Popdose’s Winter 2012 TV Preview: “Smash”

Written by Television, TV Reviews

Kelly Stitzel gives her thoughts on NBC’s new musical drama that stars Debra Messing, Anjelica Houston and a bunch of scarves.

Smash — Mondays, 10:00 PM, NBC

For what seems like a year, NBC has been tirelessly promoting its new musical-drama Smash; I think I’ve seen promos for this show a total of eleventy billion times since Christmas. The pilot has been available online for a while via outlets like Hulu and has even aired on airplanes. So, yeah, NBC really, really wants you to watch this damn show, which finally had its premiere Monday night. By then, though, I think everyone probably felt like they’d already seen it, even if they hadn’t.

Smash stars Debra Messing as Julia, a lyricist with a penchant for scarves (she even wears them with her damn pajamas), who is supposed to be taking a break from writing musicals so she and her husband Frank (Brian d’Arcy James) can adopt a baby. However, she and her writing partner, Tom (Christian Borle) are inspired by an idea Tom’s new assistant Ellis (Jaime Cepero) has about a Marilyn Monroe-based musical. Despite the fact a Marilyn musical has been tried before, and failed, they decide to get to work on developing the show straight away, much to Julia’s husband’s chagrin. Soon, they have the support of producer Eileen (Anjelica Houston) and have brought in Derek (Jack Davenport), an egotistical, womanizing director to helm the show.

Then the casting process begins. Julia and Tom have their hearts set on Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), an actress who has been appearing in another of their shows, to play Marilyn. However, Derek insists that they do a casting call, wanting someone with huge star power to play the lead. So, they start auditioning other actresses, including fresh-faced Karen (Katharine McPhee), who has been struggling to catch her big break and hopes that this may be the big show that will change her life. Both Karen and Ivy get call backs for the part, thus kicking off the series’ central rivalry.

When I first heard about this show, I thought the premise sounded interesting and it had potential to be a lot of fun. I mean, it’s a grown-up show about musical theater (sorry, kids, but Glee makes me want to vomit unicorns) that features some actual Broadway vets (Hilty, Borle, d’Arcy James, composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) — it should be amazing. And maybe it will be — based on the pilot alone, I’m not so sure.

For the most part, I think Smash shows promise, but the pilot seemed kind of rushed. I realize that showing every tiny detail of what it takes to get a new Broadway show off the ground wouldn’t be that entertaining, but those tiny details are what I find interesting. This is an hour-long television drama and not a behind-the-scenes documentary, though, so some parts of the process have to be cut so that we can get to know the characters. But based on the amount of time that was spent getting to know the characters, I walked away from the first episode thinking that this show is going to be largely about McPhee’s character and, frankly, I just don’t like her enough to want to watch a show in which she features so prominently. But that’s just me — if you love her, then you will probably love this show.

Though McPhee is my biggest problem with the show, there are some things I enjoyed and that will likely get me to tune in for at least a few more episodes. First, Messing’s character, which I’ve taken to calling Scarves Mahoney. She has the potential to be the quirkiest, most crazypants character of the whole show and I kind of want to see if she morphs into some kind of Diane Keaton/Colleen Dewhurst hybrid by the end of the season. Also, Anjelica Huston. I adore her and her character seems like the kind of woman who would be fun to gossip with over martinis. And I hope that at some point, Karen’s father, played by Dylan Baker, is revealed to be, like, a collector of Broadway actresses’ hair or something — I don’t think I’m ready to accept Baker playing a normal person and not a creepy weirdo.

Even though the pilot was ridiculously overhyped and couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations NBC seems to have placed upon it, I do think it could turn out to be, if nothing else, some campy good fun. And because of that, I’ll give it a chance. Let’s see what you’ve got, Scarves — I mean, Smash.