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.)

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 1

Season 2 of Smash begins with yet another new song from “Bombshell” and, hearing it, I was all set to snark about how this must be, what, the fiftieth song in this apparently endless epic of a musical. But turns out “Cut! Print! Moving On…” isn’t just a decent tune, it’s a statement of intent.

In the accompanying, surprisingly efficient (for Smash) musical montage, a big chunk of the terrible character and storyline baggage left over from season 1 is firmly jettisoned: it’s closing night in Boston so we’re going back to New York and chucking out Dev, Ivy’s pills and Julia’s relationship with Michael Swift along the way.

The rest of the episode proves to be as ruthless, with Julia’s husband also quickly dispatched and Tom’s boyfriend apparently on the way out, too, because the script needs Tom to focus his energies on babysitting the useless Julia and “see(ing) Leo more often” (Please God, no.)

Karen is now officially on top as well, and her close, easy relationship with Derek would be adorable if I had any clue at all how she might feel about him. I got very excited when he moved in to kiss her, very annoyed when Ivy interrupted, then very confused when neither he nor Karen really brought it up or had any sort of reaction to it for the rest of the episode. Should it not have been – I don’t know – a bit awkward? Or a bit excited?  Or a bit ANYTHING?  Yes, Derek, although I love him, is a serial womaniser so propositioning leading ladies is like breathing to him, but Karen is so passive in her lack of reaction to him (and everything else this week), she’s almost comatose.  Even her treatment of the newly de-clawed Ivy – which might be cruel but, given Ivy’s treatment of her last year, is hardly unjustified – seems perfunctory, rather than heartfelt.

Which might be a good way to describe quite a lot of the episode, particularly the new elements.

New character Ronnie is exceptionally boring – her dialogue is dull and her number with Karen technically accomplished but completely chemistry-free. It’s more like a division of labour than a duet.  Jimmy the bartender, meanwhile, has a killer song on his hands but only comes to life when actually performing it – his “banter” before that is as flat and spark-free as his hairdo.  Which is a shame, because I get the feeling we’re going to be spending a lot of time with him.  Oh. Dear.

I suppose there’s irony then in the fact that Smash kicks off season 2 with its most straightforwardly competent episode in ages and I miss its season 1 mess.  Don’t get me wrong – the show needed to ditch all the things which dragged it down, but this slightly lobotomised start to the new and final run has me concerned we may be losing the baby with the bathwater.

But maybe I don’t need to worry too much, since, stripped-down Smash or not, there’s still a lot to love.  First and foremost of course, there’s Jack Davenport’s Derek: the scene in Eileen’s office where he teased the ridiculous Tom and Julia about the reviews was particularly great.  The original music is also still fabulous.  And Megan Hilty’s singing is still gorgeous.  As long as we don’t lose any of that, we’re ok.  For now.