The cast prepares for Ronnie's big concert, Ronnie tries to shake up her good girl image, and Jimmy struggles to pen a breakthrough song
My darling Smashochists, I fear the end may be nigh. Season 2’s ratings have been crashing faster than Ivy after a major Prednisone bender — and unless something changes fast, I’m worried that our beloved Broadway baby might get the axe long before Liza Minnelli shows up in episode 10. At least tonight’s installment brought back some of the musical magic that made Smash‘s pilot such a slam dunk way back when, via a showstopping closing number that highlights Jennifer Hudson’s enormous voice at its rafter-shaking best. (Sure, the song sounded much more like a Shaiman/Wittman joint than a tune conceivably written by the guy who’s penning “the next Rent” — but when it’s sung this well, who cares?)
Before we reach that stirring conclusion, though, we’ve got to wade through an hour of tense melodrama — a.k.a. Smash‘s bread and butter. Derek has drafted Bombshell‘s entire cast — as well as Ivy, who evidently isn’t too busy with Liasons rehearsals yet — to appear in Veronica Moore’s big concert special, which will get a national audience thanks to an airing on Bravo. (Cue Jack Donaghy: “I remember when Bravo used to air operas.”) Unfortunately, the show’s sort of a mess. Ronnie wants it to be her long-overdue coming out party as a grown-up Broadway star — girl is 29 and looks it — but her controlling “momager” Cynthia (original Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee Ralph) still wants her daughter to, like, dress up like Little Cletus and sing “Tomorrow” and “Castle on a Cloud.”
Who can walk the tricky line between these poles? Why, Kyle and Jimmy, of course, who get called in to provide Ronnie with another song — something raw, something fresh, something that emanates Jimmy’s particular je ne sais quoi (I believe it’s called “Eau de Jerque). If they bring Derek the right tune, says Karen, they’ll “get more than noticed — [they’ll] get famous.” She may actually have a point; Bravo attracts an audience that probably contains more Broadway bigwigs per capita than anything this side of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Meanwhile, poor, sad, pathetic Julia heads to the acting class Dramaturg Peter teaches at NYU. She thinks she’s going to act as a guest lecturer — but instead is subjected to a humiliating group critique of her play by a bunch of smarmy college students. Oof.
I know I was down on Julia last week, and I do still think that neither Smash‘s writers nor Debra Messing are doing much to make her character the least bit likeable. But this whole storyline — temperamental, stubborn female writer is condescended to by smug, brilliant male outsider, who immediately pinpoints everything wrong with her work — is really giving me the case of the icks, mostly for what it implies about Josh Safran’s relationship with ousted showrunner Theresa Rebeck. It’s not making me like Julia in response, but it is making me empathize with her a little. And come on, Peter — you actually think your students will have no idea that this random lady wrote the play you’re dissecting today? What other reason would she possibly have for showing up to class?
NEXT: Bit by bit, putting a song togetherrr
St. Karen the White isn’t just Derek’s muse — she’s also serving as Jimmy’s all-purpose inspiration. As he messes around with the first phrase of an all new song and Kyle… flits about (why, exactly, is he here at all if he’s just writing Hit List‘s book?), Karen suggests that Jimmy tries making the phrase go up at the end instead of down. Just like her debut as Marilyn, or her performance at that random bar mitzvah, or that time she gave gospel singing at an all-black church a whirl, Karen’s first stab at composing is a resounding success. Thanks to her, perhaps Jimmy will find his one song glory after all.
Oh, Julia, Julia, Julia. Rebeck’s stand-in is, naturally, purple with rage over the constructive comments Peter’s class gave Bombshell‘s book. She’s decide to retaliate by meticulously picking apart Peter’s own first play, a flop called The Singing Bird. So pretty much, Julia will be treating the play like most Smash viewers treat this show. Very meta, Safran.
Derek is using his patented “sexualize an actress, then scream at her until she is a broken shell” method to try and draw Ronnie into the world of adult Fosse ripoffs. Sadly, the director’s dirty dancing take on Purlie‘s “I Got Love” — a formerly innocent tune that’s been Ronnie’s signature number since she was a teenager — makes his star uncomfortable and her mother livid. When Derek tries to complain about the situation to Ivy, his ex-girlfriend (bless her heart) rolls her eyes and basically says “eff that noise.” Four for you, Ivy!
Too bad that Jimmy and Karen choose just this moment to come in and announce that they — er, he — has written a song that’ll be perfect for Ronnie’s concert. Largely because he just feels like being an asshat, Derek tells them that he’s not going to bother listening to it. And that Hit List will probably never see the light of day. And that he gave Jimmy foot cream instead of facewash. Fuming, Jimmy goes off to see The Man. (He’s gotta get his sickness off.) Sighing like a boy who’s holding the world upon his slender, supple shoulders, Kyle goes in search of his errant roommate. And he doesn’t invite Karen.
There is one foolproof way to track Jimmy down when he goes on a bender: sing a Billy Joel song at the top of your lungs and hope that the jerk hears you, then reemerges just so he can sneer about how lame Billy Joel is to your face. Kyle’s random cover of “Everybody Loves You Now” eventually transitions into Ronnie belting out the same song on an empty stage. Ivy overhears and recommends that she sing that song during the concert — Veronica Moore: A Tribute to Movin’ Out! — but Ronnie answers that she can’t change the program at this late date. Or can she?
NEXT: “I Can’t Let Go” proves why we just can’t quit Smash
Cut to Jimmy, who’s too high to respond to Kyle’s siren song. He’s not, however, too high to find his Angel of Music in the alley behind the theater. Karen tries to educate Jimmy about the benefits of rejection, which is so sexy that Jimmy has no choice but to kiss her on the mouth. It’s a scene that might actually have been sweet, if there were any reason besides Jeremy Jordan’s obvious charisma to like or care what happens to Jimmy. In any case, things are only going to get better for the ex-Newsie — thanks to Tom, who has grudgingly told Derek that though the kid’s a dick, the song he wrote for Ronnie is actually pretty good.
After flaring her neck frills at Peter and shrieking at him some more — his play sucks! His face is a fart! He should go back to his home on Dramaturg Island! — Julia calms down enough to have a few glasses of wine with her collaborator. During their day-drinking session, the playwright finally realizes that one of Peter’s students had a point — Bombshell‘s men are more fully developed characters than Marilyn is. (Given that we’ve seen about zero percent of the show’s non-musical scenes, we’ll just have to take her word for it.) That gives Julia a brilliant idea: “I’ve been trying to make the show about Marilyn, when it’s really about how men saw her! Every scene should be from a man’s point of view!” Right on, lady! Boys rule, girls drool!!
Momager Cynthia is shocked, shocked when Ronnie emerges right before the concert wearing a perfectly appropriate spaghetti strap dress. Ronnie stops short of giving a Gypsy-esque “Mama, look at me now! I’m a star!” speech, but she does tell her very own Mama Rose that she loves Derek’s work — and to sit back, because “it’s going to be quite a show.”
And quite a show it is, from Ronnie’s sexed-up take on “I Got Love” to her rousing closing number, a power ballad called “I Can’t Let Go” — a.k.a. Jimmy’s new song. It’s perfectly suited to Jennifer Hudson’s enormous voice, though I’m not sure how “fresh” the tune really is; all in all, it sort of reminds me of the adult contemporary version of a Disney ballad that plays during an animated movie’s closing credits. Still, the crowd goes wild, Cynthia included. And when Ronnie takes her final bows, she charitably invites Jimmy and Kyle to come onstage and bask in the audience’s adoration. For someone who’s still rolling on ecstasy, that’s got to be sort of terrifying.
Hooray, everything’s great! And as the icing on the cake, Eileen calls Bombshell‘s creative team into her office to let them know that the show can officially go to Broadway after all. Drinks in the face for everyone! There’s just one catch: Since she admitted to knowing that Bartender Nick’s money was acquired through criminal means, Eileen isn’t allowed to produce the show. Instead, Evil Jerry will be taking over his ex-wife’s duties. “I know he’s the world’s worst human being, but he’s a very good producer,” she quips, trying to make the most of a crappy situation.
NEXT: And you’ll never guess who’s behind Eileen’s misfortune. (Trick question: You’ll guess it immediately)
The camera slowly leaves Eileen, Derek, Tom, and Julia. In season 1, it immediately would have panned to Terrible Ellis standing outside his boss’s office door, pressing his horrible little ear to the glass and adding more secrets to his hair. But this is season 2, which means we instead cut to Jerry, who’s having a clandestine phone conversation and writing a big, fat check… TO TERRIBLE ELLIS HIMSELF!!
So yes: The show has confirmed that Jerry and Ellis have been working together all along to wrest control of Bombshell from Eileen. Reader, I can’t lie — when the Sweater-Vested One’s name was finally invoked aloud, I cackled as merrily as Elphaba in a broom factory. Does this glorious development mean a return to the insanity that marked Smash‘s maiden voyage? In all honesty, I kind of hope it does.
– Peter slyly hides the true subject matter of Bombshell by changing the Marilyn character’s name to “Mary” when he gives the script to his class. Criminy, Pete, you couldn’t try even a tiny bit harder than that?
– Kyle’s confident that Jimmy can write a great new song before the concert. After all, Sondheim wrote “Send in the Clowns” in one day! And Tom and Julia wrote “Don’t Forget Me” in less time than that, adds Karen! Note to Iowa: one of those things is not like the other.
– Before she comes clean during the deposition, Eileen and the prodigal Bartender Nick share a scene that’s very ’50s melodrama. Sample dialogue: “They don’t know you like I know you! You’re a good man! You’re a decent man!”
– Derek screams that he wants Ronnie to look like she’s “finally gotten some,” howls that she has to connect with her body, demands that she make him “feel something, anything” — and he wonders why every woman on planet Earth has accused him of sexual harassment?
– Peter admits that he sucks at writing, but says that he is a good teacher. Julia thinks that can’t be true, since his students didn’t like her play. Perhaps this is where Leo gets his academic prowess.
– Other songs to be performed in Ronnie’s concert include “A Sleepin’ Bee,” “If I Loved You,” and “Ease on Down the Road.” And now I can’t stop thinking about Jennifer Hudson just singing the crap out of “If I Loved You.”
– In the final performance of “I Got Love,” Ivy’s the only dancer wearing sleeves. Is she the Michelle Williams of Smash? (She totally is.)
– “I Can’t Let Go” ends with rose petals falling from the ceiling of the theater. Good to know Mena Suvari‘s still getting work!
Did “The Song” bring back any of the goodwill that “The Dramaturg” squandered? How worried are you about Smash‘s chances of survival? And most importantly: TERRIBLE ELLIS IS BACK!! Discuss. (But not too loudly, or he’ll hear you.)