Monday, May 7, 2012

'Smash' Reunites with Michael Swift for "Previews"...

"Bombshell" went into "Previews" and all I wanted was to watch the full show unfold onstage for the hour, not unlike the filmed version of the final RENT original run performance that was released in theaters and later on DVD. But from the beginning this show was much more about the romantic and other relationship entanglements happening behind the scenes, threatening to derail the show, so it was no surprise that "Previews" didn't provide a real sneak peek of the musical past callbacks to moments we had already seen, just with Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) in the blonde, curly wig this time.

...Okay, and a weird, subtextual towel-snapping scene with a character we never saw before (or did we? Maybe I was too busy missing Michael Swift to notice this mustacheoed gentleman). It seemed a bit of a shame that so much of the actual behind-the-scenes was rushed, though. The characters have all felt it and commented on it, as well. No one wanted to be thrust into performances if they weren't truly ready because first impressions, however highly anticipated, mean everything in the entertainment industry. And the more a high concept, ambitious project like this is rushed, the more mistakes there are to be made. For "Bombshell" or Smash itself.

All of a sudden there was a duet between Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty) in the show-- a duet that we had heard make mention of very briefly, in the "we want to give both girls something" sense from Tom (Christian Borle), only to never speak or see of it again. Yet there it was, happening so quickly it was hard to absorb the hows and the whys, and we were just supposed to sit back and enjoy the show. Both women are such talented singers, that was easy to do, but it was still jarring narratively. For one thing, weren't Ivy and Karen supposed to be Marilyn's shadow selves? In this number they were completely different, and separate, women. So are they just true ensemble players, then, flitting from one part to another? It was a bit distracting. And with the twists and turns their personal characters have taken in the road to...friendship?, well, at least a truce, this episode would have been better bookended by their on-stage duet and an off-screen song fight, again not unlike RENT ("Take Me Or Leave Me"-- though admittedly with a much different sentiment behind the words).

Smash has had a lot of ups and downs of its own in this first season (a full reflection on which I will be publishing post finale, so please come back next week, too!), but it always had two things going for it: beautiful songs and the refusal to give into "dumbing down" by using expository dialogue. Tonight it failed on the latter account. Yes, admittedly there was a question about whether or not Ivy knew who Dev (Raza Jaffrey) was, or vice versa, when they met in the bar at the end of "Tech," but their encounter in the awkward morning after subtly spelled it out. Karen did not have to introduce them with a "you've never met!" Just last week it seemed she was finally smartening up-- she told Dev, though sadly not in as many words, just how stupid he was for picking this tumultuous moment in her life to propose. But in "Previews" it was she who was written as the fool.

Let's play count the ways Karen is too naive, innocent, or just plain "middle America nice" for her own good: 1) She didn't think Ivy's sudden compliments or hugs (!?) were odd. 2) She considered one night of alone time as enough "space" from an overbearing boyfriend. 3) She's has no desire to try at independence. 4) She didn't notice how quiet and actually helpful Dev was being, which reeks of suspicion. 5) She thought telling Rebecca that Ivy and Derek (Jack Davenport) were a couple would mean Rebecca would back off. 6) She thought Rebecca sleeping with Derek actually meant something to Rebecca. 7) She yelled out into an empty hallway to try to help Rebecca, rather than picked up her sure-to-be-glued-to-her-hip cellphone to dial 911.

But "Previews" did something that I never thought it would: it humanized Rebecca-- even before her "poisoning"-- which sadly seems to be a plot point the show is dropping. But rightfully so. This is now Law & Order: Broadway; It doesn't matter who did it or even why; it accomplished what it needed to: it gave Rebecca a wake-up call, and a true Marilyn moment, and got her out of our hair-- and the show-- just in time for the show to get back to its roots in the season finale. Team Karen or Team Ivy, after all that's happened, have you strayed or stayed? I'll say this: if Ivy doesn't tell Karen about sleeping with Dev, I may consider that the worst thing she has done on this journey. Sure, it would hurt Karen and probably distract her enough so Ivy would get to play Marilyn, but in the long run, it's the best thing her so-called new friend could do for her.

Also, even if Ivy finds the ring, she shouldn't give it back to him. He hasn't earned the right to get married.

Anyway, surely such an untouchable movie star would never cry to a therapist with her dressing room door wide open if the problems she was bemoaning were real. Leaving the door open is something you do when you want the attention. And she certainly had a captive audience in Karen. Yet when the two sat on the couch together, and Rebecca pointed out that she was the star, and so "Bombshell's" failings were all her fault, you couldn't help but feel for her in that moment. She's right. Whether or not she had actually gotten herself to a place where she could hit the notes; even if she had found her light at all times; if no one liked the show, they would blame her. She was the last minute cast addition, but really, it was because of her name recognition. Tom and Julia (Debra Messing) could (and did!) walk around that theater without people knowing who they were or pointing their fingers in blame at them. Rebecca, well she's a target. Not quite a scapegoat since in this case she's not that good, but still. 

Okay, that's due diligence on the episode as a whole, can we get to my selfish notes now? First of all, Julia (Debra Messing) must have been really distracted by Michael (Will Chase) to not notice just what a terrible idea it is to end a play with a death-- no, a suicide, at that! Pulling him out of the public lobby and into a dark corner is certainly sending a mixed signal, despite her harsh "I didn't want you here" words. It's going to be a problem, and it's hard to root for it-- or Julia in general. She can't keep her own emotions in check because she won't be honest with herself about what she really wants, above what's easy or traditional or convenient. If she truly cared about "fixing" her marriage, Michael's approach, however aggressive, wouldn't tug at her. She'd knee him in the groin and move on. But she can't do that. Because he still has a hold on her. And she's not even willing to acknowledge it because of the can of worms it will open. And with the show more important than her or her family or her heart, she doesn't have time or energy for those worms.

And as great a time as I had in church-- Leslie Odom Jr. has such a beautiful voice; I hope both "Bombshell" and Smash celebrate it more in the future-- it was hard to ignore how out of place this scene was-- and all of the Jews were. I'm sorry, but the people behind this show are in New York and in theater; they shouldn't be so insensitive. And Jewish people do not go to church; it is literally against their religion. Between this and Karen's singing the sneaky Christian "Shake it Out" at the bar mitzvah earlier this season, I'm starting to worry...

And uh, did anyone else want to see what happened when Eileen's new beau (Thorsten Kaye) walked Ellis (Jaime Cepero) outside? If anyone is man enough to punch that little weasel in the face, it's him-- even with one bum hand!


Beezy!!!! said...

I think the whole church seen was to send a message to all the characters and their issues. I think if people get uncomfortable and over analyze it they should prob not watch the show anymore bc it is just that.... A show. It was a nice change up to the usually show and a good message to the characters. Everything else that is shown on tv and that is goin to be an issue? Yeah that sure makes a lot of sense.

Joe said...

Well...unlike Breezy, I would never stoop to suggest that a show is simply a show and doesn't deserve to be examined or explored.

As usual everything Julia and Karen was a horrific mess (except for McPhee's church song, which was nicely done - albeit insensitive as you suggest).

Glad to have Tom and Rebecca(!) acting as adults this week, though I'm not excited for the return of "Who Will Play Marilyn?" next week.

Our take: