Checking in on “Smash”

Posted on April 17, 2012

So, a handful of people asked us what happened to our Smash post last week. Nothing happened to it. It doesn’t exist. We figured we were doing you all a service because yet another post from us about how we hate the direction of the show and don’t care about Julia’s mouth-breathing son and angry husband, or Tom’s dating prospects, or Dev’s job prospect would be awfully boring. At the risk of repeating ourselves (which is why we didn’t do a review last week in the first place): For a TV drama about the development of a Broadway musical, they sure do go to a lot of effort to make every episode about anything BUT the development of a Broadway musical.

And we’ve thought about this; probably for much longer than we should have. Workplace dramas abound on television and they’re usually about cops, lawyers, or doctors. In order to make all those cops, lawyers and doctors seem relatable and like well-rounded characters, you have to spend at least a little time in their personal lives. We totally get that. But it’s a matter of ratio. If your average Law & Order episode spend 40 minutes on some cop’s marriage and only 20 minutes on an actual case, it wouldn’t fly; not for very long, anyway. But because Smash has such an unusually large cast – and because several of the cast members came into the show fairly well known, it seems the writers felt they had to spend a lot of time giving them something to do. In other words, we spend so much time on Julia and Eileen’s family and relationship problems because Julia and Eileen are portrayed by an Emmy and Oscar-winning actor, respectively.

If we’re feeling generous, we might say that there are ways to make characters like Julia and Eileen more interesting, but something struck us while we were watching last night’s episode: Almost all of the non-musical-production drama in this series revolves around people getting it on or failing to get it on. Apparently, the writers of Smash think all drama arises out of sexual relationships, which is both lame and a bit lazy. Ivy and Derek. Eileen and her ex-husband and new boyfriend. Tom and his (apparently) ex-boyfriend and new chorus boy crush. Julia and her husband and her lover. Karen and Dev (and Dev’s pushy colleague). Ellis and Rebecca Duvall’s assistant. It almost makes us wish for the days when Julia was writing letters to her imaginary Chinese baby. There ARE other stories to tell besides “couple is having problems” or “couple is falling in love/lust,” writers.

To make matters worse, absolutely nothing in the story ever comes as a surprise. Things play out exactly as you would expect them to. Dev has a pushy work colleague who has the hots for him, so you know exactly what’s going to happen there. Ivy starts popping pills, so you know a public crash and humiliation is in the offing. Tom and Sam’s eventual date was signaled from their very first meeting. Julia’s adultery threatens her marriage and her relationship with her son. Eileen meets a gruff but sexy bartender and winds up pursuing (or letting herself be pursued by) him. Ellis schemes until someone calls him on his scheming. Karen sings and everyone within a 5-mile radius is awestruck at her good, but hardly awe-inspiring voice. A Hollywood actress is brought on board and acts exactly like everyone would expect a Hollywood actress to act: flaky, self-absorbed, and not talented enough for Broadway. There hasn’t been one development in the story that we didn’t see coming from ten miles away.

But something else struck us as we were watching last night’s episode: This cast is actually quite good and as the (lame, predictable) story plods on, they’re getting better in their scenes together and more comfortable in their characters’ skins. It’s fun to watch Tom and Julia interact, or Ivy and Karen, or Derek and Ivy, or Derek and Karen, or even Tom and Sam. Less so with Eileen and her various interactions, but that’s probably not Anjelica Huston’s fault because Eileen remains one of the least-developed characters on the show. The cast is talented and likeable; it’s the writing that’s letting them down over and over again.

Oh, and Derek being awe-struck over Karen’s Marilyn is laughable, considering she looks and sounds absolutely nothing like Marilyn and Katherine McPhee is not a particularly good actress. Those hallucinations of his are getting to be pretty unintentionally hilarious.

Glee started out with a very strong concept which it then squandered and lost sight of; Smash started off with a very strong cast, but obviously doesn’t know what to do with them. We’re done with Glee because we can only be punished in so many ways and for so long, but Smash still holds our attention. We want this show to work, but sometimes we think we want it to work more than the actual creators of the show do. So yes, we’re still watching the show, but we can’t guarantee weekly reviews because like we said, there’s only so many ways we can say “We don’t care about X; can we please get back to the musical?”

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