Happy first weekend Smash, everybody! How did it feel? Exciting, like looking out the window of the airport taxi at a country you’ve never seen before? Awkward, like running into your gym teacher buying garden hoses at Target? Depressing, like your first night in that studio you rented after you and your boyfriend broke up and you realized that you have made it all the way to your thirties without being able to afford an apartment with a bathroom sink?
I’ll tell you the truth — I was a little cranky about it. I’d already done one recap this week and was looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying the festive holiday weekend (the holiday being Yom HaShoah). But then the powers that be — who, it must be said, already had garnered quite a lot of goodwill for that Bernadette Peters/Cole Escola one-two punch last episode — pulled out the one trick guaranteed to turn my attitude around and make this one Holocaust Remembrance Day we’ll “never forget.” (see what I did there?) I’m going to tell you this right now so you can go to the mikveh or anally douche or perform whatever other ritual ablutions might be required of your people to prepare for such an event: Liza is coming. We are House Safran, Lords of the Midtown Westerlands, and these are our Words. (Although in Westeros, it’s probably actually pronounced “Lisa Minnoolli.”)
But first, there’s another frown that needs to get turned upside down: Ivy’s. You see, Bombshell is in tech, a trying period during which, as we remember from last season, all manner of things are forbidden: haircuts, leavened foods, and of course, proposals of marriage. So everyone is naturally a little testy, even the normally unflappable Linda the Stage Manager, who is like, “Can you fucking actors just stop complaining long enough for me to land a fucking plane on the stage?” but mirror, mirror on the wall, ‘tis Ivy who is sullenest of all. “It’s because you cast her mother,” intones Linda, who moonlights as a Freudian analyst on 72nd and Amsterdam. (Don’t we all?) Tom is like, “Jesus, Patti passed. What the hell does she want from me? Was I supposed to hire Glenn Close?”
Whatever, it’s a problem and everyone knows it, including Michael Riedel who transfigured himself out of the Animagus form in which he is currently starring as “Cat” in the revival of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to write a bitchy little article about how Ivy hates her mom, just like Marilyn. Also, it’s her birthday, which, frankly, is enough to even make somebody who hasn’t been cast and fired and recast and fired from the same role for an entire year now start thinking about how we’re just going round and round in a circle game, and maybe that fatal handful of Sudafed, Plan B and Echinacea she was about to swallow last year wasn’t the worst idea after all.
But! Birthday! Perfect, thinks Tom, because now he can make it up to her and show her how much he loves her by planning a beautiful dinner and a wonderful surprise, even though Ivy is desperately trying not to invite him to her birthday party that nobody wants him to come to! And look, I get that Ivy is pissed at Tom for dredging the depths of the seemingly bottomless well of insecurity, and Token (wrongly) blames him for Token’s own bad judgment in quitting The Book of Mormon tour for a non-contractual promise of a clearly extraneous number in a show that hasn’t even started previews yet, and also, for not accepting “Jesus” as a valid reason for refraining from loving, consensual sodomy with his hot boyfriend, but what is everyone else’s problem? I mean, obviously Gore Vidal mistrusts any absolute power that he himself does not personally wield (the true Vidalian definition of a republic) but et tu, Tokenetta? Eyelid? What did Tom ever do to you except keep you off the night shift at Ellen’s Stardust Diner for another six months? (And yes, that is a euphemism for prostitution.) I’m with Linda. Fucking actors.
Anyway, obviously Ivy reluctantly accepts Tom’s invitation, since a) she told him she didn’t have plans and b) to refuse such thoughtfulness from someone whose entire career is riding on the Broadway show he’s opening in three weeks, she’d have to be almost as churlish and self-righteous as…
…Jimmy! Jimmy, who is currently engaged in the interesting metaphysical experiment of attempting to seduce what I think is his own flaccid penis wearing an ombré wig — oh, no, that’s Karen! Hi, Karen! Yes, friends, television’s sexiest couple since Wesley Owens met Mr. Belvedere is engaging in heavy petting in the wardrobe closet, which explains why Jimmy just pulled a leopard-print platform stiletto out of his pants. That’s an interesting way to pack, but I think Jimmy may have misinterpreted what Carrie Bradshaw meant when she said: “Hello, lover!” to that pair of Louboutins. Whatever the case, it’s becoming clear that they have very different ideas of what their relationship should be. Karen’s like, “Look into my eyes” and Jimmy’s like, “Let me pee inside you, I promise it will feel good.” Karen’s like, “Tell me you love me,” and Jimmy’s like “Kyle Goblinweed lets me do this thing where I shit on his chest and then come directly into his eyes, would you be into that?” Karen’s like, “WHY CAN’T WE TELL EVERYONE WE’RE TOGETHER” and Jimmy’s like, “Umm, because this is a showmance, and the second everyone stops pretending not to know about it, it will stop being hot?” And for once, I have to say, I’m with Jimmy.
Now go outside, Karen, and perform a country music video to “The Ballad of Lady Gaga’s Nose Job” for Richard “Henry” Francis of the New York Times, who enthuses: “She’s a major talent and every bit as good as I heard she was and I can’t wait to tell everyone who reads the Arts & Leisure section that you’re fucking her!” And Derek is like, “I’m not,” but also, hmmmm. Oh God, is Derek really about to become the lovelorn Kyle Goblinweed to Karen’s passive little fruit sticker of a Jimmy? Because look, she’s a pretty girl who is clearly in thrall to the idea of herself as silent muse to a genius male, and God knows there’s always going to be an audience for that. I buy that he wants to screw her. And I buy that he’s pissed off that Jimmy is getting to and he’s not, and bothered by what that says about his virility and age and how the painted ponies go up and down and before you know it, you’re trying to impress some punk former coke dealer in a vinyl jacket with naughty stories about the time you and David Mitchell stole Richard Ayoade’s underpants as some sort of a Footlights prank at Cambridge. But is Derek in love with Karen, hard as it is for an Englishman to say that? Methinks not. Broadway is full of 24-year-old young actresses he can quickly marry and divorce to make a point.
Besides, it’s pretty clear that the only character on this entire show that is truly capable of loving another being with all his heart and all his soul is Amos Hart — excuse me, Kyle Goblinweed, who has been called onto the couch of the New York Manhattan Public Workshop Theater Club so that Cousin Debbie and SJOENE can compliment him on his southwestern-style lady blazer that looks as though it should be worn by a lesbian socialite in a Truman Capote novella, and tell him that he’d better figure out how to rewrite his show so that Krysta Rodriguez is the star. Kyle Goblinweed is goblinsmacked. “Really? Index cards, for me? In all the colors of the rainbow?” “That’s right,” says Cousin Debbie, “Index cards, and bulletin boards, and chocolates and taxis, and the silk, no, the satin sheets I think, and you don’t even have to let Jimmy get his period on them first!” “But that’s impossible!” says Kyle, eyes wide. “Impossible?” Cousin Debbie says, as the strings come in, “Impossible…?” Okay, I wandered off there for a moment, although I would like to mention that “fairy godmother,” which SJOENE calls Cousin Debbie, is exactly the term my friends and I came up with as a non-misogynistic, non-homophobic alternative for “fag hag.” It’s not a neologism on par with “Everything’s coming up roses,” but it will have to do.
Still, magic or no magic, I’d be careful if I were Cousin Debbie. After all, if you give a mouse an index card, he’s going to want a pencil, and if you give him a pencil, he might discover he’s an autonomous being with his own unique value and right to self-determination, which is why it was illegal in the antebellum South to teach a slave to read. He might also come up with a genius story solution that essentially writes his former master and Master’s latest consort out of the show, which pleases everyone, especially Derek. Vengeance and dramaturgy. They go together like Vera and Mame. Children and Art. “Fraulein” and “Sally Bowles.”
Ja, meine Damen und Herren! The time has come. Are you ready? Fingernails trimmed? Bodily cavities sparkling clean? Holy water at the ready?
Okay. Tom and Ivy are awkwardly supping on table 46’s $24 Rage Salad Birthday Special, although Tom is desperately hoping Ivy will set aside the Romaine of Insuperable Resentment long enough to try a bite of his Grilled Chicken of What Might Have Been, and then —
She appears. And I have to say, I might just have to describe this part as matter-of-factly as possible, lest we veer off into Harlequin romance he-pressed-his-throbbing-manhood-against-her. Am I actually turned on, watching Liza Minnelli grope Michael Riedel? It’s not impossible! I’m almost feeling like what straight male friends (yes, I have them) alway say about strip clubs, how they depress them because they’re exactly what men want and thus, they shouldn’t morally be allowed to have them.
So Liza, resplendent in black and bracelets and a Chanel bag slung around her waist like a fanny pack, comes over to cuddle up Tom and call Ivy that “Broadway doll I’ve been hearing so much about” and if that isn’t enough to make you curl up in ball and warmly die like those children that serenely freeze to death in pioneer stories, she is also going to sing Ivy a special birthday song that Tom wrote for her, all about how he knows she’s going to get a rave from the Times. And I just … I can’t. I’m too emotional. This is too much for me, it’s too fully plucked from my deepest, most secret heart. I will just say it’s incredible to see Liza Minnelli being Liza Minnelli like this, turning a simple dining room into a place of total magic. I think this is how other people feel about religion, which, of course, was the great misstep the show made with the infamous church episode last season (besides, you know, being incredibly offensive on multiple racial and religious levels). Theater people don’t need church, because the theater is the church. I am spiritual, Mama! I’m a spiritual girl!
Of course, it’s not quite spiritual enough to induce Ivy to invite Tom to her super secret Mean Girls birthday party, although he finds out about it anyway, when he shows up at her neighborhood bar bearing the keys she subconsciously — paging Dr. Linda! — left on the table.
And obviously, he is very, very hurt when Ivy — with admirable directness — explains that he can’t be her friend and her director. It’s true that ambition is a lonely business. It’s lonely at the top — that’s the knowledge we console ourselves with, the moral of every show biz story. But what we forget, what we are afraid to admit to ourselves, is that it’s lonely at the bottom too. It’s lonely on all the rungs of the ladder. It’s lonely to be Anjelica Huston, and realize the editor you’re trying to date for the press is only dating you because he wants a replacement housewife, but you decide to try to make it work anyway, because, you’re both getting older, and what the hell, companionship. It’s lonely to be Karen, and realize that most of the “inspiration” you’ve been giving the men in your life doesn’t have much to do with singing, so you might as well try to convince yourself that a young composer impulsively showing up at your door at midnight, offering to take you out for a drink pre-booty call, is the same thing as a “real date.” It’s lonely to be Ivy, left alone at the bar on your birthday, knowing that as soon as all the people you just spent an evening laughing and drinking and trying not to eat cake with need a new scapegoat for why the show isn’t working, it’s going to be all you. It’s lonely to be Derek, trolling lower Manhattan for an old girlfriend to give a birthday card to, who will make you feel, just for a minute, that you’re not a terrible person.
And maybe it’s even lonely to be Liza. Up there, on the very top rung, one foot in the spirit world, and one just scraping the Earth. But just because you’re lonely doesn’t mean that you’re not loved.