“The Nominations” / “The Tonys” – Smash

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 1.59.16 PMTonight’s two-part Smash series finale – two episodes forced into a single episode, in truth – was a bit if a mixed bag, if we’re honest [and if we never have to use that tired pseudo-signature phrase of ours again we’ll be happy women – ed.]. While the second half (the true finale, if you will) was a fantastic episode worthy of a reunion run down the line, the first, “The Nominations”, left something to be desired.

It’s not that it was a bad episode, it’s just that we would have hoped for more from the opening episode of finale night. It was that bit too chaotic, most likely a result of trying to cram a cliffhanger and resolutions into two episodes when the writers had hoped for a third season to sort it all out. One could argue that it gave everything one could hope for – a healthy dash of Smash’s typical drama, some twists, some turns, some emotion, some closure (though, of course, the majority of that closure was saved for the second episode) – but it’s almost as though the writers took it that single step too far. It was all a little heightened as if, in the excitement of finishing up (the televisual equivalent of summer fever), they let the spirit of the show carry them away and lost all sense of constraint and moderation.

Not that that’s entirely a bad thing. That heightened drama, that gathering of arc and that bustle to the finish line, gave us some great moments, some fine comedy and just a couple of last minute twists to be unraveled in the episode to follow. This first half focused on the Outer Critics Circle nominations and awards, building toward the all-important Tonys. It was the start of the mud slinging (and also the somewhat hurried end of it). The drama continued to center on Ana, Daisy and Derek, and on Ivy’s pregnancy. Side issues included Julia’s divorce, Tom’s potential fledgling romance with Patrick Dillon (Luke Macfarlane, Brothers & Sisters), and Jimmy’s determination to get Kyle his Tony nod. This latter arc brought some sweet moments, as well as a rekindling of romance between Jimmy and Karen. The moments that most set up the finale episode were, of course, those Tony noms – 12 for Bombshell, 13 for Hit List; Julia and Kyle for book; Julia and Tom, and Jimmy for original score; Ivy, Leigh and Daisy for featured performance; Tom and Derek for directing; Derek (twice) for choreography; and Ivy and Karen for best actress – and Derek’s final redemptive admission.

Unfortunately, our greatest take away from the episode was none of these things. What struck us most was Continue reading

Advertisements

“The Transfer” – Smash

627We got the news during the week of Smash’s official cancellation. So now the fun begins. That mad scramble to rewrite the ending of Season 2 to make it a suitable series finale, and our own mad scramble to try to guess what that ending will be. Every word, every look, every nuance now has added meaning as we try to uncover how it’s all going to end. We’re not sure why we’re suddenly so much more fired up about it. The ending is easily predictable, without delving any further than we already have. This is Smash. We already know that it’s going to be dramatic.

And yet we know a little more than that. Even if we hadn’t spotted the finale’s title – “The Tonys” – we would have known that the Tonys would be the final hurdle of the season and, now, of the series. It’s been the benchmark for the last few weeks. That thing that they’ve all aspired to since the writers remembered the Awards’ existence during “Opening Night”. And each week since has seen the Tonys campaign ramped up that little bit more.

In spite of the ever more sonorous death knell, “The Transfer” didn’t let Smash’s impending demise stop the fun. If it was a little bleak in tone, that was residual grieving for Kyle’s death, not a nod to the coming end. In fact, if we hadn’t known it was definitely coming to a close, this episode would not have tipped us off. The pervasive mood throughout the episode was one of Continue reading

“The Phenomenon” – Smash

Smash - Season 2We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this week’s episode. After that major cliffhanger in “The Producers”, we were uncertain about how Smash would be dealing with the fallout of Kyle’s accident. Turns out that (a) we need not have worried, and (b) they would be dealing with it with no shortage of drama and tears, and with no pulling of punches.

We went into the episode wondering whether Kyle had survived. We didn’t have to wait long to find out. He didn’t. And then, suddenly, our uncertainty doubled as, up until now, the most serious storyline the writers had had to deal with was a whole lot of backbiting and some parental drama. Would they be able to produce an emotional and honest after-the-fact episode? Apparently so. This episode of Smash was remarkable as it genuinely moved us to tears, and also because Katharine McPhee somehow summoned up a few emotions to throw at the screen. There’s a first time for everything.

The episode on the whole was quite touching. The grief of the cast members of Hit List, and of the broader Broadway community, was ably dealt with, and the flashbacks to previously unseen conversations with Kyle were a nice touch that enabled us to truly appreciate his generosity of character and spirit in a way that hadn’t been possible before. That was, perhaps, the most Continue reading

“The Producers” – Smash

a_560x375“The Producers” was less than fantastic. We’re not sure if it was actually bad or if we were just swayed by the few new songs we heard from Hit List (good, but not up to the standard of earlier offerings). The plot was sparse, but well-employed. It focused on breakups (of all types), and had side plots that gave us a sense of moving forward. Tom and Julia finally brought their partnership to an end, Derek fired Jimmy, and Ivy started screening calls from Derek. But it looks like Karen and Derek are finally going to hook up, and Sam will be replacing Jimmy on Hit List. Eileen is also contemplating producing Hit List on Broadway now that Bombshell is selling well. So we haven’t given up hope on the rest of the season. It may finish out with a series of great episodes. Or it may not.

It seems to be going to a dark place, lately, with the Hit List main characters displaying a disturbing lack of loyalty and patience. We felt a little uncomfortable watching Ana and Karen turn on Jimmy and pull Kyle with them. It gave us flashbacks to reading Lord of the Flies. This was the very worst of human nature. Perhaps we overreacted to it. But, for us, it was the worst indictment of the person Karen has become that we have seen. Yes, Jimmy took Kyle for granted. Yes, in a moment of weakness he fell back on old ways and hurt some people in the process. But, if that’s the worst that could be said of him, the reaction of the trio was disproportionate, and showed a shocking absence of understanding among the characters.

And yet that wasn’t the most surprising part of the episode. The big shock was saved for its final moments. After Continue reading

“Opening Night” – Smash

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 12.35.39 PMWe thoroughly enjoyed this latest episode of Smash, in part because, aside from a few minor scuffles and break-ups, it was immensely uplifting from start to finish.

We’ll get those less cheerful aspects out of the way first. There will be no surprises with this one, but Karen and Jimmy didn’t last. We’re disappointed – mostly in her – but not overly shocked given the direction things have been going for the last few episodes. This week saw Jimmy finally telling Karen about his past – Adam is his brother, they were both beaten by their father, then Adam got him hooked on drugs and turned him into a dealer – and her temporarily accepting him. Then it all went downhill when he stepped in to protect Kyle from Adam at Bombshell’s opening night soiree. Throw a couple punches at the brother who ruined your life and lose the girl of your dreams. Standard. We’re disappointed in Karen for not being patient enough to wait for him to get to a space where he can be calm in the presence of his brother. She’s been exhibiting quite the sense of entitlement over the last number of weeks, though, so we shouldn’t be surprised. If it’s not perfect and revolving around her, she’s not interested.

The other big ‘disaster’ of the episode was the break-up of Tom and Julia. As each tries to decide what to do now that Bombshell is complete, they move in completely different directions. Julia wants to keep working with Tom and is determined to find a project for them to work on. She settles on the perfect idea of them doing a Great Gatsby musical, but Tom has other ideas. In part because he’s still pissed at her for helping out on Hit List and in part because he’s got grand ideas about his directing abilities, he decides to take a directing gig on the City of Angels revival. Cue massive falling-out, made even worse when, after being semi-panned by the New York Times review of Bombshell, he tells Julia he’d love to do Gatsby with her. We were so happy when she refused: “How can we call ourselves partners if I’m ‘plan B’?” You go, girl. Or something. Her choosing to work with Scott on the adaptation instead was the icing on the proverbial cake. Tom just keeps driving people away.

A slight negative was Continue reading

“The Dress Rehearsal” – Smash

Smash - Season 2I watched Smash’s “The Dress Rehearsal” (late) two days ago, and I can’t really remember anything about it. I guess that’s a bad thing? The pervasive feeling I have about it, looking back, is ‘underwhelming’. So much happened on the surface but, all in all, I was just slightly bored. There was friend drama, and dating drama, and naked drama (perhaps the most diverting part of the episode, if only because it was an interesting will-she-won’t-she for Ivy – she did). There was a little humor and a lot of backstabbing. Karen was an asshole and Jimmy was a mystery. Ana was fantastic, as was Kyle. And then, at the end, everything went to hell in a handbasket and we honestly don’t know where things will stand with tomorrow night’s episode. All we know is that Ivy is sleeping with Derek, Tom hates Julia, Ana hates Karen, Karen hates Jimmy (Derek told her a few home truths and Jimmy won’t be honest with her about them [to be honest, we’re still super curious about Jimmy’s past, especially now that it’s gotten juicier]), and Jimmy’s dealer, Adam, has approached Ana and is, in general, being a creep. Bombshell is open and in previews. Hit List is two weeks away from previews and just got one hell of a write-up and shake-up. Karen’s show has become Ana’s show. From this point, anything could happen. For the first time, I’m just not sure that I care. – K

Quoteworthy:

“Dude I can’t do this without you. You know that. Plus, we’re edgy and occasionally brilliant.”

“I’m brilliant all the time. You’re the occasional half.”

– Jimmy, Kyle

“The Surprise Party” – Smash

Smash - Season 2The most disappointing thing about Smash’s debut in its new timeslot was that it’s in that timeslot in the first place. We can’t help but think of the relegation to Saturday nights as a demotion, and as a fait accompli acceptance by the show’s runners that Smash is on the way out. We’d like to believe that that’s premature, but it’s almost certainly going to be the last nail in a coffin that’s pretty much already six feet under. We suppose we should be glad that it’s still on the air at all. We don’t know what it is about the NBC show that has caused the loss of so many viewers, because we still love it, but that death knell is still ringing. We only wish that NBC had showed a little faith and kept it scheduled for  midweek. Especially when one considers how vastly Smash has improved this season.

This week, the show performed admirably. Even without one of those unifying themes that we’ve been talking about in recent weeks, the story flowed and advanced quite well. The balance between drama and humor was spot on. The plot developments were a touch predictable but, nevertheless, kept us interested throughout. The guest spot filled by Liza Minnelli was a big coup for the show but, unfortunately, wasted on a limited Saturday-night audience.

There are certain aspects of the episode that warrant further mention. The decline of the friendship between Tom and Ivy took up much of the screentime but Continue reading

“The Parents” – Smash

“The Parents” was missing whatever magical ingredient took hold of Smash last week and formed it into the amazing episode that was “The Bells and Whistles”. The presence of a (sort of) unifying theme to bring the two casts together wasn’t the saving grace this week. In fact, it barely merits mention. The comparison between Karen’s loving, supportive dad and Ivy’s competitive, domineering mom isn’t news, and nor is it particularly interesting. The potential for a role reversal could have been a nice touch if carried through to completion, but Karen’s loss of her father’s support was just temporary. The only scene that made it worthwhile was the touching moment when Ivy and Leigh confront their feelings through song. “Hang the Moon” was on the verge of moving us to tears, right up to the moment that it transformed into Tom’s ‘vision’, which ruined it for us. If it had remained in the rehearsal room, with Leigh singing to her daughter on a bare, stripped-back set, we’re confident we would have been in floods by its final note.

The rest of the episode was better, and promised much more drama to come. With revelations about Jimmy’s past, implications for his future, and the possibility of his loss of control over Hit List, as well as the potential for a rivalry between Ana and Karen as The Diva comes to the fore in Hit List’s second act, it truly feels as though the ‘everything falls into place’ bliss of the last couple of episodes is at an end. We’re expecting nothing but contention over the next few weeks.

Most of the expected drama will center on Jimmy – he Continue reading

“The Bells and Whistles” – Smash

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Gone were all the little hiccups of previous weeks. “The Bells and Whistles” was devoid of unnecessary politics and bitching, entirely lacking in awkward blips, and had a powerful sense of being driven forward. There was nothing to stall momentum. This felt like we were back in the fantastic early episodes of the Season. From the musical performances to the humor to the writing to the tension (of every kind), it was a joy from start to finish.

That may have had a lot to do with the fact that, for the first time in a while, the episode had a defining theme. Just as that helped to sell Hit List last week, it helped to sell Smash to its viewers. A theme ties everything together, and even the few flourishes that were outside of that theme felt all the more involved and well-written because they were part of a broadly cohesive unit.

There may have been outlying issues – Eileen attempting to publicize the new Bombshell, the Scott and Julia relationship, Sam’s (brief) return, Ana trying out for a bigger part in Hit List – but, really, it was all about the directors. This was a unifying theme from the outset, and plaudits have to go to the writers for finding such a great way to keep the cast interacting across the spectrum now that they have, essentially, been divided into separate camps. The focus was on Derek and Tom’s wildly differing directing styles – Tom is too soft and compliant, Derek is too hardline – and about how each of them finds the middle ground that works for them.

The stark contrast between the two styles was entertaining enough, but it also threw up issues for the respective directors to deal with. Derek had to cope with someone who wasn’t prepared to back down in the face of his abrasive bulling – Jimmy, who I realized is playing a hugely important role beyond that of Hit List writer (see below) – and Tom had to deal with the fall out from making promises he couldn’t keep, losing someone he loves in the process.

Surprisingly, it was a conversation between the former enemies that solved the whole thing. Now that they’re not working together, they seem to be getting along a lot better. They almost seem like friends. They can be friends now that they don’t need to fight their corners. They each impart wisdom to the other. Derek tells Tom that the no fucks given approach is the only way forward because “having them respect you is more important than having them like you.” Tom tells Derek exactly what we’ve all been thinking (that he and Jimmy are essentially the same person): “You were worse [than him]. Arrogant, stubborn, full of huge ideas that no one believed in but you. In the end, you were right. Maybe that kid is the same. Listen to him. He’s not your enemy.”

And the results of that exchange are profound. Tom gets Bombshell back under control and starts to feel like a real director to us, not just someone who’s playing as director. And Derek really listened to Jimmy and directed a moving and impressive scene. (I’m starting to love the music of Hit List almost as much as I love that of Bombshell.) I see a beautiful friendship blossoming between this pair, and I can’t wait.

That Jimmy revelation I had revolves around exactly why he’s a great character – it’s for the sole reason that he stands up to Derek. People have fought with Derek in the past, but they always give in. He is a hard man to say no to, purely because he’s so aggressive about what he believes in. But Jimmy has cut all of that away. He tells the truth, and he doesn’t let Derek get away with being Derek. He also inspires Karen to stand up for herself and not be afraid to tell Derek what she really thinks. He’s transformative, and charismatic, and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction he takes the characters in next.

The only other thing worth commenting on from this week’s episode was its ending. As Ana finally works up the courage to audition for a bigger part in Hit List, Karen is inspired to be courageous in her own way. She finally asks Jimmy how he feels about her. Derek interrupts before he can answer, and she takes his silence as her answer. But then he shows up at her door. And, damn, that was hot. All kinds of steamy. The promo for next week’s episode shows us that this isn’t going to be smooth sailing from here on out, but I’m just going to enjoy it while I can. You should too. – K

Quoteworthy:

“You’re right. We’re cowards.”

“What are you talking about? Using that bathroom was the bravest thing I’ve done in weeks. I had to make mittens out of paper towels.” – Karen, Ana

“Musical Chairs” – Smash

I have been suffering through a Smash-related crisis of inspiration since Wednesday. Wednesday! For the life of me, I haven’t been able to think of how to start this review, or even how to write the rest of it. That must mean the episode was bad, right? Wrong. This episode was the potential saving grace of the season. I’ve already said that this season was blowing the first out of the water, and it is, but as the tension (and the stakes) rose, as Bombshell got further from the show we know and love and turned into some Jerry Rand monstrosity, as Liaisons grew progressively worse, and as Hit List seemed like it would never get off the ground, Smash got more and more convoluted, and less like the fantastic show it had been in Season 2’s early episodes. “Musical Chairs” rectified that. Gone was most of the uncertainty, most of the insanity, and most of the drama. This week was about moving on from the revelations and surprises of last week, and becoming a new show, with new issues, but, all the while, one we can love again.

The episode saw a lot of action, a lot of ‘switching it up’, and a lot of disasters. Karen and Tom weren’t clicking. They had competing visions of the show. She was team Derek and he was team Tom. They couldn’t even give an interview without awkwardly disagreeing with everything the other said. Julia wasn’t completely on board with the changes Tom was making, either. Hit List hit a snag when Scott Nicholls asked that they make the show more approachable and Jimmy refused to change a thing. There was doubt about whether or not Derek would stay with them or go back to Bombshell. A large portion of the episode was given over to Eileen and Julia’s efforts to get rid of Jerry, which they did with the help of Eileen and Jerry’s daughter, Katie. Liaisons finally debuted and was a complete disaster. Though, this time, it was a disaster on purpose. Ivy knew that, as long as Terry Falls was attached, it would never get the critical acclaim it deserved, so she let him off the leash. She encouraged him to bring back all of his original ideas and really go out with a bang. And Liaisons crumbled. Ivy was free to be Marilyn. So Karen stepped aside and let her be.

And so, as the curtain fell on “Musical Chairs”, we were left with (nearly) everything exactly as it’s supposed to be. Eileen has Bombshell back, Ivy is Marilyn, Karen and Derek are committed to Hit List (which is on track for a run in the Manhattan Theatre Workshop)… the only snag remaining is Derek’s borderline creepy obsession with Karen, illustrated perfectly this week by his vaguely threatening attitude toward Jimmy. Really, Derek, would it kill you to share? We sense that this triangle is going to be an ongoing arc for the foreseeable future. But we care less about that than we do the direction the show is about to take. Will Tom’s interpretation of Bombshell be a success or will he run it into the ground? Will Ivy be the best Marilyn ever? Will Tom and Julia’s relationship survive, or will she run off to London with Peter? And just how does she know Scott? To (possibly) find out the answers to these questions, and more, tune in next week. – K

Quoteworthy: “I’m sure you and I could make this work but we would always know something wasn’t right. I’m not your Marilyn. [Ivy] is.” – Karen, to Tom