Smash: Now in 3-D

Smash S01E03: "Enter Mr. DiMaggio"

Now that we've reached the third episode of Smash, I need to pause for a moment and quit gushing about the sexy rehearsal spaces, bracing New York air, and layered storytelling. It was all there last night (except, of course, during Karen's visit to Iowa) but from here on out this show will be dogged by my high expectations. Instead I am going to focus on the characters, because they are meeting the high standards of realism set by their gorgeous setting and frankly I just want to give a tip of the hat to the writing room.

Derek is probably the most fascinating character on the show right now. He's having an affair with Ivy, a fact that was quickly broadcasted to her colleagues in her current production, as well as Tom and Julia. The issue of whether or not she got the part because she slept with the director was pithily summed up with: "Well, it didn't hurt." Derek is hot and cold on Ivy, and we were left wandering right alongside her how invested he is in their relationship. He claims he hasn't had her over to "his place" because plumbing work has turned his kitchen into a disaster area. The genius of their was that Smash never showed us the kitchen to confirm or deny his excuse for keeping her at arm's length, so we're left analyzing Derek and Ivy's relationship without really knowing anything, just like Ivy.

Something else Ivy doesn't know: Derek arranged another late-night meeting with Karen, who's awkwardly been hired to join the ensemble of Marilyn, and told her that "a lot can happen" between a workshop and a Broadway premiere. "A lot can happen between the director's sheets, too, in five years," is what I heard in that statement. Dev crashing Karen and Derek's business meeting/sexy cocktails outing was very charming. I like a proactive love interest, and his little sparring match with Derek had just enough edge.

Karen continues to be the world's most enviable sad sack. Yes, she did not land a giant Broadway role with no experience, but she's been cast in the ensemble and her boyfriend keeps diligently offering to financially support her. Her trip to Iowa revealed that her loving, if concerned, parents live in a ginormous house and her friends go into frenzies of adulation when she walks in a room. I thought her gift to her pregnant friend (a human-sized teddy bear with eyes seemingly made from a swirling existential void) was the creepiest, lamest gift you could ever give a new mother, especially if she's a single mama, which is what I think they were insinuating. And then of course we got a rip-rollicking karaoke song from Karen. We GET that she's got a wonderful voice. You can check that box, we understand. Is Karen going to get a five-minute slot in EVERY episode to tread the boards of the cross-platform marketing? (The Smash Cast's version of "Redneck Woman," now available on iTunes!)

There is a lot of room for Karen's character to grow, is what I'm saying, but I suppose she will have to wait until rehearsals start, just like the rest of us.

The real centerpiece of last night's episode was Julia's character. On the one hand, things came to a head with Ellis, Tom's long-suffering (and apparently ambitious) assistant. After a couple episodes of her sneering at him or curtly dismissing him, Ellis gave her a little talking to, asserting that he works for Tom, not her, so stop threatening to fire him. If you've ever worked as an assistant, there were fist pumps happening. Debra Messing is great as Julia, but it's blatantly apparent that the way she treats Ellis—like he's an android powered by dog turds—is the way she thinks people are "supposed" to treat assistants. I have a feeling her own assistant is probably watching that scene on a loop and recovery-sobbing right now.

But in tandem with her further disregard for the feelings of "the little people," Julia blossomed in last night's episode as her character was sketched out a bit more to include a past affair with the outrageously talented and handsome Will Chase (Michael Swift). The production team was considering Will to play Joe DiMaggio, and Julia was reticent to cast him because that could mean a resurgence of the feelings that once made her betray her super-boring husband. And now that Michael is also married and has a kid, the stakes are that much higher. The angsty combination of Julia's bitter disappointment in herself and her high-school-crush levels of hormonal bliss was perfectly captured in a silent moment when Julia and Michael walked side-by-side on the Brooklyn Bridge. Julia's regret—both over her betrayal and for having to lose that connection—really served to round out her character to a level of three-dimensionality you don't often see on network TV. I love that she told Tom and only Tom, the fact that she had guarded the secret for so long and revealed it to him alone gave weight to both the affair and her partnership with Tom. And how awesome that Ellis overheard, because you know he is going to play that trump card.

Having a secret affair served to rescue Julia from the realm of protagonist stock player and push her into real human woman territory. She's mean to the help, she's a good creative partner to Tom, she's a frazzled writer, and she's got a giant crush on a hot guy. She was the most compelling character on the screen this episode, and that's saying a lot: well done.

In other news, Eileen is struggling to get funding together while making Manhattans the Slushee of Smash.

The staged musical number in this episode was tepid at best. It seemed more high school theater than the other numbers we've seen. Hopefully when they take it to workshop the production team will veto it. That is okay! Karen's rollicking redneck Valentine made up for it and won her the approval of her father, measured conveniently in zeroes on her send-off check.

Smash is making huge leaps in character development in every episode. Frankly this is one of those shows that makes me forget I'm a critic (until the "Redneck Woman" starts tooting up, and then I go fix a sandwich), and just turns me into an ardent, captivated viewer. The storytelling and characters are developing with the complexity and depth the pilot promised us, and if a major misstep is going to be made, the show can confidently say it got to the three-episode mark without making it.


QUESTIONS:

– Ellis: Don't trust him, or you've done the assisting thing and want to see him scrap his way to the top?

– Derek: calculating seducer or restless womanizer?

– Does Karen's cushy set-up in Iowa make her slightly less heroic or more realistic? (The odds aren't exactly stacked against her, with loving parents on one side and a super supportive boyfriend on the other)


*** Finally, pop the champagne, JediViewer, because you correctly answered "Lana Turner" for last week's Marilyn trivia question, "What other star did Johnny Hyde discover? ***

This week's Marilyn Trivia Question: Fox tried to make a movie out of a certain musical and offered Marilyn Monroe the starring role, which she was completely insulted by. What was that musical?

Comments (39)
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Yeah, I know morality is so yesterday right? Well, believe it or not there is still a huge population that practices morality. I loved, loved the talent and was so looking forward to watching a show with great voices, music and story premise. Unfortunately in about 5 episodes I got the probability of adultry, fornication, homosexuality (blatant) drugs and I'm sure I missed a few. So sad that this is yet another TV show that has been removed from my DVR along with many more. It is easy to get sucked in with the great talent but for some of us we will continue to live a clean life which means keeping our brains unpoluted as well. Keep on laughing you guys as your brains disintegrate.
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im not sure if this is the answer to the trivia question, but... "theres no business like show business"?



if someone else got it you'll have to excuse me, i searched the comments and didn't find my or any other answer anywhere that sounded right. if i am correct... sorry its so late, and almost completely also! i kept meaning to read this review and just got around to it since the new episode airs tonight and i didn't want to be an entire review behind : x
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oh.. and "annie get your gun" was the actual answer i meant since the one i put before was the movie :D
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the whole cast on Smash is amazing talented! the voices and the dance is outstanding, loving this show so much, it's a great show. I also love the voice and american idol, and if are as much into music as I am, there are tons of sites to go listen and vote for new singers, at the www.makeastar.com there's weekly competitions in several different categories with cash prices too.
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I don't trust Ellis. But then again, I've never been an assisstant, so maybe I'm missing a crucial part of the emotional backstory (although, I didn't like it when Julia was sneery at him).

Also, I think the cushy Iowa thing makes Karen a little less heroic, and makes me lean more towards Ivy, who I'm increasingly being taken by.



P.S. Anyone else starting to like Jerry? Am I naive in thinking that?
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Debra Messing is amazing! And so was Will Chase. I loved how in his opening scene he was this strong rock star, like I know him from playing Roger in Rent. But with every scene, the writers softened him up bit by bit: playing with his kid, talking to Julia, that last song.. Great job!



Also, I don't blame Julia for treating Ellis like she did. While I liked him in the pilot, he was annoying in this episode. He might become the real "bad guy" of the show, and not Derek or Jerry (who become more likeable each episode).
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The show lost almost half of the audience in the first three episodes (from 11.44 millions to 8.06 to 6.47), which is definitely not a good sign.

I still have to watch this third episode but I noticed a significant decrease between the excellent first and the lukewarm second. I haven't still made up my mind about this show, for some things it's really great, for others (predictability of some scenes, triumph of clichs) I would like to slap the writers.
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Apparently Smash is experiencing alarming ratings drops. Everyone please tell two or three friends to watch this and spread the word. I will probably go out of my mind if they cancel this series. SAVE SMASH!!!
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You called it on the karaoke thing. I'm a stickler for the details. No one was performing karaoke before her friends demanded that Karen sing a song, there was no person working the karaoke system, the music instantly started as soon as she got to the stage and no one ever looked at the little screen where the song lyrics would be. The song was good, but it was a lame setup for a song number. I know you scoff at the whole baby shower in a bar thing, but I've seen worse. I once met a girl who'd dress up her 2 yr old in "going out" clothes complete with leather motorcycle jacket and would hang at the bar all day picking up guys. Classy!



-- I REALLY don't like Ellis (see below).

-- Derek: I don't know what's so calculating about his trying to have sex with the girls he works with, so "womanizing seducer" maybe? Jack Davenport is great in this role.

--Karen's background makes her more realistic to me. The whole "came up from nothing, it's just me against the world" thing has been done to death, so this is a refreshing and realistic change.



Trivia: 20th Century Fox was taking a lot of musicals and turning them into movies back then and Monroe rejected several lead roles, including The Girl in the Pink Tights; How to be Very, Very Popular; Godbye, Charlie; and The Stripper.



On a side note Lily, I just wanted to say how much I like that you take the time to read through and respond to the many comments you receive on your articles. Very cool of you.
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-Ellis. HATE HIM. Cannot stand him and I would be mad at him, too if I were Julia. That said, he's a pretty decent character.

-Derek: calculating seducer.

-More realistic and less heroic. I think.



Regardless, I'm enjoying the show.

As for the Marilyn trivia, which of course I don't know, I'm going to guess something that is obviously not right, and my guess is.... "The Machinist" (It's possible that I just made up that one.)
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Here I go again, Lily!

I seriously love this show and it continues to surprise me. The third episode has managed to live up to the previous episodes, in terms of great acting and writing. That being said, compared to the previous episodes this one was a little bit slow and predictable. I've gotta hand it to the creators, even when it's not that good it still manages to maintain it's superb level of storytelling.

While the episode, managed to introduce a few important story lines, it also spent too much time focusing on stuff we already know: Eileen having a rough time financing the show, Karen being the underdog with big dreams and Ellis is a scheming, ambitious jerk.

Some quicks thoughts:

- Hated the plot device of having Elis eavesdropping while Julia confessed to her affair....totally predictable and just lame. A little bit too soapy for my taste.

- How did Julia keep a lengthy affair from both Tom and Frank, when those are the only two she seems to spend her days with?

- How does Karen keep her waitressing job?

-Who has a baby shower in the middle of a bar/restaurant?

- Why are Karen's parents so unsupportive?

-I doubt that anyone saying of the top of his head "why not do a musical about Marilyn Monroe?" entitles that person to ANY claim of inellectual property or a "created by" credit. I mean, Ellis never wrote anything down or expanded upon his original idea.

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I ask y'all to answer questions often enough, so let me do my best to address yours:

- Soapy! Definitely Soapy...but more solid leverage than rifling through her notebook, which turned out to be a "red herring" kind of plot line.

- Generally people who think they're keeping affairs secret are actually sussed out by everyone around them pretty quickly. I'd like to think Tom was using his acting skills when he reacted to her "big news" but was inwardly like "Yeah we all heard you guys knocking things over in the prop room on a weekly basis."

-She's the only one who knows how to carve roses in the butter pats, so they have to keep her on.

-NO ONE. As soon as I heard "baby shower in a karaoke bar" I thought, STREEEEETCH.

-After this episode, I read them as being more concerned than unsupportive...both my parents are freelance artists, so they've always been down with every crazy plan I've dreamed up. BUt I think most parents get concerned by artistic career goals? Not sure.

-I don't think Ellis will have any legal basis to those claims, unless he takes Julia's notes and copies them into his own notebook and claims to have shared those or something. It would be hard to disprove if it boiled down to he said they said? But he's probably better off going for the blackmail.
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Glad to read other viewers also hate Ellis because it is not often that I wish for a character to be killed off - But Ellis... please send him to LA or just plain over the Brooklyn bridge... He is a scheming self-entitled immoral guy... Off with his head!!!
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I must be the only one who likes Ellis...I did a lot of production assistant work for V after college and a couple times covered the assistant desk of the executive producer. Let me tell you, there is no exaggeration about what kind of hell it is. Complicated coffee orders doesn't even begin to cover it. Think multiple phones, balancing incoming calls from spouses, furious celebrities, and angry yoga instructors. Like, beyond farcical. So I see Ellis and I think "Feel you, bro."
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That's "V" as in "TV" I guess I did not press T hard enuff. Whup.
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Yes - the job is a nightmare..... but where is that sense of self-entitlement come from? Because he said 'Marilyn' he should be paid royalties or something??? Get over yourself Ellis.... or rather get lost Ellis!
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Yeah, but did you steal a private performance video that got leaked all over the internet, pathetically grovel your way back into your job, butt in with unwanted suggestions and comments at the worst possible times, snoop and eavesdrop on every meeting and private conversation, step into the middle of a heated discussion you had no business getting involved in and tell off your boss's best friend and work collaborator after stealing her notebook so you could copy down her ideas and claim them as your own? Being stepped on by an abusive person while trying your best is one thing, but nothing happened to him that he didn't bring on himself. I can't wait to see him get crushed.
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Its also kind of on Tom to reel in his assistant. Julia clearly has very defined boundaries, Tom is just delighted by everything Ellis does.
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Very true, but Tom is a softie. In fact, Ellis has done so much wistful prancing and gushing around Tom, I was SHOCKED that they gave Ellis a girlfriend. Come on... really??
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Well, I wouldn't necessarily go that far. I mean, every show need at least one character to be hated. Else, what would all the haters do with their free time! :D

Plus, characters such as Ellis make shows interesting. After all, somebody has to cause misery and mayhem!
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We all love to have a character to hate. However, I want to hate them because of their character and how well the actor convinces me to hate them; not because I just think the character and acting are seriously subtracting from the show. Kick him off the show and replace him with someone who doesn't annoy me as an actor.
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This is my new favourite show! LOVE IT! And I think the musical she refused to be in was The Girl in the Pink Tights. I think I read somewhere that she boycotted the filming.
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I think Julia's response to Ellis is due to the original leaking of the first song recording; she doesn't trust him (and she's right not to) and wants to protect her work and Tom



Lily: where are you on your Katharine McPhee love/hate scale now? Personally I think she and her costar Razza Jaffrey (Dev) have one of the best understated chemistry on the show. Its one of the most uncomplicated and realistic portrayals of a couple I've seen on tv in a while. I hope they don't add unnecessary (read unrealistic) drama to their relationship
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I love love love Dev. His accent is charming and he brings this very masculine confidence and strength to a role that in another actor's hands could have been a whipped or downtrodden character. Katherine McPhee...her acting is pretty solid so far, and obviously amazing voice but I don't know. I'm edging toward a 4.5 on a 10 scale for her. Of course, it is only episode 3.
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I gotta say I agree. On one hand, I know it's good TV to create tension between characters (especially of the romance kind), but various shows sometimes go overboard with this, putting unbelievable obstacles, where there should be none. I hope they keep this up with Karen and Dev. They're really good together and I hope they'll stay that way.

Although, I also hope for some more development between Karen and Derek. I'm always a sucker for a bad character turned good and I think Karen could be the catalyst (not necessarily as a lover, mind you) for Derek's transformation. I think we saw a bit of this in the pilot, where Derek starts out as a simple evil womaniser but sticks with Karen even though she refused his advances. I think this is some great material. Plus, I love Davenport and I want to love the character he portrays as well. :D
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Okay, I've been an avid reader of, but not a commentor on TV.com for some time now, but the final paragraph of your review inspired me to register just so I could comment. I'm not entirely sure what show you have been watching when you sat down to write this, but it wasn't the same Smash that I've seen.

"Smash is making huge leaps in character development in every episode...The storytelling and characters are developing with the complexity and depth the pilot promised us, and if a major misstep is going to be made, the show can confidently say it got to the three-episode mark without making it."

- I couldn't disagree more. The ONLY character that statement rings true for is Derek, who is by far the most interesting/best thing on the show so far. He has tons of depth and manages to flirt the line between likeable and despicable effortlessly, sometimes within the same scene. He's definitely 95% of why I'm still giving this show a chance. But aside from Derek, this show suffers from a huge flaw, being the fact that it sets up all of its characters (from Karen to Julia to Eileen to Tom, etc) as underdogs fighting against the system to prove that their dream can come true (Everyone says we can't do a musical about Marilyn? What do they know! We'll show them!) when really only Karen can be considered an underdog, and we don't really want to root for her over Ivy anyway. Let's look at the characters - first and foremost, I don't buy into/care about Karen's character for a second. I know she's supposed to be the main protagonist and the one we all root for, but as I believe you pointed out after a previous episode, she's extremely attractive, has a family that loves her and a boyfriend who is willing to support her (emotionally and financially), and without ANY practical experience got cast in the ensemble for a new musical. What, exactly, are we supposed to feel bad about? I don't care much for Ivy either, but at least she's the one you feel for, which is frustrating when you know Karen ends up with the part in the end (unless the marketing campaign lied to us). For the other characters, Tom and Dev are bland and uninteresting, Eileen is becoming a caricature of herself (how many times do we need to see her throw a drink into her ex-husband's face? We get it already) and Julia and Ellis are THE ABSOLUTE WORST. Julia in no way can be considered someone to root for and is a complete unnecessary bitch to Ellis, and has had multiple success on Broadway already. So clearly she has nothing more to prove, and is doing this show because musicals are her calling and it is a good distraction from what a horrible mother/wife she is (until they cast her ex-flame in the show, and now clearly we're going to like her even less when she rekindles the affair), and Ellis is a moron and his character makes no sense whatsoever. It's one thing to finally say you're not going to take any more crap from your boss' partner, and it's another to OUT-BITCH her and make yourself seem like even more of a pain in the ass than you already are. The character involves himself in things that aren't his concern, instead of sitting back and having a more organic idea-sharing process (Tom asks his opinion when he's stumped or something along those lines) and then Ellis actually acts humble when they use his idea instead of craving the recognition.

In the end, the reason this show is quickly losing the large audience it sampled in Week 1 (and will continue to do so) is because rather than set up Karen or Ivy as the sole underdog and have the producers and director play back-up roles/obstacles to overcome in a TRUE underdog story, they decided to try to make you root for every character involved, and in the process lost any sense of central focus and lacked that one character that is intriguing enough to bring you back each week to see what might happen to him/her next.
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Wow I am really glad you registered and commented because this is just an outstanding piece on the show. I agree with you a LOT about Julia. I think she's well written as a multi-dimensional beeyotch, but definitely still a beeyotch, and her behavior to Ellis makes it impossible for me to really like her. Ellis is a moron, but I did enjoy the momentary out-bitching because I think we've all had the fantasy of snapping hard on that meglomaniac coworker.

Also good points about Ivy and Karen. I mentioned when I covered the premiere that Ivy seems more deserving and faced with adversity than Karen. The fact she's slaved away as a chorus girl for a decade and then done all this free work for the production team: having a series of callbacks was pretty insulting to her talent (which, obvs, its Megan Hilty, INCREDIBLE voice)

The thing is, while these characters suffer in comparison to Derek, who is an extremely compelling mix of charming and nefarious, compare them to anything else on NBC or ABC drama-wise right now and it becomes apparent how masterful and restrained the writing is, and how brave they are about making these characters somewhat ambiguous. I feel like two people could have a real conversation about who the real hero is right now, Karen or Ivy, and make solid points, and it would feel like talking about two people. Thats a beautiful thing for a network show three episodes in!

Glad you're finally in the commenting mix!! Welcome to the thunderdome!!!
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Oh, COME ON! How can you not love that drink-in-ya-face! How can you not love a jerk getting a drink in his face?
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All I know so far is that Derek is a massive lad. I loved their British-off, but I feel like it seemed forced and wouldn't ever actually happen.
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They must have written this after casting, yeah? What are the odds that two characters were written as british?
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Agreed - it was a bit less subtle than it would happen in real life but for a general audience they had to make it obvious...
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Oh, it would SO happen. Not always in an actual verbal way, but it definitely would happen. =>
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Well, I will say that her cushy set up in Iowa and financially supporting boyfriend don't make her less heroic, but it doesn't give her the desperation to sleep with a director to get a part. She has enough money to get by on.
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Er... She DIDN'T sleep with him, Ivy did.. And I don't think this the problem is about the money. It's about being able to stand on your own without other people paying your bills all the time.
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Ellis is such a horrible human being. plus, why should he get paid? it wasn't his idea. all he did was basically say "hey, you know that idea you already had? maybe you should do that again." aka, not his idea. and screwing with your bosses friend will just make you get fired when he finds out. the sooner he's gone the better, I fight the urge to fast forward through all of his scenes.



I'm also not a Bruno Mars fan and that rocky version of "Grenade" didn't help that at all.. I even prefered the Bruno Mars original..
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Awesome review, awesome show - keep it rolling!



I gotta say im rooting for Ellis, I wouldn't necessarily trust the guy but I would love to see him scrap his way up! Gotta love a devious underdog!



You got me with the trivia question! I have no idea - she rejected a bunch of fox's projects right? Hope someone can shed some light!!



ps: i'm with you on the redneck woman song!
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Ellis is actually ruining the Smash-experience for me. It is so obvious, so annoying, and he is just a despicable person with no morals. That's not to say that I agree with how he's treated by Julia, but I actually skipped through the parts he was in because I can't stand the guy.
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I honestly don't know what your problem is with the "Redneck Woman" song. I thought it was great and it wasn't overdone as many of Karen's songs in episodes one and two. I think I was having as much fun listening to that song as the character seemed to be having while singing it.

Onto your questions:

1) Hate Ellis. Liked him a lot in the previous two episodes, but this time.. I don't know. I like people who aren't afraid to stand up for themselves and I hate people who think they're better than everybody else (just 'cause...?). But Ellis was definitely slimy today, and a bit of a creep. That stealing the notebook thing and his glee at overhearing Julia's secret? Ugh. And all this crap that he wanted to get paid. For what exactly? A "Hey, let's make a musical about Marilyn" isn't an idea, like Julia nicely put at one point. I think people who actually do the work should be paid for it. I could say "Hey, let's build a teleportation machine!" Should I be paid when somebody builds it in, like, 2025? If so, please remember this day. I just had an idea to build a teleportation machine!

2) I think it's more complicated than just that and I totally love it. It's really boring when characters are *just* good or *just* evil. 'Cause real people rarely are. And I think Derek is the most interesting character on "Smash" (right up there with Eileen). Or maybe I just adore Davenport... Could go either way. :D

3) The former. I grew up in a similar setting. (Loving parents, a comfortable economical status and all that) And I can tell you: it's all good and well, when you're a child. But when you start to grow up and go out into the world... Man, expectations are a b*tch! There really is such a thing as having it too good. Especially when there comes a day when thing suddenly stop being so good. That's a cold shower for ya and it ain't pleasant. Dealing with this sort of thing doesn't make a character more or less heroic. But it does make them more real.
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the song itself was fine, I just don't need a full four minutes of Katherine McPhee proving she should have won American Idol every week...I know they're cross marketing with iTunes and I'm happy that Carrie Underwood is getting a chance to make some more songwriting dough, but trying to squeeze in a number by Karen when she's not even on Broadway or onstage just seemed a little bizarre.
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