So, I was a little harsh with Smash last week. I want to like the show, but the writing has been a mess! Luckily, this week took a step up from last week's fare, and my interest has been renewed, thanks to a couple smart decisions the show made.
"Enter Mr. DiMaggio" focused primarily on the next step in Marilyn's process: casting the role of Joe DiMaggio. Enter Michael Swift, a Broadway performer who Tom and Julia worked with five years ago. Michael's a devoted father who sings Bruno Mars in his free time, and who would also be perfect for the part. But Julia's not so sure, and neither is Michael. It wasn't difficult to guess what happened in their past, especially when Julia defended Ivy and Derek's tryst to an infuriated Tom. Turns out Michael and Julia had an affair when he was working on their project, five years ago, and Julia is hesitant to have Michael in her life again. But Eileen hires Michael, and so Julia divulges her secret to Tom so that he can help her to not "go back there."
The cool thing about this storyline is that it was set against the backdrop of Julia and Tom trying to pen the Joe/Marilyn duet. I almost wish that we had known about Michael and Julia's history before we saw her working on the song, because it would inform us about the personal opinions she might be projecting onto the piece. She spends a lot of time pondering what Joe and Marilyn wanted, and comes up with one line of inspiration: "Marriage is a good thing." That could've meant something really powerful to the audience if we knew that this character was reliving an old affair in her mind. And again, to me, part of the interesting part of Smash is seeing the creative process unfurl, and how Tom's and Julia's and Derek's personal lives affect their work. I want to see that potential fulfilled to its full extent!
As for Michael and Julia, I'm not entirely sure what we're supposed to feel about them. The show went out of their way to show us that Michael is a devoted father with a stable home life, and given that Julia is the steady center to this universe, I can't say I want to see either of them begin their affair again. It was interesting, though, to see their part in the payoff to Joe and Marilyn's duet: "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" played at episode's end, and reflected the couple's desire to shut out reality and construct a happy, simple world for themselves. Ultimately though, it's a temporary escape, and the willingness to uphold what is essentially a delusion becomes tragic. The performance was cross-cut with Julia reflecting on her marriage and affair with Michael, and the narrative connection was intriguing. Julia and Michael's romance was constructed in the same bubble of fantasy, and it eventually burst. Julia knows exactly how Marilyn and Joe feel, but at the same time she knows they're fools.
This aspect of the narrative was so interesting to me I almost wish more storylines converged into the duet to provide an extra layer of meaning. It certainly could have been done with Derek and Ivy, who seem to genuinely enjoy seeing one another, despite the fact that it's going to get complicated given their professional roles. Kudos to Smash for allowing these two characters to actually want to date, and taking sexual favoritism off the table. Good choice! It's far more interesting when real feelings are involved. I only wish we got to that moment of security a little faster, so that we could see Derek and Ivy start to construct their fantasy bubble for themselves. Then, during the "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" duet, we could maybe get some foreshadowing of the problems they're going to face. And points further if they're willing to hit them head-on, and if we're wanting them to make it through! After all, Derek and Ivy are basically Michael and Julia, in their earliest incarnations, and I wish that we got a stronger line drawn between those parallels. Or, maybe like Michael and Julia, maybe Derek and Ivy are doomed. Either way, they're going to face a lot of obstacles if they plan on dating through the production.
Meanwhile, as Marilyn the Musical searched for its Joe, Eileen found herself struggling to secure investors for the show. It's blatantly put forth that her contacts won't back her without Jerry, and even though Jerry is trying to team up with her again, Eileen's digging her heels in and refusing the help. I can't decide what I'd like to see more out of this storyline. On the one hand, it amuses me that every conversation between Eileen and Jerry results in Eileen tossing her drink in Jerry's face. Plus, Jerry's jealousy is annoying, and the obvious lack of faith the investors have in Eileen is so patronizing I want to vomit. Putting all those together, I'd like to see Eileen step up and get the money and put on the show herself and basically kick everyone's asses. On the other hand, I like the idea of seeing Eileen and Jerry resuming their business partnership without restarting their relationship - it could be interesting. Either way, there's plenty of drama to mine, and hopefully will amount to another couple Manhattans in Jerry's face.
The financial pressure is also put on Karen, who is now in the ensemble for the workshop, and facing a situation that not only sucks, emotionally, but that will also put a hurting on her wallet. Dev offers to support her, but she's not sure she's ready for that, and so she returns home to Iowa for a weekend to take a break from both her Broadway fantasy and reality. (Oh hey, is that another thematic connection we could've built on? Perhaps. It's a stretch, but something could've been done; sure.) In the end, her dad gives her a check to extend her dreams, and hopefully something good will come of her willingness to accept a part in the ensemble of a workshop that's not even guaranteed the stage.
I'm not sure where Smash is taking Karen, but it'd be nice if they could find something that's not full-throttle moping about rejection but also far from throwing a wrench in Marilyn's production. Granted, I don't know exactly what that could be, but hopefully the writers will find something for Karen to do that allows us to see her talent, and keeps her engaging in the storylines. I will say, Katharine McPhee performed the hell out of "Redneck Woman," and I wish that we'd seen that Karen at some point in the first two episodes. That's a lady who can carry a Broadway show! Spunk, charm, and a powerhouse vocal? Seeing is believing, and damn, girl, I saw it.
Finally, I have to talk about Ellis. I say this with immense reluctance, because I'm pretty sure that if I could dropkick any character off of a TV show's roster, it would be this guy. Seriously. Why is he the source of all this conflict? He's an assistant! He has no power in this universe! Why is he written to have all this power? It makes me hate him. I get that there's supposed to be conflict, and that sometimes an audience loves to hate a villain, but I don't think this is a suitable manifestation of either of those points. Conflict should not be boomeranging in from an outside presence who should legitimately have nothing to do with the main decisions being made by main characters. I'd much rather see conflict that arises naturally through complicated relationships and difficult decisions, not as a result of some asshole twerp stealing Julia's notebook for kicks and plotting some sort of blackmail against her because he eavesdrops on everything. Ugh. Go away, Ellis! No one likes this guy. Give me my conflict elsewhere, please.
Unfortunately, it looks like Ellis has some tricks up his sleeve, and I'm going to scoff annoyedly at every turn. But, Smash presented a third episode that was solid and entertaining, with a handful of good choices for these characters that make it much easier to stay engaged in their storylines. I'm glad! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to "Redneck Woman" a few more times and try not to think about Ellis' existence on this show.
The Report Card:
Musical Numbers: A
Episode MVP: Karen