I’m sorry, I don’t mean to complain. But, Smash is the worst show in the world.
It’s depressingly bad, really. Especially because the pilot had a lot of potential, the idea had a lot of potential, but then the writers started writing it. It’s gotten to the point where I have to watch it because it’s just hilariously bad. And I should know. I know from bad TV. I struggled through the entire finale season of 90210 just to prove I could, after all. But every time a new episode of Smash comes on I still find myself tuning in and shaking my head at the absurdity of every action. Now, I am definitely the type to rip on things until they are nothing but a pulp withered on the floor, but I wouldn’t normally consider myself the type to write pages about it and post it to my blog. Yes, I like to complain, but this warrants it. And how. For those of you thankfully not watching this show let me give you a little run down:
Smash is about putting a Broadway show together. In this case, a Broadway show called Bombshell about the life and death of America’s favorite movie star, Marilyn Monroe. We start with the writers, veteran duo and scribblers of Broadway sensations such as Three on a Match and Heaven on Earth, Tom Levitt and Julia Houston. They pull in producer Eileen Rand who’s all about the project, and all about sticking it to her ex-husband and ex-producing partner, Jerry. First they pull in aspiring actress, Ivy Lynn, to sing a few songs and get people interested which attracts Derek Wills, famed Broadway director and sort of a douche bag (though, I don’t entirely dislike him, probably because he’s played by Jack Davenport who I still love because of the British television series Coupling, which was amazing and hilarious). Then there is casting, Tom wants to give the part to blonde voluptuous Ivy but then there’s fresh faced Karen Cartwright, who might have a shot at the role as well.
So what’s wrong with all this? Let’s start with the basics; the writing is terrible, the characters are unrealistic, and the situations embarrassingly overwrought. The acting is… not the worst. These are all veteran actors here (with the exception, perhaps, of Katharine McPhee depending on whether or not we count The House Bunny and/or Shark Night 3D) who are basically good at what they do, however they is only so much even Angelica Houston can do with the most ridiculous character in the world. Which is really the problem; all the characters are just bad. I sometimes wonder if the writers have ever met people.
Take, for example, Debra Messing’s character of Julia Houston. I’ve never been a huge Debra Messing fan. I liked Will & Grace enough to watch it occasionally I wouldn’t watch something because she’s in it, but I wouldn’t avoid anything with her face either. I think she’s fine. Plain and simply fine. And in the pilot episode she seemed so earnest, so genuinely happy to be writing a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. What woman wouldn’t be? There’s no great tragic icon on the past century. I was looking forward to seeing the trials and tribulations of a successful Broadway writer trying to balance work and her home life with son and husband. Instead what she devolved into, almost immediately, was someone who consistently carried on about how things weren’t exactly how she wanted them in the collaboration and her major story line of the season turned into her old and then rekindled affair with the actor hired to play Joe DiMaggio. Julia’s affair with Michael Swift was not only boring as all hell… we didn’t really get any steamy scenes before we got tearful confessions to her husband and problems with her son… but it led to asinine questions like: Is Julia’s judgement clouded by the actor playing the part? Should the romantic focus really be on DiMaggio instead of, say, Arthur Miller or (Hmmm) John F. Kennedy? I will go ahead and answer; yes. If you want to give an audience the love of Marilyn’s life you choose the husband who dedicatedly delivered flowers to her grave until the day he died. Luckily with season two Michael Swift disappeared. Viewers of this show like small favors because that’s all we get.
Angelica Houston’s Eileen is another example. Separating with her cheating husband, Jerry, Bombshell will be Eileen’s first outing on her own, and she desperately needs it to work. Okay, that’s compelling enough. We could have Eileen conniving her way through her old contacts, charming them to her side of things for revenue and good press, and we do get some of that, but, like Julia, Eileen’s story line is bogged down by an unnecessary love interest in the form of seedy bar owner Nick, who puts up capital for the show but probably doesn’t have that much cash lying around legitimately (this comes back to bite her and give us even more unwarranted drama in season two). Like Julia’s beau, Nick is gone by season two, only to pop up once to remind us that he was there at all.
But the embodiment of the annoying character issue is clearly the first season character of Ellis. He started out as the uppity assistant to the song writer and propelled himself to producer’s assistant through shear deviousness. He lies, he betrays, he passes secrets that should have been kept and he does it all with a smirk on his face so annoying that you can’t help wanting to reach through the screen and smack him a couple times. Sometimes this works. There are always those characters you love to hate. Ellis was not this way. He was just hated. There was actually an episode where he poisoned a woman with a peanut laced smoothie when he knew her to be allergic. Why? Because he wanted the lead role to go to someone else. Really? This character was so stupid and so annoying that there’s really no way anyone would have kept him on, secret keeper or no. He’s a no one, his word would never have flown against an established Broadway name. Luckily the writers seemed to get that people were ready to turn the TV off if faced with the irritance of Ellis once again so when season two started they completely overhauled the show and Ellis was the first thing to go.
Unfortunately they filled his void with aspiring musical impresarios Kyle and Jimmy. Kyle’s a sensitive, gay, overly patient, dubiously talented book writer who’s in love with his best friend Jimmy, a quasi-violent, ex-druggie who’s bad attitude would pretty much guarantee he’d never get a shot at getting his play produced, no matter how good it’s supposed to be, anywhere except a television show. He’s brooding, he’s hot… he’s that dude I saw in Newsies last year… and he’s a perfect match for Karen? If you say so, NBC. And his songs are SO GOOD that Karen drops Broadway and goes to star in this duo’s musical, Hit List, off off off Broadway. The fact that I can’t recall a single tune is arbitrary. I suppose.
Hit List is a thinly veiled Rent. A point driven home by the addition of original cast members Jesse L. Martin and Daphne Rubin-Vega and a Rent poster positioned above Martin’s character’s desk. It’s brought to the Manhattan Theatre Workshop where’s it’s lauded as the voice of it’s generation and then to drive the point home further [SPOILER, if anyone cares] one of the characters dies just as the show has opened propelling the musical into greater fame. Except, well, Rent was about a time and place, portrayed the importance of love and friendship amid a generation fighting change. It wasn’t about everyone. It was about a group of starving artists in New York City who don’t have heat or electricity in their squatted home. It was something people latch on to, myself included in a hard way, for sure because it was powerful, and (despite applying a specific time and place) timeless, it was after all based on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, which itself was based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger. Hit List is about… actually I’m not really sure. It’s about a girl who wants to be famous and she’s got a guy who writes songs that are good. And there’s a famous woman who ends up shooting the girl in the end for reasons that are completely unknown. They do a lot of stuff on platforms. To be honest, I’d be interested to see Hit List because I want to know what the hell it’s about and to see if it is actually good at all. Sadly we haven’t been privy to much of it, except the grandiose musical numbers that are supposed to suck us in but don’t.
Hit List is a direct response to problems viewers had with the show last season. Between Ivy and Karen for the role of Marilyn Monroe the choice is ridiculously clear and viewers didn’t appreciate having Karen’s ingenuity shoved down their throats. It makes sense that Karen should star in something more poppy, less old school musical. However, the way the show was introduced came off completely unrealistic and really just as annoying as the complaints people had from season one. Replacing one annoying aspect of a show with another equally as annoying doesn’t really do anyone any favors, which is probably why NBC threw this stinker to burn off on Saturday nights.
It’s a shame really, because I always root for the endeavors of Broadway stars. I started watching Glee, honestly, after catching the original cast of Spring Awakening in New York. Lea Michele was in it (I could not have predicted how annoying she would end up to be when she was singing in her underwear as Wendela Bergman). I started watching Bunheads just because of Sutton Foster, before I realized how completely underappreciated that show was (it was awesome). And then Smash, of course, because of Megan Hilty (I did not know her previously) as Ivy, Christian Borle (heard of him, mostly because of his marriage to the aforementioned Sutton Foster, but never saw him) as Tom, and now Krysta Rodrigez (saw her in The Addams Family try-out run in Chicago) as Karen’s long struggling friend who gets a shot at stardom in Hit List as well, and Jeremy Jordan (saw him in Newsies, though it was his co-star I went to see) as Jimmy. I can honestly say that the only ones I still like are Hilty and Rodrigez because Hilty’s voice is sick and Rodrigez’s character is the only one with a head on her shoulders.
My mother’s complaint was that it was too soap operaish. To be fair, that is her complaint about every show. And, it’s not a complaint that I hold particularly valid in most cases because that is how shows are. They have people falling in and out of love, betraying each other, cheating, lying, the whole nine yards. This is often what keeps people watching, wanting to know what those rascals will do next. However, with this show the complaint rings so very true. It’s far too soap operaish. This show should have been about what it advertised; a group of people getting a play together. Instead it was about a group of people who sleep with each other, lust after each other, fight, bicker and hug at rehearsal. Plus there is the bed hopping. I mean, really, isn’t this best left for cheesy nighttime soaps in the Desperate Housewives vein? Sometimes I can’t even remember if Derek is sleeping with Ivy or pining after Karen.
But maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe a soap was all this was attempting to be. Perhaps I am just giving it too much credit. But either way, it’s not good. It’s not salacious enough to be a good soap and not serious enough to be anything else. It’s a problem.
The only redeeming thing about this show is Ivy Lynn. I’m not entirely sure if this is because she’s written well or because she was manipulated well by actress Megan Hilty, who is clearly the only good thing that’s come out of this mess. Her voice is, in a word, resplendent, and she always manages to show strength and vulnerability at the same time. Ivy is also the one character that’s been given a full character arch. Starting out in the chorus of another Broadway show it’s clear Ivy’s been working her whole life for this opportunity. Her struggle is realistic. The daughter of a famous Broadway star, played by Bernadette Peters because that’s only the really casting that would make sense her since we’re given almost nothing of her mother except the fact that she made it on the Great White Way, Ivy has paid her dues. Her voice is amazing, she’s beautiful, and undoubtedly talented; it seems like it should be her time. But there is still struggle for her, because the role she was meant to play isn’t automatically handed over to her. She gets the part only to be pushed aside in favor of a star and then passed over again in favor of ingenue Karen Cartwright, the director’s darling, who was serving as the star’s understudy through a series of unlikely circumstances. Now, I, unlike many it would seem, do not particularly dislike Karen or her in the role, but no one could deny Ivy was born to play this role. Ivy’s not always nice, she’s not always fair, but she’s always human, which is far more than I can say for the rest of the cast.