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'Smash' recap: They cast Marilyn Monroe in Episode 2?

February 14, 2012 |  7:10 am

Smash recap katharine mcphee
Hello, you wild Magnolias. How has it been a week since we met strivy Ivy and clueless Karen and their closets full of adorable Danskin leggings? I feel like we just heard the “Pick Me Please” belty refrains of “Let Me Be Your Star” just yesterday. Oh, wait. What’s that you say? We did hear it yesterday? They used the song in both the first and second episodes? But I thought "Smash" was going to deliver us at least two completely original 11 o'clock showstopping numbers every week! Well then. This could be a long season. 

All repetitions aside, this week did offer one surprise. They up and cast Marilyn. And you thought the McPhee-Hilty claw-down was going to last another 13 episodes.

No, only on "RuPaul’s Drag Race" does one have to wait three months to see a woman in a platinum wig lip-synching for her life crowned queen. On "Smash" they give you the satisfaction in Week 2. (Sidenote: Pitting those two shows against each other is a scheduling mistake of epic proportions. Know your demo, NBC.)

Turns out all it takes to land the Broadway role of a lifetime is a library card, a dressing room mirror in which to practice creepy lip-stability tricks, and some overwrought scenework culminating in a Freudian breakdown of your character’s deeper motives (the Raquel Welch Memorial Award for pout-acting goes to Megan Hilty this week). Oh, and bonking the director. Never forget bonking the director.

Oh "Smash," how disappointing that we jumped straight into one of the oldest story arcs in the “behind the scenes” playbook: someone is sleeping with someone else, and because she opened their legs, they opened other doors for her career. Yes, it is true that in the performing arts, the sausage is made with a bit more hide-the-sausage than say, in the world of accounting. But to imply that all big stage roles are won on the casting couch is to directly undermine Megan Hilty’s talent. And so early on!

I’m not saying that the prospect of an ongoing Ivy/Derek relationship isn’t somewhat compelling -- I’d see Jack Davenport do anything with almost anyone -- but it sets up kind of a bad precedent for the show. She who dazzles in bed gets to dazzle on stage.

And the funny thing is, even without the tryst, Ivy would have likely gotten the part. There was this moment right before he did the Casanova hair-tousle that Derek seemed to decide that Ivy was Marilyn; he framed her face with blond locks, and he just saw it. Ivy, even with her overacting and breathy tryhard ways, is clearly the more pedigree talent. Perhaps recognizing this gave Derek some unspoken permission to pounce on her, what with the justification that she’d already won and all. But I think he would have pounced regardless. 

Poor Karen, jumping through all those futile hoops in her flesh-colored Capezios. Her callback was far better than any of us were expecting -- McPhee’s flat acting in the rehearsal scene may not have been so much “acting,” if you know what I mean -- but no amount of mambo with lithe young boys could score her the part. The “20th Century Fox” number was cheeky fun, but Karen seemed as uncomfortable in it as Norma Jean must have felt during her first full-peroxide job. These “chops” that Julia and Eileen couldn’t stop raving about were almost obscured by her backup dancers.

It is true that Marilyn was green when she began in Hollywood,  oozing with wide-eyed innocence. But even the sapling Monroe knew enough to take sexy pictures and wink at the studio heads that held her fate. Karen doesn’t yet have the cooing ability she needs to navigate the glitz. Is it disheartening that in a post-feminist society, the girl who wears the busty shirts and knows how to bag the guy gets ahead? Yes. But then, as Dev says, there is always going to be a man in power who holds the cards, and if you don’t play along, then you create your own suffering. Is Dev a Buddhist? Kind of a misogynist? Just a Brit with some hard truths? We have to wait and see. We do know he says “shedule” in an adorable way.

Meanwhile, in Making-A-Musical-Land, Julia and Tom are very concerned with “structure.” Because, after all,  this is a show about creating a show, and it would be nothing without a glimpse into the process. What we learn this week is that to make a Broadway hit you will need a lot of index cards and a bulletin board. And that it is a completely original idea to start a show with an actress “standing in a pool of light” by herself. This is why they pay Julia the big money, these ideas. Where does she get them?

A hop, skip, and a fantasy stage sequence later, we are supposed to care about Julia’s other life, with her other husband, the straight one. Theresa Rebeck and Co. are going to make you root for this adoption if it kills them. So, it turns out the couple finds out they are going to have to wait another two years for their Chinese daughter to arrive (the show presents this as a shock, but I mean...they seem to have been working on this adoption for over a decade, right? They know from waiting).

Frank, who is sick of having his only jobs in life be to angrily chop salad and ignore his teenage son, decides to bag the whole thing and go back to work as a foxy science teacher (cannot wait for the spinoff, "Welcome Back, Mr. Houston"). And because an 18-year marriage is “unheard-of in show business,” as we’ve been reminded 100 times, the ship at Casa Julia has hit choppy waters. Even their sullen teenager pipes up to say how much he really wanted a baby sister carried over on the wind. Cue a dramatic adoption meeting in some gray basement with a water cooler and a mention of “lion mothering,” and the ship is back in smooth waters.

The show ends as it began, with an actress (shocker, she is bathed in a pool of light) singing at a cabaret club. Because as we learn, in their off hours, Broadway hopefuls just can’t stop singing. They sing when they waitress, they sing when they get a role, they sing sing shamalama sing. This time, however, Ivy’s song is really happening, as opposed to Karen’s two-drink-minimum karaoke in her head. As Ivy croons a stripped-down version of Carrie Underwood’s “Crazy Dreams,” and blows kisses to her spiritual sensei Tom, a sense of dark foreboding rolls over the show. Crazy dreams come true, yes, but in this show, they are short-lived. As Derek sneers, “Marilyn never tried.” And right now, Ivy is trying like hell. 

 To the songs!

“20th Century Fox”: 4 Jazz Hands

This number could be wildly fun in a real stage version. Just think of the bedazzled mambo costumes and the makeover theatricals! This is the kind of song that makes us understand why Eileen is so girlishly giddy about sending her baby straight to Broadway. 

“Crazy Dreams”: 3 Jazz Hands

How meta was this number? You have an actual Broadway singer, singing an "American Idol" winner’s song, about winning a Broadway part over an actress played by an "American Idol" contestant, who didn’t win. Does your brain hurt yet?

“Let Me Be Your Star” (Reprise): 2 Jazz Hands

It was the perfect finale to the show when we saw it first. Seeing it again exposes the holes in it -- the melody is a bit generic, the lyrics cloying. Because this is a show about a show, we are bound to see some songs repeated -- but they would fare better if not sandwiched in back to back episodes.

What was your favorite?

RELATED:

"Smash" premiere recap

How I got a job on "Smash"

NBC wins Monday night ratings with "Smash" and "The Voice"

-- Rachel Syme

twitter.com/rachsyme

 Photo: Katharine McPhee does Marilyn. Credit: Patrick Harbron/NBC.

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