If you haven’t seen a commercial for SMASH, then you must not have been watching anything on NBC for the last four months. But don’t let the onslaught of ads chase you away, it’s a really good show.
The series is about the making of a musical about Marilyn Monroe and the people involved: writing partners Julia Houston (Debra Messing – WILL & GRACE) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle – LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL); producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston – MEDIUM,THE ADDAMS FAMILY); director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport – FLASHFORWARD, COUPLING); and the ladies auditioning for the lead – chorus line veteran Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty – DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, WICKED, 9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL) and newbie Karen Cartwright (Katherine McPhee – THE HOUSE BUNNY, AMERICAN IDOL).
There are some “fantasy” moments, mostly when we see what the characters are imagining, but the show is surprisingly grounded in reality. It shows the pain of repeat auditioning, crafting a show, how it complicates their personal lives, and they’re smart enough to work the accelerated development process into the plot. I’d start name-checking the actors but they all do stellar work and I’ll be shocked if the vast majority of them don’t get nominated for many awards in the future. It’s worth noting that basically every cast member has some musical and/or dance experience including Karen’s boyfriend Dev Sundaram played by Raza Jaffrey (MISTRESSES, MI-5, SEX AND THE CITY 2), Brian d’Arcy James (SHREK – THE MUSICAL, GHOST TOWN) who plays Julia’s husband Frank, and Tom’s assistant Ellis played by Jaime Cepero. I’m looking forward to seeing how their hyphenate talents will be worked into the show later.
The musical numbers are great and the leads make the most out of their moments. Their presence is much more even than the ads might lead you to believe. As a side effect to the promotional blitz, I was much more invested in Hilty’s rarely-seen Lily than in McPhee’s Karen and found myself fast-fowarding through a few of the latter’s numbers as it felt like I’d already seen them before. I’ll be curious to see if this phenomena is personal or if a lot of people feel the same way. But I’m sure it’ll wear off quickly, possibly as soon as the third episode (I got the chance to see the first two).
A lot of people may be tempted to compare SMASH to GLEE but they are two totally different shows – the approaches and the vibes are not even in the same stratosphere. If you are a fan of Broadway, this show is a must see. If you used to or still love GLEE, this will be your new jam. And as much as NBC is spotlighting Katherine McPhee, my money is on Megan Hilty to be the breakout star. Essentially, the show seems to be aptly named – I think it’s going to be a hit and don’t be surprised if the fake Marilyn musical finds it’s way into the real world.
“Smash” premieres on NBC Monday, February 6th at 10 PM Eastern/Pacific.