I’m gonna be real with y’all– I love Smash. It’s just the right balance of cheesy soap-opera drama and something interesting enough to make me care about the vapid interpersonal stuff, the inner workings of show business (with characters played by stage pros). Seriously, show me some behind-the-scenes stuff, for the stage or the screen, and I will at least give your story a shot. I’ve read more than one teen novel with that as the hook, and I don’t even like teens.
The problem with Smash is everyone is horrible.
Take the leads, for instance: Karen (Katharine McPhee), a young Wholesome Brunette from Iowa, newly come to the Big City (in this case, New York), is our unpolished ingenue, nevertheless full of inborn talent and untapped potential. Music wells for this woman. Initially cast as the “Madonna” to her competitor for the role of Marilyn Monroe, Ivy’s (Megan Hilty), “whore,” when Karen’s sexuality does rear its head, it is entirely put to use either for her man’s (Dev, played by Raza Jaffrey *heart hands*) professional ambitions or as a catalyst for the tension between herself, Ivy, and their sexually harassing director, Derek (played by Jack Davenport– aka Commodore Norrington from PotC!). Karen’s sexuality, naturally, is of the “innocent” type, where she is sexy, but she’s not trying to be. Umm?
That’s already incredibly weird and problematic enough without her lack of professionalism. We’re supposed to like Karen, because she just doesn’t understand city people, and she’s so cute and Midwestern and so gosh-darn talented! But when Ivy laments that Karen is handed everything on a plate, it’s true. She’s constantly late, or taking calls during rehearsal, or leaving early, or not showing up. She gets jobs on her first audition. She’s crappy at being in the chorus, either because she’s just star material! (I think what the show wants us to believe) or because she hasn’t learned the skills to taking the backseat to whoever the leads are. And because she’s so cute and innocent and Midwestern and talented, Karen, of course, is also at least in part functioning as an audience proxy, where we like her for widening her eyes at the stereotypical show-biz cattiness and genuine shock at the normal issues for the field of work she’s chosen for herself. We are supposed to like her for sucking at her job, which doesn’t pay, and being supported by her live-in boyfriend at the same time.
This isn’t to say that Ivy’s professional, either. She just works her ass off. She’s been a chorus girl. She knows how to actually do choreography without having to be led through the steps. She can sing just as well as Karen. She’s just as hungry. But even though Ivy’s skilled, and experienced, and has earned her dues in her career, Karen still rolls up with no Broadway musicals under her belt and is inexplicably the only other serious contender for the role of Marilyn (until Uma Thurman’s character, Rebecca Duvall, shows up, which I will get to in a minute). Furthermore, Ivy, as the bitchy blonde sexpot variant of Monroe, is sleeping with the directer. See, he propositioned Karen first– who turned him down, like a Good Girl– but when he propositioned Ivy, she wanted to secure her job, and took to the casting couch. To be fair, she’s not demonized for this, at least in-show (I’ve been avoiding the fandom for… obvious reasons), but because Ivy has a lot of justifiable issues with personal and career insecurity, from a lot of different sources: personal experience, a history of psychological/emotional abuse from her mother (played by Bernadette Peters, essentially playing a jerkass version of herself! Who wouldn’t be insecure trying to follow in those footsteps?!), and the incredible emotional strain of combining a hyper-stressful workplace with overt competition at play in keeping it with dating your boss.
So, yeah, Ivy’s had a few meltdowns, particularly when she was put on steroids for a cyst or something in her throat, which Derek (the director) pressured her to take even though she’s hypersensitive to the side effects, and put on an anti-anxiety drug to deal with those, and a sleeping pill to deal with those… Yeah, it was a weird time. She’s also an alcoholic, and has plotted against Karen a few times, in addition to a few confrontations with her. She lost a job she already had after showing up high and drunk at the same time (DRUG INTERACTIONS ARE SERIOUS, OH MY GOD) in a fit of depression after being bumped from Bombshell (the Marilyn show). But that’s not her “learning a lesson.” That’s not some kind of Aesop moral shit, that’s a person struggling with drug problems and emotional problems and job problems and relationship problems and not doing it gracefully. And being a sloppy mess, like most people are, doesn’t make Ivy bad. She still doesn’t owe Karen niceness. And not giving out niceness like it’s owed to people doesn’t automatically make you a bitch. Besides, Karen’s plenty bitchy herself– Karen specifically brings up the director inviting her into his home first to Ivy, implying that she could have had Ivy’s job anyway, saying, “You weren’t his first choice.” (Because naturally, competition between women can’t just be professional, or respectful, it also has to be an inherent sexual competition as well. Of course.)
Ivy just laughs. “I heard worse things from my mother at Sunday dinner,” she slurs back, drunk even then. When Karen helps Ivy get home, which is actually nice of her (though I think Karen might have been drunk at that point, too, so not the best-thought-out course of action), Ivy makes sure to remind her that they aren’t friends, and they still aren’t cool.
Which brings me to Ellis (Jaime Cepero), because I’m going to skip Derek, since he’s obviously horrible, even though he does genuinely seem to care about Ivy as much as one can while still eyefucking her job competition every chance one gets. (Seriously, it’s gross.) Ellis started out really interesting, mostly because he was good at his job. He was the show’s composer, Tom’s (Christian Borle), kickass personal assistant, if kind of a little bit nosy as hell, but whatever. Being a personal assistant kind of means you’re nosy as a job requirement if you haven’t taken the tack of zero personal involvement with your employer, or, like, you are okay with burning out, or whatever. However, Ellis uses his powers of observation for evil. He accidentally-on-purpose leaks footage of Ivy’s initial song test for the Marilyn musical (she was handpicked for that based on having worked with Tom before); steals Julia’s (Debra Messing, as the musical’s writer) script notes to poke through them himself; is generally a big ol’ gossip; and eventually decides he wants upward mobility, calling Tom a “loser” before getting himself hired as the replacement personal assistant to Eileen (Anjelica Huston), the show’s producer. He continues to ply his way to the top, trading in overheard secrets and tossing people aside when they’re no longer of use to him, but Eileen’s a good fit for him in that she won’t take his bullshit lightly (or at all) and he’s still involved with the musical.
All of which is fine, particularly in a personal assistant/secretarial sort of position, if Ellis wasn’t treated as the obnoxious, tattling, catty-femme straight guy of the cast– or, actually, the catty-femme lipstick-bisexual, since we’ve seen Ellis has a girlfriend, but he definitely slept with the assistant of a “name” actress he was trying to help land for Bombshell to make the musical more lucrative and attractive to investors. As with Tom, Ellis tries to demand public recognition for his work from Eileen (Ellis floated the idea for a Marilyn musica to Tom and Julia first and wanted writing credit), who cuts him down to size; doing your job well doesn’t grant you the title, fame, and fortune of the people who you report to, as unfair as that may be. Still, Ellis is not portrayed well, even as he tries to fix mistakes he’s made (through the wacky mishaps of cell-phone call-waiting, Ellis tells Duvall’s assistant he thinks of him as a “loser” as well, and that assistant, in turn, calls Ellis out as a user; later, since they still work together, and above everything else, Ellis actually does his fucking job on Smash, he passes along information that jeopardizes Duvall’s position in the musical to her assistant) or is genuinely nice to people (he takes Eileen to his favorite bar, where she meets her own love interest, Nick, played by Thorsten Kaye; and he helps Ivy prank/sabotage Karen, which is at least partly self-serving because of the professional threat Karen poses to Duvall, but is still pretty petty of him). Above all, he’s always going to be Ellis, the Social Climbing Guy and Gossipy Bitch. I’m just still like, “Why does this show need a corrupt lightskinned femme, again?” Particularly since, as it’s show business, there’s more than enough gossips going around, goddamn. But it’s whatever; Ellis still has more screentime and character development so far than JJ Abrams has given us in four seasons of Fringe for Astrid, and he’s not the only recurrent PoC in-cast, so I remain dedicated to team Upward Mobility.
Eileen, Ellis’s new boss, is working as producer; but she’s doing it for the first time on her own, thanks to her upcoming divorce proceedings with her husband and former co-producer, played by Micheal Cristofer, who is busy squirreling away all the money the two of them earned together, attempting to “take” all of the pair’s professional contacts, and trying to force Eileen into staying married by generally making things inconvenient for her, even though they broke up because she caught him cheating. All while being about as much of an asshole as you’d expect from the role, so a lot of an asshole. Eileen is trying to hold everything together, selling expensive things she owns and that her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jerry technically is the sole owner of (is NY a community property state?), cutting back spending, wearing cheap jewelry, moving into a smaller and cheaper apartment, and kissing ass to potential investors for the musical that her ex hasn’t scared off of dealing with her. Despite all her years of experience, Eileen is very green when it comes to some of the things her husband used to deal with, and is outside her comfort zone financially as well as socially, since she’s getting a divorce, and Jerry is getting all their friends. Still, even though she’s very much learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end, so to speak, and her ex keeps, apparently, stalking her in order to show up to social functions and restaurants she’s going to without him for the sole purpose of “reminding” Eileen she can’t make it on her own, she’s a fast learner.
This includes her romance with the bartender at Ellis’s regular drinking spot (Ellis teaches Eileen how to play Duck Hunter on the arcade games there! ), and Nick and Eileen are so cute to watch it is positively nauseating. He helps her find an investor for Bombshell when the networks she’s used to going to fall through; he’s nice to her, and when she sadly notes that she’s not used to being complimented, and she’s nervous about starting a new relationship after so many years in an abusive one, and Nick is so unlike Jerry, my crispety crackly old heart grew three sizes for Eileen. They go out together, and when Eileen’s ex inevitably shows up to hiss that she’s getting old to be dating the pool boy, she just walks away, arm in arm with Nick, and they go home to have sex. Ha-HA! So there!! Also, older people still have sex, too, hooray! Still, I foresee more problems with the production of Bombshell, because the course of true love (and money) never did run smooth, but I’m not sure if the writers are going to go with “imminent collapse” regarding Eileen, or continue the upbeat feel-good storyline they started, seeing as she really doesn’t know what she’s doing in her job on the money side. She has put the fate of the musical, and her solo career, in the hands of a man who she knows/suspects to have been a criminal in his past– even though he’s a really nice ex-criminal!– and his (rich) drunken rockstar friend. I can’t condone “winging it” as a business plan with millions of dollars on the line, I simply cannot, even if the characters involved are super adorable.
However, may I share this with you? I adore Eileen, but Eileen’s daughter, played by Grace Gummer, is written as one of those young White activists who globetrots and helps all the brown people in need the world over through her sheer dedication and altruism. Other people literally call her “Mahatma” Katie. In her one-episode appearance, she drops wisdom to her divorcing parents about, like, being nice to each other, and to her mother about being nice to Tom and Julia, and then decorates her mother’s bare-bones apartment with the fancy imported artwork and tapestries and furniture she’s gathered in her travels. Needless to say, I despise her, and whoever thought of her can suck the dick I don’t even have. I thought Smash would have maxed out on oh-so-charitable White folks helping out the Poor Brown Unfortunates with wisdom and grace after the bit where Julia, who’s pursuing internationally adopting a Chinese baby (a girl, of course, because will NO ONE THINK OF THE CHINESE BABY GIRLS), as is the trend, has to read a letter she wrote to the mother of the daughter that hasn’t been born yet in a group meeting of some kind, including an emphasis on how she’s such a great White Mama that she’ll want her new baby to “keep in touch with her culture.” How… nice. Alas, I was proven wrong.
Tom, Ellis’s old boss, is your stereotypical Gay Man who Won’t Settle Down, because I don’t know. He just won’t. Man, he’s a free spirit, or whatever! He likes his relationships to start out with sex, stay casual, and end quickly. He is not demonized for it, which I’d… appreciate? more if it wasn’t still an entirely fucked-up trope that this is presented both as a stock character formula and that it is a character flaw. What the shit. Anyway, Tom has recently started dating one of Ivy’s friends, Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr.), who dances in the chorus (everyone in the chorus is Ivy’s friend, partly because Tom seemed to choose from a pool of people he’d worked with before, but partly also because, like I said, Ivy’s got history in her rather insular industry, so even if she didn’t know the other performers before, she is at most six degrees of separation from everyone else, professionally, personally, and through shared experiences. And yet, Karen is still somehow her competition. Here is a coat rack to hang up your disbelief, take off your shoes before coming in to the living room).
But yeah. Sam is Black! And butch! And gay! And totally hot for Tom, who’s hot for him back (to the detriment of his last relationship; but it wasn’t going anywherere, because the guy was Republican?). But Sam’s role is to be the serious-minded homosexual, who is all about sexuality as spiritual, and wanting to take relationships slow, and introduces Tom to his parents, and maybe if Tom didn’t jump right into sex and then look for reasons to break up with people he wouldn’t still be alone, at his age.
FREEZE: while Tom does seem to be highly immature in a lot of ways, including Sam calling him, as well as himself, out for constantly infantilizing Ivy, and that kind of self-sabotaging behavior for imploding relationships may very well be a bad habit of Tom’s– I’m a firm believer that if people want to settle down, they’ll be settled the fuck down, and if people want to play the field, they will play the fucking field. Tom might not necessarily know the skills for maintaining a long-term relationship, but he also might know them and just be choosing not to apply them, because “settling down” isn’t his endgame. And, hey, if he’s really just that focused on other aspects of his life and other friendships that he’s unconsciously looking for reasons to not add a romantic one on top of that, maybe that’s for a reason, too. Idk. I just… I don’t like long-term monogamy presented as the only and most desirable option for happiness in hetero romances, and I don’t think shunting that kind of antiquated social expectation onto queer relationships is as progressive as a lot of people seem to feel it is.
But anyway, that brings the interracial relationship count up to two, if you count Ellis and Rebecca Duvall’s Assistant Guy as a relationship based on an implied one-night-stand and a continued acknowledgement of each other in the office?
Recurrent PoCs also include, however, Dev, who is not my favorite at the moment, despite making up the other half of interracial relationship number three! At first he was, though. At first he totally was so my favorite. Dev was gunning for the position as a press secretary for some politician or other in NYC (it’s hard to pay attention to the details since Karen totally doesn’t) while Karen was working towards Marilyn, and both of them were living the dream for a minute, until things worked out for Karen as Duvall’s understudy when she was pulled in for the lead, and didn’t work out for Dev, who was demoted when his competitor got the job they were both after. He didn’t tell Karen about it, and she was upset about that, and he was like, “But you didn’t ask! Are you more upset about me not telling you, or me not getting the job?” (which is DUMB, because, duh, it’s Dev’s job, she’s sorry for you that you didn’t get the job that you wanted, because Karen’s personal investment regarding that starts and ends with Dev, which includes Dev not being forthcoming about his personal stuff with his partner, so that was a really manipulative question, imo). There was also a scene where Karen accidentally reveals she’s being sexually harassed at work, and Dev flips, because he doesn’t want her being harassed in the workplace. Which is sweet, I guess (the social bar for these situations is so low that when Dev doesn’t try and repeatedly insist that Karen quit, that was better than 90% of all the other “harassment of an already-romantically-involved woman” scenes I’ve seen in American media), but then he hauls off and punches the Derek in the face unprovoked, so. (Karen intervened, but Dev and the director already didn’t like each other, because they’re both English but one went to Cambridge and one went to Oxford or something?)
But it’s not only him screwing things up. Dev hears from one of his coworkers about a potential job opportunity in Washington, DC after his demotion; when he tries to broach the subject with Karen, who he’s already been established as potentially wanting to marry, Karen’s first reaction is an already-wound-up, “What about me and my job? What about everything I came to NYC for? I wouldn’t ask you to give up everything.” Instead of, you know, sitting down and discussing both of their professional vs. relationship goals like adults. Dev just responds with, “Ask me, then,” *srs fais*, because he would give up job opportunities (and does, for the DC job, again without telling Karen; which does manifest in a lot of bottled-up resentment, yes) for the relationship he has with his girlfriend, but Karen still doesn’t want to deal with Messy Feelings (that’s Ivy’s forte *snaps*) and practices avoidant behavior.
But because it’s All About Karen, let’s not forget some of the other things that are up with her relationship, namely Meddlesome Rebecca Duvall. After hearing word that Karen is her understudy in Bombshell, but Derek still has a bug up his ass about not being in Karen’s pants, Rebecca wants to make a new best friend, fostering personal loyalty to reduce the chance of Karen rising up against her in the musical. Which is, like… the nicest example of passive-aggression in this show yet. Except that, of course, Smash’s insistence on all women in show business as cripplingly insecure and the use of sexuality as a competitive professional tool (not including Eileen, because GROSS, SHE’S OLD) means Rebecca’s all about deliberately manipulating Karen into feeling insecure about her relationship with Dev.
Since paparazzis keep taking photos of Karen and Rebecca out on the town, hugging and kissing on each other, Dev starts to freak out a little bit, and Karen agrees to a dinner meet-up. They go to a really nice Indian place (BECAUSE DEV IS OF INDIAN DESCENT, GET IT), and Duvall’s all, “Ooh, I have a peanut allergy.” Dev explains peanuts are used in North Indian cooking, but this is more of a Southern place, so it is literally a no-peanut establishment, and Duvall insists her peanut allergy is “real,” not like a fake allergy? And what about curry? That’s… Thai… “What, there’s no such thing as an Indian curry?” Duvall asks, putting on an offensive accent, as Dev just narrows his eyes at her. Then she asks the waiter if there’s anything without peanuts available. He gives Dev a, “BRO, WHAT THE HELL,” look, and I ugly-cackled, because racism isn’t funny, but the facial expressions of incredulous solidarity are. HOWEVER, the awkwardness doesn’t end there, because Karen still won’t throw her support behind either her boyfriend or her coworker as they vie for dominance over Karen herself. Dev wants to know what the fuck is up with Rebecca being nice, because show-business people aren’t nice, they are users, and Rebecca’s just like, “I told you boyfriends can be a problem.” Dev and Rebecca continue to argue, and Karen tunes out, literally, into a Bollywood fantasy sequence, which is as gag-worthy as it sounds.
…Here’s the point where I have to bring up diversity again, too, because… I mean, there’s a lot of White folks up in this piece. I get it. It’s prime-time locally available television, that there are PoC in the show at all would be surprising if it was set in suburbia or somewhere, because TV generally believes brown people all live in the inner-city or something. Whatever. And anything less than at least three non-white characters with lines in a story set in NYC would have been a gross misrepresentation of one of the US’s most diverse cities. But to say, hey, here’s a show about musicals, with a lot of talent from musicals, including Raza Jaffrey, and “How can we use him? HMMMMMM, BOLLYWOOD SCENE,” would have been fucked to begin with; but then it’s also like, “How can we do a Bollywood scene? HMMMMMMMMMMMM, DREAM SEQUENCE. COMPLETELY DETACHED FROM REALITY. SET IN AN INDIAN RESTAURANT,” which makes stupidity like, say, Raj’s equally-unnecessary Bollywood dream sequence from Big Bang Theory seem logical in comparison.
Not to mention– it’s still Katharine McPhee daydreaming about being the heroine in a (WEAKSAUCE, btw) Bollywood-styled musical number, with Dev as the hero. There’s a whole lot of both racist and colorist issues with that (the insertion of White female bodies into brown female roles as a means of “unique” escapist expression and the exoticization and Orientalism at play in that; Whiteness as a standard of beauty in the US and the preference for fair-skinned light-eyed actresses in Bollywood productions; the general mashed-up hot mess that this scene was, as a TV version of a Broadway version of a stereotypical cultural impression of Bollywood and Bollywood parodies), but, really, that would just devolve into me ranting about the leaked news/potential rumor that Benedict Cumberbatch is actually playing Khan in Star Trek XII, and that really has nothing to do with Marilyn Monroe (except that this show isn’t focusing on how she was incredibly supportive of Black performers, either, and that’s also racist by straight-up erasure alone, even though it’s in line even with other non-fiction portrayals of Monroe). Besides which, it would be the second time I’ve cursed JJ Abrams’s name in this article alone, and I don’t know him like that, so I’d like to refrain from the temptation to be totally mean to a stranger without at least establishing why.
…Fuck it, I’ll go there. INTERNAL DERAIL TIME: JJ Abrams is either hella racist and colonialist for casting a White Englishman as a canonically non-White Sikh, physically and mentally “perfected” human being (which is wicked radical), despite Montalbán’s casting in ST:TOS and Wrath of Khan, because Interchangeable Hollywood Brownness is also a White-serving racist thing, OR he’s hella racist for pretending to do a racist thing as a joke to prank nerds, which is a group including people of color (ie, going to someone used to being hit in the fucking face and pulling back your hand like you’re going to slap them, then laughing when they flinch). Fuck JJ Abrams. Cumberbatch better be fucking Gary Mitchell after all this, and even then, we will probably never be okay again. NuTrek can bite my shiny metal ass if this is all it’s going to offer me, and I’ll just take my copy of First Contact and go home.
Back to business, the song, of course, is all about relationships, and not, funnily enough, about avoidance, though I can’t tell you details, because I was busy staring agog at the sight of Katharine McPhee in a sari, like, “Is this really fucking happening?” The focus is mostly on Karen and Dev, which means there’s also a bit with his helpful (FEMALE) (ALSO NON-WHITE) friend and coworker, RJ Quigley (played by Tala Ashe)– who, by the way, tried to help Dev get the promotion he’d wanted and passed along the info about DC to him– as a potential romantic competitor, based on her breasts and brownness. (The scene where RJ’s introduced has Karen be all, “Uh, with a name like RJ Quigley, I was expecting a fat middle-aged White dude,” and RJ’s like, “…Yeah, I’d apologize for being Iranian, but I’m… not… sorry?” and then cracks a joke about long unpronouncable names with Dev that of course excludes Karen. Sick… burn?) That part of the song literally has RJ standing next to a tree with a snake in it. Wut. There’s also a bit with Eileen, which is cute until Ellis shows up to steal something shiny? Wut?? And a thing with Julia’s tangled romantic web, because to be anything but highly dysfunctional in Smash, show business, New York, life, whatever, doesn’t actually make for good TV.
Sadly, RJ was too good to be true; her breasts and her brownness (and hard liquor) prove to be Dev’s undoing, and when she shows up to Dev and Karen’s apartment with sympathy alcohol (Dev is really upset after a falling-out with Karen, so while she won’t take his calls and is in Boston for tech, he’s taking ALL THE SICK DAYS), RJ and Dev make out on the sofa because I guess she’s too hot to handle. He stops, saying, “I can’t do this,” and RJ says, “It feels like you can do this,” which I was very “!!!” over, but Dev immediately has RJ leave, then I guess takes a train or bus up to MA and gets a bouquet of Guilt Roses for Karen at her job. Which he just… shows up at. (She’s done the same thing to him, but it gets worse.) Karen’s all, “Hey, baby! I’ve got, like, five minutes, but here’s my hotel room?” and Dev’s just like, “Will you marry me?” Karen’s just, WHOA, very much in the middle of something right now, we need to have this discussion later, and I can’t think about the prospect of marrying you during tech, MY BRAIN IS OTHERWISE OCCUPIED. Which is fair enough, if they haven’t talked about marriage yet, because that is SERIOUS STUFF, but Dev wants an answer now, or at least to sit in on rehearsal, which Karen vetoes.
After work, Karen goes to her room, which someone has thrown a party in, and then Ivy’s also there, singing and being sad about Rebecca Duvall trying to steal her trifling-ass man, who is down for being stolen. So: awkward. Dev rolls up to the room to max out the awkwardness after Ivy leaves, like, “I GUESS PARTYING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MY PROPOSAL,” and when Karen tries to protest that 1) not her party, she has roommates, duh, and 2) SHE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF WORK BIDNISS, because neither she nor Dev fucking communicate with each other about their priorities, again, Dev cuts her off. And all of his bottled-up resentment explodes about his professional aspirations, which Karen’s overwhelmed by, because it’s all news to her that Dev’s unhappy with his job. Oh, and he made out with RJ, which only proved to Dev in his heart of hearts that he wants to be with Karen! And she’s not eating that line Dev’s trying to feed her. “I can’t think about getting married during tech. Especially to someone who’s cheating on me!” Karen shrugs her bag over her shoulder and marches back to her hotel, because this is a krazie weekend, for reals; except then, Dev wants to drink away his feelings, and so does Ivy! And it’s so dramatic and stuff when he buys her a drink or something, and the previews for tonight’s episode imply they have sex, despite each of them knowing about the existence of the other through Karen, including (I think?) knowing each other’s names. Because they both shady. And sex is a weapon of retaliation. Or something equally horrible, I don’t know. Seriously, if it isn’t implied at some point that Ivy was out to hurt Karen more than Dev was, or that Karen should just go and try to sleep with the director, I will eat my hat. I will buy a hat and eat it.
So, speaking of tangled romantic webs! As much as I’ve gone on about how much of an ass Derek is, including how he seems to have a real hard-on for Actress Vulnerability, he manages to not be the show’s biggest creeper. (He’s kind of one-note for that, tbh.) That would be Michael Swift, played by Will Chase, initially playing Joe DiMaggio in Bombshell’s early production. HE IS SUCH A FUCKING CREEP. Fandom also inexplicably loves him.
See, what had happened was, he and Julia had an affair years ago, but still after she’d gotten married and had her son. Julia, naturally, is against Swift’s casting in her show, but everybody else presses forward with it, and he seems to be doing a great job with the role. However, Swift has interpreted this role as his chance to reunite with Julia, which she’s not interested in– her husband’s been a stay-at-home dad, and now he’s trying to get back into the workforce; she’s going through adoption paperwork for a baby her husband isn’t sure they should try and have; her son’s in high school; there’s a lot on her plate without an ex-lover showing up, even if they had been together under less-strenuous/-unfaithful circumstances. He forces her to interact with him at work, threatening that if she doesn’t, he’ll tell everyone about their past together. He shows up at her home uninvited, staying even when she asks him to go, taking advantage of the fact that her son, who remembers and likes Swift from when he was a little boy, asks him to stay for dinner. He calls her late at night at her house, telling her to show up to their abandoned workplace to meet up with him for sex. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t go for it; Julia is definitely portrayed as a willing participant in the tryst, and both Messing and Chase do a really fantastic job of showing the sexual and romantic tension that remains between their characters, where Julia is very much resisting “forbidden fruit” vs. being entirely coerced into action, but what Swift’s doing is still coercion.
Julia’s fine with this up until she remembers both she and Swift have partners and children, and then she’s sad and breaks it off, having him fired; but not before her son discovers the (second) affair, and the two of them keep it as a really dark secret between them to protect Julia’s husband, until he figures things out on his own anyway, including the first affair. I like that even while Julia’s world crumbles, the only judgment seeming to be passed on her (again, in-show, because I really don’t need to hear mainstream fandom’s opinion on a female character’s fidelity, for real) is that she’s not showing up to work and Swift made a better Joe DiMaggio than anyone they could find to replace him. So when Eileen and Derek and Tom all decide to pull Swift back into the show, Julia rightly accuses Tom of throwing her under the bus for the musical, and says if Michael Swift comes back, she quits, because she chooses her family over her career.
And while that’s still a very typically conservative sort of judgment call, Julia made it, and I was really glad about it– for the five minutes it stuck. Swift is still back in Bombshell, apparently, based on previews, having “[come] back” for Julia; but Julia’s husband and son literally pack her bags for her, saying that, it being spring break and all, they can come with her to Boston, so she doesn’t have to choose between her home life and her professional life. And Julia’s teary-eyed and grateful, but the problem wasn’t her husband and son not being there when she made some fucked-up decisions (which she acknowledges and takes full responsibility for, including longer-term consequences, which was awesome). The problem was Julia making fucked-up decisions, and making fucked-up decisions in the presence of someone she was attracted to who was sexually harassing her at the same time. (Btw: Julia’s husband punched Swift in the face as well; I’m wondering if this is a theme Smash is working with?) And either way, her family making that decision for her takes Julia’s agency out of the picture in a professional situation she’s voiced her discomfort with. Bombshell is not the make-or-break for Julia’s already-successful career, and if she makes a job decision for herself, based on her family, that decision does not automatically become her family’s to make.
The whole thing is just ricockulous. Ricockulousness over easy, even without the weirdly random Youngest Singing Jonas Brother appearance (I don’t know their names, I only know that Joe is the one with the eyebrows that weirds out one of my sisters, and that the one younger than the one who was on Smash was in “Ponyo,” okay? GOSH). Smash because is really only fun if I’m not going to be watching with my critical brain on, if I can filter out all the story content I don’t like for processing later, if at all. That’s not quality programming, even if it is entertaining for an hour at a time; and lately, it’s become more draining than it may be worth. I’m still going to watch, for Anjelica Huston related reasons, but I won’t be reviewing Smash beyond this anytime soon.