Smash – Review: Look Both Ways
Recap and review of Smash – Season 2 Episode 13 – The Producers:
After two weeks of solid episodes that focused on the creative processes of showbiz, “The Producers” inaugurates Smash’s return to the sort of personal drama that doesn’t really land as well as the show thinks it does. Case in point, it looks as though Smash is going to be getting its Rent on. Let’s recap, shall we?
-As “The Producers” ends, Kyle (Andy Mientus) is struck by a car, and though we don’t know if he dies or not, the prevailing wisdom suggests he probably does. Why? Because it would make the Hit List‘s parallels to Rent all the more overt. Since Jonathan Larson passed away before Rent began its legendary Broadway run, I had a sneaking suspicion they might try to do the same with Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) and Kyle, given that Hit List seems to want to pass itself off as an ersatz version of the hit musical, from an aesthetic perspective. I dreaded that we were going to get the storyline in which the bad boy carries out his best friend’s dream in his honor, yet as the season wore on, I felt pretty confident that this wouldn’t actually be the case. At least until those closing few seconds. Kyle has a falling out with Jimmy over his week-long bender following his breakup with Karen (Katharine McPhee), which causes him to bomb onstage, missing cues and improvising new blocking during crucial numbers. He even causes Karen to suffer an injury when he fails to catch her during the show’s climactic number. Worse, Jimmy has announced to the world that Kyle cheated on his boyfriend with Tom (Christian Borle). Fed up, Kyle goes back to his apartment, gathers Jimmy’s things in a bag, and drops them off at Adam’s house, where Jimmy is off getting high.
For Kyle, it’s a final farewell to his best friend, and it’s punctuated by “Last Goodbye”, a Jeff Buckley song which Andy Mientus performs with genuine pain etched on his face. It’s a wonderful number, though it ends with the car accident that, presumably, takes his life, and it’s such a sudden turn in the narrative that it’s almost impossible to process. If Smash had always intended to do the Rent storyline with Kyle, then I definitely never saw it happening by way of a car accident. And I certainly didn’t see it happening this soon, particularly since the episode ultimately sees Hit List fail to get picked up for a Broadway premiere. But then, who knows? Maybe they’ll subvert expectations by having Kyle live, and avoid trivializing the very real, tragic backstory behind one of Broadway’s most famous shows. But given the melodramatic nature of this episode, I sincerely doubt it.
-Derek (Jack Davenport) is despondent because Ivy (Megan Hilty) refuses to return his calls, as she’s presumably still upset that Derek only began sleeping with her when it became apparent that Karen had no interest in him. This is one of those storylines that only exists because one person decides, for no reason, not to tell the other person what’s bothering them. Maybe Derek won’t have a defense for his actions, but Ivy should at least tell him why she’s so steamed. But then we wouldn’t have a story. Of course, since Bombshell opened, Ivy doesn’t exactly have the time to tell him, even if she wanted to. She’s utterly absorbed in publicity for the show, including phone interviews, The Tonight Show, Q&A sessions with Tom and Julia (Debra Messing), and, most randomly, appearing on The Today Show with Kathie Lee Gifford to teach her, and a group of young students from a mentorship program, “The 20th Century Fox Mambo”. Ivy doesn’t even have time to catch up with Girls! So, in the very least, it kind of makes sense why she’d be blowing him off, even if last week hadn’t happened.
With that said, Derek is in a bad way, even without the whole Ivy situation weighing on his mind, as the producers opted not to pick up Hit List for a Broadway opening. Worse, Jimmy is constantly missing rehearsals, and is just generally making a mess of things, leaving Derek to cast Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr.) as Jimmy’s understudy — and, later, his replacement. Yet things don’t all end badly for Derek, as a late-night at the bar with Karen is implied to lead to some long-anticipated nookie between the two (for instance, Karen enthusiastically orders two more drinks when Derek insists that another drink might cause him to do something inappropriate — later, Karen flirtily insists that Derek walk her home). So all those people shipping Team CartWills can commence popping open a bottle.
-Julia and Tom are still at odds over the former’s decision to proceed with The Great Gatsby, despite it being the dream project on which they always insisted they would work together. For once, Julia is 100% in the right, as she gave Tom every opportunity last week to be a part of the project, yet he passed to work on City of Angels. However, when that deal fell through, Tom came crawling back to Julia, and was indignant to discover that she wouldn’t wait a mere six months for his schedule to free up so they could do the show together. “You never asked me to wait,” Julia rightly points out. I just sat there with my jaw hanging to the floor at how badly they’re ruining Tom, by making one of the most level-headed characters in the series into one of its most petty and immature in one fell swoop.
During a Q&A session moderated by Ivy, Tom declares that his partnership with Julia is dissolved, which completely devastates her. So Tom is out of luck, while Julia moves on to do The Great Gatsby with Scott (Jesse L. Martin) directing. The Julia-Tom mess could have been really compelling if they’d found a more organic way to dissolve the partnership. However, the conflict didn’t feel at all in line with Tom’s character. Would our Tom really call his lawyers to prevent Julia’s production of Gatsby moving forward? It’s like the writers arbitrarily decided to make him an immature jerk because they couldn’t think of any other reasonable conflict. This was easily my least favorite development of the episode, even more so than the unfortunate business with Kyle, since Tom is my favorite character on the show, and it’s a shame to see his character being comprised by writerly contrivances.
-Lastly, Eileen (Anjelica Huston) continues her ad campaign, which helps turn ticket sales around for Bombshell. While Eileen mulls over her next project (ultimately deciding to pass on Hit List to avoid competition with herself this season), her publicist Agnes (Daphne Rubin-Vega, who, much like Jesse L. Martin, is a Rent alum) helps keep the publicity for Bombshell going. They make a good team, and this business-related story is one of the episode’s strongest subplots. Also of note, the music, as we get to see a beautiful new number from Hit List called “Don’t Let Me Know.” In the number, we see “Jesse” (Jimmy) play a new song for “Amanda” (Karen), who then steals the song and turns it into a megahit. The scene is immaculately-staged, as the blocking takes us through the process of “Amanda” hearing the song, singing it in concert, recording it in the studio, and performing it in front of a larger, adoring crowd. I loved it, though I sincerely wish they would just let Jeremy Jordan have a solo already. Every song he gets has to pair him with Katharine McPhee. Even his one Hit List solo so far (“I Heard Your Voice In A Dream,” my favorite number from that show) credits Kat McPhee in the single, because apparently she does background on it. “Broadway, Here I Come” was all the way back in the premiere. Twelve episodes later, and I feel as though the show would have an easier time selling us on the idea of Jimmy as a Tortured Genius if it would actually let us hear how talented he really is, beyond just having written the songs. But I suppose we still have a few more episodes left to get that solo. With that said, more “Don’t Let Me Know” and less “The Goodbye Song,” which ranks among the cheesiest original songs on the show to date.
Ultimately, it’s not as if I didn’t enjoy “The Producers.” Honestly, there were parts of it that I really did like. But after the last two weeks of uniformly strong installments, this was a disappointment. With any luck, the show will be able to finish strong as it focuses more on bringing a Broadway show to life, and less on the small potatoes personal issues at play. Although, if Kyle dies, I guess the potatoes aren’t so small after all. However, one would hope that’s not the direction they plan to go. Because…just no.