THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 15, Or, Lost in Boston

By Kenneth Jones
15 May 2012

Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode 15:

ELLIS AND EILEEN: Sleazy producing assistant Ellis (Jaime Cepero) fancies himself a producer and objects to the casting of Karen. "I didn't get Rebecca Duvall out of your way so you could ignore me yet again," he says to Eileen, admitting that he added ground peanuts into "the stupid smoothie" of the allergy-prone Rebecca. "Don't ever call me an assistant ever again." Eileen fires him on the spot, and he returns with this mustache-twirling exit line: "You haven't heard the last of this!" The structure of this episode is very Aaron Sorkin, very "The West Wing," even if the writing is not. What's missing in "Smash" is not structure or plot, but execution — a deeper exploration of the creative process and relationships supported by meticulous dialogue that tracks from moment to moment. It all goes back to logic and clarity; "Smash" doesn't have to be "The West Wing," it just needs to make sense. We hesistated to call "Smash" a soap before, but we give in. We also know that soaps can be sophisticated; go get a DVD of "Knots Landing," the "Dallas" spinoff that was packed with weak and ambitious people whose choices were deliciously articulated

 

Debra Messing and Will Chase
photo by Will Hart/NBC



SPEAKING OF SOAP OPERA: Under the stress of the deadline, Julia vomits in the ladies lounge, observing that she hasn't thrown up since she was pregnant with her son, Leo. Julia might be pregnant, in case you missed that clue. If the new writers fertilize this plot seed, a question of paternity is sure to be part of the new season. Is husband Frank (Brian d'Arcy James) the father? Or is the baby the product of Julia's affair with actor Michael Swift (Will Chase), who plays DiMaggio? Michael tells Julia that he confessed the affair to his wife, and she left him. Julia consoles Michael, and Frank witnesses her sympathy. Frank tells Julia he's not sure he can trust her when so much doubt is present. Her grammar-challenged response is: "Other things will be there, too. Good things that we created. Maybe that's all we can do is know that the good is more than the mistakes." The moment helps generate a lyric later in the day. In a brainstorming session, she mumbles, "Something good…that's bigger than the bad. The good…it's bigger than the bad!" Is it a stroke? Or a stroke of genius? More urgently: Will scenes of Julia's home life be dropped in Season Two, in favor of her more vivacious artistic life? Tom and Julia becoming roommates, perhaps? Here's potential theme music for them.

SAY IT WITH MUSIC: The USO number, "Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Like to Howl," the bones of which were seen earlier in the season, is in full flower here, with Karen singing and dancing with an ensemble of 11 men. The imaginative work of series choreographer Joshua Bergasse is aching for an Emmy Award nomination. (Karen seems to walk on air, her footsteps supported by the hands and arms of the men.) And the way she's thrown around the stage by those boys? Showbiz Whimsy! It takes weeks of trust and collaboration; here, she had an hour, perhaps. For the 11-o'clock number, the series' excellent Tony Award-winning songwriters Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) have written a post-mortem musical coda to Marilyn's life, in which she appears in a gold sequined gown to plead, "Don't Forget Me." Behind her, chorus girls (not Ivy) appear as Marilyn in various stages of her development. A key-change prompts spontaneous applause from the Boston crowd, which includes Eileen's ex, Jerry (Michael Cristofer), her lover Nick (Thorsten Kaye) and boy investor Lyle (Nick Jonas); they eat up the "American Idol"-style Big Number.

Nick Jonas
Photo by Will Hart/NBC

(As readers of this column know, a traditional "11-o'clock number" usually involves the show's star singing a solo turn that sums up his or her character's journey or credo or last-minute revelation: "If He Walked Into My Life" from Mame, "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" from My Fair Lady and "I'm Going Back" from Bells Are Ringing are classic examples. "Don't Forget Me" fits the definition. Why 11-o'clock? That's around the time a climactic song gets delivered, especially back in the days when shows began at 8:30 PM.) "Don't Forget Me" feels like a rushed and general placeholder (a future trunk song), but that might be deliberate on the part of Shaiman and Wittman: the number was cooked up on the fly, after all, and we're still in previews out of town. In it, Marilyn sings a Big Note and a plea to "let me be that star" — in the heavens, echoing to opening number, "Let Me Be Your Star." It certainly lets the audience know that the show has reached its climax. "If something good can come from bad, the past can rest in peace," she sings. "If you see someone hurt and in need of a hand, don't forget me. …There are some in this world who have strength on their own, never broke or in need of repair, but there are some born to shine who can't do it alone, so protect them and take special care…"

Karen's season-ending, final, frozen, back-lit pose — with upraised arms, head pulled back and neck exposed — closely echoes cover art from Bernadette Peters' "Sondheim, Etc.: Bernadette Peters Live At Carnegie Hall" album. Karen would be lucky to have the career of a Broadway baby like Peters, who never had an obstacle like Ivy Lynn.

See you next season. 

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth, and Tweet your thoughts about "Smash.")

Check out an entire season of the Playbill "Smash" Report, starting with Episode 14.

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