Smash: Pilot review

Broadway’s hottest musical writers, producer and director are coming together to develop a new musical about Marilyn Monroe. Everyone is a buzz about it, but the big question is… who will play Marilyn?

Marilyn the Musical was the hottest thing in town the minute that word got out about it, and the same is true of Smash in the real world. As soon as it was announced it was tagged as either “Glee for grownups” or “jumping on the Glee bandwagon” depending on the cynicism levels of the reviewers.

While Smash and it’s gushing fans may try to distance itself from Glee I think they’re a lot more similar than it would really like to admit. While at first glance the only similarity is the fact that there’s a tendency on both shows for people to burst into song, there’s a deeper seated link between the two – neither is set in the real world. While Glee is an almost-fantasy high school, Smash is an almost-fantasy New York. While it’s nowhere near as silly as Glee, neither is it anywhere approaching gritty realism. This is a New York where struggling actresses can still living in large apartments and eat in nice restaurants and talented young things from Iowa can be catapulted to stardom.

I’m not saying that’s a problem – this is a musical show both in that it’s about a musical and in that it’s built like a musical with all the smoothed edges and stereotypes that implies. But the cliché characters really push the boundaries of my acceptance at times, from the dazzlingly gay song writer who’s gushing over his new assistant and checking out the dancers to the sleazy director who invites actresses to his apartment for private sessions. The biggest stereotype of all unfortunately is the waiting-to-be-discovered Karen who’s come to the bright lights of the big city with a dream of being a star.

The plot is just as cliché as the characters – they need to cast the perfect Marilyn and who should fall into their laps but this completely green newcomer with talent and soul? But there’s a rival, Ivy, the more experienced and more obvious choice who completely embodies Marilyn. In one of the few examples of elegant writing however the writers actually pass on the obvious choice of making her an ambitious evil cow and present her as just an actress who wants the part, knows that she has the talent to do it and has paid her dues working her way up. I’ll be honest, by the end of the episode, I was actually rooting for her, not Karen.

The other saving grace of the show is Debra Messing (of Will and Grace fame, get it? Saving grace? Sorry.) who is the central normal point of the whole show. She’s like the linchpin that all other characters balance off of and because she’s talking to them, they all seem more real. Even the massively over-the-top Anjelica Houstan almost seems to exist in reality when she’s sharing a scene with Debra Messing. Hopefully that’s an indicator that characters will tone down a bit in future episodes once the desperation of the pilot is out of the way.

Despite spending several paragraphs describing what the problems are with the show, I still really liked it. Just like Glee, it can have all technical problems in the world, but because it made me smile and made my foot tap I’ll tune back in. Finishing the pilot with a couple of minutes of trailer for the rest of the season was a genius touch, because it reinforced all the things that I’d enjoyed – great music, a talented cast, and just something a bit different to everything else on tv.

Smash will be airing on Sky Atlantic in ‘April’.

Other Reviews
Huffington Post – Nevertheless, there is the possibility that Smash will catch on. Viewers could decide it neatly fits the So-Bad-It’s-Good category. Otherwise, Smash might have the bad fortune to close just as quickly as the above-mentioned Marilyn: An American Fable did. The great American musical– experiencing something of a resurgence now with the broader public — deserves a lot better than this.

TV Addict – While it remains to be seen as to whether or not a compelling drama pulled off by an all-star ensemble is music to an audience’s ears that may not know the difference between a pilot and a playbill, we’re here to implore you that it should be. In a world of generic doctor/lawyer/cop shows — each more interchangeable than the next — SMASH dares to be different. Which in itself is reason enough to give the series a standing ovation.


2 thoughts on “Smash: Pilot review

  1. Pingback: The Upfronts 2012 – NBC « Narrative Devices

  2. Pingback: Smash: Season 1 « Narrative Devices

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