Monday, May 21, 2012

TV Report Card: Smash 1x14 - "Previews"

Smash introduced a new character in "Previews" - the Guilt Monster!  It roared into the narrative starting at about the first scene, when Ivy got a call from Karen's phone the morning after picking up Dev in a bar.  From there, Guilt Monster quickly became Ivy's unwanted best friend, and Dev's tempestuous mistress.  It checked in with Julia, which is territory well-charted by now, and decided to skip over Derek completely.  I'm also fairly certain Guilt Monster had something to do with the final minutes taking place in a church, so maybe it's somehow related to Sam.  If anything, we should really be asking ourselves: can Guilt Monster play Marilyn? 

Alas, Guilt Monster would still be as damaging and ugly, even in a blonde wig.  "Previews" continued throwing obstacles in the way of Bombshell, which in turn gave rise to conflicts for the characters.  It's nice to see Smash finally reach this place where the show-within-a-show can more naturally cause change in its participants, while not being shoved to the background in favor of petty drama.  We got to see so much of the production, onstage, as intended!  Call me a dork, but I loved watching the pieces knowing that Julia and Tom wrote everything together - if only we'd gotten to see them interact more with the creative process throughout the season!  "Previews" hinted at moments here and there, like showing Frank and Leo's reactions to "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," for instance, but I do think this could have been more strongly set up during the whole season.

Of course, Bombshell didn't go off without a hitch.  The main problem stemmed from the fact that no one applauded at the end.  Yikes.  Apparently you can't end a musical with a suicide, even though Julia blatantly reminded everyone that this is, in fact, how it happened in real life.  But Eileen wants a standing ovation, and so she put Julia (and Tom?) to the task of penning a new ending - a task we probably won't see completed onscreen, but oh well.  Luckily, Julia has her pesky love affair storyline returning to her, as Michael Swift renewed his role as Can't Take a Hint Guy.  Turns out being asked back to Bombshell is the same as an invitation to Julia's pants, in Michael's mind, and so he tried to rekindle their romance.  Awkward.  She literally had to push him off of her, and this was basically the nail in the coffin for any sort of wishful romance for Julia and Swifty. 

Julia was also quarreling with another man in her life: this time, Tom, whom she has not forgiven for allowing Michael Swift back on the premises.  It hurts seeing the show's best couple openly fighting with one another, and it packed an even greater punch in seeing how much it hurt them.  How heartbreaking were the tears in Tom and Julia's eyes during their auditorium argument?  It was a rough fight too, as both of them clearly knew how to hit each other right where it hurts.  And the chilly silence when Julia showed up to the church and refused to greet Tom!  Yeesh.  But in the end, Smash chose wisely to not drag it out, as Tom and Julia both shelved their grievances and apologized.

Bombshell's crickets-inducing ending had one other damaging effect: it shattered Rebecca Duvall's confidence.  She was already insecure about her performance and desperately needed Derek's constant guidance and approval.  But no applause?  It destroyed her.  So much so that she started choking...?  No, that was her peanut allergy kicking in, as apparently she was poisoned via peanut-infused smoothie.  (Can we all agree it was Ellis?  I hear no nays.)  And that was enough for her: even though she was medically cleared to perform, she backed out of the show and left the role of Marilyn empty.  Now, I'm not opposed to this construct in theory.  But really, she didn't sign a contract or anything?  I guess I can wait to see how Smash handles the logistics of this, but honestly it boomeranged so quickly into an "OH SO IT'S KAREN VS. IVY AGAIN" moment that the show seemed to be purposefully ignoring the rest of the fallout (and plausibility!) of Rebecca's departure. 

It's not like she was getting any likeability points this week, though, in conjunction with her affair with Derek.  True, she comes out of the situation better than Derek, simply because it's not certain Rebecca even knows who Ivy is.  Derek, however, seems to be in full awareness of the situation and simply does not give a crap.  Ivy cornered him and called him out on his lack of communication after the slipped "I love you," as well as the fact that he's sleeping with the new star.  And instead of acting in any way apologetic or remorseful, Derek simply condescended to Ivy.  He's a director, and the star needed his attention.  What other way is there?  I almost expected him to slip a scornful "duh" onto the end of his sentences!  Somewhere in there was a backhanded compliment about Ivy being a professional, and when it was all said and done, I was basically rooting for Ivy to dropkick Derek off the side of a cliff and into a pit of fire.

Truthfully, I wouldn't be opposed to doling out a similar fate to Dev, who bad-decisioned his way into a mess of a situation.  He's at least regretful of his behavior, as he can't seem to shake the Guilt Monster in the wake of his one night stand with Ivy.  But at the same time, I can't help but scowl at the writers who are penning Karen as being apologetic of her behavior to Dev, and wanting to go ahead with the engagement.  No!  No no no!  I can't seem to decide if this is me actually being super invested in Smash, or if I'm yelling about bad story plotting.  Maybe a little of both?  Regardless, the idea that Dev and Karen might be headed towards matrimony on the heels of all their unresolved arguing, tangled up in Karen's apologies and Dev's two incidents of infidelity, is more than a little unsettling.  Mostly, it manages to alienate me from Karen despite the fact that I should feel bad for her.  Let's get some new material for Karen, please!  Something that involves a backbone, and minimizes the opportunities in which she simply does whatever she's told or expected to do.  Break Karen free from that boring character construct, please!

Karen's doormat status is only fueling the guilt in not only Dev but also Ivy.  Apparently this is the turning point for Karen and Ivy's relationship, for Ivy in particular.  She pleaded with Karen not to be nice to her, complimented her, and even hugged her.  Of course, I like this idea in theory, but I fear the writers are holding up this tentative dynamic on the tentpole of Ivy's guilt, and it's not going to be good when the truth inevitably gets out.  Everything that could possibly be built on this halfway friendship is resting on shaky foundation, and I'm hesitant to want it built up any more.  I'm also not terribly keen on the idea that guilt is affecting the way Ivy treats Karen.  It's no coincidence, perhaps, that Ivy becomes the "Other Woman" on the heels of her own boyfriend cheating on her, and so it'd be natural for the writers to draw a line between Ivy's transgression against Karen with Derek's transgression against Ivy.  But no real connection is made, beyond simple parallel, and I'm afraid Ivy's guilt is manifesting in a way that will have no great outcome for any possible friendship with Karen. 

Ultimately, I just feel bad for Ivy, who, yes, has made some bad decisions, but also has been dealt crappy hand after crappy hand - and emerges from most of these situations with very little power.  She has no control over her relationship with Derek.  Dev is now treating her like garbage.  We don't see as many onscreen interactions with Tom and Sam, suggesting that she's been marooned a bit from their friendship since the two started dating.  And truthfully, she doesn't get a whole lot of respect from anyone in the ensemble except Ellis.  When a character's only cheerleader is Ellis, you know this isn't a good thing.  Truthfully, I still can't figure if Smash realizes that they're writing Ivy to be the most sympathetic character, to the point where she's actually the underdog of the whole show.

"Previews" capped off the hour by going to church, where everyone looked appropriately guilty for how reprehensibly they behaved all episode, except Karen and Sam, who adjusted their halos and sang a song for everyone.  These entanglements are firmly set in place to explode in the finale, aptly titled "Bombshell," and I for one am torn between ducking for cover and grabbing the popcorn. 

The Report Card:
Dialogue: B
Plot: B-
Character: B-
Musical Numbers: A
Episode MVP: Julia

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