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She'll do all she can
For the love of one man
And for millions who look from afar!
I'm what you’ve been needing
It's all here and my heart’s pleading
Let me be your star!
When duo songwriters Julia Houston (Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle), director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport), and producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) put on a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, small town girl Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) and veteran actress Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) audition for the star role. But things won't be easy when both women are favored for the role and must compete for it.
This series contains examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Nick Jonas guest stars as Lyle West, an actor who started out on broadway. Nick himself got his start in Les Misérables.
- Played with in the case of Grace Gummer, who plays Eileen's daughter Katie -a humanitarian who spends most of her time helping out in remote, foreign locations. Her older sister Mamie Gummer stared in a show with a similar premise of helping out in remote locations, only as a doctor.
- Debra Messing playing a woman living in New York whose best friend is a gay man
- Leigh Conroy is basically a flanderized Bernadette Peters.
- Alpha Bitch: Ivy behaves like this towards Karen by being rude to her or passive agressively trying to get her thrown out of the workshop. She gets a little better.
- Ascended Fanboy:
- Julia and Ivy are both big fans of Marilyn Monroe so this is a dream project for them
- Michael is a big baseball fan so it is a big deal for him to play Joe DiMaggio
- Back for the Finale: Lyle, Leigh, and Jerry all return after extended absences to attend Bombshell in the season one finale.
- Badass Longcoat: Derek has quite a few. They look rather like those of another famous brit.
- Berserk Button: Don't call Tom's music "boring".
- Billing Displacement: Debra Messing is top billed, but the show's real stars are Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty. Even the poster thinks so (see above).
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Ivy (Blonde), Karen and Eileen (Brunette), Julia (redhead)
- Bollywood: The musical number "A Thousand and One Nights."
- Broken Pedestal: Leo is a big friend and fan of Michael Swift until he finds out that he's having an affair with his mom Julia.
- Katie feels this way about her father Jerry, no longer expecting him to be a decent person.
- California Doubling: Mostly averted as the series is both set and filmed in New York (and boy, do they make sure we know it). But Karen's home state of Iowa (as seen in "Enter Mr. DiMaggio") is played by the Big Apple suburb of Nyack.
- The Boston scenes in the last few episodes of season 1 were filmed in Staten Island.
- Cast Full of Gay: It would appear every important male in the ensemble is gay.
- The Cast Showoff: Justified because the show is about musicals. However, in "Enter Mr. DiMaggio" Katharine McPhee seems to sing at the karaoke place just because.
- Casting Couch: This is how Derek operates. Karen manages to both reject him and deliver a brilliant audition for the part. At the same time.
- Completely Missing the Point: Rebecca Duval seems to not realize that you need music in a musical. She gets better, though.
- Darker and Edgier: Starting with "The Coup", Derek tries to apply this to Marilyn: The Musical. After butting a few heads such darker elements make it in. It even gets a new name: Bombshell. Ultimately this backfires when the Downer Ending turns to be too depressing for a preview audience.
- Deadpan Snarker: Julia, following the fallout with her husband.
Eileen: What we need is a constructive solution!
Julia: Group suicide?
- Did They or Didn't They?: Ellis and Rebecca Duvall's (male) assistant.
- Driven to Suicide: Ivy in the season 1 finale. Maybe.
- Fan Service: Well, Ivy's playing Marilyn Monroe so it kind of comes with the territory. Also, the cast includes Katharine "McPheever" McPhee and her legs.
- Gay Conservative: John Goodwin
- Gilligan Cut:
Derek: For me to audition, Marilyn herself would have to pop out of that envelope and do me right here.
(Cut to Derek directing a musical number.)
Derek: Five, six, seven, eight...
- Handsome Lech: Derek.
- Hard Work Hardly Works: Averted. Ivy is more experienced and skilled than Karen, and gets the part because of it. Though the Casting Couch might have played into it as well...
- And later played straight when Ivy loses the role to Karen in the season finale, despite knowing the part better. When various characters confront Derek with the fact that Ivy is better prepared, he rebukes them by saying that while Karen is green, she just has something that Ivy lacks.
- Hollywood Pudgy: Invoked with Karen, but handwaved with Ivy (the actress playing Ivy is of a healthy weight for any reasonable person, yet no one discusses how she's bigger than the rest of the chorus girls).
Karen: Why do I have to be sexy all the time? I wish I was fat. Plus, I'm hungry. I'm gonna start eating more.
- "I Want" Song: This series looks like it will be FULL of them. It already has "Let Me Be Your Star", the title of which speaks for itself.
- Jerkass: Derek.
Tom: HE IS A TERRIBLE HUMAN BEING!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: YMMV, but Derek's "jerk" behavior is just managing show business. When he's speaking to Ivy as a human being (as opposed to a director), he's fairly tenderhearted and supportive.
- Ellis, what with his constant squabbling with Julia and poisoning Rebecca Duval in an attempt to put Ivy in the role of Marilyn.
- Jewish Complaining
Tom: Jews don't sing and pray. They complain. And eat.
- Love Dodecahedron: Karen is with Dev who slept with Ivy, who is dating Derek who is also involved with Rebecca.
- Mean Brit: Derek, Derek, Derek.
- Naive Newcomer: Both Karen and Ivy have elements of this. Karen is introduced as a small town girl from Iowa trying to make it big in New York but is realistic about how show business operates. In contrast Ivy is a ten year Broadway veteran but still has a lot of naivety about things like the Casting Couch. The other characters lampshade the fact that this makes them a great fit to play the part of Marilyn Monroe.
- Platonic Life Partners: Tom and Julia. Observe the automatic, synchronised leg-crossing in their first scene.
- Professional Butt-Kisser: Ellis towards Tom, Derek, and Eileen.
- Reality Subtext: Happens in-universe several times.
- Ivy, like Marilyn Monroe, is an up and coming actress who wants to be a star, and she also has problems with prescription drugs and her mother.
- Also happens when Michael and Julia are doing a run through of the scene before "Lexington and 52nd" when Michael goes off script. They improv the next few lines, and thus the dialogue that makes it into the play seems to apply exactly to their situation.
- Julia is consoling Frank who is afraid he can't trust her after her affair with Michael, even if he wants to by telling him that "the good is bigger than the bad". This give shed the inspiration she needs to complete the lyrics to the final song.
- Running Gag: For a time, when Eileen's soon-to-be ex-husband Jerry approaches her in a restaurant she throws her drink in his face. Lampshaded when they have a dinner together and he orders her a Manhattan ahead of the conversation so she has something to throw.
- Scapegoat: When the workshop presentation fails to attract investors, Tom blames Michael for the failure and Julia and Eileen agree with him. The real reason Tom singled out Michael is because he wants to stop Michael's affair with Julia.
- Show Within a Show: Marilyn: The Musical, later renamed Bombshell.
- Special Guest: Nick Jonas as Lyle West in "The Cost of Art".
- So Bad It's Good: Invoked in-universe. One of the plays Tom, Sam, and John go to see.
John: Shouldn't we go in? It's supposed to start soon.
Tom: Meh, I heard its a train wreck.
John: Then why are we seeing it?
Tom and Sam: Because it's a train wreck!
- Straight Gay: Sam. He doesn't want to have to wear a label, but his massive love for sports and lack of any mannerisms make Michael comment that, if he wants to get a date with anybody, he might literally have to.
- Take That: Dig Deep. Tom and Julia add the song after Rebecca Duvall suggests a scene with Marylin in the Actors' Studio. She's also been complaining that there are too many songs as opposed to scenes. Guess what the song's about? A whole awesome sounding number, that lampoons Lee Strasberg, method acting, Stanislavski and the entire naturalistic school of acting. Funny that Rebecca didn't pick up on that.
- Technician Versus Performer: Ivy vs. Karen, respectively. Ivy comes out on top.
- Title Drop: The song "Smash!"
- Vocal Range Exceeded: Rebecca when she first shows up. However she does convince Tom to lower the key, and also hires a vocal coach, so at least she's aware of her limits.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Katie has a moment of this with both parents in episode 8 - Her father Jerry's comes via confronting him of the underhanded ways he hid money from Eileen when she needs it most and she has another later in the episode with her mother Eileen after realizing the showcase she experienced was done in without Julia and Tom's prior knowledge and sees their angered/hurt expressions, begging her mother not to stoop to her father's level. Unlike with Jerry, it works almost immediately with Eileen.
- Your Cheating Heart:
- Eileen's husband liked to sleep around with blondes until Eileen had enough and filed for divorce.
- Julia cheated on her husband Frank with Michael at some point before the series began and they sleep together in episode 6. To complicate things since their last affair, Michael is now married with a kid too
- In episode 7, Julia breaks it off with Michael. In episode 9, Frank finds out about the affair and leaves Julia, but they later get back together. In the season one finale, Michael tells Julia that he told his wife, resulting in her(the wife) leaving him
- Derek on Ivy, with Rebecca.
- Dev and Ivy.
- Yo Yo Plot Point: Who will play Marilyn. First Ivy, then Karen, then Ivy again, then Karen, then Rebecca, finally Karen.
The Show Within a Show Marilyn: The Musical (later titled Bombshell) contains examples of:
- All Musicals Are Adaptations
- Bittersweet Ending: Marilyn dies alone and sad, but the good in her life outweighed the bad and she will be remembered forever as a star.
- It Will Never Catch On: In one of Zanuck's lyrics in "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking" he comments "that television just won't last".
- "I Want" Song: Tons.
- "Let Me Be Your Star", which speaks for itself.
- "Mr and Mrs Smith" is all about how Monroe and Dimaggio want a normal life away from publicists and TV Cameras.
- "Smash!", about all the young women just like Marilyn who are willing to do anything for fame.
- Lady in Red: Marilyn in "The National Pastime" and "Let's Be Bad".
- Shirtless Scene: "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking" takes place entirely in a steam room filled with towel-clad executives.
- Title: the Adaptation: Marilyn: The Musical. They change it after the workshop though, to Bombshell.
- Yes Men: An entire steam room full of them.