Everyone's favorite show within a show is back! And while the characters of NBC's Smash continually struggle to get "Bombshell" to Broadway, many were wondering the REAL audience would ever see anything past Boston. In light of declining ratings and plot lines that many viewers found silly, Smash returned Tuesday night with a two-hour premiere, a new showrunner, some new faces and a new focus.
Gone is creator Theresa Rebeck, replaced by Josh Safran, formerly of Gossip Girl. New to the show are Oscar-winner and former American Idol alum (joining Katherine McPhee) Jennifer Hudson and Broadway sensation Jeremy Jordan, who lit up the stage in both "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Newsies" on the Great White Way. But will it be enough to "fix" some of the issues that plagued the show in the first season? Will it attract a younger audience? Or will it just alienate the viewers who loved it? Only time will tell.
Dear Smash, I remember now. Love, Me.
While the premiere served as a satisfying re-introduction to Smash, there are still of lot of questions to be answered as the season progresses. But first, let's dive into "On Broadway" and "The Fallout," which reveal the challenges of bringing a show that had a successful preview run back to Times Square. It's a particularly difficult undertaking for "Bombshell," especially when you consider the executive producer is quarrelling with her ex-husband, the financing is the focus of an IRS investigation, dancers and celebrities are accusing the director of sexual harassment, the lyricist is getting trashed in the reviews as her marriage falls apart over an affair, the male lead wants out over said affair and the female lead made her debut on the first night of previews. Whew! Heck, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark didn't face this many obstacles before it opened.
A quick side note: How is it that everyone loved the show, yet only Julia got bad reviews? How can you love the music, the director, the dancers, the costumes and the show overall, but not like the words. Don't they seem really important to enjoying everything else? And we've heard most of "Bombshell" at one point or another, and all the songs are great. What did those reviews say?
A Marilyn Role Reversal
So last season, the big debate was who would play Marilyn Monroe, with Team Ivy (Megan Hilty) facing off against Team Karen (McPhee) in a stage-friendly version of Twilight. While many viewers were outraged when Derek went with Karen over the more seasoned Ivy (after villain Ellis poisoned star Rebecca Duvall), I thought she crushed it in the finale. Karen and Ivy combined to cover all the facets of the real-life Marilyn, with Karen representing innocence, purity and optimism and Ivy embodying the jealousy, the need for love and affirmation and the pill-popping and lusty tendencies that came with her success.
But now, with Karen landing the prize role and poised to be a star, the stage is set for a complete reversal this time around. Now Karen has a taste of stardom, and she'll be looking over her shoulder at every turn to hold on to it. Meanwhile, Ivy, who apparently just looked at but didn't take that handful of pills at the end of the finale (Fooled me once!), is poised to be the inspirational comeback story after her fall from grace.
That plot line is present throughout the premiere, though it doesn't advance too much from the get go. Ivy offers an olive branch in the form of a half-hearted apology, and Karen responds by getting her kicked off "Bombshell," which is trying to find a theater in New York City. Michael Swift has been released from his contract because he and Julia can no longer be around each other, though that seems like a moot point since both their marriages are over anyway. He was a really good Joe DiMaggio, too, albeit a bit crazy.
Jennifer Hudson sizzles as a two-time Tony winner Veronica Moore, acting as sort of a mentor to Karen and preparing her for what comes with the spotlight. It almost mimics Hudson's real-life story, how she went from a nobody to a star in just a few short years. She is vocally head and shoulders above everyone except Jeremy Jordan, who we'll get to later, and McPhee has to bring her A-game just to keep pace in their "On Broadway" duet. But holy hell, McPhee is gorgeous in that scene (I love me some Katherine McPhee!)
Producer Eileen's ex-husband continues to do everything he can to keep the show from making it, even texting "It's time to enact the plan" to a 555 number after Eileen refuses his investment. I am not a fan of when television and movies use 555 numbers, as it immediately pulls me back to reality that I'm watching something that's fake. I guess they think it's better to use a New York area code (917-555), but they might as well have made the number 555-555-5555. I hate it.
After that, Duvall claims in a magazine article that Derek sexually harassed her, followed by a lawsuit from six dancers who claim he refused them parts because they refused sex. He confronts one of the plaintiffs, who explains that women don't sleep with him because they're interested. He is genuinely shocked by this, as he thought it was his charm and not his power that led to those chance encounters.
Tom sees Julia's husband Frank, whom she had reconciled with, looking cozy with another woman on the street. He struggles whether or not to tell her, because technically he didn't see anything, all while his dancer boyfriend gets offered a part in the national tour of "The Book of Mormon."
It all comes to a head at the climax of the first hour, when Eileen finds out that theater owners have aligned against her and the show's financing is under investigation (we really don't know where the money came from, other than the fact that it's form her shady bartender boyfriend, but apparently there are records of everything). Julia confronts Frank, who throws a fit and makes a scene in front of all the Broadway bigwigs. Ivy offers a sincere apology to Karen, who is about to request she stay in the show when it's announced that "Bombshell" is suspended until further notice.
I don't really buy the "Frank wants to cheat" plotline, because he was always a good husband who really wanted to make things work at the end of last season. And I get why he has to go over the deep end, because they're trying to remove any external source of tension from the show (it's why Dev, Michael and Ellis are gone, too). They want all drama to be stage-related, but I think that might end up being a dangerous move. Even if the conflicts were a bit outlandish, we need to connect with characters in their personal lives so we know who we root for in their professional lives.
Everybody Hurts, Sometimes
"The Fallout" basically revolves around everyone's lives falling apart for the above-mentioned reasons before the final hint at redemption. Julia is couch-ridden at Tom's apartment, as he struggles to make excuses for her newfound hermit-like lifestyle while receiving praise for his work on "Bombshell." Ivy is missing out on callbacks at jobs she wouldn't have wanted two years ago and is thinking of quitting the business. Eileen fights the IRS over the show's funding, while Derek loses his other Broadway project and drinks his way through a bizarre Robert Palmer-inspired musical number. A large group of women wearing the "Addicted to Love" dresses, including Ivy and Karen, serenade a drunk Derek in the bar while singing The Eurythmics "Would I Lie to You?" There are just boobs and legs everywhere.
One of the things Safran said he was trying to get away from was musical performances that seemingly spurred from nothing, the biggest culprit being the infamous Bollywood dance just because Karen was eating Indian food with Dev's family. I guess Derek being blacked-out drunk is enough to justify this number, but I'm not buying it.
Jeremy Jordan and Why Women Suck
The main focus of the episode revolves around Karen and Jimmy and the slow introduction of the second musical we'll be following this season. Jimmy (Jordan) is an uber-talented composer/bartender who employs the schoolyard bully technique to sort-of flirt with Karen. She goes back to the bar to get her phone and hears him playing the piano and singing (his voice is crazy amazing), and she immediately calls Derek so he can hear it. She works with Jimmy's writing partner/bartender, Kyle, to help make them a success. Jimmy is basically a dick to her, but he's good looking and mean, so naturally she is smitten with him. I'll never understand you, pretty girls!
Kyle gives Karen a bar menu with music and lyrics written on it, and she gets her new roommate to play it. Even though it's a very rough rendition (because it's written on a bar menu), they turn it into a hit that Karen performs at a party hosted by Jimmy and Kyle in their HUGE Brooklyn apartment (really? On double bartender salaries?). It all happens during a really awkward flirty session in which Karen gets drunk off half a beer, acts cutesy like a giddy schoolgirl, claims to still listen to The Strokes (much to too-cool, flannel-wearing hipster Jimmy's dismay) and then belts it out in a moment of complete clarity. Jimmy is just pissed that Kyle stole his music, so he calls Karen a princess and says he doesn't need her help because he only writes for himself. Then he kicks them out of the party. What a dick.
Did you ever notice that the only straight guys involved in the theater world on Smash all serve as love interests? Derek, Jimmy and Michael have been the only straight ones so far, and all three have women falling all over them. I wish I could say that was their type-casted purpose, but from what I gather from my musical theater friends, straight guys in shows clean up. Yeah, you sing and dance on stage and you like girls? That guy gets laid. A lot.
The Return of Bombshell and Ivy Lynn
Even though Eileen has the show's financials in order, she still can't anyone to give her a theater. So she crashes the American Theater Wing gala with Tom and Julia, who only got off the couch because Tom lied to her and told her they were presenting an award or giving a speech or something. She is mortified when she finds out the truth, but he confronts her about her recent behavior and the rumor of her nervous breakdown and tells her she's bringing down his career. He also assures her that he doesn't want a new partner, just his old one back.
The theater wing head kicks them all out, but they have one more surprise before they leave the party - a performance from "Bombshell" to remind everyone what they'd be missing out on. Since Karen is schlubbing it home from Brooklyn on the subway, they call Ivy to come sing a Marilyn song. Conveniently, she came home to find a wasted Derek on her stoop, and he convinces her not to quit the industry because she is a "singular talent." Then he tries to kiss her. Classic Derek. Love it.
Anyway, Ivy and Derek show up at the gala, because usually after you get kicked out of a party, you can wait around for your friends to get there before hijacking the stage for a musical number. Doesn't this party have security? Derek is coherent again, even though we'll find out later he is hung over the next day. Drinking on TV is the best.
Ivy brings herself one step closer to redemption with a stunning performance that is sure to reignite her loyal supporters outrage over Karen's pick as Marilyn. It seems like a really strong way to end the show, but we're not done yet.
A Burst of Tiny, Quick Resolutions
Apparently, a U.S. Attorney's wife was at the gala, and Eileen is now allowed to resume work on "Bombshell" as long as it's not for public consumption or for profit, and she now seems willing to take her ex-husband's money.
Kyle gets pissed and Jimmy and calls him a selfish prick, so now our straight stud softens and delivers a flash drive of ALL his work to Karen.
Ivy brings Derek some coffee and grease, and she thanks him for pulling her out of her funk. But he has company, listening to Jimmy's songs with Karen, who thanks Ivy for "saving the day" as Marilyn. She asks what Ivy wanted, and Derek replies "Nothing important" as the penthouse elevator doors close with Ivy inside.
So Now What?
There are a couple things that weren't addressed in the two-hour premiere that I'm wondering/worried about. I don't get the whole Derek-Karen pseudo romance thing, because it just doesn't seem like something that could functionally happen without making the show unbearable. Is she going to be involved in a love triangle with him and Jimmy? She literally JUST got out of a relationship.
I'm also unsure about the side off-Broadway show that will develop with the trio. Safran says the overwhelming thing people liked about the first season was the theater stuff, which is why the outside drama is gone and they're doubling up on shows (because he also thought people were a little sick of Marilyn). They picked the more upbeat, younger faction of the theater world to attract a different demographic, and while I'm excited Andrew McMahon (of my favorite band ever, Something Corporate) was one of the ones brought in to put the rock musical together, I hope it's more edgy than young. This was essentially supposed to be Glee for grown-ups, and it would be a shame if they lost that ideal in an effort to get younger (though they DID have a Jonas brother last season).
Three final burning questions. First, will we find out the specific details of Eileen's husband's diabolical plan to shut down the show? Did he just deal with theater owners, or was he behind the Derek allegations as well? Next, is Julia really done with the scarves? Apparently it was internet meme hell, and I totally missed the boat on it. Finally, what the heck was up with Julia's "I haven't thrown up since I was pregnant with Leo" comment from last season? Was that just like Ivy's suicide attempt? Ahhhhh fooled me twice!
So what did you think of the premiere? Are you excited to see where the show goes? Do you think they can fix the elements viewers were critical of last season? Do you even think they had any problems that needed fixing? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and hopefully we can get some good discussions going.
You can watch Smash on NBC every Tuesday at 9 p.m.
(Image courtesy of NBC)