Oh, Smash, how we’re waiting for you to be break out of your shell and be that titular smash. Be bold! Be brazen! Be musical! The pacing of this third episode of Season 2 is just slightly snappier than premiere week’s second episode — but that’s not saying much. With its promises of more Jennifer Hudson leaving us mostly unfulfilled, we get the aptly titled “The Dramaturg,” a too-talky and tedious installment for a TV musical.
Throughout the episode, the seemingly endless exposition — with not nearly enough singing — sets up what may be promising for episodes to come (with music, imagine that!). But what about now? And will the wait and the ultimate payoff be worth it?
The episode opens with Karen (Katharine McPhee) bodysurfing a crowd and singing a poppy musical number replete with bare midriff, but we quickly learn this is her fantasizing about what the staged version of Jimmy and Kyle’s number might look like on Broadway. She’s merely sitting with Derek playing their songs and still trying to convince him to meet them. Finally, he concedes.
Eileen (who sadly does not pick up a single martini in the entire episode!) meets with Tom and Julia to talk about notes for Bombshell. The long and the short of it is she wants to “bring a fresh eye to the show,” which any writer knows mean the dreaded outsourced re-writer. They’re stunned. But Eileen has already set up a meeting for them to meet the new scribe at 3 p.m that day.
Ivy is at an audition for Dangerous Liaisons. After singing a mere few notes she finishes and boldly asks the casting director if she can come back to read for the part of Cécile. At first, he’s reluctant but then he gives her the go ahead to return.
If you’re keeping track, we now have two other musicals in the plot line pipeline in addition to Bombshell, so we’re thinking all this set-up is good sign for more singing to come.
Next, a J-Hud spotting! And she’s singing! This is what we’ve been waiting for and it’s gorgeous, albeit too brief. Veronica (Jennifer Hudson) is practicing songs for her role in The Wiz (third musical mention) when Derek shows up to ask her if she’ll help him get back in good with the show’s producers by staging a scene with him. You may or may not remember they dropped him because of all those sexual harassment claims that were tossed at the womanizer in the last episode.
Debra and Tom are not happy in the least to be meeting the dramaturg, but they show up to Eileen’s scheduled meeting and come face-to-face with “Peter The Parasite” (as they’ve dubbed him). The too-handsome-to-be-a-writer Peter (Daniel Sunjata) knows he’s not welcome, but he seems to be fans of theirs so they listen to his pitch (even as we know he’s coming into this to be Julia’s new love-him-or-hate-him love interest).
After some new opening credits and a commercial break, Julia visits Peter at his loft and sees the book for Bombshell on his coffee table with notes all over it. They argue over what the musical should really be about, and it’s easy to guess that now we’ll get some new music for Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee to sing (instead of repeating the same four numbers over and over again), because Peter has big ideas about how to make Bombshell better.
Jimmy and Kyle are gathering all their music and notes together for the meeting with Derek and Karen. But the boys realize that one of the notebooks with their newest notes has been left somewhere….scary. Dah, dah, dah! “You can’t go back there!” Cut to the next commercial.
Karen is happy to be back at rehearsals for Bombshell. She reminds Derek that they are meeting the boys tonight to go over their new musical that Karen thinks has the role of a lifetime for her. Derek takes a call from Veronica who says she’s convinced a producer from The Wiz to come by and see Derek and one of his numbers tomorrow. So Derek has got to get this perfect: he tells Karen to get it right! We get Karen singing for 10 seconds, and then it cuts to Ivy…
…who is singing on Tom’s TV (for 20 seconds) as he watches her perform in previews from Bombshell’s early days. She then shows up at Tom’s place in person to get a CD for the Dangerous Liaisons musical and a pep talk. He tells her she’ll crush the audition for Cécile. (Why don’t they ever let any of these talented ladies sing a full song anymore?!)
Julia shows up late night at Eileen’s office and tells Eileen that she is not having it with Peter. Eileen basically tells her that’s he’s in, and if need be, she’s out. The drama! After the commercial, Karen and Derek are still rehearsing Bombshell’s number, but lo and behold — Ivy pops in to ask a favor of Derek. Karen is less than thrilled, especially when Derek asks Ivy to stay and watch for her opinion on the scene. With a pained face Ivy watches Karen perform as Marilyn in the rehearsal, and in one of the episode’s best moments we dissolve into a fantasy sequence where Ivy melds into the action and covers Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” It’s quite beautiful, and this is what Smash needs more of.
Julia confronts Peter at a dinner with a group of his friends, and the sparks fly (or the producers are hoping the sparks are flying) when Julia accuses him of lying to her about having never seen the show. He tells her there was “no sex, no steam on the windows.” Maybe, he says, it’s because she never felt the heat herself.
Jimmy goes to that scary-secret place to retrieve his notebook with his musical’s notes in it. Some guy appears from the shadows and says, “You’ve got balls, Jimmy. I’ll give you that.” And we’re yawning…
…right into the next commercial break. When we come back we see that Jimmy has a fat lip when he arrives at the restaurant with his crumpled pages for his meeting with his co-writer Kyle, plus Karen and Derek. (We get no further explanation about that scary secret place by the way.) But Karen calls and has to reschedule because she and Derek are still rehearsing Bombshell.
Julia storms in on Tom eating ice cream, and demands he get into the studio right now because they are working all night. She’s going to show that hot and sexy dramaturg that she can be sexy, too!
Ivy is practicing her speaking lines for Dangerous Liaisons with Tom. He’s yawning because he’s been up all night working with Julia. (We’re yawning because there’s so much talking and not enough singing!) Ivy thinks she’s bad: her accent, her motives…blah, blah, blah. But Tom offers up another pep talk, and now Ivy thinks she finally gets it: Cécile is just like Marilyn.
Julia, Tom, Peter and a new actor show up to rehearsal for the number that Derek and Karen have been working on. But Julia says they have a new scene for him to see, and that’s what they’re going to rehearse. It’s something sexier than ever before — and Derek is not too happy, because Veronica and The Wiz producer show up to see something more PG-rated (since, as we know, Derek is trying to distance himself from sexual harassment allegations).
Karen and an actor portraying JFK perform the new number that Julia and Tom have written (but its’s very slow, and Kat doesn’t even get to sing — that’s a mistake). Everyone is pleased except for The Wiz producer who walks out and wonders why he wasted his time.
Jimmy has shown up, too, and he claps rather loudly after the scene’s conclusion. When he introduces himself to Derek and Derek doesn’t know who he is, Jimmy storms off pissed, thinking Karen never told the director anything about him at all.
Julia tells Peter that he should let Eileen know his services are no longer needed because she wrote the new, better scene. But he reminds her that she never would have written that sexy scene without sexy him pushing her to sexily do so. He’s not going anywhere. He also thinks the scene was a good start, but thinks she got it wrong: JFK was the pursuer in Julia’s version. But Marilyn should be the predator, not the the prey. It would make it much more interesting (we agree!) and give Marilyn the power.
We learn that Ivy got the part of Cécile and she thinks Tom would make a great director. Veronica is resigning from The Wiz and wants Derek to work with her on a one-night-only type of show that people will talk about forever. Derek and Karen show up at Kyle and Jimmy’s apartment where the boys tell Derek about their musical (which may or may not be a parallel of Jimmy’s life leading up to meeting Karen). Derek says he likes what he’s heard so far and wants to work it out, so “let’s take it from the top.” Karen, Jimmy and Kyle gather by the piano to play…and the episode ends without a song. Gggrrr!
In a nutshell: “The Dramaturg” had promise because it set up the opportunities for many a musical number to come, but Smash needs to pick up the pace, tone down the talky-talky and let the leading ladies sing.