“Publicity” marked the return of pilot episode writer Theresa Rebeck and director Michael Mayer, and it was one of the best episodes since the pilot. Of course, much of Smash still doesn’t make sense – Iowa-fresh Karen (Katharine McPhee) remains incredibly fresh, schemer Ellis (Jaime Cepero) maintains an eerie sense of timing, and librettist Julia’s (Debra Messing) family continues an inexplicable shell game of living arrangements (this week her husband was back but her son was gone).
The main development last night was that our diva Rebecca (Uma Thurman) discovers she not only has to contend with three Marilyn shadows in Bombshell but two shadows in real life as well. Thanks to Ellis, Rebecca learns about director Derek’s (Jack Davenport) not-so-secret tête-à-tête with Karen, whom Rebecca sets out to kill with kindness. First stop, an A-list nightclub where Karen sings a Leona Lewis-light version of Snow Patrol’s “Run.” I’m still not a fan of McPhee’s doe-eyed acting, but I appreciated the choice of the song to foreshadow Karen’s problems with boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey).
A few nights later, Rebecca and Dev meet, but the evening quickly devolves into cultural warfare, and we see Kat’s doe eyes glaze over as she conjures the Bollywood fantasy “A Thousand and One Nights,” which is completely ridiculous and thoroughly enjoyable. Jaffrey, who starred in Bombay Dreams, and McPhee sound and look great in this biggest production number the show has done so far. The entire cast is given cameos, even Linda (the under-utilized Ann Harada), but the best moment was Ellis stealing jewels from Eileen (Anjelica Huston). The number also serves to further question Karen and Dev’s relationship (“Is tonight the last or does the future hold a lifetime of delights?”).
It isn’t until the end of the episode that we see Rebecca fully appreciate the challenge from Ivy (Megan Hilty), watching her sing “Secondhand White Baby Grand,” a beautiful Broadway ballad from songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. While historically accurate to Marilyn Monroe’s biography, the song also serves as a perfect personal statement for Ivy (“I still have something beautiful to give.”), and Hilty performs the heck out of it – musically and emotionally.