From left: Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn, Anjelica Huston as Eileen Rand, Jennifer Hudson as Veronica Moore, Jack Davenport as Derek Wills, Debra Messing as Julia Houston, Christian Borle as Tom Levitt, Krysta Rodriguez as Ana Vargas, Andy Mientus as Kyle Bishop, Leslie Odom, Jr. as Sam Strickland, Katherine McPhee as Karen Cartwright, and Jeremy Jordan as Jimmy Collins.
Even if you don’t like it, we bet you’re still watching
When playwright Kristoffer Diaz tweeted late last night, “If you don’t like something don’t watch it,” he might not have been talking about NBC’s Smash, which had just aired the third episode of its second season. But assuming his twitter stream is speckled with at least as many theater people as mine is, um yeah he was.
Theatre people love attention — even those like me who insist they do not like the spotlight, still want their passion to receive the attention it deserves. In this artsphobic society that revolves around sports and celebrity, how could we not watch a show about making theater?
I was late to the party. The show’s over-hyped premiere led me to believe it was a reality show that would result in a Broadway musical, not a drama about trying to survive show business. It might have been both had Smash followed the trajectory its big budget cleared out for it. But as season one went on ratings sagged and the ones left watching were the ones who had loved to hate it. The Spielberg-backed Smash started Big Apple-big and never had a chance to organically weed out its weaknesses. There was too much riding on it from day one and therefore too many cooks throwing their own favorite spices in the pot. Billed as creator, playwright Theresa Rebeck was replaced by Joshua Safran of Gossip Girl success in hopes of a resurrection.
Why Smash drives me crazy…
The central premise that princess Karen Cartwright is so talented she doesn’t have to pay her dues is flawed. Because Katherine McPhee is just not that good. She can’t compete with Megan Hilty’s Ivy. There’s no contest. Pull up “Let Me Be Your Star” on Spotify (or whatever) and listen to the first four stanzas. It doesn’t take a drama critic to hear the difference. One sings well, and the other pulls your guts out into your throat. That’s what they call getting “choked up.” A real “star” sings well and chokes you up at the same time.
Is Smash a music video/CD commercial or a prime time drama? I’m all for genre blending but not as a sales tactic.
Did anyone in the season two writers’ room see the first season? This week “the dramaturg” accused Bombshell of lacking sex. Well, he must have seen Karen as Marilyn and not Ivy. There’s plenty of sex in Hilty’s versions of “Let’s Be Bad,” and “I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl” This week’s JFK number was yawn in comparison. “Outside of this room there’s a cold war, but you’d never know it in here.” That’s terrible.
Julia (Debra Messing) got out of bed this week … but you almost wish she and her self-righteous panic eyes stayed there. No good writer is that unblinkingly confident in a first draft. Why would she want Marilyn to be portrayed as a victim? How could she not know that’s a weak choice? Aaggrh.
Smash is shamelessly unconcerned with any illusion of reality. There’s no way two aspiring theatre unknowns who work in a restaurant could afford the fabulous Brooklyn loft Jimmy and Kyle live in. Smash doesn’t care.
Why 10 p.m. NBC? Am I the only theatre lover on the east coast who gets up at 5:30 a.m.?
Why I keep watching it anyway…
Megan Hilty. Christian Borle. Jack Davenport. And guest stars only theatre people can love: Daniel Sunjata, Michael Cristofer, Michael Ridel, Bernie Telsey.
Twitter. While those commenting on GetGlue are more in the McPhee camp, those savvy enough to understand how to use a #Smash hash tag are largely theater people hoping the show gets it right sooner rather than never. In the meantime we will conspire, rolling our emoticons with the enthusiastic cynicism of real insiders.
In the show’s metaverse, the fact a dramaturg was brought in to work on Bombshell in episode three, season two might reflect the work being done to fix Smash. In my fantasy, a couple of divas get pruned and the real talent remains.
Next week’s preview: “Nobody deserves anything in this business.” Finally. Yes, Derek, that is something someone might actually say.