Aired on: NBC
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I saw the previews for NBC’s new mid-season dramatic series, I was only mildly interested. It was a relatively new idea - a show about a young, unknown actress fighting for the lead role in a musical about Marilyn Monroe - okay, it hadn’t been done before. And the show featured some interesting actors like Debra Messing, Jack Davenport and Angelica Huston. But the network fairly shoved the series down people’s throats airing promo after promo after promo, leading me to wonder if they were really proud of Smash, or simply worried that no one would ever watch it.
The premiere episode, airing on February 6, 2012, features Debra Messing as Julia Houston, one half of a theatrical songwriting team. Having just picked up her partner, Tom Levitt (Christian Borle) from the airport, the two begin to discuss the idea of a musical about Marilyn Monroe. Despite the fact that she has promised her husband (Brian d’Arcy James) that she would take a year off from theater in an effort to secure the adoption of another child, Julia finds the idea of a musical about Marilyn Monroe’s life rather intriguing.
Meanwhile, aspiring actresses Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) are not having much success in the audition department. Ivy has done theater work, but is having trouble convincing people that she is worthy of a major role. Karen is a waitress just trying to get someone to take notice of her for a decent theatrical role. As luck would have it, both girls are about to get the opportunity to try out for a much sought after role in a much talked about new musical.
In spite of my misgivings about the promos, I found the premiere episode of Smash to be rather interesting. The episode gave a nice overview of the principal characters and introduced them to a great many possibilities. I enjoyed the way they blended McPhee’s and Hilty’s performances and I also enjoyed seeing the scene through the singer’s eyes as they imagined performing the numbers on stage. Jack Davenport plays a terrific villain as the brilliant, yet bristling director of the musical. And I found myself leaning toward rooting for Katherine McPhee’s character as the underdog, despite feeling a bit sorry for Megan Hilty, who is obviously dealing with recognition issues in her own family.
But there are problems with the premiere episode of this series as well. For one thing, Tom is rather annoying and a bit huffy when he feels he isn’t going to get his way. One is instantly turned off by his character. The fact that the director is a womanizer and an all around rude bastard is expected. Before the show even started, you simply knew that the villain in this show was going to be the director. No surprises there. Just like there were no surprises in the fact that McPhee’s character would blow folks out of the water with her first audition for the Marilyn role. The show is rather predictable. And the stereotyping in this show - shameful. I wonder what the gay community has to say about Smash.
There was something else that bothered me about this show as well. If the reasons Julia tells her husband as to why she wants to do the musical - caring for Marilyn Monroe’s plight of a woman who simply wanted to be taken seriously both as an actress and in real life, then why would she allow Tom to write a song like The National Pastime and allow the director to create such a raunchy dance number. She didn’t just allow this dance number, featuring Marilyn fairly grinding baseball players and talking about various baseball staples as if they were sexual items, Julia actually praised the number, thinking it genius. I, for one, thought it was degrading to Monroe’s character, but what do I know.
I will say that I am surprised to discover that Katherine McPhee is a much better actress than I expected. Then again, she isn’t really playing a role that is far off from her own life. After all, before American Idol, McPhee was doing just this same sort of scenario - auditioning with hopes of someone taking notice and launching her to stardom.
All-in-all, I was a bit intrigued by the premiere episode, but not intrigued enough to put Smash on my must watch list. I suspect fans of Katharine McPhee will enjoy the show and the amount of singing time she gets, but I don’t expect this show to last very long - maybe a season at most.