SMASH Recap: Enter Mr. DiMaggio (with Musical Numbers) - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

SMASH Recap: Enter Mr. DiMaggio (with Musical Numbers)

February 21, 2012 by  

Oh no…

Please tell me they were kidding.

After two weeks of promising television, building legitimate buzz among mainstream audiences, THIS is the direction that SMASH had to go?

“Enter Mr. DiMaggio” was the weakest of SMASH’s first three episodes, and could not have come at a worse time for NBC to maintain momentum behind the show. After an impressive debut, SMASH lost over twenty-five percent of its audience in week two. To hold those viewers, and justify the program’s large production budget, NBC has very little room for error.

Sadly, “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” was a comedy of errors.

Before SMASH launched, many critics posed questions about its similarities with GLEE. In SMASH’s first two episodes, there was a clear delineation in tone, maturity, and target audience from its FOX counterpart. The events of “Enter Mr. DiMaggio,” however, were as juvenile as throwing blue slushies, with soapy romantic entanglements straight from the MELROSE PLACE playbook.

The largest misstep was the revelation that Julia, the distinguished lyricist with a loving husband and teenage son, had engaged in a lengthy affair with Michael Swift, a veteran stage performer who has signed on to play Joe DiMaggio in the “Marilyn” workshops. Debra Messing is a likable television star, and I was on board to follow her journey to balance family and career as SMASH moved forward. Instead of being a character who audiences can feel sympathy toward, Julia is narrowly defined as a cheater.

I want Debra Messing to be amazing in this part, and for Julia & Tom to breathe life into “Marilyn: the Musical” all season. Instead, I fear that Julia’s story will revolve around the fact that she and Michael used to peek behind each other’s curtains, and they are likely headed for an encore performance. Horrible stage puns aside, I fear that this creative choice has zero upside. SMASH is full of potential love stories and romantic twists and turns. It would have been wise to leave the philandering to Derek, and keep Julia focused on her production and her family. Julia’s cliched entry into DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES territory is a disappointing creative detour.

Here is the new complication in Julia’s life, Michael, performing Bruno Mars’ “Grenade,” shortly before heaving a real weapon of mass destruction into the show’s emotional core:

Karen Cartwright went home to Iowa this week, and the producers decided to transform the midwest into a bastion of “WOO girls” and bad karaoke. With little screen time to make their mark, Karen’s team of girlfriends left few stereotypes to the imagination. Alternating equally between gossip, fawning, and shrieking, I am amazed that Katharine McPhee filmed these reunion scenes without earplugs. “Redneck Woman” was a fun performance for Katharine McPhee, but is that song the proper anthem for the girl next door persona that Karen is supposed to project? Her friends pushed the song choice on her, a callback to Judge’s Choice week on IDOL, but Karen sure had that choreography worked out like the President of the Gretchen Wilson fan club.

Karen’s moments with her parents were the most peaceful in this hour. As Mom and Dad watched their baby girl deal with disappointment, the show felt human, if only for a few precious seconds. Katharine McPhee is still a huge positive for SMASH, representing the hopes and dreams of young women who want to earn their dreams. Unfortunately, McPhee was not given much to work with in this script.

Ellis the Assistant, played by Jaime Cepero, seems to be simultaneously auditioning for Downton Abbey and a Skinemax late night movie. Already my least favorite character, Ellis is presented as an amalgam of show business assistants who trade gossip like Beanie Babies, but Cepero’s take borders on self-parody. Ellis steals scripts, plots imaginary lawsuits for his brilliant idea of putting Marilyn on Broadway (for a second time, mind you), and schemes to learn the dirty secrets of every character in his wake.

Much like Tom Haverford was written as too snarky in PARKS & RECREATION’s abbreviated first season, Ellis’ drama meter needs to be dialed down considerably. Otherwise, I will continue to grind my teeth when Cepero enters a scene.

Megan Hilty injected depth into the character of Ivy this week, as the aspiring starlet began to question the nature of Derek’s interest in a physical relationship with her. Rather than rely on a few aesthetically flattering shots of her curves, “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” introduced a more attractive view of Ivy’s personality. She is a deeply self-aware young woman, the experienced pro who still has a lot to learn about her chosen profession. After a slow start, I think Hilty may just begin to win over viewers in the “Team Karen/Team Ivy” debate that pops up on Twitter.

As long as Megan Hilty keeps singing like this, it will be hard to turn away from the power of her voice.

Finally, Tom had a big week of uncovering secrets, as he was informed about Ivy’s trysts with Derek and Julia’s affair with Michael. Where/when does Tom demonstrate his own power or influence in this production? He consistently takes the backseat to Julia in their deliberations, becoming the rare form of silent partner who otherwise cannot stop talking.

I am still bullish on SMASH’s prospects, but “Enter Mr. DiMaggio” was the wrong story at the wrong time for a program that desperately needs to retain every viewer it can. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this hour!

What did you think of this episode? Were you surprised by Julia’s history with Michael? How does that secret affect your view of her character? Did you enjoy Karen’s escape to Iowa? Was I the only one who found her girlfriends grating? Has Ivy’s mistreatment by Derek impacted your thoughts about her casting as Marilyn? Have you had expensive cocktails thrown in your face at Manhattan hotspots? Let your voices be heard, karaoke style or not?

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3 Responses to “SMASH Recap: Enter Mr. DiMaggio (with Musical Numbers)”

  1. Agent52 on February 21st, 2012 11:13 am

    I pretty much agree with your call on this episode. I’ve heard that as poorly done as episode three was, if viewers can stick with it, episode four gets back to what was so promising in the pilot.

    What will keep this program alive and dancing is the original music for ‘Marilyn: The Musical.’ This is great stuff and the two big production numbers we’ve already seen (“The National Pastime” and “The 20th Century Fox Mambo”) were scored for Broadway pit band brilliantly. If the rest of the score lives up to this, it will be fantastic. I can go either way on the non-show music. So far it’s been okay, but it is pedestrian. Let’s hear some more of the show score!

    I HATE Ellis.

  2. Erik Wilkinson on February 21st, 2012 12:39 pm

    Agent52: Thanks for jump starting the discussion for “Enter Mr. DiMaggio.” It’s a shame that this particular episode aired so early in SMASH’s run, because I truly believe the musical performances and the Karen/Ivy rivalry needed to be front and center to retain the show’s sample audience.

    I am far from an expert on Broadway productions, since my exposure to New York City has been limited to bringing student groups to the city. However, seeing Hairspray, The Lion King, and Wicked in past years has given me a sincere appreciation for how powerful the live musical experience can be. Though I did not love Katharine McPhee’s vocals in the “20th Century Fox Mambo” piece, I agree that the music FELT like something that people run to NYC to see every night.

  3. groucho on February 22nd, 2012 11:04 pm

    Since I am both a McPhee fan and one of those people who will watch anything of a show biz behind-the-scenes nature, I am already committed to watching as much Smash as they’ll give me, and I’m still willing to withhold most criticism and just see where things are going. As to her vocals in the mambo, that wasn’t really a number where the vocals needed to carry it. After all, it was her dance audition, they already knew she could sing. And it gave us our first surprise look at McPhee as Marilyn. I don’t think the show was ever envisioned as purely a Karen vs. Ivy show, whatever the publicity dept. at NBC did to get our attention, and I enjoy all the nuts and bolts stuff. And although I couldn’t tell you why, I laugh every time Eileen nails Jerry with a Manhattan.