Review: Smash Season 2 Episode 10

The guest star in "The Surprise Party" makes this disappointing episode watchable. Barely.

Once a character is single on Smash, a new character seems to immediately appear and fill the spot. When Eileen needs news coverage of Bombshell, Richard shows up, when Julia helps Scott with the Hit List story, Scott reveals his feeling for her, and after Ivy’s unpleasant surprising party, Derek comes to cheer her up.

This out-of-nowhere match is especially notable in Karen and Jimmy’s relationship. All of a sudden, Karen can’t help falling in love with this just-met, bad-tempered bartender who can’t communicate with anyone. It is all too predictable.

If not for Liza Minnelli, “The Surprise Party” would be barely watchable. Liza plays herself this episode, to sing a song Tom wrote to apologize to Ivy and to celebrate her birthday. In “A Love Letter from The Times,” Liza still sounds great. Her voice carries a sort of hard edge timbre while the half-singing-half-talking song amplifies her easy intimacy. In the song, she imagines Ivy as a future star browsing the newspaper and finding a “love letter” from the Times. This sweet narrative spills over to the restaurant when Tom weaves in a rhyme, “you’re older, I’m wiser, and look, I brought you Liza,” and gives Ivy the typical Tom’s big mouth smile.

Of course it doesn’t work, as Ivy goes to her actual birthday party after the song without inviting Tom. He finds out, and their fractured friendship stays that way over his casting of Ivy’s mother. This is a great example of how Smash misses the gist. The mother-daughter relationship is what the show should follow up and explore, not Ivy’s friendship with Tom. That’s one of the few personal stories from season one that is worth digging.

Meanwhile, Hit List continues its ridiculous love triangle when Karen confesses to Derek about her and Jimmy. Naturally, Derek is angry, and Jimmy doesn’t want to share its existence, until he does. That’s not even the worst thing about this episode. The Hit List number this time is worse than the plot. Bizarre in every aspect, with naive lyrics, choreography that looks like spinning aerobics mixed with Egyptian hieroglyph poses, and a trite subject about turning into a star.

Compared with the numbers before, the song is so pop and so young that Karen looks too old for it, even though she wears a high-waist skirt like Rachel (played by Lea Michele) does in Glee. However it suits Karen much better than previous performances, because she doesn’t need to fake a Broadway voice to perform the song. But that’s no excuse for something so unsurprising.

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