Smash: Chemistry

Posted on March 13, 2012

Apparently, no doesn’t mean no.

We wish we could get past this, but the way they’re handling the Julia storyline is bothering us to the point of distraction. We’d like to think we’re not the type of viewer who confuses the characters on the screen with real people and can assess a storyline on how well it’s presented rather than on whether we find the characters’ actions appropriate. It doesn’t bother us that Julia’s cheating on her husband and Michael on his wife. That’s what makes adultery so titillating, after all. But man, we have found every single one of their romantic scenes together to be enormously creepy and this episode’s late-night meeting in the rehearsal space was the worst one of all. When a woman tearfully tells a man, “Please. Stop.” and he responds by taking her shirt off as she stands there passively and teary-eyed, that could (and some would say “should”) be played as a rape scene. Instead, she falls into his arms. Sure, these things happen, but it’s disturbing to see an otherwise inoffensive show indulge so enthusiastically in the old trope that when a woman says “no,” she really means “maybe.”

If there had ever been one moment when Julia’s protestations seemed flirtatious or playful we would have been fine with it, but she’s torn up about all of this and spent half of this episode and half of the previous one trying desperately to get this insanely pushy and creepy man out of her hair, out of her house, and out of her pants. And what makes it worse is that all that distress and all that resistance just melted away once he fucked her. It was all coy smiles and giggling after that. Was this script written in 1960 or something? We can’t remember the last time we saw such retrograde ideas about women and sex.

And in other highly unrealistic romance news, any all-male gay cocktail party where an award-winning musical theater composer is introduced to the crowd would wind up with him as the center of attention, rather than as a curiosity. That scene struck us as so false that we momentarily wondered if the creators had ever met any urban gay men. And how weird is it that they floated this idea about the boyfriend being unworthy because he just came out, only to then reverse course on it 20 minutes later? It’s obvious that they want to hook Tom up with the sports-loving chorus boy so it feels like they’re just trying on various subplots to see which one will get them together. We would have liked an exploration of why Tom was put off by his boyfriend’s recent coming-out. This is something about gay dating that we think a lot of straight people wouldn’t understand and they had a moment there to delve into something that’s never been explored on network TV but for whatever reason, they dropped it within the hour.

Meanwhile, Ivy’s starting to crack under the pressure and the writers shrug off any subtlety about comparing her to Marilyn by giving her some full-on pill-induced mania. We like the idea that Karen is largely considered the fallback and everyone’s being quite open about that. It puts the pressure on Ivy, but also on Karen as well, in different ways. We think they’re still doing a pretty decent job of explaining both characters’ points of view. We understand Ivy’s insecurities and the pressure she’s feeling, just as we understand Karen’s frustration with being jerked around and treated badly by the lead.

We confess, we don’t quite get what they were going for with Eileen last night. Her eager willingness to lay her life bare for Ellis strikes us as one more thing that makes her look pretty stupid. We guess we’re happy things are going better for her on a professional front, but we’re not sure what to make of her sudden affection for dive bars and seven-dollar Martinis.

But despite our complaints, we’re quite taken with how well the writers are juggling various plotlines while remaining focused on forward movement. There’s  not so much narrative wheel-spinning in this show. Even that somewhat over-long Bar Mitzvah scene had a payoff and an introduction of one more element to the Ivy/Karen rivalry. Everything that’s happened so far is being dealt with in the story while new things are being added and the date of the workshop looms ever larger. There are some minor problems here and there, but we remain impressed with how tightly scripted the show is.

We just wish they’d talk to some real women about sex and real gay men about dating, is all.


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