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Smash Recap: So, About That Bollywood Number

SMASH -- "Publicity" Episode 112 -- Pictured: Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright -- (Photo by: Will Hart/NBC)

Someone, I’m not sure who, said it’s not so much that you change when you get famous, it’s that the people around you change. Much in the same vein, it’s a fact universally acknowledged that it’s not always such a good idea to meet your heroes.

True, it sometimes happens, when the circumstances are right and you have arrived at that delicate balance of meds that Judy Garland spent a lifetime trying to achieve, that you have with your idol a soul-changing conversation during which you realize that the reason you’ve loved them since that owlish, eczema-plagued period (known to some as early adolescence) is because they are truly your artistic soul mate, the only person capable of understanding a sensitive soul like yourself. More likely — and I may or not be speaking from personal experience here — you end up on the wrong side of 30, quivering and selectively mute in the heavily guarded anteroom of Pee-Wee Herman’s Broadway dressing chamber, as the great man himself leans in, so close you can breathe in the powdery scent of improperly applied rouge impregnating his red bow tie, and in the voice of a kindly department store Santa says: “And what’s your name, little girl?”

My point is, it would take a bowel far more impacted than Karen Cartwright is as a person to keep its shit together under the attentions of Uma Thurman, a.k.a. “Rebecca Duvall.” And yet, for reasons known best only to herself, “Rebecca Duvall” has chosen Karen, the human equivalent of an abandoned doggie chew toy you have to bribe your toddler with Mr. Softee to keep from putting in his mouth, to be her most especial friend, held above all others as something less than an equal but more than a servant.

And what does friendship with such a one entail? Well, it means “Rebecca Duvall” takes Karen out to lots of fancy nightclubs where they drink tequila shots with arms intertwined, whilst wearing slacks. It means riding in town cars and “Rebecca Duvall” giving her fancy leather jackets that she got for free at one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous re-gifting parties where Gwyneth lays out her unwanted possessions on the floor of a massive outdoor arena somewhere in Holland Park and makes the less famous/colonically irrigated fight to the death as she narrates like a sportscaster through an enormous sound system, saying things like: “You should totally take that, Danii Minogue! It’s soooooo too big on me!” “Here, Karen,” says “Rebecca Duvall.” “I thought you could use it. It still has some of Malin Akerman’s brain on it, but just take it to Meurice on University Place, they can get anything out.” It means “Rebecca Duvall” storms the stage at Galapagos, which as we all know is open only to the extremely famous and powerful, and demands that the band allow Karen to sing a Leona Lewis song for the assembled crowd of fifteen extras they lured over from Tisch with the promise of possible camera time and all the individually wrapped Twizzlers they could eat.

And all Karen has to do in return is coyly pretend to be “Rebecca Duvall’s” possible scissor sister in the tabloid press in order to revive her flagging career, because as we learned last week through the Fantastic Adventures of Ellis Dappledawn, heteroflexible Lordling of the Greenwood, this is the nineties, and bi is back, bitch.

“It’s crazy. I had to explain to my parents that I’m not a lesbian,” Karen says to Eyelid with a secret smile on her lips, her spine swirling with a cold, tingling sensation she’s never felt before, not even the time Dev gave her dry ice burns while insisting they reenact the gun scene from Blood Brothers at home for sex purposes (as he is British). “It’s just that there was this moment at the U.S. Open where we were both wearing Zadig & Voltaire stretch-leather jeggings that you can just barely see Gina Gershon’s urine stains on, and she thought I was saying something, and I thought she was saying something, so we turned to each other at the same time and our lips accidentally touched … I have to go start a band now. Leonardo DiCaprio is sooooooo nice!”

Meanwhile, Cousin Debbie is at her newly husbandless home, fully dressed and belted in her finest tie-dyed thinking dirndl, trying to write a new song with Tom, when Unfrozen Caveman Cuckold materializes before them. Carpet. He’s come to pick up Carpet to take him to the zoo to see the animal, and then to the pet store to pet some rabbits, and then maybe to the fabric store to buy some small pieces of velvet, because he likes soft things, does Carpet. But Cousin Debbie thought he was with you! And Unfrozen Caveman Cuckold thought he was with you!

And the only thing that means is OH MY GOD CARPET IS MISSING!!! SHOULD WE CALL HIM ON THE TELEPHONE TO SEE WHERE HE IS????? OF COURSE NOT!! It’s not like he’s a fully grown humanoid who in a few short months will be legally deemed capable by the state to live on his own and serve in the army and be executed for capital crimes, he’s only a piece of Carpet, and the only possible thing to do is file a missing persons report with an African-American police officer who is kindly but stern in the way such characters always are with people like Cousin Debbie and their problems. He notes trenchantly that Carpet has a record from his pot-smoking debacle and Cousin Debbie and Unfrozen Caveman Cuckold are like, oh no, I’m afraid you didn’t understand, Carpet is white. Recreational drug use in white people is simply a harmless affectation, like using British words for things when you are not British (see “whilst,” above) or having children’s book characters tattooed on your back skin or consensual heterosexual anal sex and JUST PLEASE FIND CARPET AND BRING HIM HOME BEFORE SOME HOMELESS PERSON USES HIM AS A DIAPER!

And while I’m not surprised at Cousin Debbie’s phone-free hysteria in this matter, given that she is a dramatic scarf person, I am a little taken aback that by Tom’s reaction, which is to flutter his hands helplessly in front of his salmon-covered cleavage as his eyes well with tears. You see, Token, he never told anybody this before, but this one time, when he and Cousin Debbie were in grad school, it was really late at night, and The Turning Point was on TV, and there was that scene with Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne, and it was so beautiful, and he was so beautiful, and it was the nineties, and Tom thought … maybe once, just this once ... and not long after that, Carpet, well, you wouldn’t say born, but Carpet emerged into this world. And if there was a chance, just a chance … well … Tom doesn’t have to say anything else. Token reaches out and gently strokes Tom’s shoulder, which on this show is practically like full-fledged double fisting. Nothing’s gonna harm you, Tom, not while Token’s around. And nothing turns a gay Christian on like frightened tears.

Speaking of uncomfortable sexualizing, let us turn now to page 124 in our siddurs and read responsively from the selection entitled: Men Are From Bars, Women Are Immortal Priestesses. You see, Anjelica Huston has put Goran the Bull, her new bit of rough trade whom I continue to insist is Serbian despite all evidence to the contrary, through a sandblaster in order to show him how the “other half lives.” The other half lives at BAM. Next to the mall with the Target and the giant Daffy’s, so that's pretty upscale, I guess, and they spend most of their time pretentiously discussing what I think is supposed to a Robert Wilson play, which gives Theresa Rebeck a chance to use Goran as a mouthpiece for her well-documented disdain for the avant-garde, to which I can only say, at least Robert Wilson is supposed to be boring. Ooooh, gurl! I gives snaps to my own shade! And also, if I was writing this show, and therefore needed a surrogate to voice my opinions about the State of the American Thea-tuh, I would use this opportunity to point out that I have long thought Robert Wilson was overlooking a genius casting pool in the current employees of the Rite Aid on First Avenue and 5th Street, who have achieved a level of stillness that makes a Zen monk look like Robin Williams. I’m sure Bernie Telsey could arrange something with their work release officers. You’re welcome!

Oh look, it’s Jerry! Hello, Jerry. (Read responsively: Hello, Newman.) Jerry is with his girlfriend Miss Caswell, an extremely voluptuous embryo he dug out of the dumpster behind the New Hope Fertility Clinic, and Anjelica Huston and Goran are sufficiently aroused by his presence to skip out on the second interminable act and go to the whale-festooned ship’s cabin where he makes camp, where they will maybe possibly take their clothes off, but we can’t look at that because we’ll go blind.

Oh, look, it’s Karen, who has swapped her usual periwinkle sports short ensemble for a highly heterosexual beige cocktail stretch toga, and has summoned Dev and “Rebecca Duvall” to dinner, so she can bask in their mutual adoration instead of feeling bad about herself because God, why is everyone so mean to her? Isn’t it bad enough she got cast as a Broadway understudy the very first time she ever tried out for a play? I mean, when is it going to be Karen’s turn?

It’s an Indian restaurant, because Dev is of Indian extraction and is eager to share his culinary heritage with his girlfriend’s new girlfriend, but “Rebecca Duvall” is extremely anxious about possible exposure to peanuts. Given the extremely detailed instructions she gave earlier to an extremely patient Ann Harada on the care and preparation of her special kale-wheatgrass-immortality smoothies (“Fools!” chuckled Anjelica Huston in the background, “don’t you know that I alone will never die?”). I might assume that “Rebecca Duvall” is anxious about foodstuffs in general, but nope, it’s a real peanut allergy, like seriously, like if she seriously even touches a peanut, or smells a peanut, or sees a man dressed like Mr. Peanut, or is in earshot of someone using the endearment of “Peanut” she will immediately drop dead, forcing her untested understudy to go on in her place and win a Tony, just like Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie! Sutton Foster, you guys! She was from a small town! And had brown hair and brown eyes! And arms and legs and a nose and other various body parts that make up a human being! Just like Karen! Just like Karen! JUST LIKE KAREN. THIS TIME, FOR ME.

Anyway, Dev, predictably, does not take well “Rebecca Duvall’s” mistaking his ancestral cuisine for, ew, Thai food, or her (not entirely undeserved) opinion about his ego holding Karen back, or her obvious lack of interest in his very important job that Smash viewers care about so, so deeply (he works at the DMV? I think?). Which means that it’s time for Karen to go into one of her periodic autistic disassociative trance states, and this time, because they are in an Indian restaurant, and Karen has the narrative imagination of well, frankly me, at this point, having been up all night trying to arrange this into something coherent, it is …

… a Bollywood Number.

What constitutes the majesty and mystery of a Bollywood number in the world of Karen Cartwright’s headscape, I (don’t) hear you ask? WELL. First of all, India takes place in what appears to be the Angel Oresanz Foundation, where I really wanted to have my wedding but didn’t, so enraged was I by the phrase “mandatory donation” as opposed to a simple, straightforward, honest “rental fee.” It means, unsurprisingly, that Kat McPhee is the only female member of the regular cast deemed worthy of flagrantly displaying a bare midriff in television. And we learn things! Like that Ann Harada and Sean Dugan look really good in green! And that it is entirely possible that Smash intends to go an entire season without letting Brian D’Arcy James sing a goddamn whole song! And Dev, Beloved Dev, is a really fucking good dancer!!! Like, really, really good! Like, he actually makes me able to watch Kat McPhee curling into a tight fetal knot of discomfort, and he’s kind of doing to me what Mikhail Baryshnikov might have done to Tom in my imagined version of a fictional reality! (Did that blow your mind? I just took LSD with my therapist, because that’s how the other half lives in 1966. At BAM, which is eternal.) Why isn’t he playing Joe DiMaggio? Or Arthur Miller? And what would a Bollywood musical version of The Crucible be like? (Awesome, is the answer. Abigail and John Proctor would have a dance off of forbidden lust. Goody Proctor could do a poppet number.)

But most important! Carpet is there! When has Karen’s subconscious ever seen Carpet? Ever? And OH MY GOD DO YOU KNOW WHERE HE IS??? Because Cousin Debbie is so desperate she is now forced to stalk Bathmat, Carpet’s only friend at the Zarin Academy for Gifted and Talented Fabrics, while wearing the Middle-Aged Turban of Invisibility so ably put to use by Sally Field in Soapdish. Bathmat doesn’t want to tell her where Carpet is. Cousin Debbie screams: “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I’M GLORIA FUCKING SWANSON” and then whips off her sunglasses to show how bravely she is not wearing eye makeup and Bathmat cracks. He knows where Carpet is. Carpet is currently staying ... wait for it … on his floor. Sometimes … it’s just nice to know someone is reading these recaps, that’s all.

Anyway, Carpet comes home. Back to the kitchen in their little shtetl of Brownstone Brooklyn, where Cousin Debbie is wearing a festive teal table flounce and Unfrozen Caveman Husband/Cuckold (Cuckband? Husbold?) is chopping a zucchini in a way meant to be symbolic of the slow and ritualistic severance of his manhood. Rage Salads are back. Greens, greens, and nothing but greens, this time even bitterer.

And all is as it should be on the Bombshell front as well. You see, Ellis Dappledawn, who has spent the entire episode dressed in what appears to be his Mustardseed costume from the world’s preppiest production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, preppier even than the one in Dead Poet’s Society after which Robert Sean Leonard had to suicide himself because they didn’t have “It Gets Better” videos yet in those days, has sent Karen a text saying that Cousin Debbie is sick, so Karen can go home. Because that makes sense, right? No, it doesn’t, but it’s what Ivy told him to do (and Ellis seems to have long ago abandoned any sense of logical allegiance, merely being nefarious for its own sake, a development I applaud, because the sooner this all descends into chaos, the sooner it can rise again, phoenixlike, into the live-action version of The Muppet Show I so desperately want it to be) and the glorious net result is that we get to hear Megan Hilty sing a beautiful Shaiman and Wittman–penned ballad called “Secondhand White Baby Grand.”

And it is magical, truly. I mean, it does magic things. Token kisses Tom on the mouth, without visible shame or disgust. Anjelica Huston and Goran the Bull engage in hard, nude, yet age-appropriate cuddling in their nest inside the belly of a giant whale. Mr. and Mrs. Caveman Husband and Carpet sit quietly at their kitchen island, letting the familiar leafy flavor of disappointment and regret fill their hungry mouths; tasting for the moment, of home. Why can’t she play Marilyn again?

Oh right. She’s not a star.

Photo: Will Hart/NBC