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Smash Recap: Battle Without Honor or Humanity

SMASH -- "The Movie Star" Episode 111 -- Pictured: Uma Thurman as Rebecca Duvall -- (Photo by: Will Hart/NBC)

To borrow a phrase from renowned class warrior and posthumous Smash executive producer F. Scott Fitzgerald, movie stars are different from you and me. They are capable of exhibiting superficial similarities with other humanoids when the mood strikes them; they can make faux-humble asides and plug change in the parking meter for the benefit of the paparazzi with the best of them, but for the most part, they are a separate breed, a race apart. They have huge heads and teeth that are all exactly the same size and color. Their highlights are always fresh. In time, all of their original skin is slowly flayed from their bodies and replaced with a flesh-toned laminate product not unlike the cool outer shell of a Barbie. They live on their own planets populated solely by replicants who cater to their every practical, psychological, and sexual need.

Naturally, all the little Equity house elves have worked themselves into a tizzy at the arrival of such a rare creature in their grimy midst, all of which they are dealing with in stereotypically individuated ways, because that is how we develop characters on this show. Karen has put on lip gloss! Lip gloss, like a common prostitute. Gore Vidal, on the other hand, has affected a studiously nonchalant pose, as he lived for years in a possibly non-platonic ménage à trois with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and therefore cannot be expected to fall at the feet of a woman (or put on a shirt with sleeves) who once turned up on the red carpet in an embellished evening Snuggie from the Eva Braun Loungewear Collection.

Token, who is wearing so much foundation his skin has become the exact shade and consistency of a Weight Watchers Frozen Fudge Bar, opines to a swooning Tom that “Rebecca Duvall” a.k.a. “Uma Thurman” a.k.a. “Beatrix Kiddo” might be a wee bit long in the tooth (not to mention the leg, as Marilyn Monroe was a petite woman and Uma Thurman was hatched in a laboratory with an egg of Big Bird’s fertilized with an ambiguous fluid harvested from the codpiece of Brienne of Tarth) for the part. “OH GOD, WILL YOU TWO JUST STICK IT IN ALREADY AND GET BACK TO MY SAD STORY LINE????” screams Cousin Debbie, who is dressed in the habit of a novitiate from Sister Dig, the 1967 sitcom I have just decided to write about a convent of beatnik nuns, and makes them a pre-fellatio dinner reservation right then and there, thus fulfilling her network mandated “likability” quotient for the episode.

And then! Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” blasts through the rehearsal hall as “Rebecca Duvall” appears, in slow motion, wielding her bo staff and flanked by Anjelica Huston (whose specialty is nunchakus) and Derek (whose specialty is pointlessly yelling at people) as the assembled cast of spandex-clad peons cowers in her wake. Quentin Tarantino directed this episode, right? I mean, I’m assuming. So arrives a star! Does she want to warm up or anything? Nope! “Rebecca Duvall” opens her mouth, ready to unleash a choir of angels and out comes: I heard that you were feeling ill / Headache, fever, and a chill / I came to help restore your pluck / ’Cause I’m the nurse who likes to … and then Jennifer Grey’s old nose slams the door in her face.

Because that is seriously, seriously exactly what she sounds like, and Eyelid makes such an awesome face of cruel glee at her terribleness that I am almost tempted to present her with a sock, and thus her freedom.

But aside from the Schadenfreude (which should really be the title of this show), what the hell are they going to do? Well, my first move would be to call our old friend Joe Machota at CAA and ask why they want “Rebecca Duvall” off their books so badly, because any legitimate management would never allow a star of her stature to embarrass herself in public like that unless they had a very good, very underhanded reason. Apart from that, the only option is for Anjelica Huston to go crawling back to her mortal enemy (and long-lost sister, I just decided!), Ursula the Sea Witch, and beg her to use blood magic to put Megan Hilty’s voice in Uma Thurman’s body, a process that will take hundreds of years and cost thousands of lives. “Or we could just bring back Ivy,” says Derek quietly. But she’s so unstable! Remember how her crippling addiction to children’s Benadryl sent her on a downward spiral that led Norbert Leo Butz to strongly recommend the removal of Ivy’s endorsement of the salmon Bearnaise at Café Un Deux Trois from the restaurant listings in the back of Playbill?

Well, smell ya later, Butz, Ivy is back! And guess who's not too happy about it? (Sigh) Karen. Karen, I thought you guys were supposed to be friends now, ever since Ivy decided to enact her extra-special-super-top-secret plan to make you think she was nice by actually being really extra-special-super nice to you, and it doesn’t even give me any joy to say it anymore, but fuck you, Karen, you limp little Kleenex wad of a person.

And actually, Eyelid, fuck you too for that bitchy: “Well, look at who she’s sleeping with” because, look, I could be totally off base on this, given this show’s expectation that we will accept whatever they tell us is true as opposed to what we see with our eyes, but wouldn’t it seem that someone whom you sleep with almost every night and has a key to your house and fights to get you put back in his show because he wants to make you happy might actually be your boyfriend?

And if Eyelid wants to be resentful that Ivy is in a relationship with the director and she isn’t, well, I guess fair enough. But at least call it a relationship and stop insinuating that what Ivy and Derek have is some kind of sleazy, transactional sex contract as a way for the show to lazily cast aspersions on Ivy’s character that are never backed up by anything she actually does. It’s cheap, it’s inconsistent, and it’s frankly insulting that the only woman on the show in a healthy, sexually satisfying relationship is constantly denigrated as some kind of mercenary slut. Eyelid, I’m taking back your hypothetical freedom sock. Back to the Malfoy’s kitchen with you! 

But we’ve got bigger problems in the rehearsal room today than compulsive slut-shaming:

  1. Ivy has somehow transmitted the powerful psychedelic drug prednisone to Derek, probably through skin contact, like they used to tell us in health class you could do with LSD (oh God, if only), and now Derek is suffering from terrifying hallucinations of Candy Darling singing Amy Winehouse reggae covers to his Adam’s apple while his eyes spin around his head like he’s being hypnotized by Sir Hiss in Robin Hood.
  2. Nobody has bothered to explain to “Rebecca Duvall” what a musical is. Chiefly that it a musical form in which the most heightened dramatic moments are sung, rather than spoken. Oh, and also, some bouncer from a club in South Beach keeps bursting into the rehearsal room, halfheartedly bellowing Rebecca’s name, like if Stanley Kowalski was one of Madonna’s backup dancers in 1992. Anjelica Huston is able to ward him off with the Amulet of NIMH that she has cleverly secreted inside the canister of pepper spray that’s been in her purse since the Central Park Jogger thing in 1989, but next time they might not be so lucky.

Never mind, intones Anjelica Huston, as she delivers the one perfect line she is allotted each episode: “Rebecca Duvall did not get to the top of the A-list by being simple or having healthy romantic relationships.” Oracle, preach.

Ah, romance, otherwise known as the point in the recap in which we must discuss that which we do not care about at all. First, the bad news. Are you sitting down? Do you have a drink? You might want to get a drink. You see … well … I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but Carpet is getting bad some bad grades. I know! See, normally he’s one of the very best students at the Zarin Academy for Gifted and Talented Fabrics (never less than an A+, wails Cousin Debbie, an assertion, that given what we’ve seen of Carpet’s, how shall I put this, interesting developmental issues, I find very hard to believe) but now he’s failing, and —

— “IT’S BECAUSE OF ME!” Cousin Debbie shrieks, ripping open her fair-trade haircloth business dashiki to reveal the scarlet “A” emblazoned across her bare breasts in what looks like her own blood, but is really that weird colored lipstick she got in the give back at the Linda Lavin tribute at the Vineyard (I know, because I got the same one). “I’M AN ADULTERESS! AND CARPET SAW IT! HE SAW ME WITH MY LOVAH! AND I FEAR HE MAY HAVE BEEN AROUSED, BECAUSE I AM STILL AN ATTRACTIVE WOMAN, EVEN IF I HAVE GAINED A LITTLE BIT OF WEIGHT SINCE WILL AND GRACE WHICH SEEMS TO HAVE MADE THE WARDROBE DEPARTMENT FEEL THEIR ONLY CHOICE IS TO DRESS ME AS MOKEY FRAGGLE AND IT’S UNFAIR, BECAUSE I WAS ACTUALLY UNHEALTHILY SKINNY THEN!”

Anyway, to make a long and Carpety scene short, Mr. and Mrs. Caveman-Husband aren’t getting back together anytime soon, but the bemused guidance counselor who was inexplicably not played by Linda Lavin has a hell of a story the next time she bumps into Michael Riedel at dinner, like everyone in town does, because there are actually eighteen Michael Riedels, all of whom were grown in various South American laboratories as part of an failed top-secret government program in the seventies to eradicate Julie Taymor before the damage was done.

Agony, misery, woe … though it’s different for each. For example, here is Formerly Beloved Dev, taking a break from his busy schedule poisoning pigeons in the park and sulking to stand up Karen at an special chorus-peasant’s screening of “Rebecca Duvall’s” newest masterwork, Casual Fridays 2: The Search for Curly’s Flat-Front Khakis, which she wants him to go to because: “it’s been so long since we laughed together.” Instead, he turns off his phone and takes out that girl from the New York Times for fancy seduction cocktails, because Dev is the kind of person who can make himself the victim in any situation and is thus perfectly able to rationalize cheating with a succession of women, all of whom he will dump when they fail to give him the constant undivided attention he craves. Karen winds up getting drunk with Ivy again (although I doubt this presages a slide into alcoholism for Karen, because Katharine McPhee is America’s Sweetheart! Right? RIGHT????????).

Also! Remember how Anjelica Huston kissed Goran the Bull in that very long montage last week and I didn’t tell you about it because it was already six in the morning and I just didn’t have it in me? Well, we’re basically at that place again. But here’s Ellis Dappledawn, our furry forest friendling, with a fish scale for a pocket watch and a dandelion for a parasol! Ellis is so eager to show all those beavers and rabbits and voles and muskrats back in Acorntown that he can make something of himself in the big city that he has gathered a very damaging dossier on Goran, consisting of a single photocopied paragraph linking him to a family with a suspiciously Italian name. And he might have some undocumented Dominican friars washing dishes in his bar. But Goran has strong lips and a stronger will, and he lip-kisses the doubt right out of Anjelica Huston.

Ellis Dappledawn, meanwhile, finds himself in an amusing little sex triangle (I won’t say love, as I’m not sure Ellis is genuinely attracted to, let alone capable of feelings for, other people) with his friends Holly Hedgehog and Fancy Fox, which is all exposed when he makes a whoopsie on the seashell that serves as his phone! Isn’t it fun to be young in the nineties, when everyone is bisexual and nobody can figure out how their call waiting works?

And what of those lovers a little higher on the Kinsey scale? Well, Tom and Token have wisely decided to skip the pre-sex Bubba Gump reservation Cousin Debbie angrily made for them and go right to the main event, which is not popcorn shrimp. Unfortunately, we don’t get to find out if all the meat really is in the tail because Token, apparently, belongs to a bizarre form of traditional religious that views homosexual intercourse as a sacrament, (perhaps he’s a Cathar?) and therefore will not be giving it up, anally, orally, or manually to Tom until it’s legal for gays to marry in all 50 states or something.

And oh, brother. I myself am not exactly an atheist — I don’t believe in God, but I do believe He can hear me when I say that — but it seems to me that if you were going to all the trouble of reexamining some of organized religion’s, ahem, more traditional views on sexual orientation, you might also give a rethink on its attitudes toward the sex act itself, and how shame about sex has been used primarily as a way to deny women (and for that matter, men) agency over their own bodies and desires. It’s just kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, is what I’m saying, when in fact, you should just throw out the baby and retain the bathwater for a nice, long sexy bath. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to get to know someone better before jumping into bed with them, I guess, but it seems very odd to couch it in these “godly” terms. Almost as odd as insisting that someone who has had a five-year-relationship is “afraid of intimacy.” I’m sorry, five years is a long time. Five years is “we gave it a fair shot, it didn’t work out, which is why I am now single and available to be sexually frustrated by you.” Poor Tom. I know it’s a network show and we have the all-important bigot demographic to consider (although I’ve heard they prefer to be called “swing voters”), but can’t he get a break? Or at least a tasteful fade-out?

And yet. I can’t totally turn on Token, because of the three little words he uttered at the top of the scene.

“Into. The. Woods.”

It’s happened. Thunder claps. Lightning strikes. Somewhere high in the mountains, in his Palace of Clouds, Stephen Sondheim, blessed be He, lets out a virile roar, for His people have not forgotten Him. Into the Woods has been acknowledged on Smash. It’s moments like this that make the recapping — the sleepless nights, the screaming at the DVR, the splitting hangovers — all worthwhile. Tom says his favorite Sondheim is The Frogs, which is clearly bullshit as (a) any creative professional for whom it isn’t Sunday in the Park With George needs to seriously reconsider their life choices; (b) saying your favorite Sondheim musical is the The Frogs is like the gay equivalent of “my girlfriend who lives in Canada” which is already its own gay equivalent, so it’s like gay double jeopardy; and (c) if the writers really wanted to throw something to the Sondheim nerds, they’d have had him say Allegro. But I’ll take it. Musical-theater people discussing actual musical theater on a show about musical theater. You may know what you need, but to get what you need you better see that you keep what you have.

And so does Stephen Sondheim turn his shining countenance upon us and grant us peace And so does Uma Thurman admit that maybe possibly she should consider working with a vocal coach. And so does she not entirely humiliatingly anchor a number called “Dig Deep” which is set in the Actors Studio and features a singing, dancing Lee Strasberg, which might be my favorite idea of all time. And so does Gore Vidal play James Dean saying: “You’re tearing me apart” which didst maketh me realize for the first time that Tommy Wiseau meant The Room to be a remake of Rebel Without a Cause. And so when it's over does Anjelica Huston catch a glimpse in the mirror and say out loud: “Now there’s a movie star.” We got through all of last year. And we’re here.

Photo: Will Hart/NBC