It’s a tough, scary world out there. Unemployment is rife. Europe is falling apart. Iran is going nuclear. A serious candidate for president seems to be running on a platform taken directly from A Handmaid’s Tale; nobody I know has dental insurance, and FreshDirect has been out of cauliflower for four days, rendering the package of organic chicken thighs I ordered to make that hearty stew from the New York Times “Recipes for Health” section totally useless. In the midst of these terrible afflictions — any one of which could easily make for an hour of captivating, socially relevant television — I have to commend Smash for choosing to focus its attention on one of the most crucial, yet least-discussed issues facing us today: the plight of the heterosexual in the American Musical Theater.
Who are they, these impassioned eccentrics who commingle their genitalia primarily in the fashion that God told Rick Santorum to tell us is acceptable? What do they want? Does their radical agenda against most forms of irony and feathered stagewear pose a serious threat against our way of life? We’re going to find out!
Oh, look! Speaking of straight people, here are Derek and Ivy having hot nude cowgirl sex (demurely shot from the back, as this is still network television) as Kat McPhee hovers just out of view of the camera, quietly warbling “Maybe This Time” through a blank barbiturate haze, waiting, no praying, for the sharp sudden cry of pain meaning Ivy has suffered a severe vaginal sprain and she’ll be called to take her place …
… but nope, Ivy is more than up to the physical rigors of semi-exploitative intercourse with a clearly untrustworthy man who holds a disproportionate amount of influence over her life and career. Emotionally, it’s another story. What if he only gave her the part because she slept with him? Don’t think of it like that, advises her Nondescript Female Friend, think of it like this: You got the part, and you got to sleep with him. I’m with Nondescript Female Friend. It’s what I do when I know I’ve put on a little weight and run into people I haven’t seen for a long time, and when they ask how I am, I say: “Oh my God, I’m great! I just lost 75 pounds!” Everything depends on how you spin it.
Meanwhile, Derek has summoned his spurned protégée Karen to a dimly lit bar, so she can watch him drink Scotch and smugly explain to her why she didn’t get the part. It’s actually sort of a nice gesture, or would be if everything Derek did weren’t dappled with a fine misting of toxic sleaze, and the reasons he’s giving her are utterly sound: They needed someone with more experience, but she shouldn’t be discouraged, she’s in the ensemble, a lot can happen from workshop to Broadway, etc. — the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” explanation, which no one likes hearing but is usually kindly meant. However, the mensch-y portion of the evening quickly comes to a screeching halt with the unexpected and unwelcome arrival of Beloved Boyfriend Dev, come to territorially excrete his anal glands all over Karen’s face and accuse Derek of being a stupid English poor person who says his Os all trashy and is poor and probably lives off government benefits like those clans of morbidly obese, clearly mentally disabled indigents the Daily Mail is always inviting its readers to anonymously ridicule and doesn’t even hold his knife like a gentleman, while he, Beloved Dev, went to Oxford. Well, Derek went to Cambridge. “Well, if it wasn’t for us you’d both be speaking German right now, and all of the Jews would be dead and then who would write the musicals, let alone finance them” is what Karen would have said if I was writing this show, which I clearly am not, so she just makes some huffy little gasps of indignation and allows Beloved Dev to enact another one of his bizarre old-movie role-playing sex games upon her person when they return home. And I’m sorry, but that’s not okay. One of the things I genuinely like about this show is that so far, it has generally treated the career ambitions of its female characters seriously, as opposed to something of which they have to be disabused in order to be “lovable.” Smash, for all its flaws, shows us women who are lovable because of their talent, not in spite of it, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see Karen be such a pushover about this. What Increasingly Less Beloved Dev did just now is not okay, not cool, doesn’t show how much he loves her. It was a deeply aggressive act that undermined her professionalism and could have put her job at risk, so it would be nice if she didn’t just give a few token stamps of the foot and then melt into his arms. Fuck Dev.
Casting Joe DiMaggio! Apparently, there is a person named Michael Swift. The mere utterance of this name makes Cousin Debbie poke her head out of her mohair afternoon Snuggie in erotic terror. I think we’ve found ourselves another unlikely male heterosexual! The surly casting assistant, who has spent most of the scene loudly slamming papers down on the table to express how businesslike and harried she is, stands before the tribal council and recites what I believe to be the single most ludicrous sentence ever written in the English language: “He’s doing that Bruno Mars thing at La MaMa.” He’s doing that Bruno Mars thing at La MaMa. I received this episode as an advance screener, and thus have literally spent days trying to think of something equally incongruous, even surreal — he’s doing that production of Fiddler on the Roof in Tehran? He’s doing that cow thing in sleeve? — and have failed.
Anjelica Huston offers to go see it, as she has divine ichor running through her veins instead of blood and therefore has nothing to fear from humans. Derek goes with her, and with him any hope that we at home might be spared. It’s … well, look, Michael Swift is wearing sleeveless shirt and a fake bicep tattoo and is scream singing that horrible, horrible song about all the things I’d do for yuh — I’d eat a fish that’s decayed for yuh/Douche with grape Gatorade for yuh/Take the cat to get spayed for yuh — none of which you would do for me, you selfish asshole. Basically, it’s exactly like the Rent parody scene in Team America: World Police, except it’s not a parody. There is nothing funny about this. And there are no puppets. There are people who genuinely think a Bruno Mars jukebox musical is a good idea, is what I’m saying, and it is possible that one of these people is Steven Spielberg. Jonathan Larson may be dead, but he still has a lot to answer for.
Of course, Derek is contractually obligated to love it, and Anjelica Huston was able to use her Mind Shield to travel mentally back in time, so while the rest of were seeing this art crime, she was happily watching the original 1984 production of Sunday in the Park with George. “Wasn’t that wonderful?” she says, “Isn’t that Mandy Patinkin a sensation? And little Danielle Ferland! We must work her into the show somehow; perhaps as Caroline Kennedy?” Oh, but here’s Jerry! Hello, Jerry. Hello, Newman!
Derek notices that Jerry looks different, since he has been literally turned into a rat. “But I’m loving it,” Jerry says, “I’ve fallen in with this great group of frogs and dogs and pigs and chickens and things, and My Fair Lady is definitely a go. You think Marilyn Monroe was a star? Just wait till you see the lady pig I got to play Eliza Doolittle. I’m telling you, she’s got it all. Charisma, sex appeal, karate skills … ” He never finished. Anjelica’s drink drenched him, leaving him freezing cold and gasping for air. Suddenly, he felt himself growing, his tail retracting, his fur falling out in clumps. He was a man again. Goddamn her! Just when he’d finally found his place, right where he belonged. He didn’t know how his sudden reversion to species would affect his contract with the frogs and dogs and pigs and chickens and things. Badly, probably. But he’d get back into the swing of things. He’d figure out a way to get Anjelica Houston back, talk to a few producers, make sure she couldn’t make a move without him. He’d woo her back, if he had to. But first he had a few phone calls to make. And also, he suddenly realized he was totally nude.
Ellis! Everybody, spin your groggers that we may blot out his evil name! And what is our furry little creature up to now? Well, he’s hanging out with a couple of critters who are definitely from the wrong side of the Boysenberry Bramble, if you get my drift. They’re sniffing around, putting ideas in his head — or rather, reiterating ones that were already there — about how the show was all his idea, and he should be getting all the credit and all the glory, or at least, all the money, and because Ellis is part of the reality-television generation that confuses sociopathy with success, he decides the best way to do this is to steal Cousin Debbie’s secret notebook of secrets out of her enormous Mary Poppins purse, because somehow that will … magically impart talent unto him? Reveal her innermost secrets with which he can use to blackmail her at some unspecified date? I don’t know, but he and his very unconvincing girlfriend, Holly Hedgehog, throw the notebook on their sleeping nest and have very unconvincing gleeful underpants groping on top of it, like they are rolling around in a big pile of money, except instead of money it’s a big pile of Debra Messing’s feelings. Gentlemen and Gentlemen, Ellis is “straight”! Also, please don’t eject any bodily fluids on the letter she wrote to the birth mother of her hypothetical Chinese stress infant. It may just look like she wrote down the lyrics of “Children Will Listen,” but that doesn’t mean Holly has the right to just birth a litter of interspecies woodland hatchlings on something that has anything to do with Bernadette Peters. (Yes, the gestation period of hedgehogs is 30 seconds, according to this fact I just made up because my Wildlife Treasury cards are in a closet in Omaha somewhere and I can’t know for sure.)
Speaking of Omaha, I guess I better tell you what stupid Karen is doing this episode. She goes home to Iowa for her friend’s baby shower. Her parents, Dylan and Betsy Ann Baker, live in a State Farm commercial. They are worried about her because she is a failure. Her friends are all uncomplicatedly supportive of her, instead of saying things like, “I would love to live in New York, but my family is just too important to me. Also, we have an Urban Outfitters now.” The baby shower is in a karaoke bar, a venue which seems to have been selected for the sole purpose of allowing Kat McPhee to perform a heinous and insulting piece of minstrelsy all about how she is a redneck or some goyisch bullshit, I don’t know. You know it’s supposed to be Iowa because some set dresser has helpfully painted a giant ear of corn along with the words “YOU ARE IN IOWA” on the back wall, because apparently away from the Coasts people are so dumb they would forget where they are if you don’t give them reminders all the time, like how you have to write your kid’s name in all his underpants at camp. In a desperate (and not entirely unsuccessful) ploy for my tears, her dad secretly comes to hear her sing, and, adequately reassured of her talent, presents her with a check. Oh, Midwestern daddies. So recalcitrant, yet so trusting. Then she goes back to New York where nobody gives a shit about her, the end.
Here is Michael Swift in real life: He has a marriage of convenience to a woman who clearly supports him financially, and some sort of baby variety baby named Artie (or Archie?). I am totally unable to guess the ages of children, so Artchie could be anywhere between 3 months and 6 years old. What I do know, however, is that he was clearly not, shall we say, planned. Call it women’s intuition. Michael is about to give up on theater, but Wife of Convenience is like, you have to play Joe DiMaggio! Artchie is going to be so proud! Dude, Artchie is a baby. He doesn’t know who the hell Joe DiMaggio is; hell, I’m three times his age, and the only thing I know about him is that he is not the Joe from Damn Yankees. Anyway, I bet she’d change her tune if she knew her husband was going to be hanging around Cousin Debbie — who is all of a sudden showing up at rehearsal looking startled and tragic in full makeup and form-fitting evening smocks — telling her she smells good. “You smell good.” Let’s plug that into the Ex-Boyfriend Translator 3000 … ah yes, here we are. “You smell good = I have not thought about you in many moons, but now that you are standing in front of me, my penis is remembering the sex we once had. I’m willing if you are.”
But is Derek still willing to be or not to be? This is the question! That Ivy is obsessing over in the dressing room with Eyelid, her Nondescript Female Friend, and her other friend, Muscular Chorus Gay. Derek hasn’t called her in three days, or four days, or five? Should she call him? He never wants her to come to his house! What does that mean? WWMD, What Would Marilyn Do? Should she start sleeping with Frank Sinatra to make him jealous? Ivy, allow me to share with you the patented Rachel Shukert Three-Step Dating Method TM: (1) Don’t be crazy. (2) Use deodorant.(3) Don’t be crazy.
Luckily, the descent into madness is halted by the prompt arrival of Dashing Derek, who was watching the show that night and was inflamed with lust at Ivy’s feathered body stocking. They start doing it right there in the dressing room! As her creepy friends cheer them on from outside! Ivy is the girl who has everything, like a short and impoverished Kate Middleton! Happy now and happy hence and happy ever after! To be continued!
You know who isn’t cheering? Tom. Tom has had it up to here with all of his friends who get to avail themselves of the heterosexual smorgasboard that is professional musical theater, while as the only homosexual on the Great White Way, he must adjourn each night to a cold and lonely bed with only his herbal tea and his YouTube videos of Bernadette Peters singing the theme song from the Golden Girls for company. Such is the solitary life of the Broadway catamite. If only he’d joined a more gay-friendly profession, become a priest like his mother wanted him to be, or a steelworker like his father. Then he’d know other people like him. Then he wouldn’t feel so alone. Then he wouldn’t be fighting with his best friend Cousin Debbie … wait, what?
Cousin Debbie had an affair with Michael Swift! And it was awesome. (And I would also like to congratulate Debra Messing for her reading of that line, which did not actually end in an adjective, yet was so perfectly clear.) It was awesome, and it went on for quite a while. Unfrozen Caveman Husband doesn’t know. Carpet doesn’t know. But now Tom knows, and all of a sudden, it makes sense to us; why she puts up with Unfrozen Caveman Husband and his Rage Salads and his chronic unemployment and his total lack of interest in her frankly awesome job. Because she is punishing herself.
And you know who else knows? Ellis, the Artist Formerly Known As Bunnicula. Standing outside, running his blackberry-stained fingers over the slightly sticky pages of Cousin Debbie’s Notebook of Secrets. He can’t wait to tell Holly Hedgehog. They’ll be able to afford a real place now, a hutch of their own, lined with real French hay and all the radicchio they could eat. Or he’ll dump Holly. Go for someone bigger, someone better. Someone like that beautiful pig he saw having lunch with Jerry the other day at Sardi’s. Now, that was class. One thing was for sure, he wasn’t going back to the forest. You can’t keep ‘em down in Acorntown once they’ve seen Broadway.