Tuesday, March 20, 2012

FIRST ACT BOOK PROBLEMS: We haven't written about Smash in several weeks, and with the show reaching a turning point this week--the workshop doesn't go nearly as well as most of the characters had hoped--I think it's an apropos time to talk about it. Two things that come to mind:

  • We've talked in the past about the Studio 60 problem--in which that show constantly jammed down our throats how brilliant, edgy, and funny the show within the show supposedly was, yet whenever we saw segments from the show within the show, it didn't deliver on that promise. 30 Rock has solved that problem in an intriguing way, by basically acknowledging that TGS is not actually good at all (even though 30 Rock itself is), and this week, Smash addresses that problem by having outsiders come to see Marilyn! (they've never formally put an exclamation point on the end, but it has to be there, right?) and tell the characters that it's a hot mess. It's an interesting way of reoslving the issue, and we'll see if it works.

  • Interestingly, both Smash and Marilyn! share a common thread--in both cases, the original songs are pretty damn great ("Let Me Be Your Star" is a darn fine opening number, "20th Century Fox Mambo" and "National Pasttime" are both nice big production numbers, and "History Is Made At Night" is a good character/romance song), but the book, in both cases, has problems. For Marilyn!, I have no idea what the take on Monroe is--I think it's "naif seduced by fame gets lost in it," but without an ending. For Smash, we're all over the place, and only seem to be really working when we're focused on the show itself (if Debra Messing's rebellious teenage son disappeared forever, would anyone actually mind?).

Of course, even when it's working, there are questions--apparently, no one (not even longterm friends) knew that Ivy's mother was an uber-famous Broadway star? I'm pretty sure that when Mamie and Grace Gummer read for parts, folks know who their mother is, even if there's a different last name (amusingly, looks like Grace Gummer is going to show up in future episodes). I'm still watching, because the musical numbers are pretty darn great, but I'm hoping the show finds a way to fix its book problems and make its characters likable again (pretty much all of them, save Tom and maybe Karen, seem like pretty awful people at this point).


  1. Tosy and Cosh11:15 AM

    Now I need to figure out who Mamie Gummer's mother is.

    Last night's was the first I wacthed since ep 2. And my problems remain--what I wanted was a show that actually dug into what it's like to create a musical. A broader version of Sondheim's Finishing the Hat. Kind of like The West Wing did for the White House. Sure, I have no illusions that that show was 100% accurate, but it showed me interactions, processes, arguments, compromises, and procedures that were new to me and illuminating and interesting. All being conducted by characters who were interesting, with unique flaws and strengths.

    That's what I wanted here. But we haven't seen our writers write one song. Argue over a lyric. Scrap a scene after a rehearsal illuminated its flaws. It's just vaguely soapy developments among a core cast of, not just unlikeable, but uniteresting (a much bigger sin) characters. Sure, the musical numbers have real potential, and some of that content is fun, but it's not enough to hang a (TV) show on.

    All that said, Bernadette Peters is remarkable.

  2. Tosy and Cosh2:19 PM

    Damn it.

  3. Tosy and Cosh2:19 PM

    Fair point  - I've only seen 3 eps, so am judging a bit unfairly.

  4. bobsyeruncle3:13 PM

    Can we please talk about the Julia/Michael/Leo trio? I'm speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoys the show - I know it's dumb, half-baked, soapy, lame and often insufferable, but it appeals to the same part of me that will consent to go see a movie like CENTER STAGE in theaters. And up until this week it was standing above GLEE in terms of basic narrative coherence. 

    But then we get to this week.  Where Julia and Michael are conducting their "secret" affair....by having public altercations where they're spilling all of their emotional baggage in front of everyone. At no point have we even been given a convincing reason why this affair is EVEN HAPPENING AT ALL. And don't get me started on Leo crying at the end. It's not quite as egregious as having a college age kid whining at his mom because she promised him a Chinese baby sister, but it was damned close. 

    I doubt SMASH will ever be a great, or even a very good show.  But I sure do wish they'd get out of their own way and stick with the serviceable, entertaining show they could and occasionally do have. Focus on Marylin!, no one gives a crap about Julia's home life. 

  5. Eric J.3:55 PM

    I think I enjoy Smash the way many people enjoy "The Walking Dead." Groaning through the terrible parts and lamenting the mistakes the show makes is somehow part of the fabric of enjoying the show. That said, I liked the way Ivy was handled tonight better than I have in a while. And I loved Bernadette Peters playing Bernadette Peters in all but name.

    I am however, hoping that Leo gets a full scholarship to the Chuck Cunningham Academy in upstate New York over the summer.

  6. There is a one-way ticket to Mandyville with his name on it.<span> </span>

  7. While he's the most likely target for a ticket to Mandyville, at least two other characters could be routed there with ease--Karen's boyfriend (who currently exists solely for the purpose of explaining how Karen is able to live in relative comfort despite being a waitress and to contrast with skeevy Brit director) and bitchy assistant.

  8. Heather k6:24 PM

    I believe this blog has a very PRO Center Stage faction! But I am with you on the ridicuous and so far unmotivated except for "drama" affair.

  9. Becca7:22 PM

    You guys are impressive. I barely made it through the first ep of Smash. And I watched almost all of Studo 60! I just found it all ludicrous. If it had been Ludacris, that might have helped. When I finished watching the pilot, my strongest feeling was "I don't care." 

  10. Linda8:09 AM

    Had to look up "chuck cooper" and "mandyville".  You guys complete me.

  11. KCosmo10:25 AM

    I am actually really enjoying Smash -- 90% for the Marilyn musical numbers. 

    Agreed that there is way too emphasis on Julia's home life and everyone else's complaints in this vein. I did laugh out loud at the idea that Ivy had been a Broadway chorine (is that still a word?) for ten years and somehow no one had ever heard that her mom was Bernadette Peters.

    One note:  if you think a HS kid wouldn't be crushed to find out that his mom is cheating on his dad, you're nuts.

    Incidentally, I think that Ivy's acting (i.e. the acting done by the actress playing Ivy) is improving.  Originally I found her unwatchable except for the scenes where she's playing Marilyn, but the character has gotten a little less heavyhanded.

    I'm also wondering why the heck one casts Brian d'Arcy James in a role that has no connection to musical theater.  

  12. There are reports that Brian D'Arcy James will sing in an upcoming episode (presumably in a fantasy sequence of some variety)--he's had a nice year so far with a small role in Friends With Kids as well as this.

    Hilty's a performer with a smallish wheelhouse, but is good in it--she was excellent in 9 to 5 in the Dolly Parton role, largely because she got the benefit of the one truly great new Dolly song in the score, "Backwoods Barbie."

  13. Marsha2:08 PM

    So....I did not know that that character was in Game Change. Now I need to watch it.

  14. That character has no dialogue in the finished film and appears very briefly.

  15. Marsha9:13 PM

    Boo! Hiss!

  16. As if on cue, he apparently sings next week.

  17. Novanglus5:24 PM

    Excellent!  Now I can stop complaining about the Yentlification of James.  (Or rather, the Patinkinification, as in Yentl, of James.)

  18. Novanglus5:33 PM

    Definitely sick of the affair, and glad they're apparently jettisoning that subplot (though I love Will Chase in general, and as DiMaggio in particular).  They ended up making Michael so terribly unlikeable that we spent a good deal of the time yelling at the set.

    I don't think Leo crying at the end is at all unlikely -- he's relieved that his mother is ending an affair, and that his parents aren't splitting up, and he's been bottling it all up.  I do wish the character was allowed more moments of non-whininess, like at the dinner with Michael [though those of course were massively uncomfortable because of the about-to-begin affair], but this moment rang truer to me than most of what the writers did with him.

    But I enjoy the show overall very much, particularly the strong musical numbers and how we see them emerge a little more each episode (seeing pieces of songs in this episode that were worked out in previous episodes).  Especially liked the new DiMaggio song this week.  I like seeing and hearing all these Broadway folks on my TV screen.  I like the backstage stuff that isn't about who's sleeping with who and who's pressuring which person into an affair.  I love seeing Bernadette Peters, who was great.  

    I don't like the tell-not-show moments that were commented on in the pilot and that are still evident this week (with the recording studio guy being blase at the beginning and then after Karen starts to sing, looking at her all 'wow! you're amazing!'  - yeah, yeah, we get it already.  just let us enjoy the song without beating us over the head with how everyone reacts to Karen.'
    But I certainly like the show enough to have fun with the good parts and kvetch about the rest.  I'm glad it was just picked up for a second season.

  19. Genevieve5:35 PM

    Sorry, that was from me (Novanglus is my husband).