Smash's various musicals come together and fall apart; lather, rinse, repeat

By Hillary Busis
March 13, 2013 at 06:00 AM EDT
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E6
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I almost titled this recap “#60MinutesCloserToDeath,” á la the anonymous Twitter user who didn’t like Hit List‘s initial Karen-free performance. In the end, though, I decided that would be unfair, even as a joke — watching tonight’s episode was a pretty fun way to spend an hour, though the idea that next week will include a moment “no one saw coming” is fairly ludicrous. (Like, we all know Karen’s going to leave Bombshell for Hit List, and Ivy’s going to be brought into Bombshell to replace her, and both shows will get nominated for Tonys, and Karen will end up beating Ivy for Best Actress in a Musical in the season/series finale, right? It’s as Ann as the nose on Plain’s face.)

But I digress. As our story begins. everything’s looking pretty peachy keen for Hit List. The gang has secured a “shoebox” theater that looks pretty dang huge to me for their Fringe performance. The new material Jimmy wrote with lightning speed is apparently good. And their high spirits don’t lag even when a stage manager not-so-kindly asks them to shut up and stop singing a buoyant, optimistic tune because there’s a performance going on upstairs. Ha!

Bombshell rehearsals, of course, aren’t going nearly so smoothly. Or should I say Marilyn rehearsals? That’s right: Eileen has officially picked the more commercial version of the show over Julia and Peter’s male gaze masterpiece, a decision that doesn’t sit well with Derek. He’s mad that they’re including a number that requires a “big, expensive plane” prop, he’s mad that Tom keeps stepping on his toes, and he’s especially mad that Jerry wants to cut “Never Give All the Heart” because the producer thinks it’s boring. Jerry also seems to think that Karen has too many songs. Is the spirit of Rebecca Duvall possessing Eileen’s ex or what?

The day goes from bad to worse when Jerry catches wind of that week’s issue of Time Out, which features a short piece about Hit List — accompanied by a ginormous photo of Karen. This is a big no-no, since Jerry’s been selling Bombilyn as the show that introduces Karen to Broadway audiences; he can’t do that if she’s already been in something high-profile enough to be written up in a magazine. Furthermore, her contract stipulates that Jerry has the right to approve any other project she does while she’s in his show. (Did everyone have to sign new contracts when Jerry came on board?)

This seems like a pretty “no duh” kind of revelation, but even so, poor Karen is floored by it. Why doesn’t Jerry make an exception for her? Doesn’t he know who she is? In any case, she has to tell the Hit List boys that she’s out of the Fringe performance. Jimmy is disappointed but understanding, since he knows she would never screw them over on purpose. Juuuuust kidding!

NEXT: Ellissssss

And speaking of pouts: here’s Ivy, still suffering through the horrific Patch Adams train wreck that is Liaisons. Crazy Terry wants the show to feature live sheep and peacocks and simply enormous bloomers, which he’ll wear while making sweet love to her (just onstage, of course). Like her brunette rival, Ivy’s in a jam — her dream job is turning into a nightmare, and other taglines one might see in an ad for a Lifetime movie.

Luckily, her show and Bombilyn happen to be rehearsing in the same building — what are the odds! — which gives the Sultan of Sulk an opportunity to bump into Derek. After sharing their respective woes, he gives her a decent bit of advice: Being good in a good show isn’t that impressive. Being good in a bad show, however, will make her stand out. Ivy takes his counsel and runs with it, performing the hell out of her fluffy, harpsichord-accented big solo number the next chance she gets. An audience of journalists loves it; Terry, glowering from the sidelines, does not. If only Liaisons‘s director could just placate his jealous star by sleeping with him! Isn’t that what a director is supposed to do?

Sad Karen goes with Ana to Hit List‘s first performance, probably so that she can surreptitiously sniff a few more of Jimmy’s shirts while he’s occupied onstage. It’s a good thing Karen showed, though, because she runs into a semi-familiar face outside of the theater: Cyn (a.k.a. Condola Rashad), Terrible Ellis’s heterosexual female woman girlfriend. Wait, strike that: They broke up. “Turns out he was kind of a psychopath. Also gay. Did you know that?” Four for you, Josh Safran! Anyway, Cyn lets loose a little nugget of information that makes the tiny hamster wheels in Karen’s brain start turning: Apparently, Ellis made “some sort of deal” with Jerry before coming aboard Bombshell. Curiouser and curiouser…

Before Karen can relay this info, she’s roped into performing a revamped version of “Never Give All the Heart” at Bombilyn rehearsal. Tom’s got the bright idea to stage it as a more uptempo number that’s forceful instead of wistful. More importantly, he actually has Karen move around the stage while singing it, which instantly reduces the song’s snore factor by a goodly amount. Also, the performance now includes 100 percent more dudes gesturing dramatically, which is obviously the best kind of choreography.

The new “Never” is an unqualified success for everyone… except Derek, who thinks it’s exactly the opposite of what it should be. Maybe in reality, he’s just angry that Tom had a good idea. Derek’s sniping eventually morphs into a big, dramatic, “f— you, f— you, f— you, you’re cool” speech that ends with the director up and quitting his own production. Even the combined sexual charisma of Karen and Eileen isn’t enough to make him change his mind.

NEXT: La Vie Hit List

Karen takes this opportunity to rush home and change into a floaty damsel in distress dress. She then heads to Hit List‘s theater, where she tells Jimmy that all she’s ever needed is the music, and the mirror, and the chance to sing for him. Because Jimmy is America’s leading jerk, he snarls at her a bit before letting her back into the show. (Sorry, Ana’s faceless friend Audrey — there goes your big break!)

Though last night’s audience hated the sloppy, heat-free Hit List — #60MinutesCloserToDeath, remember? — with the addition of Karen it is, of course (say it with me now) a smash. What’s more, Derek shows up to see the show and ends up being transported by a Prednisone vision of Karen and Jimmy, singing the song’s umpteenth syrupy ballad on the set of Baz Luhrmann’s La Boheme. Now he wants to direct Hit List for real, perhaps because everyone involved in that show is a child who doesn’t know enough about musical theater to question his decisions.

Double triple bonus: Jesse L. Martin is there! Well, he’s playing a character, but still: Collins! He approaches the team afterwards and introduces himself as the artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Workshop, a fictional outfit that sounds like an analogue for the Off-Broadway house that originally staged Rent. And now he’s interested in snatching up Hit List. Everything’s comin’ up Jimmy!

And hey, miracle of miracles — things are looking up for Ivy as well! After tearfully coming clean to Terry about how truly awful he is in Liaisons, she’s expecting to be fired for her candor. Instead, Terry is thrilled that someone’s finally being honest with him… and with just a little prodding, the rest of the cast confesses that they too are horrifically unhappy with the show. (Says the great Veanne Cox, who plays the Christine Baranski role in Liaisons: “I’ve never been so embarrassed by my work before, and I was in Urban Cowboy.” Ha!) They’ve got just hours to go before tech rehearsals are about to start… but somehow, working together, they may be able to save the show after all. Well, until Ivy leaves to star in Bombilyn again.

Meanwhile, Tom, Julia, and Eileen powwow at a dim sum spot. Though the ex-producer’s snooping has confirmed Jerry’s treachery, they can’t really do anything about his Ellis fraternization until Eileen gets control of the show again. There is, however, a silver lining to this whole situation: Tom’s going to direct the show! And to think, just 10 years ago he was making ends meet by starring on eBay commercials. This ought to be good.

NEXT: If ever I would set Smash, it wouldn’t be in winter

Footlights

– Uh oh, the preview indicates that Tom is actually a terrible director. No! Let’s hope this is true only because he’s directing Karen, and that all will be well once she heads to Hit List and Tom regains the Marilyn he always wanted.

– Julia briefly considers ditching Bombshell for London with Dramaturg Peter. She was even going to bring Leo along! I regret that she ultimately elects to stay put; it would have been fun to watch a transplanted Leo struggle to speak a foreign language (English).

– Why go to the trouble of designating this the Winter Fringe (and having Julia mention her son’s upcoming winter break) if everyone’s going to keep eating lunch outside and dressing like it’s late spring? Winter in New York is cold! How much time has passed since the events of the pilot, anyway? Or even since Boston?

– Tonight’s new Hit List song, “Heart-Shaped Wreckage,” was pretty, but I couldn’t help cringing at those on-the-nose lyrics: “We can start over, better / If we just let the broken piece go.”

– I forgot to mention last week that Jimmy thinks Karen and Derek are dating, thanks to misleading info from Kyle. Update: He still thinks this.

– Raise your hand if you never realized how goofy it was for Smash to have major characters named both Tom and Jerry until this episode. [sheepishly raises hand]

– I really hope that Ellis stays Smash‘s Maris Crane: a malevolent, domineering presence who is never seen on camera.

– Wait, did that restaged “Never Give All the Heart” reveal that Bobby is playing Joe DiMaggio now? Our Bobby?! (Man, he and Jessica must be so mad at Jimmy/Kyle/Ana for stealing all their screen time.)

– Speaking of Kyle: He’s sure invested and involved in Hit List, considering most of what he created for the show has been scrapped.

– In a Scowl-Off, who do you think would win: seasoned vet Ivy or young, hotshot upstart Jimmy?

– A local commercial for Orphans on Broadway during tonight’s telecast reminded me of the crazier-than-Smash stories that are unfolding on the Great White Way at this very moment. If only this show were a documentary…

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