Smash: Working It Out

Smash S01E07: "The Workshop"

The Marilyn musical finally staged its workshop last night and it was neither a huge success with its small audience nor a dismal failure. We were left with the sense that something needs fixing, which is exactly the kind of realism I love about this show. It was the perfect way to shake up the production—songs will be added, songs will be cut, and I think we can assume the starring role will once again be up for grabs.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Lets start with Karen's demo. Her staccato opening phrases were perilously close to scat singing. Also: Did the show hire a master Jack Davenport impersonator to play the sound engineer/Big Bad Producer? They are look-alikesies big time. This could lead to a very funny showdown later on, when Derek wants Karen for his Marilyn and the Big Bad Producer needs her in the studio and Derek goes running into the studio and is like "But... Me??" and the sound engineer/Big Bad Producer is like, "How is my face on your face?" and then they both pull out one half of an amulet, they are twins who were separated at birth and they are destined to make the greatest musical of all time starring Karen.

Part of Ivy's pre-show meltdown was complaining that Karen has had everything handed to her. And frankly YES. Karen's continuing lack of adversity is sort of a problem. I know her buttery voice is supposed to justify her lucky breaks, but her smug air of entitlement kind of kills it. ("I know what I bring to the party" = face palm.) Adversity makes characters interesting, so right now Karen is an un-conflicted bowl of oatmeal that keeps covering top 40 Billboard hits. Gross.

Also, why isn't Ivy getting MORE things handed to her? I can kind of believe a lady with pipes like Megan Hilty might get passed over due to hard luck, but if her mom is Bernadette Peters (well, Leigh Conroy) and a room full of investors breaks into applause when she so much as enters a room, wouldn't Ivy have gotten a little bit more of an assist in her last ten years of working in the chorus? Wouldn't Leigh have known some director or producer from her glory days and helped her daughter out? Is that the real issue between mother and daughter, not just "Why don't you ever say anything nice and support me?" but more like "Freaking dust off your Rolodex, mom, and get me an audition, I'm living in an effing closet."?

I loved seeing Bernadette Peters and getting to have her sing "EVERAAAYTHING'S CAAAHHHHMING UP ROOOOSES!!!" which I'm going to assume is the proper way to write out the title to that song. Debra Messing was doing her best joyful smile-frown about it, a grimace of intense aesthetic appreciation, like, "I have the best job in the world. Ten minutes ago I was standing in the corner with my leg wrapped around a hottie, now I am getting to have Bernadette Peter's voice wash over me like the cleansing stream of a fire hose."

Enjoy it while you can, Jules! The show is going to make sure you stop doing interesting things. I liked her reaction to Michael's son—like running out of the room trying not to barf with sadness, that's a level of remorse that saves Julia from being a big ol' ho in a cashmere Snuggie. However, in no way do I want Michael to be fired or Julia to stop having sex with Michael. Especially not if it's just to please her weirdo son. How old is this kid again? I couldn't believe the episode ended with him bursting into tears of relief because his mom was firing her lover. Like is Smash's B plot ultimately a gritty sketch of what life is like raising a son who has a serious brain-chemistry disorder? Is the show that brave, or is the kid written as being 16 and they just couldn't resist casting a guy who looks all of 28?

I did like Michael singing, tears streaming down his cheek, to Julia. I ADORE their love story, it brings much-needed conflict and it's ultra tragic because they both know better. If the writers kill it off, what reason will I have to be interested in the Houstons' uber-boring home life? It was super tacky of him to keep chasing her around on the day of the workshop like "WE NEED TO SETTLE THIS NOW." No you don't. Grown adults, particularly grown adults who are navigating sneaky adulterous affairs, know when to give their partner a couple days to chill. Although at this point, I'm not sure how sneaky the affair is. Her son knows, her boss knows, her partner knows, Ellis knows... the only one who doesn't know is Frank, and he's got a hunch.

How hilarious was the mirror reveal of Ellis? I was getting big Glenn Close-in-Fatal Attraction vibes off that creeper. One day Tom is going to come home and a pet rabbit will be boiling away on his stove. It was a fist-pump moment when Eileen shut him down and told him that if he snitches on Julia again he'll never "work in this town again." I also like that Eileen might finally escape her office. After spending the entire season fretting behind her desk and splashing expensive drinks into people's eyeballs, Eileen may have a storyline that involves a hunky bartender (or starting a guerrilla plumbing business).

I do want to say that I absolutely loved the little hiccups in the workshop itself. (Even Karen managing to fall over when all she had to do was stand upright.) And I especially loved Ivy's impromptu nervous joke when the fan came on right at the end of the performance, which hit just the right note of, "This is a casual atmosphere/I am scared out of my mind/I know I need to be charming to succeed in this 'business of show' as we say." It's the little naturalistic strokes like that that make it easy to forgive when Smash glosses over the larger and improbable feats of production.

So Ivy had some points to make about Marilyn being a drug-addicted mess of a woman because of her mother, which made both my eyebrows shoot up. Marilyn Monroe's childhood adversities were a result of her unstable mother. I'll co-sign Ivy's statements that Marilyn Monroe's mother was a mess (Marilyn often said her earliest childhood memory was her mother trying to smother her with a pillow). But I think part of the tragedy of Marilyn's death is that she was far from a total mess when she died. She had sleeked down, just completed a film, and was actively pursuing more work. The story of Marilyn isn't one long spiral down, and that kind of perspective is reductive. Marilyn was a buoyant person who, given every possible abuse and adversity, kept going until she simply couldn't. She had moments of profound despondency, and one of them claimed her, but to call her a drug-addicted train wreck is to deny the natural joy for life that continues to sustain her as a cultural figure. Maybe if they investigated that concept more they'd understand why Karen needs some opposition in her effortless upwards climb.

Also reductive: Is Marilyn the musical honestly just about the DiMaggio years? Like, the workshop ends with Joe leaving Marilyn? Are you kidding me?

All in all, while the musical clearly needs a lot of work, Smash is continuing to get things right in a lot of ways, and the show has now set itself up in the interesting position of being able explore all the opportunities it's missed so far this season. The writers can ramp up the bitchiness between Ivy and Karen, or make Karen the star and flip the dynamic, or decide to make Ivy and Karen split the part and change the tone of the musical—the possibilities are seemingly endless. "The Workshop" may have left potential producers undecided, but it made me want to invest more in this show.


QUESTIONS:

– What steps do you think the gang will take to "correct" the show?

– Was Karen crazy to skip an important meeting for a workshop?

– Sound engineer: Derek's long-lost twin?

– Do you think the main problems of the show are its hastily-written, Joe DiMaggio heavy book?

– Will Julia end things with Michael for realsies?


P.S. Well done, 007intraining, for getting last week's Marilyn trivia question right! This week's question: What scene did Marilyn perform for her first "workshop" at the Lee Strasberg Actor's studio?

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Of course these are pretend people, but what's wrong with wanting the story line to take a realistic approach to Julia's and Michael's affair. Have them get caught by their spouses and pay holy he'll for what they've done? You find the affair "interesting." Okay, fine. I would find it interesting to see how Julia and Michael deal with the harsh consequences of their affair. That would probably be a very dramatic turn of events.
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Bernadette Peters walking into the room=me going slack-jawed.



Also there are plans for the musical to include Arthur Miller (and JFK too, I think-that was the original plan for the musical). That part is just roughly sketched at the moment, because it's not entirely necessary for their workshop. I'm sure we'll meet the actor playing Arthur Miller soon-more romantic tension on the way?



Julia's son is the worst actor on the show and just ruins her family's side plot. It was just plain awkward when he burst into tears. I remember being a teenage guy and it was never like that.
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All this discussion about Julia & Michael isn't the show supposed to be about a musical. Anyway I do agree the humanising the story having her more real and not just the one breaking up a marriage. Didn't Michael pursue her? He says in this ep "don't do this to me again" well he started it.

With regard to Karen I can't see her as Marilyn and yes I agree she needs to pay her dues but I also know people who seemto have had everything just fall into their lap without really trying so to say that this is unreal is for it to happen to Karen is in itself unreal. In the broadway world I don't know but in my world yes.

Ivy annoys me with her insecurities but having a mum like that would make me insecure too. I was annoyed with the way everyone fawned all over her mother with all those doe eyed looks eww!

I think Tom does belong more with the straight gay black guy. We will see.
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i agree 100% about julia's son! he's so weird and annoying!... like in one of the first epis when he was all upset about the adoption... i actually thought he had mental issues by then... and now i see he is just a weirdo pot smoker...
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He is such a creep. I don't think any of the writers have talked to a teenaged guy in years but this is NOT how they relate to people.
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I really wish you didn't love the adultry. I'm frankly happy to see Julia and Michael part ways. I'm sure that won't be the end of it but one can hope. I liked the reality check of Michael's family coming onset and Julia seeing up close and personal what a slut she was being for cheating on her husband and interfering with another man's family. I think Michael is a HORRIBLE person and am glad they are firing him but once again, I'm sure that isn't over so I'll try to enjoy the brief adultural (yeah, I made up a word) hiatus.
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I think forbidden love makes Julia interesting, otherwise she'd be two dimensional. It gives the book more depth- the idea she's writing the words for Marilyn's lover, and its her lover, we already saw in this episode how that can be played with. I don't want anyone to run out and commit adultery, but for the story, its a powerful component.
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I don't dislike Karen in any way, but I really don't see her as Marilyn. Even in the get-up, she neither looks or feels anything like her. As for Ivy, my feelings for her are like a rollercoaster, meaning I cannot decide whether I actually like her or not, but she is the perfect Marilyn. No question. To be honest, I'm getting sick of Julia's love life... I'm more interested in Tom actually. His love life is so adorably awkward. I've got this feeling he's going to end up with the black straight gay guy. Maybe it has already happened, I haven't seen this week's episode yet.
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Haha, I thought the same thing. It really looked like Derek when Karen was recording, and I honestly thought it was him at first.

About Karen skipping the meeting... I think it was a huge mistake. I mean, I'm glad she didn't do it, cause' I really wanted her there, but it would've been better for her. Hopefully she didn't miss a huge opportunity.

I really, REALLY hope that the relationship between Michael and Julia continues! I LOVE them together! Julia isn't the same person with Frank (who, btw, has to be the most boring character on TV).
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so glad Eileen slapped Ellis down a peg or two. he's such a douchebag, why can't there be some sort of workshop accident that kills him? maybe Ivy kicks her legs up and her shoes fly off and stab him. IF ONLY! also find it super crazy how they wanted to get rid of Ivy but keep Michael? wtf. I don't know what it is, but I really dislike his voice, maybe it's just the lame songs he's had to sing?.. thankfully he's gone maybe so this whole cliche affair storyline can GO AWAY.
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The double standard is hard at work again. Man cheats on wife and people want to burn him at the stake. Woman cheats on husband and Lily adores it.
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double standard? Michael and Julia are equally cheaters, but I enjoy the depth their affair brings to the show. If it was just a weird Ivy vs. Karen standoff, it would be much less enjoyable. Having all these different triangles of intrigue gives the show depth.
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The answer to the trivia question is Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie
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-I could be wrong, but didn't Michael's portrayal of Joe DiMaggio seem a little off? I always thought Joe was famously introverted and wouldn't have shown the kind of emotion that he did in that song. I guess you could write it off as his inner monologue being all fire and brimstone, but I think a more subtle and subdued version of him would have rung truer.

-I personally don't like the Julia / Michael relationship. They both know what they're doing is wrong and that they're potentially hurting a ton of people important to them both, but Michael at least doesn't care. He wants what he wants when he wants it, and he doesn't care who or what gets hurt in the process. I'm predicting a major public blowup from him that screws everyone over.

-I've said it before and I'll say it again -- Ellis is EVIL!

-I thought the same thing about Bizarro Derek!

-I like Karen over Ivy at this point, but good lord is she stupid! Why on earth would she skip that meeting with Mr. Big Time Producer? Out of loyalty to a production that passed her over for the role she wanted, and then wasn't exactly kind to her as a member of the chorus? I just don't get her motivation here. If it's out of a profound respect for the Marilyn material, I may just throw up.
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You ADORE the love story between Michael and Julia? You have got to be kidding! Fictional or not, I think it really brings this show down into the gutter. While you may drool at how cute they are together, I tend to think more about what Julia is doing to her husband who apparently has been there for her through all the stress in her life. She is treating him like garbage And what about Michael's wife and son. I doubt they would think his cheating is adorable. And he seems to feel absolutely no guilt for what he is doing. What a class act.



In reality, affairs typically destroy lives and cause innocent people a lot of heartache. Si I see nothing adorable or sexy about what Julia and Michael are doing. And is she going to get away with cheating on her husband a second time? Really? I hope the show lets this sub-plot take a natural course with Frank finding out, throwing Julia out of the house, filing for divorce and breaking the nose of his" friend," Michael. Then bring on Michael's wife and let her get a swing in at Julia in front of all her co-workers. I wonder if Michael will wake up from his little fantasy when his wife tells him she's leaving him and maybe he can see his son every other weekend. How adorable will that be? Oh, and despite him being a major scumbag, I would love to see Michael sue Julia for sexual harrassment, when he's being told he's being fired, basically because Julia can't control herself and insists on active like a 16-year old around him. He should have an excellent chance at winning.
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These are pretend people! I don't agree with adultery in real life, but as a dramatic force, its a powerful one, and just what the show needs to keep stakes high. Julia without Michael is terribly boring, and since she's already irretrievably an aduleteress, why cut that storyline short?
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ABSOLUTELY AGREE with everything you said!
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She performed a scene from Anna Christie.

- More songs, more characters, they have to at least include Arthur Miller, drilling Ivy until she cracks and has to be replaced by Karen...

- YES!!! who gives up an opportunity like that just to be in a workshop where she's not the lead!!

- Cant wait for their long lost reunion!!!

- Joe was a major chapter in Marilyn's life but not the only one. They should really think about adding at least one more of Marilyn's husbands/lovers to the show.

- NOOOOO... at least I hope not. Its the only interesting thing about Julia's character. Plus I really like Michael as DiMaggio.. I hope they find a way to keep him in the show
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-I'm hoping along with you that they add in more of Marilyn's story. We heard Derek shout out something about Arthur Miller, but so far that's all we've seen about that. And I agree with your take about Marilyn and drugs, though I did like the Ivy/Marilyn mom comparison in general (also, more Bernadette Peters, I just saw her live and up close not two weeks ago, and could still use more of her).

-Yes and no. If she holds onto that artistic integrity that "all she wants to do is Broadway" and particularly, this show, then no. But if she wants to sing, and Broadway's on her list of things to do, then yes. Plus, if you don't care so much about this musical (and it's always seemed like she just wants to "make it" versus THIS show), it's better to get a name for yourself and then come back with some stuff.

-I was kind of shocked about how much they look alike.

-Yes, I do. Plus, a lack of coherent plot. Biggest problem in any show. Work out the plot somehow, and then add in the rest.

-I don't know!! But while I absolutely HATE them in person-like, I LOVE what their relationship does for this show. A lot of good drama.



Marilyn question: No clue.
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