Since my last post on the NBC Series Smash! three more episodes (4,5 & 6) have aired. As you may have heard – things are heating up. In fact there have been a number of characters introduced since my last post. While things have heated up, they’ve also become more than a tad predictable. Usually this is disappointing, and I think I am disappointed to a degree, but this series is about a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. So with the life of the actual fallen movie star and idol well known, it is not too hard to guess that the stars of the show, the ones either portraying Marilyn or trying to – that would be Megan Hilty as Ivy – and Katherine McPhee as Karen Carpenter, would be heading down similar pathways. Of course, insecurities, or whatever else it might be to give them stress is going around, and would have to – that’s the predictability factor. No way to avoid it.
There’s another perspective that occurs to me as well. Very few of the characters seem to be having fun. If it’s not stress, then it is insecurities. If it’s not insecurities, then they’re just not good enough. Finally, if they know or understand that they’re not good enough, then for sure, they’ll be wearing that sad sack, ‘woe is me’ look. Not to stay or start with the negatives – how about we look at the few people who might actually be happy.
First and foremost has to be Eileen Rand, the show in the show’s producer. This role is Angelica Huston’s. Initially, aside from throwing some drinks in her future ex-husband’s Jerry’s face, and fretting about financing the show – she didn’t have much presence. Okay – in 4 she tried to sell a painting but that didn’t work because it was in Jerry’s name. But something tells me – the financing won’t be a problem going forward. Money will appear, or maybe Jerry might get back into play. After all, there goes the series if the production of Marilyn the musical has to be shut down.
But there’s a dark cloud gathering above Eileen. That would be Ellis (Jaime Cepero). First the creepy Ellis was floating around Tom (Christian Borle). He seemed to function as Tom’s houseboy. But he was sneaky. He lifted Julia’ notebook (and barely managed to wriggle off the hook on that one). Then he gained access to Eileen’s PC. Then he somehow had the right connection to have a friend of his show Eileen an 83rd floor apartment that she could get for a steal at 10K per month. I thought she had money issues.
But, really – having Ellis in her atmosphere can’t be a good thing for Eileen. We’ve been set up to hate Ellis. He made Julia’s skin crawl, and he’s not the least bit trustworthy. So Eileen – be aware, and be wary. You’ve admitted a cobra into your home.
Another guy that is probably happy is Michael Swift, played by Will Chase. He’s married with a kid, and leaving that on the side, he’s managed to turn Julia (Debra Messing) upside down so well, that despite her strong misgivings, they’ve resumed their affair. They were an item 5 years ago – but that was another time and another place. He’s also been cast as Joe DiMaggio in the show. So far, he and Megan Hilty as Ivy have been superb as Joe Di and Marilyn. The Mr. and Mrs Smith song in 4 was great. But I don’t think he’s going to last. First of all, the affair with Julia can’t go unpunished. Second, Ellis knows about the past affair between Julia and Michael. And he hasn’t played that card yet, and may not have to. Prediction: Adios Michael Swift.
And on that note, I think I’ve used up all the characters who would fall on the credit side, the happy side, of the ledger. That ledger is strongly unbalanced, as the debit side (the unhappy, too much stress side) is filled to overflowing.
In Episode 4 Ivy’s insecurities are out there for all to see. First she gets Karen moved out of her place in the ensemble’s geography. Karen gets sent to the back row. Then after more grousing by Ivy, Karen is removed from the song completely. Then there was the party. Ivy sees Derek’s hand on the ass of another woman. When she confronts him about it, he explains it away with – It’s just business – I was sweet-talking a prospective investor for the show. Ivy begins to wonder if sleeping with Derek was the right thing to do.
In Episode 5, the hits just keep on coming. Ivy arrives to find Derek practicing/dancing with Karen. “Am I late?” she asks. “No, Karen was early,” replies Derek. Another punch to Ivy’s bag of insecurities. Later Ivy has a superb song called Let’s Be Bad, which is also the title of the Episode. The song was marvelously edited with the rehearsal version intercut with a finished stage version. From the lyrics:
If you say something is taboo
That’s the thing I want to do
Do it ’til we’re black and blue
Let’s be bad
But that’s just the half of it. At the conclusion of the song, the whole company breaks into a spontaneous applause. The performance was that good. But what does Director Derek do? He gets up and walks out without saying a word. You can almost hear the exuberance rush out of Ivy like air out of a deflating balloon. Her insecurities just took a massive blow. Will it ever stop? The sad sack she has been carrying around inside of herself just grew again. THUD, THud, and thud.
By the time we get to Episode 6 called Chemistry, right from the jump – Ivy has issues. Major issues. Her voice is shot. The lead in a Broadway musical has got to have her pipes in tip-top shape, or more accurately – in perfect working order. Rest and an escape from stress would help. As well as a potent drug. But Ivy hasn’t the right constitution for this drug. But she takes the prednisone anyway. The drug does help her voice get back to excellent working order but there are some nasty side effects. Ivy is soon saying hello to some hallucinations – you know the kind – Karen as Marilyn (including a blonde wig) is what Ivy sees when she looks in the mirror. Uh oh.
Meanwhile across town where Karen lives, things aren’t running that smoothly. First, in 4, she’s moved to the back of chorus line in a song, then, she’s moved right out of the song. She’s got money woes. Working for two bills a week in rehearsal takes her away from the more lucrative waitressing.
In 5, Karen seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whether it’s with Derek in rehearsal, or when she shows up to meet her live-in-boyfriend Dev (Razza Jaffrey) outside of his office, she finds him chatting with R.J. Quigley. Karen thought that RJ stood for an associate at work – named Ralph Johnson – you know, balding, overweight, and with bad teeth. But it’s not that kind of RJ – instead, the real RJ is a knockout reporter from the New York Times. Later in this show, Karen is supposed to go to a dinner on the Intrepid with Dev. She’s running late, so she tells Dev to go on ahead. She’d meet him there. When she gets there, she gets another pair of shocks – a) she’s not sitting at the same table as Dev, and b) he’s sitting with Gail Abrams, an executive editor at the Times, who might prove to be influential in Dev getting that job promotion to Press Secretary for the Mayor.
This gal is even more beautiful than RJ. Karen is getting squeezed by Ivy at work, and as Dev struggles on about his own job promotion, and is unable to give Karen much in the way of emotional support, Karen sees that there are even more beauties around Dev than she had previously imagined. Before the show ends, she’s going to find out from a guy at the party, who is trying hard to get to Karen for a one-nighter – that he, and not Dev, is in line for the Press Secretary job. Oh, no! Karen turns him down, and then practically jumps Dev in the taxi on the way home. She’s trying to prove to Dev, and to herself, that there really is something going on with her below the neck. Derek had told her that directly at the beginning of this episode, while they were dancing – that that was what Karen was afraid of – her own physical side. So this was a clear case of I’ll show him, and Dev, and myself .
In Episode Six – Karen is on a roller coaster. First Karen is struggling because her credit card bill requires a $326 payment. Then Ivy loses her voice (her throat is inflamed). The workshop presentation is just days away. They can’t lose even a day. Derek suggest that Karen is in – meaning she will play Marilyn (he doesn’t say filling in – but that’s what he means). So Karen is ecstatic. That night she’s reading the lines and lyrics. ‘You know, I can do this‘, she says to herself or Dev. Meanwhile, Ivy, is freaked that Karen might get a shot, so she pops a first dose (six pills) of the prednisone that she knows is the wrong drug for her anyway; and recovers over night – but with cold sweats, headaches, and lot’s of panic (along with that hallucination that I mentioned above).
In the rehearsals Ivy is in the process of nailing the new song, History is Made at Night, penned by Tom with Julia’s finally finished lyrics . But while doing part of the number while standing on the sofa, Ivy stumbles and falls. Somehow, Derek manages to be unimpressed.
Derek: I’d like to see something that vaguely resembles sex – can we try that today with our Marilyn please … Ivy: I can do sex.
Derek: Then I’d like to see it – and by the way, I’d love it if you were singing at the same time. Let’s take it from the bridge please…
Ivy: Hey… uh, while we’re stopped, I have a thought. Maybe you could give me notes without publicly humiliating me at the same time.
Derek: (disgustedly) Oh great …
Ivy: Oh, and maybe you could remember that artists are not football players who can take endless abuse and still do their jobs …
Derek: Okay! Miss Monroe is having a moment.
Ivy: Maybe a different Miss Monroe could do it better (she turns to look at Karen). Miss Cartwright, maybe you could take a crack at it.
At that point Eileen suggests that maybe everyone should take ten. Then Julia pipes in suggesting maybe they should have given them more time with the lyrics.
Ivy: I don’t need more time with the lyrics. You know what I need? I need to stop sleeping with men who are complete narcissistic pricks. [She starts to walk off] Oh, and you’re not that good looking...[she reaches for the door]… and you’re not that good in bed either.
POW! ZOOM! She exits and we are left with Derek to say:
It’s just the side effects from the steroids.
Life in the bigs is plenty tough. If that wasn’t enough: Tom has a new man in his life. A Boring Lawyer. And the sex between them was bad they said – we were spared from seeing it. But John is a great lawyer. He got Julia’s son Leo off with a Bench Warning on a bogus marijuana bust. Speaking of Julia – Michael is all over her. First a dinner meet at the Westway Diner on Eighth Avenue, then Michael does a pop-in at Julia’s apartment. As Julia is sending Michael off in the car service, he kisses her, she kisses back – and it is a big kiss, that is seen by Leo from the upstairs window.
Later, on the next night Michael phones Julia again. She gets out of bed with Frank, her husband who has returned home, and says she’s going for a walk. Julia meets Michael at the vacant rehearsal studio. Bad mistake Julia. She’s unable to resist – so the affair is back on – hotter and heavier than ever. Sam has been introduced. He’s friendly with Ivy and Tom – prediction: he going to become Tom’s new lover.
Eileen gets a new apartment on her own, and celebrates by going out drinking martini’s with Ellis and his friend, and a big shot producer. One more thing – Karen took over a singing gig at a bar mitzvah – passed on by a gal in the ensemble, who got it from Ivy. It pays $500. Big bucks for Karen. PS: Karen is given a card and told to call this guy Bobby Raskin.
Who’s he, asks Karen.
Oh you’re such an Iowa girl. Bobby Raskin is the biggest thing in the music business since Tommy Mottola. And don’t ask us who Mottola is. Just call the guy.
Of course this is overheard by – guess who? Ivy. Badabing- fade out.
The series is not all that new, or all that great, or really the kind of show I like. I can identify with it in some regards, I knew a few actresses years and years ago. And I’ve had dinner at the Westway diner more than a few times. But I’ll admit to being hooked so I’ll stick with it as I expect you will too. NBC has invested a lot in this show (15 episodes this year) plus a second season already signed up.
So it’s the big wait until next Monday where I’m sure it will more of ‘Hello darkness my old friend’. Until next time.