Ivy gets hopped up on goofballs, Michael and Julia get way too close, and Eileen gets in touch with her inner hipster

By Hillary Busis
Updated March 13, 2012 at 06:35 AM EDT
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Credit: Patrick Harbron/NBC
S1 E6
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Between Ivy having a full-fledged Spanonian meltdown, Karen hypnotizing a group of tiny Jews, and Eileen crowing “it’s my turn” before annihilating an animated deer, “Chemistry” may have been Smash‘s campiest episode to date. And that’s saying something. (The writers also might owe some royalties to Darren Aronofsky — but hey, who among us doesn’t?)

Some may bemoan this development, grumbling that Smash was supposed to be a realistic take on Broadway. To them, I’ll say only this: I’d rather watch a show that’s ridiculous than a show that’s boring. Sure, Campy Smash can inspire more than a few eye-rolls. But it’s also much more fun to dissect than the adoption story line or Leo’s awful acting.

And on that note, let’s head to the rehearsal space, where Julia is frantically switching scenes around as Tom and Derek watch. Derek is more than a little annoyed with her, and rightfully so; the workshop performance is getting closer every day, but Marilyn‘s book and lyrics still aren’t close to being finished. (What, then, have they been rehearsing? Oh well, suspension of disbelief.) It seems that adultery is acting as a dam for Julia’s creative flow. As the creative team argues, Terrible Ellis lurks in his lerkim and adds more secrets to his hair.

Karen, meanwhile, is busy gasping, first over the ever-changing script and then over her astronomical credit-card bill. Dancer Sue doesn’t see what the big deal is, since she only owes $326.38. If her own bill were that low, she’d be “singing and dancing,” says Sue. “You’d be singing and dancing anyway!” Bobby and Jessica reply in unison. See, they simply cannot do it alone!

Ellis scurries over to Eileen’s office and tells her that Marilyn is basically in shambles. She grabs her stuff and heads to rehearsal just in time to see Ivy totally choking while singing “Let Me Be Your Star.” Her once-perfect voice is suddenly sounding pretty pitchy, dawg; she can’t even get close to hitting the notes she usually nails easily. If Ivy suffers the same fate as poor Julie Andrews, I might burst into sobs.

Ivy and Tom head to the doctor while the rest of the cast continues rehearsing. Shortly after Derek dismisses everyone, Tom returns and tells the team that Ivy’s throat is inflamed. Though the doc has prescribed a steroid, Ivy is hypersensitive to drugs and doesn’t want to take it. Everyone else, though, is concerned that mere vocal rest and tea won’t be enough. Derek doesn’t waste time suggesting that they ask Karen to fill in for Ivy. Tom’s completely against the idea — if Ivy finds out, it’ll only freak her out more. As they discuss their options, they have no idea that Karen is still in the room.

NEXT: Miss Rand Lives for a Day

That evening at Ivy’s apartment, Derek nonchalantly urges his leading lady to take the Prednisone she’s been given. He calls the drug a miracle worker; I hope this means that taking it will teach Ivy how to spell w-a-t-e-r. Ivy’s worried about side effects, but as Derek says, she works in musical theater: “There are lots of terrible side effects. Alcoholism, bankruptcy, insanity.” And, on a more serious note, if she doesn’t get well they’ll have no choice but to ask Karen to fill in. That’s all Ivy needs to hear. She reaches into her Marc by Marc bag and pulls out her magic pills. Get ready for some Smash: After School Special Edition.

Julia’s going through some tumult of her own. At rehearsal, Michael keeps trying to get her to see him alone, and she keeps shooting him down. Even so, she can’t help daydreaming about their passionate smooch as she makes pancakes for her son. Her reverie is so intense that it causes her to burn breakfast, giving Leo yet another reason to hate his mom. He’s clearly livid about what he’s seen, or at least as livid as actor Emory Cohen can get. Things don’t really get less tense when Husband Frank suddenly returns from Far Far Away, totally oblivious to what’s happened in his absence.

At rehearsal, a visibly distraught Ivy tells Derek that the Prednisone is giving her cold sweats, a headache, anxiety, a gash, a rash, and purple bumps. All the director cares about is whether her voice has healed. And because Ivy isn’t already feeling bad enough, he reminds her once more that Karen’s going to step in if she can’t sing. Using fear as a motivating factor might work if you’re, say, in the military, but it’s less than helpful when dealing with cripplingly insecure actors.

Ellis pops by Eileen’s office unannounced — again — to let her know that Ivy’s voice is sounding great. Instead of shooing him away or turning him into a mouse or something, Eileen accepts Ellis’s info. When he asks if she needs anything else, she considers him carefully. Please, please let this scene cut to Eileen feeding our terrible friend to Cousin It.

Alas, we have no such luck. We next see Ellis and Eileen walking through a gorgeous high-rise apartment. Ellis’s buddy Zach apparently works for its broker; the space isn’t even on the market yet, but he’s pulled some strings to show it to Eileen. After leaving the apartment, the bright young things take Eileen to a divey bar called the Bushwack. Terrible is really working hard to get the producer on his side. They drink $7 martinis (a bargain!) and manage to play Big Buck Hunter without feeding the game any quarters. Suddenly, Eileen starts to feel like she’s 24 instead of as old as time.

Tom plays a melody for his partner, but tortured-looking Julia is still way too distracted to pay attention to anyone but herself. Finally, she confesses that Michael kissed her. Tom, to his credit, manages to sound pretty nonjudgmental while telling her that she has to think about her family. Not to mention Michael’s family! Lest we forget, the guy has a tiny baby at home. Are we supposed to think he’s anything besides the slimiest dude ever?

NEXT: And that’s when things get weird

Apparently, another side effect of Prednisone is excessive literalism. Ivy stares at her reflection in her mirror, then sings, “I stare at my reflection in the mirror.” Like Karen before her, Ivy is belting alone in her bedroom; this time, the tune is “Who You Are” by Jessie J. Her voice sounds great, but the sequence’s jarring cuts — as well as Ivy’s unnerving tendency to stare directly into the camera — show that all is not right with Ms. Lynn. After proving that her instrument is as finely tuned as ever, Ivy stops singing. “It’s fine! It’s going to be fine,” she says to herself.

But the vision of Karen-as-Marilyn that suddenly appears in Ivy’s mirror thinks differently. Yup: Ivy is hallucinating. Because of arthritis medication. I begin counting down the moments until she wanders out into the street and turns her head toward the heavens, raising her fist and shouting, “NEELY O’HARAAAAA!”

As Ivy flips, the object of her obsession is way out in Long Island. Karen is filling in for fellow ensemble member Jessica at a bar mitzvah, despite the fact that she’s basically the biggest gentile who ever ate ham. The reception features a Torah-shaped cake, which amuses me to no end.

Ivy’s apparition freaks her out so much that she texts both Not-Straight Sam and Tom, asking if they can come over. They arrive and instantly start trying to calm down the blonde, who’s worrying about bloating and growing wolf-like hair. Prednisone is a hell of a drug. Tom, at least, doesn’t mind ditching his plans to come to Ivy’s aid: Her call came when he was in the middle of an unbelievably dull cocktail party at Boring John Lawyer’s place. Evidently, their terrible sex didn’t stop that would-be romance in its tracks. Something tells me, though, that Tom might soon ditch Boring John for Not-Straight Sam. (That something is Smash, which is about as subtle as its name.)

Julia’s world almost comes crashing down when Michael calls her at home, yet again — and Frank answers the phone. She manages to wrench the receiver away and takes it outside, where she hisses that Michael seriously, seriously has to stop. DiMaggio, though, won’t take no for an answer. He asks her to meet him in the rehearsal space at 10 p.m., then leaves to deal with his poor unsuspecting wife and son. Though Julia has no intention of meeting Michael, eventually her resolve weakens and she heads back to Manhattan — still clad in her pajama shirt. Maybe she thinks that dressing frumpily while cheating on one’s husband somehow makes the adultery not as bad?

Tom sends word to Karen, saying that she might need to step in as Marilyn. The news invigorates Iowa enough to sing a spirited rendition of “Hava Nagila,” even though she doesn’t know the words — she couldn’t Google the song before going to perform at a freakin’ bar mitzvah? She follows it with a pretty take on Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out.” As Karen does her best Flo impression, legions of bored kids are drawn to the dance floor, where they groove as only awkward 13-year-olds can groove.

NEXT: Ivy snaps… part two

Illicit affair time! Julia arrives at the rehearsal space, determined to shut Michael down once and for all. But one thing leads to another, and soon enough he’s unbuttoning her sultry PJ top. The meeting ends as we all guessed it would: with the lyricist and DiMaggio going at it on the rehearsal room’s couch. The camera does not pan to Terrible Ellis hiding in the piano, or popping up from beneath the floorboards, or using his prehensile tail to cling to the ceiling. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t there.

The next morning at rehearsal, Derek breezily asks Ivy how “the voice” is. He’s probably rooting for Team Adam, right? Ivy edgily replies that “the voice” is fine: “Do you want to know how I am?” The answer, of course, is no.

When Karen arrives, Tom apologizes for sending her confusing texts; it turns out, of course, that Ivy doesn’t need a stand-in. Though today won’t be her big Marilyn break, it could very well still be a milestone: a music exec named Bobby Raskin heard her sing at the bar mitzvah, and he wants Karen to give him a ring. I could say something now about the show reinforcing Jewish stereotypes, but… feh.

The gang gets down to business, and we see them perform a stripped down version — no dream stage tonight — of “History Is Made at Night.” It appears that Julia’s late-night rendezvous with Michael inspired her to finally finish the song’s lyrics. The slow-burning ballad is sexy, catchy, and kind of uncomfortable to watch — especially when the choreography calls for Ivy and Michael to step onto the very same couch where Julia and Michael were doing the 20th Century Fox Mambo just hours ago.

As the stars are reaching the song’s climax, Ivy accidentally loses her footing on said sex couch and collapses into giggles. Derek, though, isn’t laughing. He makes a snide comment about Ivy not being sexy enough, thus provoking Ivy to deliver a venomous, drug-influenced rant. As the rest of Marilyn’s team watches, fascinated and horrified, she screams at Derek for humiliating her once more and suggests shrilly that maybe they should just ask Karen to step in. She finishes by calling the director a narcissistic prick who isn’t that good-looking — or that good in bed — before storming out into the hallway.

After witnessing this latest bit of drama, Eileen goes back to the Bushwack with Ellis and Zach — and this time, she’s asked a potential investor to join her at the dive as well. Somehow, Ellis’s influence is only making the producer grow stronger; she must be sucking his youthful energy out as he sleeps. We end with an instantly iconic shot of Anjelica Huston picking up the plastic Big Buck Hunter gun and gleefully taking a shot. Betty Draper, eat your heart out.

NEXT: Footlights, plus the promise of Bernadette Peters (!)

Footlights

– My favorite Prednisone side effect: According to the U.S. government, it may cause “inappropriate happiness.”

– They’ve appeared in previous episodes, but just in case you were unaware: Michael’s wife is played by Michelle Federer, who appeared as Wicked‘s original Nessarose. Marilyn creative teamer Linda, meanwhile, is played by Ann Harada, who may be best known as Avenue Q‘s original Christmas Eve.

– Karen and Jessica have become pretty buddy-buddy. I wonder how much Ivy is hanging out with her old pals in the chorus now; their loyalties may have shifted.

– Between Julia’s brownstone, the apartment Eileen doesn’t buy, and Boring John’s palatial place, Smash is really bringing it on the real estate front.

– Attendees at the workshop supposedly include Nathan Lane and the Nederlanders. Think we’ll see them next week?

– Was the bar mitzvah band playing an instrumental version of “The National Pastime” before Karen broke into “Shake It Off”?

– Yeesh, we get it, Not-Straight Sam likes sports. Now can we please learn something else about his character?

– Boring John takes his ice cream in a cone, while Tom takes his in a cup. Clearly, this relationship is going nowhere.

– Ivy seethes that “artists are not football players that can take endless abuse and still do their jobs.” Guess she doesn’t keep up with the news.

Next week’s show looks incredibly juicy — expect to see Eileen telling Ellis he’ll “never work in this town again” (hooray!) and Tom catching Mulia in the act. But most importantly, Bernadette Peters is going to guest as Ivy’s controlling stage mother. In the meantime, let’s discuss “Chemistry.” Did it make you start feeling for Ivy again? Do you think Karen might be headed for a career as a recording star? And finally, how much would you pay to play 10 minutes of Big Buck Hunter with Anjelica Huston?

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