NBC’s Smash continues to please as “Let’s Be Bad” highlights the many creative tensions, pressures and insecurities that exist in the lives of creative people. These tensions extend to the personal relationships outside of the rehearsal room, and cause havoc when creative abilities are need most.
Julia’s (Debra Messing) son Leo (Emory Cohen) almost gets arrested for loitering around Central Park with intentions to smoke pot with a friend. Her recent absences from the home – related to both work and innocent rendezvous with her former adulterous flame – are implicit in the behavioural problems of her son. The issue is narratively convenient to be a wake up call for Julia, rather than exploring parent/adolescent dynamics. Palpable chemistry does still exist between Julia and Michael (Will Chase), mainly thanks to the work of Messing and Chase.
Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia’s stories dominate the episode, along with the tensions that lie between Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee). Anjelica Huston makes a brief appearance as Eileen, once again proving her comic skills while frustrated over new fangled technology.
Back in the rehearsal room, director Derek (Jack Davenport) takes every opportunity to exert his monster work ethic by humiliating both Karen and Ivy. Using Karen as a benchmark from performing the Marilyn trill, the complex tensions are reignited between the star and the chorus girl. Hilty appropriately steps up the bitchiness to playful but believable level. Her perennial chorus-girl status has created a competitive nature and she is very territorial. Thankfully this is both narratively necessary and entertaining on as a viewer. McPhee channels the somewhat incongruous portion of the infamous Marilyn spirit, embodying independent astuteness through exploitative sexuality.
The process of Marilyn, like Smash, begins with mortar and pestle, slowing building the foundations, and adding further layers as each episode progresses. Until now, we’ve only seen fragmented songs with the occasional full length performance. Not only does episode five deliver a staged performance, but we also get preamble dialogue. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s song “Let’s Be Bad” has the confidence of a showstopper and radiates energy, excitement and pizzazz through its belting melody. Jamie Babbit (writer/director of But I’m a Cheerleader) does a fine job directing the scene, with special credit owing to Josh Bergasse for his outstanding choreography.
Smash slowly teases the audience with panache, gradually developing its narrative tensions and steadily revealing more Broadway belting musical numbers.