After looking at the previews for last night’s episode a few weeks ago, I’ll admit that I was dreading the latest episode of Smash. Surprisingly enough, I thought it was one of, if not the best, episodes of the series thus far.
Let’s take a closer look:
So what was the primary reason this episode hit it out of the park? Finally the focus was on the music! Of course, we couldn’t completely avoid the cutaways to everyone’s personal lives, but I found that these cutaways were either in direct service to the musical elements, or too insignificant to be distracting.
Case in point: the highly-anticipated Bollywood number. I fully admit to pre-judging, and was pretty worried when Dev (Raza Jaffrey) started off the number. But that trepidation quickly faded and I couldn’t help but get on board with this deliciously happy number. I loved everything about it – from the choreography, the vocals, costumes, and especially those great vignettes that included the quick caricatures of entire cast (but where was Megan Hilty’s Ivy?) You could just tell the cast was having just as much fun with this as we were watching it. Kudos to Jaime Cepero’s Ellis for his blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, hilarious cameo (And that’s likely the only time I will ever give Cepero props – so enjoy it buddy!).
Katherine McPhee deserves special mention: she certainly held her own with a stellar combination of non-stop hip action and killer vocals. Was it authentically Bollywood? Answer: I don’t even care. It was too infectious to wonder about its authenticity. This is a clear example of just sitting back and enjoying it. It was a damn good number and that’s all that matters. More importantly, it shows us what Smash is capable of - the key to making the fantasy numbers work is to take them completely out of the narrative world, having them exist almost as standalone music videos. After so many meh episodes, it’s nice to be reminded why we’re making this journey with these characters again.
The Bollywood number was likely my favourite, but this episode was stuffed to the brim with other great musical performances, too. I also thoroughly enjoyed McPhee’s haunting rendition of “Run” in the club overrun by stereotypical hipsters (Seriously, there were so many dark-rimmed plastic glasses, skinny jeans and bow ties in that place I mistook it for an Urban Outfitters). Scenery aside, McPhee really shines when she’s able to do her pop star thang. She must be getting more comfortable in front of the camera because her performances are getting much better. But again, I enjoyed the number because it really didn’t have to exist solely in the world of Smash, but could function as a standalone McPhee concert performance.
I also absolutely loved Hilty in the final performance of the night, the original ballad “Second-Hand White Baby Grand”. As much as I wanted to hear Karen sing it (Ivy already had her time in the spotlight!), it was beautiful nonetheless. The staging on the other hand, had me beyond frustrated. I thought it did a disservice to Hilty and to the power of the song by cutting away to the personal lives of the protagonists, yet again. I wish the producers of the show had enough faith in its audience not to be bored with just seeing Hilty singing. In the rehearsal hall, Eileen (Anjelica Huston) wipes away a tear after hearing Ivy sing and I envied her. I wanted to have that same experience.
Alas, the set-up to the song was pretty clunky. If I were to see this number on stage, I would wonder why Marilyn wasn’t singing it. I think the “voices in Marilyn’s head” only works if the song was more evenly distributed amongst the ensemble. Having Ivy (or Karen) sing it solo wouldn’t make much sense, which is why I applauded Rebecca (Uma Thurman) for suggesting Marilyn get the song. I didn’t think it was as dramatic a move as the show wanted us to believe it was, but that’s a minor quibble.
Another moment worth mentioning: the scene between Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing) when they’re working on “Baby Grand”. I loved seeing the creative process (and hearing Borle’s pipes is never a bad thing) and again, wished we had more scenes like this. In this same vein, Derek’s (Jack Davenport) heart to heart with Karen before rehearsal was equally touching. He tells her that he see her as Marilyn, which slightly diminishes the creep factor of his fantasy last week. I’m far more interested in moments like these which are more than capable of filling the dramatic quota in show like this.
As much as I whine, I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of the momentum stalling, personal lives background stuff, but if we could at least limit it and showcase more of these musical-grounded elements, Smash could actually turn into compelling television. It showed us tonight that it’s more than capable of it. Now it just needs to capitalize on it.
- We were teased with the disappearance of Leo (Emory Cohen) this week, who ran away. Alas, it was only temporary, but boy, Messing and Brian d’Arcy James (Woot!) clocked in some stellar acting selling their dismay when he went missing.
- Christian Borle on the other hand, didn’t fare so well at the “boo-hoo Leo’s missing” empathy. Although I do believe that Tom would definitely be upset and deeply concerned if Leo went missing, Borle just couldn’t sell those crocodile tears to me.
- Nick, the dreamy bartender (Thorsten Kaye) likes it when Eileen curls her hair. Swoon.
- Hands down the best line of the night: “”You screwed up your life so bad you have to run around threatening loser teenagers.” Ohhh. Burn. And so true.
- I’m pretty sure that the 100 million mentions of Rebecca’s peanut allergy are a clue as to how we’ll get rid of her and move Karen out of understudy duty and into the leading role.
What did you think Smash-ers? Were you as impressed with this episode as I was? How did you feel about Ivy reverting to her old ways and stabbing Karen in the back? Sound off in our comments section.
Smash airs Mondays at 10:00pm EST on NBC