Nice is boring
Smash Season 1 Episode 3 recap
The Monday night-Tuesday morning corridor is full of recaps for me and this morning the boy asked which shows I was working on. When I explained House of Lies and Smash air on the same night, he went "oh, so a show about the world's most cynical, terrible people...and the complete opposite!"
Lord knows Smash is the complete opposite. Earnest people being earnest. Everyone says exactly what they mean. In musicals, this is exactly necessary. In TV, it's called being on-the-nose. And so the schism between the two formats begins.
It's hard to say why this episode of Smash felt so formulaic and cardboard-y, and I felt that way even before we got to the Iowa stereotypes. Unfortunately, everyone's so completely two-dimensional - except maybe Tom - that it's hard to elevate one over the other. I hate to say it but Glee comparisons aren't so far off, maybe...
At least the British are straight up about being only interested in you for what you've done, like in the pissing contest between Dev and the director. (Which you'd think is so anti-British but I've seen them do this thing where schools and the level of degree you got is appropriate conversation. Like 10 years on, they're still comparing marks).
Less easy to take, however, is the show's treatment of producer Eileen. First of all, her ex-husband is a cartoon: he's mugging all over every bistro set they hit. But Eileen just...lets him manipulate her business contacts? Allows people to scoff at the money she wants? I know we are supposed to be reading this as 'look how sexist this is', but honestly, Huston's Eileen seems ill-prepared to me. She just assumes everyone's going to back her? Why doesn't she sell her projects? Or find some rich lady to invest? Something....
By contrast, at least Ivy asked - nominally - whether she was getting the sh*t end of the stick. She might have been too quick to accept the lie/answer of why she and Derek never bang at his house, but then...it seems all Ivy wants to do is do it and talk about Marilyn. So maybe she's fine. Sure, they might not be going to dinner too often, let alone a park, or a show, but if neither of them is interested in having anything to say, well, then, fine.
Except it's not fine. Honestly. Who is Ivy? What does she want from this guy? She's all "do you think I got the part because I slept with him?" and I'm thinking 'wasn't that the plan?' Don't tell me a 10-year Broadway veteran just got swept off her feet without thinking of all the other ramifications? I mean, in addition to being a really boring old trope, where the girl just "happens" to fall into bed instead of doing something naughty like thinking about it beforehand, it just doesn't sell with the Ivy they've been telling me will be a perfect Marilyn...
But then, neither does corn-fed Karen. I started rolling my eyes right at "going home for a baby shower" or maybe "you've been planning this for months", both of which...nope, but the show can't just leave well enough alone. She isn't just from Iowa, she has to be from the Marilyn-and-DiMaggio mentioned "Main Street USA, in a house that wouldn't be out of place in Steel Magnolias. We get it. She is of the heartland.
But her friends are all married and having babies (at 24?), her parents are just aw-shucks proud, her voice brings the house down at karaoke. So how come we still don't care? Could it be because, with her family life and loving boyfriend and delightful friends, she's nobody's Marilyn? She's never struggled. She's clearly never hurt. So what about her says 'vulnerable and fragile', unless that's a euphemism for untouched - which Marilyn wasn't, anyway? At the baby shower, where a pregnant girl wears tights as pants under a too-short top and stage lights, someone unironically encourages Karen to live off her boyfriend when she innocently says "feminism's overrated". So that happened.
Finally, there's Debra Messing's Julia, who is both writer Rebeck's alter ego and the one who comes closest to having some dimension. She's had an affair, which we'll come back to in a minute, and she is irritated with the insufferable Ellis.
I mean, here are the two sides of this character: I hate him, he's awful, and he's gone from aw-shucks gee-whiz to slightly Machiavellian in less than three episodes (and apparently into girls? Was this a surprise for anyone else?) but then again, he is the embodiment of the entitled young Millenial, who after a few weeks on a job believes himself to be the creator therein. So I like that he's horrible, and really like that Julia's the only one who sees his terribleness (although he interacts with her way more than with his supposed boss), but...
The actor isn't that good. The whiplash from eager to help to power-hungry wasn't done with any real skill. I have to assume we're supposed to hate him, but Julia actually lets herself be cowed by this snot-nosed infant. I'm sure it was because she was distracted...
Because everyone other than her wants "Michael" as DiMaggio but Michael's not sure, because he has a wife and a baby, and Julia's not sure, because ooh yes, she slept with him. So they had an affair for awhile, five years ago. And the romance involved the Brooklyn Bridge. I don't know if, by the time they we're shooting this episode, Messing and the actor who plays Michael, Will Chase, were already involved. But in retrospect, she was probably cringing watching this back, right? Especially the part about how a show crush, which can exist as a sweet and lovely motivation for everything from doing your best to looking good, turns into something real. Like...oops?
So here's the thing. The show has certain limitations on how nerdy and inside it can be. The truth is these people would be dropping references to Into the Woods and Jonathan Larsen everywhere. But in an effort to make it accessible, they're using Bruno Mars and 'red neck woman' instead. And I could handle the blandening of the music if they weren't doing the same thing to the characters. But since everyone's a cardboard cutout, it's hard to care. They're trying to please everyone...and you know what happens when you do that.
Attached - Katharine McPhee at the airport this weekend.