I know I said I was on hiatus this week because of work. But I had to pull away and forego my lunch break to talk about the show I was MOST excited for this mid-season (the other was Alcatraz.) Smash was even better than the pilot that I watched last summer. Which is silly to say because it didn’t change all that much (except for one scene that I noticed.) But I watched it so long ago and I remember loving it, but I forget how incredible it was until last night. I really don’t want to jinx poor NBC but…….could this finally be the hit show they have been looking for since ER and Law & Order went off the air?
I’m not going to get into a full recap but I’m sure they are out there but I will touch on the highlights. The thing that surprised me the most about Smash is that you think this is going to be a show all about Karen Cartwright (played by Katharine McPhee) and her journey to the Broadway stage. And while Karen’s character is the ingenue most people will want to root for, there are so many other levels to this story. First you have Julia Houston (played by the wonderful Debra Messing) who is part of the creative writing team behind other Broadway hits and who is taking some time away from writing to adopt a baby. I’m not going to lie, I could care less about this storyline. The only good part about it, is that I get to see Broadway vet Brian D’Arcy James play her husband, Frank. And somehow, someway, the producers HAVE to make sure that James sings!!! Please! But if they decided to do away with this storyline, I would be thrilled. Unfortunately, Julia’s time off is short lived (much to Frank’s displeasure) because her partner-in-crime, Tom Levitt (played by another Broadway vet, Christian Borle) has been drawn down the path of creating a new musical based on a suggestion from his new intern, whom he has googly eyes for, Ellis (played by Jaime Cepero), who was reading about the life of Marilyn Monroe while house sitting for Tom. Marilyn: the Musical is born. I love that both Tom and Frank said “you could do a baseball number” since Marilyn was married to Joe DiMaggio. More on that number later.
In addition you have a famous producer, Eileen Rand (played by the incomparable Angelica Houston), who is going through a nasty divorce and as a result her current project of a revival of My Fair Lady has been postponed. So she and the man she has scheduled to direct My Fair Lady, Derek Wills (played by Jack Davenport) are now available to put all their eggs in the Marilyn: the Musical basket. We learn that there is some bad blood between Tom and Derek, which could make this partnership slightly challenging. We don’t know what started or caused the bad blood, but it has to be juicy (this is Broadway after all) and I can’t wait to see those onion layers peeled back!
Finally rounding out the cast is the biggest surprise in terms of character likability but certainly not in talent if you are a Broadway fan, is the woman competing with Karen for the iconic lead role of Marilyn, Ivy Lynn (played by the sensational Megan Hilty.) I really thought the writers of this show were going to make Karen the likable person, the underdog that everyone is going to pull for while Ivy would be the bitchy, manipulative snake we would all love to hate. But that didn’t happen at all. I’ve already seen people say “Team Karen” or “Team Ivy” on the message boards and I think that’s a good thing. (Team Ivy right here in case you were wondering.) This show (and I’m talking Smash not Marilyn here) really hinges on these women. While I think you could make each woman ambitious, you can make them both likable and make the audience torn on who they want to see play buxom beauty. And I think the writers did that very successfully. Two scenes really showed that last night. The first was Karen’s scene at Derek’s apartment when he asks for a “private” call back and wants her to “do the sexy” right there in his apartment. She excuses herself to the ladies room and while her eyes well up with tears, she pulls herself together enough to do what Derek wants her to do. But she also stops him when he leans in for the kiss and says “Not gonna happen.” You go Karen. I’m not a huge McPhee fan (although you cannot deny her voice) but I couldn’t help but get in Karen’s corner after that scene. I still don’t think McPhee has the acting chops just yet, but this scene showed she has the potential to get there because she played in beautifully. The other scene was when Ivy was calling her mom to tell her about her call back for the role of Marilyn. Hilty plays this scene so perfectly in that you know exactly how much her mother is blowing her off on the other end without ever hearing her mother speak. You see it in Ivy’s face and hear it in her voice as it’s cracking. Ivy’s a 10 year Broadway vet but has always been in the chorus. This is her chance, her big break. While I’m sure people will want to pull for underdog Karen, and I can understand why, I can’t help but pull for the girl who’s been breaking her neck in the chorus, who’s paid her dues, and is ready to take that next step. Team Ivy!!!!!!
As for the musical numbers, there were some I loved, some I liked and one that was, meh. The best number of the night was “Let Me Be Your Star.” Both my husband and I said “Wow” at the end of that number. This is where McPhee can go toe to toe with Hilty. Vocally, these women are very different but can both sing the crap out of this song. Where McPhee loses the edge, the acting. You can tell Hilty has the Broadway acting experience because of how expressive she is during her audition, while McPhee just likes to stand there and extend her arms in the air all the time. Edge: Ivy. The two numbers I really liked were “Beautiful” and “National Pastime.” Having said that, if National Pastime were just sung instead of choreographed, it would have gone in the meh column for me. The song itself was ok but the choreography was terrific and Hilty pulled off Marilyn’s breathy flirtation with all the baseball players very well. The meh song was “Never Give All the Heart.” Now maybe it’s because it was just a snippet or just some one standing around belting out a tune, but it didn’t really pack much of a punch with me.
There has clearly been a line drawn in the sand. One one side you have Derek and Karen and on the other you have Tom and Ivy. Derek wants to create a star in Karen while Tom wants to support the woman who is ready for the next level in Ivy. Julia and Eileen seem to be Switzerland at this point. But I can’t wait to see who eventually gets the coveted role. I think, it should go to Ivy, Karen could have a part in the chorus and be the understudy. That’s my solution. But as I mentioned before, the writers are going down the path of giving the audience the choice of whom to support instead of it being dictated to us, which is the smart way to go. I think we’re still going to see some crafty sides to Ivy and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of that from Karen as well. She may be “light” but she certainly isn’t stupid and is highly ambitious.
Ultimately, this show is about characters. This is NOT, I repeat, NOT a Glee knockoff. I would never insult the writers or cast by calling it that. The only two similarities are that there are Broadway actors cast in the show and that there are musical numbers. THAT’S IT. This is a point I continue to drive home because other than teenagers who wouldn’t know good TV if it jumped out of their smartphones and bit them on the nose, NO ONE thinks Glee is a good show. It isn’t. I don’t want this to turn into a Glee bashing post (I’ll save that for another time) but I want people to give this show a chance. I don’t want Smash to be lumped into the disaster that is Glee and people not watch it for fear of watching a terrible show. Smash is a terrific show that has the perfect balance of plot and character development (something Glee hasn’t seen since early in its first season.) This is a show about the people who just so happen to be putting on a Broadway musical. You don’t have to be a Broadway or Musical Theater fan to enjoy Smash. If you like watching smart TV with a strong story and solid character development, you’ll LOVE Smash. So you need to check it out for the next 14 episodes Monday nights at 10pm on NBC.
Now it’s your turn to tell me what you thought!