Smash: "Understudy" Was an Overachiever

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Smash S01E10: "Understudy"

So the promos for this week's episode of Smash were a bit of a bait and switch. After a full seven days of various shots of Uma Thurman glowing into the camera in multiple outfits, our "guest star" only showed up in the last few minutes of the episode. I'd be more upset about it except this particular episode was so involving and fantastic I forgot she was supposed to show up until halfway through. So: False advertising, people who cut the promos for Smash! But since the writing staff/actors have absolutely no influence on promos being cut, let's put the Haterade aside and list all of the ways this was one of Smash's best episodes yet.

I've been accused of being too harsh on Katharine McPhee. I'll admit that before I started watching her for an hour each week, I did not feel as warmly about her as I do now. But she really disappears into her character, and Karen is kind of a walking personification of whitewhine.com. She's entitled and completely self-obsessed, which stars historically are/have to be. She would be more unbearable as a sappy Pollyanna figure, so I appreciate that she's a more accurate depiction of an ambitious, budding star, but as she's constantly patted on the head onscreen, her climb to the top sometimes feels boringly inevitable. And Karen regularly takes amazing things in her life for granted—like parents who write her fat checks, a loving hometown to return to, and a gallant boyfriend who supports her emotionally (not to mention offers to support her financially). Although, she might not have Dev anymore. Poor Dev, his eyes must glaze over when Karen talks about her "promotion."

Yet, he could not bring himself to bore her with news that his worst enemy is his new boss, and he finally reached a breaking point this episode with Karen's showbiz baggage. Can we jump right to that? What a scene.

First of all, maybe it's the reflected brilliance of Jack Davenport, but Karen is always at her best and most likable when she's standing opposite of him. There is an undeniable chemistry between Katharine and Jack, and as awful as his character has been in the past, this episode made me root for them like none other. Him appearing at her door when she was waiting in a skimpy negligee for Dev was a bit of a fantasy, and as Ivy pointed out, he should have just called, but I think we all know by now Derek has a deep crush on Karen, the kind where he might have stolen her V05 conditioner on the way out to sniff during the subway home. His apology made his horrible behavior pre-rehearsal not the least bit less sketchy, but it was a nice gesture...it's just too bad he had to run into Dev on the way out.

What made me smile about this scene was that Karen, who might have brushed off the sounds of the scuffle as a spurt of random NYC violence, hurried to the window when she heard the heavy British slang. When Dickensian invective fills an alleyway, Karen springs into action.

Dev had every right to be furious that Derek would just pop in on Karen, knowing what he knows, and yes, if I were Karen's partner and had heard the whole story, I'd be like "HOW are you still WORKING with this SLEAZEBALL?!" I'm a little concerned that Dev and Karen are over, as Dev is lovely and handsome and gallant on so many levels, but hey, kind of cool that now so many people are siiiiingle right Julia?!

Talk about poor little rich girl syndrome. Julia spent this whole episode being horrible to everyone because she misses her boring nerd of a husband, despite having thrown away their marriage with both hands twice. We already knew that Julia has no respect or patience for people below her pay scale, so it was no surprise when she treated the college interview kid like feces in a sweater, but to walk out on Tom when he presented her with a heartfelt anniversary gift?

Oh, Jules. I'm sorry you only have a giant NYC apartment, a super hot on-again off-again lover, and an incredibly successful career that includes a production so popular that it's been playing continuously in one form or another for ten years. We all feel terrible for you.

But stop being mean to Tom, because not only is he the one consistently kind and loyal person on this show but he can make my damn toes TAP.

Like, well effing done!!! Its been a while since Smash has treated us to a full dance musical number with relevant, Marilyn-themed lyrics, and the Zanuck number was magnificent. Smart and snappy and fun. Who knew Tom was such an effortless performer? Granted he didn't have to break into high kicks, but I was very impressed. And the show is at last getting back into the psychology of Marilyn again, thanks to Derek's stroke:

I don't know if this was a psychotropic episode or what, but we finally got a glimpse of Karen's full Marilyn impression. She's no Michelle Williams and yes, it's jarring to see her with white hair, but the conceit was very effective and I thought for her first foray into channeling Monroe it showed promise. More please.

Eileen's shady bar friends have ponied up some cash. I got very nervous when her bartending beau plunked a wad of cash on the table. In real NYC it would have been immediately snatched.

I'm glad Anjelica Huston is finally getting a romance instead of throwing tantrums in nice restaurants, but I'm not sure it's such a wise move to literally burn your bridges with potential investors. Although now that they're out of the picture, why do they need an overpaid star? I guess that's the point. Keep lurking, Ivy!

I believe we're supposed to take Ivy's advice to Karen (which led to Derek's fantasy) as a sneaky ploy to make Derek and Karen butt heads—advising Derek to go easy on Karen and Karen to push Derek's boundaries. Ironically, this was just the kind of role reversal that lit Derek's fire. Ivy's schemy manueverings are clearly meant to signal that it's time to start hating Ivy. She's officially the bitch, guys, watch your back! She will peer the eff out of you.

All told, last night's episode was a wonderful return to form, and the shake-ups within the relationships will serve to turn the soil and prepare the dating field for some new blooms. Of course I look forward to eventually hearing two lines from Uma, but it was hard to be disappointed with this week's episode.


QUESTIONS:

– Ellis demoted to a blur in the background: It made the episode kind of better? Guess we don't need him as a villain?

– What's Ivy up to?

– How will they get rid of Uma in the next week(s)?

– Karen and Dev: done for good or they'll work things out?

As for Marilyn Trivia: No one got it last week! Marilyn's favorite food: steak with peas and carrots. Her favorite drink: Dom Perignon 1953. Her favorite singer: Frank Sinatra. If anyone wants to try to stump me, leave a Marilyn trivia question in the comments and I'll do my best to answer (without Googling, Scout's honor).

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