The show opens with a confident starlet (Katharine McPhee) standing tall, center stage, in a silver, sparkling dress while she performs a beautiful, belting rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Oh good, so we’re cutting straight to the meat of this musical-based –
Jarringly, a phone rings. We’re suddenly watching a mundane version of the same girl sing in plainclothes, but she’s actually in the middle of what could be any of the numerous unadorned audition calls that out-of-work actors consider the daily grind. The trio of stoic, middle-aged faces behind the folding table aren’t paying attention to her – one even takes the call that interrupted our dream sequence – but to be fair, the girl (let’s cheat: her name is Karen) was also caught up in her own world, so who can blame the casting agents?
Karen gets the tragically abrupt, “Thanks! That’s all we need.” (The theater-world equivalent of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”) Next up is the chick who previews have clued us in to be the competition, the sexy Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) – a blonde bombshell who knows how to work her assets. “So, do you want the ballad or the up-tempo first?” she practically purrs. Fine, we already love/hate her – nicely done, “Smash.”
Karen gets on the phone to tell some unidentified pal exactly what we just saw happen. Look, we’ll let the hand-holding slide this once, but don’t let it happen again, show, or we’ll revoke that “nicely done.”
Next, Grace – err, Julia (Debra Messing) – is visiting Tom (Christian Borle), whose new assistant is cooking him comfort foods to welcome him home, which the chipper lad apparently accomplished after he organized the mail and created a “tea drawer” in the kitchen. This might have been the first of what we suspect will be many occasions where we want to scream “NOT IN NYC” and throw something at the screen – except that we got distracted by trying to figure out if we could add a tea drawer to the kitchen. Maybe if we stash our silverware in the oven.
Writing duo Tom and Julia – they’ve yet to be identified, but since NBC’s been pimping this show for months, we’re too impatient not to just tell you – begin to peruse an industry magazine and dish on the latest Broadway news, because they’re both too old to have ever heard of the Internet, and thus hear about things five weeks later when magazines are printed. Of course it’s all a setup for the tried-and-true lament of the bitter and unemployed of showbiz: “Why doesn’t anyone do new musicals anymore?” (Preceded by the same crowd’s other favorite lament, “Ugh, he’s straight.” Tom is convinced this is not necessarily true of his comely PA, but we feel conditioned to trust Grace Adler’s gaydar on this one.)
Finding books on Marilyn Monroe, the assistant of the debatable sexuality suggests doing a musical on her, at which point Julia and Tom quickly say they already tried that, it was a huge flop, and besides “everyone’s doing her right now.” “Doesn’t that mean people like her?” Maybe-gay-without-a-name asks. “That doesn’t mean she’d make a good musical,” Julia astutely observes. “Well I liked ‘Wicked’ and ‘Jersey Boys,’ who’d have thought they’d make good musicals?” The assistant chirps cutely. If those are his top musical theater references, we’re siding with Julia that he’s straight.
Karen is actually (SURPRISE!) a waitress, and she pours coffee for someone who might have been on the other end of her unnecessary phone call. She bitches that she wasn’t sexy enough for her audition this morning, that she’s more of a girl-next-door, and that she wishes she were fat. And on that note, she’s hungry. A starving artist, if you will. Her friend assures her that she’s too skinny. Now we think we hate her, too.
At home, Julia drinks wine and broaches the topic of a Marilyn Monroe musical with her family. Her husband reminds her (and informs us) that she and Tom are supposed to be taking a break. But he only winds up inspiring her further by accidentally agreeing with Tom that if they did do a MM musical, they could add a baseball number.
Meanwhile, Karen’s parents are in town. She tells the unidentified man in her life that they’re just going to try and talk her into moving back home to Iowa. Cue the small-town-girl-makes-good storyline. Mom, there’s no such eye-rolling when we’re telling our friends that you’re about to visit. We promise.
Julia stays up all night watching Marilyn movies. And polishing off that bottle of wine.
Now we’re backstage and Tom is flirting with chorus boys. The show is called “Heaven on Earth.” Cast member Ivy Lynn is crying over her failed audition that we saw before – in a dressing room that’s much more lavish than most, so “HOE” (hee!) must be doing OK. She wants to move out of the ensemble and into the spotlight. She and Tom bond.
We’ve finally made it to Day 2. Julia and her husband fight over whether or not Julia’s allowed to leave the kids and focus on her career or some kind of boring domestic quibble we tuned out because we all know how this is going to end. We learn a social worker is coming over to approve the family for adoption, presenting some additional home/work conflicts of interest. Tea comes up again, and we’re double-checking our notes to make sure this is Broadway and not the West End.
Karen and … OK, it’s her boyfriend, and he works at the mayor’s office … are meeting her parents. They complain about the prices at the restaurant (cringe). “You’re a waitress, we’ll pay for dinner,” her dad insists. “She’s an actress,” boyfriend corrects. Mom and dad worry about this life she’s chosen for herself: “Sometimes, sweetie, dreams don’t mix with reality.”
In a recording studio that may or may not be in Tom’s apartment, Ivy Lynn is not defending her art to doubters, but is instead rehearsing a new song with her mentors, our writing duo. By the way, note that it’s a new song, because maybe-gay assistant is about to be accused of leaking it on the Web. I guess Julia and Tom have the Internet after all. The assistant is fired, but he protests that he didn’t post the video, he only sent it to his mother. OK. Perhaps he’s gay. Now Julia and Tom flip out because their work is being critiqued while it’s still in draft format. But wait, this is TV and not reality, so this mega-harsh “Nazi” theater critic who works at the Post is actually praising the demo he saw, because critics do often publish their thoughts on YouTube links. Guess what, y’all? He’s calling it … a smash. “He tells the truth,” Julia 180s.
ANJELICA HUSTON. OK, we got a little excited but now that we’re paying attention again it seems like her character, Eileen, is suing someone (her husband/partner?) about a revival of “My Fair Lady,” the “Marilyn! The Musical” nemesis. She presumably will need a new show to finance. We wonder where ever she will find one …
The assistant ambushes Julia and Tom to grovel for his job back, throws praise at them, and because they’re writers who eat that up, they decide he’s great again.
ANJELICA HUSTON. She is, shockingly, being approached about working on “M!TM.” She might be interested, but she needs to speak to her own Tom, i.e. British director/choreographer Derek (Jack Davenport). She only wants to do it if he’s on board, but he thinks that could only happen if Marilyn were to “do me right here.”
And now we get to see a rendition of Tom’s new baseball number. Eileen and Derek sit in so they can be convinced of the show’s potential. At the same time, we’re being convinced. The scene flashes back and forth between the rehearsal room and the fully staged version, a glimmer of what could be and what we’re supposed to be rooting for – and so far, we’re sold.
Julia and Tom still hate Derek, but they love the work he did on their song, so they’re willing to let him come on board despite being “a terrible human being.” And we also learn that Derek doesn’t particularly like Ivy Lynn. Eileen wants him to give it a week.
Karen’s at another audition, and her boyfriend’s there to see her off with comforting parting words and a random exchange about their morning quickie. Oh wait, her audition’s for “M!TM.” Hey, that’s an anagram of our initials. Winner!
The director, producer and writers are all sitting in for the auditions for the part of Marilyn, but they seem more interested in coming up with a name than seeing hours of desperate girls. “Kristin Chenoweth!” Julia touts. “I discovered her, she’s not right for this part,” Derek undercuts dryly. Very cute; he’s growing on us in a surly Simon Cowell way. Tom still wants Ivy Lynn and he’s pissy that she even has to audition. Derek won’t budge, “I don’t need a trooper, I need an icon.” Ivy’s so nervous about all this possibility that she’s late to her audition because she’s puking in the bathroom.
In her place, who steps up but Karen. Derek already likes her because she’s not dressed as Marilyn. Here’s the clip we’ve been seeing over and over again in ads: Katharine McPhee digs into Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” We get to rest our fingers; we’re going to really like musical interludes.
Karen and Ivy both get callbacks. The former toasts the news with a glass of white wine, while Ivy delves into the red. You guys, these two girls could not be more different. Karen also celebrates with sex, so she’s clearly winning this round. (So far, her boyfriend is just there to be the best guy on the face of the planet ever, so something will surely begin to drive them apart by Episode 3.)
Karen is now having a private meeting with Derek at 10 p.m. It’s extremely sketchy, and exactly what any hungry actress would do if she were asked, so we can’t scold her too much. Until … she flails when the director(/choreographer) wants her to get sexy and convince him she can pull off Marilyn. But that’s not like her at all! Oh wait, she realizes she can do this if she … acts. She does the sexy “Happy Birthday” routine wearing his work shirt and then as Derek gets all into it, she says it’s “not gonna happen.” She makes an impression.
Yay another song sequence! It’s another number from “M!TM” but it’s really just a montage to get us to callbacks, where we assume Ivy and Karen might actually meet when they’re done with this duet. Time to size up the competition? Well, no, because the show ends on the last beat. Damn, just as we were salivating for more, but that seems to be the point. So we’ll just have to tune in next week. And we hope you join us!