For the love of one man
And for millions who look from afar!
I'm what youve 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.
The second season switches direction by having half of Bombshell's production team defect for off-Broadway, where they launch a competing musical titled Hit List.
This series contains examples of:
- All Gays Are Promiscuous: Subverted. In the pilot, it seems like they might go that route with Tom, but he turns out to be more of a serial monogamist.
- All Gays Love Theatre: The show does nothing to dispel the trope.
- All There in the Manual: Of a kind. Though plenty about the plot of Hit List was given throughout the second season, the media website Vulture published a complete synopsis of the show (complete with song list) after the season finale aired.
- And Starring: Anjelica Huston (see also Billing Displacement).
- 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.
- In the series finale, Michael pops up in the final where-they're-all-headed montage.
- Badass Longcoat: Derek likes to stalk around wearing one on occasion.
- 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.
- Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Jimmy and Karen
- Bury Your Gays: And how. Kyle, oh Kyle, we hardly knew you.
- The Cameo:
- Lin-Manuel Miranda in one episode.
- Tom bumps into Harvey Fierstein on the street, as one does.
- Liza Minelli sings a birthday song to Ivy.
- If you're a person who knows their Broadway stars, there's plenty of these to keep you entertained, including (but not limited to): Norbert Leo Butz, Marc Kudisch, Analeigh Ashford, and Seth Rudetsky.
- 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.
- For the most part, it's a Deconstructed Trope: Ivy sleeps with Derek and spends a lot of Season 1 subsequently worried that it's the sole reason she got the part of Marilyn over Karen - and several of the ensemble members make it no secret that they believe this to be the case. In Season 2, Derek is accused of sexual harassment by multiple women and is told in no uncertain terms that, while to him this trope appears to actually be unintentionally invoked, every actress he hits on knows this trope is in full play and it all depends on who's willing to use it to their advantage.
- Character Celebrity Endorsement: Ivy films a commercial for Ford. Which was a sponsor of Smash.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Veronica Moore, a broadway star, is introduced in the second season and inexplicably disappears after the fourth episode.
- 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.
- In Season 2, "Hit List" is this compared to "Bombshell."
- Dawson Casting: In-universe, when Rebecca Duvall comes on board - it's noted that she's several years older than Marilyn Monroe was when she committed suicide (as is Uma Thurman, who plays Rebecca).Sam: Yeah, um, isn't she a little old to be playing Marilyn?
Julia: No, she's perfect.
Sam: Yeah but wasn't Marilyn, like, 36 when she died?
Tom: Yes, and Rebecca is 36 ish.
Sam: Ish being the operative word.
- Did They or Didn't They?: Ellis and Rebecca Duvall's (male) assistant.
- Diegetic Musical: An odd case in that it features characters performing in in-universe musicals, characters spontaneously bursting into "real-life" choreographed numbers, characters singing in neither context and "mind palace" choreographed numbers.
- Driven to Suicide: Ivy in the season 1 finale. Maybe.
- Downer Ending: In "The Producers", Kyle finally gets angry enough at everything Jimmy's done over the past season to kick him out of his apartment, so he packs up all Jimmy's things at his apartment and drops them off at Jimmy's old house... and gets hit by a car on his way home.
- FaceHeel Turn: Throughout Season 2, Scott is presented as a genuinely good person and Benevolent Boss, offering his theatre to stage Hit List and, despite having an early (and not entirely unwarranted) argument with Julia, he gets on well with pretty much everyone he interacts with - even to the point of acting as a mediator between Derek and Jimmy several times. That all goes out the window after Kyle's death when he is suddenly apparently fine with exploiting the tragedy hours after it happened purely for the sake of ticket sales.
- FaceHeel Revolving Door: Derek is pretty much the king of this. In Season 2, Jimmy joins him. They both end up on the "face" side by the end.
- Fanservice: Both Megan Hilty and Katharine "McPheever" McPhee supply plenty of this even when not playing Marilyn Monroe (where it kind of comes with the territory).
- Fictional Counterpart: Ellis posts a video of Ivy singing Tom and Julia's demo of "Never Give All The Heart" to "YouLenz."
- Food Slap: Eileen throwing her Manhattan in Jerry's face becomes a Running Gag. Now she does it in the second season title sequence.
- 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...
- 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.
- And again in Season 2, when Karen is being directed by Tom and just doesn't seem to get what he wants no matter how hard she works.
- At the end of the zig-zag, this is finally averted at the end of the second season: While playing Marilyn does take its toll on Ivy, she has lots of success, and wins the Tony Award for Best Actress.
- 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.
- Incompatible Orientation: Kyle's rather blatantly in love with Jimmy. Jimmy, who is not Oblivious to Love knows this, and publicly announces in a fit of anger that nothing would ever happen between them.
- In the series finale, it looks like this may be the case with Tom and Patrick Dillon. Then Tom kisses him.Tom: (smirking) Yeah. That's how all my straight friends kiss me.
- In the series finale, it looks like this may be the case with Tom and Patrick Dillon. Then Tom kisses him.
- "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.
- In-Joke: When Eileen, Derek, Tom, and Julia are discussing which direction to take the show in after the workshop, Eileen mentions that 'Joe Machota from CAA' was there, who represents such stars as "Scarlett Johansson, Michelle Williams, Sutton Foster..." At the third name, Tom says "Stop!" Actor Christian Borle and Sutton Foster were married from 2006 to 2010.
- It's All About Me: With so many egos, it's no surprise this happens a lot, such as Ivy acting like any problem with the show is a personal attack on her.
- Most notable is how Ellis honestly seems to think that if not for his comment on Marilyn Monroe back in the pilot, the musical would not exist and insists on being made a producer, oblivious to his utter lack of experience.
- Jewish ComplainingTom: Jews don't sing and pray. They complain. And eat.
- Lets Wait Awhile: Sam says this to Tom after the composer tries to make a move on Sam on their first date. Tom is leery, but tentatively agrees to go along with it.
- Let's Duet: 1x13 opens with a montage of the main characters packing up and traveling to Boston for their out of town previews. During the montage, we see Tom and Sam at Tom's apartment around his piano, playing around and singing 'Another Opnin', Another Show' which eventually becomes the music for the montage.
- Lighter and Softer: The direction Eileen's ex-husband demands Bombshell must take when he temporarily gains control of it. He believes that the Darker and Edgier version Julia wrote the script for with a dramaturg's help would be a huge critical success, but not a money-maker. Eileen, somewhat surprisingly, backs her ex's decision. Julia and Derek both get angry (Derek always wanted a Darker and Edgier version) to the point that Derek quits as director.
- Love Dodecahedron: Karen is with Dev who slept with Ivy, who is dating Derek who is also involved with Rebecca.
- And now in Season 2, they've added Jimmy, Kyle, and (eventually) Blake and Tom to the mix.
- Mood Whiplash: In "The Producers," the episode ends with Kyle getting hit by a bus and dying. Cue the upbeat end credits music.
- Averted in the next episode, after Tom tells Derek and Karen that Kyle died, the opening title lacks it's usually upbeat track.
- Naïve 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.
- Not So Different: Karen and Ivy are both noticeably out of their respective leagues and comfort zones when playing Marilyn - albeit in different ways. They only begin to get along when they admit it.
- Jimmy and Derek have this lampshaded about the two of them several times in Season 2: both are highly temperamental artists who believe that their way is the right way and are incredibly poor at taking any kind of criticism (personal or professional). Several characters even hypothesize that the similarities between them are why they fight so much, and the few Pet the Dog moments that occur between them are usually accompanied by one of them (mostly Derek) admitting they fit this trope.
- One-Scene Wonder: In-universe, Ivy in Liaisons. She has small part in a show that's rapidly coming off the rails, but (on Derek's advice) she goes gloriously OTT in her big solo and instantly becomes the best and most memorable thing about the show for everyone who sees it. It even earns her a Tony nod, despite the show itself ending after just a few runs when the bipolar lead actor stops taking his meds and nearly dies on-stage.
- Opposites Attract: Tom and Sam. It's a Sensitive Guy and Manly Man type thing.
- Platonic Life-Partners: Tom and Julia. Observe the automatic, synchronized leg-crossing in their first scene in the pilot.
- In Season 2, Jimmy and Kyle, despite some unrequited longing at first on Kyle's part.
- Pretty in Mink: Part of the Marilyn costumes include a white fur wrap.
- Put on a Bus: Ellis and Leo, and some other minor characters, for Season 2.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ivy and Karen. Ivy is prone to emotional peaks while Karen is far calmer.
- Retool: Season 2 introduced a second musical and got rid of some of the less popular minor characters from the first season.
- 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 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.
- Serenade Your Lover: In episode 14, The Phenomenon, during Tom's flashback, he sings Billy Joel's 'Vienna' to Kyle to distract him from working on new ideas for Hit List.
- Show Within a Show: Marilyn: The Musical, later renamed Bombshell, as well as Hitlist in Season 2.
- Special Guest: Nick Jonas as Lyle West in "The Cost of Art".
- Grace Gummer as Katie Rand in "The Coup"
- Uma Thurman. This example was particularly noticeable, as she only appeared in the last minute or so of the first episode she was credited for.
- Bernadette Peters as Leigh Conroy, Ivy's mother.
- Season Two is shaping up to have even more of these, including Liza Minelli, Rosie O'Donnell, Jennifer Hudson, Sean Hayes, and Nikki Blonsky.
- So Bad, It's Good:
- Invoked In-Universe. One of the plays Tom and John go to see.John: Shouldn't we go in? It's supposed to start soon.
Tom: Meh, I heard it's a train wreck.
John: Then why are we seeing it?
Tom and Sam: Because it's a train wreck!
- Also Liasons, in the second season. Ivy gets a Tony nomination for her role in it anyway.
- Invoked In-Universe. One of the plays Tom and John go to see.
- Take That!: Dig Deep. Tom and Julia add the song after Rebecca Duvall suggests a scene with Marilyn 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.
- In Season 2, the reviews of the Boston preview say that the songs and cast were good, but the show was undermined by Julia's writing ... a slap at Theresa Rebeck, on whom Julia is based but was no longer involved with the show at that point.
- Technician vs. Performer: Ivy vs. Karen, respectively. Ivy comes out on top.
- Third Line, Some Waiting: There are now three musicals vying for the viewer's attention: Bombshell, Hit List, and Dangerous Liaisons. The last is given a bit less focus than the first two.
- Title Drop: The song "Smash!"
- Triang Relations: Type 4, with Derek being A, Karen B, and Jimmy C.
- Unequal Pairing: Tom and Sam, because Tom is part of the creative staff of Bombshell and Sam is an actor in Bombshell.
- Also, Tom and Kyle have a whirlwind romance during the second half of the season. Kyle is both young and a massive fan of Houston and Levitt, and Tom is down after getting lukewarm reviews for his direction and after fighting with Julia.
- Also Derek and pretty much everyone he's paired up with. He even gets called out on it early in Season 2:Daisy: You don't get it. You're a bigshot director. You're in a position of power from the minute you wake up in the morning, and you don't treat that power with respect. Or did you really think women say yes because they actually like you..?
- 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.
- Waiting for a Break: Karen is working as a waitress at the beginning of the series. Fortunately for her, it happens early enough that she can quit by the second episode.
- 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.
- Yo Yo Plot Point: Who will play Marilyn. First Ivy, then Karen, then Ivy again, then Karen, then Rebecca, finally Karen. And then back to Ivy.
Bombshell (The first Show Within a Show, previously titled Marilyn: The Musical) contains examples of:
- Actor IS the Title Character: The Bombshell poster proudly reads "IVY LYNN is MARILYN MONROE".
- 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.
- Casting Couch: In the song Smash
- Also referenced directly in I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Love to Howl.
- Death Song: The Dark Reprise of "Second Hand White Baby Grand."
- Dumb Blond: Marilyn notes herself how she is type cast as one "Here she is boys, Marilyn Monroe in the flesh. All ready to film another ''thrilling'' movie about a dumb blond."
- Ghost Song: The finale, "Don't Forget Me."
- Grief Song: Di Maggio's Dark Reprise of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."
- 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 Di Maggio 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.
- Location Song: "On Lexington & 52nd Street," named for the intersection where Marilyn's infamous subway-grate scene for The Seven Year Itch was shot.
- Ode to Family: "Second Hand White Baby Grand," which is about Marilyn's only fond memory of her mother.
- Parental Love Song: "Hang the Moon," in which Marilyn imagines her mother saying all the loving things she never said in real life.
- Patter Song: "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking"
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Let's Be Bad," in which Marilyn, who has taken a copious quantity of pills, can barely see straight through an in-universe musical number shoot.
- Sexophone: In "History is Made at Night"
- 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 to Bombshell.
Hit List (the second Show Within a Show) provides examples of:
- Downer Ending: Amanda is dead, the Diva has suffered a complete nervous breakdown (and will probably at the very least be arrested for murder) and Jesse is left devastated by the death of his girlfriend.
- Evil Diva: The Diva, who kills Amanda in a Flash Forward at the beginning.
- How We Got Here: The show starts with the Diva shooting someone at a concert - the rest of the show is a flashback showing the sequence of events that led to it.
- "I Want" Song: "Rewrite This Story" is all about Jesse and Amanda's desire to...rewrite their destinies.
- Love Makes You Stupid: There is absolutely no reason for Jesse to keep supplying Amanda with music and allow himself to be exploited after she's already stolen his songs once...except for the fact that he's in love with her.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: In-Universe: Written by Jimmy and Kyle, it follows a young struggling songwriter and recovering drug addict coming from a hard life, falling in love, and accompanied by his best friend and roommate. Sound familiar?
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Haddonfield, 15 Years Later" (in the defictionalised concert version of the show), which is sung by the Diva after she returns home to find no one remembers or recognises her.
- Shout-Out/Take That!: The song "Original", which is directed at Lady Gaga. Ana, who originally played the Diva before Daisy took the role, even resembles Gaga a bit.
- Villain Song: "I'm Not Sorry" is arguably one for both Amanda and the Diva.
- Though it was never performed in the series, JB also got one in the defictionalised concert version of the show called "The Guide To Success", which he sung to Jesse to convince him to keep writing songs for Amanda.
- Waiting for a Break: Both Amanda and Jesse before they meet each other, as expressed in "Rewrite This Story".
- Yes-Man: JB (Sam's character) is constantly surrounded with these.
Karen: Where are we going?
Ivy: The show's over!