Relationships begin, end, and spin their wheels as Bombshell finally opens on Broadway

By Hillary Busis
April 21, 2013 at 02:00 PM EDT
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E12
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How is it that after 27 melodrama-filled episodes focusing heavily on Karen and Ivy’s eternal rivalry, we’ve only seen the dueling Marilyns duet only four times? (That’s including the pilot’s version of “Let Me Be Your Star,” which features only a bare minimum of co-singing, and “Would I Lie To You,” which I’m willing to bet you forgot about long ago.)

As great as the ladies sound individually, their voices really do complement each other exceptionally well – and the sight of these frenemies crooning together despite their differences is much more interesting than scenes in which one triumphs while the other glowers. Unfortunately, given tonight’s (shocking! unpredictable!) plot developments, Karen and Ivy won’t be patching things up and, say, starring as Roxie and Velma in Broadway’s Chicago revival anytime soon… unless there happens to be a tie at the Tonys. (Side note: How awesome would it be if neither girl won Best Actress?)

“Opening Night” begins as Bombshell’s final preview ends. While the show itself seems to be in good shape, the lives of its creators are, predictably, a shambles. Tom’s acting like the Mayor of Passive Aggressive Village every time Julia pitches an idea for their next project. Eileen is torn between maintaining friendly relations with the Times and cursing that two-faced Richard Francis into the deepest depths of hell. And Ivy, against her better judgment, has broken her self-imposed media blackout, exposing her to rando message board comments about how she’s a “career chorus girl” with “half the grace of her predecessor.” (Obviously, they’re talking about Rebecca Duvall.) Perhaps even worse, she’s still sleeping with Derek — though Ivy does at least know enough to balk when he kinda-sorta suggests that he wants to make their relationship official.

And speaking of shades of season 1 — dost my eyes deceive me? Who is that shorn Danny Strong lookalike walking around Tom’s apartment with a glazed look and a mouth full of marbles? Could it… could it be Prospective College Student Leo, the pot-smoking, sister-craving bundle of scarves who was tossed out with the trash (i.e. Ellis) when the show’s sophomore season began? And eww, is he seriously making his grand return by earnestly asking his mom if Ivy gets naked in Bombshell? What would your baby sibling in China think of that, Leo?!

As if the return of Julia’s prodigal son weren’t shocking enough, we’ve also just learned that Smash is really committed to its Jimmy Collins/Mad Men crossover arc. Much like a certain Don Draper, Jimmy is haunted by a figure from his past named Adam — and just like Don’s, Jimmy’s Adam also happens to be the faker’s biological brother. Ana passes this news on to Karen, somehow managing not to deliver it gleefully despite how obnoxiously Karen’s been treating her since The Great 16-Bar Switchover of 2013.

NEXT: It’s Houston and Levitt’s latest show. Will it flop, or will it go?

Clearly, all these issues will come to a head at Bombshell’s big opening, a glitzy event that attracts everyone from Rosie O’Donnell to the cast and crew of Hit List to real-life Broadway vets Marc Shaima and Scott Wittman, a.k.a. the dynamic duo actually responsible for Bombshell’s songs. Guess they’ve been pleased with the way nobody ever critiques the show-within-a-show’s music (despite the enduring presence of “Dig Deep”). Before the show can begin, we’re treated to some offstage drama: Jimmy finally comes clean to Karen about his sordid past in Mr. Bumble’s orphanage Brother Adam’s Den of Iniquity, where he took shelter after he and his bro escaped their abusive dad. If you remember Jimmy and Kyle’s initial explanation of Hit List’s plot, none of this should be particularly surprising… though it apparently is news to Karen.

Meanwhile, Tom has kinda-sorta-not-really made up with Julia, by which I mean he’s no longer openly antagonizing her (progress!). She melts his heart by presenting her partner with a first edition of The Great Gatsby, then telling him that the rights to the story will soon be theirs. A nation of 9th graders who yearn to have someone else illuminate the book’s symbols can’t wait to see what Houston and Levitt do with it.

Tom, though, responds carefully to Julia’s news, saying that while they’ve long wanted to get their hands on Gatsby, he doesn’t want to rush into a new show just yet. There’s just one thing he’s not telling her: Another producer has told Tom that he’s a shoo-in to direct an upcoming revival of City of Angels, provided his Bombshell work gets a love letter from the Times. Glad to see that there’s exactly one context in which newspapers can still make or break somebody’s future.

We’ll have to wait and see what Richard Francis’s rag has to say about Tom’s direction, though — because it’s finally, finally showtime! The bad news: After the curtain rises, we don’t get to see another montage of Bombshell’s greatest moments (give the people “The National Pastime,” Safran! It’s all we want!). The good news: We do, however, see Ivy perform “Don’t Forget Me” in its entirety, leaving the audience enraptured and Karen looking like she ate one too many corn dogs at the state fair. Derek’s enthusiastic hoots and shouts of “Bravo!” certainly aren’t helping matters. Better go find a bar with a stage where you can nurse those wounds, Iowa.

Karen’s jealousy is appropriate: the show, it seems, has “hit” written all over it, especially considering early reviews from Variety, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal. Even Derek goes as far as to tell Scott that he thinks Tom’s Bombshell is “pretty good,” which is the equivalent of a normal, kind person likening it to a transcendent, life-changing experience.

NEXT: The sky is blue, water is wet, and Jimmy ruins everything

Unfortunately, Julia can’t enjoy the positive feedback. She’s too livid after hearing that Tom’s actually pressing pause on Gatsby because he wants a crack at City of Angels — news Julia has to hear from Rosie O’Donnell, of all people. Insult to injury alert!

If Karen and Ivy can smooth things over, though, there’s hope for Smash’s latter-day Will and Grace yet. The old Marilyn runs into the new Marilyn at the opening’s after party — and, after a bit of awkwardness, Ivy confesses that she can’t stop comparing her own performance to Karen’s. Karen responds by playing the old “no, you’re not fat, I’M the cow” trick: “No one could have been better than you tonight,” she tells Ivy. “Not… me. Not anyone. Not even Marilyn Monroe herself.” You might be laying it on a bit thick there, Iowa – but Ivy, naturally, eats the praise up with a spoon, good-naturedly enthusing about making “the magical Karen Cartwright” jealous. Aww — what is this strange, warm feeling in my chest? Could it be… happiness?

Aaaand here comes Jimmy, screwing everything up right on schedule. Ana does, in fact, appear to be dating Slim Shady, a.k.a. Adam, a.k.a. the Sour Patch Kid’s bad-boy brother. She brings him to the after party, and it’s not long before Kyle and then Jimmy himself have picked a fight with the drug-dealing so-and-so. You’ve got to love Eileen’s nonchalant response to the scuffle — she simply rolls her eyes, tosses a whole bucket of ice on the wrestling boys, and commands them to get the hell out of her party. If only she had had a gigantic martini handy instead of that ice.

Ooo, look — Scott has increased the magnification on his phone to truly heroic levels in order to share that anxiously-awaited Times review with Bombshell’s team. It’s not an unqualified rave — Tom’s direction is labeled “overblown,” and the reviewer wonders why his work and Julia’s seem to be out of synch. It is, however, pretty positive about everything else, which prompts Eileen to declare that she intends Bombshell to run longer than The Lion King. (One performance down; 6,411 to go.) And in order to get there, she and publicist Agnes are going to see to it that Bombshell sweeps the Tonys. Good thing there won’t be any other buzzy shows created by, say, former collaborators competing with Marilyn!

After that thrilling, aforementioned Karen/Ivy duet of “That’s Life” — accompanied by Marc Shaiman himself, no less! — the party starts to wind down. Julia goes home with Scott, who encourages her to just write a Gatsby play by herself; Tom goes home with Kyle, of all people, who’s just a few steps above Terrible Ellis in terms of creepy bedwarmers. Derek, too, doesn’t go home alone — though he has to settle for someone other than his Miss Monroe, who’s just discovered that Derek only sought her out after Karen rejected him (again). As a newly-minted Broadway star, Ivy is nobody’s sloppy seconds — and she’s also dignified enough to simply turn Derek down without sharing precisely why she’s turning him down. Go Ivy!

Derek, though, has bigger things to worry about than Ivy’s affections — because he and Scott have pledged to fast-track Hit List’s own transfer to Broadway. Anyone excited for Karen. Vs. Ivy, Round Infinity? …Anyone?

NEXT: Footlights

Footlights

– Julia thinks that Gulliver’s Travels, Lord of the Flies, the poetry of Ezra Pound, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar would all make great musicals. Was she just reading titles off of a stoner English major’s bookshelves or what?

– I would watch an entire series about that snooty British dude who was bad-mouthing Ivy after Bombshell’s last preview: “She’s been knocking around the ensemble for yeahs!”

– On-again/off-again Karen/Jimmy appear to be off again this week, for those keeping score at home.

– Jimmy, while trying to decide what to wear for the opening: “I don’t want to look like a jerk.” Everyone else, in unison: “Too late!”

– How much does it cost to repair a friendship? The answer, when it comes to Great Gatsby first editions: up to $189,000.

– Ana is wearing The Scarf of Hard but Necessary Truths when she tells Karen about Jimmy’s sordid past. Could this mean everyone’s favorite accessories are slowly getting integrated back into Smash?

– You’ve got to love that 42nd Street-inspired pep talk Leigh gave Ivy right before the curtain rose. “You’re going out there a reformed pill-popping mess with massive insecurity issues, but you’ve got to come back a star!”

– So Tom’s review wasn’t good enough to secure him the City of Angels gig, and Julia’s gearing up to write her own Gatsby play. Clearly, then, he and Kyle are destined to collaborate. I can see it now: Kyle will move the index cards around, while Tom will do everything else.

– Your Weekly Moment of Bobby: When Ivy and Karen sing about the “drama we’ve seen,” Bombshell’s greatest chorus member points to himself. He is a national treasure.

– During their bathroom heart-to-heart, Karen agrees when Ivy’s half-jokingly asks her not to do a Broadway show this season. Think this will matter at all when Karen finds out about Derek and Scott’s ultimate plans for Hit List?

– I know she was supposed to mean this in a kind way, but I still snickered when Ivy toasted Karen, saying that she “wouldn’t be here” without her. It was like Jamie Foxx earnestly thanking Will Smith for passing on Django.

– And finally, let’s talk “Don’t Forget Me”: Whose version do you prefer, Iowa’s or the chorus girl’s?

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