What a week it’s been on the Great White Way, showgirls and boys. Hearts were broken. Drinks were thrown. Chinese babies were loved, lost, and loved again. At least we know which girl will play Marilyn on Broadway! Right?
I suspect every episode is going to kick off with a musical number, and we’ll spend the first two minutes trying to figure out why it’s relevant. This time around, dear chirpy Karen Cartwright (McPhee) is singing “Call Me” to a packed house of boyfriends and bosses. Everyone is sitting rapt and silent at her performance (our first indicator that this is either a dream sequence or that restaurant from Shame) and sure enough, Karen snaps out of it when her Sensible Coworker reminds her that uh, she’s at work. Go work, Karen.
Turns out she’s staging performances in her head because she’s waiting for the Marilyn team to call her (get it?) and let her know about the role. Across town, the assorted masterminds behind the production are having their quiet cabal in Eileen’s sumptuous office. Who’s the better Marilyn? Bosomy Ivy or birdlike Karen? Director Derek thinks Karen “Feels like Marilyn...” which main gay Tom finds a suspect turn of phrase. “Straight men are gonna go there,” Derek answers. Did you hear? Derek is straight.
Outside the office, their assistant Bruno Mars has his ear glued to the door. So trustworthy, that one.
Speaking of Julia, things hit a bit of a snag with her adoption plan when she and her husband Adam Carolla (not really) stop by the adoption office. Turns out they have to wait two years before they find a baby to adopt from China. Julia gasps and hubby makes an effort to raise those bushy eyebrows. “Two years?!” they ask incredulously. Did they think they could make a jaunt down to Chinatown and become new parents before rush hour?
In the first round of callbacks, Derek wants to see whether Karen can dance. They begin working in the studio, and as Derek takes her through the motions, he’s holding her so tightly I’m guessing he’s got a good sense of what her spleen feels like. Maybe they should have hired a less lecherous director. Great accent, though.
Tom and Julia are back at Tom’s lavish pad reimagining the “Let Me Be Your Star” number from the pilot. Julia closes her eyes and BAM - there’s Karen, singing on the Broadway stage as Norma Jean, then there’s Ivy doing the same thing, then there’s... Bruno, bursting the bubble and asking who they’re going to cast in the damn role.
This kid is insufferable, but he’s got a point. We can’t watch this show indefinitely without knowing the lead. Still, Julia tells him to go pick up some dry cleaning, so he walks outside and leans against the door again (which is surprising, because at this point I figured he had the whole apartment bugged with spare iPhones).
When Ivy shows up at rehearsal, Derek introduces her to Karen. Ivy pulls a page right of Regina George’s playbook and compliments Karen’s scarf. Karen gets all gawky and down-home and explains her mother bought it for her, to which Ivy replies: “Cute.” I can’t wait until we’re in episode five and they’re poisoning each other’s stage make-up instead of relying on passive aggression.
Over in Julia’s Park Slope manse, it turns out her husband thinks they need to think “realistically” about this adoption. I would agree, considering they had no sense of the time frame. He explains that he’ll be 65 when their daughter graduates high school, at best. As opposed to 63, if you had a daughter tomorrow? Weak argument, pops.
Somewhere in a Very Fancy Restaurant, Eileen and Derek are discussing, what else, who to cast as Marilyn. Ivy’s skilled but tries too hard, Karen’s green, but so was Norma Jean. I completely understand this train of thought: you need someone just like Marilyn to play Marilyn, the same way you need a wizard to play Harry Potter. All that “acting” stuff is for amateurs, anyway. Derek is briefly called away to discuss what we ominously overhear is a “vampire musical” (ka-CHING) and Eileen’s ex-husband stops by to tell her the Marilyn show will be a disaster. Anjelica Huston warms my heart like a slug of Bourbon when she tosses her Manhattan in his face. The second best way to finish a martini.
Karen is finishing off her umpteenth rehearsal and speeding off to an important work dinner with her dreamy boyfriend Dev, but Derek conveniently derails her plans, calling her in to do some scene work with another actor. Of course she can’t focus because she knows she’s being a horrible girlfriend, but she also can’t pick up her phone and send a text, thus angering BOTH the handsome British men in her life. Oh Karen, What Would Marilyn Do? Probably sleep with the director and say she was too silly to work her iPhone.
When Karen finally makes it to dinner, the rest of the party has left, except for Dev, who stews there in swarthy, righteous indignation. I’m only disappointed he lets her hold his hand as they leave the restaurant. Someone teach this man how to hold a grudge.
Now it’s Ivy’s turn for some callback face time. Throughout this episode she’s been impressively diligent with her homework - reading big thick Marilyn biographies, watching all her movies, and imitating her cootchy-coo voice and baby giggle with alarming accuracy. Even if I think she’s a bit brassy for Marilyn’s barely-there vocals, I’d say she deserves this part. As she gets really into character with her monologue, Derek stops her, squats in front of her and takes her hair down. Then Ivy smiles, because she knows she’s about to bone the director, and is there a surer way to get a role?
In Callbacks: Part 3 - The Reckoning, Karen performs a kicky number called “The 20th Century Fox Mambo.” The song is a really clever send-up to the styles of different studios (“And L. B. Mayer loves his schmaltz, so MGM made the great waltz”), then dives into your standard make-over song. When the balance tips into fantasy, the studio is flooded with rose-colored lights and Karen rises like Venus from a scrum of dancers in a skin-skimming gold sequin gown with a blonde wig, and she looks... unlike Marilyn. I don’t know what she looks like? Marilyn’s cat? I recommend she go on a strict donut diet for a few weeks, then re-audition.
Everyone agrees that Karen doesn’t quite have what it takes to pull off the role, and the part goes to Ivy! Don’t for a second believe that this is resolved. They can’t plaster Katherine McPhee’s face on posters all over the place, then just throw her over.
The good news is, Julia is hanging out with her adoption pals and reads a beautiful poem to the mother of her eventual adoptive child (this is an assignment everyone has to do). She’s the only person at the meeting without her spouse, but when she finishes her letter about “calling on the wind” and “guarding like a lion,” there’s Adam Carolla, leaning in the doorway, suddenly swayed by her eloquence. Everyone else in the group acts like they just heard a Shakespearean sonnet for the first time. Maybe they don't know she writes professionally? Anyway, looks like it’s babies on Broadway after all, folks.
And finally, in some special Broadway karaoke club where everyone has seen all the cast lists, Ivy goes to celebrate her part with a few of her best gays. She takes the stage and sings some drowsy frowsy almost-country beige-colored song about drumming on dashboards and singing into hairbrushes, and how everyone can make it if they only try. Let’s hope this isn’t true for your sake, Ivy. Because Karen Cartwright is trying really hard, and Derek hasn’t slept with her yet.
Images and video courtesy of NBC.