Smash: Season 1, Episode 1
I knew from the minute I first heard about NBC's Smash that I would either love it entirely or hate it with a fiery passion. And after watching it about eight times since it was released, for free, online a few weeks before the premiere, I can say that I love it. At least for now.
Smash starts with a pretty great premise: it follows the creators of a new musical about Marilyn Monroe just at the beginning of the process, as well as honing in on the actresses that will eventually vie for the part. It quickly becomes everything that musical television could be, like Glee but actually good, because the music is integral to the story, not an afterthought, added as a gimmick. The music here is true, it moves the story and isn't a departure from the plot. Plus, the Broadway talent here (namely, Megan Hilty, who plays Ivy Lynne, one of the Marilyn hopefuls) manages to translate the generally over-the-top style that sets someone apart on stage to the more subtle performances that really sing on the small screen, unlike the sad devolution of Lea Michele as Rachel Berry on Glee (yes, I get that part of the point of her character is that she's over the top, but she very often takes going too far much too far).
The show explores a world that most people haven't seen before, playing in a niche while, at the same time, functioning in a way that has wider appeal. Because even if you don't like theater, who can't identify with the idea of having a dream? And who can't admire those who have the courage to go for it, all in, even when it's hard?
One of the pilot's major strengths is its ability to create a world that seems extensive without going overkill on the details, dangling the clear histories and complexities of the show's universe, giving enough to pull us in but leaving enough behind the curtain to establish things that we'll need to discover later. What makes these still-shadowy elements intriguing is that most of them are firmly based in the characters. For instance, and potentially the most rife with intrigue: what exactly is the history between lyricist Tom (Christian Borle) and director Derek (Jack Davenport) that leads Tom to declare that Derek is "a terrible human being" and be so completely opposed to working with him? And what is the deal with Ivy? She is clearly her own worst enemy (her stage fright, which seems to run in constant opposition to her ambition, seems to be what's holding her back and causing her troubles, considering it's her nerves that send her to a bathroom stall to wretch, giving her main rival Karen, played by Katherine McPhee, the chance to audition and place some doubt in the casting board's minds).
Also, I can't wait to learn more about the dynamic between Tom and his writing partner Julia (played by an only marginally annoying Debra Messing). It harkens back to the good days of Will and Grace, and I'm curious as to how the drama with Tom's sure-to-be-trouble doe-eyed assistant Ellis (Jamie Cepero) plays out. Similarly, the sexual tension between Derek and Karen is sure to smolder, and it should get complicated considering her clear commitment issues (apparently her boyfriend is perfect but she just won't marry him, no matter how hard he tries. He seems too perfect, though. I've got my eye on that one).
The primary concern that I see emerging here is the timing. I was pleasantly surprised that auditions appeared in the pilot, but can the show keep it up? Can the timetable translate? Or will it be a belabored season of back and forth auditions?
Overall it comes back to a comment that Julia makes early in the pilot: "Revivals and movies. Why doesn't anyone do new musicals anymore?" I can appreciate that this show, really, is something new. It has a cinematic quality, which isn't surprising, considering the pedigree, creating a great confluence of the pop arts, one that is mirrored in the great transition between the show's real world and the fantasy performances. I'm curious to see if the show can keep this up.
The Little Things
-The entire episode would be worth it if only for the "Anjelica Huston walking with a purpose" shot in the final sequence
-O yea, did I mention: Anjelica.Fucking.Huston. On television.
-Jack Davenport as the kinda creepy, misogynistic director Derek is a gem.
-I would actually see this musical. Do I smell one of the world's greatest marketing schemes?
-In a recent interview with the AV Club, show creator Theresa Rebeck mentioned that she could see the show moving on to different productions if it lasted. This would be intriguging, considering the Marilyn conceit could really only last like, two seasons max, and would otherwise fall into the category of a lot of recent shows: the "how on earth can you last more than 20 episodes?" club