Smash Season 1 finale Episode 15 recap
Remember when nobody was allowed in the theatre during rehearsals? That happened last week, in case you were thinking it had been a long time since the rules had changed or something. Incorrect. This week, everyone's families and child investors and possible fiancés wandered in and out of the house at random, because the time for keeping everyone out is when you have an experienced actress playing the role, but when you have a green, green girl who's only done one performance in the chorus in her life and is now taking the lead, well, it's cool to throw open the doors at that point, because you want as many people as possible to witness her meltdowns.
Except that good, sweet, courteous Karen Cartwright has the decency to have her adorably in-her-underwear meltdown up in the rafters somewhere, so she won't upset the investors and the other cast, because that's Star Quality. Also it has the side benefit of having the director re-fall in love with you, because he can only direct people he's sleeping with or wants to sleep with. No luck if he's already bedded you though; you used up all that goodwill during previews. Dummy.
I mean, what is there to say? So Karen goes on, despite the misgivings of everyone in the place, and she's great. Good for her. It would be ungenerous of me not to point out that in the actual numbers, Katharine McPhee was really excellent and compelling and yes, embodied Marilyn a bit, if only because they finally decided that a close-up on her now-steely eyes would indicate how everyone underestimated her. To be clear, I love the show numbers (except they never show us much of "20th Century Fox Mambo" because I think the chorus is all there is there, really) unequivocally, and they continue to be beautifully staged. That part is super-fun. All the show stuff is accurate and fun and exciting, including Tom procrastinating on finishing the song because “we have hours”! I would watch this musical. I would probably like this musical. I'm sure I would like it even more if Ivy were playing Marilyn.
It's just that characters in a musical are only there for two hours. In fact, there's probably a lot more similarity in writing musicals and movies than there is to writing television. It's the old argument, but it's at the end of the season, so indulge me. Television is looked down upon still, and yes, there are many examples of why. But TV has the bigger task by millions. It's not 100 minutes with these characters; it's 15 hours, in this case, and you have to keep them moving and developing and changing, or your audience quite rightly gets bored. Or confused, like when your “smart, confident” career woman suddenly has an affair and then just as suddenly remembers how she doesn't want to ruin her family and so her husband finds out she's cheating via a song on the piano.
Smash is a trainwreck we all loved, and I think part of the love comes from a theatre truism: that whatever's going on in your messy, problematic, out-of-character life off-screen, like when your director tells your fiancé, without a trace of irony "She's mine now", you drop it while you're going through the paces of your show, while you're running scenes. And yes, sometimes you do explore your life problems through your characters. It's a pretty wonky form of therapy, but sometimes it's all you've got. It's just that the trainwreck parts - the offscreen shenanigans - didn't operate like anyone we know who is an actual human being.
So the show will come back, probably in January of next year, which gives time to make the characters actual people, to figure out why Eileen yells more loudly at Derek, the director she needs and trusts, than when she finally fires horrible awful Ellis, who admits to sabotaging her production. And who knows what Ivy's pill-contemplation will have come to by then, and who knows how famous and therefore insufferable Tom and Julia will be? I don't think it's a mystery that the show needs significant help, but then again, it had fans, inexplicably. So will they be able to find the balance between the original songs and the characters who sing them, and remember which comes first?
I suspect I will see you all when the curtain goes up (on TV, you literalists) in early 2013.
Attached - Katharine McPhee at the NBC Upfront yesterday.