Billed as Glee for grownups when it debuted last year, Smash will be taking its final bow in a few weeks as the second and final season comes to a close. Smash started brilliantly, with a great pilot and a fascinating premise. The series was following the development of a Broadway show called Bombshell, a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Many of the stars were real Broadway actors and the musical numbers from the fictional show were fab. Developed by Steven Spielberg and Robert Greenblatt the show had a good pedigree.
However, as the first series progressed, things began to go wrong. Cliched stories, ridiculous characters and falling ratings. Show runner Theresa Rebeck was fired, and despised characters like the sneaky PA Ellis and Karen’s dull fiance Dev were dumped. Sadly, season 2 was an even bigger mess, and ratings plummeted. So where did it all go wrong for such a promising show?
One of the big problems for Smash was its leading lady Katherine McPhee. Beautiful, a good singer and decent dancer, but with limited acting talent and little charisma, Karen was supposed to be the girl we were rooting for, but McPhee’s bland performance just made us love her supposed rival Ivy played by Broadway actress Megan Hilty more. Hilty was PERFECT casting for Marilyn and the obvious pick, but McPhee clearly has admirers in the NBC executives office as she continued to be the lead were were supposed to like.
This second season got rid of Ellis and Dev who were annoying, only to replace them with even worse characters! The supremely tiresome Jimmy and his forgettable friend Kyle were the writers of a supposedly fabulous new rock musical called Hit List. Whereas the Bombshell numbers were undeniably good on the whole, Hit Lists songs were about the level of Glee’s original songs: competent but forgettable. Jimmy was supposed to be a troubled but lovable genius, while I just wanted to slap him most of the time. Worse, we were supposed to care when the whiny, rather creepy Kyle got run over and killed in a car accident which leads to Hit List getting a Broadway transfer and loads of fans giving a damn about a first time no-name writer.
The soapy side of Smash never really worked either. I love Jack Davenport, but his Derek Wills is permanently grumpy and rarely seemed to be getting the best from his cast. Ivy and Karen both being objects love interests was just tired after a while. Again, this is partly due to the fact Karen is the dullest character on tv in years and it is hard to care about her love life in any way.
Debra Messing and Christian Borle as writing duo Tom and Julia were usually fun to watch, but Messing’s family sage in season 1 was a huge part of the reason the show became a hate-watching phenomenon. Julia’s affair with the Michael, the original Joe DiMaggio leads to the break up of her marriage and her husband and son were just so uninteresting! The son in particular was unbearable – although as Debra Messing left her long time husband to shack up with Will Chase, the actor playing Michael, there was a certain fascination in watching them. However, her neurotic tendencies were tiresome and her scarves distracting.
Then there was the music. The non-musical numbers were generally not up to Glee’s in terms of energy or likability, although the staging of most of the musical songs – even Hit List – was generally really enjoyable. Once again, charisma vacuum Katherine McPhee’s songs were most numerous but least memorable.
The show tried hard, and with guest turns from legends such as Bernadette Peters, Liza Minelli, and Uma Thurman, Jennifer Hudson and Debra Messing’s Will & Grace co-star, Sean Hayes also appearing, there was often plenty to enjoy. Hayes’ appearance early in season 2 was a lot of fun as the staging of a musical version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses to comically disastrous results was a highlight.
Unfortunately, Smash just never gelled. Angelica Huston looked stern and threw wine over her ex-husband, Debra Messing fretted, Jack Davenport grumbled and shouted, Katherine McPhee looked blank, Megan Hilty and Christian Borle looked like they’d rather be back on real Broadway, acted like an entitled prick for 22 episodes, Kyle made excuses for him and everyone was just so self absorbed you want to slap them ALL!
Smash had moments of brilliance and a great concept, but the execution was a huge mess.