Greetings, Show Folk and those who simultaneously adore and are terrified by you! Today’s recap is being composed from the sky, through which I am soaring toward the sun-dappled hills of Hollywood, the anti-Broadway. The stewardess has delivered the Chex Mix and the vodka, I have frightened my previously gregarious seatmate into silence by weeping loudly and openly throughout the entirety of the in-flight screening of The Muppets, and we’re somewhere over the fictional Karen Cartwright’s fictional home state of Iowa. Given my current precarious position in the troposphere (according to the surly dumpling of a flight attendant who clearly holds a Master’s in Anxiety Science from the Shukert Family School of Parenting, an errant flick of a Kindle switch could bring this whole sucker down at any minute), so I hope you’ll read the following recap with the proper sense of occasion.
It’s the first day of rehearsal! Bask in it! The shine of the freshly waxed floor, the scent of the freshly laundered dance belts, the expressions of freshly inflicted pain and resentment on the faces of those who have been relegated to the background … oh hiiii, Karen, I didn’t see you come in! Other anonymous prancers include Eyelid, Muscular Chorus Gay, and a wearily snide young gentleman reminiscent of the young Gore Vidal. Gore Vidal, in particular, is unimpressed with the Iowan interloper’s inclusion of her “Miss Golden Sprout” title on her résumé, seeing it as incontrovertible proof that the know-nothings have at last succeeded in completely subverting the American empirical experiment.
Derek does a Miranda Priestly stomp into the room, conspicuously slamming his purse down onto the table for some sniveling Üntermensch to deal with, just in case anyone had any silly utopian ideas about him being a collaborator who would treat his fellow human beings with a modicum of civility or respect. Michael Swift, in the meantime, is trying to deal with his actor-y self-esteem issues by making a breathily terrified Cousin Debbie as sexually uncomfortable as he can, but Cousin Debbie just wants to know where Eileen is. What the hell is an Eileen?
Oh, you mean Anjelica Huston! Well, she’s bathing in her sacred subterranean grotto, where the oracle informs her that when she attempted to permanently disable Jerry by repeatedly throwing curse potions in his face in fancy but strangely empty restaurants, she actually transferred some of her powers to him, with the net result being that Jerry is now a minor warlock who has managed to empty their bank vault of almost all its goblin treasure. “And so ‘tis always thus,” says the oracle, “when the inhuman are humane. Mercy is for mortals and madmen. The male must die.” Drinking deeply of the cup of rich red blood of the Rivermoon the oracle proffers, Anjelica Huston promises that next time, she will be filled topful from crown to toe of direst cruelty. In the meantime, she needs some cold, hard cash.
Here’s Ivy, our STAH, arriving fashionably late and wearing sunglasses inside. Apparently, the road from likability to insufferability is about the length of a bathmat. She gets a big round of applause from the assembled anonymities, which she gives a giggling little “who-me?” curtsey to, before flouncing off to the welcoming embrace of her gays, reserving an especially loud shriek for the actor playing Token in the live-action South Park movie I am almost certain someone in Hollywood has attempted to convince Trey Parker to do. Derek is not amused by this whole shtick; he thought he was getting Marilyn Monroe, so what is this “I’m so excited to be here!” Anne Hathaway bullshit! Ivy, nobody wants to fuck Anne Hathaway!
Miss Ivy is most put out to see stupid old Karen is still skulking around in a sports bra instead of having been publicly flayed and sold to the fighting pits, as is traditional for would-be usurpers to the throne. Karen, for her part, witnesses Derek fondle one of Ivy’s shoulder freckles and is subsequently shocked, shocked that two adult humans of roughly similar age in an emotionally explosive setting would actually consider sleeping together. Because, yes, maybe she and the kid playing Ali Hakim did make out in the prop closet during “The Farmer and the Cowman” that time, but it would have been completely unethical to take it any further, not just because she had just pledged her virginity to her father Dylan Baker in a really beautiful ceremony at the 2002 Prairie City Purity Ball and Gala (plus Brandon was wearing one of those rubber bracelets he got at the Jars of Clay concert that’s supposed to remind you how Jesus wouldn’t masturbate), but also because he was a senior and she was a sophomore so the balance of power would have been all off. “I don’t think they’re doing much sleeping,” says Token’s sister Tokenetta, in the first and most egregious example of how easy it would be to make this show better by putting in an actual joke that an actual theater person — who are, by and large, a pretty entertaining bunch — might conceivably have made, i.e., “I don’t know, Derek seems like the type to tell you he’s got to get up early before he even tells you how much he hates wearing condoms,” instead of some rote sitcom one-liner they ripped off from an episode of Cheers. It’s a quick fix!
Anyway, the net result of all of this is that it is ON. Karen is going to punish Ivy for her manipulative harlotry by singing super supersupersuper loud and dancing super supersuper close to her (which actually looks a little threatening, since Kat McPhee is about three feet taller than Megan Hilty), and Ivy is going to passively-aggressively try to get Karen removed from the show, most notably while eating Anger Salads with Tom at one of those tables in Time Square that I have never seen occupied by someone who lives indoors. Also, I don’t know if it was a conscious choice to make salad a symbolic portent of doom in this show, like oranges in The Godfather Trilogy, but if so, that’s exactly the kind of attention to detail I’ve been advocating, so good job, Smash!
Meanwhile, Anjelica Huston is communing with her Degas Horcrux, remembering how Degas himself presented it to her after the night of tender and animalistic lovemaking that awakened passions in her she had thought died when Sir Godfrey rode off to the Crusades, never to return. “Zee neck of zee dancer is so like your own, Cherie,” he had said, the lovelight burning brightly in his eyes, “and also zee traitorous Jew Dreyfus is guilty beyond any doubt.” Ah, but Edgar was only a memory now, just like all the others, Sir Godfrey and Hammurabi and Cyrus the Great and even Jerry, and memories, however pleasant, are not redeemable for cash unless you have a book deal and a ghostwriter handy, and neither of those things are quite as thick on the ground as they used to be, thanks to the fucking Internet. May I have the bubble wrap, please? Oh, but there’s just one problem, says the art dealer who ought really to be played by B.D. Wong (quick fix!). The bill of sale is in Jerry’s name, which Anjelica foolishly agreed to in order to hide the fact that she’s been alive forever from the IRS (immortality is a nightmare at tax time). He can’t buy it … unless the inconvenient Jerry should meet with some sort of more convenient accident, you understand. Anjelica understands. Strawberry woman! Bring me my goat!
Back at rehearsal, Michael Swift is making aggressive sex faces at Cousin Debbie, having seemingly decided that she’s a much better prospect than Wife of Convenience, and the long-term health of his career depends on getting her to abandon any lingering qualms about making a two-time cuckold of Unfrozen Caveman Husband as soon as possible. Actors are stellar human beings, which is why so many of them are such important humanitarians! Meanwhile, Ivy succeeds in getting Karen thrown out of yet another number, with Gore Vidal as collateral damage. She knew it when she was in front! Gore Vidal is unsurprised, for a fallen Republic is no place for an honest man, but Karen stomps off in a big-time huffy huff (which could have been made ever so much more comically poignant with the additions of tap shoes — quick fix!) to the hall, where she freaks out on the unfortunate Eyelid who was unlucky enough to have chosen this moment to go for a well-deserved pee. This is all Eyelid’s fault! Why isn’t Eyelid sticking up for Karen and telling her how wonderful she is and how she should be the star! After all, it’s not like Eyelid could conceivably have been the star of every show at her high school, or has dreams/student debt of her own, and would have maybe liked her own chance to audition for the lead instead of getting automatically stuck in the fucking chorus again, right? Karen is the one on the top of that color-coordinated human pyramid of the goddamn posters! Her agent said this was going to FINALLY make her a star and now nobody likes her and it’s all Eyelid’s fault! This is supposed to be about Karen! KAREN KARENKARENKARENKAREN!
So Eyelid takes her to a shoe store, because if the entertainment industry has taught us anything, it’s that the only conceivable reason to dislike someone is because they are wearing the wrong kind of outfits. Gore Vidal and Tokenetta have somehow got roped into assisting, although they stand on the sidelines, holding each other tenderly, because if there’s one thing I know about gay men it’s that they can’t keep their hands off women. Then it’s time to go home to see Karen’s boyfriend Travis Birkenstock … I mean, Beloved Dev, who blinks in confusion, chest cleavage amply on display by a shirt unfastened to truly Cowellian depths (which is how Kat likes it) as Gore Vidal and colleagues invade his home. Strange hands are fondling him! His coffee table is being criticized! Closets are being ripped apart and their contents dismissively thrown on the floor with the flagrant disrespect for personal property I always find so disturbing on all those “You have no sense of style and all your so-called friends are ridiculing you on television; here’s a wrap dress” shows! And because apparently Smash exists in a time-space continuum in which no drinking establishment does not feature a mandatory performative aspect — nobody leaves this place without singing the blues! — Karen Cartwright and Friends take to the stage to do this dance they just taught her to this one fast Adele song, and despite Gore Vidal’s stern admonition that ensemble means together, nobody sticking out, one singular sensation, every little step she takes, Karen dances about a foot in front of everyone and then turns the whole thing into another “Isn’t Kat McPhee the greatest?” solo, although to be fair, it’s not clear if this is really happening or if it’s just another one of her incredibly literal hallucinations.
And I had a revelation of my own — with the exception of “Over the Rainbow” (which technically doesn’t count), we have never seen Karen sing an actual show tune on this show about shows. Not one. Not even “Defying Gravity” (which also technically doesn’t count). Karen, when you start singing “The Miller’s Son” at karaoke like a normal fucking human being (or at least getting really upset when they don’t have it and singing “I Dreamed a Dream” instead), maybe I’ll start taking you seriously as a Broadway contender. Until then, I guess we’ll be seeing you, I hope [not] sporadically.
So here is the other part of the show, which was awesome, and believe me, you don’t know how happy it makes me to write these words! There is a person named Lyle West, which is the name that Nick Jonas uses when he writes mystery novels. And he is a child star that may have something to do with why Derek and Tom hate each other so much, and yes, the only logical explanation is sexual, but let’s leave that for now. Anyway, Derek was clearly the winner, as he alone possesses blithe ruthlessness and total disregard for the humanity of others that sublimated the Raj and made thousands of women think sleeping with Mick Jagger would be a good idea, and he’s having a big fancy person birthday party for Lyle at his house. Ivy anxiously wearing a Zac Posen dress she bought on consignment, and just like that I love Ivy again. Lyle is a jizillionaire, so Anjelica is going, bubble-wrapped Degas in hand. Cousin Debbie is going in a sleeveless vest woven from hair she harvested from the Never Let Me Go–style boarding school of Debra Messing clones she maintains solely for this purpose. Ellis Dappledawn has schemed his way in, along with Holly Hedgehog, his female companion with whom he heteronormatively copulates, and who is all dressed in her sexiest mobcap and pinafore for the occasion.
The only person who isn’t going is Tom, because Tom is the only gay man on Broadway, you see, and thus must go on a gay date with a gay lawyer his mother found for him. But they like each other! And they wind up at the party anyway, because somebody has to play piano for the sudden impromptu backer’s audition this has become. My mother always says it’s not a party unless there are cashews, and it’s not a showbiz party unless somebody is getting shaken down for cash. Ivy does a full-out version of the number we’ve seen snatches of throughout the episode, “Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Like to Howl,” and it is great! Megan Hilty is amazing; the song is amazing. This is Broadway, ladies and gentleman (and yes, I meant that “gentleman” to be singular!). Everyone is thrilled and happy until Ivy catches Derek touching some lady’s ass, and because Ivy is about as insecure as it’s possible to be without actually being Lea Michele, she decides the best way to get back at him is to have Nick Jonas show her “the bedrooms,” because nothing inflames a grown man with jealousy than pretending you’re going to give a hand job to a sixth grader in his bed. But nothing happens, because Derek isn’t having it, and also, because said bedroom is already occupied …
… by Anjelica Huston, tearfully communing with the ghost of Edgar Degas and her own splintered soul. Ivy is embarrassed, but Anjelica looks up at her and utters three lines of dialogue in such a flawlessly campy manner that I am just going to quote them here, without comment: “There’s no need to apologize. I was just looking at past happiness. But you’re my happiness now.”
Charles Busch, eat your fucking heart out. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I just noticed Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is available for purchase on the in-flight entertainment menu.