Smash recap – 1×11: ‘The Movie Star’

Courtesy of NBC

It was another frustrating episode this week on Smash, riddled with plot points that no one really cares about. There were a couple of saving graces, but on the whole, this episode was a dud.

Let’s bitch it out.

This week we finally got some significant Uma Thurman time (as supposed A-list actress Rebecca Duvall). I say ‘supposed’ because nothing in the treatment of this character suggests that she’s at the top of the food chain. Namely, she can’t sing and the majority of her rehearsal scenes are so typically clichéd, it’s tedious to watch. I’m talking about the tons of cutaways to our protagonists rolling their eyes or wincing every time she hits a note, fearful of her lack of talent. And yes, we can get into a long debate about the whole conception of “A-List” celebrity and the correlation of talent (cough Kardashian cough) but let’s assume that she’s an A-list actress for a reason. And unfortunately, for most of this episode, everyone was wondering why this was the case.

It’s really frustrating that Rebecca is presented as an unreasonable diva, wanting to change the entire musical into a dramatic play because her singing chops aren’t of the same caliber of Karen (Katherine McPhee) or Ivy (Megan Hilty). We get about a half dozen meetings with Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and the creatives talking about “what they’re gonna do” because their star is such a dud. We’re even treated to an over-the-top farce courtesy of her drunk, model boyfriend barging into the middle of a rehearsal. He’s literally pulled by the collar and tossed out the door by Derek and even threatened by Eileen as she wields a tiny bottle of pepper spray. Really? Why does the conflict always have to be constructed in such an exaggerated (read: totally unrealistic) fashion?

Thankfully, someone over at Smash realized what a dead end this plotline would be if it continued, so eventually (FORTY minutes in) Rebecca does a complete 180. She calls for a late night meeting and finally starts emulating a real A-list actress, working with the creative team, rather than against them. She presents completely reasonable notes and requests, asking that the songs be lowered a key so that they’re in her range, and looking for more vocal support from the ensemble, fully acknowledging she doesn’t have the pipes to belt out solo after solo. It was like the chorus of angels was singing. I may not have spent any time with A-List Hollywood actresses but I can pretty much bet the farm that none of them want to look foolish and untalented. This creative meeting finally made sense, as it looked for compromises in order for Rebecca (and arguably, Thurman) to be at her best.

So why wasn’t this direction taken from the start? Why did we have to suffer for over half the episode on a clichéd path before diverging? The finale number, ‘Dig Deep”, was tolerable but the journey to get there? Totally not worth it.

Courtesy of NBC

Everything else in the episode was so inconsequential that all it deserves is point form:

  • Tom (Christian Borle) finally went on a date with Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) after supposed “days of flirting”. I don’t think there’s any chemistry between these two, and since when does talking to one another constitute flirting?
  • We find out that Sam believes in God and therefore, can’t go all the way with Tom anytime soon. Apparently kissing Tom is going “too fast.” When Tom tells Julia (Debra Messing) her response is, “I’m sorry.”  I feel the same way.
  • Derek (Jack Davenport) continues to have fantasies about Karen actually being Marilyn. And unfortunately, we’re subjected to these fantasies: full make-up, breathy voice and all. It’s uncertain if he’s daydreaming about her because he’s so entrenched in the project or if it’s some sick sexual fantasy. Judging by how the dream plays out as a private lap dance, I would go for the latter interpretation.
  • McPhee is getting better at performing. I didn’t mind her rendition of “Our Day Will Come” despite the fact it takes place in awkward Derek fantasyland.
  • Adding to the Derek creep factor, the Matrix-reject, floor-length trench coat (seen in ‘The Coup’) is back. Apparently he didn’t get the memo that the 90s are over.
  • Huzzah! Brian d’Arcy James is back as Julia’s (Debra Messing) estranged husband Frank. Unfortunately, he’s only back because Leo (Emory Cohen) is doing poorly in school, which means we are subjected to Cohen’s “acting” in return. This week I decided that if the show was making a mockery of it, I was game, so I psyched myself up to see how bad he would be – and he didn’t disappoint! I’m telling you, he’s a forefather of the a new school of acting I’m calling “shouty-pouty”. We are witnessing history here, people.
  • Eileen finally opens the background file on dreamy bartender Nick (Thorsten Kaye). We don’t find out what he’s done, but she decides he’s just another jerk. I can only assume he’s smuggling pandas in the back room of his bar. He asks to be dumped in person and does admit to some shady business, but justifies himself by saying “If you run a bar in the city, you’re going to get your hands dirty.” Apparently, this is enough to appease Eileen, launching them into a relationship. I interpreted his statement as tantamount to a confession of a full-on panda smuggling operation.
  • We did have one fresh take this week: Karen and Ivy actually working together and being friendly. I can gripe about how this would have been much more interesting had it been introduced earlier, but I don’t want to jinx it. I’m just happy that it’s happened and hope that they don’t turn back into enemies to facilitate drama (Editor’s Note: Let’s take bets on when this will happen – say two more episodes in the finale?).
  • And finally, coming in last on the list of “I couldn’t care less” storylines is Dev (Raza Jaffrey) and how he’s gonna dump Karen for his whatsherface coworker (Tala Ashe). I. DON’T. CARE.

Despite a very ill fitting blazer on Rebecca, it looks like ‘Bombshell’ is on its way to Broadway. I’ll give Smash this: generally episodes consistently set-up interest going into the next week (usually in the last 5 minutes or so). It’s unfortunate that they can’t keep the momentum going.

What did you think Smash-ers? Did you think Uma Thurman brought some much-needed spice to the show? Since it’s pretty inevitable that Karen will be Marilyn at some point, anyone want to take bets on how Thurman will depart? (Maybe she’ll get pushed down some stairs and my Showgirls prediction will finally come to fruition!). Sound off in our comments section

Smash airs on Mondays at 10pm EST on NBC.

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Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

5 thoughts on “Smash recap – 1×11: ‘The Movie Star’

  1. I liked the episode, wasn’t really feeling Uma or that number, but was only disappointed that I read this recap, or,whatever it was supposed to be. We get it, you know your TV.

    • RA – could you share what you liked about the episode or where you disagree with me? perhaps i missed something. maybe you could help me see another perspective?

      • I like Derek’s dream sequences. It was clear from the beginning that he knew Karen was Marilyn, and this is just a continuation of that realization. His hesitation was that she was unknown–oh, and that he was doing Ivy.

        I couldn’t pick Marilyn’s voice out of a lineup, but by all accounts it’s a sultry, pouty, whispery, kinda childlike voice, and Karen, et al, nail it for me. It’s over the top, but it is a broadway show.

        I thought that Uma’s number was the worst of the season, and I hope she leaves soon so that we can back get to Karen vs Ivy.

        Karen & Ivy being frenemies the past few episodes is lame, and the other storylines aren’t strong enough to make up for Ivy hating on Karen in every other scene.

        The son isn’t a bad actor in my opinion. I liked the scene where he cried after he learned that the affair was over. I hardly cringe at his scenes, mostly because Debra Messing owns every scene she is in with him.

        Finally, Karen sings rings around Ivy #TeamKaren. Thanks for asking.

  2. Hmm interesting that you are Team Karen – I’ve never had a problem with McPhee’s singing – I think she has a beautiful voice. But I think Hilty has more of an advantage because I feel she emotes better. I do think McPhee is doing better as the season goes on- she needs to break from pop star and embrace the actress. But based on singing alone – I think the two voices are pretty awesome. Which is why I think it’s frustrating – I would love to see more fully staged numbers (I still think last week’s number with Tom was the best of the season) I didn’t mind Uma’s number, but do i think it was one of the best? nope. It might have been because it felt like there was practically no singing in this episode!

    I don’t like Marilyn’s voice – but i take your point. It’s Marilyn’s (speaking) voice i have issue with not really Karen’s. I guess i didn’t think when Ivy did it – it wasn’t that prominent, so it was less distracting. Karen seems to embrace the pouty voice much more.

    As for Leo, I think we will have to agree to disagree about him. But where i’m with you -Messing is really good in her scenes with him – I don’t think Cohen is up to par with her (and as another commenter mentioned, there are much better child actors out there) It would be nice to see more dimension to his performance. Especially with master class actors like D’Arcy James and Messing around him.

    Thanks for sharing your insights – always happy to hear them!

  3. Thurman was born in Boston, to model Nena von Schlebrügge and professor Robert Thurman. She and her siblings spent time in Almora, Uttarakhand, India, during childhood, and the Dalai Lama sometimes visited their home.^

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