SMASH Fails to Find the Right “Chemistry”

In the first five episodes, SMASH has moved through various phases of reality and fantasy, adding touches here and nuances there that, for the most part, worked pretty well.

With “Chemistry”, it’s sixth episode, SMASH failed to get the combination right, and, worse, forced plot along at the expense of character.

The main plot revolves around Ivy, our Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn the Musical, having vocal problems, which certainly does come up during the run of the show.  That it happens a little more than a week before an all-important workshop production for investors should help to heighten the drama, especially with Karen seemingly waiting in the wings to take up the torch.

Ivy’s battle is handled, for the most part, realistically, with her having legitimate concerns over using steroids to get over the problem, given their real and negative side effects, including insomnia, hallucinations, mood swings, and unattractive physical results.

She decides to take them after Derek, the director and her lover, pressures her by suggesting that he will have to go to Karen if she doesn’t want to deal with the side effects.  SMASH does not ease smoothly into fantasy when Ivy sees a Karen-inspired Marilyn in the mirror, a scene that stands out awkwardly, though it brings us yet another example of Megan Hilty’s extraordinary legit belt with “On Lexington and 52nd Street.”

Karen’s showcase piece comes while she is replacing Ivy (who was replaced by one of the members of the chorus) at a Bah Mitzvah.  The scene is yet another example of what SMASH does well, being specific with the show culture and its ancillaries, here with the Iowa-native not understanding the difference between a songs appropriate for a wedding and those for a Bah Mitzvah.  Still, the scene is shot well, and Katherine McFee gets to rock out with the Florence and the Machine hit “Shake it Up.”

It’s interesting that up to this point, the show has showcased McFee with more pop tunes, while giving the legit numbers to Hilty, areas that seem to be both their fortes.

When Ivy finally blows up during the reworking of the original number “History is Made at Night”, calling out Derek as a cruel director and even bad lover, it makes some sense given mood swings are a side-effect of the steroids.

It is unfortunate, though, that “History is Made at Night,” a tune that Debra Messing’s lyricist Julia is supposed to have struggled with, is perhaps the weakest original number to date, and  the producers seem to realize this, never even bothering to give us a peek at what it would look like in full production as they had with other numbers.  This is the first episode where we are not treated to a show-stopping new production number.

The character stretches start with producer Eileen.  Angelica Huston has a good deal of fun with the role, and her forays into a different culture at a downtown bar shooting pool and playing hunting games with Ellis is fun, if not very believable.

The biggest problem seems to be with the sub-plot involving Messing’s Julia and Will Chase’s Michael, who continues to be a magnetic and dynamic character.  Still, Julia just comes off as weak in her relenting to Michael’s advances, and it’s just hard to see a scenario where she really lets herself fall apart as she does in the seduction scene.  It does Messing and her character a disservice.

Coming attractions promise a lot more with the workshop coming up next week, and we can only hope this week’s episode was a temporary blip, and not an indication of things to come.


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JB Bruno

John J Bruno – Producer, Line Producer, Writer John J Bruno (JB) brings almost thirty years of working in the entertainment industry: in theater as a producer, director, designer and acting teacher; in independent films as producer, line producer, production manager, writer and assistant director. Among his featured credits as line producer is Man of the Century, featuring Frank Gorshin, Anne Jackson and Tony-winner Anthony Rapp. Produced on a modest budget, Man of the Century won the Audience Award at Slamdance, and was then released by Fine Line. He was more recently line producer on the Tamil-US production of Achamundu, Achamundu. Directed by Arun Vaidyanathan, Achamundu,Achamundu featuring Tamil film stars Prasanna, Sneha and Emmy Award-winning American film actor John Shea earned Best Feature Film Award at the Chennai International Film Festival and, here at home, won the Best Homegrown Feature Film Award at the Garden State Film Festival. In the summer of 2000, he ...Read Full