Smash: "Let's Be Bad"

Before the start of this episode, I really had my guns loaded and ready to fire. Something needed to happen to convince me the show was not spinning its wheels trying to make fetch Karen happen and that the show was going to deliver something of theater-television greatness.

Enter Christian Borle.

I am Piano-ing your fears kid. Be afraid.
I have not really gotten into the delineation of screen time for the show’s characters because I (and pretty much anyone watching) are kept in the dark regarding the direction of the show. That is actually a good thing; the final destination is pretty obvious (a funded, no backstage drama, smash-hit  (pun intended) musical), but the path is appearing to be more then just the creative back-story of putting the show together. We have the personal drama of at least seven different characters…

You know who is NOT at the forefront of it all? Tom. What a shame that a fine talent like Borle seems mostly sidelined for Julia/Mike/Family and Ivy/Derek/Karen drama. Not to mention, some of these side-characters and storylines are expendable with a capital ‘E’. Tom’s relationship (okay, yes…a bit of a throwaway. But their scenes were light and cute) is low-key, realistic and perfectly flawed. He also happens to be a riot; that piano slam session after recouping Julia’s deviant son was the funniest thing on the show yet. Or at least I thought…the bedroom scene at the end? Laugh-out-loud hilarious watching two gays debate as to the quality of their bumping ugly skills.

That is one thing the show isn’t striving for enough: comedy. Tom is my favorite character because – and yes, this is a huge mark in favor for Borle – he has the fiery wit when throwing down with Derek, but can still deliver sass and fun when he the scene in question calls for it. By all means, I am not saying that a musical needs to be genuinely funny for me to enjoy it. But the show seems to avoid taking advantage of some of the opportunities they created for themselves and that shocks me considering Michael Mayer and the team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman are at the helm. The former executed many comedic bits in Spring Awakening and American Idiot and the latter is no different with Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. Not to mention, you have one of the funniest actresses to ever grace a television screen leading the pact, only for her to be relegated to her work and family messes. Debra Messing is doing fine with what she has been given, but why not take advantage of Julia’s screen time and mine it for some comedy?

All of this would be s secondary issue if they were bringing about roof-crashing numbers.

To be fair, this was an okay batch, but five episodes into the series and the only number that really got me going (and this seems pretty unanimous) is “Let Me Be Your Star.” For all of Ivy’s bitchiness and occasional hand-holding throughout rehearsal (I still love her; but her character is in a downspin, no?), she is a cut above damn-near everyone on the performing aspects. “Let’s Be Bad” (Sorry, embedding was disabled) was good and a nice meta-commentary on the drama and drawing parallels between Ivy and Marilyn was effective.

Karen’s take on “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was a bad idea – that was definitely NOT her number -  but Katherine McPhee really tried to make it work. Will Chase is not going to excite me on the vocal front, but “A Song for You” was staged pretty well and inoffensive at the worst.

Now for the things I am warming up to. Surprisingly, Julia’s son made for some interesting developments, which is a good thing considering their family dynamic is bizarre with the absent teaching father and their weird, mystical China baby adoption or something. Not that the whole marijuana thing was not big in its own right; it rightfully pointed out that Julia’s interaction with Michael was unwarranted. I’ll take it; scenes like that work in the context of the show instead of Leo whining in their gorgeous loft about not having a sibling. Also, Julia’s smooch with Michael at the end, only for the reveal that Leo caught it all? We know that is not going anywhere.

You are halting my China baby plans.
But in the bigger picture, I do like that Leo appears to be another antagonist in the already growing list of “malevolent, but not really” characters. Eileen’s husband is topping that list, but his maligned ways all tend to happen off-screen. Ellis is still baby-faced spying for…something (and now possibly collaborating with Eileen). Derek may be a bastard, but he does it for the sake of the musical. Ivy may be irritable, but she revealed, in her inebriated state, that she is deeply insecure and confused as to the whole audition/rehearsal process. Julia and Mike have an affair, but they really aren’t bad people and there is more to them then just some small unexplored affair that happened in the past. I can appreciate that the show’s villainy is not one-sided in outright hating any character (okay, maybe Ellis a little bit); we, as the viewers, get to fence-jump back and forth.

It may be a mixed bag with this show not realizing its strengths or maybe even balancing out its full-scale ensemble, but I will happily sit through 45 minutes to get a decent number and to watch the Christian Borle show of fabulosity. The rest of it is all take or leave, which each episode meeting at about middle ground.

Photo Credit: Smash/ NBC
Screengrab Credit: NRNW
Video Credit: NBCSmashOfficial

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