michael, The New Ivy enters, swathed in both The Sparkly Scarf of Triumph and a pair of celebrity-in-training shades. After Derek announces her arrival, Marilyn‘s cast erupts in an ovation that lasts longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage. Hey, did you know that Ivy is beloved, while Karen is all on her own? No? Don’t worry; it’ll be reinforced a few dozen more times.

After the gang runs through “20th Century Fox Mambo,” beefy chorus member Sam — you may recognize the actor, Leslie Odom, Jr., from CSI: Miami or Red Tails — tells Karen that she’s got a great voice. She humbly explains that she already knows the song, since she sang it in her Marilyn callback. Then Ivy swoops up behind Sam and says, in a faux-sweet voice, “Well, I’m singing it now.” Ugh. See what I mean?

NEXT: “I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl,” or, “When You Got It, Flaunt It”

That evening, Julia gives Eileen a rundown of what happened on Day One. The producer was too busy yelling at her lawyer to attend rehearsal — apparently, while Jerry’s been gallivanting around town, merrily daring women of all shapes and sizes to toss Manhattans in his face, all her money has disappeared. Now Eileen has access to just a fraction of the $200,000 she needs to fund the workshop. Luckily, she also happens to have an incredibly valuable Degas sketch hanging on her wall.

New Original Song Alert! Marilyn‘s crew is rehearsing an incredibly catchy, bouncy tune with an insanely unwieldy title: “I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl.” And, like Cassie Ferguson before her, Karen is finding it difficult to fade into the chorus line. Her dancing’s too exaggerated; her voice is too loud. Finally, Ivy asks if they can pause for a minute and says with a strained smile that she’s having trouble hearing herself: “The chorus is very… enthusiastic!”

Thanks to lunchtime ensemble gossip, Karen learns that Ivy and Derek are an item. As she’s trying to overcome her incredulity, Ivy and Tom share salads in Times Square. The blonde asks her buddy why nobody told her that her rival would be in the workshop’s chorus; Tom blames the decision on Julia, then agrees to keep an eye on Karen during rehearsal.

Talk soon turns to teen star Lyle West, a former Broadway baby who’s become a fixture on TV. According to Ivy (via Derek, naturally), the director discovered the kid; Tom begs to differ, since Lyle’s first role was in an Off-Broadway musical he wrote. Either way, Derek’s having a birthday party for Lyle at his apartment. I’m glad his imaginary gas problem is all cleared up.

During take two of “Wolf,” Ivy’s new-found malevolent powers begin to manifest. Karen gets moved to the back of dance cluster, snapped at by Ivy’s friend Jessica, and finally kicked out of the number altogether. All Karen can do is complain about this injustice to Increasingly Less Perfect Dev, who’s suddenly constantly attached to his ever-ringing phone. And then Karen’s heel breaks! And she steps in dog poop! And everyone forgets her birthday!

Eileen, meanwhile, is undergoing similar humiliation. She takes her beloved Degas to a gallery, where a bespectacled art specialist tells her it could fetch “350” or “4” at auction. Since I know nothing about art, I have no idea if he’s talking hundreds of thousands of dollars or wampum or what. But either way, Eileen can’t just sell the sketch; Jerry bought it for her, and the bill of sale is still in his name. Damnit, Jerry!

Back at rehearsal, the gang gives us a few snippets of another new song — a gorgeously harmonic Marilyn/DiMaggio duet called “History Is Made at Night.” Again, Karen’s voice is overpowering the rest of the ensemble. Come on — sing in, Louise. Once more, Ivy falters and implicitly blames Karen; once more, Karen is asked to sit the number out.

NEXT: In which Karen grows a spine

Karen storms into the hallway. Jessica, looking like a Steel Town girl on a Saturday night, approaches her — and that’s when Iowa finally snaps. She tells Ivy’s pal that she and her friends are being horrible, and that she knows Ivy’s trying to get her fired. Furthermore, Karen spits, though she totally could have slept with Derek, she didn’t and never would: “And that doesn’t make me stupid or lame or untalented.” Eh, I do think the series has established that Ivy and Derek have an actual connection, and that she didn’t only sleep with him to get cast — but then, I’m clearly an Ivy apologist, so maybe that’s neither here nor there.

Karen’s surprise show of backbone inspires Jessica to go all Regina George. In no time flat, she and two other ensemble pals — their names are Bobby and Sue, because Smash actually takes place in 1956 — are taking Karen shopping for more acceptable rehearsal-wear (is Dev paying for this or what?) and telling her how she should walk, talk and act if she wants to blend into the crowd. If only that British dude from What a Girl Wants were around to tell Karen, “Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Julia suggests that Eileen attend Lil’ Lyle West’s birthday party — maybe the festivities will get her mind off her money woes. She also casually lets slip that Lyle happens to be a newly-minted millionaire, since his show’s just been sold into syndication. The ancient, creaky wheels in Eileen’s head start to turn.

Even when she’s hanging out with her old friend Chorus Sam in her apartment, Ivy is still obsessing over Karen. She tells Sam that with her voice and her presence, Karen is simply “too big” — that’s got to be the first time someone’s said that about Katharine McPhee. Sam’s busy aggressively proving his heterosexuality by reading Sports Illustrated, but he does make time to tell Ivy that she looks amazing in her secondhand, leopard-print Zac Posen dress. She, too, is going to Lyle’s shindig; Derek invited her himself, which may just prove that their relationship is more than a fling.

Ivy enters Derek’s place and finds that Lyle — a.k.a. Special Guest Star Nick Jonas — has been roped into entertaining the guests at his own birthday party. He’s singing and playing a down-tempo version of Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.” While the sequence would be better if it took place in the most romantic grocery store in America, Jonas sounds pretty great all the same. Has anybody caught him in How to Succeed?

Tom’s missing the party for a boring date with a dude named John. John is great on paper — Wharton MBA, law degree, certifiably dreamy eyes — but a big old World of Snorecraft in person. No wonder Tom’s mom wants him to get with this guy. Thankfully, John does seem to have a sense of humor… and when he starts complimenting Tom, the composer is instantly more interested. Somewhere, poor Dennis is doing sad grand jetés in a darkened, silent room.

NEXT: The giant, fun production number we’ve all been waiting for

As a horrified Julia bumps into Terrible Ellis and Cyn, who are crashing Derek’s soiree, Eileen springs into action. She leads Lyle into a bedroom — where she’s stashed the Degas — and tells him to consider investing in art. It’s the only investment that’ll never lose value. Why? Because of “the Chinese.” Wait, what? In any case, Lyle is interested, but he doesn’t want to part with $200,000 quite yet; first, he’d like to know if Marilyn is any good. Ahh, I love the smell of a production number at 10:40pm.

Karen isn’t at the party — but she also isn’t alone. Jessica, Bobby and Sue have pranced on over to her apartment, where they instantly begin merrily picking through her closet and declaring which items are and aren’t acceptable. Kind of like Stacy and Clinton, except less orange. Afterwards, they scarf down some delivery with Iowa and a befuddled Dev. It isn’t long before they’re listing Karen’s various deficiencies again. This time, though, the trio may have a point; Bobby says that Karen doesn’t understand how to blend into an ensemble. There’s only one way to teach her how that’s done: through the magic of dance.

And speaking of dancing… Eileen gets Julia to ask both Tom and Michael to come to the party. Soon after they arrive — Tom with date in tow — Lyle announces to his guests that Derek and Tom will be presenting a song from their new show. Good thing Ivy wore that amazing dress! The sequence that follows is more straight-up musical-y than anything Smash has done thus far. Though the musicians at Derek’s apartment have never heard “I Never Met A Wolf” before, they magically know exactly how to keep up with Tom on the piano; while Lyle’s also unfamiliar with the song, he’s singing along perfectly by the third verse. The tune itself is so fun that I don’t care about its credulity-stretching nature. After all, I’d much rather watch this than another scene in which characters perform an iTunes-ready single in a bar.

Everyone is ecstatic when the song ends — everyone but Ivy, that is, whose buzz is killed when she spies Derek touching a statuesque beauty’s behind. She decides to get back at him by brazenly coming onto Lyle; the teen is more then happy to accept her advances. They end up walking in on Eileen, who’s saying a final farewell to her beloved Degas. “I was just looking at past happiness,” she says, turning to look at Ivy. “You’re my happiness now.” Run, Ivy! She’s going to suck your soul out through your mouth!!

Tom and John’s blind date is going swimmingly. Ivy’s night, unfortunately, is not. She downs a drink and starts to head out when Derek stops her. Ivy asks about the girl he was with, and Derek replies that she was a potential investor — he’s not above flirting if it’ll get money for Marilyn. Looks like someone took “Wolf”‘s lyrics to heart. The conversation, of course, turns to Ivy fretting about Karen, and Derek basically tells Ivy to get over herself — she got the part, but there’s nothing safe about being a star. Filled with a new resolve, Ivy follows Derek back to his bedroom.

NEXT: “I’m 12, you jerk!”

Karen’s new pals bring Iowa to a bar that’s helpfully outfitted with a stage. You know, like all the bars in Manhattan. They get the DJ to play Adele’s “Rumor Has It,” then start performing the dance routine they taught Karen in her apartment. At first, it seems like she’s actually taken their words to heart — though the camera’s angled so that Karen’s in the foreground, she’s managing not to pull focus as she bounces to the beat.

But before long, Karen’s dancing in front of the catty trio — and then “Rumor Has It” becomes a backing track to her own vocals. Looks like someone might not be ready to step out of the spotlight after all.

Footlights:

– Recognize John, Tom’s date? That may be because he once made out with Chuck Bass on an episode of Gossip Girl.

– Julia celebrates the beginning of rehearsals by ditching her earth-toned haute Snuggies for colorful patterns and cinched waists. Well done.

– I really want to know more about what it means to be the Iowa State Fair’s Golden Sprout Champion.

– So the entire ensemble of Heaven on Earth is in Marilyn as well? When do these people sleep?

– I loved when that chorus guy called Derek “the Dark Lord,” but there’s no way he’d turn that into a Lord of the Rings reference. Us late ’80s babies prefer Harry Potter.

Smash features way too many scenes in which the characters enthuse to each other about how fabulous Marilyn is. Show, don’t tell!

– Though they’re definitely broadly drawn, I kind of love Jessica, Bobby and Sue. Their capricious nature and (especially) the way they’re constantly clinging to each other rings very true; I could swear I went to theater camp with these kids.

– My favorite exchange of the night was Derek telling Lyle, “This is very precocious behavior for a 15-year-old” and Lyle responding, “I’m 12, you jerk!”

– Or wait, maybe it was this — Waitress to Eileen: “You know, Mrs. Rand, I’m an actress. And a dancer!” Eileen to Waitress: “Not now, sweetheart.”

– Important plot nugget: According to Lyle, Derek and Tom used to be best friends. Say whaaa?

– Of course Karen hates shots.

If next week’s previews are to be believed, Ivy’s days as Marilyn may already be numbered. Here’s hoping this at least means she’ll get to be a sympathetic character again. How did you feel about “The Cost of Art” — and do you think there’s hope for Ivy?

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