Tuesday, February 14, 2012

smash recap: episode two, "the callback"

“I’ll just have to forget the hurt
That came before,
Forget what used to be.

The past is on the cutting room floor --
The future is here with me!
Choose me!”

-------------------------

Episode two of “Smash” answered the question of who will be chosen to play the lead in “Marilyn: The Musical” (at least for now). I applaud the show for not dragging out the drama.

More importantly, episode two (“The Callback”) more than held its own against the pilot episode. Amazingly, I enjoyed this episode more than the pilot, mostly because (a) I loved the “remake” of “Let Me Be Your Star” (quoted above), and (b) the Derek / Eileen scenes are freaking GOLDEN.

Here then, is your recap for Smash: Episode Two (sadly, still not starring Brian Williams (rimshot)!*)

(*: it’s a running gag on Alan Sepinwall’s site. Every “Friday Night Lights” fan gets what the gag is.)

We open with Karen imagining herself as a lounge singer, covering “Call Me” by Blondie. If Katherine McPhee had done this on “Idol”, I might not have hated her as much as I did. It’s a damned good cover, worth the $1.29 on iTunes.

However, like last week’s opening scene, it’s all in Karen’s mind, and we quickly are dumped back into what her life currently is – waiting tables, dreaming of greatness, working towards attaining that opportunity for greatness. And just as the harshness of life comes crashing down on her again … “Karen! It’s for you!”

Segue from that … to a meeting of the minds – Julia and Tom, Eileen and Derek, still totally deadlocked over who to pick as their Marilyn a week after the initial callbacks. (Side note: not sure if this will continue, but it appears the show is mostly playing out in “real time” at this point. I like this tactic.) Tom is adamant that Ivy is the choice. Derek is lobbying hard for Karen. Eileen and Julia just want this to end. Finally a compromise is reached: another round of callbacks.

Jump from the boardroom … to Broadway ... ok, fine, West 44th Street, as Ivy is seen walking with two of her fellow theater actors / dancers down a street in Midtown. (They even work the Sardi’s awning into the scene. Awesome stuff.) The scenes for a rivalry are set. (And then some, as you’ll find out after the break.)

Jump back to the studio, where Karen is late for her callback, a dance audition with potential supporting cast and Derek as her coach. But wait, who’s that in the back? Is that … yes, it is the dude who was with Ivy a scene before!

And as we come to learn in the next scene, he “volunteered” to help with the audition, to do some recon work for Ivy. Ivy leaves the scene feeling very confident she’ll be our “star”.

(Skipping pointless throw-away adoption scene …)

And we’re back in the writers room, as Julia and Tom are attempting to lay out the baby that matters, their musical. If you loved the closing scene last week (and God knows I did)? Then you’re going to LOVE what “Let Me Be Your Star” has evolved into in week two. Julia lays it out exactly as I would, and since there’s nobody smarter than me*, this is a good thing. Also, a great “put you in your place beyatch!” putdown of Ellis by Julia.

(*: yeah, right. I’m so full of it that port-a-potties at the Sports Complex drool with jealousy.)

Should note before moving on: I know a lot of the critics are ripping the character of Ellis, and I somewhat get why … but I actually kinda like the guy. He’s totally trying to kick Julia out of the way and weasel his way into at least a writing credit to get his career off the ground, and he’s shamelessly doing it. Sometimes having the dirty, rotten scoundrel in your life can be an entertaining thing. And when you’re a show that ostensibly seeks to entertain, in this case, it’s a good thing.

Switch back to the studio, where Karen is still blowing the dance routine, and Derek, out of sheer frustration, bolts out of the room … only to see Ivy conveniently in the hallway. After a “fishing each other out” conversation, Derek’s ready to give her a shot.

So Ivy enters the rehearsal room, and for the first time, our potential leading ladies meet. Let me inject my personal opinion here: I don’t want this to be a true “rivalry”, where one girl hates the other, and vice versa. I hope this gets developed into a “mentor / mentee” type relationship. I highly doubt that will happen, given how dense Karen is, and how subvertive and “willing to do anything to win” Ivy is. But a kid … ok, fine, middle aged dude, can dream.

After an initial awkward interaction, Karen leaves with a door slammed in her face (literally), and … scene.

When we come back, Karen and her boyfriend are grabbing some lunch, and the utter cluelessness of Karen is put on full display.

Cut to Ivy backstage at her current production. Not much there, but a funny scene.

(Skipping the next three minutes due to god awful adoption subplot …)

And we’re back with Eileen, Derek, Eileen’s soon to be ex, and his latest floozy in one helluva hysterical restaurant scene. “Smash” writers and producers: more Eileen versus her sleazy ex, less adoption subplot. Please. Angelica Huston shines in every scene she’s in, and then some. Julia’s husband (and especially) her son are the two worst actors on this show, and I’m fully aware Katherine McPhee is a major player on this show.

We cut next to Eileen and Derek the morning after the restaurant scene, beginning to put the play in motion. More, more, more! Scenes of these two together, please! Angelica Huston and Jack Davenport have tremendous chemistry together. Anything beats …

(Skipping next two plus minutes due to god awful adoption subplot …)

And we’re back, with Karen rushing off to meet her boyfriend at some dinner that he views as important to his job. (OK, fine, I’ll say it: what the holy hell is an obviously British guy doing working as the deputy mayor … in New York City? Michael J. Fox wasn’t British, ditto Chuck Sheen who replaced him*. This is an outrage! No wonder our nation’s finest city is having the issues it is.)

(*: Please, don’t make me have to explain a “Spin City” reference. For God’s sake, even the youngest of the readers of this site should know “Spin City”.)

And in the most predictable scene of all time … Karen gets called back in, and has to miss the dinner date. And cue the predictable blow-up scene in a restaurant … only, her boyfriend reacts? Pretty much like I would*. I knew I liked this guy.

(*: there is NOTHING wrong with being a pushover sometimes. Especially after a fight with a significant other.  It can lead to some, uuh, really fun, uuh "fun"!  Trying to keep this post at least PG13.)

We return from the break with Ivy and Derek rehearsing. Derek’s throwaway comment in the restaurant a few scenes ago – “Ivy tries too hard, Karen can do this but she just doesn’t know how” – shines through in this scene.

And by “trying too hard”? Oh hell yes Ivy totally screws Derek in a valiant effort to get the part! And we jump from the bedroom to … the backroom, where Julia has a heart-to-heart with Karen. And as the scene reaches its climax (rimshot!), we’re left with Ivy and Karen, alone, on opposite ends of the hallway, awaiting the ultimate decision on their future.

Which begins with Karen up first, performing to “Twentieth Century Fox Mambo”. And it’s good. It’s really good. Like last week’s “National Pastime” scene (which still cracks me up every time I watch or listen to it. I mean, how great is it – “’cause all men like to play at the national pastime!” Yes, I’m a sucker for double entendre phrases), it switches between the scene in development, and as it would be in the musical, and I love this ploy. It’s neat. And I say this as someone who is not a big theater or musical fan. These scenes are just killing it. I would absolutely pay to watch this musical when it’s all put together.

And after the final break, we return to a meeting of the minds, finally ready to pick their lead. Julia has been won over by Karen, as apparently has been Eileen. Tom stands up for Ivy … and surprisingly, Derek does as well. (Well, not surprisingly to the viewer (cough “slept with him” cough), but still -- I could have gone the cheap route here and noted he already “stood up for her” (rimshot!) Oh wait, I did just go there, never mind.  Rated R here we come!) Julia sees right through it, her face gives it away, but she stays silent.

So cue to the waiting – Karen working her job, Ivy backstage … and enter Tom, to announce to Ivy that we have our Marilyn … and it’s you. Look it, you can view the way she (most likely) got the job as despicable, fine, but this is a great scene. You genuinely feel good for her to finally get her breakthrough role, and kudos to the writers for (so far, at least) not writing her into a villain, but a worthy adversary to Karen. I enjoyed this moment.

(Plus, people don't tend to resort to last gasp desperate measures, like sleeping with a potential boss ... unless they are last gasp desperate.  I'd say after ten years as a glorified chorus girl, Ivy has hit "last gasp desperate status".)

The next scene? I enjoyed even more, as Derek makes it clear where his loyalties truly lie … and it ain’t with either potential Marilyn. Please, writers and producers, more Derek and Eileen moments! These two are magical when paired together.

We close in a bar / night club, with Ivy, Tom, and her two friends (who I’m sure have names but they weren’t said and I’m too lazy to IMDB search them) celebrating her new gig, and covering Carrie Underwood’s “Crazy Dreams”. It’s bring the house down good – another $1.29 well spent on iTunes.

And … scene. Episode. Fini.

To which I say, "thank God even crazy dreams come true!"

Two hours in, and I am totally digging the direction this show is headed. It’s strongest points to this, uuh, point:

* Katharine McPhee. Yes, she can act. Yes, she can actually sing in a manner that doesn’t lead me to chuck empty beer cans at the TV (unlike when she was on “Idol”, and yes, I was banned from watching “Idol”’s fifth season in the main room after I started hurling empty cans at the big screen.) And no, I don’t suspect we’ve seen the last of her, even though she didn’t get the lead role. (They have understudies for a reason, right?)

* Derek. Anything and everything about Derek. He’s the best “God bless it, this guy is pure sleaze … but I freaking love him!” character in prime time since possibly “Leisure Suit” Larry Dallas on “Three’s Company”? I’m sure there have been some since then (yes, I’m deliberately skipping Sam Malone from “Cheers”, because I refuse to view that guy as “sleazy”), but I love how he genuinely is just … sleazy. Yet lovable.

* Eileen. Am totally loving this character, and anytime Angelica Huston and Jack Davenport share the screen together, it’s captivating.

* Julia. Not her home life – that’s the biggest weakness this show has going (and a potential fatal flaw if they don’t deep six the adoption plotline). But her character. Love that she openly despises Tom’s assistant Ellis, love that she’s the brains behind the operation, and loved her idea of how to use “Let Me Be Your Star” to open the musical.

(On the other hand, the only show to debut in the last five years I've liked more than "Smash" so far, the late great "Swingtown", had a major fatal flaw as well -- Janet.  And by the time it's summer run was over, Janet was one of the best things going on the show.  Oh what am I saying, this adoption plotline is so f*cking retarded that it is beyond redemption ...)

* Ivy. I genuinely like this character, even though she’s set up to be unlikable. The mark of a good actor is when he or she makes you like the character even though you aren’t supposed to. (Think Michael Emerson as Ben Linus in “Lost”, or Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity in “Friday Night Lights”). You genuinely like this chick, and this character.

* Ellis. Hey, any guy that wears a sweater vest has my respect. I thought I was the last guy standing on that front. Plus, I like how they’ve set up the power play between him, Tom and Julia. Should be fun to watch play out.

* The behind the scenes making of a musical. What can I say, I’m a geeky kid. I dig the behind the scenes stuff. (It’s probably why me and DJ were the only two “Studio 60” fans left after week 5 in the KC Metro area.)

Really, the only thing not worth watching, is the adoption subplot (which Alan Sepinwall ensures in today’s recap is MIA for at least the next three episodes. THANK. GOD!)

If you haven’t given “Smash” a chance, you can watch every episode for free at Hulu, or download each episode the morning after on iTunes. This show is good folks. It’s damned good. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve read both critics I rely on, Ed Bark and Alan Sepinwall, as well as Robert Bianco at USA Today, say next week’s episode is awful. A letdown is to be expected, I guess, after two hours this good. Plus, even the best of shows put out a clunker or two every year. Christ, the greatest show ever delivered almost a full year of clunkers (Rick Schroder’s final season on “NYPD Blue”, and lived to see four more (pretty damned good) years.)

So don’t “dive in head first” next Monday – get caught up beforehand!

2 comments:

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