I wish I liked SMASH more, and other thoughts for a Friday

Happy Friday, b-rollers, and here’s hoping you have a wonderful holiday weekend in front of you. I’m going to finish up a TV-centric week – all three posts of it – with a rumination on Smash, a brand new show that I am dying to love, but…not so much.

(Meanwhile, not to get all big-picture here, but this feels to me like part of a larger trend: Things that I hear are amazing and expect to love but find kinda meh. How shall I count the shows/movies/books that I’ve felt this way about in recent memory? And for the life of me, I can’t tell why. Are my standards too high? Am I cranky? Are things just not that good? My kingdom for some clarity.)

Anyway, back on topic: If you’ve watched 90 consecutive seconds of NBC within the last six months, then you’ve seen at least two ads for Smash – and didn’t they just look awesome? Great cast, cool concept, Glee for grown-ups…oh, how promising. The reviews were really good, too, and one preview called it “intoxicating and imaginative, The West Wing for the Broadway set.” Now, if you were to craft a one-line description of my ideal show, that’s pretty much it; just cast Taylor Kitsch or Hugh Dancy in the lead role and I’m pretty sure that I would have glued myself to my living room chair.

And then it premiered and yes, it’s got some lovely elements. I like most of the Marilyn Monroe-inspired songs (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, though nothing in Smash has matched any of their Hairspray tunes for catchiness, in my humble opinion). The acting is (mostly) good, and the triple threated-ness of Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty continues to wow me. And as a Broadway geek, I do love the inside baseball look into how a show gets made (though if you really want some superb insight, Netflix Every Little Step, and do it immediately).

But there’s a lot of not-so-good in there, too. The adoption storyline featuring Debra Messing’s character, Julia, feels like an awkward ploy to get her more screen time, and bizarrely shapeshifts (she’s putting the adoption off for work but her husband really wants this baby, but in the next episode, oh, wait, maybe he’s too old to adopt but she’s writing a life-changing letter about motherhood, so she’ll change his mind, sure, and why are we devoting this much time to this story, again?). And certain cliches I really hoped they would avoid, or at least flip sideways – as an example, oh, I dunno, the Broadway director who requires actresses to sleep with him for a part, or the Midwestern parents who disapprove of their daughter trying to be an actress in that big ol’ crazy city – but within Smash’s first hour, Katharine McPhee’s character, Karen, is lobbied by her sweet, simple parents to give up her dream and return to Iowa, land of the cruelly practical and dreamless (in TV world, I’m sure it’s lovely in person); and meanwhile, the director, Derek (Jack Davenport), invites her over for an audition – just the two of them. In his apartment. At 10pm. (Speaking of stereotypes, our naive little chorus girl sprints over and is shocked, shocked by what he’s implying. I mean, seriously. They have a phrase for what a “come over to my apartment at 10pm” text message indicates, and it isn’t “rehearsal.” Even in Iowa.)

Now, all this being said, I’m staying hopeful. It took me ten long years to cut the cord with American Idol, so I won’t give up on Smash two episodes in. And I don’t actively dislike it, I just feel a deepening disappointment; I really thought I’d love it. But with ratings sliding from “great!” to “eh” (two week sample, but still), and a critic and unabashed Smash fan recommending that we skip next week’s episode so that we don’t give up on the show entirely, I don’t think that I’m wrong in believing that the hype outpaced the reality. But here’s hoping they can course-correct into the Smash that they promoted, because that looked like a hell of a show.

And a few more quick thoughts:

  • Speaking of Glee – well, a few paragraphs ago; whatever, I needed a segue – it continues to get more asinine. I’m all for campy fun, but someday soon, I’ll roll my eyes so hard that I’ll need glasses. Or a seeing eye dog. (Paging Uggie!)
  • I’m heading out of town for the holiday weekend and won’t be back in DC until late on Monday night, so my The Voice recap will be a day late. Look for it on Wednesday, rather than Tuesday. I’ll keep the Starbucks bar open for you.
  • In a related story, I have kept my vow and completely abstained from watching American Idol. Though I do read some recaps, and they keep confirming what was oh-so-obvious last year: They really, really need to blow up that judging panel. (Metaphorically. I’m not a maniac.)
  • Other than my recap, I’ll keep it movie-centric next week in preparation for the Oscar live blog. I’ll also share my pre-show thoughts – who I’m rooting for, who I think will win, etc. – and some last-minute general reviews and notes. Be prepared to make your own picks in the comments. Maybe we could host a pick-’em contest! Winner gets…I don’t know, my admiration? We’ll figure something out.
  • And finally, in honor of President’s Day, allow me to ask: What’s your favorite presidential movie (or movie president)? I adore The American President (oh, early Sorkin) and Dave, myself. And, of course, All the President’s Men, though that isn’t so much about a president as his undoing. My Fellow Americans is also an underrated comedy (who can resist Jack Lemmon and James Garner squabbling through a road trip?). And Harrison Ford in Air Force One, he kills it (literally). Oh, I know I missed a bunch. What’s your favorite?


  1. “Young Mr. Lincoln” from 1939 (what a year in flicks!). Good enough flick, but Henry Fonda as Lincoln really works. And the 1984 TV miniseries with Barry Bostwick as George Washington was a lot better than I’d expected. And check out “7 Days in May” with Frederick March as the President is good (Bert Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Edmund O’Brien, Martin Balsam are also in it).

  2. Although not exactly on topic, you might also look for “All the King’s Men”, the original 1949 Academy Award winner, not the new job with Sean Penn (which is a piece of garbage). Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge both won Oscars for their roles. It’s about state politics, not presidential, but it’s a heck of a flick and Crawford and McCambridge are both stunningly good.

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