In which we learn that every tragic event has a silver lining -- even a promising young talent's untimely death

By Hillary Busis
May 05, 2013 at 11:51 AM EDT
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E14
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If a Jonathan Larson-inspired storyline falls in the woods (a.k.a. Saturday night around 8 p.m.), and it features two performers who were actually incredibly close to Larson when he died, but never sees fit to actually mention Larson’s name, does it make a sound?

Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of important differences between Jonathan Larson and Smash‘s dearly departed Kyle Bishop. For example, Larson was felled by an aortic aneurysm, while Kyle was killed by a wayward car. Larson, by all accounts, never slept with the powerful theater figure who mentored him, while Kyle totally did it with his Sondheim equivalent. And perhaps most saliently, Larson was a triple threat who wrote Rent‘s music, lyrics, and the connective tissue between its songs. Kyle, on the other hand, was a sweet guy but a crappy book writer whose words were too terrible to make it into Hit List‘s finished product… until he suddenly became a good writer, mainly due to the machinations of Our Lady Contrivance.

But either way, Kyle’s death — like Larson’s before it — has transformed the deceased into a symbol, imbuing his show with a deeper meaning and imparting upon it the sort of buzz that a cutthroat PR flack would kill for. (In fact, if Agnes had been working for Scott instead of Eileen, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had murdered Kyle purely for the publicity.) And though Smash‘s characters have suddenly and inexplicably gotten shy about comparing Hit List to Rent, it’s obvious that the fake show is following its predecessor’s trajectory precisely. Hit List is going to Broadway after all — even if the reason it achieved that goal makes some of its creative team members feel a bit queasy.

Before they learn what happened to Kyle, Smash‘s characters are occupied with business as usual. Eileen’s Eileening away, trying to determine who Ivy and Leigh will be up against when the Tony noms are announced. (She’s gone as far as to invent an entirely new category for Marilyn’s mom and Ivy’s work in Liaisons: Best Performance of an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical. Hey, think that’s anything like Best Featured Actress in a Musical?) Tom is leaving cute but embarrassing messages for Kyle, while Julia is glowering over their disintegrated partnership.

And then there’s Jimmy, who has an out-of-body experience while mournfully crooning “High and Dry” en route to Karen’s apartment. It reminds me of the video for Britney Spears’s “Lucky,” in that Real Jimmy is going about his business as Singing Invisible Jimmy puts his inner monologue to music. The whole thing is sort of inventive and sort of (very) cheesy and, all in all, indelibly Smash.

NEXT: The day the music died

The music dies as soon as Jimmy climbs up Karen’s fire escape — shivering as though he’s about to ask her to light his candle — pleads with her to take him back, and is promptly interrupted by Derek calling for Karen from another room. That’s right: The director and his muse have finally spent the night together, though we’ll soon learn that “nothing happened” between them. (“Nothing” = some wine-fueled makeouts in the episode’s cold open. Guess Iowa doesn’t subscribe to the base system.)

Thought this would be the most devastating thing Jimmy has to deal with today? Think again! Tom receives a call from Kyle’s phone, but the musical theater elf himself isn’t on the other line — instead, it’s the police, informing the composer that his young booty call has ascended to that malt shop in the sky.

News travels quickly, ensuring that Jimmy hears about it in the worst way possible. (Ana, bitchily: “God, you still don’t know?) Once it’s spread, the Smashers to whom Kyle was closest each remember their fallen friend via color-saturated flashbacks that appear periodically throughout the episode. Julia recalls the day she and Kyle discussed how to make Amanda’s death really resonate in Hit List. Tom reminisces about singing Billy Joel’s “Vienna” to Kyle after one of their romantic rendezvous. Karen reflects on how Kyle encouraged her to try and “fix” Jimmy. And Jimmy, naturally, thinks about one of the many times that Kyle cheered him on, because a) Jimmy is a selfish jerk and b) Kyle was always more of an encouragement machine/generic dreamer than a fully realized character.

Back in the present — there’s no day but today! — everyone’s trying to figure out how to properly honor Kyle. Eileen briefly takes a break from Tony strategizing, though she tells Julia that there’s no way they’ll convince Broadway’s theater owners to dim their marquees for an Off-Broadway writer with one show to his name. Derek declares that they are absolutely canceling that night’s performance, and Scott (with dollar signs practically visible in his eyes) reluctantly agrees.

But sure enough, when Scott and Julia arrive back at the New York Manhattan Theater Workshop that night, they find a giant crowd of people waiting to see Hit List. In light of this, the team decides to perform Hit List after all, albeit as a stripped-down concert rather than the whole aerial acrobatics/iPad art/sea anemone dance-filled shebang. Man, I can’t stop thinking about how weird Jesse L. Martin and Daphne Rubin-Vega must have felt about this whole plot thread.

NEXT: Viva La Vie Kyle

There’s just one problem with this idea: Karen is far, far away from the downtown theater, on a quest to find anguished Jimmy and prevent him from doing something stupid — a mission, by the way, that’s basically always futile. After searching high and low, she finally discovers him sitting on a pier overlooking the East River. (It was, apparently, his and Kyle’s “place.”) They have the talk that characters always have in situations like this — “He’s dead because of me!” “It was an accident!” “But HE WAS COMING TO TALK TO ME, KAREN. GOD, WHY ARE YOU SUCH AN IDIOT? I REFUSE TO BE SYMPATHETIC EVEN IN GRIEF” — and Karen ends it by telling Jimmy to come to the theater for Kyle’s tribute show.

That show, incidentally, seems to be the hottest ticket in town. How did all of these people know to show up even though tonight’s Hit List was supposed to be canceled? Simple: Scott never officially called off the show, then engineered the whole concert thing as a way to create buzz. Julia is so horrified by his exploitative actions that she ends their relationship. A couple things: One, they have this conversation in front of Scott’s Rent poster, and yet it and Larson still go completely unmentioned. And two — could Scott’s true identity be Benjamin Coffin III?

Derek pumps up the cast by telling them that a lot of people want to hear what they have to say, and what Kyle had to say. Too bad none of his words made it into the show, then! In any case, the concert begins, and we soon transition to the first time Amanda/Karen sings “Broadway Here I Come” — a song I did not realize was about suicide until this very moment. (P.S. This full synopsis of Hit List explains what actually happens in this damn show more clearly than anybody on Smash ever has. I didn’t realize that the VMAs figured into it so prominently!)

But just after she begins the song, Karen is interrupted by Jimmy, who walks right onstage and tells her that he wants to perform “La Vie Boheme” — I mean, “The Love I Meant to Say” — for real, rather than in front of a music stand. So some stagehands quickly set the scene, and wouldn’t you know it, this song just happens to be the perfect way for him to express the way he feels about Kyle. Snark aside, it’s very sweet, and Jimmy fighting tears while singing lines like “Sorry, that’s the word I want to sing to you/The other word is stay” is probably Jeremy Jordan’s best work on the show thus far.

After the show’s done, there’s just one thing left to do: Head over to the Lyceum Theatre, where Tom is having the marquee dimmed as a tribute to Kyle. The mood is somber and mournful… but it won’t stay that way, because good old Jerry has showed up just to tell Eileen that he’s going to personally steal all of Bombshell‘s presumptive Tonys by bringing Hit List to Broadway after all. So much for death bringing the theater community together!

NEXT: Tonight’s real loser: Sam

Footlights

– So wait, does this mean that Jimmy is back in Hit List for good… and poor Sam is out of a job once again?

– Performers possibly up for Best Actress in a Musical in Smash‘s world: Kate Baldwin from Seesaw, Jennifer Damiano from Beauty Queen, Audra McDonald from The House of Something (Flowers?), Laura Osnes from Oliver!, and Ivy and Karen, naturally.

– Performers possibly up for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, even though Eileen apparently doesn’t know that’s what it’s called: Victoria Clark from Beauty Queen, Leigh Conroy from Bombshell, Ivy from Liaisons, and Katie Finneran, Patina Miller, and Chita Rivera (who is 80 years old, holy crap) in shows whose names I didn’t catch.

– Oo, Ivy and her mother may compete for the same Tony! Ivy brings up how weird this would be; Leigh answers, “That’s right, it would be embarrassing to beat my own daughter.”

– Also, you’re going to the trouble of bringing Bernadette Peters back — but you only show us about five seconds of a Bombshell number she’s in? For shame, show. For shame.

– Tom, by the way, is dissolving his and Julia’s partnership just so that she can do what she wants with Gatsby without having to run every decision by him. Does this mean there’s hope for their friendship yet?

– You know Jerry’s a dick because he pronounces the word “advertisement” as “adver-tisment,” even though he’s American. Also, we’re back to Eileen tossing drinks in his face? Has Smash gone full circle or what?

– Karen tells Jimmy that she didn’t sleep with Derek because she’s in love with Jimmy. Derek claims the same thing to Ivy, subbing her name in for Jimmy’s. Are they both telling the truth?

– And either way, Ivy seems to be done with Derek, because he “will always have a Karen;” a sobering thought.

– Next week on Smash, it’s… the same set of previews we saw at the end of last week’s episode! Yeah, NBC has definitely stopped trying.

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  • 02/06/12
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