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'Smash' recap: It's time to pray

May 8, 2012 | 11:39 am

Smash mcphee hilty

There was one thing that “Smash” got right in its bizarre turn toward religious fervor Monday night: the equation of watching the show with an act of faith. I have so much hope for the show every week -- one might say blind devotion based on nothing more than a hunch and a prayer -- and that’s what keeps me coming back.

I have faith. Perhaps this is because I came into the show already kneeling down at the church of Broadway, one of razzle-dazzle’s loyal subjects, and I was prepared to let the holy water of song and dance wash over me and renew my spirit. Ever since I heard the first bars of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina,” as a little girl, I was a convert. But faith can only get you so far. I have prayed to the gods of “Smash” to ask them to deliver me from poorly plotted television, and they have not answered me. Repent!

To be fair, there was a lot to like about this episode. I enjoyed the eponymous “Smash” ditty that Tom crashed in at the last minute to give his precious tomatoes something to do other than sulk about sitting on the sidelines while Rebecca Duvall commits career suicide in the Marilyn role. Ivy’s swishing about in that vavoom green dress was a better argument for her ability to step into the starring role than I’ve seen in weeks. Kat McPhee looked a little awkward with her hip thrusts, but the vocals were on point, and I found myself thinking that if I was a member of the Boston audience during that performance I would have been smiling like an idiot throughout that whole number. The guy they cast as Zanuck, who somehow magically appeared just in this episode to fulfill his musical obligations and has drama with absolutely no one (the nerve!) was perfect at it; his final cigar chomp almost made me applaud.

And let’s not skip over the blessed event of Anjelica Huston finally flexing her pipes and performing a torch song in a swanky Boston cocktail lounge (it’s no Bushwacks, but it’ll do). I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for Angie to sing since the dawn of time. When she started, I was worried that her talking version of “September Song” might be more Ke$ha than Eartha Kitt, but once Lady Huston started singing in earnest, I was charmed. So was Nick, apparently. Even the mafiosos who broke his wrist back in New York couldn’t get him down after watching that.

Highlights aside, this episode was a mess. It did its job, which is to say, Uma is out, the competition for Marilyn is back (did it ever really go away?) and there are real stakes for the finale. Speaking of, it looks like this season isn’t even going to include the transfer to Broadway. We have a whole new season of logistics and backroom dealings to look forward to before “Bombshell” ever hits the Great White Way, I feel like this is the theater nerd equivalent of “The Killing” not revealing the murderer.

But back to the episode. We are rid of Rebecca Duvall, that talentless string bean of insecurity who needed Derek’s special treatment just to stay upright. We all know that Ellis was behind the great smoothie caper, not only because he is the keeper of the Vitamix but because poisoning someone with peanuts is just such an Ellisy thing to do. He is so twisted that when he complains to Eileen that “someone has to be producing this thing,” in his mind he is giving himself tacit permission to almost-murder an actress for the good of the show. Some might call his sociopathic behavior a symptom of the kind of ambition that gets you places, but in Ellis’ case I’m wondering if that place won’t eventually be a padded cell.

Regarding Derek’s “attention” to Rebecca before Kalegate, I found his speech to Ivy to be the most disgusting he has delivered all season. The kind of twisted logic he employed should be studied. Let’s review: Ivy confronts him to say, “Hey, what happened? You told me you loved me three days ago, and then sort of ignored me, so I slept with Karen’s fiance. Oops, that part is a secret. But anyways, why are you ignoring meeee?” And Derek is like, “Oh, baby, we are a power couple. And sometimes, the man in a power couple has to sow his seed for the good of the art, you see. I’m doing this for US. I sleep with all the Marilyns, you see? It’s method.” If Ivy sleeps with Derek again after that monologue then she deserves to be crying in a church pew. For now, I feel her pain. Dev wants to sweep her under the rug (where his ring is probably hanging out), Derek has turned into a complete psychopath, and she’s still not Marilyn. Time to pray.

Ah, the church scene. After a terrible fight, in which Julia says “We aren’t partners” in a moment of textual subtlely matched only by Chekhov, everyone turns up sallow and upset to sing hymns in a last-ditch effort to save the show. I’m not sure where Jesus got mixed up with the Marilyn story but apparently, theater people love church. I’m quoting Karen, who said exactly that before getting up in front of the crowd to belt a gospel song like she was born to it. I don’t know how they do things in Iowa, but this all seems to flow pretty naturally from a girl who consistently displays about as much soul as an English muffin.

I almost believed that Tom and Julia would go with a gospel ending to the show, given that the sad sack suicide route was leaving audiences cold and confused, but Julia seems to have something better up her sleeve. And, as I am actually intrigued to discover what it is, then I consider that a victory for “Smash.” An air of mystery and actual suspense!

Other notes:

1) How is Michael Swift so predatory? Julia practically had to take a cold shower after that encounter.

2) Ivy and Karen supporting each other for once is a tragic turn, as that’s all about to be blown apart by the picking of the Marilyn and the small fact that Ivy has made Karen a cuckold.

3) So much Dev in this episode! Too much Dev in this episode.

4) I want in on this company hotline.

5) The token dancer friend finally has a name: Jessica. It only took us 14 episodes.

THE SONGS:

“Let Me Be Your Star (Rebecca Reprise)” 2 out of 5 Jazz Hands: Not terrible, but not Broadway worthy. A woman knows when she isn’t wanted and Rebecca left the show at the right time. She was literally dying out there.

“Smash” 4 out of 5 Jazz Hands: For a last-minute add-on number, I think this is one of the show’s strongest. Casting couch antics are so fun, when done in busty '50s dresses. Ivy makes a strong case for herself as Marilyn here, while McPhee makes a case for being a deserving pop starlet on a television show. Everyone wins.

September Song” 5 out of 5 Jazz Hands: You don’t give Anjelica Huston anything less than a perfect score, even if she does talk through the half of the song she isn’t using autotune for. Still, perfect.

“Stand” 3 out of 5 Jazz Hands: On one hand, I love Sam, and I love a gospel choir almost as much as the producers of “The Voice” do. But Katherine McPhee couldn’t have felt more out of place if she had been standing in a DMV. I just hope that someone heard their prayers and the finale is better.

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-- Rachel Syme

Photo: Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty in "Smash." Credit: Will Hart / NBC

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