Smash Review: Houston, This is a Problem

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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
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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+.


HATE, HATE Hate the affair, it ads nothing to the story line and is a total waste of time. Need to focus more on Karen's performances, which are always great, especially when she was with her chorus friends. THAT is why we watch, not for the petty sidebars they spend way too much time on. ellis is a waste of time, so is tom's love life and julia's actions are just stupid. why do we care about any of them especially how cruel Ivy is to karen. only one you like in whole show is karen, writers need to FOCUS or show will not make it.


Loved the "showcase" presentation to potential backers. Anyone who has experienced any sort of Musical Theater or Theater knows who stressful it can be.
I was broken hearted for Julia's son..............I hope she doesn't have any more children! She doesn't deserve a family.

Sarah silva

I thought this was a good episode. However I am getting so sick of Ivy. She whines that Derek treats her bad and now that her mom does too but yet Ivy treats Karen like crap. Ivy is one of those people that can not take it when she feels someone is being mean but yet she is worse than any body in the way that she treats Karen.
I really hope Ivy looses the lead.
Julia made a huge mistake in agreeing with Tom that Michael should be fired. I think that will be the start of the end of the musical. He was fantastic in that role. Tom is starting to annoy me because he is not much better than Ivy, he will fight to keep her as Marilyn when in reality she should not have the role and then he wanted Michael fired because he was sleeping with Julia. Julia is a big girl and should have handled the situation better.
I see the dilemma that Karen had, she wanted to stay for the workshop as if they every needed a new Marilyn she knew if she left the workshop she would blow her chance, but on the other hand it dose not look like they will every replace Ivy so if Karen met the record exec she could be on her way to a music career....


@Ed seriously? You can't tell the difference between the power and depth of Florence's voice and then katherine McPhee's? There is no emotion in her voice at all. She could be singing any song. Like the AV Club review said- she can't even whoo convincingly. She is not good enough for an entire room to stand up and take notice, or a record guy say 'i love you'. She just sounds like a girl with a nice voice.


For me, the biggest waste of the show is casting the hyper-talented musical theatre performer Brian d'Arcy James as Julia's dorky chemistry teacher husband. I seriously hope we get to see him sing, but I dread the dream/fantasy sequence that will necessarily provoke it.


Yes, Ellis is REALLY annoying........ What I don't get is everyone harping on Julia's affair.......It's not like this hasn't been done on TV before.........Good lord think back to the 80's with Dallas and Dynasty............ No, I don't condone having affairs.......but it's a fact of life they happen.......AND in just the way it is being portrayed on the show......... You have the remote right there beside you........if you don't like it change the channel.............


I LOVE smash! so good! the only thing that annoys me is Ellis. can a bus hit him or something?


The affair between Julia and Micheal didn't bother me. I don't think it hurt the story line either. The heartfelt reaction from her son, at the end was very moving and drove the point home that Julia realized the affair was a no no.


I TOTALLY agree. This plot line is stupid and we as viewers deserve better. It's an insult to our intelligence. They need to fire the writers of this show if they cannot come up with a better story line than this affair. I don't want to watch a soap opera. It really disgusted me last week to see this. I love Debra Messing. And I want to love her character also. She is the main reason I started watching this show.


I am glad to see I am not the only one that has stopped watching this waste of an hour. Do you think it will be cancelled soon?

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Smash Season 1 Episode 7 Quotes

Tom: I think the real problem is Michael Swift.
Julia: Yes, I think he should go.

Your day will come because there is no question you're a star.

Leigh [ to Ivy]