'Smash': It's a bumpy road to Broadway (and a second season)

smash-mr-dimaggio.jpg "Life is long. Theatre is longer." -- Derek Wills

We're not sure if that's an actual theatre-people axiom that Derek utters in episode 3 of "Smash," but it's not really one that can be applied to television. After last week's worrisome ratings fall-off, Monday (Feb. 20) was perhaps not the best time for "Smash" to put forth an uneven episode.

There are still a number of things the show is doing quite well, even as it re-works familiar material from any number of backstage dramas. But after a very strong first couple of episodes, the wobble in "Enter Mr. DiMaggio" was more pronounced. We'll get to that in a minute. But first:

The good

Karen's story. The show did an expected zig with Karen being down and wondering about her future after not getting the Marilyn part. We figured her trip home for a friend's baby shower would make her further question her career path to this point. In a small but welcome zag, though, she remains pretty steadfast and confident in what she's doing -- the pull of her home life and loving (if not completely understanding) parents isn't nearly strong enough to pull her off.

Her qualms about letting Dev support her while "Marilyn" (which we'll henceforth call the still-untitled musical) is in workshop also felt pretty well grounded in what we know about Karen. Dev's swordfight with Derek early on didn't win him many points with Karen (or us), and we hope we're not headed toward a story where he becomes the controlling boyfriend trying to keep Karen from spreading her wings. So far it feels like Dev just trying to feel his way through a world he doesn't really understand, and we hope that's it.

The music. The only original song this week was "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," a duet between Ivy and newcomer Michael Swift ( Will Chase), who's hired to play DiMaggio. It's a sweet little love song that feels right at home in Act 2 of a Broadway show, and we really enjoyed the recording scene with Chase and Megan Hilty, where Michael and Ivy try to get a sense of how the other sings. We first meet Michael as he's singing "Grenade" in "that Bruno Mars show," and that's pretty strong too. So is Katharine McPhee's "Redneck Woman" at the karaoke baby shower.

Eileen and Jerry. We just really, really like watching Anjelica Huston spar with Michael Cristofer, and then throw drinks in his face.

The bad

Ellis. Tom's assistant was a fairly minor presence in the first couple episodes, but we went from zero to what the hell? in short order with him tonight. Playing out a conflict between Ellis and Julia, whom he apparently used to work for but doesn't really anymore, might be kind of fun. But jumping from "she doesn't like me" to stealing her notebook and gathering blackmail material about her affair with Michael comes from nowhere. Stuff like that feels like it needs more explicit motivation than an offhand "they should pay you" comment from his girlfriend. Why did Julia fire him before? What's the origin of her discomfort with him?* And if he does try to extort Julia, what's he want? And if all that does happen, why would Tom choose to believe his (relatively new) assistant over his work partner of many successful years? All that made the biggest hole in the story for us this week.

(*I had forgotten about Ellis' leaking of the demo online, which led to his being sacked the first time. My bad.)


The uncertain

Ivy and Derek. We like the fact that Derek seems just about as into Ivy as she is into him. The show has also presented Ivy as plenty worthy of the "Marilyn" lead, so it doesn't feel like her sleeping with the director was the thing that tipped the scales to her. As Julia says to Tom, these things happen within the Broadway world. Ivy's worrying about why Derek hasn't called or doesn't invite her over to his place, though, is a little worrisome. She seems tougher than that, and while Derek could certainly turn out to be a cad, we don't have a huge reason not to take him at his word at the moment.

The kind of distracting

Julia and Michael. We're down with the dramatic device of Julia being uncomfortable about working alongside the man with whom she had an affair, and with the idea that Michael doesn't seem to be completely over her, despite his own marriage and family. But the fact that Chase and Debra Messing became an off-camera item during filming is a little hard to block out given the on-screen story.

What did you think of "Smash" this week?
Photo/Video credit: NBC