Smash reaches new levels of self-referentiality as Bombshell and Hit List each find a star

By Hillary Busis
March 20, 2013 at 06:16 AM EDT
Will Hart/NBC
S2 E7
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Start your musical countdown clocks, Smashochists: It’s officially the beginning of the end.

Well, maybe not officially officially. NBC hasn’t yet confirmed that its onetime Great White Hope will go the way of The Playboy Club once season 2 is through. But given the ratings — and, oh yeah, the show’s imminent move to Saturday nights — cancellation’s about as likely as Derek throwing a hissy fit, or Jimmy being difficult, or Kyle hanging around Hit List rehearsals even though he is literally contributing nothing to that show.

This grim reality brought a new dimension to the conversation Ivy and Terry had before Liaisons‘s disastrous opening night. To refresh your memory: Ivy, sick of being tied to a sinking ship, finally confesses that she simply hates the show in which they’re starring. Terry responds that he, too, wishes she would just leave Liaisons: “You’re too good in it. It’s annoying.” Forget that crack about the scarves, or Eileen referencing her old drink-tossing ways; this scene may be Smash‘s most meta moment to date, even if the parallels between Megan Hilty’s situation and Ivy’s situation are purely coincidental.

Interestingly enough, Ivy and Terry’s talk was constructive as well as cathartic. After unloading their complaints, the two Grinches got a wonderful, awful idea: Why not make their musical as insane as possible before its inevitable flameout? As Ivy muses, “If we’re going down, we should go down in a blaze of glory.” In other words — if you know you’re going to flop, be Dance of the Vampires, not Bonnie & Clyde (which, as a commenter points out, also starred Jeremy Jordan).

Let’s hope that Smash ends up taking its own advice. Burning out beats fading away — especially if the latter option means more episodes like “Musical Chairs,” which took an entire hour to reach the forgone conclusion everyone predicted weeks ago. Karen has finally ditched Bombshell for Hit List; Ivy, in turn, has finally been restored to her rightful place as Marilyn Monroe, though we were cheated out of seeing Tom deliver that good news. All is well in Smashville… minus some snoozy Karen/Jimmy/Derek love triangle business that brings to mind the work of Eve Sedgwick.

We’ll get to that ish in good time. First, though, there’s the matter of a Derek-less Bombshell, which has reverted to Rebecca Duvall-era levels of badness in just three weeks. Karen says at one point that the problem is Tom, who’s trying to respect Derek’s work while also putting his own stamp on the material. From what we’re shown, though, the issue appears to be Karen herself, who questions Tom’s every instruction and just doesn’t seem able to deliver the performance he’s asking her to deliver. Naturally and logically, this eventually leads to a scene in which Tom apologizes to Karen. How dare the director direct his star!

NEXT: Delightful Liaisons

Though Bombshell‘s stalling, Hit List seems to be moving along quite nicely. Tom Collins of the Manhattan Theatre Workshop — whom everyone keeps calling “Scott,” for reasons unfathomable to me — is interested in producing the show. The catch: He wants it to go up in the Workshop’s underground space rather than its main stage, unless they can retool the show to be a bit more universally relatable.

The always rational Jimmy reacts to this legitimate suggestion as though Collins had just proposed a mass ritual suicide. There’s only one way Jimmy will change a single syllable of his show, and that’s if Karen supplies him with an idea. Before long, the Muse of Pissy Creative Geniuses (Greek name: Blandyhymnia) does just that, telling Jimmy offhand that he simply has to emphasize Hit List‘s focus on reinvention.

Speaking of reinvention: Remember how Julia’s revamped, artistically triumphant Bombshell was all about how men saw Marilyn? Well, that dude-centric draft apparently also contained a subplot about Marilyn and her mother. Sure, that storyline clearly doesn’t fit with the rest of what Julia supposedly wrote, and the way “Musical Chairs” introduces it is undeniably clumsy (why has this stuff never been mentioned before tonight?). But who cares — this is obviously Smash‘s way of bringing in Ivy’s stage legend mother to play Marilyn’s own mother in Bombshell. And more Bernadette Peters can only be a good thing.

Tensions are high at Liaisons‘s opening night, an event that’s attracted both Bombshell and Hit List‘s creative teams. Tom and Karen still aren’t on the same page about their musical, contradicting each other in an impromptu interview with Broadway insider Seth Rudetsky. Jerry’s doing his Jerry thing, trying to woo Derek back to Broadway no matter how many people he leaves dead and bloodied and dying along the way. Jimmy and Kyle fear that their show might be director-less once more. John Cameron Mitchell eyes the pair warily, wondering whether he should confront them about stealing Hedwig‘s plot for Hit List.

But all is forgotten and forgiven during the show itself, a triumph of poor taste that’s basically a musical adaptation of History of the World, Part 1‘s French Revolution sequence. (Obviously, I’d see the crap out of that show, as long as it was more Producers than Young Frankenstein.) Liaisons‘s centerpiece is “Ce N’est Pas Ma Faute,” a bawdy Terry solo that may contain network TV’s first instance of onstage motorboating. There are live sheep. There are lyrics about “pitching tents.” At one point, Sean Hayes yells, “Now dance, wenches, dance!!” The whole scene is, in short, amazing, and exactly the kind of wacko ridiculata that Smash‘s second season has been sorely lacking. Bravissimo!

NEXT: Sigh, back to Bombshell

Alas, Liaisons must end eventually — and when the curtain falls, it becomes clear that Terry will never again grace the Broadway stage. (The nasty knock he took after falling off an onstage swing was just the final nail in his cuckoo coffin.) At least there’s a silver lining to this travesty: While listening to Tom and Ivy’s easy rapport after the show, it finally dawns on Karen that her rival is the Marilyn Tom both needs and deserves. And it came to pass all that seemed wrong was now right, and those who deserved to were certain to live a long and happy life (though likely not on NBC).

Not included among that number is Jerry, who is finally forced out of the show thanks to a legal loophole. Because Eileen licensed some material from Marilyn’s estate during Bombshell‘s early development, her ex can’t shepherd the show without violating the exclusive agreement she made. And somehow, it no longer matters that Eileen knowingly funded the show with illegal money; additional legal intervention helps her get reinstated as Bombshell‘s sole producer. Jerry, you foolish mortal; you should have known better than to mess with Anjelica.

We end with a new Hit List song meant to indicate the show’s tweaked direction — and though it, like the rest of that musical’s numbers, features lyrics that are more than a little on the nose (“Someone tell me when/I can start again/And rewrite this story”), it’s also the first Hit List tune that sounds legitimately like something from an American Idiot-style pop-rock opera. Better yet, “Rewrite History” sounds like it’s being sung by two actual characters with personalities and motivations, rather than a couple of pop vocalists. For the first time, Hit List doesn’t just seem like a disparate collection of songs loosely connected by a muddled plot — it seems like an actual musical.

If only the high of that song weren’t immediately erased by dumb Derek/Jimmy drama. Whatever, guys. You’ve only got two options at this point: Sing a duet of “The Girl Is Mine” (Derek is Paul, obviously), or just go ahead and kiss already.

NEXT: Footlights

Footlights

– There’s some trouble brewing with Karen’s roommate-slash-understudy Ana, who’s the only person not delighted when the Prodigal Iowan returns to Hit List. T-minus how many episodes before she sleeps with Jimmy just to piss Karen off?

– Derek is formally allowing Bombshell to use his original choreography. Phew; what would we do without shots of Marilyn being tossed from dude to dude?

– And, oh yeah, Grace Gummer came back from Alaska to play the thankless role of Eileen’s daughter once more. Duly noted.

– After “Ce N’est Pas Ma Faute,” the evening’s most delightful moment had to be those glimpses of Tom trying to teach awful replacement choreography to Karen. At one point, he basically does the Bend and Snap. Karen’s winningly goofy dancing also deserves a few GIFs, stat.

– Two romantic rivals, two overly effusive appraisals of Iowa’s talents. Jimmy: “Ana doesn’t have what Karen has!” Derek: Karen is “one of the brightest young actresses around!”

– Julia and Collins (who, fine, I will call Scott if you insist) apparently have some kind of history. Perhaps they once shared some bananas by the bunch?

– Also, hee: Even though the Manhattan Theatre Workshop isn’t a thing, it apparently has mounted at least one production of Rent. Check out the posters in ScottCollins’s office.

– And speaking of bananas: Please, please tell me that you guys saw that insane Ford Focus commercial with the Ice Capades dancers singing “Let Me Be Your Star.” It was scrumtrulescent.

– I know this is basically what happened to Brian d’Arcy James, but — they wouldn’t cast Jesse L. Martin in a non-singing role, would they?!

– Eileen will never forgive Jerry for confirming that a criminal was indeed engaged in criminal activity, and subsequently reporting that criminal to the police. Yup, Jerry is clearly a monster.

– When Terry said that he wanted to bring back “the mirrors, and the sheep, and the full frontal nudity,” I got all the confirmation I needed that Stefon really does write for this show.

– And finally, on a purely practical note: If I continue writing these recaps once Smash moves to the Saturday graveyard, will you lovely people keep reading them?

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