Liza Minnelli!! Also, some other stuff happens

By Hillary Busis
April 07, 2013 at 02:00 PM EDT
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E10
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Welcome, friends, to the first official Smashurday… or should I say Zmashurday? (Yeah, I probably shouldn’t.)

There’s only one thing that could possibly ease the pain of Smash being relegated to the land of Cops repeats and hour-long infomercials: The presence of one Liza Minnelli, vamping and schlurring through a sweet original tune as only she can. No wonder the show’s writers chose to have Liza play herself; nobody they invented could be as much of a character as Ms. Minnelli is naturally. (Though this does mean that Smash takes place in a world where Liza Minnelli exists, but Bernadette Peters doesn’t. Perish the thought!)

Among Liza’s many abilities, she possesses the power to single-handedly heal interpersonal rifts wide enough to tear an entire show apart. As “The Surprise Party” begins, Ivy is still sullenly insisting that Tom can’t sit with her. (We never see her declare, “We can’t be friends — I’m in tech!” — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.) Tom is so glum about being iced out by his pal that he doesn’t even crack a smile when Julia jokes that Leo is off visiting colleges. Good one, Julia! Where’s he applying, Bag of Scarves State?

Adding insult to injury, Tom realizes in the midst of rehearsal that he’s forgotten it’s Ivy’s birthday. This sin is particularly grievous because unlike everyone else on the planet, “Ivy loves her birthday!” He decides he’s going to make it up to her with an extravagant present — LIZA LIZA LIZA — utterly blind to the fact that Ivy’s already planning a party to which Tom is not invited. Wait, am I accidentally watching High School Musical? Not again!

Meanwhile, Karen and Jimmy are indulging in some high school-esque hijinks of their own. (Admit it: If you’re reading this, there is a 100 percent chance that you engaged in a steamy backstage makeout session sometime between the ages of 14 and 18.) Jimmy’s still insisting that he and Karen don’t tell anyone about their offstage activities, because that would be unprofessional. Sucking face in the workplace during business hours is, of course, totally professional.

In between private sessions in the wardrobe room, K&J find time to rehearse a new Hit List number — “Original,” a song all about normal girls who got famous by embracing new, manufactured identities. (Hey, what’s the theme of Hit List again?) It’s a fun, poppy earworm of a song that sounds more like Taylor Swift than Jonathan Larson, which is not at all a bad thing; the choreography, which shows normally-dressed dancers transforming themselves into facsimiles of Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey, is especially cool. Let’s pray to Patti Lupone that this is the closest Lana ever gets to Broadway, though.

NEXT: Minnellium Approaches

New York Times arts editor Richard Francis — who is not Henry Francis from Mad Men, despite what my brain and eyes keep insisting — has spent so much time with Smash‘s characters over the past few weeks that he appears to be going native. He’s dating Eileen, advising Hit List to up Ana’s stage time, and slyly asking Derek if he and Karen are doing the ol’ Sutton Foster. (That’s theater for “intercourse.”) Derek answers that they aren’t… but he clearly wishes they were, since he goes out, gets totally wasted, then reappears and tries to hit on Karen in the theater. This should end well.

Oh hey, Kyle’s got a storyline tonight too! Julia’s allowed herself to be roped into acting as a dreaded dramaturg for Hit List; she and Scott enlist Kyle to help them brainstorm ways to add more Diva scenes to the show. What a big night — first he learns what index cards are, then he finds himself actually contributing something to the musical.

But who can muster up any excitement about sweet, simple Kyle when Liza’s on the horizon? Much to her chagrin — and sort of against her will — Ivy finds herself at a fancy dinner with Tom. The poor guy is so desperate to be liked that I’m expecting him to break out Meredith Grey’s “pick me, choose me, love me” monologue at any moment. Thankfully, though, he won’t need to… because here comes La Minnelli! She swans in, and Ivy instantly starts freaking out. Then the EGOT winner calls Ivy a “birthday doll” — and just like that, all is forgiven between Ivy and Tom.

Or it would be, if Ivy hadn’t just realized that a group of photographers and the Post‘s Michael Riedel also happen to be in the restaurant. Has Tom set this whole thing up as a PR stunt? Nope — the real culprit is Eileen, who heard about the Liza thing and decided to use it as an opportunity to get Bombshell some good press. The birthday girl, deflated, readies herself to do an Ivy Lynn Special — that is, storming away angrily — when she’s stopped by the dulcet sounds of Ms. Minnelli herself. Liza proceeds to sing a special song that Tom wrote just for this occasion, all about how he hopes Ivy will win rave reviews for Bombshell. Awww!

Now Ivy and Tom really are on good footing once more — though at the last moment, Ivy decides not to invite him to her party, which is being held at a bar right next to her apartment. (Sam’s going to be there, after all, and Ivy has a strict “ovaries before brovaries” policy.) And then Tom, who’s come to Ivy’s building to return the keys she accidentally left at the restaurant, stumbles onto the shindig anyway. Awkward.

NEXT: No change, Smash can’t change, Smash can’t change, Smash can’t change

Despite everything, the two ex-besties do end the night on pretty good terms. After chasing Tom down, Ivy apologizes — but lets him know that for the duration of the show, he’s going to have to act like her boss rather than her friend. Though this bums Tom out, he agrees that trying to separate their work relationship from their personal relationship is probably a good idea.

Because you know what happens when you don’t compartmentalize? You end up like brooding, bitter Derek, who’s back in shouting mode now that Karen has shut him down. At rehearsal, he savagely rips apart everything Jimmy does. And when Jimmy thinks somebody’s acting like a jerk, you know things have to be bad. Eventually, Karen realizes that Derek is acting out because he’s jealous — and learns that Jimmy’s been so reluctant to go public with their relationship because Derek told him to stay away from her. “I am not a prize to be won!” she huffs, stalking off to seek Rajah’s comforting embrace. That was not a coded Dev reference.

At least everything’s going swimmingly for Kyle. He’s come up with a new plan for Hit List that casts The Diva as Karen’s character’s primary antagonist. She’s going to spend the second act plotting her revenge against Amanda, a plan that will presumably involve strangulation by aerial gymnastics ribbon. There are just a couple of issues. One, Jimmy hasn’t signed off on any of this. And two, in order to beef up Ana’s role, the team will have to reduce Karen’s. That gives Kyle pause — but it sounds perfectly fine to a spiteful Derek, who swings by right after his triangular confrontation with Karen and Jimmy.

Sadness montage, set to Ivy’s rendition of “Bittersweet Symphony”! Tom’s in his palatial apartment, methodically placing an item of clothing in each room so that he feels less alone. Ivy’s sitting by herself at the bar, her birthday party now nothing but a memory. Scott and Julia are walking down the street holding hands, something that doesn’t seem sad until you realize that one of them will die of AIDS in Act II. And Jimmy’s showing up on Karen’s doorstep, convincing her to give him another chance even though he’s the worst. What a gentleman — he’s offering a shivering Karen his coat! And he’s even put a little party favor in the pocket! Karen’s all, “Huh, why was Jimmy carrying around a tiny baggie filled with sugar? We don’t even have baggies this small in Iowa!”

Another sign of bad news: Derek swans into Ivy’s party bar at the last minute, bearing a card and a wolfish smile. Hey, he settled for the other Marilyn before; why not seek out his consolation prize a second time? Translation: Run awaaay, birthday girl!

NEXT: Wait, are Richard Francis and Henry Francis actually the same?

Footlights

– I honestly did love Ivy and Derek’s relationship last season, at least during the moments when they appeared to genuinely like and respect each other. But him going after her just because he’s been rejected by Karen (again) makes my stomach hurt.

– On second thought, Richard Francis and Henry Francis might actually be the same person. (Exhibit AExhibit B.) Maybe Richard is Henry’s lovechild!

– Julia thinks the issue with The Diva’s character is that “she’s just a symbol, a trigger; she has no real agency of her own.” Isn’t she just describing what Marilyn was in that “brilliant,” male gaze-centric version of Bombshell?

– Karen knows exactly two things about Jimmy: “He’s talented,” and “he’s friends with Kyle.” She might as well be describing Eric Cartman.

– Karen: “I’ve been thinking.” Jimmy: “You shouldn’t do that.” Our male lead, ladies and germs.

– Wait, so Tom’s a lyricist now too? The man does it all!

– There are so many things I want to know about Julia and Scott’s Amelia Earhart play! Did they claim the aviatrix was a spy? Was Eleanor Roosevelt her love interest? How many characters yelled “Hot dogs!” at some point?

– Scott really wants Julia to work as a dramaturg, or a consultant, or a fairy godmother on Hit List. Is he planning to pay her or formally credit her? And given the intertwined histories of Hit List and Bombshell, would Eileen really be okay with this?

– Speaking of: Eileen and Richard’s subplot is a perfect complement to Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In.

Next week: Bombshell gets ready for previews, Ivy endures an “onstage mishap,” and tensions between Karen and Derek keep simmering. Will you stay tuned, or is a weekend Smash an unwatched Smash in your book?

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