This week on Smash we thankfully got less Katherine McPhee which made the episode much more bearable. Not many musical numbers – but we got a new character with some serious pipes to compensate and one that took an unpredictable u-turn.
Let’s take a closer look after the jump:
Let’s just jump right in and start out with the good – Will Chase who plays Michael Swift. Michael comes in to round out the leads for “Marilyn: The Musical” (A title that really needs to be changed) playing love interest, Joe DiMaggio. I’ve seen Chase before in the “Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway” DVD as well as in some bootleg Miss Saigon clips on YouTube with Lea Salonga (aka Broadway Goddess). He was amazing when I saw him then, and he’s equally as good here. There was such a reserved beauty in his final number with Ivy (Megan Hilty) that crosscut between in-studio workshop, on-stage production. I could have done without the Julia (Debra Messing) bits. I would have much rather had the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the two clearly seasoned Broadway performers doing their thang. Both Hilty and Chase are excellent at showing range – they can do big and forceful during the stage numbers (in this episode Chase gets that trophy for his Bruno Mars number) and pulled back and reserved (Hilty’s work in her more vulnerable bedroom scenes with Jack Davenport’s Derek). This spectrum definitely needed on the small screen – we need their Broadway chops, but we also need to see how they can act for the camera. (*cough McPhee please take note cough*) Needless to say the closing scene was the most effective of the episode by far.
So how did Julia get into that mix in the first place? Turns out that Julia had an affair with Michael five years prior and they’re both looking to put it behind them despite lingering feelings. The happy Houston montage is likely foreshadowing how difficult Julia will struggle with this unrequited love. Chase and Messing do the whole “longing looks” really well. Their respective domestic home lives also seem as equally genuine as their elevator encounter, stacked with palpable sexual tension.
I especially loved how Julia broke out of her predictable one-dimensional frame this episode, apparent when she and Tom (Christian Borle) have it out about how Ivy is knocking boots with Derek. Tom is determined to think Ivy is being taken advantage of (yawn) but instead of taking on the clear opposing position, Julia expresses a much more reasoned, and realistic stance. She essentially lists possible reasons for it – without getting emotional about any of it, and ultimately shrugs it off saying it’s really none of their business. No judgement. When people start working in shows together, they inevitably get the hots for each other. We can look to the tabloids for confirmation (Messing and Chase themselves are currently embroiled in this). I think it opens up a messy discussion about the nature of cheating and human desire without taking a heavy-handed position. Julia’s initial portrait of her perfect family contrasted with her frank explanation regarding Ivy and Derek is indicative of how layered her character can be. Let’s hope the show allows Julia to go to more honest places and break those clichés.
So that’s the good- what about the bad? No surprise here – it’s McPhee. I didn’t mind her karaoke performance because I can see she’s trying (poor thing), but there was more energy and emotion coming from the crowd of extras. I’ve spent enough time ragging on McPhee so I’ll leave it at that, but I think the show goes in the right direction when it is more of an ensemble piece rather than just focusing on how Karen’s going to “make it after all”. This week Smash did a better job at this and hopefully will continue on this path.
- I literally gagged when I heard one of Karen’s insipid small town friends say “Feminism’s overrated” in an attempt to encourage Karen to take boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey) up on his offer to support them temporarily. Thanks writers for that gem of a line! (Please note my dripping sarcasm) It’s likely to be trivial to most, but trite statements like these are hurtful to coming to a more inclusive definition of feminism that celebrates women’s choices no matter what they may be (Read: Choosing to be financially independent or dependent doesn’t make you more or less of a feminist)
- Ellis (Jaime Cepero) turns out to be a dick, but arguably more interesting as well when he steals Julia’s notebook and plots to get a cut of the musical because it was his initial idea. WARNING: He’ll lose me in an instant if he decides to blackmail Julia with the news of her affair with Michael.
- Dylan Baker who plays Karen’s father is all but wasted here. He’s an amazing actor and again, is relegated to a flat, one-dimensional caricature. The scene when Karen departs from her parents is sickening sweet. I urge you to go and check him out in Season Four of Damages.
So Smash fans, what did you think of this week’s episode? I’m starting to see glimmers of potential which is encouraging – are you feeling the same? Or have you been on board since day one? Let us know in the comments section.