Smash: "The Callback"

Uh-Oh. Half-way through the episode, I was texting around to see if I was alone in the woods when I say…that I was not enjoying the episode. Any show is going to need some time to hammer out the story, the direction and the characters, but some of the concerns I had with the pilot episode accrued reinforcements and some portions of the episode were jaw-dropping in how amateurish they were.

And seriously?

The “fantasy song sequence opening” trope needs to go away and fast. In fact, from a creative standpoint, that was just lazy. I have not even gotten to Karen’s “singing” yet, which I am sorry, I do not find it appealing.

Watch out Karen...some divas are
looking to cut you.
After that incongruous opening, the plot picked up in a linear fashion just after the pilot episode’s completion. The team of Julia and Tom meet with Derek and Eileen to discuss the casting of Marilyn. They cannot decide on Ivy or Karen (and apparently, there are no other actresses in the running…don’t think about it too much), so their resolution is a callback for both performers.

Hey, as a story arch, that is some fine stuff right there. Throw in a continuation of Julia and Frank’s adoption process, Eileen’s divorce (and her producer funding troubles), Karen’s boyfriend, some Broadway cameos, some shots of 44th street and we have a great episode…on paper at least. Where the show stumbled was in the execution.

The first tip of the iceberg was probably the scene at the Houston household. First off, how gorgeous is that apartment? I covet that kitchen and terrace. Anyways, the adoption story grow weary the moment the Houston men, Frank and his son, went on their periods. As bad enough as Frank jumping ship once the news broke about the waiting time for adoption (2 years? Big whoop), nothing can surpass the son’s complaining. That was one of the notable clunky dialogue offenses last night had to offer; I just found that scene maudlin and unaffecting given the source.

Things continued to rocket down the hill as Karen occupied the scenery, evoking only the most apathetic of emotions in me. Actually, that’s not true; one idea did cross into my mind. Namely, I was rooting for Dev to dump her. Their relationship could not be anymore cliché; Karen has her auditioning issues interfering with her personal life and Dev’s sickly sweet boyfriend schtick expired the moment she stood up their dinner plans. Yawn…yawn again.

There was some other fodder along the way, but let’s get to the performances. I did not mind the inclusion of “Let Me Be Your Star” as it is re-staged for the show. It was basically a given that some numbers would repeat throughout given the idea of rehearsals and run-throughs probably being a show staple.

This is a different story. First off, much like the opening fantasy trope, not every studio number needs to cut back from in-scene to fantasy performing. I understand that in the early going of a new television show, they need to find their footing and subsequently, may play it conservatively in some areas. But each episode opener and each studio number felt very repetitive in the styling and staging, thus validating my concern for having the talented, by dialed-in Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman as the composing team.

I will admit though, Katherine McPhee’s dancing was on-point, even though I cannot buy into her vocals and lack of stage presence. She’s getting the short-end of the writing stick, although that won’t stop the show’s creative team with the overpraising and the writing slighted to make us want to like her and cheer her on. Bitch please…we should come to that conclusion on our own.

Thankfully – and at this point, the episode began to turn around – the Marilyn casting came to a conclusion as Ivy was selected. While it was spoiled in a commercial that Ivy slept with Derek, I can’t say I mind. That was pretty consistent with both characters; him being a little sleazy and her wanting to succeed at all costs (and not thinking clearly when vulnerable).

I think the story can unfold in a lot of ways with regards to how the affair played into the casting decision. Let’s face it: the show is not dropping Karen so fast or making us forget. I thought this was going to be some five or six episode arch. It is to the show’s credit that they did not drag that plot point on as I thought they were. It would have been difficult for me to accept week-in and week-out that Karen and Ivy would still be squaring off against each other simply because Ivy was, in my mind, the clear frontrunner.,

In the meantime, Ivy takes us on home.

A solid number thanks to Hilty doing some great work. When I mentioned that Karen was getting the short-end of the writing stick, I meant that in comparison to Ivy. Kudos to the show for not playing Ivy up as a dumb blonde or ditzy performer. Ivy is reading, researching, watching movies and…you know, is an actually character worth liking and cheering on (whoring aside). It was evident how much she wanted this and the scene where she was informed of the great news was sweet.

Borle's face is made of win. All the awards!
Look, I do not hold the anything against the show while it sorts its stuff out; it is still high on concept. The biggest thing of note is the music and performances and so far, “Let Me Be Your Star” has been the only standout. Even so, that does not hold a candle to Glee’s “Don’t Stop Believing” or even “Rehab.”

But I cannot act like the ensemble still does not excite me greatly. Debra Messing is a knockout (despite whatever they give to her), Christian Borle’s facial reactions are already worthy of their own spin-off and Anjelica Huston is welcome to throw cocktails for the entire hour if she chooses too. Savannah Wise needs something to do, but Jordan Roth and Tom Kitt (the Emcee at the club where Ivy sang) were exciting cameos. While I may have my doubts, it’s to the shows credit that I remain excited and intrigued. Of the twelve or thirteen shows I watch, very few manage to achieve both distinctions.

Photo Credit: NBC's Smash
Video Credit: NBC Smash Official/SmashNBC

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