Smash: “The Producers”
C+

Smash: “The Producers”

C+

Smash

“The Producers”

Season 2, Episode 13

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Oh my God, they’re pulling a Rent.

Now, last week, when someone asked in comments if Rent existed in this show’s universe, because they were concerned that the show was going to have Jimmy die right before Hit List made its triumphant move to Broadway, and I said I didn’t think that would happen because Rent—at least in poster form—does exist in the Smash universe. What we both should have foreseen was that it would be too easy for Jimmy to die, because that would absolve him of all of his creatively uninteresting sins. Instead, he had to be punished in a way that wouldn’t punish him too directly, a way that would cause him to rethink some things but never actually realize what a jackass he’d been to everybody.

And, thus, was Kyle hit by a car.

Look, there are differences here. Jonathan Larson died right as his show was about to begin a hugely successful Broadway run, while the Broadway producers passed on Hit List, and I sort of doubt Larson was involved in any complicated love triangles. But the parallels are too pointed not to notice at this point, and if Kyle survives next week, I suspect it’s only because somebody in the writers’ room noticed what was up, remembered that, yes, there was a real life tragic death that was surprisingly similar to this, and somehow convinced everybody that they might not want to proceed. Otherwise, Kyle is going to die, just so everybody else (namely, Jimmy) can Learn A Lesson, and that’s just the worst reason to ever kill a character, outside of the troubling similarities to reality.

There is some interesting stuff in “The Producers,” namely the stuff about how Eileen guts out turning Bombshell into a show that’s growing, not fading, by funneling everything she can think of into her publicity operation and the stuff about Derek and Scott trying to get somebody to take Hit List to Broadway. But the episode ends up falling apart anyway because it digs into its position on the Jimmy the tortured genius storyline and refuses to dig its way out. The Jimmy storyline has turned into what the Karen storyline was in the first season: something where the show’s writers have lost all perspective on how the audience might perceive things to the point that they seem to be writing a different show than what is actually up on screen.

The problem with telling a tortured genius story is that the genius has to be so much of a genius that we can’t wait to see what he does next or he has to be sympathetic on some level. Jimmy has failed both of these tests, because his music is okay, but it’s not, like, Mozart level good, and the things that are supposed to be making him sympathetic—namely his troubled past—just aren’t all that interesting because they’re exactly what we all expected and we’ve seen a million riffs on this basic storyline before. Instead, Jimmy is just casually an asshole to everyone he knows, including people he really can’t afford to be an asshole to, and the show seems to think we’ll be… rooting for him, I guess? The people he’s an asshole to have been gritting their teeth and saying he’ll turn it around for a few weeks now, presumably because they think Hit List would be so much better off without him, but I have yet to see anything out of him that suggests the show wouldn’t be a million times better if his contribution to the show were effectively over right now. Hell, I’d love to see Sam as the male lead in Hit List, and I think he might bring a softness to that part that it would seem to need. (I am saying this based on having seen such a weird collection of scenes from Hit List, to the degree where it seems to be an unholy hybrid between a jukebox musical based on a Panic! At The Disco outtakes collection and a Ben Folds concept album about a Dickensian version of the ‘80s.)

Jimmy doesn’t qualify as an interesting character. He’s someone who broods a lot, and, thus, the show keeps telling us things about him that it doesn’t really follow through on. He and Karen have next to no chemistry, but we’re supposed to buy that they have such a strong love that it would turn at least one of them self-destructive. (I’m starting to think Karen has had the subtext centers of her brain removed, but that’s for another time.) Jimmy’s music is passably entertaining, but we’re supposed to believe that it’s so great that everyone would forgive him all manner of sins. And on and on. The show isn’t wrong that sometimes, artists are so good that they start to lose track of the people around them, so lost in their own visions are they, but it’s already playing this arc out with Derek, and it’s a million times more compelling, because Jack Davenport is an actor who’s capable of pulling that wounded asshole thing off. Jeremy Jordan, whatever his strengths, doesn’t really have that in his toolkit. So he just seems like a spoiled, whiny kid. Hey, kind of like Karen! I can’t wait to see their kids.

The Jimmy stuff so dominates the episode that it overwhelms the other storylines, which are all more interesting, though often possessed of their own idiotic Smashiness. The dissolution of Tom and Julia’s partnership would be more interesting to me if we’d seen Tom actually try to land City Of Angels and fail, then attempt to come running back to a Julia who was already moving on with her life, but instead, we got a thing where all of that happened offscreen, and we’re just supposed to accept this is how they feel about things now. Plus, the storyline did that awful thing TV does, where a public figure in a private fight with somebody else will turn a public event into a way air their dirty laundry out in public and just make everybody there uncomfortable. This scene is inevitably accompanied by irritatingly plucky music, to let us know that, oh my goodness, the characters are behaving so irresponsibly. It didn’t work any better here than it did elsewhere, but I liked the contours of the storyline—Julia trying to do her own thing, Tom taking it as a betrayal—while the execution left me unimpressed.

I was more into Eileen’s full-court press. Eileen is always more interesting when she’s an operator, rather than when we’re delving into her personal struggles (actually, that’s true of… everyone on this show), and it was fun to see her, her publicists, and Ivy just gut this one out. Other producers might have hung on for a while and finally packed it in, but Eileen isn’t like other producers. And, honestly, this storyline did more to convince me of that than anything else she’s done in the whole series. And at the end as she stares out at the city—at precisely what, I don’t know, since my screener has greenscreen present in those scenes—is it any doubt that she’s going to cave and bring Hit List to Broadway, just in time to capitalize on the tragedy of its creative back-story? Then she can throw a drink in someone’s face at the funeral!

Stray observations:

  • Check out this extra who really seized her moment as Blake stormed out after Jimmy told Blake that Kyle had cheated on him with Tom. She intuitively knew she would be at the frame’s center and TOOK THE STAGE. Somebody’s mom was really proud after that one.
  • I actually sort of liked both of the Hit List numbers we saw tonight. I still wouldn’t buy the cast album, but there was something sort of enjoyably dumb about both of them.
  • I can’t keep track of why Ivy is mad at Derek now. Is it really because he only decided to get with her after he realized Karen wasn’t going to happen? Intellectually, I can understand that. Emotionally, I just don’t care. I want to see pretty people kissing!
  • Oh, right, Karen brought Derek back to her chamber of horrors, and we’re to believe they had the sex.
  • Jimmy realizes Ana is stronger than he thought. Hm… there’s… something there.
  • Things Jimmy does to jeopardize the performance of Hit List that could make or break the show: misses his first cue, wanders around the stage and gets in the way of the actors, drops Karen so she injures her arm. How hasn’t this guy been fired?
  • Other reasons to hate Jimmy: When he shows up at the bar where everybody is lamenting the lack of producer interest, he says that finally it’s time for the party to start! Why did no one punch him? Speaking of punching...

And now, the continuing adventures of Frank Fisticuffs, in an excerpt from the new Frank Fisticuffs novel, Frank Fisticuffs in Moon Fury:

(Continuing a tradition from my Gifted Man reviews, I’m going to bury excerpts from my never-to-be-published Frank Fisticuffs novels at the bottom of the stray observations. I mean, why not? Nobody’s going to read this anyway!)

“Those adventures were non-canon,” said Frank, gripping Khemkaeng’s head as he ducked it into the impromptu acid bath. He hadn’t been able to get his hands on actually damaging acid, so he’d just juiced as many lemons as he could find into a bathtub. Whatever. It would really sting.

“They happened, Frank!” Khemkaeng said between spluttering gasps. “They happened as surely as any of your other adventures. I was there. I saw them.”

Frank raised Khemkaeng to his feet and delivered a powerful blow to his midsection. Khemkaeng crumpled in on himself like a piece of aluminum foil, then began to laugh hollowly.

“They! Didn’t! Happen!” Frank said, pummeling Khemkaeng with blows.

“Oh, they happened,” said Khemkaeng, spitting out a tooth. “And they will happen again. And again.”

“I have no memory of them.” He picked up the smaller man by the scruff of his neck and snarled. “Why?”

“Someone is playing tricks on your memory, Frank.” Khemkaeng began to laugh endlessly. “You can’t go to the moon without bringing a piece of the moon back with you!”

Frank was in full bloodlust now. The 53 bionic wolves whose corpses littered the paddock outside had not been enough. Khemkaeng needed to stay alive. He was the only one who knew where Margaret was. He needed to punch something.

“I need to punch something,” he said.

“Very good,” said Khemkaeng, an evil glint in his eye. He hit a red button and a metal door slid open in the back of the bunker.

The beast edged forward, boxing gloves on, eyes narrowed for the prize, monocle firmly affixed to one eye, top hat pinned to his head. Frank’s eyes went wide, his face white.

“Yes, Frank!” chortled Khemkaeng. “Dr. Kangaroo. Nature’s most fearsome boxer.”

TO BE CONTINUED!

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