RECAP: Smash - No Business Like Show Business


By Jon Roth

NBC's new musical drama hits plenty of high notes.

Between the commercials, the promotional posters and Superbowl spots, it’s safe to say anyone with a passing familiarity with jazz hands saw NBC’s Smash last night. What did we get? A fast-paced entr’acte, with a few show tunes, a lot of belt, and enough camp to have us tuning in next week.

We open with Karen Cartwright (Katherine McPhee) in an ice dancer’s version of Dorothy’s gingham dress, singing a very pop rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” (“There’s uhhhhhhhhhh land that I heard uhhhhhhv...”). Turns out this stagelight setting is a fantasy, she’s in an audition, and is summarily dismissed when the director answers her cell. Embarrassed, Karen storms out and Ivy Lynne (Megan Hilty) waltzes in looking cool and confident. Prepare to see these two competing for the rest of the season.

We’re next treated to the return of Debra Messing, playing composer Julia Houston, with her inevitable gay sidekick, lyricist Tom (Christian Borle). Is there a surer thing on television than Debra Messing and a gay man?

We’re also introduced to Tom’s new assistant, Ellis. Tom thinks he’s cute, while Julia thinks he’s “Straight. So straight.” Impeccable gaydar as usual, Debra. The assistant has some insight: he suggests Marilyn Monroe would make a great musical. Jaded theater people that they are, Tom and Julia shake their heads. But wait! “There could be a baseball number....” Tom says.

Julia’s caterpillar-browed husband says the same thing when she gets home that night: “There could be a baseball scene.” It’s like all the woman ever did was screw Joe Dimaggio. Despite this, husband Frank doesn’t want Julia getting any ideas - she’s promised not to work for a year so they can adopt a baby. Later that night, while Frank sleeps, Julia is curled up in bed with her MacBook, her headphones and an old Marilyn movie. I do this almost every night, and I wish Messing would explain how she woke up the next morning without looking like a haggard insomniac.

Standing at a very NYC sidewalk produce stand, Karen and her gorgeous, ethnic, British boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey) anxiously discuss the arrival of her parents from Ohio. You know how those small-town people get in New York City - snapping pictures of Times Square, falling down on the subway, giving quarters to the homeless. Obviously Karen’s not thrilled at the idea.

Rightly so! The four of them share a miserable dinner where her father constantly undermines her: “You can’t pay for this. You’re waitress,” he explains. “She’s not a waitress, she’s an actress,” the boyfriend says. And we all swoon. Later, daddy dearest warns her: “sometimes dreams don’t fit in with reality,” and I swear I saw her lip quiver. Dev swoops in again though, calling her courageous. “I think she’s a star.” When do we get to see Dev’s TV show about a sexy, supportive policymaker? It’s probably short on musical numbers but heavy on winning smiles and votes of confidence.

Back on the Great White Way, Tom drops by to catch the closing act of his latest musical. Backstage, Ivy learns she didn’t get a callback for that opening scene audition, and starts tearing at her wig like she’s seen All About Eve one too many times. When Tom comes in and sees her tears, we learn HER issue: always a chorusgirl, never a lead.

Luckily, Tom and Julia conscript Ivy to sing a demo song for the Marilyn musical. No one notices the meddling assistant recording the demo on his iPhone, so when it shows up on video sharing site “YouLenz,” Tom and Julia are livid. The assistant is fired. Julia paces around her bedroom, fearing the song will be cut to shreds by bitter blogs. “I hate bitter blogs,” she says. [Debra, you can’t have the blog without the bitter.]

She changes her mind immediately when she learns the city’s big theater critic thinks “the number online is a smash.” (Did you hear that? That’s the name of the show.)