Smash Recap: The Baitz Motel

Photo: Will Hart/NBC
Episode Title
The Read-Through
Editor’s Rating

Greetings, fellow singing orphans and nonspeaking townspeople of indeterminate gender! I’m writing to you today from the smoggy, theater-free environs of Los Angeles, where I have so far accidentally eaten a vegan cookie made out of black beans and molten sorrow, been complimented on my chin shape by three separate Nordstrom salesladies who seemed to think it was a consumer item, and, because of the absurdly late hour, have totally slipped through a California-shaped hole in the time-space continuum. It could be 1953 when Marilyn Monroe became the first international sex symbol to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel; it could be 1754 when the Vicomte de Valmont merrily sprinkled congenital syphilis throughout all of the best uteri of Western Europe; it could be 2053, when we will be rouse by forced amphetamine injection from our sleep pods each morning to pledge undying allegiance to the immense hologram of Karen Cartwright’s disembodied head that flickers across what used to be the sky.

My point is, I have no idea what goddamn time it is, and since this Red Bull is doing for me what makeup did for Madeleine Ashton in the first act of Death Becomes Her (say it with me: “Nothing anymore!!!”) I hope you’ll forgive me if this recap is (a) shorter and (b) makes more sense than usual. Even Lewis Carroll had to stop drinking laudanum and just teach math sometimes, you know?

But luckily, this episode is cooperating with me, in that not too much happened, and what did was mostly logical! Basically, the whole thing revolved around two separate read-throughs: one of the new and dramaturgically improved drafts of Bombshell; the other of the motley collection of pecan shards and concertos composed for the thumb zither that is Hit List, the hottest musical to come out of Greenpoint since whatever the hell was going on on Manhattan Avenue the day after Pope John Paul II died.

The first is being organized by Bombshell’s new producer, Jerry (hello, Jerry!), whose mannerisms have evolved, delightfully, into a full-scale impression of Richard Nixon as played by Mandy Patinkin doing that thing where he pretends to be the boatman’s dog in Sunday in the Park With George. He’s gotten a few secretaries from his office who are very active in their senior-citizen community theater group in Teaneck to play all the parts, and the entire creative team will be here, except Anjelica Huston, who is banned for committing the apparently non-prosecutable offense of confessing to knowingly accepting illegal monies from a convicted felon. Instead, she’ll be taking tea alone at the Mandarin Oriental while Fran and Barry Weissler point and snicker and throw little pieces of pound cake at her, which, incidentally, is the exact plot of the Yiddish-theater version of Anna Karenina.

In the meantime, he’s also secured the Belasco Theater, the site of the 1997 Janet McTeer production of A Doll’s House that made me want to become an actress, so you know the whole project is doomed. The presence of its stage, however, does afford us a wonderful new “Piggy’s Fantasy” of a number called “Around the World With Christian Borle” in which Tony-award-winning perfomer Christian Borle plays a whole host of beloved international figures ranging from Punjab to Princess Margaret to Hermann Goering, and which also features some lady that my sister, who has never seen the show before, sagely informed me “might be that girl that used to be on American Idol, except she’s blonde now.”

And then Cousin Debbie breezes in from the dramaturgian paradise of the Berkshires, aglow with inspiration and love — that is, the kind of love that can be shown with Daniel Sunjata’s penis (my sister: “Cousin Debbie looks like she just got fucked.” She calls her Cousin Debbie, too, because she is, in fact, our cousin). She’s wonderful and the Berkshires are wonderful and the draft is wonderful and tender-yet-animalistic lovemaking with a large man you don’t quite trust is wonderful, and there’s absolutely no need to foreshadow that anything might go wrong, like Jerry arbitrarily pulling the plug on the whole goddamn show. Right? Of course right (as our mutual great-grandmother Yenta used to say, back in our ancestral village of Anatevka).

Meanwhile, over in the Land of Shadows, where the Fringe Festival is held in winter and the mighty thatch of Katherine McPhee’s chest hair has left an enormous sweat stain all the way down the front of Elizabeth Wakefield’s brand-new off-the-shoulder purple sweatshirt that she borrowed without even asking, Midriff is urging Karen to call Jimmy the Jerk and tell him she’s ready for a co-dependent, emotionally abusive relationship that will isolate her from her friends and family, slowly drain her of all self-esteem, and leave her a desiccated husk of a human being (or, you know, more of one). But Karen “Straight-Outta-D-Moines” Cartwright is strictly a Rules Girl: She thinks the guy should have to call the girl to tell her she’s a worthless fucking cunt. Unless she’s got a really, really good reason to initiate contact, like that Derek thinks that maybe Jimmy and Kyle Goblinweed should have a read-through of their musical that he will not attend, give notes on, or help them organize.

Obviously, everybody is thrilled by this amazing opportunity, although Karen’s joy is slightly tempered by the emergence of a freshly screwed underpants girl from Jimmy’s luxury sleeping loft (Kyle Goblinweed, obviously just sleeps inside a garbage bag in the bathroom cupboard, which is all he deserves), and Jimmy’s like, “What’s the big deal? She’s just some stupid sex slave I bought off Crutchy for a $25 gift certificate to Buffalo Exchange. Why should you care if I fuck her right in front of you, on the kitchen counter, while Kyle Goblinweed takes up the lichen-strewn mantle of Unfrozen Caveman husband and slowly chops a cucumber in sublimated fury? Are you crying? Bitch, how ‘bout I set your fucking face on fire and give you something to cry about?” Which to be fair, is exactly what Noel Coward said to Gertrude Lawrence when they first met, so these two may have a fruitful professional collaboration ahead of them. But that’s all it’s going to be, no matter how tenderly Karen fantasongzes (this is a new word I just made up, use it in a sentence) about carefully helping Jimmy into his flannel while he stares into the middle distance with the pensive, furrowed gaze of a Norfin troll who is dressed as a tiny professor, because Kyle Goblinweed — sweet, safe Kyle Goblinweed, who never says no — told him she was dating Derek! Mendacity! Lying and liars!!!

And speaking of crying, guess who’s not! Ivy! Ivy who is in rehearsals for Liasions: What’s Happened to Them? and eagerly awaiting the arrival of international screen sensation Jack “Don’t Call Me Seth MacFarlane” McFarland, who is taping the 42nd Street tribute episode of “Just Jack” in which our hero finds himself unexpectedly thrown into the leading role of a major Broadway musical! He’s made the brave choice of playing the legendary seducer Valmont entirely in the voice of Maurice Chevalier, except for when he periodically stops the show to fart the tune of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” at least, until Ivy convinces him to do acting, real acting based on manufactured existential fear. And there’s only one catch, which is that he’ll have to go off all his psychotropic medications to do it, which he announces in a monologue that sounds like it came straight out of latter-day Christopher Durang, and I would like to congratulate Smash for coming up with a movie-star character every bit as brilliantly ludicrous as the late, great Rebecca Duvall, and I can’t wait until Jerry’s new assistant Tracy Turnbladder (who was fired from her old job because even John Waters couldn’t handle that much incontinence) sneaks thorazine into his Jamba Juice and everything … just goes very quiet.

Also, for the record, I would very much like to see Jim Carrey play King Lear, but only if Jenny McCarthy is Cordelia. She’d be magical.

Oh, but the read-throughs! The read-throughs. Well, the one for Hit List doesn’t go very well. Obviously, the problem isn’t the songs, being as they are written by Jimmy who was hatched from an egg laid by Dorothy Fields in 1935, fertilized remotely by Stephen Sondheim in 1973, then left neglected in a grocery-store dairy aisle until he was picked up and cared for by a young Adam Guettel for the egg baby unit of his eighth-grade human growth and development class (I’m just going to invent Dickensian science-fiction backstories for him until I am provided with an official and satisfactory alternative explanation for his bottomless rage), but that Kyle Goblinweed (a) only ever learned how to write in rebuses and (b) has no talent, at least not what I call talent. “You’re nothing, you’re nobody, and if we were living in a true republic, like ancient Rome, you would be thrown to the lions without a second thought,” says Gore Vidal, and with his majordomo Eyelid in tow, sweeps back to Hell, where a nude and oiled William F. Buckley is keeping his bed of nails warm.

So that’s pretty much it for Kyle Goblinweed, except that Jimmy seems to care as much about the Sancho Panzo to his Don Quixote, Tony Randall to his Rock Hudson, the Itzhak Stern to his Oskar Schindler as much as he can about any other living organism, so at least he’ll still get a story credit. (Get me Joe Machota at CAA!)

Cousin Debbie’s new and sexproved book, however, is brilliant. How brilliant? It’s so brilliant that when they finish reading, everyone just sits there in stunned silence, which as any writer can tell you, is always a great sign. It’s so brilliant that Linda the Stage Manager can only nod in mute awe. It’s so brilliant that I almost forgot to tell you that Tom used to date Jon Robin Baitz!!! (God, Shukert, talk about burying the lede!!!) It’s so brilliant that Jerry hates it, and wants to go back to the old workshop script, which was provided to him by …

Tom! That Judas, Tom! See, this is the thing about passive-aggressive people — it’s very easy to forget the second barrel of that particular adjective. Except he didn’t do it on purpose — he just gave Jerry all the drafts and that’s the one Jerry picked. So on the one side we have the odd couple of Tom and Jerry, who prefer a strong female anchor, while on the other we have Cousin Debbie, because writers always think the most recent draft is best, and Derek, obviously, because after all this faggoty Lena Dunham crap we’ve been putting up with for the last six months, it’s about time someone made the brave decision to show something told from a white, heterosexual, male point of view.

So it comes down to the tiebreaking vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy … oh no, wait, that’s something else. For this, we have to go to a much higher authority.

“Yeeeessss?” whispers Anjelica Huston as her temporary manservant (I’m sorry to inform you, Dappledawn superfans, that this is not the week of Ellis’s triumphant return) shows the band of groveling supplicants in to her inner chamber. Which will prevail, male or female, yin or yang, Ahura Mazda or Angra Mainyu? (It’s not much, but I pledge to do what I can correct the grievous underrepresentation of new Zoroastrian voices in our popular culture.)

Well, first Anjelica must make the preparations. She lights the holy fire in the sacred cauldron. She reads the runes, she dredges the cup of Dionysus and swirls the dregs that remain, she slaughters the lamb that’s been hanging around her office since her revival of Gypsy starring Scarlett Johansson as Mama Rose (Joe Machota’s reach is long) failed to get off the ground and studies it entrails.

And at last, they speak to her, at last she hears the deathless voices of Arthur Laurents and Abe Burrows and Hugh Wheeler and Betty Comden and Adolph Green murmur to her from their tombs. “Yes,” Anjelica Huston moans, her body trembling with the ecstasy of the Beyond. “Yes. Thank you. Thank you, ancestors.” And her eyes bright with the wisdom of a thousand lives, she turns to the little band of wanderers assembled in front of her desk. “I think,” she says, “I think … ”

And then somebody comes out of the men’s room in a diner in New Jersey and shoots her in the head. Because it all goes black. And that is the only explanation.

And that’s a wrap! Until next week, mes enfants!