‘Smash’ – ‘Enter Mr. DiMaggio’: Joltin’ Julia

A review of tonight’s “Smash” coming up just as soon as I can hear it in the O’s…

NBC sent the first four episodes of “Smash” out for review, and the overall consensus among the critics I talked to was that “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” was by far the weakest of the 4 – so weak that some writers were actually pleading with people to just skip it altogether and come back next week. I didn’t hate it as much as some of them did, but it definitely seemed to highlight more of what I don’t like about the show than what I do.

After hints in the first two episodes, for instance, that Tom’s assistant Ellis was going to be an irritating thorn in Julia’s side – and, more importantly, an irritating thorn in the show itself – he finally starts getting a lot of screen time and proves us right.(*) There’s certainly a place for a scheming Eve Harrington type in this kind of setting/show, but Ellis is just so annoying – and so transparently someone that Tom should have fired the second he started talking about how this was all his idea – that it makes me think less of the show and the main characters every moment he’s around. (And with his eavesdropping on Julia’s confession of adultery, I’m guessing he’s now going to be around a looong time.)

(*) Though how many of you were surprised that he had a girlfriend? At the very least, the earlier episodes suggested that Tom was attracted to Ellis (which played a role in the re-hiring after Ellis leaked the demo onto “YouLenz”), and in this one we just matter-of-factly get our preconceptions upended with that bit of news. And while we’re on the subject of the scenes with Ellis and his special lady friend, did anyone else call out, “That’s what the money is for!!!” when she told him that he should get paid for the idea?

And though Ivy got the lead in “Marilyn: The Musical” last week, it still feels like the character is playing second fiddle to Karen within the larger show of “Smash.” We spend some time with Ivy becoming self-conscious about her relationship with Derek – whether that’s the only reason she got the part, why he won’t let her see his apartment, etc. – and if I put a stopwatch on it, it may have roughly equaled Karen’s trip back to Iowa, but it at least felt like the episode was more invested on the runner-up’s story than the winner’s.
I do appreciate that the Iowa scenes didn’t hit that horrible “standing the middle of Afghanistan” kind of note from “Studio 60” where all Midwesterners are bumpkins who neither know nor care about the brilliant artistes who live on the coasts. The life Karen came from was shown to be nice, her parents and friends were supportive, and she just doesn’t want to disappoint them, rather than desperately trying to escape them. But it almost went too far in the other direction and made her background into a cliche where she lives in a house out of a Norman Rockwell painting and is never happier than when she’s kicking off her shoes to sing “Redneck Woman” barefoot at the local karaoke dive bar. Uptempo country’s actually a genre that suits Kat McPhee well, but it felt way too early to play the “our heroine goes home for moral support” card, when what I want is to be invested in what’s happening in New York.

On that front, I suppose the biggest development is the arrival of Will Chase as Michael Swift, the actor everyone wants to land to play Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio – and who, in case, we couldn’t figure it out from Julia’s earlier concern, once had a fling with the red-headed half of our song-writing duo. Swift’s presence puts the sleep-inducing adoption storyline on the backburner for the moment, and for that I’m grateful. But I’m not sure what it added to the show, other than an excuse to once again show that, on a clear day, there is no more romantic spot in New York to film than the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge. Our glimpse of Michael as a performer was in what I hope was intended as a satirical tweaking of overly-earnest jukebox musicals with that Bruno Mars number, so we don’t have a strong feeling that he has to be their DiMaggio, and the revelation about his history with Julia was as telegraphed as most of the “Smash” plot developments have been. And while I understand the ironic point of having Julia co-write a song talking about the virtues of a simple, happy married life that’s being performed by the man who can destroy her own marriage, that was the first of the Shaiman/Wittman numbers so far that didn’t feel especially memorable.

I laughed at the running gag with Eileen throwing drinks into Jerry’s face until he finally bought her one for that express purpose, but at best that raised “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” up to the level of forgettable, and not the best foot forward the show needs after losing a good chunk of its audience from week 1 to week 2.

What did everybody else think?