SMASH Season 2 Premiere Review

NBC‘s SMASH returns tonight with two new hours. Having viewed the first half of the sophomore premiere, I can report that some positive changes have been made that should improve the series, but fans will be satisfied that it mostly remains the same show it was in the freshman run.

As “On Broadway” begins, the previews in Boston are over, and cast and crew return to New York City. The first task is for Eileen (Anjelica Huston) to book a theater, and she already has one in mind – the legendary St. James. However, just when things look to be a go, her financial actions come back to bite her in the butt.

It’s not surprising, really. After all, nothing can come easy in a television series like this for the show within a show. If it did, SMASH would lack drama and driving force. Our heroes have to overcome obstacles. That’s what shapes them into the strong, triumphant figures that we love to root for.

Eileen is taken to a bad place here. She basically crosses the line to save the show, and not just for herself. She believes in Bombshell, and doesn’t want to disappoint all the people who work so hard on it. But because it’s her fault that this happens, you have to feel bad for her, and realize how hard it must be for her to admit to everyone that she has let them down.

The most likely path for Eileen to turn down next is to go to her sleazy ex, Jerry (Michael Cristofer), for help. He still lurks on the fringes, and has probably exacerbated Eileen’s problems for his own benefit. But if he can save the show, I guess it will be good that Eileen might rely on him again, and it could even give her yet another challenge to overcome.

Of course, even once Eileen get the business end of things worked out, Bombshell won’t be out of the woods. As the reviews have revealed, the music is great, but the book sucks. This falls squarely on the shoulders of Julia (Debra Messing), who is distracted by personal worries, as well, especially after a development involving Frank (Brian d’Arcy James, now a recurring player) happens in “On Broadway.” She has her work cut out for her.

How much is Julia supposed to take? Yes, she screws up majorly, but her situation is even more dire than Eileen’s. Both of the are examples of strong, successful, driven women who are having trouble catching a break right now. I’m sure they’ll get through it, but it’s hard to watch them in pain.

Rounding out the trio of suffering females is Ivy (Megan Hilty). Now that Karen (Katharine McPhee) is firmly the star, and Ivy has not made up with her, it seems like Ivy will likely be out of Bombshell. Not permanently, I would imagine, given how much Hilty brings to the role, and how essential Ivy seems to the show. But for now, the odds are against her.

Why does SMASH choose to focus on these girls, and give them so much bad to deal with? It makes for good television, but it’s also depressing. Those writing SMASH off as a light, frothy musical are dead wrong.

Others in the cast don’t have it so bad. Tom (Christian Borle) is happy with Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.), and even though their relationship has a trial ahead, they seem to be in a good place, and so they can overcome. Karen is being hailed as a new star, and might even have a new love interest in her life in the form of wanna-be Broadway composer Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan). Derek (Jack Davenport) may be the captain of a floundering ship, but his reputation remains intact, and he’ll bounce back, just like Bombshell.

A new element SMASH introduces in “On Broadway” is Tony-award winning actress Veronica Moore (Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls). It’s not clear what part she might play in the larger story, and she isn’t brought in with any connection to Bombshell. But Veronica makes quite an impression in her first episode, and it sounds like the producers have plans for her, so it’ll be interesting to see how she is drawn into the inner circle.

If you watch SMASH mainly for the musical numbers, “On Broadway” has you covered. From Karen’s big opening, to Veronica’s introduction, to a duet between the two, an enticing solo by a new male cast member, and Ivy’s lament, there are plenty of tasty treats. The numbers themselves may not be super memorable, but they will wash over you in a very nice way while they are being performed.

I’m glad to see stick-in-the-muds like Julia’s family and Dev reduced or dropped from the cast, and even bitchy Elias is gone. The newbies, like Hudson’s character and Karen’s love interest, are very talented. The new direction for SMASH seems to be that conflict will come from within, rather than without, and there will be better showcases for the positives. I dig it, and while “On Broadway” stays true enough to the characters to feel like the SMASH I fell for last season, the tweaks they’ve made work, and I’m anxious to see more.

SMASH returns Tuesday, February 5th at 9 p.m. ET.