Here we go, gang. Third episode, here's where freshman shows start ramping up. It's do or die, Smash. You've got the potential to be a crown jewel for NBC, rising to the heights of The West Wing back in the heyday. So, the question is--is this show living up to its monster pedigree?
A resounding yes. With this episode, Smash throttles it and makes a move for the best kind of big-screen soap: dishy, steamy, sexy, and addictive in ways both smart and crowd-pleasing. We're done introducing players and rehashing the foundations of the show; balls are in motion, plots are in play, and things start happening fast, right here.
The gist of all this is that--this is the episode in which Smash found its voice; there's a joyful anticipation present in every moment, as the show dances between high-class New York drama and sudsy romantic potboiler. And it works. I still think there's untapped potential here, but from the look of the next few episodes' teasers, we're going to be headed in some exciting directions.
So, the quick summary: this episode introduces Michael Swift, Broadway vet and leading man, who's Eileen and Derek's choice for Joe DiMaggio. He's a family man with a toddler and supportive wife at home...and a secret, in that he and Julia had an affair several years earlier, with some smouldering feelings left unresolved. Julia's mortified he's a part of the show...and also tempted by her attraction to him.
Meanwhile, Ellis the assistant goes from cute to downright evil as he steals Julia's notebook in a power play for recognition and Tom's attention. It's also revealed that he's (GASP!) straight, and may be crafting his work-persona to better appeal to Tom. Eileen is running out of money, selling expensive earrings and buying cheaper replacements, and her ex-husband Jerry is all about reminding her that he's the business minded one, as he throws a wrench into her fundraising plans again and again...while getting several drinks thrown in his face.
Derek and Ivy go from casual sex to actual dating, as we see a little bit of (genuine?) emotional interaction before they have sex in her dressing room...which leads Tom to finding out about the tryst, as a fellow cast member of Ivy's asks Tom out on a date and spills the beans. Karen's offered a role in the ensemble of the musical, which she takes, and she heads home to Iowa, which doesn't do much other than to show us she's running out of cash and that her dad is apparently very fond of stalking his daughter and watching karaoke (more on this below).
The new number Tom and Julia create this episode is "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," a delightful duet between Joe and Marilyn about marriage and a yearning for a life away from the spotlight. It's a tender, subdued song that showed off a different side of this story, as opposed to the razzle-dazzle punch of the other three numbers we've seen performed thus far.
WHAT WORKED: "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is a gorgeous number, and Megan Hilty and Will Chase have buttery, warm voices that really make it shine. I love the idea of Ellis as a scheming villain in the background...and the reveal of his Lady MacBeth-style roomie/girlfriend (!) was a great WTF moment. This show could stand to have more of those. Derek continues to be an intriguing bastard, as he flirts with Karen and incenses Dev, while also continuing to woo Ivy. He's scheming something here, and we don't know what it is... and he and Tom have this boiling hatred for one another that is going to pop at some point. They're fun to watch as they set each other's teeth on edge.
Eileen and Jerry's scenes are chemically perfect--Anjelica Huston is the queen of this show, and I'd watch her read the phone book. That throwing a drink in his face has become a routine...awesome. It's something to look forward to in every scene they have together, and that he grudgingly acknowledged it and willingly bought the drink for throwing tonight was an incredibly fun, sparkly bit of writing.
WHAT I REALLY WANTED TO BE BETTER: Okay. So let's talk about this show and pop covers. We get two tonight. The first is Bruno Mars' "Grenade," which is delivered by Michael as part of an American Idiot-style show Off-Broadway, based on Mars' music. Yeah, that's a stretch. And in choosing a song so bound to Mars' iconic voice, it makes a main character's first scene in this show come across as rehashed and jolty. Will Chase does fine work throughout the episode and redeems himself, but it wasn't the best number to give us our leading man. Karen's "Red Neck Woman" with the girls back home is the same thing--it felt forced, and this show is better than that. When it suits the story, sing. If I want numbers inserted randomly that direct me to iTunes...well, I have Fox on Tuesday nights at 8 for that.
And that brings us to Karen...you know, every other character on this show is interesting, and flawed, and has something going on right now. Karen really needs some drama to her life that isn't about her perfect boyfriend or disapproving parents. I want to see her make an interesting choice or two, and that has yet to happen. I'm looking forward to that moment. Oh, and her dad is creepy...he's all "you need to find a new job!" and then follows his daughter to a club, with her friends, and secretly watches her perform? No. Not okay with this. But I'll forgive it, so long as we never go back to Iowa again, okay, Smash?
Next week, we learn more about Derek and Tom, and Ivy and Karen begin to circle one another like the bitter rivals they could be. I'm excited! See you in seven.