So did Smash find its show-stopping legs and avoid a sophomore slump? Well, that depends on what you expect from a soapy song-and-dance dramedy. With a well-paced first hour, it looked like the series was back with a vengeance — diva bitchery, Broadway backstabbing and lots of singing — but the sooooo-sloooow-it-was-painful second hour for the two-hour season premiere dragged the promising start down an octave (or ten) too many.
The first episode, “On Broadway,” begins with Karen (Katharine McPhee) singing “Cut, Print…Moving On” during that last night of Bombshell’s Boston previews. It’s a rousing number, and we get a quick glimpse at where all the cast members are and what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. We’re introduced to or reacquainted with the ensemble quickly, and we’re off and running: Karen’s got a new roommate, her cheating fiance is out of the picture; Ivy (Megan Hilty) is back in her medicine cabinet studying her litany of pills; Derek (Jack Davenport) is still arrogant and cocky; and Eileen (Angelica Houston) should have a martini in her hand for every scene she’s in — no matter where she is!
Next, we see Ivy and Karen at the elevator and we are left assured that their rivalry is still at the forefront of all things Smash. Eileen congratulates everyone for a job well done in Boston, and while she intends to pick up everyone’s contract for the Broadway show she’s sure to have a venue for by week’s end, she can make no promises.
We know this means trouble for Ivy, and so does Ivy — especially when Eileen tells Karen she’ll be singing at an event to promote the show and that she should pick three backup singers. Ivy, of course, is not chosen. Let the drama begin!
We learn quickly that Michael Swift (Will Chase) wants out of his contract (and we’re rid of one of the show’s too many superfluous characters); he was Julia’s (Debra Messing’s) ex-lover whom she cheated on her husband with (yaaaawn). But then we’re just as swiftly introduced to Veronica Moore (Jennifer Hudson, billed as a Special Guest Star) and we know things are going to get diva-delish.
Now we get J-Hud singing (because the producers know we’re switching over to The Bachelor if they don’t let us see her belt it out…and quickly) in her own fictional Broadway show. Then Karen meets the Tony-winning Veronica in her dressing room thanks to Derek, who thinks Karen has the potential to be as great as Veronica. (We can already taste the sweet nectar of the show’s newest rivalry being set up!)
Two musical numbers within 10 minutes of start time is promising, and everything is moving along quite briskly and brilliantly. Next, Eileen — with martini in hand again — is with her ex Jerry (Michael Cristofer), and we’re hoping she’s going to throw that thing in his face. But she doesn’t, even after he suggests her Marilyn musical needs his help
(ie. money) to get off the ground. Eileen takes a phone call from her hunky bartender boyfriend, Nick, and lets her husband know it. Her slimeball ex texts someone: “Time to move forward with the plan.” What devious scheme does he have up his sleeve? Dah, dah, dah.. commercial.
After the break, Karen and her backup singers are practicing for the showcase with the upbeat “Let Me be Your Star” as workers prep for the party around them. She is then informed that the ensemble and Ivy (shock!) are going to sing another song after her. But Karen is not having any of that.
Ivy asks Julia what she can do to still be a part of the show, since she senses that Karen is going to get her kicked to the curb. Julia tells her to apologize to Karen — not for what she did (sleep with her fiance) but for why she did it.
Karen goes to meet Derek at a bar where she strikes up a conversation with a waiter named Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan), who, it’s very clear — except to clueless Karen—is to be her new love interest, even if she is not quite herself since the breakup and being burned by ex-fiance Dev.
Tom (Christian Borle) and Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) are still dating and walking down the street talking about how well-received the show was in Boston—except for Tom’s writing partner Julia. Critics have panned her lyrics, but Tom doesn’t have the heart to tell her since she claims to never read reviews. Then he and Sam see Julia’s husband give a friendlier-than-just-friends kiss to a woman at a cab (it’s New York City—it could happen).
Our gal Eileen’s got another martini (yes!) at the party to promote the show. Most of the major players are here, but we are required to see Julia and her boring husband Frank’s marriage begin to further implode. Then Eileen gets a call, and she’s panicked: Does she still have the Broadway venue for Bombshell or doesn’t she?
They must come up with a plan to distract the crowd while she gets to the bottom of why her deal fell through, so we’re privy to an American Idol duet when Karen and Veronica wow the party patrons with a song. (It’s really because the Smash producers are smart enough to know they better show us some Kat/J-Hud action STAT!) Smash is riding high with all its super musical numbers, and this bodes well for the series, since we know how slim the storylines can seem when they’re not punched up with music.
The soapiness ensues as we intercut with various players mulling about the party. Derek praises Karen and kisses her hand. She looks like she may actually be into it…and him. But Ivy walks in on them and interrupts the maybe-moment. Derek then lets Ivy go from the show. And Karen sees it all.
Julia confronts Frank about the woman he was with and the kiss. The dolt causes a scene at the party and storms off. Tom Finds Julia outside where she tells him her marriage is over (good riddance; another useless character gone). She cries, then laughs and tells Tom she did read the reviews. They hug it out.
Ivy tells Karen that she was right to have her fired. She then reveals that she almost killed herself when she lost the part to her. Ivy says she feels guilty about Dev and is truly sorry. She wishes Karen luck and tells her she deserves the part. Karen — and we — almost believe her. But, c’mon, this is Smash!
Next we learn from Eileen that there isn’t going to be a musical. Bombshell is under investigation because of the funding she got from her hunky bartender boyfriend (who may or may not have gotten it via sketchy means). More drama!
What will everyone do now?
Everyone wonders where they belong and we see this transpire while Ivy goes on an audition and sings Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Karen returns to the same bar where she catches Jimmy singing and playing the piano with music from his original musical. Karen calls Derek and says he needs to listen to this guy through the phone. This may just be the next big thing they need to work on.
The second episode in the season premiere, “The Fallout,” suffers from a painfully slow start, clunky scenes and a pace that never quite finds its rhythm…or its music. It starts with Karen showing up at Jimmy’s work to see if he’ll share more of his material with her. He denies writing the song she heard. He thinks he can do it on his own. He tries to hit on her again. She’s not wanting to hit that. Yet.
The bartender friend of Jimmy chases Karen down the street because he recognizes her from Bombshell and thinks she can help them. He tells her he wrote the music and Jimmy wrote the lyrics, and they are interested in seeing what Karen can do for them. He invites her to a party at their place.
In a meeting with Eileen, Tom and Derek learn that the threats to shut down Bombshell may not be a concern after all. Her boyfriend-bartender’s money and receipts check out with the IRS…for now. But everyone is already looking for other work, including Derek, whose up for a reworking of the The Wiz until he learns he’s been let go because five dancers are accusing him of sexual harassment.
Julia’s failed marriage (zzzzzz) and her bad reviews have left her bed-ridden and depressed at Tom’s place, but Tom’s got to get her to a theater gala to help save face and the show. While she’s home sulking, Ivy rings the doorbell hoping to vent to Tom. She gets Julia instead and the two compare sob stories about how tough the biz can be. They share some Fluff on a spoon, and this may just cure everything.
Derek confronts a dancer who is suing him outside her Pilates studio and she calls him out for being a complete ass. It seems to hit him hard when she tells him people sleep with him to get ahead in their careers, not because they actually like him. He gets drunk at a bar (Jimmy’s bar, of course! It must be the only one in Manhattan) where we are then treated to one of the episode’s liveliest moments, via a fantasy/nightmare musical number with pink-stilettoed Karen and Ivy and a five dancers crooning the Eurythmics’ amazing “Would I Lie to You?” to Derek.
Karen and her friends then show up at the party thrown by Jimmy and Kyle, his bartender-roommate, where Karen and Jimmy chat, flirt and drink. Eventually Karen sings an original song the Kylie gave to her without telling Jimmy, and Jimmy storms off.
Ivy finds drunk Derek on her doorstep. He insists he’s “not that bad,” but the look on Ivy’s face says otherwise. Derek tries to apologize, leaving Ivy to wonder why he cares what she thinks “all of a sudden? Shouldn’t you be asking Karen?” Derek tells Ivy she’s a singular talent and that she shouldn’t give up.
Back at the theater event, Eileen tells Tom and Julia that they need to put on a performance that the crowd will never forget. Tom calls Karen, but it goes straight to voicemail. Cut to: Ivy shows up to perform, and is now back in the spotlight! And we see how quickly said spotlight flip-flops. If only Smash itself would keep the pace this quick.
The next morning Jimmy shows up at Karen’s door and gives her a flash drive with everything he’s written so far. The only reason he is trusting her with this is because he owes it to his buddy Kyle. Later that morning, Ivy brings Derek coffee and grease to help his hangover. But we quickly see that Karen is there to play Jimmy’s songs for Derek. And knowing that Ivy took her spot on the stage—again—Karen is back to throwing Ivy some serious shade. As Jimmy’s songs ring out, we see Ivy leave and get on the elevator, seemingly falling back into her funk. The end.
We vote for more JHud and more of Angelica Huston throwing martinis at the well-deserved. Smash, we’re rooting for you: Pick up the pace, tone down the melodrama, dial up the diva and turn out more music!