Hit List and a new, improved Bombshell both get readings. One's genius, the other's a mess -- but can you guess which is which?

By Hillary Busis
March 06, 2013 at 07:18 AM EST
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E5
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Correction: Make that three musicals, since “The Read-Through” also offers a glimpse at yet another show in the Smash universe: Liaisons, the revival that just might finally make Ivy a star. But before she gets her big break, Ivy must deal with Terry Falls (Sean Hayes, perfectly cast) — a so-called “big movie star” whose signature style of broad comedy is a horrible fit for his show’s serious material. In other words, he’s Rebecca Duvall with a Y chromosome and a penchant for fart jokes. If only Terry were allergic to peanuts!

Instead of resorting to poison, Ivy gently tells her costar he’s doing it wrong — then simply shows the guy how good acting is done. In response, Terry decides that the only way he can give a truly emotional performance is to go off his various meds; insert Prednisone joke here. Hoo boy. While this is an extremely goofy plot, it’s nice to see Megan Hilty widening her eyes in comedic horror rather than pouting and sulking like Jan Brady. Here’s hoping this whole thread leads to something good happening for Ivy, and that it somehow gets more cleanly integrated into Smash as a whole — because as of now, the Ivy/Liasons scenes seem almost like they’re dropping in from another TV series altogether.

More importantly: Smash went through the trouble of casting Jack MacFarland, then neglected to put him in a single scene opposite Grace Adler. Anastasia Beaverhausen would certainly not approve. Perhaps the Will and Grace stars will find some excuse to be in a room together a few episodes down the line. In the meantime, Bombshell‘s writer is busy glowing from her… stimulating marathon work session with Peter, the bold Petruchio who has managed to tame Julia’s shrieking Theresa Katherina. After their extended bonding session, Julia and the once-dreaded dramaturg are so close that they’re finishing each other’s sandwiches.

This just doesn’t sit right with Tom, who prefers Julia to be a shrill mess because of… reasons. The composer’s intuitions seem confirmed when an old friend — Other Desert Cities scribe Jon Robin Baitz, whom Tom used to date (!) — lets slip to Julia that Peter, like, totally screwed up his friend Leslie’s play. And here Smash loses a major opportunity to stage an elaborate re-imagining of Bye Bye Birdie‘s “Telephone Hour,” rewritten so that each character is telling a different story about Peter Gilman’s treachery. (Psst, Josh Safran: Call me!)

NEXT: Write Fight Man Woman

Anyhow, it looks like Julia’s trust in Peter is kaput — especially after Jerry’s assistant (played by Hairspray‘s Nikki Blonsky; man, Smash is really bringing it with the cameos tonight) gushes to Tom and Julia about a version of Bombshell that bears little resemblance to the new draft Julia just turned in. Does this mean a return to shrieking, shrewishness, and scarves? A nation waits, breathless, clutching its pajama shirt tightly to its adulterous bosom.

Meanwhile, a call from Derek prompts Karen and Ana to leave Jean-Claude Van Damme’s House of ’80s Kickboxing and travel to Brooklyn. There, they tell Jimmy and Kyle that the director wants them to mount a one-act version of Hit List for the upcoming Fringe Festival. (Timeline note: This means tonight’s episode takes place in mid-July of 2012, since the Fringe is held every August.) Before they start finalizing the show, though, Karen suggests holding a read-through that very day so they’ve got a better idea of the show’s strengths and weaknesses.

As usual, Kyle’s the one who instantly busies himself with doing stuff that’s actually useful (making copies of the script, giving Ana an excuse to ditch Karen for a little while). Karen stays behind so that she can follow Jimmy around mournfully, singing an incredibly on-the-nose Death Cab for Cutie song about boys who “don’t know how to love.” Don’t get me wrong — the vocals here are very pretty, and I’m into season 2’s unorthodox cover selections (see also: “Dancing on My Own”). But the context is so groan-inducing that it detracts from the song itself. Fine, so Jimmy’s some kind of damaged, vulnerable wounded bird. Boo frickin’ hoo; that doesn’t matter if he’s also a stone-cold jerk to every other character.

Before Bombshell‘s reading can begin, Julia corners Peter and tells him that she’s onto his little tricks. She knows he submitted a second Bombshell script, and that he’s trying to wrest control of the show from her. But as it turns out, these paranoid delusions are just a figment of Julia’s silly little woman-mind. Her benevolent counselor assures her that the other lady playwright has been spreading lies about Peter — bitches be crazy, am I right? — and urges her to believe in herself. “Herself,” here, is a synonym for “him.” Her hysterics quelled, Julia somehow finds the strength to head into the reading.

Somehow, as he listens to all this, Tom resists the urge to unleash history’s greatest eye roll.

NEXT: Poor, poor Kyle, whatcha gonna do? Things look bad for you — hey, whatcha gonna do?

Bombshell and Hit List are read simultaneously, though we’re treated to zero snippets of the former and just one line of dialogue from the latter. Since we’re not given any evidence, we’ll just have to trust that what the characters say about each respective show is accurate. And here’s the verdict: Hit List‘s book is dreadful, but its songs are great. Bombshell 2.0, on the other hand, is an unqualified success, a work of theatrical genius so great that it’s capable of winning literally all the awards. And all it took was finding some dude to swoop in at the last minute and suggest making the show all about men. Somewhere, Theresa Rebeck quivers in rage.

Moon-eyed, sharp-dressed Kyle has just become Smash‘s most tragic figure (and that’s saying something). He’s like that poor kid at your high school who was so excited to try out for the spring musical every single year and always ended up being cast as, like, Cinderella’s Father or Random Maurading Russian #2. He bemoans his fate to Karen: “How can you be so bad at something you love so much?” She tells him that these things don’t necessarily come easily, and that she had to work really hard to get where she is today. The audience pauses to laugh forever.

But seriously, folks: Kyle is convinced that he just doesn’t have what it takes to make it as a book writer. Rather than encourage or support him, his pals decide that the solution is to make Hit List a completely sung through musical, a la Smash‘s favorite point of comparison — Rent. So now Jimmy’s not just a brilliant songwriter, he’s also a brilliant opera composer. And he’s got to write a bunch of genius new tunes to replace Kyle’s stupid, horrible, no good very bad scenes before the Fringe festival. While he’s doing that, Kyle, maybe you should go off and find yourself some new friends.

There’s trouble brewing among the Bombshell crew as well. Though even Jerry agrees that Julia’s script is “an artistic triumph,” he doesn’t want to produce it because it isn’t commercial enough. This is a reasonable thing for a producer to say, but Julia and Derek react as though he’s just declared that he wants to kill every Israelite’s firstborn child.

Instead of Bombshell 2.0, Jerry wants to bring another version of the show to the Belasco Theatre’s stage: the draft that the gang workshopped last season, back when we were still calling their musical Marilyn. This, it turns out, is the version Assistant Nikki Blonsky was talking about earlier in the episode. Julia and Derek absolutely hate the idea, but Tom, surprisingly, is behind it; he thinks this earlier version is closer to his original vision, and it’s also more of a spectacle.

NEXT: Which Marilyn reigns supreme?

It’s two against two, which means the deciding vote must go to a fifth party: Eileen, who’s strong-armed her way back into Bombshell even though it is actually illegal for her to do so. (The team sees this as feisty rather than unlawful, which can only lead to trouble down the line.) So, which show does Anjelica Huston prefer — the dark, sexy Kander and Ebb version, or the bright, sparkly Rodgers and Hammerstein version?

We’ll find out… next week, because this is when the episode ends. Booo!

Footlights

– Given that opening sequence, in which Tom describes how he’d stage a new number called “Public Relations,” it seems like the composer may transition into directing. (Blame Ivy.) My guess, given the promo for next week: Derek quits Bombshell (or Marilyn) in favor of Hit List, and Tom winds up helming Bombilyn.

– Speaking of “Public Relations”: The song itself was only okay, though the way it wove in quotes attributed to Marilyn was pretty nifty. Also, I’m pretty sure that shot of multiple Toms turning their heads and making weird faces while wearing various international guises was taken directly from my dreams. Or my nightmares.

– Wait, did Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor actually hate each other? Obviously, I want the more gossipy version of the show to make it to Broadway.

– Bartender Nick is heading off to a different prison. Goodbye, Bartender Nick! Say hi to Leo, Frank, Dev, and Ellis if you see them there!

– It is difficult to imagine Liasons as a show that makes people weep, as I can’t help thinking of it as a period version of Cruel Intentions.

– That play Ana mentions about a bunch of subway passengers who are actually in purgatory is a real thing. It’s called Happiness, and Susan Stroman directed a production of it at Lincoln Center in 2009.

– Whether Eileen chooses to go with Bombshell or Marilyn, it will be very unfair if Smash never gives us even a taste of Julia’s supposedly brilliant script.

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  • 02/06/12
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