Smash Recap: The Ivy League

Photo: Patrick Harbron/NBC

You guys! Listen, I’m sorry this recap is a little late, but here is the reason why: Last night, I almost met Stephen Sondheim. It’s true. We were in the same room; He was so close to me I could have reached out and touched His oyster-colored mock turtleneck; I was promised we would be introduced, but He was mysteriously whisked away at the last minute and it didn’t happen.

Honestly, it’s probably for the best. Owing to the vagaries of the service at Joe’s Pub, I was served my second martini well before they thought to bring my turkey club, and at that point, there’s no telling what I might have done. Might I have thrown myself weeping at His feet and/or His non-lapel, while whimpering about what He means to me? Told Him (while weeping) what I want for Christmas? I recently read an interview where He regretted not having had children; as such, might I have — God forbid — weepily and hideously suggested Stephen Sondheim impregnate me, in whatever fashion seems most amenable to Him? My point is, there is no possible scenario here that doesn’t involve weeping, and that you are currently hearing from (a still very slightly drunk) woman who could have met Stephen Sondheim, but instead had to content herself with babbling drunkenly at Meryl Streep’s daughters, Mamie and Grace Gummer, who are both lovely but as yet lack the laying-on-of-the-hands power I attribute mainly to their mother and the composer/lyricist of Anyone Can Whistle. Therefore, (a) I still have scrofula and (b) isn’t this all somehow kind of a perfect analogy for this show? I think so. Also, thank God Arthur Laurents is dead because that could have gotten ugly.

Shall we avant? Let’s avant!

Okay. Anjelica Huston doesn’t need much from her assistants, as a rule. If immortality teaches you anything, it’s not to sweat the small stuff. Living through plagues and genocides, seeing the first flicker of wonder in the eyes of primeval man as he realized this newfangled invention called “fire” could cook his meat, warm his heart, and consign into ashes those with whom he had religious or political disagreements makes you realize that it doesn’t matter what temperature your latte is, it’s that you have a latte at all. (My new book, Chicken Soup for the Immortal Anjelica Huston’s Soul, will be at print-on-demand kiosks in bookstores everywhere in April.) All she needs, really, is someone to stare blankly at her framed Pacific Overtures poster, RSVP to star-studded events at MoMA, and help her work the Googleplex on that contraption she can’t quite remember the name of. Das Fernseher? No, that’s German. The English word sounds like something having to do with math. The Counter? The Calculationer? Whatever, it’s gone from her now.

So how can you explain that her assistant Scottsdale going to work for Jerry, is an act of betrayal symbolized by him driving a black Porsche(?) over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. (Cars and driving geography being two of the three things I know absolutely nothing about, which goes some way to explaining why I am currently not working as Stephen Sondheim’s secretary/surrogate.) If only there was somewhere on this show a devious mammalian skilled in the dark art of personal assistancy and the still darker art of personal advancement! Oh, look, it’s Ellis, frolicking down the sun-dappled hillside in his acorn cap with a needle for a sword, bearing a heavy and ancient tome about Maid Marilyn Monroe and an ominous glint of destruction in his eye, like that picture you sometimes see of the young Josef Stalin. Ellis knows how to work the Googleplexus, and because Anjelica Huston can only read human minds and not Sylvanian ones, she allows him to run his paws over her computational apparatus. And so do civilizations founder, and apart from placing a few halfhearted phone calls to my Cousin Debbie wondering why the book isn’t done yet, that’s all we’re going to see from everybody’s favorite ancient High Priestess this week. I’m sorry in advance, although I’m not the one who should be apologizing, but I’m Midwestern, just like Karen, who is dead below the waist! Or so Derek tells her when she flinches from his touch during a routine choreographic demonstration, and it’s a symptom of my frankly unseemly sexual attraction to Jack Davenport that I don’t have a tart feminist retort to that, except to say, “Karen, get it together, girl.” I was 24 once — and I will be again — and I would have been all over that like a certain two-martini’d brunette on the floor beneath a bewildered Stephen Sondheim. (I’M NOT SAYING THAT HAPPENED!)

Guess who’s not dead below the waist, nor flat in the front like Ken? Cousin Debbie and Michael Swift, respectively, who are having a furtive post-rehearsal diner meeting (and for those of you who are keeping track, pointedly not eating salad) to discuss the as yet nonexistent book. You see, Unfrozen Caveman Husband is in Berkeley on some sort of extremely noble wilderness retreat for unemployed science teachers, which gives Michael an opening to speak wetly and portentously about how Joe DiMaggio was clearly the love of Marilyn’s life, because “he sprung her from the loony bin and paid for her funeral,” both of which were prominently listed among her “turn-ons” in the inaugural issue of Playboy. (Anjelica Huston has a copy somewhere, filed alongside one of the original cuneiform tablets detailing the Hammurabi Code and the “50 Most Beautiful” issue of People that included Simone from Head of the Class.)

Meanwhile, in a mid-priced American-style bistro across town, Tom is having dinner with his mom-date from last episode, whose name is John, as in “the Baptist” or “James Preston” (although conceivably it could be “Jon” as in “Jonathan,” which means there might potentially be an actual Jew in this television program about Broadway musical theater, because NBC isn’t afraid to be controversial). Ignoring the fact that a restaurant in which the naughtiest overheard phrase is “and a side of the sweet-potato fries, please” is not generally the place for secret bathroom power-bottoming, Jo(h)n wonders aloud why as the only two gay men in midtown Manhattan, they haven’t had sex yet. Tom neatly divests his fork of its pancetta-festooned roasted Brussels spout and explains: “Jo(h)n, this is a network show, and for all intents and purposes, a major network’s conception of homosexual intercourse is basically the same as Rachel Shukert’s, age 7, when she asked her mom how men had sex with each other and her mom, after removing the aspirated Sweet Tart from her epiglottis, replied thoughtfully, ‘With their butts,’ leading Rachel to believe for years this meant gay dudes did it by pushing their butts together really hard until the guy playing Herr Zeller in the production of The Sound of Music in which she was playing Brigitta von Trapp explained it to her during the intermission of a matinee one day. Wait, is that my phone!”

It’s Carpet! You remember Carpet, Cousin Debbie’s son, the one who threw up all over the kitchen at the shiva for Uncle Milt? Well, Tom just heard … that Carpet’s been arrested! In Kiev! And since Cousin Debbie is busy licking apple-pie filling from Michael Swift’s vaginal-discharge-encrusted fingers, and Unfrozen Caveman Husband is still patiently waiting his turn for the talking stick, it’s up to Tom to go get him. Luckily, Jo(h)n is a lawyer, a fact that Tom seems to regard with distaste instead of mentally calculating how much higher this could put him on the property ladder and is like: “Dude, how were you even smoking a vaporizer in the park? Don’t you (a) need an outlet for that, and (b) isn’t that like bringing your entire stereo system outside when a simple iPod will do?” Tom claims never to have even heard of a vaporizer, and I believe him, since he’s apparently also never heard of Grindr. Nevertheless, he will delightfully punish Carpet by setting everything he says to song, and anyone who thinks gays aren’t fit to parent should watch that scene and learn something.

Oh good, we’re back at rehearsal, for the musical that still has no book. Tom has to explain 1997 network standards and practices again to an overheated Cousin Debbie, who wonders why he still hasn’t fucked his new boyfriend. Token, meanwhile, is discussing some entity called the Nicks, or maybe it’s Knicks, and the K is silent, sports being the third thing I know nothing about, although I have heard of this group because apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda is now playing for them, but everyone thinks he’s Chinese for some reason. Anyway, Token is now a token in more ways than one, because he’s also a gay man who is interested in games involving balls that aren’t testicles. Shock horror! The number of the day is a new one, called “Let’s Be Bad.”

Guess who’s bad? Ivy, allegedly. Derek says some shit about vibrato that makes no sense and then makes Karen show the humiliated Ivy how it’s done, by singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” the way she did when she danced around for him at his house that time with no pants on and then foolishly refused to allow him to insert so much as a Q-Tip into her ear. Everybody acts all impressed, but look, if all it took to do this part was a not-terrible Marilyn Monroe impression, then Cora Crawley would be playing her, although to be honest, Elizabeth Montgomery sounds more like Marilyn Monroe doing a Truman Capote impression, or maybe the other way around. The point is, why isn’t Truman Capote playing Marilyn? Even dead, he’s got to have more life in him than Katharine McPhee. Anyway, Karen is being her usual meekly smug/smugly meek self about it, until Ivy awesomely calls her out on it. Don’t get ahead of yourself, chorus girl, says Ivy. She knows what she brings to the party. One of those things is yes, boobs. But the other is talent. And then she goes back in there and does the whole Marilyn-in-meltdown number with full hair and makeup, awesomely. Ivy is in another league. Do you see what I did there? Ivy league? Did I mention I might still be drunk? Does Stephen Sondheim have a human liver in his freezer I could borrow before Mrs. Lovett puts it in the Grindr?

Cousin Debbie is very worried about Carpet and his highly dangerous drug addiction. First of all, he is made of highly flammable acrylic yarn, and second, this will go on his permanent record, which Cousin Debbie clearly believes is a thing that actually exists. Also, it could affect them adopting their magical imaginary Chinese baby Jeremy Lin-Manuel Miranda, because the enchanted phoenix won’t drop her down a chimney that is belching pot smoke from her brother that won’t even live at home anymore by the time she arrives. In other exciting bitching news, Karen is whining to Beloved Dev about blah blah blah Ivy and blah blah blah Derek when all Dev wants her to do is put on a slutty dress so his colleagues at this City Hall party will thinks she’s a call girl and thus be impressed enough with his obvious corruption that he gets a promotion. She tells him she’ll meet him there, and she looks at herself meaningfully in the mirror … oh God, she’s not going to sing, is she?

Yes, she’s going to sing! Where the fuck is Michael Palin when you need him? And no, it’s not a show tune, it’s just another wretchedly boring American Idol classic that serves no purpose other than to see Kat McPhee dance around in her underwear, which I guarantee is of zero interest to 100 percent of the people watching this show. Knowing your audience is half the battle. Anyway, she goes to the party and one of Beloved Dev’s colleagues gets all Jason Alexander–in-Pretty Woman on her and instead of repulsed she is empowered by her newfound sexuality or something. Just like Marilyn, which worked out so well for her.

What else? Ivy decides to drunkenly show up at Derek’s house (which is probably why it took so long for him to tell her where it was in the first place) to try to make him express his feelings for her, which what does she want from him? He’s British, and he also likes people thinking he’s kind of a dick. But he lets her stay over anyway, to lovemake, and then gets up in the middle of the night to work all Alexander Petrovsky like, which Ivy, to her credit, seems to value. Tom and Jo(h)n finally do it, and it is terrible, but don’t worry, Herr Zeller is on hand for a real-time demonstration; you can find him on Manhunt under UncutGauleiter38 (not a reference to the year of the Anchluss, by the way, it’s just that there are 37 others).

And Cousin Debbie. Michael Swift shows up at her house unexpectedly and Carpet, who loves him, invites him to stay for dinner. Cousin Debbie made … wait for it … a salad. Duh-duh-DUH. A thunderclap sounds, a murder of crows wings across the pitch-black sky, Anjelica Huston examines the entrails in her Sub-Zero refrigerator and gazes sadly into the middle distance. For there they are, Cousin Debbie and Michael Swift are standing a little drunkenly on the sidewalk outside her Brooklyn townhouse, waiting for the car service that will never, can never arrive, and all of a sudden, they are in each other’s arms, kissing each other with terrible hunger, trying to quench the unquenchable fire that one day will consume them all. And there is Carpet, watching from an upstairs window, his face impassive, his mouth slack. Oh, Cousin Debbie, careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see. And learn. And masturbate furtively just below the windowsill.

That’s all for now. And to anyone who saw me last night, I’m sorry.

Smash Recap: The Ivy League