Eileen brings in a dramaturg to work on Bombshell's troubled book; unfortunately, he and Julia get along like Sharks and Jets

By Hillary Busis
February 20, 2013 at 07:11 AM EST
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E3
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Okay, so that subheadline is a little misleading. Julia and Peter the Dramaturg’s conflict is entirely one-sided — she categorically refuses to listen to any of his (reasonable, politely expressed) ideas, even though in season 2’s premiere she flat-out admitted that she knew her show’s book was a disaster. If the de-scarfed writer really is supposed to be a stand-in for ousted showrunner Theresa Rebeck, Smash‘s assessment of its creator is getting harsher every week. The last time we saw her, Julia was a pathetic mess who could barely scrape herself off her best friend’s couch; tonight, she reemerged as a stubborn, wildly unpleasant diva whose inflated ego is hardly justified by her body of work.

But Smash being Smash, you just know that Julia’s eventually going to realize that Peter has some good points to make, and that compromise is an essential part of creation. (You think she’d know that already, given the fact that she’s already written a couple Broadway shows, but whatever.)

And it’s also clear that Julia and Peter are going to end up bedding each other within, oh, three episodes — maybe even on that rehearsal room sex couch where the lyricist and Michael Swift re-consummated their affair. Note the new pair’s “banter,” which recalls the weirdly hostile chatter between Karen and Jimmy last week — only in this case, it’s Julia who’s constantly insulting and belittling her sparring partner. Peter takes these jabs like a champ, barely deigning to return them, which automatically makes him more sympathetic than Julia.

Speaking of sympathy: Professional punching bag Ivy Lynn has decided to keep chasing that ever-moving line for a little while longer, despite last week’s crisis of confidence. She’s just sung a bit of opera (man, Megan Hilty is talented) for yet another ensemble audition when suddenly, the perpetual chorus girl has a flash of inspiration. Ivy asks the casting director — real-life theater bigwig Bernie Telsey, who discovered Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel while casting Rent — if she can audition for an actual part as well. The show she’s trying to get into is Liaisons, a musical version of Cruel Intentions Dangerous Liaisons; the part she wants is Cecile, an ingenue played by Selma Blair.

Meanwhile, Jimmy and Kyle stop drinking and smoking pot just long enough to head to work, where Karen shows up to announce that Derek wants to meet with them. (Any Iowan worth her weight in corn knows that you can’t just pick up a phone to deliver this sort of news, and anyway, Karen didn’t grow up using phones on the prairie. Mother considered them vulgar.) They’re going to get together after Bombshell rehearsal that night. First, though, K&J will have to find a way to assemble their random group of songs into an actual musical with a plot, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

NEXT: You’re telling me “The National Pastime” isn’t sexy?!

With a little elbow grease and even more beer, the guys manage to work their drunken scribblings into something resembling an outline — except that a few key pages of it are missing. Jimmy realizes that they’re in his old notebook, which he left in a mysterious other location. Kyle ominously exclaims that he “can’t go back there,” without naming where “there” is. This is so intriguing! Are they referring to Mr. Bumble’s orphanage? The Cook County Jail? The Parisian street corner where they were forced to sell their teeth and hair? Nope — it’s just some random house, where a guy we don’t recognize (an ex-roommate? An ex-lover??) hits Jimmy in his pretty face when he sneaks in to retrieve a few pages, neglecting to take his entire notebook. As you do.

While Jimmy’s playing Artful Dodger, Karen and co. are running through “Moving the Line” in that sun-drenched rehearsal room. Practice becomes more urgent when Ronnie calls Derek — see, Karen, she can use a phone — to say that one of The Wiz‘s producers will be in town that night. If he’s impressed by what Derek’s working on, he just might change his mind about the noted sexual harasser and allow D to rejoin The Wiz as director.

Unfortunately, Karen’s sleepy rehearsal performance wouldn’t be enough to convince a producer to hire Derek for a community theater production of The King and I. The director is frustrated with his leading lady, and vice versa — and look, here comes Ivy to make everything even more awkward. (In her defense, Derek didn’t have the decency to tell her he was in rehearsal when she called him up and asked for a favor.) The ex-Marilyn has just enough time to sing a mournful, plaintive version of Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own” in her imaginary Dream Theater of Jealousy before sulking off and wishing she hadn’t thrown out all of her prescription pills.

Peter the Dramaturg thought he’d be able to enjoy a sophisticated dinner with his sophisticated friends — but he didn’t count on the screeching, bespectacled she-devil once known as Julia Houston, who tracks him down just so that she can yell at him about Bombshell some more. Peter, honey — Eileen cannot be paying you enough. He takes Julia out into the street, which is where considerate people go to yell crazy things, and tells her that the show’s main problem is that it has no sex. What, now you’re telling me that Marilyn yelling “hot dogs!” in the middle of “The National Pastime” isn’t sexy?! GOOD DAY TO YOU, PETER. I SAID GOOD DAY.

Poor, adorable Kyle sits all alone in the fancy restaurant where Derek and Karen were supposed to meet with him and Jimmy. In a perfect world, this scene would end with him deciding to find some better friends and collaborators; alas, Smash‘s world is far from perfect.

After deciding she didn’t need the headache of asking Derek for advice, Ivy has chosen instead to turn to Tom. As they’re discussing the role of Cecile, Ivy suddenly realizes something — the wounded innocent she wants to play is actually another Marilyn in disguise! Does this make Valmont DiMaggio? No matter; Ivy now knows what angle she’ll use in her audition, and she ends up getting the part. Bernadette Peters will feign excitement when she hears but secretly think that Ivy should have gone for the Marquise de Merteuil instead.

NEXT: Enter JFK, for some reason

Peter’s criticism has driven Julia (and Tom, by proxy) to write an entirely new song that’s set in recorded history’s sexiest location (Bing Crosby’s house). The tune dramatizes JFK’s seduction of Marilyn. It’s the first real indication we’ve been given that there are any characters in Bombshell besides La Monroe, DiMaggio, and Darryl Zanuck, as well as one of the only songs in the show that isn’t performed by Marilyn herself. Though the lyrics were clearly written in a single night — “Outside of this room there’s a cold war / But you’d never know it in here” — the new ditty’s energy is kind of cool and slinky, and Peter’s clearly impressed with it. But the Wiz producer isn’t — and neither is Jimmy, who shows up at rehearsal just so that he can storm away angrily when a confused Derek asks who he is.

Karen follows Jimmy into the street without changing out of her costume and Marilyn wig, thus becoming Unsung Hero Stage Manager Linda’s mortal enemy. The composer tells her that honestly, he really doesn’t give a rat’s ass about musical theater — so much for “Broadway, Here I Come” — but Kyle does, and he’d appreciate if Karen would stop jerking his fragile roommate around. Seems fair enough.

Julia is unbearably smug about the song she just wrote, which clearly proves that she doesn’t need anybody’s help while revising Bombshell‘s book. Peter rightly points out that she never would have written it if she hadn’t been responding to his criticism, which is like, the whole point of a script doctor. How is a Julia who isn’t weighed down by Frank, Leo, and Michael even less likable than one who is? Anyway, he wants her to recast Marilyn as the predator in the song rather than JFK. She doesn’t want to because she automatically hates anything he suggests. Tom, meanwhile, wistfully wonders if maybe he should find another writing partner after all (Kyle! Kyle’s available!).

While the Wiz guy hated Bombshell: Sexytimes Edition, Veronica Moore had the opposite reaction. Outside of the rehearsal building, she tells Derek that she’d like him to use his particular brand of classy sleaze while directing her in concert. (The event, naturally, will play for one night only.) Derek is intrigued by the idea, but he tells Ronnie that he’ll have to take a rain check on discussing it that night…

… because he and Karen have to head to Brooklyn, where a stunned and stoned Jimmy and Kyle finally explain the plot of their musical, Hit List. The basic idea: A troubled young composer leaves his broken home and meets a rich girl who wants to be a pop singer. They hit it off, but then she disappears — and stays gone until the composer realizes that she’s gotten famous by stealing and singing his songs. Things get pretty dark after that, apparently, and everyone in the story ends up dead. “There’s all these other characters, too,” Kyle adds helpfully.

NEXT: An unholy alliance of Shakespeare, Gaga, and Moulin Rouge

So really, these guys aren’t writing the next Rent — they’re writing “A Star Is Born plus Hamlet with a bit of Romeo and Juliet” thrown in, according to Derek. Wait — Hamlet? Kyle adds that it’s also got elements of “Moulin Rouge, Gaga, [and] JT LeRoy.” Jimmy says that it’s actually none of these things, because he is a perfect unique snowflake who doesn’t need anybody, or anything, or any other works of art to inspire him. All he needs is copious amounts of marijuana! In any case, Derek is intrigued — and it looks like now the real work on Smash‘s second original musical has begun.

Footlights

– In a curious move, NBC decided to bundle season 2’s first, second, and fourth episodes together on a screener, skipping “The Dramaturg” entirely (probably because next week’s episode ends with a show-stopping Jennifer Hudson number). I can sort of see why they wouldn’t want reviewers to judge the show’s new season based on this episode.

– We also got our first glimpse at a staged Hit List song tonight. Was it just me, or did Karen’s performance of “Good for You” seem a lot like a clip from a past season of American Idol?

– More proof that Smash works best when it turns into Tom and Julia, Just Pallin’ Around — the two of them trying to be incognito while wearing sunglasses was a delightful but brief highlight tonight.

– Hey, remember when it was heavily implied that Julia was pregnant with Michael Swift’s baby?

– And hey, did you know that Jimmy and Kyle like to drink and smoke pot?

– Julia’s harsh, completely unfounded opinion of Peter: “North Korea is more collaborative.”

– In Smash‘s fictional world, the late, great Madeline Kahn got nominated for a Featured Actress Tony for playing Cecile in the original production of Liasons. In real life, Kahn nabbed four Tony nominations — and one win — all for Best Actress in a play or musical.

– According to Ivy, Next to Normal‘s Jenn Damiano and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever‘s Jessie Mueller were also up for the part of Cecile. Better luck next time, ladies!

– Eileen has no patience for Julia’s whining about Peter; “I’m juggling chainsaws here” she snaps when the lyricist shows up in her office to complain. Point: Eileen. (Actually, Eileen gets all the points, always.)

– Ivy’s original, snarky assessment of pure and sweet Cecile — “She sounds like Karen Cartwright” — made me snort.

– Wait, JFK and RFK killed Marilyn Monroe? Which history books has Julia been reading?

Next week will bring Veronica Moore’s big concert and some big Karen/Jimmy developments, if that sort of thing is your bag. But first, let’s talk turkey (lurkey time): Did “The Dramaturg” entertain, or do you think it could have used a script doctor?

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