Smash Review: Houston, This is a Problem

by at . Comments

If "The Workshop" had merely been based around the workshop, I'd have given this episode of Smash a sterling grade.

Would there have been enough material to set an entire hour around this run-through of Marilyn: The Musical? I don't see why not. We already know Ivy and Karen pretty well, both were given obstacles to overcome (the presence of her mother and the possibility of a career-altering recording session, respectively) and this could have been an opportunity to flesh out other members of the ensemble a lot more. I'd have been happy if we never left the studio.

Instead, Smash used the Marilyn workshop to focus on its weakest storyline by a wide, wide margin: Julia's deplorable affair with Michael.

Ivy in the Workshop

If you're gonna place a main character into an affair, you need to first show us many sides to her. You need to depict some problems in her marriage. You need to pretend like she actually regrets her previous affair, not that she's making eyes at the man she slept with the very instant he walks back in to her life.

Smash mishandled this arc in every way possible. Aside from thrusting Julia and Michael together again, as if their dalliance had never really ceased, the execution was just sloppy.

They're making out in a room down the hall? He's leaning in to kiss her hello at the staff water cooler? Really?!?

I want to be completely in to this musical - seriously, I'm excited to let Ivy be my star - but it's a problem when the episode supposedly based around the most pressing question surrounding the production - what will investors think of the workshop? - starts and ends instead with what amounts to nothing more than a despicable affair between two leads.

All we know about Julia right now is that she's cheated twice on her husband and she's about sabotage her own play as a result by firing Michael. Debra Messing is great in the role, but the series has painted her character as utterly unlikable. As you can tell, it's all I come away thinking about following the most recent episodes.

I did like almost everything else about "The Workshop," although I think Karen is insane to choose this run-through over an audition for the Tommy Mottola of the Smash world. Do people really fall that in love with theater over a career as an actual singer? I say that as someone who loves Broadway and who understands it's a world unto itself. But Karen is choosing the ardurous road of ascending from chorus to star instead of possibly jumping straight to the latter in the recording industry. I'm with her castmates on this one.

Peters, moreover, was tremendous in her role of Ivy's mother. The character may have been painted a bit thin and a bit broad - it's one thing to not be supportive, it's another to be as naively mean as she came across in that scene while watching Marilyn Monroe in action - but Peters killed in contrasting ways: belting out a number to open the episode and then not saying a word when Ivy shone during the workshop.

And she did shine, didn't she?

I understand there has to be tension on the show, and what better way to elicit tension than to challenge the leading lady's status (with Uma Thurman)? But Ivy slipped on the couch once and mistimed one dance move from what we witnessed.

Are those tiny mistakes really the sort of mishaps that would lead to such scathing reviews? To cause investors to keep their wallets closed? I honestly don't know the answer, but it would seem like a talented cast, catchy songs and a winning script - along with the fact that Derek, Tom and Julia are meant to be heavily respected in the theater world, right? - would be the main points of focus in a workshop.

From what we saw of the workshop, it went very well. If the show wants us to believe the production is danger, I wish it would have made it look that way.

And if the show wants me to stick around, it really needs to redeem Julia Houston. I don't need her to be all black and white, but I'd prefer her to not be a self-involved, narcissistic awful mother and wife, either.


Editor Rating: 3.3 / 5.0
  • 3.3 / 5.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
User Rating:

Rating: 3.6 / 5.0 (94 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

Tags: ,
Like Us On Facebook

Want more Smash?

Sign up for our daily newsletter and receive the latest tv news delivered to your inbox for free!

More From TV Fanatic


The Bridge Review: Going After the Beast

On tonight's The Bridge, Marco is made an offer that he initially refuses. Will he agree to go after Fausto?

Extant Review: Captured

Things go from bad to worse for Molly on Extant as she tries to escape the prying eyes of the ISEA but chooses the worst place for safety. Read on for a full review.

Graceland Review: Entanglements

Mike is on a war path on Graceland... but is he headed in the right direction? Read our review of "Los Malos" now to find out!

Suits Review: Truth Hurts

On Suits, Rachel tells Mike about the kiss. Where did it go from there? Find out now!


Yeah, I don't get what they thought was wrong with Ivy! She was PERFECT!! I also liked getting to know Ivy's mom, the root of her insecurities. Karen on the other hand I used to like, but now I just find her unnecessary and annoying. About the affair, I agree, they should have shown problems with her marriage, but in life it does sometimes happen this way..I just hate that she couldn't control herself and is firing him because of this! He's amazing as Joe.. I hope this doesn't ruin the show!


Just need to add that Bernadette Peters is AMAZING! She must have a portrait aging in a closet somewhere because a 64-year old woman should not look better than the 30-year-old playing her daughter. DANG! More Mama Rose! Do we get to see Ivy's dad next year?


It's official. SMASH has been renewed for a 2nd season. Don't know if it's a "short" season or a regular 20+ episode one. But, we'll see more of this show in the fall!


Yes, of course there have been affairs as part of the storyline on many TV shows. And I will have no problem with the one on this show, as long as they try to keep it realistic. And that means there being major consequences for Michael and Julia. So far, we have seen Julia lose some respect from her son, but that seems to have past aince she told him she was ending her romantic dalliance with Michael. How noble of her. As for Michael being fired, I doubt he will go peacefully into the night and Julia should know that better than anyone. There should be a major confrontation between those two and it will probably lead to just about everyone knowing for sure they fooled around - including Julia's husband, Frank. But if they let Julia get a free pass after cheating on her husband yet a second time, I will use my TV control and change the channel. Show the wronged spouses finding out - as usually happens in other similiar situations, real and fictional - and let the fur fly. Having to deal with n emotionally distraught son will then be the least of Julia's problems.


Part 3 - People are so polarized about Julia's affair. Isn't that the point? The whole musical is being affected, from the disconnected book down to the decision to fire a well-cast Dimaggio, all because Julia isn't honest with herself. She's weak for giving into temptation, deluded that her work has been the best product, and cowardly for making her lover take the fall. The theatre isn't comprised of saints. Isn't this show about all the bumps in the road, and the miracle of a good production when it comes together? *THE END*


Part 2 - The new song ("Lexington & 52nd"?) was not good; it was overwrought and oversung because the performers were dealing with their own demons, and doing it badly. (Julia's husband's expression at the end was interesting.) The only character trying to make decisions based on a moral center is clearly Karen. You may not like McPhee's performance. But, the character knows who she is and what she values. There are people who love to perform but don't want to be "pop stars." I liked that Karen, who doesn't even have a regular chorus job, is savoring her Broadway experience. She knows that her inexperience is what cost her the lead. So, she is trying to get more under her belt. Being a recording star is superfluous to making it on Broadway in the way her character has trained and dreamed. So, it's natural she wouldn't value the opportunity the same way chorus members, who've been toiling in the same job for years, do. People are so polarized about Julia's affair. Isn't that the point? The whole musical is being affected, from the disconnected book down to the decision to fire a well-cast Dimaggio, all because Julia isn't honest with herself. She's weak for giving into temptation, deluded that her work has been the best product, and cowardly for making her lover take the fall. The theatre isn't comprised of saints. Isn't this show about all the bumps in the road, and the miracle of a good production when it comes together?


This reviewer missed the point about the "Marilyn" workshop. It's not supposed to be Broadway-worthy right now. In fact, it's supposed to be a mess because Julia has been distracted by her rocky personal life and poor judgement. IMO the little slip-ups were more a reference to Ivy being negatively affected by her mom's presence, something a Star would not do. A Star would have used that weakness to nail her performance. The fact that she can even be flummoxed by what Derek said during intermission shows she needs to toughen up. As Tom said, she needs ice water in her veins. Right now, what is running through them is insecurity and drugs. Should she even be acting like a diva at this point, with her friends telling others not to talk within earshot about anything that could make her upset? Don't think so! To be continued above...


This show is really going to be in trouble. Katherine McPhee is starting to get really irritating with her vanilla performances of pop songs and her silent hungering for the top spot. Debra Messing's character has squandered just about all sympathy we had for her, Anjelica Huston just grates... And sure, i feel sorry for Ivy now, but I still don't want to see her do the show. One bright spot: Bernadette Peters' Everything's Coming Up Roses highlighted the performance (no video clip editing) and stayed 'real' in the musical accompaniment - just the trio backing her was heard.


The only thing I can't get on board with is the terrible acting of the teenaged son.


having the forced drama of karen having to choose between a recording audition and the workshop was silly. come on writers do a better job.