Many television audiences only give a new show two or three episodes to completely hook them, and I will admit if I wasn't completely sold on Smash by now, I don't think the third, "Enter Mr. DiMaggio" episode would have done the trick. Music selection aside (I'm not a fan of twangy country, and "Mr. and Mrs Smith" was a bit too Broadway bombshell without the over-the-top production quality-- though that fake house was sick!), I felt like some of the pop and pizazz was deflated by removing Karen from the city and removing Ivy from the majority of the story in general. This show works best when they are working around each other and the show is working around them. This episode had a slower pace than what I have come to know, love, and expect, but I will admit now that I think it was necessary for the story. We needed to see Karen in that environment to fully understand why she's leaving it behind-- and why she doesn't quite fit back there anymore anyway (if she ever did). Plus, this one did introduce one of my favorite new complications (and couples) in the form of Michael Swift (Will Chase) coming back into Julia (Debra Messing)'s life-- both professionally and romantically. How could you not fall in love with him from the jump!? Or am I the only one stuck in an eighth grade girl's mentality who is looking for a cute boy to crush on and a relationship through which to live vicariously in shows like this? Oh well...
"Life is long; theater is longer." I don't think for one second that Derek (Jack Davenport) giving Karen (Katharine McPhee) this little nugget of experienced wisdom is simply to point out that if she keeps herself in the fight, she may be rewarded sooner than she thinks. He's just smarmy enough to make it seem that he's pointing out that "it might not have happened" between them post-audition, but if she comes around sooner rather than later, it can still have the same advantageous effects. Look, I'm not saying it's right-- I hate the casting couch caste that exists within Hollywood as much as the next feminist-- but I do think he challenges her and pushes her and actually believes in her in an educated way that Dev (Raza Jaffrey) cannot. I think Dev is the boy Karen the Iowaian (is that a word?) fell for because he saw her as a star way back when. With him, she has gotten comfortable and complacent and can believe-- but doesn't really know how to make her dreams anything more than just that. But Derek is the man who can bring out the best in Karen. Their pissing contest at the bar was cute for me, but in actuality Dev stood no chance. Dev was her past, but I think Derek may be her future.
And I'm okay with never seeing her past again. Sorry to the actors that portrayed them, but as friends Karen's pals from Iowa were dullsville. I feel like that was the point-- she left this all behind for a reason-- but it was still somewhat unnerving to see it explored in only the third episode, when shows are still trying to hook an audience with exciting characters and early plot twists. I love getting to go home with characters to gain insight into who they are, and the whole "girl next door thing" makes a lot more sense now. It's not just about a physical type for Karen; it's in the cornbread way she was raised, as well. On their tongues, her parents say they want her to be practical, but their actions bail her out and support her in ways that speak volumes. They are proud of their little girl, but they are also coddling her. She can afford to chase down a dream if she has daddy and Dev helping pay the bills-- a luxury Ivy (Megan Hilty) cannot afford. Ivy is merely sleeping with Derek, not using him as a Sugar Daddy to bankroll her quest for stardom.
Admittedly, I would have preferred the juxtaposition of going home with Karen to loving parents with Ivy and her distant mother in the same episode, but I know we'll get some insight into Ivy later, so I'll let it go that it felt a little unbalanced tonight. Karen is the wild card here anyway; in this world Ivy is the one who is already known (even if not well, and even if she is still choosing what side of herself to show), whereas Karen is the blank slate. The more time we spend alone with Karen, the clearer it becomes that her green down-to-Earthness is not naivety but genuine interest in what she is doing. She may not know much about this world, but it excites her, and she's willing to start paying her dues now. I have no doubt that part of what will help her inch closer to the role of Marilyn will be the fact that she's willing to suck it up in the ensemble, while Ivy may have a wandering eye. A workshop can take a long time to get off the ground, even if Eileen (Anjelica Huston) seems to think "only" two-hundred thousand dollars may be easy to raise with a combo of jewelry sales and the prestige of her name bringing in new investors (though her initial meeting seemed to indicate the road will be rougher than either Karen or she imagined, considering her name is no longer synonymous with her husband's). While Ivy spirals because of the ticking clock in her head and the stress of sleeping with Derek on her chest, Karen, most likely (all signs indicate, anyway) will just keep growing, training, becoming Broadway ready.
Do you guys watch Revenge? Because the character of Tyler over there reminds me a lot of Ellis (Jaime Cepero) over here. Not in the "off his meds and going to take people hostage" way but in the "so opportunistic he will sleep with anyone way." I'm getting that vibe from Ellis. Going home with him should have offered more insight into who he is under his layer of deviousness, but it just raised a bigger question mark for me. That girl he's living with? I thought she was his older sister at first-- you know, until they kissed. I felt like he might just be using her to get a break in the NYC rent. Maybe it was short-sighted of me, but I thought he was gay. I am not convinced he got his job because of his mother's relationship; I think he may have dangled sex in front of Tom (Christian Borle). Tom got weirdly upset about men in authority figures sleeping with their, uh, underlings (?), so to speak when he learned about Ivy and Derek. It seemed like he had certainly been faced with a similar temptation-- and perhaps recently-- and chosen the high road and is now trying to justify it. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify why in the hell he'd give Ellis his job back after Julia fired him the first time. I imagine there is some kind of attraction there-- if not sexual or physical, then at least an attraction to the young man he once was, seeing a lot of himself in "up and comer" Ellis and wanting to help mold and guide him in this dastardly industry we call show. So Tom may have a bigger blind spot than I first realized-- he assumed Derek was taking advantage of Ivy, proving once again just how much he hangs on her every note, not even crossing his mind that she could be getting something out of the relationship, too. But he also lets things go with Ellis in a way that worries me.
Normally I would never allow "being overwhelmed and partially creatively blocked" as an excuse for Julia treating an assistant the way she treated Ellis. Normally I would say "Good for you!" when one stood up for one's self by pointing out to her that he doesn't actually work for her. But it's Ellis, and her treatment was actually kind of tame compared to what I would have said. She wasn't privy to all of the information about why she wasn't wrong, but I am choosing to believe her lashing out at him was based on an instinct-- the same instincts that help her create musical hits. She is going to have to keep her eye on him. If he thinks it can help him get ahead, I'm sure he'll come on to Tom down the line. Poor Tom! He deserves someone nice and cute-- like that adorable friend of Ivy's. Let's hope it is those two who I spied in bed together in a quick shot in one of the thousands of TV spots for the series. It was so quick I couldn't make out who the other guy was (I'm not technologically savvy enough to screencap-- nor am I talented enough to make GIFs of Eileen throwing drinks in people's faces, but please, someone do!). I had assumed it was Ellis before this episode. I hope it's not, though the girl in Ellis' murphy bed? I am not totally convinced she's anything but a beard.
And speaking of sleeping together, can we just lock Julia and Michael in the audition room together for an hour or so and let them knock out their sexual tension? Weird history aside, they have something undeniable. Introducing him to the audience (well, me) with a sleeveless, partially unbutton shirt, armband tattoo, and Madonna microphone as he jumped off a small stage staircase singing (Bruno Mars, but still)? It's like Roger from RENT was all grown up and actually making something of his singing career (just how I always imagined would happen-- you know, after Mimi eventually died). It warmed my icy heart and brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes. And then to go home with him, too, and see the family man still just struggling to do what he loves to do and provide a good life for his baby? I WANT THAT. I can even see how he could make the Brooklyn Bridge sexy. That's right, I said it! Never thought you'd hear that, right? But Smash is the kind of show that takes TV audiences outside of their comfort zone.