Yeah, Smash got canceled. But we're still recapping it!

By Hillary Busis
May 12, 2013 at 06:08 AM EDT
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E15
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Well, it’s official: In just two weeks, Smash will face its final curtain call.

The show’s cancellation has been a foregone conclusion for months now, ever since NBC announced that it was moving the musical drama to Saturday nights. And similarly, there’s not much left to say about how Smash repeatedly squandered its incredible potential. (For more on that, click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph.)

But even so, I got a serious twinge of The Sads when I heard that the net has formally pulled the plug on the series once labeled its Great White Hope. Smash is consistently inconsistent, frequently inept, occasionally infuriating… and, despite its various shortcomings, like nothing else on television. Its failure makes it a sad cautionary tale for ambitious network execs — and it also means that we may never again see a weekly musical series aimed at adults airing outside cable.

But hey — at this stage in the game, there’s no point in dwelling. Instead, let’s concentrate on utterly dissecting tonight’s episode, the third-to-last hour of Smash that will ever air on NBC. Read, eye-roll, and be merry, for tomorrow (ish) Smash shall die!

In 1996, it took Rent about two months to make the transition from Off-Broadway darling to full-blown Broadway show. (Producers officially announced that they’d be bringing the musical uptown in February; it ended its New York Theater Workshop run in March; it premiered at the Nederlander Theatre in April). That seminal show’s Smash doppelganger manages the same feat in, oh, just under five minutes. And as we see from a preview performance, a few things have changed since this “edgy” musical traded the New York Manhattan Theater Workshop for the Barrymore.

For example: Dancer Daisy, best known as that lady who sued Derek and then had sex with him, is now in the show’s ensemble. Sam, having had his lead role stolen back by Jimmy, is now playing a music manager character we’ve never seen before. (Sam = Smash‘s Jerry Gergich; discuss.) And most surprisingly, once-confident Ana is now stinking up the stage, walking uncertainly in her Gaga-esque shoes and delivering lines with all the take-charge attitude of Karen ordering a chopped salad. (“No onions, and could I get dressing on the side? Thaaaanks.”)

Naturally, this is causing some friction among the members of Hit List‘s creative team. Jimmy thinks Ana’s just taking some time to adjust to the new theater, which requires her to do her aerial act while suspended 18 feet higher than she used to be (a legitimate point). Derek is convinced that Ana simply might not be able to hack it on a bigger stage. And Julia… well, Julia’s convinced that sending mass text messages to the audience during the course of the show is the solution to all their problems. A sign that Smash has gone thoroughly off the rails: Later in the show, she’s proven right.

NEXT: Just what Broadway needs: Another show about a stripper

But mass text messages aren’t the only factor in Julia’s storyline tonight! She’s also still studiously avoiding Tom, despite the fact that the two of them are scheduled to appear that night in a Houston and Levitt tribute concert performed exclusively for Tony voters. Adding insult to injury, she’s spending all of her time working on Hit List — despite the fact that it’s now Bombshell‘s direct competition. As is Julia and Tom’s wont, the two of them have once again switched places on the sanity spectrum. This week, Tom’s playing the role of the rational, eminently sympathetic one, while Julia’s acting like a selfish monster. Pro…gress?

Actually, maybe I spoke too soon. Tom is being entirely reasonable when it comes to Julia… but he’s a bit of a jerk when it comes to Ivy, who’s all set to sing a song from Bombshell at the concert. At the last minute, though, Tom decides that he wants to show off his directing skillz by transforming the tribute concert (of “forgotten songs from obscure musicals”) into a fully staged revue about “a down-on-its-luck Vegas strip club in the ’50s.” Yeah, Smash is going to great lengths to hold onto its three straight male viewers.

Anyhow: Ivy will now be tasked with playing a “depressed alcoholic stripper” who performs a burlesque number instead of her Marilyn song. (What, “I Never Met a Wolf” wasn’t on-the-nose enough?) The star isn’t so into this idea, mostly because there’s been some nasty gossip about her in the tabloids — all of it true — and Eileen Agnes has informed her to keep a squeaky-clean offstage image, lest she lose out on that imminent Tony nomination (Big talk from someone who used to make a living gyrating in blue vinyl pants). Spoiler alert: Ivy does the “striptease” at the revue anyway, and everybody loves it. Second spoiler alert: The number requires her to get a lot less naked than she’s getting every single night in Bombshell.

So much for that drama. Back at Hit List, Derek has given Ana the night off so that he can test Daisy in the role of The Diva instead. When Karen realizes what he’s up to, she gets predictably indignant; Ana is, after all, the reason that The Diva exists as the show’s second lead in the first place. Derek, though, has several perfectly understandable explanations for why he’s seeing how Daisy performs. Chief among them: Something about this version of the show just isn’t right, and since Jimmy is dead-set against anybody altering a word of sainted Kyle’s book (which, let’s remember, didn’t seem to exist a few episodes ago, when Hit List was supposed to be entirely sung-through), he’ll have to look elsewhere for ways to fix the musical before it opens.

It’s an interesting notion, the idea that what’s good for Kyle’s memory won’t necessarily be good for the show. (The same, I’m sure, was true for Rent. Do we really think that “Take your needles/Take your fancy prayer/And don’t forget/Get the moonlight out of your hair!” would have made it into the show if Jonathan Larson hadn’t died?) Unfortunately, the episode totally disregards this fruitful idea with the ridiculous plot development that follows Derek and Karen’s discussion.

NEXT: Derek Wills and the Phantom Sex Tape

See, Ana’s agent has discovered via a quick Google that Daisy is one of the six dancers who accused Derek of sexual harassment back at the beginning of the season, then mysteriously dropped her suit. Using this information, she deduces that Daisy must be blackmailing Derek in order to get a part in Hit List. You know, because that’s much more likely than Ana getting axed because she simply isn’t good enough.

And then, of course, we learn that Ana’s insane theory is actually correct. As Derek confesses to Karen, he and Daisy started sleeping together after Bombshell opened (and after Ivy rejected him, though he leaves this part out). In a state of post-coital bliss, he eventually told Daisy that she could be an understudy in Hit List if the show ever made it to Broadway. Unbeknownst to him, Daisy actually recorded that entire incident — and now she’s threatening to release the tape if he doesn’t give her what she wants.

Seriously, Smash? You’re going to have a crazy sexy blackmail plot — and instead of actually letting us see that plot play out, you’re going to dispense of the entire thing by having Derek explain it to Karen? It’s one thing to ditch realism for utter soapiness, but it’s quite another to do so without even showing us the juicy bits. What’s the point of rejecting credibility if you’re going to do so incompetently?

Anyhow, Daisy goes on as The Diva that night, and Jerry ends up loving the way that she and Karen dance-fight in one of the many Hit List scenes set at the VMAs, a.k.a. music’s most important annual event. (This particular scene begins with some of Kyle’s unimpeachable dialogue: “You sure this is gonna work? These two? Together onstage? Nina wants nothing more than to bring The Diva down!” “Would you relax? This is the VMAs!”) Much to Ana’s chagrin, it looks like her rival will in fact be joining the cast for good. Hey, think this’ll drive Ana to imitate the role she lost by bringing a gun to the Barrymore? I fully support this idea, so long as Ana begins her act of murder by screeching, “How many bullets, Chino?!”

Speaking of musical theater references (and entirely graceful segues), everyone who’s anyone in the Broadway world has shown up for the Houston and Levitt concert/revue/burlesque-stravaganza. And Tom’s mingling with all of them, giving a million different reasons for why Julia is MIA. “I told Laura Benanti she’s in the bathroom. I told Norbert [Leo Butz, presumably] she’s in a taxi. I told Alice Ripley she’s backstage,” he hisses to Eileen, not even pausing to pick up the names he just dropped.

NEXT: Linning!

But the best and most satisfying moment of Tom sweating comes when he has this gloriously catty exchange with In the Heights writer/star/etc. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is apparently Mr. Levitt’s arch-nemesis:

Lin: “Tom! How are you? Listen, I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to see Bombshell — but I hear the tourists love it.”

Tom: “Thanks! I tried to see Bring It On, but it closed so fast I didn’t get the chance.”

Lin: “Well, when you don’t have that sweet gratuitous nudity to keep you running… So, where’s Julia? Or are the rumors [of your partnership’s breakup] true?”

Tom: “Oh, she’s here. She’s singing tonight, so she’s probably by the bar. Tequila courage. Excuse me.”

Lin: “I’m gonna tweet that! I love you!”

Tom, under his breath: “Iiiiiii haaaate yooouuuu.”

Sigh! These moments of pure, insidery goodness are the main reason I’ll miss Smash. A secondary reason: Its ability to pull out truly touching scenes such as Tom and Julia’s bittersweet duet, which does indeed happen after Julia (of course) arrives at the concert just as it’s ending. In fact, this scene is so lovely that let’s just go ahead and pretend the episode concludes here.

Footlights

– Alas, the episode does not actually end with Tom and Julia’s reconciliation/final breakup. Instead, we get another boring Karen/Ivy fight… and an entirely unnecessary “Ivy is pregnant!” twist. Please, TV gods, give Megan Hilty some better material on her next series.

– Here is the best analogy I can use to describe Smash: Its audience is Tyra Banks, and the show itself is Top Model Cycle 4 contestant Tiffany. “I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU! WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!!”

– Hey, did you know that Josh Safran dated original Rent star Anthony Rapp for six years? Because he did!

– Also, this quote from a March 1996 New York Times article makes me think that Hit List may actually be a lot more like Rent than I’ve been giving it credit for: “From a musical viewpoint, I wanted Rent to be better than it is. A lot of the music is warmed over: somewhat tame and secondhand for its rough, drugged-up and disease-ridden Alphabet City surroundings. I live around the corner from the real thing, and what I see and hear on the streets has an edge that the earnest practitioners of Rent can’t quite summon.”

– Another awesome cameo tonight: The actress rehearsing a Houston and Levitt tune at the beginning of the episode was Lindsay Mendez, Wicked‘s newest Elphaba. Man, that girl can sang.

– As bored as I am by Karen vs. Ivy at this point, I do like that their latest tiff is fueled in part by Ivy being worried about gossip relating to her behavior last season. Hooray for continuity!

– I really don’t know what to say about that whole “texting the audience during the show” thing. Well, except this: Why did none of those people silence their phones before Hit List began?

Next week shall be Smashless. The week after that, though, we’ll be treated to two full hours of the show… before it shuffles off this mortal coil forever. Fasten your seatbelts, Smashochists — it’s gonna be a bumpy night.

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