Smash: The Cost of Art, Indeed

Smash S01E04: "The Cost of Art"

There was a point in the history of network television when the drives of artistry and commerce were both considered, and almost instantaneously artistry was laughed out of the room. Since that day (probably a week before Felix the Cat aired) anything of distractingly high quality has been viewed as almost ostentatious, And Smash is just that: noticeably high-quality, with higher aims, with higher ends, and with higher standards than the shows it is meant to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with, a predicament it now shares with its protagonist, Karen.

I do love seeing people tell Katharine McPhee to pipe down. While my cold coal heart has warmed to Karen, it is in no small part because in this episode she was force-fed humble pie.

Karen's first rehearsal for the new workshop established three premises that are sure to guide the rest of the story: 1) the absolute value of being the star, possessing the role of Marilyn, 2) Karen's realization that Ivy is sleeping with Derek, and 3) Ivy's insecurity with regard to Karen. This is really all the premise the writers need to conjure up a Greek tragedy in Danskins. And while Ivy was put in a position to blossom into a bitchy diva villain in the first part of the episode, the second part made her a heroine again, when her show-stopping swing number secured the future of the workshop by charming zillionaire tween Nick Jonas.

I know the Jonas brothers are a big deal or something, and this tween did a great job, but honestly, when Megan Hilty is transitioning from breathy Marilyn to Broadway virtuoso in that dress, its well-nigh impossible to take your eyes off of her. Especially while Ivy clearly feels like her hard-won role could be plucked from her at a moment's notice—as Derek says, "There's nothing safe about being a star." It's hard to imagine that Karen would have pulled off such a high-pressure impromptu performance.

The number was another example of Smash working hard to make the musical numbers arrive organically in the script, and it was a gracefully placed interlude that intertwined the two story threads—Eileen's struggle to hustle funding for the workshop, and Ivy crossing the threshold from chorus girl to star (a transition that will also hopefully take her from Derek's secret squeeze to his public muse). Even though the financing subplot was written with fairy-tale simplicity, it was both intriguing and believable.

Less believable were the Lee Press-On Best Friends that Karen acquired after a speech about how SHE could have had Ivy's job but she decided NOT to sleep with the director. You can climb down off that pyre anytime, Joan of Arc, because it's quite possible that life is a little more ambiguous than that. Maybe if I were a bigger fan of Katharine McPhee I'd be like, "Yeah, damn, can't you all see she's so talented?! She was robbed?!" But hey: It's effing Megan Hilty as Marilyn. That's kind of a perfect fit! And Karen was audibly singing over her in rehearsal, which is rude! Unless Ivy pushes Karen down the stairs, it's going to be hard for me to root against Ivy. And shame on Ivy's friend for not defending Ivy and telling Karen, "Hey, Ivy's single and free to mingle. Get a life." Instead, Ivy's friend (did she ever have a name?) decided to round up two other dancers and fairy-godmother Karen into some new rehearsal clothes.

I don't blame Karen for coming to the conclusion that Ivy won her part on the casting couch; if I were in her position, I would have been furious. And her awkwardness in rehearsal was truly endearing, it was the adversity we'd long been missing for our presumed heroine. Still: A) I'm fairly certain there is NO trendy NYC Karaoke bar just lets people dance onstage to music and then cuts out key solos, and B) Karen winning over her fellow backup dancers felt a little rushed. If they were all brand-new, it would've read as the phenomenon of people in a new city cliquing up preternaturally fast. But these are seasoned ensemble dancers—Karen is the only real newbie—so it's hard to believe they'd take their precious time and spend it on teaching Karen not to sing over the lead vocalist.

And considering that the goal of their intervention was to keep Karen from upstaging the rest of the ensemble, they kind of failed. Because Karen elbowed them all out of the way for a solo during their chicken-dance rendition of "Rumour Has It."

Onward. Tom's date was handsome as can be, he looked like Paul Rudd with a smattering of Gavin Rossdale, I hope he sticks around. Julia had an awkward moment with her ex-lover, and I admit, the way she veered away from Ellis in the opening of the episode cracked me up. There's no dust on Debra Messing's comic timing. Thankfully, the show seems to have jettisoned the bewildering, angsty adoption and is now basing its stories firmly in the rehearsal space, an airy dance studio that welcomed us back with the flourishes of light piano and the laughter of stretching dancers. The naturalism of the setting is another perk of the show-within-a-show premise: This gorgeous studio, as I found out yesterday during an interview with Megan Hilty, is also where the cast rehearses off-camera.

As long as Smash stays predominantly in that space, with occasional forays into restaurants, offices, and Karen's apartment, it can capture with stunning clarity such a rich and layered world. Smash is already better than it has to be, and this episode really brought more complexity to all the relationships that the first three episodes worked hard to set up. There is so much going on emotionally and financially and in the relationship dynamics of the cast, and so much spectacle, and yet it's all kept entirely plausible and neatly contained in a pacing and dialogue that rarely feels unnatural.

That said, given its alarming ratings drop since the pilot, Smash's star status is as uncertain as Ivy's at this point. There's nothing safe about going above and beyond on TV, of honoring certain standards of performance and production value simply because you want greatness, not just profitability. If Smash goes under, it will be because of the superiority and integrity of its artistry, and not because of any lack, and that will be an indictment on all of us.


QUESTIONS:

– Are you still kind of rooting for Ivy or did she become more of a villain this episode?

Nick Jonas did a fine job, did you want to see more or less of him?

– Did this episode make you like Karen more? Was it fair for Karen to assume that Ivy had slept her way into the role, after what Derek put her through, or was that writing off Ivy's talent too quickly?

– Do you ever go to dance bars in NYC and dance up onstage while people watch? Is this a new trend?

– Is >Smash the best thing NBC has done in years and is that why its flagging in the ratings?

– Can everybody tell at least five of their friends to watch Smash?

Finally, staggering applause for the10thsmydr, who got the trivia question from last week: Marilyn refused to accept being cast by Fox in the titular role of The Girl in the Pink Tights. This week's Marilyn Trivia Question: What remarkable inscription was engraved on a money clip Marilyn gave her make up artist, Whitey Snyder?

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Mar 05, 2012
- Never was rooting for Ivy. She's talented, and has the look, but she's a bitch, when she doesn't have to be.



- He did, and I think they showed just the right amount. His face when Ivy asked him to show her the bedrooms was awesome!



- I always liked Karen. And while Ivy is talented, I think Karen is spot on thinking that Ivy got the role since she slept with Derek, considering Derek tried to get Karen to sleep with him.



- No, I never go to dance bars.



- Community is the best thing NBC has done in years, but Smash is up there on the list.



- Sure, I can.



Now, in response to the whole "Karen butting ahead and doing a solo in the middle of the song." I took that as an imagined scene. It didn't happen, Karen was "dreaming" it, since she wants to be a star. So, she didn't elbow anybody out of the way. And, how do you know that the dance people didn't know the guy that runs the place, hence why they were allowed up on stage?



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Mar 03, 2012
Karen is sooo blah, she NEVER could've pulled off that impromptu song and dance, but I don't love Ivy either, maybe it's her lack of a neck that gets me!

I can't stand the assistant, I think he really over steps his boundaries. I know that there's lots of sympathizers out there, but really, he is an assistant, he had no business showing up to that party, that was crazy!!
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Mar 03, 2012
Team Ivy
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Mar 01, 2012
This show should be taken off the air. The ratings have dropped every week......11.4 million viewers......8.1 mil and last week 6.5 mil. Pretty soon it's rating will be in 30rock territory, which also should be dropped.
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Mar 01, 2012
I wouldn't mind watching everyone else in the cast and the premise is palatable, but so much emphasis is on McPhee, whom I have found irritating since AI, that I can't bring myself to tune in.
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Mar 01, 2012
That Jonas guy was sweet - and loaded so yes please - more more... Maybe these Jonas brothers people are financing Smash the series and this is kind of meta a la community? It is a bit classier than Subway product placement (but still missing the Buymore)....
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Feb 29, 2012
"Since that day (probably a week before Felix the Cat aired)"

LMAO!! Who dat cat???

Sorry, Lily, ALL my viewing is now done online, commercial free. I'm no help.



Do you ever go to dance bars in NYC and dance up onstage while people watch? NO



DID you ever go to dance bars in NYC and dance up onstage while people watch? YES, and I'll never admnit to when but I danced with a half dozen Rockettes on stage at R.C.H.!!

"Whitey Dear, while I'm still warm."

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Feb 29, 2012
I really like this show although I haven't watched it live since the 1st episode. I am actually team Karen, not team Ivy so I loved Karen oversinging her! Megan Hilty looks cheap to me and I don't like that!
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Feb 29, 2012
P.S. I think Ivy was great in this episode and I loved her preformance. I hope her relationship with Derek won't become too toxic. Yes, this episode did make me like Karen more, even though the other dancers basically failed in their quest to stop her from upstaging everyone. I think what won over the first dancer was the whole, you used to be just like me once apple of Karen. Possibly the dancer was just paying forward a makeover someone did for her (or wished someone had done for her) when she was an unfashionable, nieve, newcomer, from a small town. Also, whatever else you can say about Katharine MacPhee, you can see in Karen's face that she loves to dance to the point that she can't seem to stop herself getting lost in the moment.
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Feb 29, 2012
I don't think Karen wrote off Ivy's talent. I think Karen knew that they were both extremely talented, but that the affair may have tipped may have tipped the scale in Ivy's favour, either intentionally or unintentionally.
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Feb 29, 2012
Let me just start by saying that I've had a crush on Katharine McPhee since Idol. I don't watch Idol, but she transcended the show with the stories about her battles with an eating disorder. And Lily, be honest with yourself, you don't like her because she totally gives you a toothache. A little secret, we all get one. But as a guy, she's got it all: looks, sass, sweetness, and she sells those doe eyes like Bambi. Despite my love of Karen, I still really love Ivy too. I feel like she's really lost trying to find herself and that there's a lot more depth to her character...or could be, it's all a question of how talented the writers continue to be. As one of Karen's champions I was initially put off by Ivy's dismissing her from rehearsal, but after I thought about it, I would have totally done the same thing in her position. Let's be honest here, she was being upstaged by someone who nearly beat her to begin with. The last thing she needs is getting usurped before the script is even complete.



This show is truly fantastic. I keep telling all my friends whether they like Broadway or not (which I do), they need to be watching this show. It is about 9 rungs higher than the bar network TV has set for itself. I thought NBC had a winner in Southland some years ago, but I like it better on cable. They finally found something to rescue us from the dross that is normally found in the cesspool that has become network television, and I can't wait for more!
More+
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Feb 29, 2012
I really hate Ivy, and BTW she DID got the job for sleeping with the director, lets not forget Derek wanted Karen until certain blond got under the sheets with him...

Karen is not trying to overshadow Ivy its just that ANYONE overshadows her... I mean I could stand next to her just clapping my hands and it would be better than her...

Ivy was a complete diva... What has she done? NOTHING! her "10 years in business" havent even got her a nice apartment. She was being a b+tch because she knows Karen is way better than her... I cant wait for Karen to take the lead on the role and send Ivy to back of the ensemble.

I really hope this show doesnt get cancelled.
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Feb 29, 2012
I stopped truly liking Ivy when she slept with the Devil. I always liked Karen. I was torn between both of them in the beginning and I was gonna go off of Ivy's experience and say she should get the part. I was proud of Karen walking out of David's place without sleeping with him. Since Ivy did sleep with him, I no longer like her as much. She's still talented, but she lowered herself for no reason. Couldn't she have went to bed with him after casting was complete if she had to do the dude. He's not even worth it! I'm happy Karen stood up for herself and those 3 came around to help her tone it down a little. She apparently didn't know she was doing anything wrong. Again, my reason for saying Ivy should have just gotten the part on experience alone. I'd hate to lose this show, it turned out to be great, but it's on NBC and that may be a problem. I've spread the good word with my co-workers and hopefully more folks will tune in.
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Feb 29, 2012
Ivy's been the villain from the beginning...

She DID sleep her way to the top - or at least for a vote in her direction. She has talent, but her lack of morals and sinister ambition overshadow her skills. We all know what happens when you sleep your way to the top...you eventually fall off the bed and no one is there to help you up. I really liked Nick Jonas on the show and would love to see more of him. Great voice by the way, it was hidden behind all those Disney logos and squished between his two bros. My days of partying in bars is behind me, but hot girls always danced on speakers and the stage...no one sang, but we always danced on the stage - even when a band was playing.
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Feb 29, 2012
-Team Karen

-I think Nick would be good. Recurring character, though.

-Again... Team Karen

-I can't say that I have

-It's the 20th Century NBC effect. If it was on CBS, we wouldn't be having this conversation

-Already done.
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Feb 29, 2012
Karen doesn't think she should be handed everything. She wants everything like EVERYone in showbiz. All she thought she deserved this time was not to get fired out of the chours because of Ivy's self-esstem issues.
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Feb 29, 2012
I'm sooo rooting for Ivy, Karen was so hogging the limelight (in rehearsal and the extremely realistic nightclub). If you're in the chorus don't sing louder than everyone else! Ivy might have been a little bitchy about it but having your competition around all the time, especially in a line of woirk where nothing is safe until the curtains goes up must be very stressful. I wouldn't want her there either.

God and I just can't stand McPhee. Ivy is the perfect Marilyn why would anyone cast a stick-figure like Karen if you can have Ivy? I wish they hadn't set the thing up with a main character (whose boyfriend and apartment and parents, etc get shown) and the competition. They might get more people to watch if they left it more open who got the job in the end especially since I get the feeling that a lot of people are rooting for Ivy...
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Feb 29, 2012
I agree with almost everything you said in your review except for one key part: Nick Jonas was terrible. He has a weak, unimpressive voice and an uncharismatic stage presence when performing. "Just Haven't Met You Yet" is such an energetic, upbeat song and Nick Jonas really didn't do it justice. I couldn't help thinking all of the legitimate singers on set were grimacing on the inside.
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Feb 29, 2012
dislike Ivy with a passion!
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Feb 29, 2012
- Great show, I missed the episode though.... stupid dog

- This show would have been a better fit for cable

- Marilyn Trivia Question: "While I'm Still Warm"

-Good news! Smash has finally reversed its rating slide. Smash rose 4% to a 2.4 adults 18-49, vs. a 2.3 rating last week.

Viewers in millions:

-last week: 6.47 vs

- this week: 6.85



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Feb 29, 2012
Did the dog insist on seeing Castle? :) Also very heartening to hear about ratings jump, this morning I googled Smash ratings and was really overjoyed that things are back on an upswing for them.
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Feb 29, 2012
If only Katharine McPhee could sing or dance. Even after her "intervention" she was completely out of time with the backup dancers and she hadn't learned a thing. It is easy to hate Ivy and her insecurities, but Karen is asking for the world to be handed to her without ever paying her dues.
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Feb 29, 2012
Is a real shame this show doesn't get more views. Probably because people think is Glee for adults or something.

-Ivy was a bit annoying in the first half of the episode, but she is still my favorite and i hope she gets something good on the episodes to come, even if it's not the Marilyn role.

- I did relate more to Karen in this episode, but i just can't bring myself to root for her for some reason.

By the next week's promo, things don't look good for Ivy, but promos can be misleading so there's still hope she not going down just yet.
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Feb 29, 2012
I am actually taking a rather violent disliking to Karen, I simply can't tell why exactly. Just that she is so smug. Musical stars struggle for years to get out of the chorus and then to get any recognition at all, and she thinks she should be handed everything just because she can sing? Indeed - get off the damned high horse. And, to add, if Ivy had gotten the part because she was sleeping with Derek, I'm very sorry, but that is just how real life works and you've got to suck it up. I really would not like it if she got the part away from Ivy. Everytime I put Smash on, I sneak a peak at the last minutes just to make sure it hasn't happened and will give me a nasty surprise.
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Feb 29, 2012
SMUG. That's the word I've been looking for, that's exactly what gets to me about Katherine McPhee. From her time on AI, she just seemed so very self-satisfied, and that is a large part of Karen's character. Plus, to be fair, her voice profile is pure Aguilera, there's none of the softness or vulnerability that was a hallmark of Marilyn's singing (which Megan can channel effortlessly)
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Feb 29, 2012
"Whitey Dear, While I'm still warm, Marilyn."



Great episode too!
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Feb 29, 2012
Dislike Ivy more and more! Go team KAREN!
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