justin matchick is smashed…
Musicals have never been my forte, and nothing about the NBC show, Smash, has ever really stood out enough to compel me to watch. [Editor’s Note: And according to the ratings, nothing compelled America to watch either.]
Smash follows the lives of the actors and directors of a Broadway musical as they each vie for leading roles and to have their vision come alive on stage. The characters range from writers Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) to actresses Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee). The main cast is rounded out by producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) and director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport). Karen seems to be the de facto main character, her being an upstart young actress and singer who gives her all as she competes with Ivy for the main role. That main role is of legendary actress Marilyn Monroe as the producers try to get their new musical Bombshell on Broadway.
At the start of the second season, Bombshell has just finished a successful preview run in Boston and producer Eileen decides it’s time to make the move to the bright lights of Broadway. Karen, having won the part of Marilyn over Ivy, is still nervous about her pending shot at stardom and the constant threat of Ivy winning the role back from her. Julia’s marriage is in a downward spiral ever since an affair she had last season, while Eileen is trying to hold off people from finding out she is using shady business practices to fund the production. These plots would be riveting drama on almost any other program, but here they come off as wishy-washy soap opera for the musical mind. All of these plots wind up coming to a head at a party to announce that the show will be running at the famous St. James Theater. There we find that the production will actually be put on hiatus after Eileen’s ex-husband Jerry tips off people that the financing for the show is possibly coming from illegal sources.
McPhee proves she’s more than capable when it comes time to show off her pipes, handling the songs with ease and a powerful voice. Once she stops singing and it comes time to get down to the nitty-gritty of acting, she just doesn’t seem to show up. She comes off as bland when she should be shy and oblivious when she should be naïve. She seems even less impressive once guest star and fellow American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson performs a duet of “On Broadway” with her, and Hudson steals the spotlight almost immediately. Every musical moment of the first half hits it mark thanks to a cast with a vocal prowess like no other, but these moments are too short to be truly enjoyed and to far between each other to keep the pace up.
The first half ends with Karen, still coping with a lost chance at stardom, discovering that the two bartenders at her local pub are working on a new musical that she sees a lot of promise in. It’s a very hokey development that makes things work out a little too well, something I would expect to see from a Screenwriting 101 student, not a primetime television show. In the second hour this plotline starts to slowly gel into something resembling an actual story arc as we find that one half of the bartender playwrights is very secretive and reluctant to let anyone in show business find out about the play before it’s finished. In fact he seems to hate the idea of following his dreams. A Broadway actress with major connections loves your material and all you can do is shun her? To call it irrational would be the understatement of the decade.
So with all of the storylines from the first episode still hanging in the air and a ripe opportunity to delve further into them, the second half decides to instead give us absolutely nothing. The second half of the premiere is almost totally devoid of any major plot developments and just seems to meander around for 42 minutes. The musical sequences here are almost totally meaningless and seemingly serve to fill a quota rather than serve the plot. NBC could have probably just skipped right ahead to next week’s episode and nobody would have batted an eyelash. Smash aims itself directly at the musical theater fanbase and, on that level, the show is a serviceable if hackneyed representation of the craft. But for the regular viewer looking for compelling television, it’s probably best to start looking elsewhere.
P.S. Future Halloween monster mask idea: Anjelica Huston’s face
all photos credit: nbc/universal