'Smash' recap: Is this a bombshell or just a bomb?
Did you hear something? Maybe a loud crashing noise? Kind of like an explosion? Was it ... a bombshell perhaps? Don't worry, there will be no dangerous shrapnel here. This is a metaphorical bombshell, the kind that detonates in people's lives after they have affairs and leads them to come up with a very on-the-nose name for their almost-Broadway musical, all the while whispering the word "bombshell" itself and stoically drinking scotch and staring out of a window.
Yes, just when we thought "Smash" couldn't get any sillier, this episode comes along to blow to smithereens any sense of nuance or mystique the show had left. Not that "Smash" has ever been a testament to subtlety (counting the number of times any character says the name "Marilyn" to move along a plot line could be a lethal drinking game), but there was still some aura of the unknown about it at the beginning, the tension of who would get the role and if the musical would ever coagulate into something looking like a Broadway show.
Well, we are still waiting, but the show seems to want us to care less and less about "Marilyn," err, "Bombshell: The Musical." At least, it wants us to take a break from all that shimmying and belting and take a long hard look into our main players' emotional lives. It seems to be working: If Eileen should decide to cancel the production and run off to Micronesia with Ellis and her magical bartender and never look back, I for one would shed zero tears about it. And yet, as the musical recedes farther and farther from view, buried by Ryan Tedder club jams and hammy Rihanna covers, I realize I would rather have it back than spend any more episodes in such close quarters with everyone's personal dramabusiness. At least with "Marilyn" we got some raunchy baseball jokes.
But we'll have to wait for Uma Thurman to show up and inevitably be not quite right for the role to get back into that world, so for now we are stuck with drugged-up angels and kissing at Republican benefits. Might as well dive into the muck.
This was an Ivy-centric episode, and as grating as I found Megan Hilty's breathy Marilyn act, I have to admit that she's aces at navigating Ivy's ever-predictable descent into a very dark well of pain and self-pity. Though the whole drug addiction arc seems to be (yet another) way to connect Ivy's spiritual suffering to that of Norma Jean, it's not like a young starlet getting hooked on pills and self-destructing is a vintage story line in our era. In an age of Lohan DUIs and bathtub overdoses, Ivy's attachment to her pain meds is all too familiar, and it makes real sense in the context of her situation.
She's a) been harmfully undermined by her mother her whole life, b) sleeping with a man who denied her a dream role and seems disinterested in integrating her into his life in any deep way, and c) continually losing steam compared with a younger, more desirable actress with cheap taste in sunglasses. Her token gay-jock sidekick is off romancing Tom away from his Republican squeeze, and she's trapped for eternity in a sublimely hokey dance number featuring a kooky preacher who seems to be ministering to a breakdancer, a hobo and one of the girls who holds briefcases on "Deal or No Deal."
Ivy is in hell. So Klonopin, Ambien and Xanax, and whatever other "new stuff" she's on, that's her new best friend. I did not really expect her to snort it (that's what happened, right? As usual, "Smash" leaves its most controversial moments to our imaginations), but really, Ivy's logical next step is taking Vicodin up the schnoz.
Not that I like it -- if I wanted to see a beautiful girl destroying herself with narcotics, I'd watch some "Intervention." I came to "Smash" for the spangles, dammit. I came for jazz hands and leg warmers and pink gel lights and the fleeting dream of an Angelica Huston tap-dance number. I did not come to see a pill-popping crisis pulled straight from the "After School Special" Bible. It’s not that Ivy's descent isn’t interesting as a concept -- but there would be so many more compelling directions for her crackup to go than straight to getting buzzed and ruining a musical number.
As fun as it was to see Hilty flitting around like a drunken hummingbird (her acting note was definitely "Go nuts!"), it seemed ... expected somehow. Ivy's been slowly sinking since she was cast, and all anyone's been able to talk about is how worried they are about her. They try to cheer her with bowling and shots, or in Derek's case, by promising her the role of a lifetime as a dead hooker, but she will have none of it. She's determined to implode (like a bombshell), and as good as Hilty is, it is feeling boring. I wish they would have made her less predictable in her meltdown; more volatile, more crafty. But as her little "My mother said worse things to me at Sunday dinner" speech showed, she's so world-weary and beaten down, she may not have any craft left in her. When she suggested that the thing that made her more special than Karen was owning a pair of Marc Jacobs sunglasses, I took that as an extreme cry for help.
Ivy's downfall is about as riveting as Karen's windfall, or whatever you call it when a "Midwestern moonface" actress from Nowheresville, Hicktopia, gets to put on a green spandex worm suit and get sick on OJ. I'm glad that Karen has a life after "Marilyn" in the form of pushing a healthy breakfast (or anorexia, since the message of that ad seemed to be to never have any other food in the house but juice), but I don't necessarily want to see it. Karen was only exciting to me as a Marilyn contender, and then as a Marilyn usurper. Now that she's just a schmo like Ivy, both of them feel less vital to the show. Maybe I'm watching with a casting director's mind, but after they left the workshop, I kind of tossed their headshots into a slush pile.
I was glad they bonded -- they will need each other in their respective futures of relative obscurity (at least until one of them totally comes back and steals Marilyn again) -- but the Times Square thing was one of the least realistic things "Smash" has done. Sure, a woman in a halo can sing Rihanna with her drunk friend in a giant puffy coat next to some other street performers. This is New York, after all. You can do anything. But would a crowd of tourists, emerging from their various performances of "Wicked" and "Mamma Mia" stop to raise the roof alongside these seemingly insane people? I live in New York, and I'm never shocked to see a crazy person in a sparkly costume singing to themselves on the street. What I'd marvel at is if anyone actually cared.
And then there's Julia. Debra Messing should win an Emmy for dramatic ugly-crying, or at least make a valiant showing in the category against Claire Danes. I'm glad they had Frank find out already, because no good adulterer goes unpunished on network TV, and now we can move on. I'm not glad he moved out of the house, because who will chop the salads? Leo will go saladless! And not that we were thinking about the Chinese baby process anymore (that was so 10 episodes ago), but I guess she is no longer being called to on the wind either. Bombshells, exploding everywhere.
And speaking of bombshells (my transition there was about as elegant as Julia's discovering the title), I should note the way the show is setting up such a perfectly predictable love triangle for Tom. In one corner, you have your gay Republican, who is apparently the kind of Republican who can kiss men in public and things. And in the other, you have your gay Jock, who likes to educate other gay men on sports team names like he's doing public service. And both of these anti-types are vying for a man who stayed up all night to get "Rent" tickets and who seems wrong for either of them.
I take real solace in the fact that this arc feels so forced and weird, if only because I'm excited that gay plots have become so mainstream that they can be as overwrought as any other. The major issue here is not that Tom is gay, it's that he doesn't have chemistry with anyone that he's supposed to; the only time I've ever felt sparks with him is when he hangs with Jules.
A character that should be the focus of sexual identity discussions is Ellis, who is apparently down to seduce a man should the need arise. I really like this twist, if only because "Smash" has subverted the tradition of a woman using sex to get ahead by featuring an ambitious boy in a (gay) man's world, but I understand how some may see Ellis' exploitation of a gay identity for personal gain as a somewhat problematic development.
Until Uma, kids. In the meantime, make like a cafe owner and pretend to be happy for Karen’' wild success. She doesn't need your lousy shifts anyway.
Heaven on Earth number: 3 out of 5 Jazz Hands. This is the show that Michael Riedel thought was brilliant in his column? Well, makes sense. He was daft enough to be tricked by Eileen's wiles.
"Brooklyn Bridge" 2 out of 5 Jazz Hands: We only get to hear a snippet of Julia's poorly veiled confession in the form of sheet music that she just happens to have lying around. What a stretch, eh? But wasn’t just the Smashiest possible way for Julia to reveal the affair? I mean, it doesn't get Smashier.
"Cheers (I’ll Drink to That)" 2.5 out of 5 Jazz Hands: Again, drunk crazy people singing in the street. It is always so much more fun for them than it is for us.
-- Rachel Syme
Photo: Megan Hilty in "Smash." Credit: : Eric Liebowitz / NBC