Smash: The Cost of Art

Posted on February 28, 2012

Because we are so very analytical in that way that gets us crossed off cocktail party invite lists, we couldn’t help but stop and take the time to assess our reaction to this episode. Because – oh, didn’t we say? We LOVED this episode. One of the tightest single-episode scripts we’ve been treated to in a while, not only did it neatly tell a story in 42 minutes, it brought together a host of disparate elements in service to the final act and introduced several new elements to the tale, broadening it and tantalizing as to where it’s going next.

But we just had a very public breakup with Glee and we can’t help wondering if we’re fooling ourselves into a rebound TV musical love affair; overstating our enthusiasm for a show that’s good, but not exactly evidence of a new Golden Age of Television. But that’s not very fair, is it? After all, the two shows simply couldn’t be more different in tone and goals. It’s almost a disservice to them both to place them side-by-side in the same genre. Certainly, we didn’t think of Glee once during the whole hour. It was only after, when we sat down to write this and realized we were using way too many exclamation points unironically that we stopped, Carrie Bradshaw-style, and said, “I couldn’t help but wonder…?” as we gazed dreamily out the window and played with our hair.

But enough. We refuse to indulge in any more navel-gazing. Sometimes it’s okay to like something, even if you don’t think it’s necessarily all that interesting or groundbreaking. In fact, Smash seems determined not to break any ground, offering very familiar storylines and characters, even if they’re relatively rare for TV. Hell, these tropes are so old, they’re relatively rare for movies anymore. But everyone loves a good backstage drama, especially if it’s got two divas duking it out for top billing.

Any ambiguity written into the tale of Ivy and Karen seems to be evaporating as one gal looks to be taking on the bitch role and the other one plants her flag firmly in the wide-eyed and likeable role. It’s stacking the deck a bit, frankly, and it was as obvious to us as the sound mixing which suddenly rendered Megan Hilty’s voice weak next to the supposedly awe-inspiring Katharine McPhee’s set of pipes. And hey, if you asked us, we’d have to admit that we’re bigger fans of Katherine’s style than Megan’s which doesn’t tend to play as well on TV. Even so, in an episode that was almost perfect, we have to point out this one flaw. The show is built around this rivalry (judging by next week’s previews) and that’s fine by us. One of the things we admired all along was that they presented it in such a way as to polarize the audience into pro-Ivy or pro-Karen camps. Each girl had their strengths and they were presented as pretty much evenly matched. If you don’t believe us, watch that “Let Me Be Your Star” clip again. But now we’ve got Ivy acting a bit like a bitch (which we don’t actually mind all that much) and being portrayed as the weaker talent (which we mind a little bit). To be fair, Karen really was pulling focus a couple of times there.

But really, that was the only complaint we could come up with. Oh, and the fact that they staged a pretty cool dance number so that Karen could understand how to work in an ensemble – and then turned it into a big solo star turn for Karen, with the rest of the ensemble acting as her backup dancers. Fun number, but they kinda muddied the point a bit.

It was the scripting that really hooked us here. There was a real sense of confidence coming from the writing, as if they know exactly where they want to go and know that this group of performers will be able to take them there. The characters are all beginning to gel, both individually and in their interactions. We like that we’re seeing far less of Julia’s home life but we also like that they’re breaking her away from Tom just a little bit. This is a good idea because frankly, as good as they are together, it’s really hard not to see her as Grace Adler in every scene with him. We really liked her interactions with Eileen and Karen, which gave her a warmth that felt more real than the hard sell we got when she was writing letters to imaginary babies. We admit, we didn’t much care about Tom’s date, even when the guy turned out to be seriously cute. But by the end of the episode, with so many strands tied together, we loved that Tom inadvertently gave the guy the very best first gay date any gay could ask for. Nick Jonas we could take or leave, but he’s serving his purpose well in the story. We have to wonder how Eileen became such a success when she seems to have been so bloody stupid about her husband, but we thought her story was well played and we were relieved we didn’t have to sit through another drink-throwing scene. And we like that the cast of characters has expanded with the introduction of the ensemble, of which several of its most bitchy members made a rather quick and convenient turnaround from the pro-Ivy camp to the pro-Karen one. It’ll be interesting to see just how much Karen and her new backup dancers will make an issue of Ivy sleeping with Derek. We suppose the answer to that lies with Ivy and how much she’s planning on pushing Karen out of all her numbers and bitching about the fact that she was cast. Ivy seems a little naive about the business she’s in, frankly. This is a workshop, after all. Derek was right to remind her of that.

Loved it all, though. Perfectly entertaining from beginning to end and we’re sucked right into the story.

 

[Photo/Video Credit: nbc.com]

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