REVIEW: Smash (NBC – Monday, 10:00 p.m.)

“Smash” is a musical drama that celebrates the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as it follows a cross section of dreamers and schemers who all have one common desire – to be a “Smash.” The series centers on a desire to create a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe – written by the successful songwriting duo of Tom (Tony Award nominee Christian Borle, “Legally Blonde: The Musical”) and Julia (Emmy Award winner Debra Messing, “Will & Grace”). Julia recently began the process of adopting a child with her husband Frank (Tony Award nominee Brian d’Arcy James, “Shrek the Musical”) of many years, but her focus is torn when she has the opportunity to write another Broadway hit. A rivalry soon forms for the lead role between a youthful, inexperienced Midwestern beauty Karen (Katharine McPhee, “American Idol”) – who is trying to find fame in the big city against all odds – and stage veteran Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty, “9 to 5: The Musical”), who’s determined to leave the chorus line and finally get her big break. A tenacious producer Eileen (Oscar winner, Anjelica Huston, “Prizzi’s Honor”) discovers the “Marilyn” project and jumps on board with a brilliant director, Derek (Jack Davenport, “Pirates of the Caribbean” films) – whose talent is matched by his cunning and egocentric amorality. Jaime Cepero (“Porgy and Bess”) stars as Ellis, and Raza Jaffrey (“Sex and the City 2,” “MI-5”) stars as Dev. – ABC

65 out of 100

For several years, NBC has been trying to make its programming stand out in an increasingly competitive market and for the most part they’ve been failing miserably. Generally speaking, their scripted television has been beyond uninspired, clinging to old franchises such as the tired Law & Order offerings and introducing lame, cookie-cutter procedurals and comedies that we’ve all seen before and frankly have no interest in.  The mantra at NBC has been apparently to milk a concept to death and hope for the best.  At one point a couple of years ago, you’ll recall they even went so far as to abandon scripted programming altogether at 10:00 p.m. and replace it with five nights of Jay Leno, who, as proven, was far more suited for late-night than prime-time.  This disastrous decision not only hurt the status of the The Tonight Show, but it further damaged the status of the struggling network as a whole.

Another strategy that they’ve tried is to attempt to recreate the success of other networks’ offerings by bringing their own version of a genre show to their network.  The first go at this was last season’s miserable failure, The Event, which was described as a combination of  Lost and 24.  The problem with this approach, besides the fact that the show was ridiculously convoluted and was a pure SciFi show in an era where SciFi is dead, is that NBC was making the mistake of trying to recapture the success of two shows that had been canceled and the reason that they had been canceled is because audiences had evolved and the popularity had waned.  As much as we loved Lost and 24, in our first post ever, right in the first paragraph, we noted that the end of these two iconic series marked an end of an era in television.  So, the lesson here for NBC is that if you’re going to emulate successful programming on other networks, emulate programming that is currently successful.

Well, it seems that they finally figured that out with Smash.  Smash is NBC’s Glee… period.  That’s what they wanted and that’s what they got; a musical with a rich cast of characters that’s highlighted by fantastic musical numbers during every episode. Now, that’s about where the similarities end as far as plot is concerned but as different as the two musical shows are, there are a lot of things going on in Smash that made us stop watching Glee to begin with.

Don’t get us wrong, we do like Smash, but as unique as it tries to be, it regularly falls into the same trappings that most scripted shows on television do, and as good as it is, it’s not nearly as good as the critics have claimed it is.

First, the biggest problem we have is that the show seems to take a while to go anywhere.  It’s kind of like 50 minutes of a whole-lot-of-nothing and then the last 10 minutes there are some developments in the episode and of course a big musical number that makes you excited enough that you forget about the first 50 minutes and can’t wait for the next episode.  We like a lot of complexities all the way through our serial dramas and Smash just doesn’t deliver that.

Another issue we have is that we don’t know what’s more melodramatic, the fictional musical Marilyn that the show is based on, or the show itself.  From what we’ve understood, the point of this show was to try to paint a realistic portrayal of the process that goes into the production of a Broadway musical and as good as the performances are by the all-star cast, the characters are written so over-the-top as to not be believable.  This combined with the fact that the premise of the show is very niche to begin with (on its face, how many typical viewers would really have any interest in the inside-baseball of Broadway to begin with?), makes the show come off as very pretentious, at times.

You too can write in Hollywood.

At the same time, the show often can’t help but to fall back on the Mad Libs-style of writing that we’ve been so critical of in the past.  Over the first seven weeks, we’ve had Ivy (Megan Hilty) the female lead of the musical sleeping with the director (Jack Davenport) to get a part, Michael Swift (Will Chase), the male lead sleeping with the married co-writer of the show (Debra Messing) and both the director and the co-writer want to fire the actor that they are nailing because of their own personal feelings.  The deciding vote, of course goes to the other co-writer, who we forgot to mention is the stereotypical token gay character that any television show surrounding musical theater must include (apparently there is a law).

To top it off, the ultimate insult was the appearance last week of Bernadette Peters, as Lee Conroy, the Tony award-winning actor (because we can’t call women actresses anymore) who happens to be the mother of our lead, Ivy, and of course stops by for the entire episode for the sole purpose of stealing the spotlight from her daughter and praising everyone else in the production but her.  We finally threw up in our mouth at the end of the episode when Ivy confronts her mother about her treatment towards her and mom’s response is the typical, “I’ve only been hard on you your whole life because I never wanted you to go through the same pain that I did.”  Then of course years of family dysfunction is resolved as the daughter finally understands.


Honestly, if they’re using this type of crap this early in a series it does not bode well as a harbinger for future seasons.  That’s the kind of tripe that writers spit out when the well has dried up.  That being, said, audiences will no doubt ignore things like that and focus on the fluff that they like about the show and for the most part, the series is mildly compelling and that should be enough to keep it going for a while.  Smash is currently NBC’s highest rated scripted show and as we noted in our piece the other day, has already been picked up for a second season.

So, the final verdict here is that Smash is a good show and will probably be very successful for a few years on NBC but viewers shouldn’t go into this expecting more substance than style because it simply doesn’t offer that.

Watch complete episodes of Smash, here.

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