In the span of less than twelve episodes, NBC’s Smash has made an accidental sensation out of a third-string character who pops up in less than four scenes a week, provides zero plot advancement, and is universally despised.
Forget which lucky actress will ultimately get to play Marilyn Monroe in Bombshell, the show-within-the-show. Forget whether Bombshell itself will ever even make it to Broadway.
Will cheating Debra Messing reconcile with her husband and succeed at bringing a lovely adopted baby into her righted household? Will Anjelica Huston get it on with the hot Irish bartender who may or may not be an outright criminal? Will the judgmental gay composer end up with the hot, gay Republican or the hot, gay, God-fearing chorus boy?
No one can be bothered.
The only thing fans, fair-weather friends, and even haters of Smash really want to know is when the character of Ellis, the creepy, bow-tie wearing, crap-weasel assistant who regularly eavesdrops behind doors, sneaks off with confidential materials, and makes idle threats he’s never able to follow through on, is going to disappear from the show entirely.
Pity and envy actor Jaime Cepero. Everyone else on the show gets to play fun, over-the-top Broadway types that at their cores have a shred of relatability – overlooked chorus girl with pipes of gold, hot-headed British theatre director who’s doing it all for the craft, delicate ingénue looking to make it big while holding on to her integrity.
Meanwhile, everyone hates poor little Ellis, and not in that “love to hate” way either. They don’t secretly want to see what he’s going to do next. They don’t want to live vicariously through him. They don’t want to fantasize about indulging in his loathsome behavior.
They just want to see a piano drop on his head.
But I know why people really hate Ellis, and it isn’t because he’s completely unbelievable as a character. It’s just the opposite. He’s very real, so real in fact that people don’t want to be reminded little snakes like him actually exist, much less get ahead in life.
But I don’t care where you work or what you do – investment banker, bagboy, fastening kids who smell like ice cream into their seats on Star Tours – you are working with an Ellis right now… and you’re underestimating him greatly.
He’s that co-worker who’s so obviously up the ass of anyone above him, he’s practically capable of digesting their lunches for them. He comes in late because he wasn’t done ironing the pleats in his pants to perfection. He sneaks out early to go to “hot yoga” class. He spends the day scrolling through pictures of himself, hot-keying it over to an Excel spreadsheet when he hears someone coming by. He moves just fast enough that there’s finished work he can point to, but not so fast that it isn’t just easier to do it yourself.
This is the person who walks out of a break room, and leaves the rest of his amazed co-workers gawking at one another, asking, “Whooooo does this schmuck think he’s fooling?”
And before you know it, the guy you’ve been endlessly bad-mouthing with your friends at lunches he’s never invited to is suddenly moving his things into the corner office and reminding you he takes one and a half Splendas in his iced coffee. Not one. Not two. One and a half.
And that’s why we all really hate Ellis. Week after week, he’s responsible for some of the most low-down, treacherous behavior on Smash. And while all the other characters may be on to him, no one wants to be the one to actually do anything about it. They all suppose they’re above that type of behavior, and that the natural order of good and bad in the world of theatre will right things in the end. And they’ll still be telling themselves that the night Ellis is on his way up to accept that Tony Award for …And You Never Saw Me Coming.
I’m not ready to admit I actually have come to enjoy watching Ellis spin his feeble little webs on Smash, but I’m definitely not in the camp with the haters. I’ve seen All About Eve. I know how this is going to end. However, I think I’d enjoy him a lot more if the writers planted just the tiniest breath of vulnerability into his back story. A sick mother? A favored older brother? Just some twinge of humanity that would allow me to feel sorry for him, at least on occasion
Or they can turn the tide entirely by just tossing Ellis into an ugly marriage storyline with special guest star Shannen Doherty. America would weep for him.