Smash Review: Houston, This is a Problem
If "The Workshop" had merely been based around the workshop, I'd have given this episode of Smash a sterling grade.
Would there have been enough material to set an entire hour around this run-through of Marilyn: The Musical? I don't see why not. We already know Ivy and Karen pretty well, both were given obstacles to overcome (the presence of her mother and the possibility of a career-altering recording session, respectively) and this could have been an opportunity to flesh out other members of the ensemble a lot more. I'd have been happy if we never left the studio.
Instead, Smash used the Marilyn workshop to focus on its weakest storyline by a wide, wide margin: Julia's deplorable affair with Michael.
If you're gonna place a main character into an affair, you need to first show us many sides to her. You need to depict some problems in her marriage. You need to pretend like she actually regrets her previous affair, not that she's making eyes at the man she slept with the very instant he walks back in to her life.
Smash mishandled this arc in every way possible. Aside from thrusting Julia and Michael together again, as if their dalliance had never really ceased, the execution was just sloppy.
They're making out in a room down the hall? He's leaning in to kiss her hello at the staff water cooler? Really?!?
I want to be completely in to this musical - seriously, I'm excited to let Ivy be my star - but it's a problem when the episode supposedly based around the most pressing question surrounding the production - what will investors think of the workshop? - starts and ends instead with what amounts to nothing more than a despicable affair between two leads.
All we know about Julia right now is that she's cheated twice on her husband and she's about sabotage her own play as a result by firing Michael. Debra Messing is great in the role, but the series has painted her character as utterly unlikable. As you can tell, it's all I come away thinking about following the most recent episodes.
I did like almost everything else about "The Workshop," although I think Karen is insane to choose this run-through over an audition for the Tommy Mottola of the Smash world. Do people really fall that in love with theater over a career as an actual singer? I say that as someone who loves Broadway and who understands it's a world unto itself. But Karen is choosing the ardurous road of ascending from chorus to star instead of possibly jumping straight to the latter in the recording industry. I'm with her castmates on this one.
Peters, moreover, was tremendous in her role of Ivy's mother. The character may have been painted a bit thin and a bit broad - it's one thing to not be supportive, it's another to be as naively mean as she came across in that scene while watching Marilyn Monroe in action - but Peters killed in contrasting ways: belting out a number to open the episode and then not saying a word when Ivy shone during the workshop.
And she did shine, didn't she?
I understand there has to be tension on the show, and what better way to elicit tension than to challenge the leading lady's status (with Uma Thurman)? But Ivy slipped on the couch once and mistimed one dance move from what we witnessed.
Are those tiny mistakes really the sort of mishaps that would lead to such scathing reviews? To cause investors to keep their wallets closed? I honestly don't know the answer, but it would seem like a talented cast, catchy songs and a winning script - along with the fact that Derek, Tom and Julia are meant to be heavily respected in the theater world, right? - would be the main points of focus in a workshop.
From what we saw of the workshop, it went very well. If the show wants us to believe the production is danger, I wish it would have made it look that way.
And if the show wants me to stick around, it really needs to redeem Julia Houston. I don't need her to be all black and white, but I'd prefer her to not be a self-involved, narcissistic awful mother and wife, either.