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.
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.
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!
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:
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.