At the tail-end of last night's mostly ridiculous episode of Smash — which featured Kat McPhee writhing on a prop bed while singing some Ryan Tedder song and the silliest bowling alley dance scene since... well since ever — there was a scene that, dare we say, bordered on, like, good. Not The Wire good or anything, but definitely campy dramatic good. It was quite refreshing.
The scene came after the aforementioned prop bed performance, which was a sneaky little thing set up by British weasel Derek and Anjelica Huston's Eileen to present the Marilyn the Musical songwriting team with a possible new direction for the show. See, Derek and Eileen thought they could do a whole contemporary Marilyn pop thing along with the classic boop-boop-bee-doop stuff, but everyone else hated it so, oops, there was a big fight. After a few minutes of hysterics, everyone stormed out except for Derek and Christian Borle's character, Tom, setting the stage for the enemies/collaborators to finally have it out. We knew they had past business but it hadn't really been addressed until last night, so that was kind of satisfying. But what was really interesting was Derek, in a fit of pique, saying something along the lines of, "Gay men run this industry but then are always acting like the victim." Harsh! That line was maybe the least fluffy, least fantastical thing any character has said about the American theater since the show started. Not that it was terribly insightful (or necessarily true) or anything, but at least writer/creator Theresa Rebeck went there, offered a more complex interpretation of this world beyond "Theater is fun! But also hard." And then Tom came back with some nasty little gossip that was mean and ridiculous, and it all amounted to a really engaging, surprisingly well-acted scene, one with actual drama to it, something the rest of this only partially realized show has been struggling to create since the first episode. If only there were more conversations like this one!
But we suppose that would make the whole enterprise kind of heavy, instead of the buoyant, song-sprinkled funfest NBC is (was?) banking on. Still, we think they could create more time to actually honestly talk about the culture of theater, about the clashes between its ruling classes, than they have so far. Last night's soundstage slapfest (verbally, at least) was definitely a good start, but we want more. We need some real down-and-dirty stuff, we need drunks and unrepentant diva monsters and narcissism dripping from the walls. Theater is great! But it's also kind of horrible, at least professional theater, especially professional musical theater in New York. The fight scene last night showed us one somewhat true-to-life dark corner of that world — and, y'know, elevated the dramatic stakes of this often frustratingly flat show — and they should keep it coming. You've shown us it can be done, Ms. Rebeck. Now do it again. And again and again and again. Sure, keep your bowling alley romps and whatever else, but why not get rid of all that nonsense about adoption and do-gooder daughters (one of Meryl Streep's offspring played that part last night) and whatnot and just focus on the business at hand. Namely, theater. Terrible, terrible theater. It would be so much fun.