Spring 2012 Review: Smash

1 Feb

So NBC, you win.  I watched Smash.  Are you happy now?  My favorite game during the Super Bowl was counting the Smash commercials.  NBC has been bombarding the three viewers of the network with Smash ads for a full half year, and I was concerned that the network might literally implode from within if the show was a failure.  Anyway, it did well enough, and though putting one’s faith in Smash as a network savior may or may not be a sound strategy depending on the type of demographic you hope to gain, I’m glad to say that it was a pretty solid episode of TV.

Smash is the story all the steps and pieces that go into putting on a Broadway musical.  It begins with the conception of an idea by a man and woman songwriting team, and over the course of the first episode they record a quick demo of a song they come up with which leaks onto the internet, leading to interest from producers.  The musical is about Marilyn Monroe (which you’d know if you’ve seen one of the thousands of commercials) and the episode gets through two rounds of auditions at which point it looks like the casting of Marilyn is between two actresses, a veteran chorus girl and an up and coming youngster from Iowa.  The show appears to be a true ensemble piece, focusing on the songwriting team, the two women auditioning for the part, the producer, and the director.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show.  The cast was excellent, and I enjoyed the show for a number of reasons, but I do want to point out the fact that I appreciate the covering of a subject matter that hasn’t been done a hundred times.  I love The Wire and Law & Order but it’s nice when every show on TV is not about cops, or lawyers, or doctors.  More that that, it makes it easier on the show as well, because there are many fewer clichés already out there for the show to just walk into.  Sure, maybe there are archetypes associated with musicals in general, but not nearly as many in terms of characters as there are for cops, who, for example, care too much about every case or doctors who, for example, are jerks but really care on the inside.  The characters in general seem well-built.  There were no caricatures and no one I couldn’t believe, and aside from the director propositioning the young starlet, just about no clichés.  The potential conflicts on the show so far, between the male half of the songwriting team and the director, and between the two candidates for the role of Marilyn have potential and more that, don’t have an obvious villain or hero, which I appreciate.

I remember having heard Smash billed as an adult Glee, but that’s really inaccurate.  There’s absolutely nothing alike between the two shows except that they both feature musical sequences.  They’re different in that regard as well, as Glee’s numbers are much more elaborate and outside of the direct story, while Smash features fewer songs per episode and more original songs.  Where the Glee songs often seem to be totally unnecessary and sometimes disjointed from the rest of the show (I mean, they’re necessary in so much as that’s what Glee is, but my friend watches the show without the songs and can follow along just as well), the Smash songs make a lot more sense so far in the context of the show, as about a production of a musical.  I think there will be fewer originals per episode in the future, and more covers, and the very small amount of musical sequence which felt outside of the plot was probably my least favorite part of the show, but I’ll willing to give some leeway for now.

I have mixed feelings regarding musicals.  Growing up, my parents would take my brothers and I to musicals fairly frequently, and I enjoyed them, but I have kind of stopped going in the past few years.  This is less a complete indictment of musicals, than a realization of the fact that musicals generally fall below other things I’m interested in doing.  Still, I appreciate the art form.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you hate musicals, you probably won’t like this, but you don’t need to love musicals to enjoy it.  I do wonder what kind of appeal this will have in the fly-over states, but maybe NBC should just give up on CBS demographics and try and aim for the educated, high-income viewers that are already the only ones who watch its programs.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  Smash didn’t excite me in the way Homeland did or have the distinctive voice of Luck or even the trashy fun of Revenge but it appears at least so far to be just a solid, well-executed show.  It’s nothing flashy and there’s nothing instantly compelling enough to vault it into my top shows but the people connected to it seem to really know what they’re doing, behind and in front of the cameras.  Right now it looks like a Matt Holliday – a player who got a big contract which generated a lot of hype, but doesn’t do anything flashy other than produce day in and day out and live up to the contract’s terms.  Of course, this could all go sour in a half season like Glee did, but it’s earned more of a chance from its first episode than a vast majority of shows do.

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