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Wednesday
Feb062013

Smash: "On Broadway" & "The Fallout"

If I had to hold a Playbill while waiting for "Smash"'s second season to begin, my hands would have all smudged with the ink from the anticipatory twisting and rolling and general "start already!" fussing. Though "Smash" was never exactly a critical hit in its first season, the idea that it was "hate watch" appointment television was sad (sigh. people and their it's-cool-too-hate-musicals predictability!). Smash was really no worse than your average struggling-to-find-its-voice first season TV show but in its finest moments it was like nothing else on television and pretty thrilling, too. I would hold up last season's early episode "The Cost of Art" up against virtually any episode of any show last season in terms of quality.

American Idol Alumni: Hudson & McPhee duet "On Broadway"

We could definitely see the behind-the-scenes turmoil on the screen in Season 1 as the show went on. But the show must go on... [more after the jump including new characters and songs]

....And in the launch of the second season the show went on. We could definitely see the sweaty nerves about the big overhaul. Unfortunately, if these first two episodes are indication, the overhaul is a slow burn and we might have the same issues as last season: too many characters in search of character,  too many pop songs uncomfortably shoehorned into the narrative (even through fantasy sequences if necessary), and too much Karen > Ivy silliness. This last beating a dead horse complaint of mine might be a moot point. Derek's redemptive speech to Ivy "you just weren't my Marilyn" could be a nod towards we, the angry displeased Smash-devotees who find the constant "Ivy doesn't have it" plot points beyond insulting in the face of Megan Hilty's huge talent... but the addition of Katherine McPhee's fellow American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson counteracts that tiny olive branch. That stunt-casting move doesn't really bestow faith that this show has solved its self-sabotaging "pop stars are better than stage divas" reflex in a show ABOUT stage divas.

2.1 & 2.2 "On Broadway/The Fallout"
It was two episodes in one (two hour premiere) for "Smash" returning from that extremely bumpy first season. Unlike many people, I don't actually love binge viewing of television series so I wish they'd spaced these two eppys out. We spend the first hour basically tying up plot lines left hanging from the finale (like Julia's struggling marriage and Karen's struggling relationship) when a time jump would have sufficed to do away with the exiting characters. The Marilyn musical in good shape and readying for its Broadway bow when it runs into financial trouble (again). Karen gets Ivy fired (again). Ivy doubts herself (again). Derek threatens to leave the show for other job opportunities (again) while also getting into hot water due to his womanizing (again). During all of these plot retreads, there's one key change-up with the old characters: "Bombshell" writers Tom (Christian Borle) & Julia (Debra Messing) move in together and nearly name-check Wil & Grace in the process when they talk about becoming sitcom characters.

Jeremy Jordan distressingly robbed of even a hint of sideburns (not a good look) plays aspiring songwriter Danny

And Introducing... 
Most of the narrative energy -- there isn't much plot -- is in potential. We get three new characters in the premiere. The first is Broadway sensation Veronica Moore (Jennifer Hudson), who is gearing up to headline a revival of Wiz. Veronica has no personality (as in Dreamgirls, Hudson only has that when she sings) and imparts bland showbiz advice "protect the work!" to Karen. Meanwhile, on the other end of the success spectrum, are two young talented nobodies: Brooklynite writing partners Kyle (Andy Mientus) & Danny (Jeremy Jordan). Kyle and Danny have (two episodes in) aggressively one-note personalities but at least they have them! Kyle is the earnest open-hearted type and Danny is, from what we've seen, a talented prick. I'm not sure that adding another talented prick romantic lead for Karen is a smart move in a show that already has exactly that in Derek the director. I understand populating a tv show with "types", but multiple version of the same type?

Set List: Originals - "Mama Makes Three" (Hudson), "Broadway Here I Come" (Jordan), "Caught in the Storm" (McPhee), "They Just Keep Moving The Line" (Hilty); Jukebox Tunes - "Don't Dream It's Over" (Hilty), "On Broadway" (Hudson & McPhee), "Would I Lie To You" (Company)
Best Moment: The "Scarves" moment between Julia & Tom was a hilarious if mean-spirited meta joke about Julia's altar ego, Smash's show's creator and first showrunner (who was fired last season) who had a thing for scarves and dressing Julia in them. (Runner up: Harvey Feirstein's cameo. He's always welcome!)
Worst Moment: "Would I Lie To You"? The show's WTF Bollywood hallucination last season was preferrable to this. At least it had WTFness to recommend it! 

Kyle + Bobby ? B♡BBY: I have to list the best Bobby moment each week. (I'm in love with Wesley Taylor. Shut up). This also works under our weekly header...
Gay Gay Gay: Bobby sees Kyle across a crowded room. "hello". Insta-relationship? Please? I'm totally for this double-hotness. 

P.S. Andy Mientus confessed on his twitter feed during this scene:

Fun Fact: I'm wearing my own clothes in this scene, which is what I wore to my audition    "

Smash twitter feeds might be really fun this season since Wesley is also tweeting very amusing bits

Episode MVP: Megan Hilty. The show will be a remarkably stronger show if/when/as-soon-as they can figure out a better way to make this a contest each week, and make the other characters pop a little more... and not just by telling us that they do (cough McPhee). Which is not the same thing as suggesting that they should make Hilty recede. That's always been the show's worst instinct, the kicking of Hilty to keep Ivy down and raise Karen up. 

And there's just no keeping Hilty down...


Curtain Call: "They Just Keep Moving the Line" Ivy's talent saves the day by changing the industry conversation when the "Bombshell" team crashes a benefit. This new song also illustrates what Smash is sometimes so good at in its musical numbers, too, allowing the songs to be full functional believable show tunes that also happen to reflect the plot of the show as well. This song is always Ivy's plight. She aces it but the next morning the team is right back to loving Karen as Ivy looks on wistfully.
GradeC-

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Reader Comments (35)

No Anjelica Huston update? This show is unwatchable and there's no anti-musical bias on my part.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Still baffled by your love of "The Cost of Art". One of the worst of the season, IMO, and that's saying a lot!

Very happy you recap this show! It's my "hate watch" show, but it's not because I think I'm too cool for musicals. It's because it's so bad but there are some moments of brilliance that keep me coming back.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

The biggest problem gets exacerbated by surrounding Katherine McPhee with even more acting and singing talent that outclass her specifically where she is in competition for a role against one of those people. We have to assume all of the creatives got lobotomized when favoring Karen to Ivy.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

It would be SO much better if they just make Karen a full-on conniving bitch diva. It would give her character the personality it sorely needs, but it would also "make sense" why poor Ivy is in the dumps with evil Karen always blocking her progress. Alas, we're supposed to keep thinking that Karen is Ms. Little Angel from Heartland USA with talent and charisma only rivaled by no one ever in the history of the world. Bleh.

I do hate-watch the show a bit, but I do wish it doesn't get canceled. Like you said, it's at least different from a lot of shows out now. Unfortunately the horrific ratings mean this show will just not last the season. Too bad, because I really wanted to see the evolution of Kyle+Bobby as well.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

"sigh. people and their it's-cool-too-hate-musicals predictability!"

Nathaniel, I used to agree with you on this point, but really it's starting to sound less and less convincing the more you repeat it.

I realise you're very passionate about musicals, as you should be, and not enough people are, and it's an unfortunately and perennially endangered genre (at least the screen musical is).

But really - the people who hate-watch Smash or Les Mis don't hate musicals - they love musicals. They just hate bad musicals.

The only reason a person would hate-watch anything is because deep down they crave that particular genre and it's so rarely done well that this person finds themselves watching it even when it's done badly, just to fill the craving.

So isn't it at least very possible that the people who hate Smash don't hate musicals so much as hate tacky dialogue, unimaginative characters, distracting subplots and just sheer turgidness? Also, I realise that with musicals it is particularly imperative that you suspend disbelief, but who the hell could ever believe that the unknown version of Katharine McPhee would even get a second audition when Hilty is available, eager and killing every number left and right.

I gave the show three or four episodes (McPhee's flagwaving apple pie hometown visit with the karaoke number was the final straw). The boyfriend stuck around for about seven or so. That's all it deserved.

We both love musicals. We both love Wizard of Oz, Singin in the Rain, Cabaret. We really like (and have watched multiple times) Moulin Rouge and Chicago, in spite of their flaws and frequently awful vocals.

We paid to see Nine, we paid to see Les Mis - not hating them in advance but hoping to really love them.

They are godawful films (barring Cotillard and Cruz's contributions to the first, and to a lesser extent, Hathaway, Redmayne and Barks' big numbers in the second). These movies made me angry in the same way really manly movies starring The Rock make me angry and really bloodless prestigious exposition-fests like Frost/Nixon make me angry. It has nothing to do with genre. It has everything to do with bad filmmaking and Daniel Day Lewis' anti-vocals and Russell Crowe's constipated Javert and dodgy camerawork and poor pacing and bad dialogue and bad dialogue masquerading as lyrics and bad singing and ill-conceived presentation of numbers etc etc

Seriously. There is no hidden or unconscious agenda here. I absolutely do not hate musicals. I hate bad musicals. And, in my opinion as well as in the opinion of hordes and hordes of musical-lovers, Smash and Nine and Les Mis are just really really bad musicals.

I'm starting to get the impression that you've been so invested in their success (financial and artistic) that whenever anyone points out their atrocious creative failures, you automatically discount this as non-valid critiquing, and shut your eyes and go 'la-la-la-this-person-doesn't-know-what-they're-talking-about-they're-just-musical-haters'.

We all have our pet causes and we get very aggressive about them (if I hear another word against Amy Adams, I swear!!) and it's cool. But we don't wanna reach the levels of Jeffrey Wells Silver-Linings-Playbook-is-just-patently-a-masterpiece-and-Lincoln-is-a-polished-turd-and-anyone-who-disagrees-is-unquestionably-a-philistine or David Poland and whatever is making him hysterical this year.

By no means am I saying you're anywhere close to those guys, but really, please relax about people who hate Smash/Les Mis. A lot of us are really not your enemy.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

@goran Agree with everything you said

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I don't agree with everything @goran just said (I actually like Les Mis), but this bit right here needs to be repeated, because a light-bulb came on above my head when I read it:

The only reason a person would hate-watch anything is because deep down they crave that particular genre and it's so rarely done well that this person finds themselves watching it even when it's done badly, just to fill the craving.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I can see why people would "hate watch" because there's a whole mess of things to pick at but i watch Smash because i genuinely enjoy it. The (original) musical sequences almost always cancel out any problems i have with the show.

I'm VERY upset that the show isn't getting better ratings because i heard the full Bombshell soundtrack and i'd love to see those numbers onscreen with the Broadway staging. I need this show to finish out its season but it looks as if that's going to be a tall order.

There's still some of the eye-rolling moments that Smash usually gives us (like the cult of Karen) but i realized how much i really missed this show. I'd be lying if i didn't say how big my smile was during the opening with "Cut, Print, Moving On". McPhee's strong points are BY FAR the Broadway staged numbers even if she doesn't look a hint like Marilyn. The writing still works against her with how AWESOME Karen is supposed to be and there's also the "problem" of...

Megan Hilty.

I full-on love that woman. She *nails* it. All the time. It says alot when you root for her even when her character turned into this unstable mess but Hilty's talent just shines through. Maybe it's even heightened when you put McPhee in the mix. It's not that i don't like McPhee but this show is aggressively pushing her in a role in which she is still developing the chops for. What i also find incredibly baffling is that McPhee has way more of a fanbase with the show than Hilty.

BUT from what i read, Hilty/Ivy will be getting her time in the spotlight this season so there's that to look forward to. Lots more of "They Just Keep Moving The Line" moments where there's a great song, fantastic singing, a purpose behind the song and resonance for the character and this season will be grand.

I hate Anjelica Huston's haircut. Just needed to say that.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

I pretty much agree with everything @goran said as well. There is too much knee-jerk musical hate in the world, but boy does "Smash" deserves all the critcisms it gets. I stuck with "Glee" (1.5 seasons) and "Smash" (most of season 1) much longer than I would have most shows that are this terrible because I wanted them to succeed. I want there to be a great musical TV show. But, as of yet, there isn't one.

I was hoping the change in showrunner would improve "Smash" a lot. From all the reviews, even from supporters such as yourself Nate, it doesn't sound like it has. A pity.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Gow

I also have to agree with Goran. As much as i love your blog Nat and I have been following you for years, but only started commenting this last year gone by, possibly due to starting my own blog and realising how hard it is to actually even try and do 1/32nd of what you do, if that.

But your stance this year on Les Mis and musicals in general has been over the top. The people that you complain about hating on things, including hate-watching Smash, which I also do, for the atrociousness with moments of emmy brilliance thrown in making it a weird cocktail to swallow is beyond ridiculous. Its no more than you hate on Chloe Moretz, Zellweger and Swank, all of them have their detractors and their passionate supporters, we get that you support musicals and passionately defend them, but the same old wheel has been spun a few too many times by you I think and its like, let people hate-watch Smash, let people bag on Les Mis, its no more than you do to Silver Linings playbook and other films - check out Les Mis' IMDB, you are not alone in your passioned support, just like I am not in my support of SLP. Relax and let the haters hate, there's more than enough support supporting

I am aware that totally sidetracked away from Smash, but your review just brought back all your Les Mis posts and made me post my feelings on your feelings and while you gave it a poor review, ITA with your opinion, your defense of ANY musical, not just good ones, is grating.
That being said, please let me vent and don't take this personally, its your blog, but as someone with such a varied readership I hope you would be able to temper your passion with a little bit of reason :)

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

I have to say the first hour was pretty solid and the second hour was ok until Hilty's big number. The dream sequences are there just to sell more tracks on itunes I guess? And Jeremy Jordan's character is so weird, who writes a musical and doesn't want to get outside help to get it staged? It was drama for drama's sake and made him completely unlikeable. Jennifer Hudson can siiiiiing but her acting is still meh for me.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrami (ramification)

I don't think it's even remotely fair to put Les Misérables in the same category as Smash or even Nine. Sure Les Misérables has its shortcomings and it's far from a perfect film but Smash? Seriously?

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhcu

Everyone Who Complained -- believe that i do hear you. Sometimes I hear myself saying it and I go "don't say it. don't say it" but then I say it anyway... for instance...

Goran wrote

I'm starting to get the impression that you've been so invested in their success (financial and artistic) that whenever anyone points out their atrocious creative failures, you automatically discount this as non-valid critiquing,..
and I fully fess up to this first part that I'm overinvested. And it is true to some degree that I'm non reasonable about this. But it's a simplification to suggest that I discount all critiques. When the Les Miz hate fest began I was trying ot be reasonable and point out the nuances of what I thought was wrong with the direction, camera work (which is a slightly different take than what other people thought was wrong) but nobody noticed. They were just all "it's a musical so he thinks it's a masterpiece." ... which I don't. I just think it's two most incredible moments are as transcendent and mini masterpiece like and a good reason that they are is the thing everyone seems to hate about the movie.

I finally just gave up in the tidal wave of "this movie is the worst!" and started discounting criticizms because they seemed in this case so tirelessly unreasonable.

But it's not as bad as y'all think.

someone recently pointed out "you always love musicals and you always do this and you always..." I don't always do anything. It's just that people only notice when I flip out. The majority of musicals that have come out in the past dozen years of doing this website have not made my top ten list in their years and people keep accusing me of admiring them unreservedly. Some I have outright hated (Mamma Mia!) some I have refused to see (that Julie Taymor one... cuz i just can't stomach her work most of the time so chaotic weird ADD and buried in influence and pretension without much in the way of a focused vision emerging). And like many sensible people I stopped watching Glee ages and ages ago because it is truly terrible (though I'd say that the first couple of seasons had moments of brilliance and then the risky-to-terrible impulses just took over.

Maybe it was the one two three punch of Dancer in the Dark, Hedwig, and Moulin Rouge! that generated this impression that I thought every musical was a masterpiece? It's not my fault that three brillliant ones arrived and revived the genre so beautifully.

Even in this review I have graded the episode a C- WHICH IS NOT A GOOD GRADE and hear y'all are telling me that I have no critical filter when it comes to musicals.

so what am I to do? I don't mean this final paragraph as a self-pity drama queen thing -- consider it more of a vaguely amused/annoyed shrug. But I feel I can't win when it comes to musicals. If i critique them people don't notice. If I love them people dismisss it as "he always does". If I stop writing about them it would feel like a betrayal to me and to most readers. If I keep writing about them people are like "there he goes agaiin." I do not in any way mean that is a drama queen self-pitying thing because TRUTH: it's my favorite genre and there's no chance I can avoid writing about it unless i just stop writing about movies altogether. So we'll all have to just put up with each other about this one.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

When I think of musicals from Hollywood's Golden Age, the word 'effortless' springs to mind. Of course, huge amounts of effort were poured into them and those performers and writers must have sweat buckets to achieve those results. But onscreen you see lightness, buoyancy - in the numbers, the repartee, the camerawork.

Whereas so many of the 'new' musicals just seem to be trying too hard (I definitely put 70% or more of Les Mis in this category) and the result is something that feels strained. In the 30s, 40s, 50s, musicals were being made all the time, you had people who did this regularly, they became masters of their craft. Nowadays, with comparably few musicals made there really aren't any experienced film musical directors (Tom Hooper is showing us his virgin effort at the genre, Rob Marshall was as well with Chicago...). I think this is a huge part of the problem.

I have to say as someone who truly loves musicals, onstage or from earlier eras of film, news that a new one is coming just fills me with dread because I am almost always sure I will hate it. Don't get me started on 'Into the Woods' - Jesus Christ, I can only imagine how they're going to fuck that up!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

This show will probably be canceled this serason, but maybe it will find a place on cable.

"Jeremy Jordan distressingly robbed of even a hint of sideburns (not a good look)"

So true...I think he did it on his own as well, which is just weird. It looks too Hitler Youth.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I remained baffled at the show's insistence on the castigation of Ivy as the primary vehicle for the ascendance of Karen. Anyone with two functioning eyes and ears knows who should have always been Marilyn. The star-is-born narrative only truly works when the person in question is unquestionably a star. Because McPhee (and by proxy Karen) has never outshone Hilty (and by proxy Ivy) as a performer, fully buying her pluck-and-luck rise has been a difficult feat.

It's not immediately apparent how this season's new characters will feature into the story, but so far I am not terribly optimistic. The last thing this show needs is a another batch of extraneous people merely taking up space and detracting from what makes the program most fascinating.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

This is why I love TFE. Of any of the major Oscar bloggers, Nathaniel is the most tolerant of contrasting opinions about art, as indicated by his lengthy response to the critiques of his critique above.

As for the Smash premiere itself, what worries me most (aside from ratings) is that found the first half of the 2hr episode, where they were tying together loose ends, better than the second half, where they were beginning to move the plot along (if refurbishing old plot counts as that). As a general rule, when characters on the show start talking about "Marilyn" as a euphemism for "the 'it' factor", I hate it. It's just such lazy, corny writing. And, for all the reasons Nathaniel laid out in his piece, it seems like Season 2 will be the same exact plot as Season 1, only with different guest stars, a new musical, and a few of the supporting characters substituted by new actors.

A fun thought experiment though: Imagine if McPhee had been cast as the conniving Broadway vet Karen and Hilty was the starry-eyed ingenue Ivy Lynn. Wouldn't that be amazing? They could have spent a few episodes with the whole Karen vs. Ivy Lynn conflict and when the public rallied around the ear-poppingly awesome/'good girl' Hilty, they could have moved McPhee to the backburner and perhaps cut her altogether. Sigh...

So ultimately I blame the casting, be it Spielberg who apparently wanted to drop Hilty from the show or Rebeck who gets all the flack. Casting the far superior Hilty as the "evil" character forced the show against a corner. They could either stick to the plot they had planned, casting Karen as Marilyn and dropping the person giving the most acclaimed performances of the show (Hilty), or they would have to change course mid-stream, never definitively casting Marilyn, keeping Hilty in a prominent place on the show but ensuring that it stays in a constant state of flux with constantly rehashed plotlines. They clearly chose the latter path.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Nathaniel, you left out the fantastic opening number ("Cut, Print... Moving On") in your rundown of musical numbers at the bottom of the post. It's scenes like that that keep me watching Smash even as it strains patience and credulity (don't get me started on the ATW Gala scenes, PLEASE). In one short sequence, it showed us how well Bombshell has come along, where everyone went after Boston, and what the main relationships look like now. There are few other shows on TV right now that could make a sequence like that so fleet and entertaining. It also helps that, as someone else pointed out, McPhee is generally at her best when performing the stage show numbers.

But then... JESUS. The awful, one-note new characters. The hallucination. The showing-not-telling. SIGH. All of the show's worst impulses are back - meet the new boss, same as the old boss!

Granted, most of these are practically ingrained in the show's DNA - Karen was ALWAYS going to be Marilyn. Which is, I think, why Spielberg was against casting Megan Hilty as Ivy - she's just too damn good. How could anyone with eyes and ears buy McPhee as Marilyn when Hilty is there knocking it out of the park every scene? And the show does like to use all the well-worn tropes of old musicals without doing anything interesting with them.

Which brings me to this: I don't think people who hate-watch Smash are doing so because they hate musicals, exactly. It might play a part on a sub-conscious level, in that some of the things they respond negatively to are in fact well-worn musical tropes, but the fact is that most of the time the show DOES execute them poorly. I love the show in spite of this, partly because I can recognize and respect what it's trying to do most of the time, but mostly because the high points are SO high (these episodes' opening and closing numbers being two prime examples). Also, the show just plain LOOKS good. And nearly all of the performances are great, even when the characters are doing/saying completely risible things. And I think a lot of people who watch the show would agree on these things. But that contingent of people who hate-watch do so because of the train wreck factor. They want to see something burst spectacularly into flames, whether or not it's part of a genre they like or even understand. But if it is something they generally dislike, then so much the better.

I still hold out hope, however feebly.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I only watched the first episode, but oh god. I just can't with karen/mcphee.
and what was that about ivy having to apologize? and to think of the reason she did the things she did?
the gleesque moment of karen discovering new talent was also very silly.
also, "smash" keeps telling us that karen > ivy (as a person and a performer) but they keep giving us scenes where karen seems more interested in success / celebrity life (rebecca, veronica) than anything else while ivy is always focused on the work. is that a good trait?

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

We were supposed to believe Ivy's attempted OD and also her behind the scenes cheating with Dev in the finale pretty much clinched the show's try-out run in Boston as a disaster (accept the fact the audience's reactions to that horrific last number in Bombshell pointed to the contrary) and also the most major distraction (despite the fact there was at least 5 other more distracting things going on in Boston but Rebeck and her writers went for further character assassination). At least they never directly said Julia was pregnant (just motion sickness or whatever that she never had since she was pregnant with her son Leo) because that would have stuck a fork in the character.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I don't know why everyone is ragging on Nathaniel about Les Miz. I applaud him for being someone with intelligence and taste and daring to be very vocal about liking this film . . . which I honestly believe had some detractors who went in WANTING to hate it . . .same way they did on Broadway . . . not to say people who didn't like it don't have a point or a valid opinion . . . but that David Denby article was the embodiment of the "too cool for school" condescension many critics and bloggers had. I think I have really good taste and I am very well-versed in musical theater and there were some really thrilling things in Les Miz (which was an imperfect film) but I think it came closer to reminding me why I love the genre than the movie versions of Nine, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, Sweeney Todd (and that's my favorite musical!) or random episodes of Glee did. I will applaud it for that.

Musicals of the 30's, 40's and 50's (esp. the movie versions) hardly ever dealt with super dark material. You got some darkness in Showboat, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel and Porgy and Bess but these were often the exception rather than the rule.

On to Smash, the minute I saw Katherine McPhee was in this and that we were supposed to think this styrofoam cup on legs was the be all and end all, I wondered who the hell thought of this show and how the genre that brought us Merman, Verdon, Rivera, LuPone and Peters would even put McPhee in the same category is beyond me. Do they even GO to Broadway shows?

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro

Nat, glad to see Smash and your coverage of it return!

I don't think that its is an awful show, just extremely uneven. The best parts, like Hilty, are awesome while the bad parts can be pretty awful. I don't hate McPhee or her character, but I think she's badly written and as others have stated it is extremely annoying how she's pushed on the audience as the "star" and "muse" when you couldn't find a more perfect Marilyn than Ivy. It just drives me nuts!

Regarding departing characters -- good riddance for the most part. Though is Sam no longer a regular? I'll miss him and his relationships with Tom and Ivy. I want to see him in Book of Mormon!

As for the new characters, I liked Kyle, but the Jennifer Hudson character only registered on the "girl can belt" scale. Making Danny such an unrealistic jerk is a problem. I could buy that he's an asshole and a snob and that he doesn't want to "sell out" with regard to his work. But the way it was portrayed made no sense. I could understand if they had him say something like "I'll talk to you, but I need to retain creative control." But completely flipping out and not even wanting to discuss the possibility of getting his work seen just struck me as idiotic.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusanP

They certainly do keep moving the line, because every time I think I may be done with the show, Hilty comes along and blows it out of the water. I'm even wondering if Spielberg wanted her recast because it was so evident that her talent makes the whole Karen vs. Ivy storyline (as cast) beyond ridiculous. That being said, I fully admit to "hate watching" the show. The hate comes more in the form of hating myself a bit for continuing to watch hoping that it will improve and finally play to its greatest strengths (namely the songs, Hilty, all the actors that seem to understand the inherent camp of this thing), but always being disappointed that the show and its runners ignore those same strengths in favor of tired/cliched storytelling and McPhee. Talk about blah. I'm sure she's a nice person and it is apparent that she has talent, but in the confines of this show she has all the spark of a damp rag.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I didn't hate the first season of Smash as much as I hated the second half of Monday night's show. I would have turned it off when the WTF dream number came on if I had had control of the remote and the show never recovered my interest, even for Hilty's big number.

HIlty does not fit into the show. She's a stage singer (brilliant) in a field of pop singers. They keep trying to get her to sing pop songs, but those fall flat. When she sings show songs, she sails. She's a good actress as well. I don't hate McPhee, but I find her limited (I liked her in the Bollywood number (as well as the number itself). Sure, it had no place in the story, but it was a good number on its own and something never seen on US TV. I appreciate risk taking.). The musical numbers (stage musical numbers and some of the dream numbers) was why I liked the show, the story line never really brought me in.

As for Les Miz, the musical that will start WWIII, I put it in the same category as Nine, Mame, Grease 2 through 14, most of Glee, both Annies and the thought of Lea Michelle in Funny Girl. Wish I could like it, but it grates on me like a trip to the dentist.

And if you want serious, passionate love/hate regard for singers and productions, stick your nose into the opera world. Those girls will cut a bitch.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Hmm. I'm curious as to why no one has compared this show to the much more successful ABC musical drama-edy, Nashville. They both have the soap opera structure of backstage antics, bed-hopping performers, evil-doers, jealous lovers, strong female characters, and in the case of Nashville, political intrigue. However, Nashville excels in strong writing, seamless musical interludes and performances, great singing AND acting (I’m talking to you, Katharine McPhee), and interesting story arcs. Perhaps it’s too country for some, too hetero for others, but it’s far more enjoyable on a week-to-week basis. I was so hoping for Smash to improve, and I felt sad at 11:00 pm. I agree with the C- grade. But, I’ll keep watching.

FYI—I’ll take Pierce Brosnan’s and Russell Crowe’s bad singing over McPhee’s acting void any day. Rex Harrison and Yul Brynner couldn’t sing either, but can you picture anyone else in their signature roles?

FYI2—Hilty is terrific, but I’m tired of her pout.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

@Pam. I really like Nashville, its well produced and thought out.

I think the main difference with N and S is that the all the music in Nashville is organic to the story while Smash puts in numbers for the sake of the number, like a stage musical, but without much thought as to whether the number really fits. Smash needs out of town runs to cut the bad stuff and hone the story before it airs. Nashville also has a much more even cast and doesn't expect the non singers to carry a tune or even try. If I have a complaint, its that its a bit too much soap and the story lines are a bit ADD. Slow it down a bit.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Meta-fun: the name-dropping chain of which Broadway people leaked some info back to Julia was, minus Fierstein, entirely cast members of "Xanadu". And then in real life Jackie Hoffman responded: https://twitter.com/JackieHoffman16/status/299006957325524992

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDS

It's ironic, but I missed the hallucination scene because I turned it to TCM to watch the opening of Cabaret.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

"This is why I love TFE. Of any of the major Oscar bloggers, Nathaniel is the most tolerant of contrasting opinions about art, as indicated by his lengthy response to the critiques of his critique above."

Evan, great comment. This is so true of Nathan. He is completely gracious always.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Love the new banner/theme!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

nathaniel, this has nothing to do with Smash (I´ve never seen a single episode) but you have to share/post this. Maybe Sean Penn will see it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bHNTPdy0CIM#!

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Nathaniel, in response to that last paragraph where you say you feel like you just can't win: that's not true. What spurred all of these comments was the hate-watching bit in your opening paragraph. Many people have considered, rational opinions about why Smash is a bad show. It's a slap in the face to read a writer you respect dismiss those opinions as knee jerk musical bashing, so there was push back in the comments section.

It's actually even more frustrating that you gave this episode a C-, because it's similar to saying, "It's ok for me to trash this show, but the rest of you lay off." That's not very fair. "So what am I to do?" you ask. The answer is to stop slipping in lines like the hate-watching one. Just review the episode. People will hear your criticisms and see the negative episode grade.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersdp

I sort of hate-watch too, only b/c of the extreme miscalculation of this show trying to make anyone ever believe that Katharine McPhee is a greater Broadway talent than Megan Hilty is. It's so dumb and ridiculous. No matter what halo you put on Iowa-corn fed Karen or how slutty/drugged you make Ivy, Hilty always will come out on top in that matchup. And then last season's many blunders, from ELLIS to Julia's retarded son to the Bollywood number to singing in a bowling alley or to Rihanna in Times Square to Julia's affair, none of it worked in the end. I hope that this season improves, but I doubt it will. Uma Thurman was a mess last season, and it looks like Jennifer Hudson will suffer the same fate. The only one here I can't get enough of is ball-buster Angelica Huston's producer lady. The show should be centered around her working in this male-driven industry (but heaven forbid, she's OLD!!!!). Hope they right the ship before it's cancelled, which could be any day now.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIan

"hear y'all are telling me that I have no critical filter when it comes to musicals"

Nathaniel, I don't think any of us are saying that - I certainly wasn't.

I don't think the reason you love Les Mis is because you desperately wanted to love it. In the same way the reason I hate the crap out of Les Mis is not because I desperately wanted to hate it. (Hell, I wanted to love it too!)

I think we all enjoy your obsessive musical coverage and long may it continue, and I don't think you're being somehow unreasonable in embracing Smash and Les Mis.

I just don't like the way you routinely dismiss the people who hate them as not worth listening to. That is all.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I like Smash and enjoy watching it. I like both Ivy and Karen, but Hilty is by far the better performer. If Season 2 is going to be the final season, then I hope they expend the effort to end at a satisfactory moment (not the same as tidy conclusions).

It made me think of what I want in Season 2.
1. No love interest for Julia. No more of her private life, please.
2. I no longer want Ivy to play Marilyn. I'm bored with Marilyn. I just want Ivy to succeed, maybe as the sudden replacement lead in a current hit show.
3. New Composer Guy (Danny?) can sing and have character development, but no romance. He's already too much of a jerk.
4. If Jesse L. Martin comes on, he'd better have songs.
5. If it's a final season, I'm okay with a major character being killed off, like Julia or Karen.
6. I'd like the team of Tom and Julia to break up. Artistic partnerships can grow stale. Maybe Tom and Kyle could click artistically (not romantically) and free of their pretentious partners, quickly write a funny, fast-paced light-hearted comedy hit.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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