February 6, 2012

Quick Thoughts: SMASH, "Pilot"

As soon as NBC announced that they were going to have a show about a musical, everyone started talking about how it was the Peacock's answer to FOX's Glee. While I'm sure that there are going to be some similarities, I wanted to avoid making the comparisons although that may be challenging. Instead, I wanted to judge Smash on its own merits, and after watching the pilot, it has a way to go to win me over.

Let me be clear; I think that Smash has a ton of potential, and I want it to be successful for NBC, but I wasn't automatically blown away by the first episode. That's not to say that I hated what I saw, but I wasn't instantly smitten by it either which is what I was expecting since it's seems to be my kind of show. While I've never been a performer or a part of musical theatre, I'm a sucker for underdogs with big dreams, and Smash has them in spades. So, why did I have a lukewarm response? It's simple: the characters.

After watching the pilot, I could not figure out why I was supposed to care about any of these people because none of them left an impression on me. Karen Cartwright (played by American Idol Runner-Up Katharine McPhee) should have easily become my new fictional crush, but her naivete and inexperienced routine didn't work. Instead of coming off as plucky and endearing, she was whiny and clueless, and I found myself being annoyed by her. As for her so-called rival, Ivy Lynn (Wicked's Megan Hilty), she was nothing more than your prototypical cute and ambitious blonde, but she lacked any bite or edge that someone in her position should have. These two are being set up to be competitors, but they had almost no screen time together, and Ivy didn't do or say anything that made people root against her. Maybe that's something to look forward to in future episodes, but the pilot should have clearly defined the protagonist and antagonist of the story, and as of now we just have two attractive women who can sing.

Unfortunately, Karen and Ivy are not the only weak characters because everyone else from the ensemble also failed to make me care. After an episode, I can already tell that I'm not going to be interested in Julia Houston's (Debra Messing) home life or her adoption storyline, and the same will be true about Eileen Rand's (Anjelica Huston) divorce. Even Jack Davenport's Derek Willis was nothing more than a stereotype. That being said, I can see myself being entertained by Christian Borle's Tom Levitt. It's not that these people are inherently unlikable, but they were uninteresting which could be worse.

Matters were not helped by the fact that the pilot relied too much on every cliche in the book. Both Karen and Ivy have unsupportive parents who do not understand their hopes and dreams, but at least Karen has the standard nurturing boyfriend (who was also a bore, but he does have an accent so he's exotic), and I'm sure Ivy will have a similar support network to prop her up when the world keeps trying to knock her down. Tack on the wholly unoriginal scene where the director (Derek) called Karen over for a late-night "meeting," and you have every story about breaking into the business that's ever been written. Admittedly, these are probably real issues that performers have to deal with, but I was expecting more from Smash, and instead of subverting the tropes, they barreled right into them. So much for this show being original.

To be fair, I do think that Smash has the ability to be fresh and new which is why I'm still on board. Like I mentioned before, I want this show to be successful not just because it will help the struggling NBC, but because I'm a fan of any show that's not the same old cop, doctor or lawyer procedural. The concept of a drama that's about putting together a Broadway musical isn't something that comes along everyday, and I want this show and the network to be rewarded for thinking outside of the box. So while I wasn't automatically bowled over by Smash, I do see how it can be a special show, and I'm willing to give it some time to show me what it's got.

Is Smash going to be the next Glee? Man, I hope not. While I'm a big fan of the latter, we don't need another one. I know that it's going to be hard for some viewers to distinguish between the two, but I think that's unfair to both. They probably will have comparable stories and themes, but a musical comedy is very different than a drama about a musical, and I hope people can appreciate the differences instead of harping on the similarities.


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