Eileen reviews Karen's resume. Lacking.
Smash

Famed Angelica Houston Impersonator Angelica Houston

Most Great Television is created by imagining a very specific, unique world and populating it with characters that can exist only there. Like Seinfeld: those characters don’t work anywhere else, but they make perfect sense together. Smash is not Great Television, but it is great television and what’s greatest about this show is that the characters don’t just come from a different world, they come from many different worlds. In fact, there isn’t a single character that exists in the same universe as any of the others. Smash is put together like a ransom note. You’ve got Tom, who comes from a West Elm catalogue and is just as multi-dimensional. You’ve got Julia, who came from an open-call audition for Grizzabella the Glamour Cat. You’ve got Ivy who came straight from Broadway, gat-demmit, and is better than absolutely all of this. You’ve got Jennifer Hudson who came from being Jennifer Hudson (and as my friend Barry says, “acts better in the Weight Watchers commercial.” Damn. Hurts, but it’s true.) There’s a Smobster bartender! There’s separated-at-birth twin gays! There’s Real Life Jordan Roth! And then there’s Maude!

Eileen is 100% not here for your moderately-priced haircut.

Eileen is 100% not here for your moderately-priced haircut.

And by Maude, of course, I mean the that tsunami of sass, the sultan of smirk, the drink-throwing, head-swivelling “producer” known as Eileen, played by famed Angelica Houston impersonator Angelica Houston. Eileen is on a planet all her own. And she’s the only character who seems to realize that she doesn’t know where the hell she is, how the hell she got here or who the hell all these people are.  Every time she shows up on screen everything stop making sense, which is kind of an issue for Smash as she is the engine of the plot. But who cares about plot?!

What I love most about famed Angelica Houston impersonator Angelica Houston’s portrayal of Eileen is that she’s serving you everything even though you didn’t order it. She’s giving you The Witches meets Big Business all day free of charge and the least you can do is say “thank you”. She took time off from being Wes Anderson’s Vice-Muse (she fills in any time Jason Schwartzman is sick) to let you catch the breeze from her swinging bob; breathe deep.

The Witches plus Big Business equals Smash

RIP Ellis.

I love that she doesn’t even try to clarify any of Eileen’s actions with her acting choices. I read once that whenever Cher gets a script she crosses out all of the notes or scene directions because she likes to invent the character on her own (with the help of a broken mirror ball and an orangutan dramaturg wearing a Bob Mackie gown). I like to believe that famed Angelica Houston impersonator Angelica Houston does the same thing. Safran delivers the latest Smash script and she spends a half an hour crossing out any line readings for Eileen and replacing them with the words “smug bemusement“.

Angelica Houston, master of ropes

“I don’t care where the camera is. I’ll look wherever I please! I won an Oscar for ‘Prizzi’s Honor’ for God’s sake.”

That I can accept.

What I can’t accept, however, is this ex-husband character. First of all, Eileen’s struggle to assert her independence is not an interesting plotline when it consists primarily of her wasting good vodka and being rescued by another man. Why can’t this woman have any autonomy? How did she manage to get this far without a lick of business sense? Why does she think all problems can be solved by striding triumphantly and making broad declarations? Has she been watching too much Scandal? (Impossible. There is no such thing as too much Scandal.)

Moreover, the ex-husband isn’t even interesting in a dastardly way. He’s just slinking around like Gollum, wasting screen time that should be spent letting Megan Hilty sing everyone else off the screen, down the street and into the next cab back to Los Angeles.

Eileen reviews Karen's resume. Lacking.

Definition of “lacking”. Eileen doesn’t see anything she likes. Maybe that cute Thai place down the street?

I don’t understand it from a screenwriting point-of-view. What purpose is he serving? I mean, if there were a primetime drama about my life would you see my crazy ex Clarence hanging around all creepy-like, setting bugs on fire with a magnifying glass and being questioned by the police in relation to a string of mysterious pet-nappings? Of course you would! Because that shit is actually interesting and Clarence refuses to go away. And if you’re reading this, Clarence, don’t. Because I told you not to. And don’t you dare comment. I don’t have time for these shenanigans. I’m in tech!

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Smash

Was Jenifer Lewis Unavailable?

I would like to now have a symposium about the scene that introduces JHud to Smash and changes everything on Earth for the better.  I am unabashedly a Jennifer Hudson stan from wayback.  I love every damn thing about her.  Every damn thing.  I’m obsessed with Beyonce in a seriously unhealthy way but, magically, there’s a place in my heart that even King B can’t touch.  And in that place JHud lives. Dammit, I’m already digressing.

Anyway, JHud’s character, who probably has a name (Veronica sounds about right, but who cares?  Her name is JHud. Why are we still discussing this?), is introduced singing a huge showstopper from what is supposed to be the Big Broadway SMusical, a concoction called Beautiful… which… is… everything.

Smash 201 Jennifer Hudson

Category is “Everything”. Tens across the board.

Oh, so much!  Here’s 4 things.

1. Apparently it’s set in the 50s and focuses on a singer who has an over-bearing mother.  The actress playing this role is giving hardcore Melba Moore realness, strutting around and pulling all manner of sidelong glances and disapproving lip purses, but I can’t help but miss Jenifer Lewis, star of Jackie’s Back and the resident expert on playing Black Women of  a Certain Age Who Ain’t Got Time For Your Shit.

You might also remember her from What’s Love Got To Do With It  as Tina Turner’s mother (Who Ain’t Got Time For Ike’s Shit), Nora’s Hair Salon as Nora (Who Ain’t Got Time For Your Shitty Weave) or The Princess and the Frog as Mama Odie (Who Ain’t Got Time For No Voodoo Shit).  Anyway, JLew was busy playing an angry receptionist or mean auntie in a Madea movie because the actress playing JHud’s mama in this musical is not her.  But she’s fine.  Smoving on.

2. The song is really quite good, as most of the original songs on Smash are.  There are about 15, 20 Equity dancers in zoot suits and dapper chapeaus flipping, jumping and jiving all over the stage in a way that is positively exhausting.  And then, right in the center, is JHud, hip popped like “I dare you to suggest some choreography.”

I LOVE that she comes from the Mariah Carey school of divas, where the motto engraved above the Aretha Franklin Student Center and Black Box Theater is “If you’re looking for a dancer; you should probably call Alvin Ailey.”

Aretha Franklin works out.

“Miss Franklin is going to need a break to rest after this, thanks.”

These ladies show up, stand up, sing and sit down.  They might give you a hand gesture, but none of that Celine Dion Expressive Stewardess shit.  That costs extra.  

3. Smidway through the song I thought to myself, I’d see this show.  Which is insane because I have no idea what it’s about, how far into the plot this song comes, whether it’s available on TKTS, or who the male lead is (probably Joshua Henry or Brandon Victor Dixon, but what if they make some janky stunt casting choice like when they had Ashanti do The Wiz and it was all I could not to run on stage at the City Center and beat her to a pulp with the lifeless body of her career?  What then?)

Ashanti & the Yellow Brick Road at City Center. :-(

Ashanti & the Yellow Brick Road at City Center. 😦

The poster for this Big Broadway Smusical is so strange to me: it’s just JHud’s HUGE BEAUTIFUL FACE and the word “Beautiful”. Which, now that I think about it, may not even be the name of the show.  It could be a quote from the Times–Isherwood has been especially effusive lately.

It could be the way that you spell Veronica in Smash-world, a crazy mixed up Seussical where Bernadette Peters doesn’t exist, audiences react with stunned silence when the lead dies at the end of an biographical musical about a PERSON WHO IS ALREADY DEAD, and a Broadway veteran who ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE Marilyn Monroe and sings like GD Megan Hilty has to fight for the part of Marilyn against a girl who got off the train from Iowa four minutes ago and was like three minutes away from being sold into White Slavery like that one episode of SVU.  That episode was sad.

Or, it could be just a description of the God’s Honest Truth, Okay?  Anyway, it says Beautiful and I say, “Do you have a Rush Ticket policy?”  Cuz you know I ain’t got no money.

4. There’s a scene, after the musical number, in JHud’s dressing room.  She’s removed her wig to reveal a weave that is so far up her forehead I have no choice but to deem it a Solange.  What is happening here?  Minutes ago she looked perfectly normal, now she’s giving me Myrtle, The Woman Whose Bangs Ran Away From Her Eyebrows.  (That’s a thing that can happen.  I read it.)  ANYWAY.  That’s not even the point.  The point is, after she delivers Katherine McPhee some sage advice whilst applying eye makeup (as you do), she exits the dressing room into a sea of exploding flash bulbs, telling McPhee “Get ready, this will be you soon.”

Question: Who is taking these pictures?  And why do they make flash sounds?  Clearly she is walking into a throng of ladies and gays who have travelled all the way to New York by BUS, singing in harmony from Wicked the entire time (Dreamgirls if they’re black. Into the Woods if they want to be my best friends ever) and they are using their iPhones to take pictures. So whence the flash noises?  Maybe that’s the stage door that leads to a whole in the time space continuum. I mean, it makes sense. She says in the scene prior that she’s about to star in The Wiz and I know from the previews that at some point this season she’s going to sing the signature song from Purlie: clearly nothing of import has happened in Black Musical Theater since 1979.

I wonder if Tyler Perry can sing.

Dancing’s gonna cost you extra, though.

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Smash

Paging Salome

Can I just start off by noting how refreshing it is to see Debra Messing’s Julia freed from her crazy woman schmata in Season 2 of Smash?  Last season she was drowning in shrouds and ponchos and bangles and scarves and oversized glasses (we get it: you’re a middle-aged woman who writes for a living. Your vision is poor. Let’s.  Move. On.  We get 44 precious Sminutes a week and you’re spending a half hour fumbling with your eyewear?  I digress.).

Julia (Debra Messing) is delighted because her back is to the mirror.

No one has ever looked this happy in The Shroud of Turin before.

We all know that she was the stand-in for former showrunner and noted accessory aficionado Theresa Rebeck, but by the time Bombshell finally opened in Boston, all of Julia’s lines were being delivered by a pile of wrinkled pashminas.

Theresa Rebeck's collection of scarves.

Theresa Rebeck won a Special Tony for dramatic scarf-swooshing

Worry not, though: new showrunner Josh Safran has banished the scarves, the loose-knit sweaters, the capes!  I imagine it was sort of like the end of The Wiz where Luther Vandross starts singing and all the black people get weirdly semi-naked and you’re watching it for the billionth time at your cousin Poochie’s house and you’re 9 years-old and you’re stealing side-long glances at your Aunt Beneatha, thinking, I feel like the pastor would not approve of this, but she’s just happily humming along because Luther Vandross is a saint and black nudity wasn’t a big deal in the 70s you guess…

INAPPROPRIATE.

INAPPROPRIATE.

ANYWAY, it’s nice to see the stunning D.Mess look stunning and not so much like the Bird Lady from Home Alone 2.  Smoving on.

Okay. Wait. That Bird Lady comparison was weak and imprecise. I’m pulling down the “No Shade” shade here, okay?

No Shade but Season 1 Julia actually dresses just like the one and only Meryl Streep. It’s like they’re the only two social pariahs frequenting  the most annoying boutique on the UES.  No, they don’t shop; they dither. Smeryl may be the best actress to ever live but she’s also that kooky lady who holds up the line at Ten Thousand Villages telling an incomprehensible story about some janky necklace whilst digging in her purse for her clownishly large glasses.

We get it: you cannot see, you’re obsessed with draping fabrics and your spirit animal is Nancy Meyers. Smoving on!

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