THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 8, Or, Girls, Girls, You're Both Pretty

By Kenneth Jones
27 Mar 2012

Jack Davenport as Derek
Photo by Craig Blankenhorn/NBC

The "Touch Me" presentation was also a way to reveal, after seven episodes, the backstory of former best friends Tom and Derek. The gay composer and the homophobic director finally have it out. We learn that their friendship did not survive a flop show that they collaborated on 11 years ago.

"I should never have let you near this project," Tom says of Marilyn.

"You haven't got the edge or the insight or the balls to make Marilyn what she needs to be," Derek says. "There's no other reason to hire me [than to shape the material into something better]."

Rehashing the past, on the topic of that old show, we find out The New York Times critic liked Derek's direction — and didn't like Tom's songs.

"That critic was in your pocket!" Tom says, adding that Derek bragged about the rave for the direction of the piece and then "went to every theatre in town and trashed me. You were vicious. You told every producer I know that I was unstable…that I would never be an artist…"

Derek calls Tom's accusations fiction, and spits, "Gay men never cease to amaze me. You own the New York theatre scene, but yet you constantly prance around whining about what victims you are…"

Tom calls Derek a homophobe and says the "Touch Me" presentation was a kind of bullying. And then Tom tells him, "That critic wasn't in your pocket, he was having sex with your father! Everyone knew about it. I never heard you bragging about that."

At this point, when they are seemingly about to come to blows (or about to kiss?), Derek says, "Welcome to my level."

They continue to differ about what Marilyn should be (Derek wants edge rather than the "beautiful," "fun," "too nice" songs that have been written), and both say that they aren't quitting the project. There's a lot of talk about ego but not much about artistry. (And why not pick on Julia, the lyricist-librettist of Marilyn?) We have yet to learn why this project is so important to them, individually. To be revealed? 

Derek later calls the "Touch Me" idea a failed experiment and reaches out to rekindle his romance with Ivy, who has learned that Eileen's strategy is to seek a star for the role of Marilyn. Ivy's no longer the future leading lady, it would seem.

Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode 8:

Wesley Taylor, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Megan Hilty at Brooklyn Bowl.
photo by Craig Blankenhorn/NBC

SAY IT WITH MUSIC: There were no original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman this week, and the heart sank a little. We're not of the belief that the answer to musical theatre's future is the insertion of existing pop music; likewise, what's special about "Smash" is its original songs. There was, in this episode, a brief excerpt of Julia's husband Frank (Brian d'Arcy James) singing (as a lark) a snippet of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," accompanied by Guitar Hero on their TV. The scene is mercifully short; don't worry, James, a two-time Tony nominee, will reportedly really sing later in the season). The other musical sequence this week shows the Marilyn chorus kids blowing off steam at Brooklyn Bowl (a real place), singing "Ride, Sally, Ride" and dancing down their bowling lane. (An idea not used since "Grease 2," when Adrian Zmed led the gang in the lyric "Let's bowl, let's bowl, let's rock 'n' roll…"). We suspect straight-acting gay dancer Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr.) came up with the idea for a group bowling night.

NAKED MOMENT OF THE WEEK: After not hearing from Eileen after the workshop, Julia says, "I hate showbusiness. You work with people day in, day out, putting your soul on the line, and the instant things don't go the way you want it's as if you've evaporated off the planet." Given last week's report that "Smash" creator Theresa Rebeck was no longer part of the series (even though it has been picked up for a second season), this line is oddly prescient and painful. Rebeck doesn't write every episode, but she happened to pen this one (months ago). Through a spokesman, Rebeck declined to comment on her current relationship with "Smash." NBC also declined official comment, though has independently learned that Rebeck is no longer the series "showrunner," a position that controls the writing.

JULIA AND MICHAEL: Julia meets with her ex-lover Michael Swift (with whom she carried on during the workshop) to deliver the news that he's not going to be asked to continue with Marilyn. He says he would have quit even if he hadn't been "fired." In a complete flipflop from past episodes, he has decided that his wife and son are "everything to me…I've been really stupid." Makes you wonder what he would have said if Julia had good news for him about his future in Marilyn. Meanwhile, the arrest record of Julia's son Leo (Emory Cohen) — who disobeyed park signs — has been expunged by the court. Frank remains clueless about Julia's affair with Michael, and Leo is keeping the secret. They celebrate the court victory with Chinese food. 

JULIA AS GARBO: We like Julia's habit of wearing big dark sunglasses in creative meetings with Eileen, Tom and Derek. It makes her seem like she's hiding shame or dark circles or tears — or that she's suffering from migraines. Whatever the reason, it makes her slightly kooky, and that hint of character is welcome. Maybe Tom will use a cigarette holder and wear a monocle in the future?

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

Check out the earlier "Smash" Report recap of Episode 7. View Playbill Video's earlier visit with cast and creatives of "Smash."