‘Smash’ recap: Episode 2, ‘Callbacks’

Karen (Katharine McPhee) might need to do more than dance her skinny butt off to land the coveted role of Marilyn.

Déjà vu! Dressed in what someone might wear to serve cocktails at a funeral, Karen’s onstage again – but she’s not singing something out of Oz; this time, it’s slightly more contemporary: Blondie’s “Call Me.” Boyfriend’s in the lounge-y audience, supportively smiling his face off, unaware of the doom that is destined to befall him because he’s just too darn perfect. Karen’s reaching for the second verse when –

Crap, they tricked us again! She’s actually at her job serving coffee (there’s food there, but Karen only seems to wander around with a coffee pot), wishing the creative team behind “Marilyn! The Musical” would call her back. Shame on us. Next week, we’ll refuse to believe anything is “reality” until the first cut-away.

Now, Tom and Derek and Eileen and Julia (The Trifecta – Tom and Julia just count as one) are establishing the premise of the episode by bickering over which girl should get the role and why. Too sexy, not sexy enough, etc. We already know who’s on whose sides, thanks to last week. Moving on!

Both girls are brought in for a second callback. Ivy Lynn is happy that she doesn’t have to dance again, but not pleased it’s come down to her and some “nobody.” We’re not sure why they told her who she was up against, but we don’t care because it’s always fun to watch the streets go by when characters are strolling around our city in this show. It’s like walking down them in real life, but without all the effort! By the looks of the show posters they’re passing, it’s 44th Street that Ivy and some unnamed friends as carousing. Hi, Harry Connick, Jr.! We’re sorry your play closed before we were able to review it. Maybe next time? And an interview? Call us!

Boyfriend is giving a tour of city hall where Karen ambushes him to confirm she does have to dance for her second callback, which sounds like bad news for her because she is only a double threat. The boy (we’ll refrain from giving him a name until we’re sure he’ll stick around once Karen destroys his heart in her pursuit of glory) acknowledges that he knows about Karen’s late-night “audition” with the director. But aw, he seems to totally trust her that nothing untoward happened. That is adorable.

Julia and her husband, Frank (Brian d’Arcy James), are turning in their application to adopt a child from Beijing. They tell us they’ve been revving up for this baby for 10 months and are impatient to wait another 3-4 months just to begin the actual waiting process. “Chinese bureaucracy is very thorough,” their helpful adoption aide says. She saw “Chinglish,” so she knows.

Karen’s visibly nervous about her dance callback. She’s learning the mambo (the one from the 20th century, not to be confused with its predecessors), and Director Derek’s also the choreographer, remember, so he has license to get up close and personal – and handsy – with her as he teaches her the routine.

Opening credits! Wow, that felt like it took awhile.

Ivy Lynn’s devious male dancer friend was spying on Karen’s audition and gives the blonde all the updates, like how many tries it took Karen to get the steps right (3) and that she’s from Iowa (which we already learned last week).

Elsewhere (or possibly nearby, we’re not sure where things are half the time) Tom’s shuffling index cards around on a cork board which, as all writers know, is 90% of the battle, but Julia’s mind is elsewhere. To wit: “Do you know it takes longer to adopt a baby than it took to write West Side Story?” She doesn’t seem to think this sounds appropriate in the least, for some unfathomable reason, but she rallies to totally usurp Tom’s cork board authority and change the structure of the show. Music break! Karen sings “Let Me Be Your Star,” which what we’re told is going to ultimately open the play. Ivy Lynn pops in for good measure, and now we’ve got a proper duet happening!

Next Julia’s asking Tom’s assistant (cheat sheet: Ellis) to step out of the room while the grown-ups talk. He’s hesitant to go, and that’s probably because he’s another spying spy SPY! He totally presses up against the door to eavesdrop the moment he leaves the room! Ellis, the laundry isn’t going to pick itself up! He’s probably in cahoots with Ivy Lynn’s devious dancer friend. We’re constructing elaborate conspiracy theories already, and we’ll give you a little hint in two words: Gay. Mafia.

In another chapter of the most elaborate callback gamut ever, Karen’s learning a new dance and not doing particularly well. Derek steps out of the room to air out some of his seemingly tangible aura of distaste and runs into Ivy Lynn, who’s patiently thumbing through the world’s thickest tome about Marilyn Monroe because she’s a teacher’s pet. She was probably just flipping the pages for show, because we all know blondes don’t read big books. We’re pretty sure everything she says about it as a testament to “reading” is part of the bio’s review on Amazon. Maybe we’re just suspicious of everyone now. Showbiz! Derek invites Ivy Lynn inside as Karen’s finishing up. We finally see these girls meet each other, only an hour of viewing time after we first met them. As Karen’s heading out, she turns back to ask one more question of Derek, but he slams the door in her face. Message received: Don’t Disappoint Derek.

Now Karen and Boyfriend are eating hot dogs from a cart, confirming that she truly doesn’t take this whole dance thing too seriously. She keeps him abreast of what an asshole Director Derek is with an impersonation that informs also-British Boyfriend that this guy who’s manhandling his girl and her delicate aspirations has co-opted his secret weapon: the accent. Suddenly, for the first time, his eyes show a flicker of true concern. But maybe that’s more related to eating the hot dog. We would be worried, too.

In the mirror of her movie-star-not-chorus-girl dressing room, Ivy Lynn is practicing the Marilyn voice with eerie accuracy. This scene basically exists to prove she’s certainly not slacking off and eating cart food when there’s the role of a lifetime to pursue!

Speaking of roles of a lifetime, Julia’s scripting a letter to the potential mother of her yet-unborn daughter as part of the international adoption process. Her husband’s freaking out that he’s going to be in his late 40s by the time this child arrives on their doorstep, because he just thought to do math yesterday even though they’ve been filling out paperwork for almost a year. Julia asks if her husband even wants a kid anymore, and he realizes that he doesn’t because he’ll be an incontinent, senile 65-year-old by the time their daughter’s old enough to smoke and vote and enlist, all of which he’d like to see with his original hips intact. Then the couple’s son, who’s name we totally don’t know and don’t want to look up, pops up and gets melancholy about how much his life sucks as an only child and how he was looking forward to finally trying that seesaw at the park, but now that will never happen. Julia wants to make sure she’s the good guy in this scenario, so she goes after her son for the heart-to-heart that maybe her mind-changing husband should be having.

We can barely watch what happens next. The woebegone son lays it on thick that they have to rescue this helpless orphan, that his parents promised him he wouldn’t have to be alone anymore, that if they don’t bring him the baby he wished for every year as he blew out his birthday cake candles, he will lose faith in all things good and pure in mankind forever. Out of grief, he’ll totally rebel against Julia, and the only musical he’ll ever listen to again is “Grease 2,” loudly and on repeat. Instead of actually paying attention to his heavy-handed whining, we focus on trying to guess how old this kid’s supposed to be. He looks about 25 but must be closer to 5, since he still believes everything his parents tells him, like about baby sisters in China and how their old dog moved to a big farm where he could run and play and about Santa Claus. We’re going to split the odds and guess he’s supposed to be 15.

Ivy Lynn’s alone in her HOE dressing room, which might seem more realistic if it had about a dozen other actresses crammed into it. Then again, the chorus girl does like to hang around late so she can fraternize with her biggest fan, co-writer Tom. She dazzles him with Marilyn trivia that she picked up off the jacket of that book she’s been lugging around, and he caves and says he wishes he could have just given her the part. She says softly, “I know.” Seriously, are they having an affair or does he just wish he could be her? He did sing all the lyrics on the demo recording of his soundtrack at the callbacks earlier, it’s not so far-fetched that this favoritism is based on some twisted wish-fulfillment fantasy. Only time will tell.

ANJELICA HUSTON. Where have you been for the past 40 minutes? Eileen enters a restaurant and runs into a peppy waif (later to be called Lindsay) that we’re meant to immediately dislike because she’s with Eileen’s (ex?) husband. But that’s an accidental run-in, and Eileen’s actually meeting with Derek to dish about the two potential Marilyns because she’s going to need an actress before she “sinks $200,000 into a workshop.” Derek is stolen away on some restaurant errand, and Eileen’s husband (Michael Cristofer) poaches the empty seat in order to tell Eileen that her dreams are frivolous. “All this nonsense, ‘theater is art’? You’ve deluded yourself, and then you’ve fallen in love with the delusion.” She throws her drink in his face. Man this show can really pour it on. No pun intended. But in all seriousness, those with finances tangled up in divorce and musicals shouldn’t be so flippant with their $26 Manhattans, some people have no drinks at all right now!

Derek and Eileen flee (without paying!) to the streets to continue their discussion about the future of “M!TM.” She wants to hurry things along. “Most of what I see on Broadway is overworked,” Eileen declares, not knowing we have a fixed amount of plot to get through this season in a set amount of episodes. Derek’s concerned about moving too fast when the book’s not yet done. But Eileen’s convinced all they need to move forward is the right Marilyn. We know, we know!

Boyfriend is shooed out of the house by Karen, who PROMISES SHE WILL MAKE IT ON TIME TO HIS VERY IMPORTANT DINNER. We wonder what might happen!

Julia’s husband is lying in bed, talking about how he wants to go, as his angsty son would sing, “Back! Back! Back! Back to school!” – er, well back to work, but he’s a teacher, so also school. He’s sick of being a stay-at-home dad while she pursues her career and their unnamed son (oh wait, his name is Leo!) is in class. Frank’s done waiting around for this “baby” from “China.” Also, he teaches science, so we’ve just figured out why this marriage isn’t working out. Science/math people =/= writing/theater people. (Or maybe they do; we were never very good with equations.)

Boyfriend is out at his Very Important Dinner, and his co-worker is explaining their client is a total lech who only wants to make business deals with guys who have hot girlfriends he can ogle, so it’s critical that Karen shows up. Wait, client? Doesn’t he read plaques to tourists at the mayor’s office? Anyway, Karen’s asked to stay behind to work on the Joe DiMaggio number with Derek. Of course. Her face confirms that she’s the only one on the planet who did not see that coming. Oh, Boyfriend is the deputy press secretary, by the way. Our bad! So his job is apparently to make sure the press corps never eats red meat, lest they get rowdy. Keep making disparaging jokes about journalists and you’ll never get a real name, Boyfriend. Anyway, jokes on you; we’re vegetarian.

Karen’s still at her audition, which is a waste of time anyway since she’s distracted and only frustrating Derek by giving him “nothing.” When she shows up to Boyfriend’s Very Important Dinner, he’s predictably all alone at the table and predictably fuming that she couldn’t even text that she’d be running late. Well, he has a point there, Karen. Surely Derek at least lets you have a bathroom break at some point, right?

It’s day again and Ivy Lynn’s trying to find the heart of Marilyn instead of just the voice. She’s fighting to be vulnerable and believable, since her strong suit is the sex kitten bit. Derek’s coaching her with more awkward touching which totally leads to the bedroom! Bad! Bad Ivy Lynn! Are we horrible for not blaming Derek? Well it’s not because he’s the man, he’s just the one who’s entire dream isn’t supposedly on the line.

Karen and Ivy Lynn are together at another round of callbacks. Derek surprises Julia and Tom with the fact that he just went ahead and staged the whole number they’re supposed to be looking at today, because big Broadway numbers are made overnight while boyfriends are having dinner with their bosses alone. But yay, this means another musical number while we twiddle our thumbs, tuck our hair behind our ears or whatever crazy thing we want to do with our hands unglued from the keyboard! It’s the complete version of the song we heard a snippet of before, “20th Century Fox Mambo.” Once again, of course, the rehearsal room transforms into a more elaborate staged version with costumes and wigs, et al.

The Trifecta debates the merits of each girl again. While waiting, Karen’s at work and actually carries food! Ivy Lynn is lurking in her dressing room, where we’re starting to suspect she actually lives. You know, waiting until everyone else goes home and curling up on the couch because rent’s expensive! We’ve all been there. Wait, it’s actually not a room at all, it’s a little nook backstage without real walls. We didn’t realize that before now, we could have sworn there was a proper doorway. We’d love to see the entire space, but it’s not in the cards for this shot. However, Tom shows up to tell Ivy Lynn she’s got the part (after the minor requisite fake-out). Squealing!

Elsewhere, Director Derek tells Eileen that he’s been asked back on board for “My Fair Lady.” He already spent three years working on it so he’s thinking he’ll just…psych! He’s not going back to that show because he’s fallen for “M!TM.” Or has he fallen for Ivy Lynn? How else can we explain her getting the part despite seeming to be his second pick until she hit the sheets? He tells Eileen it’s just because she’s easier on the eyes to work with than this elusive “Jerry” who’s heading up “My Fair Lady.”

At a little dive cabaret somewhere, Ivy Lynn is called onstage to perform as a celebration of her new role – which the emcee says is “headed for Broadway.” We’re pretty sure it’s headed for a workshop in the Catskills or somewhere. Okay, well, portraying how a show is actually produced doesn’t seem to be a priority, but we can step in and say that plays without a book aren’t usually on their way to Broadway – however, we’ll just let this one slide. After all, “Smash” is so spot-on about other important aspects, like the benefits using what we in the business like to call the casting couch. Congrats, Ivy!

Julia, sans Frank, is at some kind of adoption support group. They’re all sitting around on folding chairs in an empty classroom or church basement somewhere and we’re pretty sure they’re about to sing “Life Support” from “Rent.” But no, Julia’s going to read her letter to the birthmother of her prospective daughter. She has not actually quit the adoption process! But does her husband know? “She’ll be a child of two lands, and she will wear that knowledge with pride. And at night, we’ll call to you on the wind. Perhaps you will hear us and know she is safe.” Guys, as it turns out this is the best letter of the whole group, and one dude wishes he’d written it, because there’s only one baby and only the best writer will get it. What they don’t know is that the gay couple on “Modern Family” already got her, sorry! Just kidding, daughters for everyone! By the way, Frank did show up after all! This scene keeps getting better and better! We’re just going to keep using exclamation points until something seems sincere, which we’re pretty sure is a tactic employed by Theresa Rebeck! (Sorry, Ms. Rebeck, you’re great, but – these scenes? Some of them? We just can’t.)

Ivy Lynn indulges us with a song, “Crazy Dreams.” Just in case you wondered what happened with Karen, the camera shows us her cradling her much-beloved red vino and her beloved-now-that-callbacks-are-over boyfriend. Rejection sucks! We know. But we have a feeling it’s not over for you yet. ANJELI– Eileen is also shown briefly, being pensive. But then she’s gone again. We see flashbacks from earlier in the same episode, which admittedly feels like a long time ago. But despite some characters now carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, at least Ivy Lynn is in happy, got-the-lead-part land. So Tom can continue to vicariously live the dream of playing Marilyn Monroe through her! And Julia? Well Julia might just get that Beijing Baby and save Leo from the “Rock-A-Hula-Luau” after all.


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