Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Smash! The Return of the Blond Bombshell

A few months ago, the new Broadway musical drama Smash premiered on NBC, causing me to immediately cycle through Jane's Sad Stages of a New Television Series. These steps are similar to the famous Kubler-Ross stages of grief, except it's more like the stages a show goes through before the network cancels it.
  • Stage 1: Best pilot I’ve ever seen. I laughed…I cried. Sheer genius.
  • Stage 2: Why do I feel like the network is trying to manipulate my feelings for the characters? Why do I secretly hate Katherine McPhee? Whatever, the dance numbers still sizzle and love that NYC venue.
  • Stage 3: Thank God for DVR and fast forward. Reading Vanity Fair through most of the episodes. Angelica Houston rocks though…I’ll look up from my magazine when she comes on.
  • Stage 4: Oh is that still on the air? (this is the point where I usually regret the glowing, gushing blog post I wrote when it was still hot)
  • Stage 5: Pull the plug, straight to the failed TV boneyard. Or worse…a 4th tier cable network like ION.

Smash is the story about the desperate people who want to make it on well as those who love and sometimes sort of hate them. It takes place in NYC (naturally) and it's about a stage show depicting the life of Marilyn Monroe. The characters are mostly believable and interesting. Karen (the innocent from Iowa played by Katherine McPhee) and Ivy (experienced but vulnerable played by Megan Hilty) are competing for the role of Marilyn while Tom (Christian Borle) the obligatory gay guy and Julia (Debra Messing) are featured as a song writing duo. The most compelling character so far is played by Academy Award winning actress Angelica Houston. She's the producer with a nasty ex-husband and a cute Irish bartender boyfriend. And although she doesn't appear in any of the snazzy musical numbers, I have to always put my magazine down when she joins a scene.

One thing that Smash does very well is to cleverly incorporate celebrity guest stars into the plot. Bernadette Peters appeared several weeks ago as "Mommy Dearest" to poor Ivy, who pouted fetchingly whenever her viperous mega star mother was on the set. This week's episode featured Uma Thurman as the latest actress to try to slither into Marilyn's sequined skin. She started out as a disaster (can't sing!) but if you stick around until the end of the episode, Uma morphs into an amazing version of the great MM. I can't fault NBC's production values on this series. They've spared no expense with the sets, the casting and the location. I do wish they'd fix that twinkly background music underneath the dialogue though, it's annoying.

Most of the musical numbers have been top notch in Smash, whether they are part of the faux broadway show or contemporary pop that fits with the story line. The latter formed a fantastic high energy number a few weeks ago when rivals Karen and Ivy launched into a tipsy cover of Rihanna's "I'll Drink to That" in Times Square. Street musicians accompanied them and it was a true New York City moment of joy. When I saw it, I had to turn my TV Stages dial back up to #1.

Have you watched "Smash" yet? Do you like it as much as "Glee"? Which characters are your favorites? anyone ever going to be able to play a proper Marilyn on the big stage?


Lisa said...

I am behind on the episodes, but do watch the show. It kind of makes me wince, sort of annoys me, sometimes way too cutesy. I can't tell if it feels outsider or insider; if it's insider, it seems that all the stereotypes about Broadway are completely accurate, if it's outsider, then it's just the same stereotypes about creatives types we've always gotten. I'm one of those people who doesn't like singing on TV, so the musical numbers are my most wince-worthy moments! But still, I like Debra Messing. Congrats to NBC at least for putting something *completely* fabulous out there!

Jane said...

I think they are struggling to find their "voice" with this series to pardon a pun. Sometimes I feel like it's just too aware of its self. It never feels entirely real, even though they do pay a lot of attention to detail. I sense the evil flavor of too many focus groups in the pot they are stirring!

Toby O'B said...

I only made it through the pilot episode of the show, just to see what it was like. But I certainly recognize your five stages for so many other shows I've been committed to in the past.

Great descriptions!