Smash: The Cost Of Art or The One Where Everyone Becomes A Stereotype
In the world of musical theatre, most audiences are happiest when you show them things they already know. Look at the success of basically every revival ever – give an audience the glorious return of Les Miserables and the squealing resounds. But try something foreign and unfamiliar in that hallowed and oft velvet draped sanctum of the theatre, something featuring say, a comic book character and overwrought pop ballads, and you’ll have a riot on your hands. Lucky for us, if Smash knows anything, it’s the safety that comes with the familiar, and that’s what they gave us this week. Gone are the intricate power struggles, the tentative forays into quiet subversion of all the things we know to be true – now, the bright eyed-girl from the Midwest has been reduced back to her simplest elements; her talent, and her heart of gold. Now, the ambitious, blowsy blond has shown her stripes – and she is insecure, in work and life, and fiercely vindictive. At one point in time, I thought the road they’d take would be a different, true path – one where both woman, different on the surface, are revealed to be the same, and while that still be coming down the line, it looks like we’ve got an entire season of girls hating girls to sit through before we get there.
Although the script has not been written, Debra Messing is smile beatifically and swathing herself in all of the clothes that Chico’s sells, all the better to watch the very first rehearsal of Marilyn the Musical. Every writerly bone in my body was all, “GIRL, GO HOME, WRITE THIS PLAY! SWEET LORD THEY ARE POURING A MOUNTAIN OF MONEY INTO A SCRIPT THAT IS ESSENTIALLY THE IDEA OF A PLAY! AHHHH!’ but Debra didn’t listen. Instead she bought another scarf and quietly wrapped it around her head, occasionally nudging Tom and doing an impression of Oscar the Grouch as Carmen Miranda.
Rehearsals aren’t going well – not for Ivy, and not for Karen. Because there are only eight people in this epic Broadway musical, and 6 of them are Ivy’s best friends, Karen is having a shit time because every time she tries to like, chat with the other ensemble members they throw cow patties at her scream things like “Dirty Dirty Turnip head, bet your mother’s super dead!” which is unproductive. Karen is appropriately nonplussed by this. As am I. Because, yeah, sure, these guys have all been friend’s of Ivy’s and whatever but I mean – Ivy got the part. Ivy won the battle, y’all, put the claws away. Also, this whole “We have the farm girl” thing is tiresome because if nothing else, theatre people know to be nice to your face and mean to your ass (and possible about it.) This is a bummer because Karen needs friends since her boyfriend belittles her and is always on the phone doing highly important work for the city. That’s right, y’all, I’m knocking Dev. I’m putting a goddamn ticking clock on Karen’s
meal ticketrelationship – dare you to disagree. Not only is her boyfriend English and also the worst, but Karen now has to deal with the fact that She Is Too Awesome. It’s true guys, Karen CarpenterCartwright is the greatest performer of our time, and her ability has toothy, busty, blondie, Ivy spooked, like a horse at the track – so spooked that Ivy uses her friendship with Tom, and her state of pee in vee (and totally in a as well) intimacy with Derek McFiveOClockShadow to first get Karen repositioned, then cut from a number, then booted from rehearsal all because Ivy feels the beast of fame at her neck and is sacred shitless.
Ivy’s influx of insecurity isn’t surprising – if you want to make Ivy a villain, having her completely doubt herself in the presence of Karen is certainly one way to make her actions explicable. But it didn’t fit, really. The Ivy we’ve seen up until now has every confidence in her ability to own a stage. If anything, that type of actress, when confronted with the girl who didn’t get the part in the chorus, would find it to be motivating, they’d kick ass, they’d KNOW EXACTLY WHY THE DIRECTOR CAST HER IN THE ENSEMBLE. Because Derek, while totally gross, isn’t an idiot – he allowed Karen to be in the ensemble to test Ivy’s mettle, and oh my god Ivy you are failing! Failing! I mean, the second he’s all “This is just a workshop…the road to Broadway is LONG,” I jumped up and started twirling and doing a step ball change combination JUST BECAUSE THE PRESSURE HE WAS PUTTING OUT THERE WAS THAT INTENSE! Also because I am an excellent twirler.
Ivy and Karen aren’t the only ones who find themselves playing different characters this week – Eileen has gone from trouble divorcee just trying to make some theatre to a low-rent version of the Pink Panther, all trying to sell her Degas sketch to raise money for the workshop. Basically the episode could not have been more hilarious is Eileen tried to illegally sell THE DEGAS THAT SHE JUST HAPPENS TO HAVE THAT IS CERTAINLY NOT A FRAMED PORTRAIT FROM ARTPOSTERS.NET to a tween heartthrob at his birthday party. EXCEPT FOR THAT THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED! When Eileen discovers she can’t get access to her finances, she goes to sell the Degas that reminds her of happier times, but she can’t sell it legally because the bill of sale is in her husband’s name! So when Derek announces he’s hosting a birthday party for Nick Jonas (The Daniel Radcliffe of our times. Don’t believe me? Let his photoshopped head on Radcliffe’s neck in all the How To Succeed ads do the talkin’!) Eileen does the logical thing. She goes to the birthday party, ushers Nick Jonas into her classically beautiful if aged womanhood, and is reborn – Mrs. Anjelica Jonas. All her problems solved. While their union is consummated, Debra messing crawls on the ceiling above their bed, she hisses, “I went to art school!”
But actually Eileen just tries to sell the painting to this only teenage heartthrob with a boner for Michael Buble and he sees through her ruse and offers to come aboard Marilyn as an actual investor with points and everything. BUT, before he can reaaaally agree, the goods must be tested – Houston laughs darkly, her voice like an arctic rivulet, “I can’t believe I’m a lead actress on a show that would present such an artless segue-way into a musical number.” We can’t either, but it’s true, and the cast members, summoned to this loft, do a sexy dance and Nick Jonas, being well pleased, stuffs million dollars bills into everyone’s cock rings.
The play ‘Marilyn’ itself seems slapped together, the music a feeble attempt for Ivy to do her best impression of the screen icon, and the mystery and allure of Marilyn that so captivated everyone early on could not be further gone. If they continue down this road the musical will be forgotten altogether and suddenly Julia will be wearing a tracksuit and the show will be Glee. AND I LOATHE GLEE. I would also like to remind you that it takes more than Marilyn, DiMaggio, and five chorus members TO TELL ANY SORT OF COHESIVE STORY! AHHHH! Okay. I’m done.
Debra Messing spent some time hissing at Tom’s ‘evil’ and also ‘heterosexual’ assistant, but he sprayed water at her and she stopped. When Joe DiMaggio shows up, Debra rubbed her soaking wet body on his and was all, “We can’t! Everything is too sexy!” and then she ran away into the night while Tom found love with his ‘gay’ and adoring blind date that his mom had set him up on. This show does weird things with sexuality, and not in a fun, cool, or specific way. It’s awkward. Like when the actor they assigned to be Ivy’s best friend while her friends abandoned her to makeover Karen started reading about the Mets and talking about Ivy’s boobs – I was like, girl, I can’t see you, the closet’s too dark!
Speaking of Ivy’s friends abandoning her, this was the most random and horrific part of the entire episode. After the best piece of acting and writing in the episode – weirdly courtesy of The McPhee – Karen makes it clear to Ensemble Girl 1 that she is pissed at how she’s being treated because she works hard and has done nothing to deserve their meanness. Ensemble Girl 1 responds as all good nameless ensemble members do and decides that Karen is the best. So she and the rest of the ensemble make Karen over (needlessly. Nothing was more painful than watching them stage an “intervention” on her closet, pulling out outfit after tacky outfit that Karen had never worn) and then try to teach how to be a chorus member and not a star. They do this by going to club and dancing to Rumor Has It, by Adele. It’s a tough lesson, but eventually, Karen learns how not to shine so much, by breaking away from the chorus, singing a solo, and upstaging everyone. Dev watched the whole endeavor, quietly mortified in that way of all dudes who are not artists but are sleeping with an artist always are. He giggled shyly, he spent a lot of time on his phone, he bought everyone drinks, but he may as well having been branded with: Anywhere but here.
I want him to start fucking Eileen.
Meanwhile, in another part of Manhattan, Ivy catches Derek touching a lady’s ass. She says, “Derek, that’s shitty,’ and he’s all ‘That’s the business babe, that’s what being famous is all about, the director puts your biggest competition in front of you every day, and your boyfriend touches the asses of ladies to get money to make theatre – deal with it!” and instead of going, “Yeah, that’s all really fucked up and I’m going,” she’s all “THIS IS WHO I AM NOW!” and has some presumably tepid sex which is thankfully brief because you know Derek is plagued with whiskey dick.
Next week, some sass is served when the girls turn their angst against each other instead of the obvious choice – against the director who is fucking with them, or going to Eileen and being like “he’s fucking with us,” because all of that makes entirely too much sense. I will watch this show, and watch the hell out of it, because it amuses me, but they’ve lost my sympathy, and the only way they could get it back would be if Eileen heard of Derek’s fuckery, fired Julia, her scarves, AND Tom and took Ivy and Karen on the road to a fully improvised play about Marilyn Monroe with Karen playing Norma Jean and Ivy playing Monroe (TEN BUCKS AT LEAST PART OF WHAT I HAVE JUST SAID COMES TRUE. I MEAN, TEN RHETORICAL BUCKS. BECAUSE I AM NOT PAYING ALL OF YOU.)
Until next week, you 20th Century foxes.