Not A “Smash”
Jack Davenport and Katharine McPhee in Smash.
Have you ever went into something with really high expectations, and then were let down when they didn’t reach them? You know, that thing that was supposed to be really hot, but only ended up being luke warm?
Be it a first date with someone you find attractive, a restaurant you’ve heard from friends is to die for, or a Christmas present from your parents, it’s not necessarily fair to say you’ve been totally let down, but slightly disappointed.
The above feeling which I have just described is how I felt when I completed watching Smash, the new musical series on NBC. The network has been running commercials promoting the series incessantly for several months, including most notably at least fifty billion times during the Super Bowl. As someone who has been a fan of musical theatre ever since he saw Julie Andrews prove that the hills were very much alive with the Sound of Music as a child, I was looking very much looking forward to the show. And NBC’s hype was definitely was a major contributor. One thing about hype that networks in general should learn, it’s one thing to promote your show and get everyone to watch its premiere, it’s quite a different thing all together to get viewers to stay there week after week.
The premise surrounds the production of a new musical about Marilyn Monroe. We are introduced to Julia Houston, played by Debra Messing, a married, successful songwriter/lyricist who really wants to adopt another baby, while still trying to hold down her professional life. Houston’s gay co-writer is Tom Levitt, played by Christian Borle, best known for his numerous Broadway credits and his divorce from Tony Award winner Sutton Foster. Academy Award winner Angelica Houston portrays one of the shows producers, out to prove that she is still viable despite the fact she’s going through a messy divorce herself.
The main conflict however, comes in the form of the two girls who are competing for the lead. Broadway’s Megan Hilty plays veteran, eating disorder ridden actress Ivy Lynn, while American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee plays newcomer Karen Cartwright. Lynn was the favorite for the part, but since Cartwright entered the picture, the two girls are now competing for the role. Jack Davenport plays the snide, womanizing Derek Willis who invites Cartwright to his home in the middle of the night for a “casting couch” situation, which she refuses. Levitt also hates Willis because of a past work experience.
Let’s start with the good, McPhee is very likable as Cartwright, and Davenport plays Willis’ character to a T. Houston gives us a performance that an Oscar winning actress should, and as an actor myself, I’m personally happy that people who do Broadway, like Borle and Hilty, are getting mainstream work on television. I also really enjoyed seeing New York as the backdrop of the show.
The big problem which prevents the show from being such a Smash is the writing. As you may have assembled from above, there is such a thing as too many plot lines. I found myself struggling to keep up with everything going on. I also felt like the writing got a little stale with nothing really innovative or exciting. The singing was nice, but frankly, I prefer Glee. I like Debra Messing, and she’s okay in this role, but Meryl Streep she is not. Plus, the main storyline seems a bit overdone. Women fighting each other over a role, a man, or the latest pair of Jimmy Choo shoes has become increasingly popular, inciting another eye roll from me about the portrayal of minorities in the media, but that’s a different article altogether.
If I was the famed film critic Mr. Roger Ebert, I would give it neither a thumbs up or a thumbs down, pointing my finger more sideways. Is it worth a second episode? Sure. But, a second season? The jury’s still out…..let’s just say I wouldn’t call it “Must See TV” as the old cliche goes.
Smash is on NBC Monday’s at 10 p.m.
Justin Lowenhagen is a local news anchor, reporter, and actor. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Dec. 2011 with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism.
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