Terrible Ellis has a surprisingly small part in this ep about theater people behaving badly

By Hillary Busis
Updated March 06, 2012 at 07:56 AM EST
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Smash

S1 E5
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  • TV Show
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  • NBC
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Want to know what happens when Smash characters stop being polite and start acting bad? Just watch tonight’s episode, in which nearly everyone misbehaves. Julia’s son Leo gets arrested for [being next to someone who was] smoking pot in Central Park; Derek purposefully humiliates his leading lady; Ivy continues her descent into the Unsympathetic Character Valley; Karen wears a red dress. And, oh yeah, Michael and Julia totally make out in full view of the Lord, Carroll Gardens, and Leo himself.

Despite all this naughty behavior, watching this installment of Smash felt a little like listening to Michael Jackson insist that he’s bad, he’s bad, he’s really, really bad — that is to say, something about it just didn’t seem right. Maybe it’s because with one glaring exception, tonight’s musical numbers didn’t really work. Maybe the show is just getting too soapy too soon. Maybe I’m simply miffed because Julia was basically scarfless the whole time. Whatever the reason, I still haven’t lost faith in the show — it’s natural for a new series to take some time to find its footing. Though the promos for next week’s episode, in which Ivy may or may not develop a drug habit, aren’t exactly reassuring.

But that’s a topic for another time. As our story begins, there’s trouble brewing. Eileen discovers her assistant has abandoned her for Jerry; Ivy, meanwhile, arrives at rehearsal to find Derek doing some dirty dancing with Karen. (Look at those lines! I bet she’d nail the lift.) And then there’s Michael, who talks Julia into meeting with him at a diner that evening. Ostensibly, he wants to talk about a new scene between Marilyn and DiMaggio — he doesn’t want Joltin’ Joe to come off like “a complete tool.” But really, Mr. Swift is just looking to spend time with his ex-lover. By the way Julia sticks her finger into his pie, it seems like she’s not exactly rejecting his implied advances. That ended up sounding a lot dirtier than I meant it to.

I’m forced to seriously question my love for Tom when we learn that he’s the type of person who won’t just put his damn phone on vibrate. As Tom and Cute Boring Lawyer John nosh, they’re continually interrupted by the composer’s ever-buzzing mobile. Those buzzes happen to be a welcome distraction; Tom’s clearly starting to think that John is more boring than cute. Their date abruptly gets spiced up when John bluntly asks Tom if they’re ever going to have sex — and then Tom gets a call from Leo, who’s currently being detained by the NYPD.

Tom and John head to the station, where a policewoman I’m going to call Officer Lockstock tells them that Leo and his friend Mason were caught with a pot vaporizer in the park. John immediately starts firing questions at Officer Lockstock, using his amazing lawyer skills and piercing eyes to get Leo off with a warning. The more he exerts his power, the more interested Tom gets.

NEXT: “She’s Gonna Kill Me Twice:” an epic ballad

Once he’s safely ensconced in his family’s gorgeous brownstone, Leo moans that his mom is going to kill him — “and then when she’s done, she’s gonna kill me again.” Tom, who’s accompanied him home, starts writing an impromptu song based on Leo’s worries: “She’s gonna kill me twice / I’m so dead / I’m so dead / I wish I’d gone to the movies instead!” It’s goofy and melodramatic and totally wonderful, and I can only hope Smash starts replacing any and all Terrible Ellis scenes with stuff like this. The party’s over when Julia storms in, furious about Leo’s arrest. But once the kid’s upstairs, Tom surmises that Julia’s really feeling guilty because she was with Michael when Leo tried to call her.

All right, enough with the forbidden romance — let’s see some Marilyn! The next rehearsal gives us our first peek at this week’s original tune, another insanely catchy number called “Let’s Be Bad.” Ivy belts it out until Derek stops her in her tracks, complaining that she isn’t using vibrato the way Marilyn did. This seems like a weird nit to pick. If the creative team were committed to accuracy, they wouldn’t have chosen a belter — or even someone with a strong voice in the first place — to play Marilyn.

And then Derek rubs salt in Ivy’s embarrassment by commanding Karen to show the star how it’s done. See, she can trill like Marilyn while singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” — he knows because he’s heard her do it before. Though she’s incredibly uncomfortable, Karen obeys her director’s request and serenades the cast with “Happy Birthday” while Ivy glowers. The cherry on top comes when Derek nonchalantly tells Ivy that she should work with Karen on nailing the vibrato. Oooo, it’s on like Stephen Son…dheim.

An angry Ivy endures a private vocal lesson with Karen — but she’s determined to make the brunette feel as miserable as she does. When sweet, naive Iowa tries to tell Ivy that she thinks this whole thing is ridiculous, Ivy responds by giving Karen some advice: “Don’t get ahead of yourself.” She makes a point of noting that even when Marilyn needed dialect coaching, she knew that she had something special — something that can’t be taught. We are, like, two episodes away from Ivy telling Karen how she used to love doggy chow.

Worried that Leo wasn’t getting enough screen time? Never fear — Julia decides to work from home so she can keep an eye on her wayward son. (Is it the weekend? Does he just not have school right now? So many questions, so little time.) Julia interrupts her boy’s Facebook stalking and Limp-Bizkit listening to tell him that if he does anything illegal in the near future, it could put the adoption in jeopardy. Hello again, adoption story line! We’ve missed you so.

NEXT: Musical sequence! Wake up, you sleepyheads

Despite her recent show of bravado, Ivy’s confidence is clearly shaken. She keeps messing up while practicing “Let’s Be Bad” with the ensemble — probably because Derek blew her off before rehearsal began. When Ivy finally does manage to collect herself, we’re treated to an extended Marilyn sequence that combines dialogue with song. Evidently, “Let’s Be Bad” takes place during Marilyn’s drug-addled later years, when she was so doped up that she could barely perform in front of the camera.

Though the scene is definitely cheesy (Arthur Miller to his wife: “Darling, so many pills!”), Ivy’s intense commitment and the song’s fun, throwback nature make it work. That said, this ’20s-inspired number owes a pretty big debt to Kander, Ebb, and Fosse. The music cue that plays before Marilyn starts singing sounds exactly like the very end of Chicago‘s overture, and the choreography even includes a moment when two chorus boys manipulate Marilyn as though she were a marionette. But hey, if you’re going to borrow, you might as well borrow from the best.

This time, when the number ends, the rehearsal space erupts in applause. Ivy’s back in everyone’s good graces! Well, everyone but Derek, who steps out of the room without giving his girl so much as a “good job.” Ivy rolls her eyes at Karen’s compliments and heads straight to a bar, where she, Sam, and Michael quickly get hammered. We learn that Stridently Heterosexual Sam is actually just a sports-loving gay dude — a.k.a. the theatrical equivalent of a unicorn.

They’re not the only ones partying. That night, Dev and Karen are attending a soiree on the Intrepid, and the pressure is on. Dev is still up for a promotion, but his pal RJ — a beautiful New York Times gal Friday — has informed him that he’s not the only candidate being considered. Karen can’t worry about her boyfriend’s future right now, though, because she’s too busy worrying about herself. She starts talking smack on Ivy while Dev dresses, saying self-righteously that her in-your-face sexuality seems desperate. Dev, though, wouldn’t mind if she wore something hot to the event.

Karen tells her boy that she’ll meet him at the Intrepid. Then she pulls out a sexy red dress, lets her hair down and performs “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” because sure, why not. There is chair-dancing. There is shirt-unbuttoning. In short: Straight men, here is your reward for sitting through 45 minutes of Smash.

Meanwhile, liquid courage has driven both Ivy and Michael to confront the objects of their affection. Ivy dons a rage-covered multicolored scarf and nearly beats down Derek’s door, slurring some stuff about respect until he finally relents and opens it. She shouts that she’s tired of the director running hot and cold, alternately humiliating and ignoring her. Derek’s excuse? He’s not an a–hole; he’s just busy, and his job would be a hell of a lot easier if Ivy could curb her pesky feelings while they’re at work. Both of them have a point — hooray for arguments that aren’t one-sided! Even so, the discussion ends with Ivy relenting. Why do I have a feeling this relationship isn’t going to end well? (Oh, right: The scenes from next week.)

NEXT: Meet Feisty Karen, a devil in a red dress

On the other side of the river, Michael has traveled all the way to Brooklyn to get an audience with Julia. Before the lyricist can shoo the drunk away, Leo emerges, calling out to “Swifty” and inviting him to stay for a thawed Trader Joe’s meal. Sounds lovely! At dinner, Michael drinks more wine, brings up Leo’s legal trouble, and reveals that he and Julia used to smoke up after rehearsal. Julia’s palm, meet Julia’s face.

Karen elects to wear that sexy, Ivy-esque dress to Dev’s big dinner. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get a chance to admire it. RJ has nabbed him a seat at Times editor Jill Abramson’s table. But even though Karen’s teeny, there’s no room for her at the table as well — so she’s forced to sit elsewhere. At least the night’s not a total wash. Karen has a grand old time playing the bad girl for one evening, claiming that she’s starring in Marilyn‘s workshop and brazenly flirting with the guy sitting next to her. A guy who happens to be Dev’s major competition for Press Secretary.

Tom and John lie side by side, naked as Naked Boys Singing. They’ve finally consummated their relationship — and both agree that their sex was kind of terrible. Happily, since they’re on the same page, the scene ends with laughter instead of tears. Does this mean Dennis is in the picture again? (Or even Sam?)

Julia sits on her stoop with Michael, waiting for a car service to pick up the lush and deliver him to his wife and baby. But Michael doesn’t want to go — he tells Julia that they should be together, then breaks into “A Song for You” to underline his point. The tune is integrated into the story better than Karen’s was, but it still feels pretty unnecessary. Even so, Will Chase has a great voice, and it’s fun to see his chemistry with Debra Messing… especially considering what we know about their behind-the-scenes relationship.

When the song ends, it seems like Michael is resigned to let Julia go. But right before getting into the car, he turns around, grabs Julia, and starts kissing her passionately — and she reciprocates just as eagerly. As they smooch, oblivious to the world, the camera pans up to reveal that Leo’s watching the whole thing. And that, folks, is why you shouldn’t draw people’s attention by singing loudly before committing open-air adultery.

NEXT: The episode was almost Ellis-free; Footlights, alas, are not

Footlights

– I am proud to report that when you Google “Julia Houston,” the third search suggestion is “julia houston scarves.”

– What’s that cylinder thing one of the dancers is rolling around on before rehearsal? I figure it’s to warm up his legs, but I’m afraid of what might happen if I search “dancer loosening muscles.”

– Frank, by the way, is at a teaching convention in Far Far Away as his wife is sliding back into her affair. This is why people shouldn’t have jobs.

– Oh, also something that happened: Terrible Ellis helps Eileen with her computer. A nation yawns.

– At the diner, Julia tells Michael that she hopes Marilyn will explore bigger themes beyond the star’s love life. Do we feel like the songs are bearing this out?

Smash would be so great if it were just endless scenes of Julia and Tom pallin’ around. I loved watching him make snarky comments about her conversation with Frank.

– Your weekly dose of Monroe psychoanalysis: “Poor Marilyn… You know, this [being asked to be sexy all the time] is what drove her to booze and pills. This is what killed her.”

– So can we take Derek at his word? Do you think he actually cares about Ivy — or is he just unambiguously using her?

– Though Leo’s far from my favorite character, I did laugh at the way he delivered this line: “She said she tried it once at camp! You are such a liar.”

According to the promo, next Monday, “the dish hits the fan.” I can barely see my TV screen through all these suds! But before we talk about that, let’s talk about this: How did you feel about “Let’s Be Bad”?

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Smash

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  • In Season
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  • NBC

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