It only took two minutes and Dev was tossed into the wastepaper basket never to be seen again. If only real life were that simple. NBC’s Smash, a tale of Broadway, returned the airwaves last night with a special 2 hour season premier. Only after the second hour ended did they bother to tell us that we’ll have to wait two weeks for the next show to air. We just waited 8 1/2 months to see this, and then they put us back on hiatus for another two weeks.
While the curtain doesn’t exactly rise, following a montage which serves as a fast Season One recap, Season 2 opens with Karen Cartwright performing on stage of the closing night in Boston in a full black and white screen. Within seconds, she will become ‘Marilyn’ as the full color bleeds in. Not exactly flattering to Katherine McPhee who plays Cartwright, but if the technology exists, why not use it? Anyway, the show’s opener is a song called: Cut/Print/Moving On. And wasn’t it eerily reminiscent of a tune from the Broadway musical Ragtime called Journey On. Not the complete song mind you – just the key phrases of Moving on and Journey On. And the intent:
Tell me a brand new story. Together we’ll turn the page…
The grass is always greener on some Technicolor stage
And if a duckling never swims, she’ll never become a swan…
Yes, I’m dropping in some cut/print – Moving on.
I guess that’s a big clue from new show runner Joshua Safran that things are going to be different. Well yes, some people are gone like the ratboy Ellis, one of TV’s most uniformly detested characters ever. Like Julia Houston’s son Leo and husband Frank. At the 25 minute mark, and just ahead of a commercials break, Frank was seen flirting with a pretty woman who he had just placed in a taxi. Just another major point to be noticed by another cast member – in this case Tom Levitt, Julia’s writing partner. Frank will have a major shootout with Julia, a public one at that, in front of dozens of folks, later on. And poof, just like that, a character becomes history, a marriage ends, and everybody must move on.
But that’s getting a tad ahead of the story. As Karen Cartwright belts out Cut Print Moving On, we have a montage of most of the lead characters leaving Boston and arriving back in New York. Karen is now Dev-less, Ivy tosses away her supply of prescription drugs – those pills she shook out of the bottle near the end of Season implying a suicide were just a part of the cliff-hanger finale but no one was fooled. Especially not Karen who remains furious with Ivy – Karen will snub Ivy twice in the first five minutes of the show by not sharing either a taxi or an elevator with her.
In New York, at the rehearsal hall, Derek is thanking everyone for their efforts in Boston as he said, thanks for a job well done – in Boston. But that was then, and this is now, but much hard work remains. Eileen allows that she’s going to get the show into one of New York’s finest theaters
She also reminds them that rewrites are necessary, and once the determination is made about which characters will remain, all players still in the show will have new contracts sent to their agents. And PS – no raises – so don’t ask!
As they break, Eileen calls Karen over to tell her about a soiree she’s planning for the weekend. A press party for the show. Eileen invites Karen to do the opening number, and she can pick her own back up singers. Karen names Jessica and Beth of course, and the third is … Joy. Ivy is snubbed once again. Eileen says to Karen, I hope you’re ready. It all starts now.
Not a bad format for the intro to the second season. Cue the music, roll the montage, bring everyone up to speed, and keep that Ivy/Karen stew of a feud on the slow cooker.
In Eileen’s office, we are told that Michael Swift wants out of his contract. You can almost hear Julia’s sigh. Eileen says that’s trying to get the show into the St. James Theater which is one New York’s most storied and cherished theaters. This isn’t the Belasco, or the Morosco - it’s the St. James. Oklahoma, The King and I, and The Producers all opened there. Then there’s the reviews which were decidedly negative. Julia hasn’t read them. She relies on the expressions on Tom’s face.
Karen is heading out to see a show with Derek. They’ll be seeing Veronica Moore’s new show. Moore is played by Jennifer Hudson. And they’ve backstage passes and will get to meet her. Thank you Derek.
Meanwhile Ivy and Sam are having cool drinks in a Duffy Square outdoor cafe. Ivy moans that her agent hasn’t gotten a call about Ivy’s contract. But they have heard about some of their other clients.
Hudson as Moore has a song next. The show is about a singer with an overbearing stage mother. The song’s title may be Mama Makes Three. It’s a lively number, if not a show-stopper. Backstage, Moore offers Karen some good advice.
Protect the work. The moment you lose focus, the moment the work suffers. Someone’s always waiting to take you down honey. But if the work is good, they won’t be able to.
Tom and Julia tell us they’ve work to do. Julia states that she promised Frank she’s be home when he got back from dinner with the new Superintendent. Tom allows that he’s happy that things are working out between them.
In a local watering hole, Eileen waits for Jordan Roth to discuss getting Bombshell into the St. James. Jerry shows up, and Eileen tells him that the seat is taken. Jerry is well-informed as he already knows this. Isn’t Broadway a small town. Jerry’s there to offer Eileen some of his financial resources. Jerry says, Everyone knows that you don’t have the capital funding necessary to mount a Broadway show. Simply, he wants in. Of course Jerry has his own agenda besides that – chief of which is to get back into Eileen’s good graces, if not her arms. Eileen threatens to toss another drink into Jerry’s face but doesn’t. Roth arrives with good news, He has offered Bombshell to The St. James. Just then Nick, Eileen’s barkeeper boy friend calls.
Jerry isn’t pleased when he hears Eileen tell Nick the good news. We’re going to Broadway. Eileen and Roth leave and Jerry sends out a text to an unnamed party. The text is the ominous – Time to move forward with the plan. Obviously Jerry’s first plan was to call the theater owners to block Bombshell from landing a theatrical home on Broadway. That fell through, so whatever this is going to be – it is Plan B. Stay tuned.
Karen rehearses her number for the soiree. Ivy approaches Karen and says, This isn’t about you… Karen: No, it’s about you, as usual. Karen blows off Ivy, once more. Julia who overheard says, Seems like old times. Ivy and Julia talk. Ivy wants to know what her chances are to remain in the show. Julia gives some advice. Make things better with Karen. More apologizing is necessary. Apologize not only for what you did, but why you did it.
Derek meets with his favorite mouthpiece – Michael Riedel, a New York newspaper theatrical columnist who not only saw the show in Boston, but saw it with Rebecca Duvall. He’s fishing for a quote from Derek about why Duvall left the show. Karen shows up at the bar, and Derek signals her to wait, while he finishes with Michael. This gives Karen an opportunity to meet Jimmy, a waiter at the bar. He’s played by Jeremy Jordan. Things don’t go well. He’s got a huge chip on his shoulder, or said another way – he’s a bad boy, and likely attractive to Karen despite this bad beginning. We can be sure that Karen and Jimmy will become an item.
Derek wanders by and he and Karen talk. Seems Karen is a bit upset that Ivy is singing at the party. Karen remembers what Veronica Moore told her about protecting the work, and she says she can’t do that if Ivy is in her face all the time. Derek says, Just say the word, and I’ll let her go. Karen says nothing. Derek says, Okay, consider it done.
Wow. That was easy. Now, poor Derek, looking to protect his Marilyn, has to tell Ivy. That won’t be easy.
Tom and Sam go for a walk on Riverside Drive. Sam’s been offered a role in a touring show, but he’s not sure he wants to take it. He’d be away from Tom. Tom says, You’ve got just 10 lines in our show – don’t let that stop you – go for it. they also discuss Julia, whose book for Bombshell was critically ravaged in the reviews. Tom hasn’t told her yet because – she has to focus on her marriage. Tom says, As her partner, I have to protect her. Sam says, As her partner, you have to tell her. If not you, then who could? Just then they see Frank and the woman. Boom. Go to commercials – we are twenty-five minutes in.
Okay that’s the first half of the season’s opening episode. Let’s take a quick check of our score card:
Karen/Ivy – all systems armed and ready. This is beyond simmering. Combustion ahead. Derek offered to fire Ivy and Karen said nothing. Bombshell – the show arrives in New York with a good shot at the St. James. Jerry is working behind the scenes to prevent this. Frank and Julia were announced as dead-in-the water in the advanced notes. Just one more scene is necessary to jettison Frank. No sign of Leo, Dev, and Ellis. Jennifer Hudson is on board for a star turn. And the biggest news – Bombshell is back from Beantown, and primed and ready for Broadway.
After the break, Ivy and Bobby read the news on a phone. Rebecca Duvall has just announced that she didn’t leave Bombshell for illness as previously reported. She now states, through Michael Riedel, that she left Bombshell because she was sexually harassed by Derek. Derek tells Eileen that it was a quote taken out of context. He wants Riedel barred at the door. This is the soiree that Eileen is using as her launch party. Frank is there and chats briefly with Linda, Bombshell’s stage manager.
Frank is taken aback that Linda seems to know that Julia and Frank’s marriage is healing and is no longer on the rocks. Frank is not pleased. He asks Julia if everyone on the show knows about Michael (Swift). Julia is taken aback by this but quickly recovers. Shows are like families. Everyone knows everything. Frank is now plenty pissed. Of course, how could I ever think that our private life is private. He storms off.
This little contretemps is over heard by Tom and Sam. Sam counsels that since Julia and Tom are best friends – he should tell her.
And the hits just keep on coming. Eileen gets a call from Jordan Roth. They no longer have the St. James. Boom. Eileen needs a diversion. Veronica Moore says why not use her and that would be Karen Cartwright who has only just arrived at that precise moment in a stunning red dress. Tom introduces Karen and Veronica to the crowd and they launch into a duet of the uptempo evergreen On Broadway.
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, On Broadway became a big hit in 1963 when it was performed by The Drifters. As for the Karen Cartwright and Veronica Moore version – it really popped and gave the show a big lift, and was the highlight of the episode. But the storm clouds are still gathering.
Derek takes Karen into an alcove. I was feeling down but now I feel better, he says. How did you do that? I’m your muse says Cartwright. That’s what we do. It looks like one of those romantic moments. The camera inches closer. Derek and Karen inch closer. A major kiss looms.
As predictable as ever – just then Ivy walks into the alcove. Derek sees her out of the corner of his eye – and the lips-locking is shut down. He chases after Ivy.
Ivy asks, Is that why you called me. Because you’re with Karen.
Derek; I’m not with Karen
Ivy: Then why did you call me?
Ivy: Oh my God – you’re letting me go…
Cue the next shitstorm. This time it Frank and Julia. It gets ugly, and loud. And so very public. Everyone overhears every word. Including Michael Riedel who steps up to say. May I quote you?
But we need something positive. After all this is television. Good follows bad like dawn follows night. Ivy apologizes to Karen. For everything. It seems heartfelt. And sincere. Ivy says, Good luck, you deserve it, and leaves in what we could call exit stage right.
Cut to outside on the street. Julia stands alone. Tom comes out. They’re in front of 15 Gramercy Park South, a designated historic landmark in New York, and the home of The National Arts Club, an excellent venue for Eileen’s soiree.
Tom: Where’s Frank?
Julia: Gone. My marriage is over …
More words aren’t needed about that. Adios Frank.
But this is an opportunity for Julia to fess up. She has read the reviews. She only pretended she hadn’t She was mortified. And now she’s of a thought that maybe the critics are right – that maybe she can’t hack it. Tom says she can , and he’ll help her.
Karen sits down to discuss Ivy with Eileen. No sooner does she begin, then Derek rushes in and asks Eileen to make an announcement supporting him, and the show (following the Duvall item in the tabloids). Eileen says she can’t do it. She’s about to drop her own bombshell.
There is no show. Bombshell is frozen. Some one tipped off the government about the source of her money for the show. Was it Jerry, or was it Jerry in conjunction with Ellis who whispered into the ear of IRS ? The government is now investigating the source, the show’s books, everything. Eileen excuses herself as she has to talk with her lawyers.
After the break it is the next day, Derek meets Karen. Derek tells her since Bombshell is on hold, to get something else for yourself. Oh, and if you do, give me call, I might need a job.
Tom and Julia are talking in his apartment. Julia just might need to move in, especially since Tom is going to tell Sam to take the tour. Tom is all for it. As he says he’s single again, and who’d have him ? Julia insists that they must have complete honesty between them as a condition. Nothing can be hidden. And to prove the point, he hands her the newspaper. You’re going to need something stronger than tea, he says.
Ivy shows up to audition for a commercial. They look over her resume. Oh, you were in Bombshell. What a mess. Ivy – actually it was pretty great. She hands the pianist the sheet music, and launches into her song which is Don’t Dream It’s Over; a big hit in 1986 and was performed by Crowded House.
It is an uplifting song and seemed to fit perfectly. As Ivy sings, we’ll have another montage
There is freedom within
There is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There’s a battle ahead
Many battles are lost
But you’ll never see the end of the road
While you’re traveling with me
Hey now, Hey now
Don’t Dream It’s Over
Ivy leaves the audition
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win…
Tom fusses in the apartment. Julia reads the ugly review. Eileen hangs a Bombshell poster on her office wall. Jerry watches. Karen nurses a drink.
Karen is alone at the bar. Where Jimmy works. He asks her to leave as it closing time. She says, It is only 12:45 AM and the sign says the bar is open until 1:00 AM. Jimmy makes a rude comment about how she should get back to real life rather than sitting alone in a bar at 12:45 in the morning. Karen says, This is my real life. The bartender Kyle (Andy Mentius) strikes up a conversation with Karen. He recognizes her, and asks her to sign a Playbill for Bombshell which he saw in Boston, and loved. She signs the program and leaves.
But she comes back a half-minute later as she had left her phone on the bar. Off to the side, Jimmy is at the piano playing a song and singing. The song is Broadway Here I Come by Joe Iconis.
Karen is instantly attracted to the song (and possibly Jimmy – but at this moment I’m guessing). Kyle tries to talk her away from listening. He’s not playing the song, he’s not singing the song we wrote. Turns out, they’re at work on a musical, but per Jimmy everything is hush-hush.
Karen is so taken by the song, that she calls Derek.
Derek: It’s late, what’s going on?
Karen: You need to hear something [she holds up the phone]
Derek: What are you talking about?
Karen: Just listen …
Derek: Are you alright? What is that?
Karen: Something else …
I thought the show was pretty good for a season opening episode. It had some low points, and some eye-roll moments, but I liked it. However, the overnight ratings say otherwise. Smash was down 71% over its opening night last year. And the show was down 39% from the season finale last year on May 14th. Not good.
Listen, ratings aside – I’ll still watch it. Especially since there’s a second hour which follows immediately.