Smash: Two-part premiere episode filled with new beginnings and surprises

Katharine McPhee plays leading lady Karen Cartwright in Smash.

Katharine McPhee plays leading lady Karen Cartwright in Smash.

 

Last night’s two-part season premiere of Smash opened with the line “cut, print, moving on” and that’s exactly what the show delivered. Smash is moving on from its own bad publicity, blurry and sometimes bland storyline and delivering something new and fresh.

Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe musical that was the central plot last season, is no longer in Boston. The show is headed to Broadway! Relationships were created and destroyed, and that’s just talking about Julia’s (Debra Messing) crazy life. New characters join the cast (hello Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus!) while old ones (sorry Brian D’arcy James and Will Chase, I guess the lesson is not to become tangled with Julia) were dropped.

Oh yeah, and there was some music in between including a duet between Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Bombshell’s leading lady Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee), two new songs including one sung by the new character Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) that segues from the first half to the second part of the episode and Ivy (Megan Hilty) reminds the audience why she deserved a fighting chance to be Marilyn when she saves the day for Tom (Christian Borle), Julia and Eileen (Anjelica Huston).

In the first hour of the premiere, the cast and crew return from their run with Bombshell in Boston to prepare for their move to Broadway. The reviews are in and the consensus among them is that something must be changed about the book.

Within the first few minutes, Julia’s ex-lover, Michael Swift (Chase), is written off. He wants out of his contract; the creative team lets him. Later, Julia’s husband Frank (D’Arcy James) appears long enough to cheat on her and trash her reputation in front of hundreds of reporters before exiting stage left. Ouch, what a way to go.

Karen’s (Katharine McPhee) boyfriend, Dev (Raza Jaffrey), is also cut from the series, and in his absence, Karen moves in with her actress friend, Ana (Krysta Rodriguez). Gossip columnist Michael Riedel shows up at inopportune moments to stir up a bit of drama.

The fate of several other characters remains questionable at the end of the two episodes. Tom’s chorus crush, Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.), is offered a part in the upcoming Book of Mormon tour. And Karen, who proves that she is a force to not be reckoned with, is suddenly given the authority to cut Ivy from the show, if she so chooses.

Perhaps one of the more important parts of last night’s episodes was Ivy’s redemption. She’s given the chance to explain her actions to Karen, about how she almost did something “really stupid” because she “didn’t get the part in some stupid show.” She also confronts her past with Derek (Jack Davenport), pulling away from his advances and officially entering the friend zone. This season, we get to see a new side of Ivy as someone who’s ready to move on and leave the past behind.

Christian Borle as Tom and Debra Messing as Julia in Smash.

Christian Borle as Tom and Debra Messing as Julia in Smash.

At the beginning of the second hour, the fate of the show is also in question. The government has discovered where Eileen’s investments have been coming from (does anyone remember the fiasco of real-life almost-musical Rebecca this fall? Yikes!) and Derek has been accused of sexual harassment by Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) and an ensemble of dancers. Rumors start floating around that Julia’s “mental breakdown” is affecting her ability to finish the show. Just when it all seems to be going well, it all comes crashing back down.

They’re almost to the finish, but someone “just keeps moving the line.”

So, to prove to everyone, that Bombshell still exists, the creative team crashes the American Theater Wing’s gala. Ivy performs, leaving the crowd in awe, and the team simply leaves. The next day, they receive the go-ahead for Bombshell. The creative team is in a great place to continue moving forward with the show.

Another notable change to this season of Smash is the addition of two characters: Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan), a waiter/composer, and his bartending/aspiring librettist friend, Kyle (Andy Mientus). They’re writing a musical of their own with a more rock, Rent-ish feel. Karen and Derek have taken a particular interest in it, with both of the episodes ending with them listening to the show’s songs.

Showrunner Josh Safran had hinted to major changes this season from the get-go and tonight viewers got to see them in action. He’s added more drama to the show simply by taking away some parts of the equation and adding in others.

And what he’s doing works.

This season, we’re given a reason to care about all of the characters. We empathize with Julia and Ivy; we worry with Derek, Tom, and Eileen; we get excited about new horizons with Karen, Jimmy, and Kyle. There isn’t an unnecessary plot line or completely out-of-context fantasy number to be found. (Though, Derek does have a daydream involving dancing girls, but it fits seamlessly with the rest of the plot.)

“It’s time to retire the scarves,” Tom tells Julia in the second-part of the episode though it feels like Safran’s speaking to the viewers. It’s time to change what didn’t work before and to enjoy show that’s worth watching.

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