THE "Smash" REPORT: Season Two, Episode 14 or, Without You

By Ben Rimalower
May 6, 2013

Playbill's weekly recap, with notes and comment, of the latest episode of the NBC musical drama series "Smash," about the dreamers behind Broadway musicals. Here's a look at the May 4 episode, "The Phenomenon."



*

This week's "Smash" is a study in the contradictions that have made it maddening since it began, a car accident death plot-worthy of Pine Valley or Llanview, which nonetheless had me in tears for most of the hour. Kyle!!! KYYYYYLLLE!!!!! More on that in a moment.

The episode begins at Karen's apartment where she and Derek have been polishing off all the booze. Still hot to trot, Karen demurely devours the last drop of two-buck chuck to announce, "Look at that. We're out." It's 5 AM, Derek says he should go, but Karen asks him to stay, or rather, she coyly remarks that he's welcome. From her, that's a straight-up come-on. Derek is cautious ("Are you sure?"), but it's not long before she's in his arms and they're getting horizontal.

Meanwhile, at Jimmy's estranged-but-now-reconciled-because-blood-is-thicker-than-water-but-man-was-that-subplot-shortlived brother Adam's crack house, Jimmy can't sleep. And what do crackheads do when the downers aren't working? Who said Radiohead dream ballet? Right you are! I love Radiohead just as much as the next guy (well, probably, not in my neighborhood, I live in Williamsburg, but in general… whatever, I like Radiohead!), but it's awfully early in the episode for ersatz moody music video—TWO MINUTES IN! What gives? Oh, right, they have to remind us how lost Jimmy is, and how much is unresolved in his life, to set up what a blow it is to lose Kyle. I mean, let's be real, anyone who's watched the show at all knows that already. Maybe this video is just to get Jimmy knocking on Karen's window at dawn, so he can catch her and Derek en flagrante. Karen and Derek, fully clothed, seem to be puttering around getting ready for rehearsal or bed (it's not clear) when Jimmy knocks, but Jimmy sees Derek there and that's enough for him to storm off.

Just when–if it weren't for my need to know what happened to Kyle, I'd be tuning out–"Smash" wins me back in a big way. Ivy and her mom and Tom (no Julia, they're still in a fight) come to Eileen's office for a Tony Awards campaign meeting. At first, it's the same old She Loves Me poster on the wall, while we trash talk the other musicals on the Rialto. What a joke Imitation of Life is, Eileen hears that Harold and Maude is struggling to retain its West End magic (um, the West End of Milburn, New Jersey, home of the Paper Mill Playhouse) etc. Everyone LOLs when Eileen says if the musical version of Roadhouse gets a nomination she's going to retire, and then, things get good! The camera pans out to reveal huge posterboards for each Tony award category, complete with headshots and show logos, charting the potential winner and handicapping their chances ("Debut," "LA Times Rave," "Three nominations"). How I wish I'd been hired by "Smash" to predict the winner of the made-up Broadway season.

Christian Borle and Andy Mientus
Photo by Will Hart/NBC

First, our eyes are allowed a solitary glorious moment to linger upon the Best Actress in a Musical contenders (thank God for the pause button!). Jennifer Damiano in Beauty Queen (a made-up show?), Audra McDonald in House of Flowers (Oh, really?), Laura Osnes in Oliver! (now, you're getting crazy), KATE BALDWIN IN SEESAW???!!!! Holy Michael Imperioli, this casting madness has to stop! This group is rounded out, of course, by Ivy for Bombshell and Karen for Hit List—if it moves. We can all see where that's headed.

Then we are given an extra couple of nanoseconds to take in the Featured Actress in a Musical category (or "Supporting Actress," as it's incorrectly called on "Smash"). And what a category it is! There's Chita Rivera (for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, maybe, to keep a toe in reality, even if Chita was not nominated in real life), Katie Finneran (for Annie, poetic justice as she too, was not nominated?), Patina Miller for Pippin (Featured! How dare they?!), Victoria Clark for Beauty Queen (oh, wait! Is this supposed to be some sort of musical adaption of the Beauty Queen of Leenane?? I LOVE IT!) and then Leigh Conroy for Bombshell and Ivy Lynn for her featured role in Liaisons. Mother vs. daughter. Looks like the Tonys on "Smash" are gonna be a real nail-biter this year—even more so than in real life!

But we don't get to enjoy this fantasy football version of Broadway for too long before there's a cut to Karen and Derek, whose looks may be surprisingly fresh for a walk-of-shame to rehearsal, but whose dialogue is as canned as ever—nothing but unabashed exposition to tell us that nothing happened, between them sexually, that is.

"We stopped ourselves." This is key because they will both claim credit when trying to reconcile with their own spurned lovers. It's particularly disingenuous when Karen says it to Jimmy considering that, also on that morning's walk-of-shame, she asked Derek what they were going to tell everyone. Sounds to me like she was still into him then. Or maybe she's just so immature that she thinks they have to tell everyone in the cast every single thing about their personal relationship? Uch, either way…

And as much as Derek tries to sell Ivy on the idea, "It's not Karen. It's you," he can't deny that he only showed up at her birthday party after Karen rejected him. At least, Ivy is learning. She tells Derek they're friends. "There'll always be a Karen," she says sagely.

Well, painful though it may be, I can't possibly recap any further without getting to the main plot point of the episode, which Tom first discovers when a call comes in from Kyle's phone. It's not Kyle returning Tom's goofy voicemail from earlier in the day, though, it's the police, informing him that Kyle was hit by a car and as Tom puts it to Karen and Derek, "He's gone." This is where my crying began. Christian Borle is such a great actor and he really makes an impact even in this short exchange. It's very moving to watch the various emotions wash over him as he fights tears to say aloud what happened.

If it's a little manipulative how the writers forged this Tom-Kyle romance off-camera in a matter of two episodes (even last week, we only knew they'd gone out a couple of times after the first hook-up), it's churlish to complain, given the depth of Christian Borle's performance and how lovely and moving their flashback scenes are together—particularly when, in the middle of the night, Tom serenades Kyle, accompanying himself in a spot-on rendition of Billy Joel's "Vienna." Yes, it's true "Smash" is on thin ice (and has more often than not misfired) with these impromptu song performances attempting to act almost as musical theatre book songs, conveying the characters' own feelings. It's also true that over here at Casa de Rimalower, it was waterworks from the first chord.

Jack Davenport and Katharine McPhee
Photo by Will Hart/NBC

Well, sad as everyone is, the show must go on—or, wait, no, Hit List will be cancelled tonight, but business is business and Tom and Julia have an appointment to dissolve their partnership. Julia thinks Tom's being such a jerk until he explains they need to dissolve it so that she can acquire the rights to "The Great Gatsby" by herself and not have to run all creative decisions by him. Tom smugly concludes "today's installment of Tom the Monster," but I still think something's off. Just because he's co-owns the rights doesn't mean he can't stay silent and uninvolved, right? Or is this about her spending their joint money to acquire the rights? Can't she just buy him out of that? Why do they have to dissolve their partnership? And what does that even mean? Are they bound to work together somehow by a collaboration agreement? What am I missing? Julia seems to agree with Tom about this, though, and that's that.

Which is a good thing because Scott's job at Manhattan Theatre Workshop is on the line for Julia's Gatsby play—if she pulls it, he'll be fired. He hopes Julia and Tom work something out, but for a little insurance, he decides not to cancel tonight's performance of Hit List. Derek had originally been very opposed to the show going on (as some sort of "requiem"), but when he sees all the people lined up outside the theatre he agrees something must be put on the stage for them. Scott tells everyone it was Julia's idea to go on with the show, in her protégé Kyle's honor, while she is conveniently 40 blocks uptown trying to get the lights of Broadway dimmed for Kyle.

When Julia finds out about Scott's lie, she's livid. I can understand her fury, although I think maybe capitalizing on the moment is what a being a producer is about. And it really is a great moment for Kyle. The line wraps around the block. There's not an empty seat in the house (right down to the unfortunate mohawk in the front row). Kyle's death could catapult Hit List to fame the way Jonathan Larson's did with Rent—hey, wait a second! Rent (in the world of "Smash") originated at (and Jonathan Larson died on the eve of Rent's opening at) Manhattan Theatre Workshop. They say lightening doesn't strike twice, but now I'm suspicious of this Scott character. How many more playwrights is he gonna kill? Julia, watch your back!

It's a magical night. Ivy even calls in sick to her Broadway show that opened like a week ago so she can come down and support Tom and Derek. Sam takes the stage to play Jimmy's part for a few minutes, but then Jimmy finally shows up after Karen finds him wandering the city. He gives a truly stunning performance, full of vulnerability and all the emotion that this material surely brings up for him in relation to Kyle, and to Karen and to himself.

In swoops Jerry. With his backing, Hit List is moving to Broadway after all—starting previews at the end of the month! Everyone heads uptown to celebrate as Eileen dims the lights on Bombshell's marquee in tribute to Kyle.

Another tribute to Kyle: Jimmy's quitting drinking. Easy does it, Jimmy. One day at a time. Addictions fill our lives with pain and conflict, but they're not easy to get away from.

Just like "Smash."