Smash: Let’s Be Bad

Posted on March 06, 2012

We found our spirit guide among the cast of characters this week. It’s Derek, and please try to control your shock that we relate best to the most acerbic, sarcastic person in the story. Sure, he’s a bit of a jerk, but so far he’s the only person involved in the Marilyn musical who isn’t letting his personal life interfere with the work on the play. Which is ironic, since he’s sleeping with the lead. But as Ivy found out this week, it doesn’t matter to him at all that they have a relationship; not when they’re working. He doesn’t see real people in the rehearsal space and he’s not interested in anyone’s thoughts except how they relate to Marilyn.

It’s that last bit that had us standing by him, because we realized about halfway through this episode that we really perk up whenever they head back to the rehearsal space. That’s where the story comes alive and all the various players and their agendas overlap. Taking us to Julia’s house or Eileen’s office or even Tom’s bed weakens the story just a little bit more every time they do it. See, the writers want an ensemble drama with the development of the play as the unifying story for all the characters. But we think we speak on behalf of the viewers when we say “The play’s the thing, bitches.” We don’t care about:

Julia’s mouthbreathing, oddly slow-talking son.

Julia’s husband’s trials as a teacher.

Julia’s adoption plans.

Julia’s inability to say “no” to a creepy, pushy man.

Dev’s career plans.

Karen’s jealousy of Dev’s co-worker.

Tom’s romantic and sexual conquests (no matter how cute they are).

You cut all of that out and you’re left with only about 25 minutes of story about the play. We realize that the development of a musical isn’t exactly dramatic material; or at least dramatic enough to fuel an entire TV series. Of course they have to give these characters backstories, inner lives, and conflicts of their own. Otherwise they’re just figures moving through a scene and reciting lines. We get that you have to give the characters something do besides working on the play, but only if their side-stories can illuminate something about them we wouldn’t find out otherwise or if they service the main story somehow. Julia’s home life just comes across like a lot of narrative wheel-spinning, as does Karen’s, and to a lesser extent, Tom’s. We stand with Derek: we’re only interested in these people’s feelings as they relate to Marilyn, the Musical.

The good news is, every time they return to the rehearsal space, the story revs up and the actors get to stretch and breath a little as they relate to each other in the scene. It’s exhilarating, even when they’re not doing musical numbers. In fact, the very best, most illuminating moment of this episode came when everyone stopped singing. Ivy’s been shown to be a bit of an insecure bitch, but in that one moment where she ended her number and held her position for what seemed like hours, waiting desperately for the stone-faced people facing her to say something, we learned more about her and about how hard it is to shoulder the weight of a musical as its star performer than we did in ten minutes of dialogue. And the performance of “All that Ja-“ “Let’s Be Bad” did a fine job of shining a light on Ivy’s insecurities and how they relate to Marilyn in a way that Karen never will. Ivy has a fantastic storyline. Karen’s still vamping in front of her bedroom mirror trying to learn how to be sexy.

But their scenes together are electric. We’re loving how this rivalry is shaking out and how each character is more interesting when she’s facing the other in the story. That’s a true rivalry and one that’s bound to lead to even greater resentment: when you’re at your best facing off against your nemesis.

The play’s the thing, writers. You can wring a lot of dramatic potential solely out of the performing and rehearsal spaces. It doesn’t need to be Grey’s Anatomy, with Dancing. Don’t be timid about this, now. You’re crafting a modern stagedoor drama and you’re doing a fairly good job, but sometimes we get the sense that you want to pretend it’s not a stagedoor drama. Or that you feel you have to tart it up to prevent people from realizing they’re watching a stagedoor drama. The play’s the thing – and we strongly believe the show works only when they’re dealing directly with the play.

Seriously, we’re supposed to care whether Dev gets a job as the mayor’s press secretary?


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