Smash s2 ep 17

“Show’s over.”

And what a weird way to end it.

Veering wildly from the sublime to the ridiculous, with the main focus on the ridiculous, the Smash series finale began with verve and confidence but ultimately floundered thanks to all its misplaced priorities, just like the Smash series itself.

It feels like a very long time since the glorious pilot.

The opening sequence of the very last episode kicked things off with pizzazz: I was a bit bemused at the start of “Under Pressure” and I started to giggle when I realised the entire cast – the ENTIRE CAST, that’s Derek, Eileen, EVERYBODY – was performing it together, but by the end of the song I was loving it. It was their last shot at unashamedly full-throttle musical madness, they took it, and it was fabulous.

In fairness, all three songs this week were great. “The Big Finish” was indeed a big, if very meta, way to finish (I’ll come back to that in a minute), but the Hit List company’s acapella “Broadway Here I Come” was absolutely gorgeous – far and away the highlight of the night, I’ve been breaking into snatches of it ever since. And bemoaning the fact that Hit List didn’t win Best Musicial or Best Score because, EFFING JIMMY aside, it’s an infinitely better musical with an infinitely better score overall than Bombshell is.

But “The Tonys” was more about sugary sentiment than anything else; even the Smash writers can’t have wanted to inflict more than one mildly threatening Jimmy acceptance speech on us, so they gave poor dead Kyle Best Book instead and let Tom, Julia and Eileen walk away with the rest of the spoils. Despite all the dialogue Kyle actually wrote having been thrown out in favour of Jimmy’s songs, the story Kyle wrote having been re-written by Julia, Derek and even Richard Francis from the New York Times ….. is it really Kyle’s Book at all any more? Still, the standing ovation was sweet.

Sweetness was what the episode was aiming for, throughout, I guess: suddenly, it all became less about musicals and more about matching everyone up before the curtain came down. Ivy pulled Derek out of his pity party, and he declared his love for her in his awards speech, with the promise of forever in that final scene of him tenderly cupping her belly. I assume this means a new and improved Derek, but I liked the old and naughty one. Jimmy confessed his sins and his love to Karen, and went off for 6-18 months to learn how to “become the person she saw in him”, kisses and tears to help him along the way. Nobody-cares-anymore Nick turned up again, to resume his role as the love of Eileen’s life, whether he wants to be or not. And in perhaps the most bizarrely misjudged love thread of all, Julia went back to Michael Swift. Michael Swift! W. T. F?!?!

(NB – I haven’t mentioned Tom’s kiss with Patrick because I really don’t get what was going on there.)

The whole thing was less of a Big Finish, and more of a Big Mush, then, but that’s Smash for you. Still, Karen and (Tony winner!) Ivy’s farewell number was a nicely bombastic and apt way to end things: “Just give’em that big finish, and leave them wanting more.” Yep. I loved Smash, even if I didn’t always like it. Sure, it was often ridiculous, frustrating and sometimes just bad, but it was fun. I’ll miss the music, I’ll miss Jack Davenport’s Derek and Megan Hilty’s Ivy and I’ll miss writing exasperatedly about it every week. I’m sorry it never quite made good on its early promise, but I’m sorry it’s over too. (Sniff.)

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Smash s2 ep 16

It’s Tony nominations week which, in Smash world, means anxiety and anticipation has just about everybody acting like a moron.

A sweet, gracious moment at Table 46 aside, Tom embarrasses himself and everyone watching with some tedious shenanigans involving a member of the nominating committee. Jimmy is Jimmy and therefore an ungrateful tool. And Ana and Karen are both completely unbearable: they’re also completely right, but so irritatingly self-righteous about it that I find myself disagreeing with them anyway. Especially when Derek succumbs to the idiocy around him and does something so breathtakingly, flagrantly insane that the only explanation for it is that stupidity is contagious.

So this second-last episode – EVER – of Smash shows off its defining characteristic: the chasm between the show’s view of its characters and most of the audience’s. You know how I feel about the writers’ bizarre obsession with Jimmy and with Eileen’s love life this year (it was Ellis and Dev last time around): we’re supposed to be interested in and engaged with those characters, and I’m far from the only one who’s neither. Even more fundamentally, meanwhile, the Karen vs Ivy rivalry that was supposed to be the very foundation of the show has misfired spectacularly, since just about everyone prefers Ivy.

Likewise, this week, I assume I’m supposed to think Derek’s crimes are so heinous (and in fairness, they are deeply heinous, so why don’t I want him to be punished for them?) that he needs to prostrate himself in front of the rest of the characters to earn their and our forgiveness, but all I’m thinking is that he’s the best one and they’re ruining him (and his Tony chances) with this sad face / self-flagellation / confess all his sins business and just STOP IT.

Smash s2 ep 15

With Julia gently but firmly keeping Jimmy in check, the mantle of Hit List Ass Hat passed to Derek this week as he screwed Ana (not like that) to try and hide the fact he screwed somebody else (yes, like that). That somebody else having blackmailed him into giving her a job because Derek – who is otherwise brilliant – cannot get the basics of sexual harassment law and why he needs to STOP BREAKING IT into his handsomely-coiffed head, no matter how many people sue him.

Sigh.

Of course, Jack Davenport’s Derek is far too appealing for even this inexcusable behaviour to turn me against him, but the writers – bizarrely – gave it their best shot. And what made the whole storyline even more annoying was that the entire point of it seemed to be to re-start the Ivy/Karen feud in the most convoluted and stupid way possible. I mean, really: Ana marching up to Ivy, “accidentally” accusing her of skankishness and then saying “Oh it’s okay, Karen told me”? FFS. Note to writers: grown women CAN compete for the jobs/roles/Tony Awards without scratching each other’s eyes out in the process.

Sigh again.

At least there’s hope in the Julia storyline: breaking away from Tom might have turned him and Eileen into sulking 5 year-olds, but it’s turned Julia into a kind, sensible, actual human being as opposed to the demented harridan she used to be. Tom’s Strippers R Us revue was a weird and uncomfortable thing to watch – I spent most of it worrying about whether that dress was going to contain Ivy till the end – but his duet with Julia, after an initially tuneless start, actually turned into quite a sweet affirmation of their friendship as she quietly persuaded him (using a deeply boring song that wasn’t a patch on Karen’s “Pretender“, it has to be said, but we can’t have everything) that he had to grow up and let her go. Aw.

Smash s2 ep 14

I’d forgotten all about the headlights and screeching tyres at the end of last week’s episode, so when I accidentally found out (before watching) that there had been a death in Smash, I couldn’t help hoping it was EFFING JIMMY.

Of course it wasn’t. As the character who did meet an untimely end – let’s just call him Dude for spoiler’s sake – pointed out, Dude had to die so Jimmy “could learn something.” Presumably it was that Jimmy ruins everything, which we already knew, but we also learned – as is wont to happen sometimes in both tv and real life – that everyone was apparently a lot fonder of Dude than they let on when he was alive.

A handful of hazily-lit flashbacks told us that Dude had captured Tom’s heart and inspired him to do yet another Bombshell re-write, had touched Julia with his love of Broadway tradition, and had even bonded with Karen over their love for the same person. Oh, Dude. Who knew these people were so close to you? Julia’s was the only flashback that felt earned and real: like us, she knew him, not terribly well, and she liked him, not loved him. She (and we) can quite legitimately be a little bit sad Dude is gone without having to posthumously beef up his part.

Flashbacks and whatnot aside though, the episode itself was surprisingly touching. The Hit List team’s grief, Derek holding it together for everyone else, Ivy and Eileen’s gestures of support, the dimming of Bombshell’s lights at the end: all absolutely lovely. But, even more surprisingly, the most moving moment came from Jimmy himself whose rendition of “The Love I Meant to Say” was both beautiful and heart-breaking. Sob!

Does this mean everything’s forgiven and I’m fine with Karen snogging Derek then deciding to go back to Jimmy instead? Not in a million years. But if we had to say goodbye to Dude (a mere three episodes before we say goodbye to Smash itself), “The Phenomenon” was a very sweet and poignant send-off.

Smash s2 ep 13

A couple of days ago, I was – as I do more often than I like to admit – complaining about EFFING JIMMY again and wondering aloud why they didn’t sack him and give Sam his role in Hit List instead. Well! Next time I’m going to try wondering aloud about why they don’t hire me as a consultant on The Newsroom and let me kill Maggie off, because, whaddya know? Derek read my mind.

Of course, it took another episode of EFFING JIMMY behaving appallingly to get everyone – Karen, Kyle, everyone – on board but sabotaging an important photoshoot, messing up Derek’s sacred blocking and – the real kicker – “compromising Karen’s safety” finally got them there. Unlike all the other episodes where EFFING JIMMY is an insufferable ass, though, this was a great one; I really, really enjoyed it, possibly because all the other characters were as heartily and vocally over him as I was. And also because it was a relief to see Jack Davenport being my beloved Derek again after that unfortunate Breathless business. Karen, I don’t know what game you’re playing, but girl, if you’re stringing him along, I will FIND YOU.

The fun didn’t stop there either as even Ana got a chance to be awesome, and Hit List itself now looks amazing. “Gatsby” I’m less excited about, but at least, after the past couple of weeks of solid development of her character, the writers seem to have finally cracked the Julia conundrum. She’s suddenly sensible and likeable and I’m totally on her side, for once. Tom, however, can go F Scott Fitzgerald himself.

Smash s2 ep 12

Professional success is tempered by personal disaster on Smash this week as Bombshell opens to (mostly) rave reviews and Hit List sells out its run, but the path of true love hits a dead end for almost everybody involved.

So Karen dumps the wretched Jimmy (again) before accidentally derailing Derek and Ivy’s relationship (again), Eileen dumps Richard Francis (again) and Tom dumps Julia, then tries to un-dump her before she dumps him right back. It’s all slightly bewildering but most of it makes sense, which can’t always be said for Smash, so, um, yay?

Most of the personal stuff just isn’t that interesting though, except the Julia/Tom thing which is surprisingly engaging (so much so that even the re-appearance of the completely apathetic Giant Toddler Teen Leo couldn’t ruin it) and the Derek/Ivy business which is great. Much as I adore Derek, Ivy’s majestic dismissal of him is as well-deserved as it is cool. Obviously, he’s learned absolutely nothing from it, but it’s not his virtue and humility I love him for so, again, I guess that makes sense too.

The professional stuff is good fun as well, with Megan Hilty doing a fantastic version of “Don’t Forget Me” before the unexpected musical highlight of the week: her duet with Kat McPhee on “That’s Life.” It’s a song I usually admire more than like – modern covers of it often seem so smug – but Hilty and McPhee together make it glorious. And Ivy and Karen singing together and having fun doing it is doubly charming since it follows on from a lovely scene where they get to be honest and honest-to-goodness nice to each other – something that happens so rarely but is always the best thing for both these characters. I feel like there’s a really sweet, entertaining, Laverne and Shirley meets Gilmore Girls meets Friends-type story out there about Karen and Ivy: being friends, having minor squabbles, supporting each other as they do their best to navigate all the emotional and professional challenges of trying to make it big in the theatre business, while trying to stay true to their friendship. It’s a real shame that that’s not the story Smash decided to tell over the past season-and-a-half.

Smash s2 ep 11

“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs…”

You’ll be Julia Houston?!

Never thought I’d be typing those words in this context, but the normally demented and useless Julia seemed to have had a complete personality transplant this week, helping both Mad Tom and Bad Derek with calm, sensible advice and solutions which actually worked. (Sort of. I mean, that Dig Deep thing was always going to be awful because the song is embarrassingly naff, but hey, it cut down intermission, right?)

Of course, this being Smash, Julia’s unexpected competence eventually landed her in hot water with Tom and Helmet Head Eileen, thanks to a clever (but oddly malicious since he’s dating the Bombshell producer) article written by Richard Francis – dude, you could have just told Eileen you weren’t into her. No need to troll her in print.

Meanwhile, untroubled by competence or sensible advice, but goaded by a few cruel-but-useful barbs from Derek, little madam (“it’s all about me!”) Karen tried to get that fool Jimmy to tell her something, anything useful – like perhaps his real name. That fool Jimmy declined. Bet he’s not looking like such a great prospect, now, eh, Princess? Especially since La Cartwright spent the rest of the week isolating herself from everyone else. Of course, Derek stripping her of songs and spotlight in favour of the previously not-that-interesting (but beloved by that mischief-maker Richard Francis!) Ana immediately after Karen turned him down looked bad on Derek’s part, in fact it looked utterly appalling, even if Kyle’s right and it is better for the show – with anyone else, I’d be fuming on her behalf – but Karen has been presented as so utterly entitled, passive and annoying this season that I’m struggling to condemn him for replacing her with someone who might actually appreciate it. (Although, by “appreciate”, I do NOT mean “sleep with the Director”, ok, Derek? Bad habit you’ve got there, fella. Do something about it.)

As far as the rest of the episode goes, this week’s selection from the Smash Big Book of “Issues that may arise in theatre productions” ticked off the Dress Rehearsal, the nudity dilemma, re-tooling in development, timing troubles and (to-cancel-or-not-to-cancel) the preview. I’m pretty sure the writers started the season with a big list and are just working their way down it, which is why things may be more structured but are also much more workman-like than last year. Still, this episode was fine if nothing to get excited about.