Review: Smash Season 2 Episode 9

Despite guest stars and consistent music, inconsistent episodes like this one may have sunk this show.

In this week’s episode “Parents, we see the two most valuable parts of the show: music and special guests.

Since last season, the music in “Smash” has always maintained its quality, although sometimes the cover versions of some songs are sub-par. This week, Bernadette Peters returns as Ivy’s mother Leigh Conroy, a retired Broadway performer. Peters is a legendary performer in real life, who started performing as a child in the 60's, and since has been nominated for and won numerous awards including two Tonys and a Golden Globe for her performances. Like Jennifer Hudson in the beginning of this season, Peters makes good combination of drama and music as a special guest.

The tension rises on set after Leigh arrives as Tom tries to get the mother and daughter away from the loving appearances in order to uncover some real drama. Tom makes the pair talk about their past, letting Leigh tell embarrassing stories of Ivy alongside stories about her glorious career. Leigh’s comedic excitement and Ivy’s helpless smile leaves the production team standing still with their faces tight and nerves strained. Ivy, embarrassed and depressed, fights back and criticizes her mother as a bad parent. The tension is built gradually, from the amusingly dull and fake loving acting to the exploded ridicule and criticism. What makes Peters better than other special guests is that she has built-in conflict with Ivy and is the marquee of “Bombshell.”

Of course, Peters’ task doesn’t end here. Her character sings a duet, “Hang The Moon,” with Ivy following the climax in the rehearsal, in one of the best dream-stage songs in “Smash.” The song expresses the regret and imaginary life memories of Marilyn’s mother. Opened with piano accompaniment, Leigh gently sings the bitter and sweet lyrics to Ivy, “and when that scene is done, I take down the sun, and for you darling I’ll hang the moon.” When the oboe breezes in, the scene is cut to the dream stage where little lanterns decorate the empty apartment and the moon floats outside the window. Leigh’s sobbing-singing is emotional and Ivy’s sorrowful gazing is touching, if not exactly what one would expect from this show. Then the mother and daughter sing the duet, releasing their relief.

Karen’s father Roger, played by Dylan Baker (who was born in Syracuse) doesn’t have as deep of a character arc. He discovers his daughter’s relationship with Jimmy, which only amounts illuminating Derek about the situation. Compared with “Bombshell,” “Hit List”–as a plot and as a musical–is too weak to convince the audience that it can be a hit. McPhee’s stiff acting and faint singing, along with perpetual character cliche machine Jimmy (this time it is his secret history with drug dealer) makes the whole “Hit List” story unbearable. Ana’s singing The Diva song “The Diva’s Turn” saves this half of the show a little, but not enough. She is wrapped up in a big costume with cosmetics and choreography, but sounds nothing like a diva at all.

Unfortunately the strength of last couple episodes may be the exception for the season, and it appears that NBC executives agree: “Smash” is being moved to the deadly Saturday evening slot for the remainder of its run. The good news is that Liza Minnelli will play in next episode. Her performance in the film “Cabaret” won her Academy Award for The Best Actress in a Leading Role and next week, she will play herself. That’s the only hook to keep watching.

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