Thursday, May 10, 2012

TV Report Card: Smash 1x13 - "Tech"

I'm not sure when exactly the change happened, but I've reached a point where I genuinely enjoy watching episodes of Smash.  Sure, it's not the way I thought I was going to enjoy watching - turns out this show is sudsy and not to be taken too seriously - but if you let go of what Smash could be under different intention, it's an entertaining hour of television.  The characters are finally engaging with one another, and even though it's in places contrived or melodramatic, they are also finally taking action and behaving like real humans.  I've been wishing since Day 1 that Smash would ratchet up their dramatics, and finally, we're seeing that happen.  It makes the show so much more enjoyable to watch, even if I'm just rolling my eyes at Julia's day-late-and-dollar-short insistence on turning away Michael Swift, or wondering what the hell Derek is doing flirting with another incarnation of Marilyn, or snidely asking Dev if he wants an effing trophy for not sleeping with someone who's not his girlfriend.

Yes, "Tech" was drama-filled, and therefore certainly not uninteresting.  With previews for Bombshell rapidly approaching, tensions are high, disasters are striking, and relationships are tested.  The first big obstacle came in the form of some random named Ted getting a TV pilot.  Big deal.  Who's Ted?  Oh, he's the guy they got to play DiMaggio after Michael Swift left the show.  Got it!  So, this actually is a big deal, apparently, for not only the show, but also Julia.  The core conflict came from Eileen and Derek wanting to summon Michael Swift to resume the role, while Julia would have rather set herself on fire and plunged off a tall building into a shark tank.  

Okay, okay.  I'm exaggerating.  But frankly, not by much.  Julia spent the entire episode with her heels dug in, and threatened to quit Bombshell altogether if Swift got the role of DiMaggio.  This of course put Eileen in a sticky situation, as well as Tom, who agreed with Eileen professionally, but felt obligated to agree with Julia personally.  Honestly, it seemed like everyone was making a mountain out of a molehill.  Really, Julia just can't stay on as playwright and refuse any contact with Michael Swift?  Really, if Julia walks, the whole production goes under and Eileen is a complete failure?  Although, at least with the "if Julia walks" scenario, we got to understand what exactly the consequences were, even if they seemed exaggerated.  With "if Julia stays," it was left unexplained, and by the way the show treated the storyline, I was beginning to think that an actual meteor might hit Boston if Julia and Michael both worked on the show.  I mean, I understand Julia's emotions and the fragility of her personal life since Frank's return home, but I wish she had outright explained how exactly Michael Swift returning to Bombshell would affect her.  Would she be tempted to go back to him?  Would it dredge up bad memories?  Would she worry he might pressure her into cheating again like he did last time?  Would she worry about what Frank and Leo might think of her?  It could be any of these, as long as the stakes were outlined.

This would also be good to know considering the outcome of the storyline.  Frank and Leo told Julia they wouldn't let her quit, even though she always has trouble separating work from family, and wanted her to go to Boston.  She relented, on the condition that they go with her.  Woo, one big happy Houston family!  But now that Michael Swift is going to return to Julia's orbit, I wish even more that the show had taken the time to outline her fears of the scenario - if only for us to empathize with Julia when she's inevitably put in the situation.  Furthermore, it would help us root for her in the predicament, and cheer for her when she (hopefully) emerges from it with family life and marriage vows intact.  Fingers crossed that this is the actual intended result of Michael's return - an obstacle for Julia and her family to overcome - and the Houstons will emerge stronger than ever!  Because I don't think I can take any more family drama with them. Let's stick to happy pancake-making, please.

The DiMaggio switch had more consequences than threatening Julia's stabilizing family life; it also had the unexpected effect of bringing Derek and Rebecca Duvall closer together.  Let it be known, "Tech" was the first episode that treated Rebecca Duvall like a three-dimensional character!  From the minute she confessed to Karen that performance-related fear never goes away, I knew we were finally being shown a Rebecca who is a Real Human Character with Feelings.  And I loved it!  Yes, her actions were a bit exaggerated, but at least now I understand her.  She finally protested Derek's lack of consideration and perhaps even respect for her, and weirdly, he responded by using her own psychology to guide her interpretation of Marilyn.  At first I just thought he was being a good director by manipulating a performance out of Rebecca, but then they started making out and now I'm just assuming that Derek has a Marilyn fetish.  It's a strange and transfixing dynamic between Rebecca and Derek, and, not unlike a trainwreck, I can't seem to look away. 

Unfortunately, Ivy had her suspicions about Derek's infidelity (despite him having let slip that he loved her?) and her instincts led her to overhear Derek and Rebecca presumably having sex in Rebecca's dressing room.  Ouch.  First, she gets Marilyn yanked out from under her, then her boyfriend?  I'm sensing that Smash loves knocking Ivy off her horse, and as long as they allow her to get back up, I'm fine with the construct.  Ivy is a precious little downtrodden soul wrapped up in insecurities and sharp edges, and all I want to see is her being successful and having friends.  I'm less interested in seeing her sleep with Karen's boyfriend, though.

Here's what I don't get.  Why did Smash force this occurrence?  I don't understand.  I think they're going for the "jilted lovers" angle, but you know who's not a jilted lover?  Dev.  You know who is a jilted lover?  KAREN.  If you're reading this review, you probably watched the episode, and therefore don't need me to spell this out, but please humor me.  See, Dev wanted to visit Karen in Boston.  Karen said it's complicated and she wouldn't have a lot of time to spend with him.  So, Dev hangs out with RJ and a bottle of bourbon, and they share a pretty solid makeout.  Whoops!  Naturally, the correct course of action for this blunder is to travel to Boston to surprise your girlfriend with a marriage proposal.  And when she didn't say yes, he had the audacity to get mad at her!  I don't understand how the narrative could possibly want me to like Dev at the end of "Tech."  His and Karen's problems came roaring into the open, where he blamed her for his not taking a job in D.C. that she didn't even know about, and then somehow turned his transgression with RJ into the beautiful impetus for his undying love and marriage proposal to Karen.  Then, to cap it all off, he picked up a girl in a bar on the heels of the argument!  (Seriously, Karen, I hope you this dude.)

So no, I don't get any of this.  Do the writers want me to hate Dev?  Because I do, a little, now.  I get that his and Karen's relationship has problems that need(ed) to be worked out.  But he handled it terribly!  And I'm still frustrated by the fact that both Ivy and Karen got cheated on this episode, providing another great platform on which to relate to one another, and instead of commiseration we got Ivy sleeping with Karen's almost-fianc√©, knowing full well his relationship with her.  Way to add more thorns and brambles into the Karen-Ivy dynamic, Smash writers.  They even busted out an impromptu "sing-off," wherein Ivy totally dragged down the party's buzz with a heartbreaking rendition of "I'm Going Down," but there was no actual competition.  Karen watched on, mesmerized at the performance.  So what is your game, writers?!  Literally every Karen-Ivy scene has potential for positive development, and instead, we get a Dev-Ivy hookup.  Belabored siiiiiiigh.  A very large "NO." is scrawled at the end of my notes, and I feel that summarizes my feelings nicely about this whole Dev business, and also what I think Karen should tell Dev when he inevitably comes crawling back to her.

(On the bright side, I am more sympathetic to Karen than ever before!  Eh, and of course I still like Ivy, even with that evil glint in her eye after learning exactly who just offered to buy her a drink.  Whatever.  I'm a sucker for a downtrodden soul wrapped up in insecurities and sharp edges, okay?  Semi-related: is this a bad time to wonder if the writers chose to drop Ivy's pill addiction?)

The final main storyline of the evening belonged to Sam, who brought Tom home to meet his parents in Boston.  (Or near Boston.  Whichever.)  It was nice to see a parental disapproval storyline that wasn't about Sam being gay, but rather his choice of profession.  Having a career in dance is difficult, full of risk for injury, low-paying, and ultimately temporary.  His parents are unconvinced that this is best for Sam, and Tom, in an effort to get in good with the family, voices similar heretofore-unmentioned concerns.  Naturally, (this time I use that word without a trace of sarcasm) Sam doesn't appreciate other people talking about his choices with such an air of conspiratorial disrespect, and calls them out on it.  It manifests into a, well, manifesto about why he chooses to participate in the theatre, and results in Tom telling him he, Sam, is his, Tom's, best self.  I won't lie; I don't really get what that means, but it sounds sweet and seemed to be a nice thing to say, seeing as it led to kissing.  Yay, Tom and Sam!

It bears mentioning as well that we were treated to some extra little character interactions, like Ivy helping Derek solve his staging problem, Tom and Derek's endless bickering over the show's progress, Ellis continuing his pledge of loyalty to Ivy, and Nick supporting Eileen's business decisions.  Smash is handling its ensemble and their dynamics well these days, and this is probably a contributing factor to the show - and its characters - being engaging and enjoyable.

Ultimately "Tech" delivered a dimensionalized Rebecca Duvall, new obstacles for Bombshell and characters, and a few relationship shake-ups.  I can genuinely say I am looking forward to next week, as I feel pretty invested in these characters and their messy, tangled lives!  I really hope people stop cheating, though.  That'd be nice.  Oh, and more positively-developed Ivy-Karen interactions, too.  (Belabored siiiiiiigh.)

The Report Card:
Dialogue: B
Plot: B
Character: B
Musical Numbers: A
Episode MVP: let's say Sam!

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