'Smash' Recap: 'Don't Play Marilyn. Be Her!'
'Smash' Recap: 'Don't Play Marilyn. Be Her!'
The Callback

Tonight, our two Marilyn Monroe prospects have to endure a second callback. This time, it's not about their singing capabilities, but about dancing. Karen, of course, is alarmed; not only is she insecure about her dancing, but Derek doubles as director and choreographer and she dreads the thought of having another "coaching session" with him alone.

Ivy, on the other hand, is fine with it. She is so dead-set on portraying Marilyn that she watches all her movies ("Even Monkey Business"), reads Bible-like tomes about her life and can't wait to quit her current gig to embody her favorite icon. "Let's make ourselves a Marilyn!" crows Derek. Unfortunately, we only see Karen struggling with the dance moves. We can only assume that Ivy nails it.

The Mind Games

To mess with Karen's and Ivy's heads, Derek introduces them to each other. There they stand in the rehearsal space: Ivy dutifully clutching her Marilyn Monroe biography, certain that she is the superior dancer, and Karen the timid fawn who was just shown her limits as a Broadway dancer and is now more insecure than ever.

They stare each other down, and then the following exchange unfolds, which stands symptomatically for the amount of tension that tonight's episode was able to build up: "I love your scarf," says Ivy with a dire smile. "Thanks, my mom gave it to me for my birthday," answers Karen, almost repentant. Exactly the kind of sizzling drama we all expect from the show.

The Unnecessary Drama

Later, Karen's boyfriend expects her at a dinner with his boss at the mayor's office. But after another dance rehearsal (and that particular plot development was so predictable as to be almost laughable), Derek insists that Karen stays longer to go over another scene with him. She doesn't have the choice but to stay, and all the while her boyfriend has to sit through the dinner without being able to show her off.

In the end, she gets to the restaurant, but everyone is gone except for her boyfriend who remains seated at the table and who throws a temper tantrum that reveals the manufactured drama of this second episode so blatantly that it's not even funny.

The Silly Adoption

In other mediocre storyline news this week: when adopting from China, one has to wait at least two years because the communist bureaucracy is so evil that it wants to chicane upper-middle class white Americans and deprive them of their ethnic babies. Confronted with this news, Julia's husband, Frank, suddenly sees himself as too old a parent if the baby should arrive one day. He wants to blow off the entire thing.

That's when their son, Leo, walks in on them and hears the awful news. And as one would expect from a teenage boy, he can't believe what he just heard. Ever since he was a kid, his parents promised him that he would have a sibling. And now, confronted with communist persecution, they are just going to fold? "What happens to her if we don't get her?" he whispers in despair.

And Debra Messing's dumbfounded face conjures up images of smock filled mega-cities, straw hats and iPhone manufacturing plants in which people work for 18 hours straight for a couple of pennies an hour. Which is exactly where I wish the teenage son character will end up as soon as possible.

The Decision

This week's main question, of course, is who would land the big part of playing Marilyn in the musical. And the reveal also showed us how weak this week's episode is structured. As mentioned earlier, we exclusively focus on Karen's rehearsals and audition. We get to see her struggles and her doubts, but it is assumed that Ivy is the superior dancer. However, we never see Ivy perform, which is odd because if she is to play a larger part in the series' narrative, the audience needs to get to know her stage persona.

In any event, Ivy gets the part and is, of course, over the moon. But as an audience member, I now have the problem that I have no idea why I should be happy (or not) for Ivy. Karen is who we invested in this episode, but after Tom personally breaks the news to Ivy that she got the part, we never even get to see Karen react to her bad news.

We get scene after scene of rehearsal and doubts. We even get a big audition scene in which she performs an entire song, but there is literally no payoff for her storyline here. The reason is, of course, that the writers want to keep their options open, as they have a good dozen more episodes to go this season, but this week's episode was just poorly handled.

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What do you think of this episode? Are you as frustrated with the show so far, as I am, or are you already invested in the storylines? And what do you think about the choice to cast Ivy as Marilyn?

Jan Cee
Contributing Writer

(Image courtesy of NBC)