Sometime last week between episodes four and five of Smash's ill-fated second season I had an unhappy epiphany: I was no longer looking forward to new episodes of "Smash". Last season, when everyone else was 'hate-watching' I was actually unironically enjoying. Yes, it had issues but where else were you going to see showtunes on TV? And besides, MANY shows have troubled first seasons as they find their voice. Bunheads, for example, recently leapfrogged from 'who-is-this-for?' curio to must-watch in the final episodes of its first season.
Yet, for all of my "Support the Musicals!" blog fervor, Smash is now a chore. They've basically cut the staged musical numbers and all we're left with is solos on bare stages or by pianos, usually by Jennifer Hudson. "The Song" as an episode was, and I couldn't believe it, a Jennifer Hudson concert. That was the plot! She's a fine singer but not a good actress and therefore hardly worth tuning into as the lead of a serialized scripted television. (I'm as surprised as you that the show suddenly thinks of her as the lead. I thought it was a guest arc!). Smash already fell on this sword in season 1 whilst trying to make Katharine McPhee happen.
I have always maintained that a show about musical theater could be an A+ kind of show, or at the very least an exciting oasis in an otherwise homogenous TV landscape where 86% of television characters are employed in four types of businesses: medicine, law enforcement, generic corporations with cubicles and the legal system. The only thing that's keeping me with Smash now is the promise of upcoming guest spots from Liza Minnelli and Bernadette Peters! (Card-carrying Show Queen... don't judge.)
But what's actually happening on Smash?
Many things which I’ve listed in order of Dull to Excruciating but as is the case with all weak episodic television that can’t really own itself, none of what’s happening really happens. Things that happened but didn’t happen: Veronica decides to change her image with Derek’s help, then decides against it, then decides for it but no image change is visible to us since she is now changed but ended her concert with a generically inspirational ballad that would be right at home on American Idol; Eileen (Anjelica Huston) has given up the reigns to "Bombshell" and her ex husband Jerry has taken over as producer…but at the end of the latest episode he defers to her and let’s her determine the musical’s fate and she seems to be in charge again despite a time-waster of a government trial about her money subplot; Ivy’s (Megan Hilty) new job, playing the Uma Thurman part from Dangerous Liaisons in a Broadway revival has saddled her with a movie star (played by “Just Jack”) who doesn’t understand that Liaisons is not a comedy and is going to make the show a disaster so she turns his head around, but then he seems even more likely to make it a disaster; with Karen's help Kyle and Jimmy catch a big break which almost doesn’t happen but then it does when Veronica sings their song on TV and they’ll now be featured in the Fringe Festival which almost doesn’t happen but then looks like it’s going to; and finally the one plot thread that veers wildly between dull and excruciating with moments of potential which it never quite reaches is the Julia plotline in which she attempts to rewrite “Bombshell” but since none of the songs appear to have changed, has the show really changed? A musical is not its book. And a book is not a musical.
2.4 THE SONG
Set List: (Originals) "I Can't Let Go" (Hudson); Jukebox: Billy Joel's "Everybody Loves You Now" (Mientus, Hudson); Showtunes: "I Got Love" (Hudson), "I Got Love Redux" (Hudson).
B♡BBY:It's clear that dumbing B♡bby, Sam, and the other dancers from the show is a sure sign that this show does not really want to be about musical theater. What is musical theater without the zing and flavor of the chorus? What is musical theater without the gays? The only gay still standing is Tom and he’s been neutered for season 2. No sex life and, more miraculously, seemingly no interest in sex which is totally against any previously written concept of this character.
Best Moment: “Everybody Loves You Now” which made the show (briefly) feel like a real musical again.
Worst Moment: No, not the moment where "Ellis" resurfaced (not literally, but he was on the phone). The moment after that when I realized that the show was actually better with him in it [GASP]. It no longer even has even has the special knife's edge danger of "so bad it's good" to keep it lively. Now, it's just dull.
2.5 THE READ THROUGH
Set List: (Originals) "Public Relations" (Borle & McPhee), “Caught in the Storm” (Jordan); Jukebox: "Some Boys" (McPhee); Showtunes: none.
B♡BBY: Wesley Taylor returned for a split second, but it was only to flirt with and then diss Kyle when he didn’t like his writing. Using the gays against each other when you’ve written out all the gay stuff this season? Boo!
Best Moment: Chosen with the full knowledge/disclaimer that the show hasn’t earned this particular intrigue… but the idea that there can exist within one show “Bombshell”, two completely separate shows fighting for attention (a big glitzy spectacle about a self-made movie star and a layered drama about a woman as created /projected by a series of men) is kind of fascinating. Or would be with better writing or actual ways to show us this beyond people paying lip service to it.
Worst Moment: “Some Boys” – was like a narcotized impossibly mundane dream sequence complete with filters! -- I don’t know how it’s possible that Karen’s character has become LESS interesting (the negative of zero is…) but watching her moon haplessly over this new jerk? Pathetic. I don’t even wish this plotline on Karen, who the show has taught me to loathe for her whiney ease at getting everything she wants. Except this guy apparently who is like the male equivalent of Karen in that everyone keeps telling me he's awesome but he does nothing to earn the awesomeness. Honestly I much preferred Dev to this new guy. His political storylines dragged the show away from its raison d’etre but he wasn’t a horrible character until they decided to write him into horribility