Adios Smash, Sayonara Nashville – The Reviewer Has Left The Building

51705I always thought that Start Me Up, a great song by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones was about expectations:

If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop
If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop
I’ve been running hot
You got me ticking gonna blow my top
If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop

When the NBC series Smash, and the ABC series Nashville each started, we all had such great expectations and high hopes. Now as I watch each of these shows – another musical reference comes to mind.

In Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, 2001, Dave Bowman, now at odds with the HAL Computer, begins to ‘murder’ the computer by pulling out the computer’s memory rods. From HAL’s perspective, it is the equivalent being lobotomized. The computer is both literally and figuratively losing its mind, and repeatedly begs Dave to stop:

HAL: Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop Dave? Stop, Dave.

Soon there’s nothing left in HAL’s memory except the song Daisy, Daisy which was one of the first set of instructions (to sing the song) that HAL was programmed to do. As we listened, we watched a killing. HAL was being decommissioned, deactivated, and deprogrammed all at the same time.

Now I am not saying that the writers and producers of Smash and Nashville have lost their minds, but it is easy to see that they’ve lost their way. The 9th Episode of the 2nd season of Smash, called The Parents, which aired on Tuesday, April 2nd, marked the last time we wpuld see Smash on a Tuesday night because the ratings for Smash had fallen into such a steep decline, that NBC chose to move the show to Saturday nights also known as TV’s graveyard. Episode 10, which aired on Saturday April 6th was called The Surprise Party.

There were so many eye-roll moments in these two episodes that I’ll spare you most of the details. The following ‘short list’ is indisputable evidence of why I think that Smash has lost its way.

1) Jimmy has to sneak out of the window lest Karen’s Dad, making an unannounced pop-in visit at 7:00 in the morning, see him there in Karen’s apartment. Guys have been sneaking out on fire-escapes ever since there were fire-escapes attached to buildings. And girls have ben hiding their lovers from their fathers. How original and creative! But why does Karen need to hide Jimmy from her father? This was so lame.

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Smash & Nashville: Pick Your Poison

smDid the latest Smash episode called The Bells and Whistles finally manage to crawl out of whatever hole in the sand the show has been mired in for most of this season, or was that a mirage? Will Nashville, which finally broadcast its 15th episode entitled When You’re Tired of Breaking Other Hearts, after being off the air for four weeks, follow Smash and be banished to the wasteland of Saturday Night TV? These are the questions before us this week.

I’m going to toss the playbook out the window and make this a doubleheader – random thoughts on two shows for the price of a single click.

As usual, Smash masqueraded as a tennis match for a while as we watched things go this way then that way. People fought, and disagreed, but we should remember that quote made by Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.

Each of the characters faced disappointment and travail, and all except one got what they wanted. This week. Yes that means spoilers a-plenty will follow, as well as comments and opinions. However before we all go off tooting our horns and wildly celebrating that this wasn’t a bad Smash episode – let me remind you of one hard, cold fact. This was just Episode 8. So we’d be lunatics if we didn’t expect the return of dust bucket episodes, otherwise known as  ‘must-avoid-television’ in the coming weeks.

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Let’s start with Eileen Rand, who has suddenly developed a new press agent – the no-nonsense Agnes (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Agnes brings bad tidings, the New York Times Editor of the Arts Section, one Richard Francis (played by Jamey Sheridan) has passed on an opportunity to do a story on Bombshell. He’s heard enough of the old Bombshell news to not be interested any longer. So he’s in the same boat as most of us, which means I must be doing these recaps as a penance for something.

But Eileen won’t take no for an answer. Meanwhile Eileen is pissed at Tom for his directorial choices – specifically for bringing in Sam Strickland (Leslie Odom Jr.) to do a number as Nat King Cole, without consulting her or getting her approval. She says that will be two numbers about JFK and isn’t this supposed to be a show about Marilyn? But the song, Let’s Start Tomorrow Tonight, even if out of Bombshell, gave the episode a nice lift with some clever staging in Tom’s apartment.

Tom, new to the director’s chair, both literally and figuratively, is trying to run a democracy at Bombshell – bring me your tired and hungry – ideas, actually, all to make friends. But at what cost – he makes friends and loses the respect of the cast. That’s what he gets by trying to be the anti-Derek. Isn’t every one an anti-Derek?

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Smash – Sn 02 Episode 07 – Musical Chairs

In case anyone is still thinking about or has any interest in Smash – the series that NBC recently banished to the wastelands of the Saturday Night tv schedule – I’m not quite done with it.

From my write-up following Episode 5 – The Fringe:

All of a sudden Producer Jerry Rand is throwing his weight around. First he’s going to cut Karen’s song (he claims the song is ‘too intellectual’). Then he manages to piss off Derek. All signs of what? All together now – Jerry’s exit likely as soon as next week.

Sure enough, Jerry is out. They had to bring back Grace Gummer who is Meryl Streep’s daughter who is playing Eileen and Jerry’s daughter Kate to help change Jerry’s mind. That along with Julia finding the ‘silver bullet’ – a document from the Marilyn Monroe Estate which granted EXCLUSIVE USE of the materials to Eileen and Julia. That was fine. Jerry had to capitulate because otherwise they might have shut the show down. Adios Jerry.

Also from my previous Smash post:

Also remember that Tom is pro-Ivy. And we all know that the Liaisons production is going to crash and burn soon enough. It would have to – to get Ivy back to Bombshell.

Well, guess what? Liaisons did crash and burn. First the opening night audience was either bored, disinterested, or asleep. Even though Terry’s bawdy song injected some laughter into the affair, everyone knew it wasn’t enough. Then Terry fell off the on-stage swing causing grievous injury, rendering him unable to perform. So Timothy, having no other viable option, announced the show was closing. Wasn’t that the broadest of smiles on Ivy’s face on hearing that news? Especially since earlier in the episode, she had told Terry point-blank that she wished she could leave Liaisons.

What I didn’t see coming was Karen going from a mild disagreement with Tom’s new directing efforts to quitting Bombshell. Tom was just named Director last week.

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Smash: Sn02 Ep06 – The Fringe

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Did you catch the latest episode of Smash tonight? Looked like a ping-pong game with a few Broadway songs mixed in. They pushed us one way, then the other way. Over and over.  Smash is not only manipulative but it is so predictable. The Episode was called The Fringe. And almost devoid of any highlights.

All of a sudden Producer Jerry Rand is throwing his weight around. First he’s going to cut Karen’s song (he claims the song is ‘too intellectual’). Then he manages to piss off Derek. All signs of what? All together now – Jerry’s exit likely as soon as next week.

You didn’t really think that he was going to stay in power all that long, did you? Lucky old Ellis’s ex gf strolled by and mentioned that Ellis was working for Jerry to Karen. And Karen would convey this to Eileen. And Jerry was dumb enough to leave a paper trail right in his office. Puhleeze!

It won’t be the usual torches burning march through the streets, and it won’t be the cast revolution I wrote about earlier. Either way, or anyway, Jerry’s ticket will get punched.

Derek quit in a snit. Or was it that Jerry called his bluff so he had no choice but to say he had enough and quit in a huff. Wasn’t it convenient that Hit Song needed a director?

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Smash: Sn02 Ep05 – The Read Through – Let’s Crunch Some Numbers

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Do the numbers tell the story for Smash Episode 5 – The Read Through? And no, I’m not talking about the ratings. Let me count the ways.

We have two read-throughs. One for Hit List, which will have a two-week run at the Fringe Festival, and one for Bombshell. Liaisons doesn’t have a read through; instead they have a walk through. In fact, the walk through had two separate segments.

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We have two producers for Bombshell. And we have two scripts.The de facto and legal producer is Jerry. Only he doesn’t want to produce Julia’s latest script. He wants to produce the old Bombshell script. Siding with Jerry is Tom. In favor of the new script are Derek and Julia. Derek liked it so much that he was struck silent. When he was asked, he replied – It was that good! So that makes the vote two and two. They agree to let Eileen, who is the shadow producer, break the tie. And just as Eileen is supposed to cast the deciding vote, the episode ends.

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Smash: Sn 2 Ep 4 – The Song – Recap

Sometimes things do change.

Jimmy Collins goes from being a heel, and someone we have detested through the first three episodes to some one about to commence a hot romance with Karen Cartwright. And, his song will become the highlight of Veronica Moore’s concert.

Which is why we have Episode 4 of Smash entitled The Song.

Derek Wills caves. His tactics in dealing with Veronica Moore in rehearsals, were heavy-handed and brutal. He’s challenged by Cynthia Moore (Sheryl Lee Ralph) Veronica’s mother. He’ll later say that he didn’t cave, rather he came around.

Julia goes from hurling verbal brickbats at Peter Gilman, while totally deriding his opinions, to collaborating with him on a rewrite of the Bombshell book. She’s also about to go away with him to his home in the Berkshires for a ‘working’ weekend.

Eileen Rand gets Bombshell out of the investigative financial purgatory and back on Broadway. The cost? She is no longer at the helm as producer. I can hear you asking ‘Who is going to produce the show?’  The answer is her ex-husband Jerry.

The above may be considered the highlights – so let’s take a closer look.

At the jump, Veronica Moore is singing I Got Love as we watch in montage style as Karen, Derek, Tom, Julia, and Eileen make their way to the theater. BTW, they’ll repeat this later on in the show – the musical vice overage montage with a Billy Joel song. But coming back to business, this is Moore’s One Woman One Night Only show in rehearsals. Derek is not all that impressed. He says, How many loves was that?

“You can never have enough love. You of all people ought to know that.” That was Cynthia Moore, Veronica’s mother. Linda, the stage manager will say in an aside to Tom Leavitt, Isn’t she [Veronica] a little old to have a ‘Momager’. Whatever – but we know instantly that she will be problematic for Derek.

Derek makes a bit more noise – a dancer hasn’t shown up, he’s unhappy with Tom, who is the musical director of the show, because Tom hasn’t provided the one song, that special raw and adult song, that Derek is looking for that will change Ronny’s image.

Julia calls Tom to announce that she is at NYU. She says, that Peter has invited her to talk to his acting class today.

Jimmy and Kyle are still trying to find a gig and still coming up short. Jimmy’s downbeat because Derek’s ‘help’ was more of encouragement and advice rather than something that would bring them money right then and there. Kyle is much more forward-looking and he tries to convey that Derek has really helped them by providing advice and encouragement. Just then Karen calls and says, How fast can you get into Manhattan?

At Eileen’s office, Jerry arrives. Jerry’s there to tell Eileen that to get the show out from under, she has to play the victim. Jerry suggests that she say that ‘She was vulnerable, and fell under the influence of Nick, and that she had no idea as to Nick’s criminal ties and no idea where that money came from.‘ In short, to throw Nick under the bus. Jerry suggests that if she wants Bombshell back in business – this is the only way. Eileen says, I’ll let you know how it goes.

At NYU, Julia arrives for Peter Gilman’s class. She gets the bad news. She’s not been invited there to give a lecture, or share experiences, or impart wisdom to the students.

Peter: I’m sorry, I think there’s been a misunderstanding. You’re not here to speak. You’re here to watch.
Julia: Watch what?
Peter: Your play –

Julia turns and sees a group of college students with scripts

Julia: You kidding?
Peter: It’s important that you hear it out loud.
Julia: You are not going to humiliate me in front of a bunch of 12 year olds!

But Peter makes the point that the script has been altered for this exercise. That Julia will not be known as the writer, and that the students won’t know it is a play about Marilyn Monroe. Peter reminds Julia that the script rewrites have to be turned in to Eileen in 10 days.

Peter: Do you want to go in blind, or do you want to find what works and what doesn’t?

Julia has no choice. Peter signals and the reading of the script commences.

At the Veronica Moore show rehearsal, Derek is putting the dancers and Veronica through the paces of a particular dance sequence. Ivy arrives. She’s going to fill in for the one dancer that was a no-show. Naturally, Veronica and Ivy are old buddies, and this also provides a method for Veronica to talk about how she feels to some one we know (Ivy) rather than someone we don’t know – like her Mom. Not a bad idea technically.

Jimmy and Kyle show up after racing in following Karen’s call. Tom wonders why they are there. We heard you needed a song. Just then, Cynthia Moore arrives with the news. Bravo TV has (after some contract wrangling) agreed to film then broadcast the concert.

Tom says he approves the music, and Derek tells Jimmy and Kyle that they have six hours to come up with a song. The upshot is that instead of a thousand or so people attending the concert at the live concert, it will be seen by millions on TV. Now that gets everyone’s attention, especially Jimmy’s.

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Smash: Sn 02 Ep 03 – Dramaturg – The Recap

Derek Wills says, “Why don’t we take it from the top ...” and those are the last lines of the 3rd Episode of Season 2 of Smash. The Episode was called Dramaturg. And we had to slog through about 40 minutes of scattered nonsense before Jimmy pitched the idea of his and Kyle’s show to Derek. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. That’s how the episode ends. So, to follow Derek’s words, let’s take a look at this episode ‘from the top‘.

01

Karen is singing a hot song. Sounds great. Looks great – only it is just a visualization (like a dream) of Karen and Derek listening to a song by Jimmy. Karen convinces Derek to take a meeting with the youngsters.

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Eileen has an idea. She’s hired a script doctor, on Broadway they’re called dramaturgs, to rework the book for Bombshell. Eileen has to tread gently around Julia and Tom to do this.

Eileen: There’s someone I want you to meet. His name is Peter Gilman. And I think you’ll like him very much.
Tom: A dramaturg – are you joking….
Julia: Of course she’s joking…

Only she’s not. A meeting is set for 3:00 PM that very afternoon.

Ivy auditions for a role in Liaisons – a new Broadway musical. She’ll finesse her way into auditioning for an even better role (Cecile) in the show.

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In a spectacular Central Park South apartment, Veronica is working on a song from The Wiz, as Derek arrives. The key to this scene is that a) The Wiz still doesn’t have a replacement director yet, and b) Derek wants another shot to get back into the show that fired him.

04

Tom and Julia arrive at the restaurant to meet Peter Gilman. Julia is badmouthing him before they even meet him. Julia describes him: A man who makes his living feeding off the work of other writers, without creating anything of his own, is not a shepherd, he’s a parasite.

Hi, I’m Peter – the parasite. Nice to meet you both. Peter is played by Daniel Sujata.  Even Peter describes the situation as awkward. Dramaturgs are like dentists, he says. No one ever wants to see them, but once the pain wears off, you’re always glad you went. And things go downhill from there. Julia is plainly not at all happy about the situation and she doesn’t do anything to disguise her feelings.

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Smash: Sn 2 Episode 02 – The Fallout – Recap

Episode 01 of Smash’s Second Season aired Tuesday night. I thought it was a good effort, though far from perfect. Characters were disposed of rather easily – except for Frank who we first saw in what might have been a compromising situation with his school superintendent. After Tom told Julia, Julia and Frank had a very public shootout at Eileen’s soiree. Moments later Julia announced that Frank was gone and her marriage was over. Was it the scarves? Never mind.

New characters like Jimmy, Kyle, Veronica Moore, and Karen Cartwright’s new roommate were introduced with the highlights being a few songs with ‘Ronny’ Moore, played marvelously by Jennifer Hudson, and the episode’s finale called Broadway Here I Come was sung by Jimmy. This song was performed after a bar closed but was witnessed by Karen and heard by Derek via Karen’s speaker phone.

Eileen’s production of Bombshell has been placed under the microscope by either the DEA, the IRS, or the Department of Justice, or all of the above, with all assets frozen. Someone chirped to the authorities about Eileen’s money man, and the authorities promptly shut the show down to investigate. The short version, Bombshell is currently on hold

Another matter of darkness and importance that swirled around was Derek Wills bad press. Rebecca Duvall now claimed that she pulled out of Bombshell in Boston, not because of any reported illnesses, but rather, because of sexual harassment by Derek. Who didn’t exactly deny everything but claimed it was based on a remark taken out of context. Ivy is now jobless after Derek let her go from Bombshell as he was trying to protect Karen..

And that readers, is the meat and potatoes of Episode 01 (full recap is here) which was entitled On Broadway which was, not coincidentally, the title of the song sung in a duet by Karen Cartwright and Veronica Moore.

Episode 02 followed Episode 01 immediately as NBC went for the big ratings enchilada or bonanza which they didn’t get. Instead the numbers declined. If you’re ready, the recap of Episode 02 called The Fallout begins now.

As dawn breaks, rather as Episode 2 begins, there’s Karen waiting outside the bar where Jimmy and Kyle work. Karen is interested in Jimmy’s music, but he’s not interested in her interest. He coolly denies even being a musician, and is rude on top of that. Kyle chases after Karen and basically says that they are interested despite what Jimmy says. And Jimmy is ‘complicated’.

At Eileen’s office, Derek and Tom exchange snide remarks. Eileen tells them that there’s nothing to be gained by turning on each other. News from the IRS investigation contains an uptick but they’re not out of the woods yet. Eileen mentions that Karen will be singing at the American Theater Wing gala tonight.

Ivy and Sam are still bemoaning their fates. They run into a former gal pal from back in the day. She’s alive and well and knocking them dead in a new business – stationery.

Derek meets with his agent. The news is bad. Derek is now jobless. What? They fired me for shagging a few actresses? The new bad news actually is that five dancers have come forward to accuse Derek of sexual harassment. And that’s why the other show, showed Derek the door.

Eileen meets her ex-husband Jerry at her office. She needs a favor. Specifically – Jerry’s tickets to The America Theater Wing gala. Eileen has been delisted, leaving her ticket-less and off the guest list, and she won’t stand for being excluded. Jerry’s table will fix all that. Jerry says, So you want to be my date? Eileen – You won’t be going. I need the table for my creative team. Moments later, Eileen calls Derek and Tom. A change of plans. Karen is no longer singing at the gala, and we aren’t invited, but somehow Eileen has got them in.

At Tom’s apartment, Julia remains in bed. She’s a mess. She unhappy with herself and afraid to face the world. Tom mentions the gala, but Julia says she has to have the night off.

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Later Kyle meets Karen and hands over Jimmy’s notes about his music. They aren’t music scores as such, but Kyle invites Karen to come to a party that night.

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Smash: Season 2 Episode 01 – On Broadway – Recap

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.

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