I’ve been a big supporter of Smash since the beginning, but after watching “The Dramaturg,” I’m afraid we might never get to see “Bombshell” make it to Broadway. The dismal ratings of the two-hour premiere certainly won’t be helped by this episode, which had me shaking my head and wondering exactly what the show was missing. And it took until the last 10 minutes for me to realize exactly what it was: A story.
Sure, the first season had its flaws, but the storyline still revolved around people we cared about. And there was actual conflict. Overdramatic plot twists aside, it was enthralling to watch the goings on of getting a show to Broadway, including the jockeying for roles, the sleezeball director who was brilliant at his craft and the search for financing to make it all possible. The criticism was that people were turned off by the side plots (thus the stripping away of significant others and outside distractions) and sick of Marilyn Monroe (thus the introduction of “The Hit List”). But in simplifying the plot, we totally lost the story.
The worst part of it all is that with “Bombshell” in flux for a variety of reasons, we’re left to explore the most tedious and least-entertaining part of script-writing: Revision. Really? Half the show is dedicated to the guy brought in to rewrite the book for “Bombshell,” or the part of non-musical dialogue that moves the plot along. It’s ironic, because that was the weakest part of this episode.
It was also extremely light on the songs, and they were nowhere near the quality we are used to from Smash. Everything is just stagnant, and a few more episodes like this and the show is a goner.
Problem Number 1: The Dramaturg
Could this guy be any more smug and irritating? Just because he’s brought in to help rewrite the show doesn’t mean he has to be a stereotype. He’s a rich guy who has hundreds of books stacked in perfect rows on every desk and table in his apartment, and he’s a snob about his coffee and wine. I know they’re trying to make him the intentional dick whose dickishness inspires Julia to make the play better, but it doesn’t work when the guy has not a shred of likability, which is made worse by the fact that he is dashingly handsome.
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There’s a hint of a future romance between him and Julia, which makes me want to barf in my mouth. Is every girl going to fall in love with the “bad boy” this season? To sum up my thoughts, and this is honest to God for real, I Google voiced searched “Smash who plays the dramaturg” to find out the actor’s name (Daniel Sunjata). But what my phone searched for was “Smash who plays the drama turd.” Enough said.
Problem Number 2: Rewriting Marilyn
It all goes back to likability, and the scene added to “Bombshell” adds nothing to the show, and not for the reason dramaturd Peter thinks. He uses his douchebaggery to convince Julia that she needs to add “heat” to the musical, even accusing her of writing about Joe DiMaggio because she was in love with the actor who played him. But the introduction of JFK and the efforts to turn “Bombshell” into a Broadway porno fall flat.
While he’s obviously correct that sex and passion sell, the Kennedy character comes across as a womanizing mongrel who no one can relate to or get behind. Even if they take Peter’s advice and make Marilyn the predator and the Kennedys the prey, it won’t work with the story people want to see.
Marilyn Monroe was already larger than life, so viewers WANT to see the human side of her and her struggles for love and acceptance. Next thing you know, he’s going to want to add a gangster shootout.
Problem Number 3: The Characters Are All Lost
And this is by far the biggest issue. You can say what you want about Julia’s affair, Derek’s womanizing, the feud between Ivy and Karen, Eileen’s relationships and even Ellis’ evil antics, but it gave the show a story and made the characters actual people with feelings. Now, with the side plots stripped away, everyone is stripped of their identities.
Julia and Tom are both single and can devote all their time to revising the script, but that is boring as all hell to watch, and there’s nothing else for them to do. Derek is more concerned with getting back on “The Whiz,” his backup project, than working on “Bombshell,” and he’s totally lacks the dickish confidence that makes him the show’s most enjoyable character to watch. And how was there no mention of the pending lawsuits against him?
Karen worked super hard to get the role of Marilyn, and now that she has it, she seems pretty content to let the chips fall where they may. Even her efforts to get the “fresh” sideshow up and running don’t seem that inspired. And don’t even get me started on Jimmy. We’ll get to him later.
Ivy is trying out for other musicals, but we don’t even get to see her successfully audition for the part she is going for, which Tom coaches her on how to get. It’s hard to be the redemption story of the season when you’re doing almost all of it off-camera. Even the “Bombshell” backup dancers, who are at least recognizable faces, have all been replaced. Everything just seems disjointed.
The new showrunner was brought it to bring us what we enjoyed most — all the different facets of a real show. But as of right now, there are no shows! It’s like starting at square negative two without remembering the character development in squares one through 20.
Problem Number 4: The Songs
I’ve been among those criticizing the seemingly random nature of the songs and their placement, but it’s certainly expected that they’ll be in the musical-related scenes. They were nearly all random snippets in this episode, and none of them resonated. There were good opportunities for it, as well. We could’ve gotten a song from Jimmy at the end, and even though I don’t like the character, Jeremy Jordan’s voice was haunting in the premiere. That song he sang was awesome, and all we got this time was a few bars.
Even Jennifer Hudson disappointed me, with both her awful lip-syncing of her own voice and her bad acting. She was believable as a superstar diva in the premiere, but this time around, with her focus on reinventing herself, she sounded like she was phoning it in.
Problem Number 5: Jimmy
This guy is all over the map, and it’s very hard to care about him at this point. And what was up with him sneaking back into some old apartment where his writings have apparently been sitting in an open drawer untouched for who knows how long? Then some dude tells him he has balls to show up there and busts his lip open without any explanation? At least show us the fight for drama’s sake, or give us a tiny bit of background to make us care what happened. I don’t need to know everything right away, but give me SOMETHING. It was pathetic. He sings like a damn angel, only you wouldn’t know that if you just watched this week.
Believe it or not, there were some good things in this episode. I like Kyle Bishop (Andy Mientus), Jimmy’s writing partner, though I’m still not buying that Jimmy actually cares about him. The two of them were responsible for really the one bright spot that reminded me what I was missing for the first 50 minutes. Karen and Derek finally make good on their promise for a meeting, and Kyle and Jimmy dive into the STORY for “The Hit List.” They describe the ups and downs and the drama unfolding, and all the sudden it was like I was watching an actual drama. The only downside of that is that they flat-out TOLD us, pitch-style, when they could’ve expressed those emotions in a killer song. Sung by Jimmy.
It ended on a good note, and it also started on a good note, with Karen crowd surfing in a skimpy top. And if the show doesn’t get back to having characters with storylines and feelings, the thought of holding up a hot, sweaty Katharine McPhee is going to be the only thing that makes the show watchable for me. C’mon, Smash, step it up! We’ll take a whole season of more “Bombshell” over this.
You can watch Smash every Tuesday night at 10pm on NBC.
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(Image courtesy of NBC)