Hell has arrived on “Smash” and it has the face of feather-clad dancers on a Gone-With-The-Wind-like marble staircase and a scorned husband who decides to teach a lesson not exactly in the fashion he would to his students. Before we delve into these fabulous photos for the upcoming “Hell on Earth” Smash episode that will air on NBC on Monday at 10 p.m., I shall warn you: read at your own risk! Major spoilers ahead for episode 9 and beyond, because you guessed it, I’m one of those who has had enough of the incessant verbosity of some critics over the flaws of this show, and I am going to say how and why they are wrong in my opinion. And I won’t hesitate to give out bits of what’s going to happen to explain why I think they’re wrong. And not because I am a TV critic, heaven forbid I ever become someone who frowns over stuff that other writers have penned with so much effort and passion, but because I am a writer and a journalist, and I am a firm believer that screenwriters and producers are the only ones who actually know what’s best for their show. And they shouldn’t listen to critics or fans (at least not as long as the ratings meet the network’s expectations). Especially not during the first two seasons.
So, as soon as I’m done staring at Roger from “Rent” on Broadway…erm I mean Will Chase who plays Michael Swift on Smash, and who looks so damn good in that checkered shirt (let’s face it, he’d look good with a litter sack on), I guess I can bother to elaborate on what’s going on there. Well, the promo showed scorned husband Frank (Broadway star Brian d’Arcy James) finding out that his wife Julia (the awesome Debra Messing) has been taking some private lessons from another teacher, namely the above-mentioned hottie, because “History Is Made At Night”. I’m sorry, that was too much of an insider Smash reference? Why are you reading this if you don’t watch Smash? Oh, because you loooove me? Why, thank you! (If you don’t, never mind. I’m a big girl. And I’m prettier. Oh and… neener neener!)
Was I saying? Right, Frank somehow (and I’m dead curious to find out what that somehow is. Can it be Monday already?) finds out that Julia and Michael had a little sumptin’ sumptin’ going on, and goes a-knocking on Michael’s face. Yes, he punches the pretty. Now Frank, you and I have a difficult relationship to begin with, because I will always take the passionate singing hottie over the boring teacher husband, but you’re really pushing it here. You do not punch the pretty in the middle of the street. You just don’t. Because I need to stare at it without bruises. Oh wait, but the photo shows that (before the punch? after the punch? Looks like Michael is all “whoa buddy, hold those fists for a minute”) you’re talking to the pretty, too? How considerate of you. Especially knowing he’s got nothing to say that will please you. I don’t think an elaborate account of what happened between him and Julia and how is in the cards. So I’m guessing Michael, especially because he is head over heels in love with your wife (we’ll get to this later), will avoid giving out the fact that uhm, it didn’t really just happen now, but it started five years ago, and it lasted for a long while? And I’m dying to find out if, how and when Franks discovers that it started five years earlier (can it be Monday already?), because in the promo Julia goes so far as to say out loud “It wasn’t anything”. Guess that lying to herself and to her family for such a long time actually convinced her she was telling the truth. Wake-up call coming up soon Julia, in the form of husband walking out the door, all packed, per promo.
Elsewhere, Ivy (the super-talented Megan Hilty) is floating around wearing feathers and pays a little visit to the stage floor. With her face. So the whole audience goes “whoa!” and not because of her hitting a high note, but unfortunately, because the little accident happens in a packed-full theater where “Heaven on Earth” is on stage, with Ivy being part of the ensemble. As if that wasn’t enough, Ivy is competing with Karen (the beautiful Katharine McPhee) for an orange juice commercial, and she doesn’t exactly take the news that Karen got the part that well. Her not-so-inner bitch is unleashed on Karen in the middle of Broadway (literally) as she tells her she is nothing special and there are hundreds of girls like her. I wish I could say I can sympathize with Ivy. But I really can’t. These absolutely unjustified outbursts at Karen really make me want to slap her instead. It’s not Karen’s fault if you have problems, Ivy. Karen does her job, maybe if you started focusing more on doing yours and less on the drama that you created yourself, things would start improving, hmm? Oh also, critics? Stop giving me the “Ivy is perfect because she is flawed” and “Karen is wooden and too perfect thus we don’t like her” line, because we’ve seen last episode how Karen is far from perfect. And Ivy is someone who so far hasn’t put her money where her mouth is. She thinks she is so good, Tom (Christian Borle, ah so lovely!) keeps praising her, but when it is the moment to deliver, she always falls short. And don’t even get me started on her diva attitude. She doesn’t deserve the Marilyn part one bit more than Karen does. And that’s why it’s good to see the story heat up in that sense.
In a parallel universe, because I refuse to admit that he is on the show, Ellis (Jaime Cepero), a.k.a. THE WEASEL (a copy of the original Backstabbing Weasel, played by Joey Slotnick on “Alias”) is meeting with Randall (I’m reading the photo credits here). First off, who the heck is Randall? Because I don’t remember. Someone to do with Eileen is all I know. And he’s chatting with freaking Ellis in what looks like an elegant living room. Or the fireplace of some fancy restaurant. Wherever, I don’t care, as long as this scene is as short as possible and Ellis gets off my TV screen faster than lightning, or preferably, hit by lightning so we get rid of him in one clean swoop with a juicy twist.
Tom is instead, wait a minute… flirting with Ivy’s bestie Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) already!? Didn’t poor and oh-so-gorgeous boyfriend and lawyer John (Neal Bledsoe) just save Julia’s son Leo (Emory Cohen) last episode in court? And what he gets is Tom flirting with Sam? Poor John. You were always too nice to Tom anyway, and he always treated you like crap. Not good, Tom. Excellent that we will see you with Sam though, as I love Sam, and that will get you off your “I don’t sleep with people who are involved in the show and I am oh-so-better than you sinners” high horse, and things may actually become very interesting.
And what about Eileen (the legendary Anjelica Huston)? Well, Eileen is very busy having dinner (or lunch) with the terror of all Broadway producers and writers, none other than Broadway critic Michael Riedel himself! (I find it incredibly fascinating and just great that Riedel is guest starring as himself on the show). No doubt Eileen is doing this in an attempt to oil the machine before the engine is even on. Which brings me to the next, and far less humorous, point that I mentioned.
If Michael Riedel himself accepted to guest star on the show, the show most certainly can’t be a disaster. Or a grossly inaccurate portrayal of the Broadway world. I am sick and tired of reading TV critics and TV bloggers all up in arms about “how to fix Smash” after ONE weak episode. Yes the latest episode was the worst of the lot. IT HAPPENS. It most certainly doesn’t mean the whole show needs to be re-thought. They were annoying before already, but now they’ve reached Ellis levels of annoying. And here is why. First off, you (TV critics/bloggers) aren’t writing the show, the screenwriters are. And you know why? Because you aren’t a script writer and you can’t do that job, which means those who actually can know a thing or ten about it more than you do. Second, but not less important: what part of “this is a show that explores the backstage drama that takes place during the making of a Broadway show” didn’t you get when NBC and the producers presented the show? Because the meaning of this is: “It’s a relationship drama show staged during the making of a Broadway show”. It is not, and never has been: “this is a documentary about how you make a Broadway show, and OMG you will see a musical number by number, step by step, minute by minute in every episode of the show. Theater all the time! Forget the fact it’s a TV show!”
I take issue with a lot of things that many of these critics and bloggers have said, first off because it is not their place (or mine, though I’d love to) to write the show and tell the writers how to, but most importantly because some (more than one) have gone so far as to claim that they had a list of the stories that were most unpopular with viewers (lists that I, and many people I know or read online who watch, entirely disagreed with, for example, except for one point: Ellis seems to be universally hated). Exactly when did you go poll 6.4 million viewers to claim you know what is and isn’t most popular with them? Oh right, never. The short conclusion for all of this is: back off. A whole lot of people are enjoying the show just as it is, and disagree with your points. Start reading around and asking around, instead of considering your column the place where the world of Smash fans begins and ends. I’ve done some digging around and I found out something interesting. A lot of people do not read or reply to those columns anymore, because after reading trash talk about their favorite characters for the umpteenth time, they just stay away from them. Does that mean said fans don’t exist or don’t watch the show? It surely doesn’t. It just means they don’t read YOU. Or me for that matter. If you always trash talk the same characters, and praise the same ones, chances are those who agree with your point of view will keep on commenting, and those who disagree will just stay away.
The show is mid-season (the season consists of 15 episodes, we have seen eight) and you seriously can’t make any claim before at the very least having seen where the stories are at in the finale. Most of all, pretty please stop with the “It’s too soapy!”. “Soapy” is part of what it was supposed to be from the start. It’s a show about relationship drama staged on Broadway, that’s the very definition of shenanigans and soapy! And you know what? That “soapy” is what keeps TV viewers watching. Not everyone who watches is a Broadway fan. If only Broadway fans were to tune in, the season would never have gone past a couple of episodes, because ratings would have been abysmal. People watch to see what will happen to the characters next, and surely also to listen to the beautiful songs and musical numbers the show has to offer, but the two things have an order, and it’s not music and the musical first, drama then. It’s drama first, music and the musical then.
Nobody hires first-rate Broadway performers like Hilty and Chase as well as Katharine McPhee in order not to make them sing, but that’s a part of it, not ALL of it. The making of the Broadway show is the excuse to set the drama. The main dish for a TV show remains the drama, otherwise this would turn into a documentary on Broadway. And let me make this clear, I am a HUGE Broadway fan, I have played the piano since I was 5, and I have sung since I was 2 (never at a professional level, because discipline is not something I really can deal with when I’m playing or singing). Music is, always has been, and always will be a fundamental part of my life, and I adore seeing the musical numbers and hearing these people sing beautifully each week. But that doesn’t change the fact that the musical numbers and the theater rehearsal cannot be and weren’t intended to be taking up most of the airtime on the show. Deal with it and stop whining.
And while we’re talking about stories, I’ll also add a couple of things. I’ve seen people bring up the adoption storyline again as a mistake. Really? Exactly when did we see the adoption storyline all that much? That’s right, never. Also, it doesn’t take much to figure out that, since Julia and Frank’s marriage is in shambles and she has cheated on him repeatedly, there’s no adoption in sight anytime soon. So why are you even bringing that up? And the second thing. I LOVE the Michael and Julia storyline. And if you think I’m the only one, think again. There are Twitter accounts with people who impersonate the two of them, blogs that do the same, fan pages, videos, comments from people who love them in a lot of places (check out Tumblr and YouTube just as an example). While I know of critics who have actually written a balanced and well-thought-of account of the story, a lot of them have just gone off the tangent with their assessments on it. The fact you keep on hating and those who read you and keep reading are mainly the portion that agrees with you, as I explained above, doesn’t mean that the majority of fans is against Michael and Julia. Or Karen (she gets a lot of critic hate as well, while Ivy seems to be just perfect. UH?). Or whatever else you dislike. At all.
I am shocked and also insulted by the fact some of these bloggers and critics keep hating on the Michael and Julia storyline because “it’s soapy” and (this is the best one) because “they are adulterers.” Are you joking? You have to be. You’re a TV critic, you really didn’t just write that. It’s TV, it is not real life. And who the heck doesn’t love a Hollywood affair? We all have rooted for adulterers and cheaters to get together at some point in this or the other movie or TV show, because Hollywood affairs are intriguing, and exciting and passionate. You dislike this particular one? Fine, nothing wrong with that. But if you think you can pull the “moral” card over a TV show, you seriously need to reconsider things.
And the whole “but their significant others don’t seem like they’re annoying or bad” argument won’t work either. Affairs don’t happen mainly because people are married to lousy human beings. Affairs happen for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with that. Sometimes you find the person that is actually right for you when you’re already married, because it just happens. Sometimes you don’t think about your actions and you find yourself in the middle of it. Sometimes you just fall in love with the idea of a different person. There are a whole bunch of reasons. The reason for Julia and Michael’s repeat-offender affair is quite evidently that they are “soul mates” who met in less than ideal circumstances. Everyone also seems to forget that the affair isn’t simply what happened now, but mostly what happened five years before, that was described by Julia to Tom as a really big deal that lasted for a while. And while Julia was married back then, Michael wasn’t. And that’s why he’s the one whose feelings are less hidden, and more intense, because when it all started, he had no reason to hide them to himself at least. While Julia at some point had to hide them to both herself and her family.
In the almost-universally-hated episode of last week, the show had a beautifully understated scene with Michael and Julia. That of course only a couple of the critics bothered to watch with a modicum of attention. The rest just made points that left me wondering whether they had watched the scene at all. Michael wasn’t “flaunting his wife and kid” in front of Julia. They were there in order for him to not forget what he was doing and in order for him to be able to carry his point across. He was telling Julia he was letting her go and he wasn’t being incoherent at all. “If you love somebody, set them free”. THAT is what he was doing. He’s in love with her but he has no other choice, he has got to let her go. You’re seriously telling me you didn’t get that he kissed the wife on purpose because he wanted to show her that yes, he was giving her up but he wanted her to get one last glimpse at what she was about to lose? And that, while it kills him to let her go, he can find a way to just live with it and be loved by someone else? Come on now. And the close-up of Julia clearly being upset while she saw him kissing the wife made it abundantly clear that the purpose of the scene was exactly that. Michael is the only one who has been honest about his feelings for her and hasn’t hidden the fact that he just wants to be with her for real, not while lying and hiding. Episode 7 (and the ones before) made that all too clear, not just with their passionate and romantic moments, but with dialogue between the two of them, with them rehearsing the scene between Marilyn and Joe and with that incredibly poignant, powerful performance by Will Chase, singing “On Lexington and 52nd Street”.
Speaking of this, the story between Michael and Julia is the only one, other than Derek (Jack Davenport, I seriously love you, too but this is way too long so I’ll talk about you another time) and Ivy, that is perfectly integral to the Broadway setting of the show. Michael is not simply Julia’s love interest, he is Joe Di Maggio in the musical, and a freaking fantastic Joe Di Maggio at that. The colleague from the LA Times made very good points about Will Chase’s above-mentioned performance , and gave it a 4.0 out of 5, with only Bernadette freaking Peters, a Broadway legend, scoring higher, a 4.5 out of 5 for “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”. (I have lost count of how many times I have re-listened to it. Beautiful.) And that’s just one example. It is absolutely undeniable that the songs Chase and Hilty have performed together on the show have been some of the very best musical numbers we’ve seen. And my goodness, Michael Swift managed to make me like a Bruno Mars song. That, in my case, is like making a vegetarian eat a steak if you catch my drift. There’s no doubt that Michael Swift is a great addition to the cast, and whether you like it or not, there’s also no doubt that his story with Julia most certainly doesn’t only have haters, it also has a lot of fans.
Michael is gone from episode 10 to episode 13, but he is back for the final two episodes, 14 and 15. So obviously the story will pick up again. And I’m positive Will Chase will be back on the show next season. Face it, and stop hating on a story for no other solid reason than the fact you have a personal dislike for it. Is it soapy? Of course it is, it’s relationship drama on Broadway. Ivy and Derek is just as soapy, and it’s just and simply part of the appeal of the show. It is just not true that this affair story is not well-written. It’s subtle and it’s not “in your face” in certain aspects, and maybe it would need more airtime (yes I said more, not less), but it’s certainly compelling from a writing standpoint. Of course if you don’t pay attention, you’ll think it makes no sense, but that’s valid for any story on any show. On top of it, it makes a LOT more sense to have Julia with Michael than to have her with a peripheral character like Frank, who is completely detached from the main story of the show. And who, let’s face it, is a completely boring husband, whose relationship with Julia has “the same passion as a couple of titmice” to quote Sir Anthony Hopkins in “Meet Joe Black”.
And Ellis. We all hate Ellis because he is a villain. We all want him gone. Well he won’t go, because every show needs a villain. Surely he can improve, and my main complaint about him is not how the character is written, but how the actor portrays him (no hard feelings, Jaime Cepero, I just don’t like how completely unsympathetic you make him. It’s the eyes, the expression, the delivery of lines that does that in my opinion. And really, it’s merely my personal taste. I’m sure I’d love you in other roles). Do I go and tell the writers “get rid of him”?! NO. I just hope he pays the price for his actions. And I hope he is hit by a train or something at some point , and I will enjoy watching that scene. Yes that’s a bit too violent, but he is a really slimy, backstabbing weasel, so sorry, violent death for him. After all he’s not a real person. The original backstabbing weasel was first punched, then tortured, then killed on Alias, so I have a good track record on this.
I am relieved and glad that the writers for “Smash” were done planning and writing the entire season by the time the show aired, and 12 episodes had already been filmed. Because they took their stories where THEY felt was best, and that is the way it should always be. I don’t think they need to justify themselves for ANY of the storylines at this point. This is their show, it’s not the critics’ or the fans’. It’s their creature and it will develop according to their vision. This doesn’t mean that writers never make mistakes, they’re human and of course they can and will make mistakes, but to claim a show needs to be fixed based on the desire of this or that critic or this or that fan, when it has found a more or less stable audience for a few episodes now, and it is in the middle of its first season (a 15-episode season, not even a regular 22-or-more one) is completely out of place in my opinion. They know what they’re doing, they know where the stories end up going (unlike all the rest of us) and why. And not just till the end of the season, but beyond that. I have immensely enjoyed the show so far, and I have enjoyed it in its entirety. Relationships, drama and music. All of it. Maybe not Ellis but hey, perfection isn’t of this world. And I’m thrilled there will be a second season for it.
To finish this way too long “Smash” love post, I just want to tell the writers: keep doing what you are doing. You know what to do and how to. And always try to do it better as you progress with the show. You will upset us or make us happy as we watch the story unfold, but that’s part of the game. And as a writer, I have the utmost respect for those who have the guts to put themselves in this incredibly hard, painful game. So keep it up, and good luck.
Photo Cred: NBC