Who else is super excited tonight’s episode is written by David Marshall Grant (aka, not Theresa Rebeck)? There's also a new director, Michael Morris. Let’s get started.
Ensemble members – and Karen – flood into the studio. Julia’s glad to see her there, and then acts like a 4-year-old about who she wants to sit next to at the row of folding tables set up for the important people in the room … plus Tom’s evil assistant, Ellis. The gossipy dancers bitch-talk Karen and then shun her, since they love Ivy. So basically the first five minutes of this episode are taking place in a kindergarten classroom. Ironically, Julia takes this moment to tell Swift that everything will be fine with both of them working on this show because, “We’re both adults, right?”
ANJELICA HUSTON is up close and personal, yelling into the camera. She’s resorted to volume to try and scare money out of her attorney, but her husband has cleverly tied it all up, so she's stuck at upper-middle-class for the time being.
In the rehearsal room, the ensemble cheers for Ivy as she enters. Sure, everyone’s enthusiastic and supportive on Day 1, while the ink’s still drying on those $200/week contracts. Derek reminds us that the book isn’t done yet and “the road to Broadway is exceedingly long.” Cue: “Ease On Down The Road”! No, just kidding, but we wish. Tom says they should start with the mambo and everyone chuckles but we don’t get the joke. Maybe the fact that it’s one of two existing musical numbers in the show that the chorus is in? That might be it.
Ivy reunites with her friend Sam, with whom she shared the stage in Chicago 10 years ago. Oh sorry, “Chicago.” That makes more sense. But now she’s come all the way to playing Marilyn Monroe in a workshop! Derek doesn’t seem to love the fact that they’re friends, but this guy strikes us as zero threat to the director since he’s about as straight as Ellis. Poor Karen knows nobody and has no friends, because she hasn’t been outside of Iowa before, much less onstage on Broadway for a decade. Really, Karen, count your blessings, you’d be practically retired by now (and yes: "Chicago" has really been playing since 1996).
Sam thinks Karen has a great voice, and she says she had practice with the song at one of her millions of callbacks. Ivy wraps her arms around Sam possessively and says it’s her song now, then whines to her Sassy Gay Dancer Friend that no one, including Derek, told her that Karen was going to show up. Drama!
SMASH! This show’s title needs to always have an exclamation point, like “Oliver!” More on that later, though.
Julia meets up with Eileen later to fill her in about rehearsal, especially emphasizing how great Swift was; they cheers and continue drinking through their work meeting, which we’ve recently overheard was the only way to get anything done in theater anyway. Eileen says Marilyn used to have money problems, then asks Julia what she thinks that fake Degas in the corner would be worth. Julia gasps, “But this is a real Degas!” What she doesn’t know is that the construction-paper printout on my nightstand is also signed by Picasso, but that doesn’t make it real. Or maybe Julia was an art analyst in a past life, we’ll never be sure. Either way, don’t sell the Degas, Eileen! First your earrings, then your art, where will the madness end?
We go back to the rehearsal room where they’re practicing “I Never Met A Wolf Who Didn’t Love To Howl!” (which does, by the way, officially contain its own exclamation point). Karen’s being way too awesome and is threatening to outshine Ivy, so she’s shushed. They break for lunch. Derek explains that he gave this famous guy Lyle West (Nick Jonas) his first break when he was only 8, and now he’s throwing him a birthday party like the good ol’ days except probably with fewer clowns. We hope. Derek invites Ivy. The ensemble gossips about how the director is banging the lead, and they call him “Darth Derek, the Dark Lord.” Well, if they were more clever surely they’d be sitting at those folding plastic tables instead of on the floor, now wouldn’t they. Karen has only just learned that they’re sleeping together; an ensemble girl says “I don’t think they’re getting much sleep!” and everyone else crack up. Yawn. Not impressed so far, Mssrs. Grant and Morris.
Derek tells Ivy to pass along a message to Tom during lunch. They sit at those red metal tables in the middle of Times Square, across from the Sephora where we just bought our foundation on Saturday. Tom’s pissy Derek’s using Ivy like a carrier pigeon. Ivy’s still pissy no one told her Karen was going to show up. Tom informs her and us that it was all Julia’s idea because, God forbid, she wanted to reward Karen for jumping through audition and callback hoops just to be rejected. No one mentions that Derek was the one to hire Karen, in a private meeting at a bar. Ivy also passes on the info about Lyle coming to visit.
Tom can’t wait to hunt down Julia with this news, and the fact that Derek's laying claim to Lyle. She’s disgusted Derek is trying to take credit for someone else’s career. And Tom’s like, “Yeah! Especially because I was the one discovered him!” Derek pops up and invites Julia and Tom to the party; Ellis is hilariously overlooked. Then the writers are shooed away to finish writing.
ANJELICA HUSTON molests her ballerina painting in what we can only imagine is a goodbye. She pokes her head out of her office and tells her nearest lackey that she needs some bubble wrap. This cannot be the most absurd thing ANJELICA HUSTON has ever requested, but it’s apparently a shocking and controversial moment for the bewildered assistant. We like to think of her often popping out and shouting things like, "Tree sap! Rolling pins! 1965 nickels!" It's like a really intense scavenger hunt.
Back in the rehearsal room, Karen’s moved to the back so she won’t outshine Ivy. Also, weren’t her dance skills supposed to be her weakness anyway? We're not sure she’d be placed out front like that for a major dance number. Karen moves to the back and the chick next to her is like ew, new girl cooties! But even after she gives herself cootie shots, that’s still not good enough, so Karen and Bobby, the poor schmuck who happens to be standing next to her, are edited out of the number.
OH MY GOD STOP. Karen’s explaining what just happened to Boyfriend. It's the No. 1 thing we hate about this show so far: unnecessary exposition about what just happened. Anyway, she says she was cut from the number and then adds that Ivy’s banging Derek and Boyfriend’s all “Way to bury the lead!” because he’s a press secretary and he talks like that. He tells Karen she needs to keep her head down and she says she’s an actress, she’s supposed to play to the balconies. So he tells her to breathe but she says she can’t because Ivy might hear her.
Far out of hearing range, Julia and Tom are notably not writing the book as they stroll through Madison Square Garden. She tries to convince him to go to Lyle’s party and he says he can’t because he has a date. At a steakhouse. And his mom set him up. Julia calls him out on what total B.S. that is in terms of prioritizing. But we know it’s not some random, it’s actually Tom’s dancer boyfriend from “HOE.” Or maybe that thread will just be dropped; this is a new writer after all.
Eileen is having her painting appraised. But apparently it’s her husband who legally owns the painting, so she can’t even sell it without his permission. Curses, foiled again!
The kids rehearse “History Is Made At Night.” Ivy struggles and the ensemble outshines her yet again. Tom calls Karen out again so that Ivy can excel. Karen is pissed and slams things around and then sulks. See, kindergarten episode! One of the other chorus girls comes by and asks how things are ... and Karen replies in full about how Ivy’s trying to get her kicked out and all the others hate her because she’s from the Midwest. The dancer replies by grabbing Karen forcibly and yanking her away from the rehearsal space in what is our favorite moment of the episode so far. Karen should be manhandled more often. She says she’s just as good as anyone else, and she could have slept with Derek too if she wanted, but she’s not like that. She says Ivy should be trying to get her fired, but the dancers should be trying to help Karen. Thanks for growing a backbone, Karen, yay!
So the other dancers totally rally and take Karen shopping! Wait – what. Okay, apparently the way to make it in this industry is to blend in, counter to everything we’ve ever heard. She buys more boring dance clothes but also signs up to take the good dance classes with her new peers. And they promise they’re going to stage an intervention on her behalf. We hope there's an intervention banner involved.
Julia and Eileen are presumably using “work” as yet another opportunity to talk about their own personal lives. Eileen says of her husband and the Degas, “That sketch looks like our happiness. Why does it still look that way?” Because you're going to get back together with him, yawn. Julia rejoins, “Lyle West is in town, do you know him?” Of course ANJELICA HUSTON does. “We did ‘Oliver!’ together when he was 11.” (What did we tell you?) Julia mentions how loaded rich Lyle has become since he played an impoverished orphan back in the day, and suddenly Eileen thinks it’s time for a reunion with her former child star friend. You guys, dollar signs literally appear in her eyes like a cartoon, it’s freaky.
While half the ensemble is now taking up Karen’s cause, Sam is berating Ivy for being a total diva bitch to her in rehearsal. He also talks about the Mets, to help remind us that he likes the ladies. And then he hits on Ivy while he zips her into a skintight, once-worn Zac Posen. We’re still not convinced Derek has anything to worry about.
Ivy enters Lyle’s party and – wow, he is so auto-tuned right now it’s hurting our ears. And we thought “Glee” was bad. Anyway, he’s singing Michael Buble’s “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” at the piano. We have no personal experience with the matter, but aren’t the Jonas brothers supposed to actually be able to sing? By the way, Megan Hilty’s hair looks oddly flat here, we just want to reach into the screen and scrunch it. Nonetheless, Lyle kindly overlooks it while he ogles Ivy — until Derek upbraids him for acting immature, even for a 15-year-old. (Just for sanity’s sake, this means Eileen worked with him four years ago in “Oliver!” and Tom hasn’t seen him in six years, although he and Derek both met him for the first time just seven years ago, when Lyle was 8. Capiche?)
ANJELICA HUSTON shows up at the party still toting her Degas and asks the hostess for somewhere safe to keep it. Like at one of the 100 bank vaults you passed on the way to this party? Back at your office from whence you just came? This isn’t going to end well. In the meantime, Julia catches Ellis trying to sneak into the party with his “friend” (unsaid: “with benefits”) Cynthia, who says, “Just call me Sin.” They slip in while the hostess is helping Eileen, we suppose. Derek needs better security. Although this probably isn’t his home, since that’s under construction thanks to the neighbors, right Derek? Eileen corners Lyle and we’re cringing because we already know this proposition is going to be embarrassing. Also, her plan involves getting Lyle, the teenager, wasted, shouting (as she’s wont to do this episode), “DRINKS!”
Half the ensemble of “M!TM” eats Chinese food out of the box at Karen's. (Quick question: Do people really do this, rather than transplant the savory goodness into bowls? We also just saw this in "Assistance" at Playwright's Horizon, so it's got us thinking.) Then the three leap up to demonstrate how she can be more of a backup for Ivy and less of a competitor. They swiftly rearrange the furniture in her living room while furtively glancing over their shoulders, sure they’ll be yelled at anytime by union reps. They decide to do a routine to “Rumor Has It.” From their dance class, duh. But it’s the actual song on boy dancer’s iPod, so no one’s covering it for us, boooo. If we wanted to watch a show with pedestrian pop music tracks in the background, we’d tune into “Gossip Girl.”
Our new favorite scene happens: Eileen’s explaining the value of art investments to Lyle. She tries to sell him the Degas for $200K even though the appraiser valued it at $350K-$400K. Maybe that's because it's an illegal transaction, since Eileen's husband's name is still technically going to be on the last known bill of sale. Which means it also has zero value for Lyle, and Eileen's a big liar. But hey, that number looks surprisingly like the cost of the “M!TM” workshop! Lyle says he’ll pay $175K but he also wants points, so that if the show flops he’ll break even, but if it’s big Eileen can have her painting back. She agrees to 1.5 points (a reduced rate that she, as the borrower, will pay against her loan, explains Google). But before this back-room deal is sealed, Lyle also wants to know how he can tell if the show’s even any good. So Julia is instructed to call cast members to come to the birthday party right now and show him the goods! (PS: This is always how producers work, true fact.)
Naturally everybody necessary shows up and an impromptu musical number is performed at this kid’s birthday party. Tom tells the band to follow him, and it will totally come off without a hitch even though they’ve just started working on this new song. So now we’re back to “I Never Met A Wolf Who Didn’t Love To Howl!” Julia is a back-up singer for Ivy, and is shockingly not kicked out of the number for being awesome. She then drags party guests (including Ellis?) in to be the pseudo ensemble, which is actually terribly fun! Ivy needs redder lipstick, though. Surprisingly we don’t cut away to a fully staged version! Switching things up, Mr. Grant? Mr. Morris?
Lyle is wooed by Ivy’s seductress act and offers to “show her the bedrooms.” They stumble in on Eileen gazing at her painting. Julia apologizes for intruding on their romantic moment. Eileen says, "Well I should have hung a sock on the door." Just kidding, she says: “I was just looking at past happiness, but you’re my happiness now.” Ivy apparently stands for this pleasure project as a whole. Synecdoche! Eileen sheds a single tear over her tiny dancers.
Julia says goodnight to Swift, who didn’t seem to really need to be there from what we saw. Tom brought his date to the party, by the way, and the guy was smitten by his piano playing during that last number – so much that it was the highlight of the evening. “Is there a TV star here?” Aw, okay, we like him. Even if he's not the "HOE" dancer.
Karen’s out with her new ensemble friends at a much dingier party, i.e. a dive bar. Boyfriend buys everyone shots so Karen can work up the nerve to perform the dance routine she learned 45 minutes ago – while learning how to work in harmony, not steal the show. If she can pick up a routine that fast and dancing is supposed to be her weakest selling point, she really should have been cast as Marilyn! But we digress. And so does the episode, momentarily, because this snippet could really have been cut.
Ivy’s about to leave the party in a jealous fit about the way Derek was flirting with Sin. Derek says he was just playing coy because everyone’s a potential investor. Hey, that’s Eileen’s job! Ivy says she just wants to feel safe. Derek: “Then go back to the chorus. There’s nothing safe about being a star.” And then he invites her to bed. Ivy says yes, but her eyes are saying she’s only doing it to make sure he doesn’t take someone else. Her lips are still saying they need more lipstick.
Karen’s resolve to blend in with other dancers doesn’t really work when she keeps jumping out in front of them during "Rumor Has It" (which was done a million times better as a "Somone Like You" mash-up on “Glee”). Boyfriend’s amusement colors this scene nicely, though; it’s great when someone can bear sober witness to embarrassing drunk antics. Even though it undermines the entire point of this exercise, it’s great when Karen opens up and starts singing. Of course they blow the bar-crawlers away, and the ep ends on a note of jubilation!
We can’t wait to see if this high energy was just a fluke or if we can keep it up next week — with an entirely new writer/director set. Either way, it's picking up speed now for sure!