Posts Tagged ‘ smash ’

The Upfronts – NBC

nbc network logoThe Peacock network, best known for… um… While other networks have a bit of a personality to them, I’ve never quite been able to look at a show and say “that belongs on NBC”. Judging by the number of cancellations they have, they’re not so sure themselves. Also given the lack of trailers with most of their new shows, I’m not sensing a massive amount of confidence in having found the answer.

What’s out
smashBig shows bowing out are 30 Rock and The Office, both solid performers (although I can’t stand either of ’em) that have come to the end of their run. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a bunch of stuff that never really got started. Matthew Perry notches up another failed show with the cancellation of Go On, while 1600 Penn, Animal Practice, The New Normal and Guys With Kids were all terrible looking freshman comedies although not as bad as Next Caller it would seem given that it was canned before airing a single episode. Do No Harm was an uninspiring drama and Deception was apparently a “prime time soap opera” and I’d never heard of it. Up All Night and Whitney both bow out after 2 seasons. The only cancellation I’m a smidge sad about is Smash, which wobbled about too much and never lived up to the hype, but I kind of loved it anyway (although I haven’t seen the second season).

What’s returning
CommunityLaw and Order still maintains a television presence as Special Victims Unit goes into its fifteenth season! Critical favourites Community, Parks and Recreation and Parenthood could all easily have been pushed out, but NBC is sticking with them. Chicago Fire has been a big success (firemen saving lives and taking their tops off, who knew?) and will spawn a spin-off. Grimm gets a third season and Revolution a second. Still on the fence though is Hannibal which only started very recently.

What’s new
The Blacklist – Raymond Reddington (James Spader, Boston Legal) is one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, but now he’s turned himself in, and is handing the FBI criminals. It looks a bit Following, a bit Silence of the Lambs and I was utterly hooked by the trailer. James Spader is a fantastic piece of casting and I’m perilously close to actually being excited about this one.

The Michael J. Fox Show – Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox, come on, I’m not telling you what he’s been in!), was a top news anchor who’s returning to work after 5 years of dealing with his Parkinson’s Disease and kids. It’s weirdly semi-autobiographical and is trying to find a fine line between self-indulgent, inspiring and manipulative. Given the title… I’m not sure it’s been successful. But Fox’s talent may make it work.

Ironside – a remaking/re-imagining of the 1960’s series. It’s pretty much a standard New York police drama, just with the lead character in a wheelchair. That’s not to say that modulation isn’t an interesting or an important one, just that it feels perilously close to a gimmick.

Sean Saves the World – Pretty standard ‘balancing work with parenting’ thing, it’s just that Sean (Sean Hayes, Will and Grace) is long divorced and gay and his teenage daughter has only just moved in with him. Oh and there’s a difficult mother too. It’s the least funny thing I’ve seen all day and that’s saying something.

Welcome to the Family – Dan (Mike O’Malley, Glee) and Karina (Mary McCormack, The West Wing) think they can finally start their lives again when their daughter graduates and heads to college. The plan falls through when she returns home pregnant. Now the baby’s dad and his parents are on the doorstep and no one gets along. The only thing going for this is the cast and that it’s not as hideous as Sean Saves the World. I still won’t be watching though.

Dracula – Dracula (Jonathan Rhy Meyers, The Tudors) is bringing electricity to 19th Century London, but he’s also pursuing those who made him a vampire. I’ll be honest, I’m confused by both the trailer and the synopsis provided in the press release. It looks expensive, but also a bit rubbish.

About a Boy – Based on the Nick Hornby book (and presumably the Hugh Grant film), “man-child” Will discovers that women find single dad’s irresistible and sets up a deal with his 11 year old neighbour. Sounds annoying, but then I actually liked the film. Mind you I’m not sure the relatively unknown David Walton (Bent? Perfect Couples?) has Hugh Grant’s screen presence.

Believe – I’ll start with the good news, it’s written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and Exec Produced by J.J. Abrams. The bad news is that the blurb is so awful I lost the will to live half way through. It’s something about a 10 year old girl with ‘magical powers’ like telekinesis and predicting the future who tours from city to city with her protector, a former death row inmate. It sounds cheesy, but maybe the names attached can pull it off, without a trailer it’s hard to predict.

Chicago PD – a spin-off from Chicago Fire based in the local police department with the beat officers and the intelligence unit combating organised crime. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe, Californication) and Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda, Treme) from Chicago Fire will transplant to this series and it will be interesting to see how the former, a villain on Fire, will be allowed to grow. For some reason there are no other fire department shows on television, and Chicago Fire filled that gap well, but given the plethora of cop dramas, I’m not sure that there’s anything special enough to make this stand out.

Crisis – A bus load of teenagers from an elite school are taken hostage, their parents are diplomats, CEOs and even the President, so how far will they go to get their children back, and what will that mean for the country. It’s an interesting and different concept, giving plenty of material for both the families and the officials. It stars Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) so it’s certainly got potential.

Crossbones – 1715, Blackbeard (John Malkovich, Being Himself) reigns over an island of pirates. An undercover assassin is sent after him, but finds that maybe Blackbeard isn’t as clearly evil as he seems. It’s a pretty original setting for a television show, but without a trailer, it’s hard to get particularly excited by a synopsis that falls a bit flat.

The Family Guide – the Fisher family are pretty unusual, Dad (J.K. Simmons, The Closer) is blind, Mom (Parker Posey, Louie) is rebelling because she didn’t when she was a teenager, daughter is obsessed with the 80s and son has always been his dad’s eyes but is now being replaced by a dog. It’s narrated from the future by the adult son, looking back the time where they all “discover who we needed to be”. Sigh.

The Night Shift – The night shift at San Antonio Memorial is home to a “special breed” of doctors, now not just challenged to save lives, but also to save money. I like the idea, but the names attached are all a little C-list with Eoin Macken (Gwain from Merlin), Ken Leung (Miles from Lost), Brendan Fehr (Michael from Roswell) and Freddy Rodriguez (Rico from Six Feet Under) – all fun in their roles, but the lack of heavy weights undermines everything a bit.

Undateable – Danny (Chris D’Elia, Whitney) takes on a group of romantically challenged friends in an attempt to teach them everything he knows about love. Sounds hideous.

Links
NBC has more information about all their shows on their website. I guess the trailers may turn up there at some point. The press release and schedule summary are at the Futon Critic.

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The 2011-2012 Season

I’ve been dragging my feet on my season round-up post as I’ve been trying to polish off a few more series. But all the new stuff is starting, so the time has come to just get on with it! I’ve watched 39 series this year, last year was 28 so that’s a pretty terrifying increase! A fair number of the series are only a handful of episodes though (for better or worse) so I figure the number of episodes is about the same, somewhere around the 600 mark.

American Horror Story – S1
Awake – S1 (In progress)
The Big Bang Theory – S5
The Big C – S2
Blue Bloods – S2
Bones – S7
Borgen – S1
The Bridge – S1
The Cafe – S1
Castle – S4
Criminal Minds – S7
CSI – S12
CSI:NY – S8
Downton Abbey – S2
Forbrydelsen (The Killing): S2
Fringe – S4 (in progress)
Game of Thrones – S2
Glee – S3 (in progress)
The Good Wife – S3
Grey’s Anatomy – S8
Homeland – S1
House – S8
The Jury
Luck – S1
Luther – S2
Mad Men – S5 (In progress)
Merlin – S4
NCIS – S9
NCIS: LA – S3
The Newsroom – S1
Once Upon a Time – S1 (in progress)
Outnumbered – S4
Sherlock – S2
Smash – S1
Sons of Anarchy – S4
Supernatural – S7
Terra Nova – S1
Veep – S1
The Walking Dead – S2
Warehouse 13 – S3

There are a few other bits and pieces that didn’t make the list, mostly documentaries, many of them really rather excellent – Inside Nature’s Giants, David Attenborough’s Kingdom of Plants filmed at Kew Gardens, Frozen Planet, Wonders of the Universe to name a few.

BEST SHOWS
Borgen. “The Danish West Wing” is an overused label, but it’s so accurate it’s hard to resist. It’s not just the subject matter that draws the comparison, but the quality of writing and production and, sadly, the ability for it to break your heart as characters realistically, but depressingly make the wrong decisions.

Fringe. For complicated housemate related reasons I still haven’t seen the final two episodes of this series, but I can’t see how they would do anything that would mean the series drops from this list. Fringe continues to evolve into a spectacularly complex, yet completely followable series while never forgeting to actually entertain its audience with self-aware nods to the ridiculousness of the situations.

The Good Wife. A brilliant cast, fascinating storylines, sure and steady character development all polished off with sparkling dialogue makes a package that’s just a complete and utter joy to watch. In a world of mediocre network procedurals, this one is so far ahead it’s clearly in a different league.

Homeland. Another show that’s complex yet accessible. The gradual reveal and development of characters is fascinating and I was on the edge of my seat all season not knowing which way anything was going to go.

Mad Men and Awake could potentially be added to this list, but I am less than half way through each.

FAVOURITE SHOWS
The Newsroom. This show was the one I’d been most looking forward to, and I’m slightly devastated that I can’t include it in the ‘best’ category. But despite massive flaws with the characters and a preachiness that even I find rather troublesome, it’s still one of my favourite shows of the year. That may be blind Aaron Sorkin obsession, but I don’t care.

American Horror Story. A huge collection of characters and stories intricately interwoven and elegantly revealed over the span of a carefully structured series. It felt both innovative and yet thoroughly grounded in the history of the genre. I’m especially happy that each season is completely self contained, so nothing is dragged out or has the chance to get dull.

Smash. It’s original and fun, balancing cheesiness and melodrama with engaging characters and a surprisingly real feeling storyline. I’m really looking forward to next season, particularly given they’re getting rid of all the annoying characters.

Once Upon a Time. Another new show that’s original and fun. The storyline is incredibly complex yet revealed so elegantly that there’s never any difficulty keeping up. It’s beautifully designed and just a lovely series to watch.

ACTORS
I sort of covered my thoughts on actors in my Emmy post, so here are some broader thoughts.

House . Hugh Laurie gets the most praise publicly, but the whole cast of the series are absolutely superb. Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson completely and utterly broke my heart, Peter Jacobson (Taub) cracked me up, Olivia Wilde (Thirteen) stole the very few scenes she was in, and Jesse Spencer (Chase) produced one of the most satisfying character developments I’ve seen in a long time.

Homeland . One of the few things that myself and those that vote for awards actually agree on, the superbness that are Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. I however would go a lot further and also heap praise on the supporting performances by Morena Baccarin and Mandy Patinkin.

Sons of Anarchy. Award voters clearly have some kind of blind spot when it comes to Sons of Anarchy, because year after year they completely fail to register the incredible performances throughout the cast, but in particular from the female leads Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff

Katharine McPhee (Karen) and Megan Hilty (Ivy), Smash – I loved the dance the characters went on, competing with each other but respecting each other’s talents; sometimes gracious, sometimes bitchy. And boy can they belt out tunes! Also Jack Davenport (Derek) had some of the funniest lines of the year!

Fringe . The cast are good as their primary characters, but what’s impressive is that most of them then go on to play the same person in the alternate universe, each of them the same person but with slight variations. It’s astonishing, they are the same person yet completely different, it’s mind twisting and fascinating. I can’t imagine a greater challenge as an actor. While Anna Torv and John Noble rightly get a lot of praise, the performances of Jasika Nicole (Astrid) and Seth Gabel (Lincoln Lee) are just as subtle. Poor Joshua Jackson must feel rather hard-done-by without an alternate version to play with. He is pretty though.

The Good Wife – so many great performances and characters that I love from both stars, supporting characters (I could watch Josh Charles and Christine Baranski do the Will and Diane show all day long) and a dream list of guest stars (Michael J. Fox, Martha Plimpton, Matthew Perry – all playing deliciously slimy characters).

GOOD THINGS
Booth and Bones getting together on Bones. I was completely against it, but cheerfully admit I was wrong. Having them jump from no relationship at all to living together and having a baby brought a breath of fresh air to the series. It was handled with such lightness and charm, with both characters bending to accommodate the other, but not making any fundamental changes… beautifully written and acted. Here’s hoping Castle can do the same.

The end of House. A series going out gracefully and winding everything up with a collection of satisfying resolutions for all the characters. House has never been about the medicine, but about the puzzles and about the people, while I may personally wish that Wilson had a different conclusion, it all fed in so perfectly and everyone ended up where they were supposed to be.

Creativity! It felt like there was some variation with what’s on TV, not just an endless stream of interchangeable procedurals. Shows like American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and Walking Dead (finally) are investigating what it’s like to bring non-traditional genres to television, and shows like Smash, Luck and The Newsroom brought different subjects to the screen.

Female Characters! There are plenty of people out there who have and will write far more eloquently on the plight of women in television, but this year has felt like a relatively good year. Shows are full of strong women doing their jobs, raising their families and doing so as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Shows like The Good Wife, Smash, Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy have dominantly female casts, and almost everything else has a nice balance. Even something like Downton Abbey with its period constraints provides some wonderful roles for female actors.

BAD THINGS
Lighten up! Supernatural is superb, but it really really needs to lighten up a bit! It’s turned into something I have to force myself to watch, rather than something I really look forward to. The same argument could be made for Sons of Anarchy. Relentless depression is just not entertaining to watch, I’m not saying they suddenly need to be all sunshine and puppies, but just every now and then, let them catch a break.

NCIS . After 9 seasons, I realised there’s no point in watching this any more. The plots are utterly disposable and the characters are disastrously erratic. The last two seasons I’ve relegated it to ‘ironing watching’, but I’m even giving up on that (the show, not the ironing sadly).

Glee. I still haven’t managed to get to the end of the season having realised that I’m increasingly just fast-fowarding episodes. I just got sick to death with the terrible writing which completely undermined the charm of the characters and the talents of the actors. It just stopped being fun.

Still no spaceships. Can no one make this work?

Too short! Sherlock and Luther both had only 3 episodes, each ‘double’ length. It’s not enough. There’s the obvious problem that like a small child if I like something I want more of it, but it also really hampers the ability to get invested in characters and stories, just as you’re settling in, it’s all over and the voice over man is saying “will return in 2014”.

PS
In preparing this article, I went back and looked at my summaries of last years shows and I have to highlight the following phrase in my summary of 2010-2011’s new shows:

Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

I rejoice in my ability to predict the future and can’t wait to see what Joss does with S.H.I.E.L.D.

2011-2012 – New Shows

36 pilots this year. As usual the vast majority of them are American series, but there’s a couple of British ones in there and almost as many Scandinavian ones!

Things I watched
American Horror Story – something very different for television, not always brilliant quality, but addictive
Awake (cancelled) – (not yet finished), clever and challenging.
Borgen – superb. The plots and characters didn’t go the way I wanted them to, but it was extremely well written, acted and produced.
The Bridge – great premise, not particularly well realised. Some fun and interesting characters let down by a disappointing plot.
The Cafe – utterly charming, although maybe only because it’s set in the town that I spent all my summer holidays and it re-creates it to a tea.
Homeland – fascinating (although occasionally frustrating) twisty plot and superb acting.
The Jury – properly awful ITV drama, but my excuse for actually watching it is that it was only 5 episodes and I had a cold.
Luck (cancelled) – incredible footage of horse racing surrounded by a too complicated plot and utterly incomprehensible characters.
The Newsroom – (not finished yet), swerving wildly from breathtakingly good, to really rather rubbish.
Once Upon a Time (not finished yet) – a nice idea, charmingly done. It’s not going to set the world alight, but it’s really rather lovely for Sunday evening relaxed viewing.
Smash – something different! Hugely entertaining with the exception of a couple of terrible characters who have sensibly been cut for next season.
Terra Nova (cancelled) – it had problems, but as Saturday evening ‘fun for all the family’ it was pretty good.
Veep – Some good dialogue, but I don’t like comedies about stupid people. I only really watched it because it was a short season.

Last year I only picked up eight new series, this year it’s thirteen so it’s been a better year on numbers, and actually the more I think about it, the more positively I think about the new season. It doesn’t feel like a spectacular year, but it’s got a few quiet stars, but once again they’re all on cable channels in the US (Homeland, American Horror Story, even The Newsroom), network channels are really struggling to find anything remarkable.

Things I might watch
House of Lies – quirky and entertaining pilot, with some charismatic performances and no problems with being unlikeable.
Scandal – show about legal ‘fixers’ working in Washington DC from the people that brought you Grey’s Anatomy. For some reason I failed to review the pilot, but it had potential. Yes, it was cheesy and predictable but the fast paced dialogue was entertaining and the characters and storyline had potential. Doesn’t seem to be airing in the UK though.

Things I might have watched if they weren’t cancelled
Alcatraz (cancelled) – a sparkles pilot just didn’t inspire me but I could see some potential, I was going to give it a chance, but then it was cancelled
Prime Suspect (cancelled) – fascinating central character and good line up of actors, with an interesting directorial style to it all.
The Playboy Club (cancelled) – Surprisingly entertaining and interesting, but pretty much doomed
The Secret Circle (cancelled) – Teenage witches in a small town with plenty of mysteries. It was pretty cheesy but I found myself somewhat charmed (pun intended!).

Things that weren’t bad, but I just didn’t like
GCB (cancelled) – I did laugh and enjoy pilot, but I hated myself for it a bit so didn’t really want to watch any more, then it was cancelled so I didn’t have to decide.
A Gifted Man (cancelled) – a well put together pilot, interesting concept, well written directed and acted. But I couldn’t see any way the story wouldn’t end badly for the characters and I just didn’t want to watch that happen.
Grimm – it reminded me of lots of other things, all of which had been done better than this. It felt small and boring.
New Girl – As comedies go, I didn’t hate it, but I just didn’t really feel like watching any more.
Touch – too manufactured and artificial and not very well written.

Things that were rubbish
The Body Farm – badly written, badly acted and less scientifically sound than CSI Miami.
Charlie’s Angels (cancelled) – awful. Just awful.
The Finder (cancelled) – I only watched the backdoor pilot in Bones, but it was packed with irritating tropes (bloody awful accents, know it all characters, intellectual tough guy)
Hart of Dixie – cliché ridden awfulness.
Hell on Wheels – utterly un-engaging.
Pan Am (cancelled) – a bit boring and too plastic and artificial feeling
Person of Interest – charisma vacuum characters making ridiculous decisions and delivering cliché ridden dialogue
Revenge – utterly unsympathetic, hateful characters
Ringer (cancelled) – Terrible pilot with crappy production and a daft premise.
The River (cancelled) – Fun concept, delivery was painfully awful. The pilot was a double episode and it was so bad I couldn’t bring myself to watch the second half and never got round to reviewing it.
Titanic – I was rooting for the iceberg.
Unforgettable – An ironic title given it was pretty unremarkable, it’s a good cast but cheesy dialogue and cliché premise and plot left it not making any impression.

Finally some creativity!
I was critical last year that it didn’t feel like there was any creativity in the line up, everything was either a thinly veiled recreation of another successful show, or at best a ‘bog standard’ example of a genre that wasn’t represented on TV (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones). Someone seems to have listened to me, because this year did offer up some refreshing originality.

Shows like Smash, Once Upon a Time and Awake all had novel ideas or settings at their hearts and even though they weren’t always successful, I did at least want to cheer them on for giving it a try! American Horror Story set about bringing the horror genre to TV in the same way Walking Dead brought the zombie genre, but did a lot better job of merging the genre and the platform and made something really fascinating. Mind you, there were still some unremarkable procedurals and ‘rehash’ shows out there, Pan Am (and to a lesser extent The Playboy Club) tried to capture the period appeal of Mad Men and fell on their faces.

I’m right, everyone else is wrong
One thing that I find interesting is looking at the shows that I liked that got cancelled (annoyingly) and the shows I hated that stuck around (unfathomably). One show I was disappointed to see cancelled was Terra Nova which I suspect was rather miss-pitched as a primetime weekday evening show, when really it fits best in the early Saturday evening family slot (which the American’s don’t really seem to get like the UK does with Doctor Who and Merlin and the like). The other was Awake, which was an intriguing concept well played by Jason Isaacs (hello!) but was maybe a little slow for mass audiences. Mind you, I can’t really judge that harshly those that didn’t watch it, as I haven’t actually finished the series yet.

On the flip side I guess I’m saddened, but not surprised that some of the horrifically cheesy, cliché ridden shows found an audience (Hart of Dixie, Revenge). Why anyone wanted to watch Jim Caviezel suck all the life out of the room in Person of Interest is a mystery to me though.

Don’t believe the hype
Looking back at the upfront coverage, it seems that the big shows had the odds stacked against them. “Eagerly anticipated” programmes with big budgets and big names attached struggled to find the ratings to match their budgets – Steven Spielberg’s Terra Nova, JJ Abrahms’ Alcatraz, DeNiro’s NYC 22 (such a failure I didn’t even notice it go by), Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return in Ringer, the spin off for Bones, all fell flat. Only slightly more successful were the new Shonda Rhimes show Scandal and while Smash lived out the season it was far from the eponymous hit that was expected, and I’ve never seen a show create a more confused critical reaction of loving and loathing it than Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Meanwhile, the darlings of season are based on an Israeli show and from the critically hounded creator of Glee. Homeland dared to be smart and used extraordinary actors to keep audiences on the edge of the seat, while American Horror Story did exactly what it said on the tin and wrapped its story up miniseries style.

Oh UK
I’ve really tried to find more UK shows to watch this year, but there’s been precious little of interest on UK channels. In addition to the stuff I’ve mentioned above which was at least bad enough to bother reviewing (Titanic – why and how are you so rubbish?!) I tried out probably half a dozen others and didn’t even get as far reviewing, often not even as far as the end of the first episode. Recent examples include ITV’s Last Weekend which was so full of foreboding it was laughable, and BBC’s Parade’s End which was mumbly and dull. As a rule I found the UK shows I watched either too impenetrably complicated for my little brain or killed by terrible production values.

It’s quite telling that I watch more Scandinavian shows than I do British ones. Well done to BBC for airing them at least, but I’m not sure what it is that’s stopping the UK channels making stuff this good. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. If anyone has any recommendations I’d be very grateful!

Smash: Season 1

Each year I seem to fall in love with a couple of shows, generally I can form eloquent reviews explaining why this particular show is so worthy of my adoration, but other times I’m left writing a review that’s full of criticism and yet inexplicably ends with a fuzzy waffly bit about how I love it anyway. The good news for Smash is I love it, the bad news for my poor readers is that it’s hard for me to explain why.

When I watched the pilot I complained that it was full of cliché characters and that remained 90% true through the series. The initial characters are joined by a supporting cast of stereotypes – a demanding an neurotic movie star, a phenomenally camp male dancer and his accompanying ditzy female counterpart, a gruff bartender with a heart of gold… they just keep rolling. None is quite so irritating as Ellis however, the smarmy assistant with delusions of being a producer who borders on pantomime villain at times, pushing the boundaries of the patience of both the rest of the characters and the audience. Having a villain is fine, having one that’s not the tiniest bit threatening, just really annoying – that seems rather dumb.

As I say, those stereotypes are true 90% of the time, it’s the remaining 10% that some of the magic comes from and the characters and relationships become fascinating. Ivy and Karen are constant competitors, but when the former isn’t conniving and the latter isn’t simpering, they have immense respect for each other’s talents and actually support each other. The cliché romance between the director and the star actually turns into an interesting look at how a real relationship can work between people working together in show-business. Tom and Julia separately are bordering on completely non-functional, but their longstanding friendship and professional partnership gives them grounding. Even Angelica Houstan’s over the top producer shows her humanity when she’s fighting for the show she believes in.

A big part of my enjoyment of Smash is that the characters are good at what they do. I’ve commented in a few reviews recently that I get frustrated when characters in shows are written stupid just to drive plots, if the show is supposed to be set in a world that requires people to be smart, you can’t cheat just to make a storyline work. What I loved about Smash was that although people made mistakes and have crappy personal lives, they weren’t generally stupid or unprofessional. The plots and troubles of the musical all felt like the sort of things that just happen, through natural circumstances or plain old bad luck. The exceptions to that were the aforementioned Ellis and Julia’s affair and subsequent flapping which was a bum note in the middle of the season that, just as you thought it was finally out of the way, staged an irritating comeback at the end.

It’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t a gimmick show, it’s not like Glee which is all about getting to a song and dance number at the end of the episode and delivering the message of the week. For the most part Smash’s fantastically choreographed and performed musical numbers are either from the show-within-the-show, or spontaneous sing-alongs which I chose to believe can happen if you’re surrounded by musical theatre actors. The plots don’t feel manufactured to get to a big musical number, they feel like natural stories that happen in the production of a musical and in the lives of some rather highly strung artistic types. In fact the plots around developing the musical were completely fresh and really did keep me guessing, I never knew what was going to happen, what issues would develop and how they would be resolved, nothing was predictable but it all fit together satisfyingly.

Smash isn’t exactly a challenging show, but neither is it one that you have to switch your brain off for just to enjoy it. I cared about the characters, I was intrigued by the stories and entertained by both the musical numbers and the snappy dialogue. All that comes from a talented and charismatic bunch of actors, good writing and fresh feeling direction (all helped by a hefty budget I’m sure). I knew nothing about how a Broadway show was put together and the story of its development was absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to see where both shows go next season.

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.

The Upfronts: NBC

What’s out
The only show that I actually watch on NBC is Friday Night Lights and the end of the show has been planned for a while, giving plenty of time to wrap it up in a satisfying fashion. I adore the show, think it’s superb, but have to admit that I haven’t quite had the emotional strength to watch the last season yet, knowing it’s the last actually made it harder.

There are plenty of new shows that won’t be back, most of which never got off the ground at all – The Cape, Chase, The Event, Law & Order LA (which couldn’t be rescued even by a complete overhaul mid-season), Undercovers, and several sitcoms. Not a good year for NBC.

What’s back
Chuck has been renewed for a final half season wrap up, for a show that’s been bubbling since it started, 5.5 seasons seems like a bloody good run. But I don’t watch it so I can’t really say.

Harry’s Law is one that I wanted to like, but the more I thought about it, the more troubling I found the tone of the pilot. I may investigate whether it got better and go back to it as it will be returning next year, slightly surprising given that I haven’t heard any critic say anything about it in months and the ratings weren’t spectacular.

Parenthood is a show I keep meaning to catch up on, initially staying away from it because I didn’t want to fall in love with it as it seemed doomed to early cancellation. Now that’s just been renewed for season 3 so I guess that excuse has worn out.

Other things I don’t watch that are returning – 30 Rock, Community, The Office, Parks and Recreation and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, although there seems to be the suggestion that they might be making big cast changes (if anyone reading this cares).

What’s new
Awake – Hello to Jason Issacs! You seem to have landed yourself a pretty amazing looking show.

Bent – I like Amanda Peet and the rest of the thing isn’t horrific, although it all looks a bit unremarkable.

Grimm – Kind of Supernatural meets Criminal Minds from the looks of it, sounds interesting, but I wasn’t massively impressed with the trailer.

The Playboy Club – This could end up being the kind of show that you tell people to ignore the title and the blurb and just watch because it’s superb. Or it could be horribly sexist and offensive. The trailer leaves me optimistic.

Prime Suspect – I’ve not watched the UK version, but this doesn’t look like Helen Mirren. I like Maria Bello a lot and this doesn’t look half bad.

Smash – Hey, Glee is massively successful right, why don’t we do a show about musicals?! Frankly I’m amazed that every network isn’t belting out show tunes at me. This looked… all right, not sure how they’re going to make it a series rather than just a tv movie though.

Up All Night – I actually chuckled a couple of times at this!

Free Agents – Damnit, I chuckled a couple of times in this one too. I hate myself.

Whitney – I did not laugh. I feel better about myself.

Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea – dear god in heaven, this is possibly the most offensive and horrific thing I’ve ever seen labelled as a comedy. Drinking and driving… so funny!

Also a TV adaptation of The Firm (coming next Jan, so there’s no trailer for me to label as boring yet) and something called Best Friends Forever which seemed awful from the only clip I could find.

Links: The TV Addict, The Futon Critic, TV Squad.