The latest episode of "Smash"—and the first to air in the new undesirable time slot—is exemplary of everything that's been maddeningly idiotic and then, at moments, compelling since the beginning. Season Two, Episode 10, "The Surprise Party," explores the interpersonal boundaries between directors and actors, between theatre collaborators and between professionals in general. I use the word professional lightly as we see further fallout from Derek's peccadilloes and somewhat more nuanced conflict between Tom and his best friend/leading lady, Ivy.
It's tech rehearsal time and the livin' aint easy. Ivy, still mad Tom cast her estranged mother as her mother in Bombshell without a heads up, mouths off in front of everyone. Tom can barely tech the first scene in the show. Once again, from the top. "This is supposed to be fun," Tom moans to Julia, his writing partner/other best friend. He says Ivy poisoned the whole cast against him. Needing to be liked is no way to direct a show. The Tom-Ivy drama extends beyond the fourth wall of this rehearsal; Michael Riedel has written a big New York Post gossip piece about it. Eileen is flirting with Richard Francis of the New York Times, but the Gray Lady has already published a fluff piece. The PR problem seems insurmountable.
Speaking of mounting, Karen and Jimmy are in Manhattan theatre Workshop's costume shop. Derek calls for Karen. Faster than Karen can say, "I'm in Wardrobe heavy petting," Jimmy claps his hand over her mouth and tells her to keep their affair private. Karen agrees—it's more professional anyway.
Jimmy joins Derek in the theatre, handing him a wad of cash, loan repayment installment number one. They make nicey as best as their enormous egos will allow. It's sweet, but it's a time bomb. Karen, entering the room a discrete forty-five seconds behind Jimmy, barely even acknowledges Derek, let alone Jimmy in her drive downplay to their relationship. Laying it on a bit too thick, Jimmy explains they're professionals. Why would they say hello? They're just working together. Jeez! Tick, tock, tick tock.
|Photo by Will Hart/NBC|
Derek tells them Richard Francis from the Times is most interested in Hit List's nameless Diva character played by Karen's roommate. Jimmy says they're giving her a song in Act Two, but Kyle fears that's not enough. Derek is with Jimmy on this. Silly Kyle… Karen is the star!
Back uptown at Bombshell tech, Ivy and Sam are talking about how to celebrate Ivy's birthday. Ivy says she just wants to "blow off steam" and by "off steam," she means the hottie who plays JFK in Bombshell. When a delivery arrives, Tom is perplexed Ivy's getting flowers three weeks before opening. (Side note: are there no previews?) Ann Harada, spicing up the exposition with a Thelma Ritter impression, informs him it's Ivy's birthday. Light bulb! This is exactly what Tom needs to get Ivy and the rest of the cast to like him again. Like some sort of gay(er) Inspector Gadget, Tom voice activates his phone.
The cast whisper choruses, "Ivy's party. Gusto. 9 o'clock. Don't tell Tom."
Meanwhile, downtown, Karen sings Pasek and Paul's peppy, poppy original, Original. Wait, shouldn't this be Nameless Diva's song? Cut to the artistic director's office. Julia is pontificating. She loves the questions Hit List is asking about identity and fame in the modern age, but right now, the Diva is just a symbol. The artistic director bets she already has a list of fixes. (Why? She doesn't have any fixes for Bombshell…) Derek comes in and is all kissypoo with Julia. Everyone wants Julia to dramaturg. She's got nothing else going on at the moment, except of course the Broadway musical she's been working on for two years that is finally in tech 40 blocks uptown?
Whatever, I'm sure it's fine. Time for another scene in this bloodless "Twilight."
Karen wonders if Jimmy's hiding something? How much does she really know about him? Then he sexts her to come mess around in Wardrobe again.
|Photo by Will Hart/NBC|
Uptown, Tom wishes Ivy an awkward happy birthday, pretending he remembered all along, like all the time they were bitching each other out during cue-to-cue, he was planning this big Norma Desmond style, "Happy Birthday, darling. Did you think I'd forgotten?"
Ivy claims to have no birthday plans. Perfect! Tom's taking her out. Twenty minutes ago, she was disrespecting him in front of everyone, and now she's a pushover, unable to say, "No thanks. I'm busy." I don't get it!
Eureka! Here's the good press Eileen's been desperate for! Tonight, Ivy and Tom will be celebrating Ivy's birthday and—wonder of wonder, miracle of photo ops, Liza Minnelli is going to happen to be there! FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!
Downtown, Kyle wishes Jimmy were meeting Julia with him so they could get dramaturged together. But Jimmy is back in the costume shop whispering sweet nothings in Karen's ear—like, "Know where else would be cool to do it? The lighting booth!" Karen wants to tell everyone they're boyfriend and girlfriend, but Jimmy won't. Karen walks out. Wow.
Tom and Ivy are having an awkward four-course birthday dinner. Eileen and Richard are there too, canoodling, which for them means discussing Robert Wilson's P.O.V.
At Manhattan Theatre Workshop, Julia has been teaching Kyle about storyboards for hours and he's starting to really get the hang of it, moving cards around like a kid in a Parker Brothers' Memory commercial, when Julia and the artistic director get nostalgic. Even Kyle can read the subtext and asks if they ever dated. A.D. admits he wanted to. I don't know about you guys, but I am long past getting invested in new characters, least of all Julia's love interests.
|Photo by Will Hart/NBC|
Just as Ivy is starting to feel like inviting Tom to her real birthday party, Michael Riedel walks in with Bombshell's publicist (Daphne Rubin-Vega)?? Ivy is perplexed.
PUT DOWN THE KNITTING, THE BOOK AND THE BROOM, IT'S LIZA WITH A Z! Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony-winner Liza Minnelli walks in and what a lovely headband she's wearing.
Thank you very much, but it's Liza and that's my hair.
"How are you, honey? You look wonderful," Liza greets Daphne, as she fondles Michael Riedel's chest.
And then—"TOM, DO I HAVE ANYTHING IN MY TEETH???!?!!!!"—Liza is standing at Ivy's table. "Hello, my lovely."
"Hello, my baby"
(Hello, my ragtime gal?)
Ivy says she's always dreamed about meeting Liza, which is weird considering her mom is Leigh Conroy (Bernadette Peters playing Patti LuPone). Like, didn't young Ivy get to meet Liza when Leigh won one of her Tonys? Didn't Liza present it? Or the time Leigh and Liza opened the Tonys together? Or when they sang for Sondheim at Carnegie Hall? And I could go on…
For a moment, things are lovely between Tom and Ivy. It worked! She's beaming at him, squealing.
Then, the vicious flash of pappa, pappa, paparazzi.
This was all a PR stunt????? I thought you did it for me, Momma/Tom. Tom doesn't even know how they found out. The only person he told is EILEEN!!!! Excuse him.
At least, to her credit, Eileen's like, "Yeah, I invited the press." Remember how we all want Bombshell to be a hit? I mean, it's not like Tom was giving Ivy a foot massage in his apartment. He invited Liza Minnelli to join them at Table 46. That's somewhere between skywriting and an ad in Variety.
Ivy heads out, thinking Tom used her for publicity.
Then the voice of God: Liza May Minnelli.
"Ivy Lynn, where are you going? Sit down."
"Oh, okay, Liza Minnelli."
In her best Dainty June manner, Liza explains what's about to happen. I'm gonna sing a song by a friend of mine who's also a friend of yours, OUR… FRIEND… TOM!!
Tom does a sweet intro—he did in fact forget Ivy's birthday and he's sorry. Take it away, Liza.
|Photo by Will Hart/NBC|
"A Love Letter from the Times" is a Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman instant classic, showcasing their trademark integration of contemporary conversational colloquiality into the best old-school tradition. It's Tom's wish for Ivy, to get a rave review from the New York Times, literally, and also figuratively, as the totem for everything theatre people want in the world. During the verse, the camera pans on Eileen who was hoping for an actual love letter from Richard Francis, but he left. Tonight wasn't supposed to be business. Liza delivers just about everything you would want from her—she even gets to use the word terrific! Ivy is totally disarmed.
Derek, blotto, interrupts Karen's quiet scene study. He always lapses into a Cockney accent, dropping consonants left and "ri" when he's angry or emotional or drunk, so like, a lot of the time. He admits he has feelings for her. Even the big, powerful Broadway director is on shaky ground when these lines are crossed. Karen's not taking any shit.
Tom and Ivy are elated. They've come a long way—since spending Ivy's last birthday at a Chinese joint when Ivy had lost the role of Marilyn and Bombshell was in trouble… (Am I the only one who thinks Bombshell is still in trouble??!) Tom apologizes for casting Momma BernaPone and Ivy admits she was a bitch, too. He invites her for a drink. She lies that she's going home to sleep and gets in a cab. Just then Tom is stopped on the sidewalk. Ivy left her keys. He'll take them to her. Follow that car.
Would you believe Kyle is still doing script work with Julia? Do the math with me… If Bombshell is in tech, that's 12-hour rehearsal days, out at 10. Ivy and Tom both showered and changed before dinner, so there's no way they were at the restaurant before 11 at the very earliest. And it was a four-course dinner. And from what I gather, nights with Liza are not short! It has absolutely GOT to be at least 1 AM—WHY ARE THEY KEEPING KYLE AT THAT STORYBOARD?? I guess MTW's non-union.
Kyle perks up, "I just had the most amazing idea." Ivy finally gets to her party at Gusto. Um, of course, the JFK guy left with high-kick Heidi. It's 2 AM! Just as everyone's singing "Happy Birthday," Tom walks in looking surprised and then hurt. Everyone stops singing and Tom gives Ivy her keys, all betrayed-like. This is ridiculous! Is Tom really so surprised Ivy didn't invite him? This was clearly planned before they made up 20 minutes ago!
Seriously, Tom, get over yourself. Honestly, I was on your side in rehearsal when Ivy was being a brat. Now, I am on no one's side (except, of course, Liza). It says a lot that my only real allegiance with any character at this point is, "Ooh, what was Kyle's amazing idea??"
|Photo by Will Hart/NBC|
Karen and Jimmy are rehearsing even though it's 3 AM. Jeez, more like Manhattan theatre Sweatshop! Drunk Derek barks out from the back of the room, sans consonants, something along the lines of, "Eww. Gross! Jimmy and Karen sitting in a tree." It gets ugly. In his jealous rage, Derek grabs Jimmy. Jimmy reveals that Derek told him to lay off Karen. Karen tells Derek she's not his property, but she's mad at Jimmy for covering this up. I am actually impressed with Karen. But mostly I am bored. Where's Ann Harada? And seriously, Kyle, what was your idea?
I am not bored when Ivy runs after Tom, who stormed out of Gusto. Ivy is so wise. She explains that she loves him, but the show comes first now and she needs a director, not a friend, just like the show came first for him casting her mother without concern for her feelings. This is a business. It's not called "show friends."
Finally, Kyle explains his idea, which is unfortunately, unintelligible, something about Karen having less to do in Hit List and the Diva character having more. Derek looks super-pissy and you expect him to spew out some venomous, consonant-less tirade—bloo[d]y this, bloo[d]y tha'—but it turns out Kyle's idea will make Karen sad and Jimmy mad and Derek is on board, end of discussion.
However late it is, Gusto is still open and Ivy's gonna have her cake and eat it, too. She's got rhythm, she's got music, she's got Derek—he shows up with a birthday card. We hear Ivy singing a 90s Rent-style guitar arrangement of The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" as couples come together—Julia and the artistic director, Eileen and Richard Francis, and then Karen and Jimmy.
Jimmy lets Karen wear his jacket (it's cold at 6:30 in the morning) and she finds a bag of drugs in the pocket. Karen says nothing. We tune in next week. (Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues now its ninth hit month off Off-Broadway. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)