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Smash Recap: On the Deck of the Titanic

SMASH -- "Musical Chairs" Episode 207 -- Pictured: (l-r) Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn, Christian Borle as Tom Levitt, Debra Messing as Julia Houston, Anjelica Huston as Eileen Rand

You guys, I don’t even know anymore. Do you know? Is this show even something that we’re still doing, or are we just slowly shuffling our feet down the Yellowish Brick Road to the Peridot City (it’s less exciting than an emerald)? Does it have something to do with the doomed move to cursed Saturdays that made this episode feel like that boyfriend you know you’re going to break up with, only you have to get through his grandmother’s funeral first?

Because there has to be some reason why the whole thing made me feel like poor Ivy, greeting the opening night that could prove to be (finally!) her star-making turn on Broadway with the same enthusiasm one might have for their seventeenth complimentary iced tea refill at a Midwestern chain restaurant. Maybe it has to do with the original sin of this show, which is not that the troubled development of Bombshell has been stretched out too long, but that from the beginning, it all came together too quickly. We’ve basically got the same rotating cast of characters embroiled in the same set of problems they’ve had since the very first episode. No wonder things are feeling a little anticlimatic, and we find ourselves unable to speak above a lachrymose mumble and have all the facial mobility of a Botox patient who instead of being given a topical anesthetic, was administered a sizable dose of Thorazine. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Katharine McPhee!

But I guess we’d better get to it. Well, so here’s Derek, who, despite receiving an M.F.A. in Pretentious Coat Wearing from the North Carolina School of the Arts, has never read Towards a Poor Theater, suddenly forced to grapple with the various hardships and indignities of the not-for-profit world in which one is forced to fetch (and pay for) one’s own snacks and the only women around are the serious, dark-haired girls with biblical names in the office who all went to Yale and whom he doesn’t want to sleep with, and the board of the theater is refusing to let him expense the costly prostitutes he’s now going to have to blow through in order to continually convince himself that he’s not gay. That would never happen in Belgium!

Anyway, Jim Scott Oskar Nicola Ellis Eustis, chieftain and warlord of the New York Manhattan Public Workshop Theater Club, is having second thoughts about allowing Jimmy the Jerk and his Theater of Seething Resentment anywhere near his subscriber base. I mean, it’s not that he doesn’t love Hit List! He’d consider it an honor to be badly beaten or even permanently maimed by an artist of Jimmy’s caliber, just like that time Judith Malina set him on fire or he got that anal fistula from Suzan-Lori Parks. But the subscribers — the subscribers might not understand the scene where Jimmy peppers the audience with buckshot, or when he brings Mrs. Eisenman, my neighbor in Stuyvesant Town (she lives in the same building they just moved Pope Benedict into), up on the stage and orders the spectators to torture her with their choice of weapon, Marina Abramovic style.

No, the best thing to do is to move Hit List into the 80-seat black box downstairs, where the only people who will have to see it are their friends and family and some drunk Playwrights Horizons’ students they can paper the house with. And, like, maybe Jason Zinoman.

Kyle Goblinweed is all, “Goblin, goblin, goblin, whatever you say, boss, let me get fetch you a treacle tart and a fresh flagon of pumpkin juice from the kitchens” but Jimmy the Jerk (pretty sure they should just save time and name the whole place “New York Jimmy” already) clenches his fist around the handle of his switchblade and is about to be all “Bricks, bats, clubs, chains, bottles, knives, guns” until — and this is interesting — until Derek gets all pissy about the change and then he gets mad at Derek! Jimmy just needs an authority figure to be mad at, and why hasn’t anyone introduced him to the wonderful rage-filled universe of Internet commenting yet? He’s a born (Norfin) troll! Jimmy, I believe there are some pictures of Michelle Obama holding vegetables that need your attention urgently right now. I’ll see you in about five years.

Until then, feel free to blame it all on Midriff, who, though obviously a pleasant person with a pretty voice, lacks the electrifying Tim Pawlenty–like charisma of Karen Cartwright. If only they had Karen back, the seas would part and the sky would open and Angel from Rent woulr come back to life and we would live in a time of peace and prosperity and Brotherhood of Man, as sung by Daniel Radcliffe. Now please welcome the cast of Oliver! so Derek can act repelled. Hey, Derek, Jackie Hoffman called and wants her act back (and also to know when she’s booked for her cameo).

Over at Bombshell, newly minted director Tom is having some problems with the anthropomorphized cluster of hair follicles and air conditioner condensation that is Karen and her EmoMarilyn. “Smile,” Tom jazz-hands perkily. “Be more like Jayne Mansfield! You know, before she was decapitated!” Tom is basically trying to make the show more fun and jazzy, and obviously we can’t have that, because tap-dancing baseball players? Next thing you know they’ll be fist fucking while a computerized reconstruction of David Wojnarowicz’s voice reads aloud the news feed on Grindr. (What would Smash have been like if Larry Kramer had written it? Can you even imagine??? Also, this isn’t really related, but a friend of mine told me how he just heard an interview with someone who cleans out people’s houses after they die, and they can always tell when the place belonged to a gay guy because there are just stacks and stacks and stacks of old Playbills.)

Anyway, Jerry takes one look at the high-kicking faygeles with baseball bats and is like, “In the old neighborhood, we used those to beat guys like that. What happened to them goose-stepping manically while Marilyn simulates fellatio, like that time Richard Foreman directed Damn Yankees?” And all of them basically agree with him, but because Jerry is supposed to be a hateful, vile monster, they all are all conspiring to find some loophole to extricate him from the show, even though I am still a little confused as to what is so bad about uncovering evidence to convict a criminal some sort of financial crime, even — or perhaps especially — if said criminal was sleeping with your ex-wife. Doesn’t it bother Anjelica Huston to know that she was financing her show with stolen and/or laundered money? Couldn’t she have gone to jail for this herself had Jerry not exposed Goran the Bull? Wouldn’t she, on some level, want to distance herself and be grateful she wasn’t indicted for complicity? Has anyone gotten a comment from Anne Hathaway on this? I’m pretty sure she might have thoughts. I think I know someone who has her cell phone number if you want to ask her, or just needed to share your thoughts about how much you hated her Oscar dress and/or begrudge her continued existence on the planet. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt her feelings. They surgically remove those as soon as you’re nominated for your first Golden Globe.

Anyway, Jerry must die, for the good of Westeros and the Iron Throne (fun fact: in Omaha, where I grew up, there’s a mall called “Westroads” and every time I watch that show, I say to myself, “Winterfell, oh, that’s right next to the Dillard’s! King’s Landing, you know, that’s over by the food court, where the Claire’s used to be.” Whatever, I’m not recapping that show) and it's so important that his own daughter, St. Gummer, has been recalled from curing Micronesia of a bedbug infestation that threatened to eradicate all the mattresses owned by indigenous tribespeople, to meet with lawyers, and you know, help, although with so little fanfare that you hardly notice she’s there. I’m not even totally sure it’s the same Gummer. Is it possible they occasionally trade place with no one noticing, like when Jessica Wakefield would blackmail Elizabeth into taking the Spanish test in her place but then it would majorly backfire when Winston Egbert wound up asking Jessica to the dance?

Who can say? The important thing is that it’s OPENING NIGHT!!!!! Of Liasions: Not Even Figs. And no one is excited about it. Karen came with Tom, who showed up at her apartment to apologize — apologize! — for attempting to direct her with a gorgeous and tasteful duochromatic bouquet of flowers she neither deserves nor appreciates. Jimmy and Kyle came with Derek, and while Kyle is very, very excited to see his fellow woodland transplant John Cameron Mitchellseed, Jimmy is acting like his stupid Hebrew school teacher is making him go to stupid services and why does he even have to have a fucking Bar Mitzvah when he doesn’t believe in any of this God crap anyway and you’re such a fucking hypocrite, at three o’clock today, you get raped, Mom. Derek is busy being a prick to everyone about whether he wants to come back to Bombshell, or if he’s going to let them use his night moves, or whatever. I don’t think he even cares either way. The audience is putting on lip gloss and eating takeout and watching porn on their iPads, but they’re too lazy to masturbate so they just keep alternating it with clips from that time Liza Minnelli was on Inside the Actors Studio (now that’s something you can jerk off to, am I right, ladies?).

The only person who seems excited about anything is the gorgeous, gorgeous national treasure Seth Rudetsky, who I wish was on every episode, and has a lot of questions to ask Karen and her intergalactic space bun, none of which she answers satisfactorily. The woman didn’t know who Jayne Mansfield was, you think she’s going to be able to intelligently discuss Donna McKechnie’s head-pop in “It’s Turkey Lurky Time”? Methinks not, sir.

Anyway, the whole thing is so boring that narcoleptic Karen fits right in (that’s her thing, right, in the new spectrum of female TV characters with neurological issues? Carrie = bipolar, Hannah = OCD, Karen = ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ) and an increasingly fatalistic Ivy, who sounds like she already has her eye on a quaint little antique shop upstate where she can get fat and never hear another person bitch about Charles Isherwood as long as she lives, tells Jack McFarland that he should just go crazy and go for it. Full-frontal nudity! Three-way mirrors! Sheep dressed as Cher … or Cher dressed as a sheep! Who the fuck cares? It’s only Broadway!

So he does! He performs a saucy Shaiman and Wittman number called “Ce n’est pas ma faute” and it’s actually pretty entertaining and clever, although of course we are meant to believe that he’s basically acted out the filthiest version of the punch line of that joke “the Aristocrats” that you can imagine, complete with toe-fucking and pony play and Carol Channing pooping corn and then eating it and erotic catheterization. And then at the end he has a seizure and collapses onstage, while everyone reacts with amusement and concern, unlike that time Ivy puked on Norbert Leo Butz and then had to wear a leotard emblazoned with a scarlet: “I Puked on Norbert Leo Butz: Shun Me” to every audition for an Equity-mandated period of infinity.

But the big news is that Liasions: Indiscriminate Women It is a big old flop, which means Ivy is out of a job, which is important, because …

… Karen has decided not to play Marilyn! Finally, after all this time, and all it took was (a) half a season of internalizing Jimmy’s manipulative emotional abuse and (b) the fact that she has no idea who Irene Dunne is! So Ivy is it, and Karen will move to Hit List and because every 85-year-old retiree in the tristate area is going to be thrilled about seeing the girl who came in second to Charly from Flowers for Algernon on season five (?) of American Idol in an Adam Levine jukebox musical, Derek will keep directing Hit List, Tom keeps Bombshell with Ivy in the lead, and owing to some sort of legal machinations that were discovered during an Anjelica Huston office scene with St. Gummer and Cousin Debbie that I just assumed was a verbatim re-creation of the top of Act III of Three Sisters, Jerry is out.

And there was a time when this news would have filled me with a happiness that seemed never-ending; it would never occur to me to want more. But now, I don’t know. Can we ever go back to before? Can anyone crowd me with love? Can anyone force me to care?

Can anyone … wait, what’s this about needing a scene with Marilyn’s mother?

Bernie, baby, I’m looking at you.

Photo: Will Hart/NBC