Hello, everybody. Here I am again. With Community still benched, Jenny asked me if I was willing to pick up a new show. It was my personal preference to pick up a new show, and after checking the Smash premiere, I decided this show should be it. As you might know, pilots are mostly a set up for the show and storylines need to be started. So bear with me this first review. Hopefully, next week it will be shorter. And let it be mentioned that I won’t be going into factual errors about the production of a musical. As with all TV shows, this is a dramatization (case in point: CSI, where the CSI techs also question suspects), and there will be dramatizations in this show as well.
Jump with me to read the recap and my thoughts on the series premiere.
Smash focuses on the creation of group of people – writers, director, producers, and cast – wanting to create a smash-hit, a new musical based on Marilyn Monroe.
Julia Houston (played by Debra Messing, Will & Grace) and Tom Levitt (played by Christian Borle, Legally Blonde: the Musical) are the writers, who are currently taking a break from their jobs. But when Tom’s assistant Ellis (played by Jaime Cepero) mentions Marilyn the Musical as a new project, Julia and Tom are quickly enthused.
When Julia mentions to her husband Frank (played by Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek: the Musical and Next to Normal) that she and Tom might be starting a new project, he doesn’t respond very supportive. Julia and Frank are trying to adopt a Chinese baby, and Julia promised to take a year off from work.
Karen Cartwright (played by Katharine McPhee, American Idol season 5 runner-up) is the inexperienced talent trying to get cast and meanwhile working in a cafe. Her boyfriend Dev (played by Raza Jaffrey, Mamma Mia: the Musical and The Cape) is very supportive, but Karen’s parents don’t believe in her dream, because she’s been turned down that often.
Ivy Lynn (played by Megan Hilty, Wicked and 9 to 5: the Musical) is the experienced star only being cast in ensembles and wanting to be cast in a leading role.
Julia and Tom write a song for Marilyn the Musical, and Ivy helps them record it. Ellis films the recording on his phone and emails it to his mother, and it leaks on the internet. When critics pick it up, the first reaction is very positive.
Eileen Rand (played by Anjelica Huston) is a producer wrapped in a very nasty divorce with her soon-to-be ex-husband Jerry. Her current projects are tied up in the company she and her husband can’t seem to divide between them, and she turns to Marilyn the Musical to make money on her own.
Tom and Julia meet up with Eileen to talk about Marilyn, and Eileen wants to know how they want to go about with the project. Eileen suggests Derek Wills (played by Jack Davenport, FlashForward) could be their director, but Tom and Derek don’t get along at all. Eileen convinces Julia and Tom that they should let Derek audition to see if he can make anything of the project.
Derek choreographs a dance to the song “The National Pastime,” with Ivy helping as Marilyn. Julia and Eileen are very positive, as is Tom. But Tom refuses to let Derek near their project because of their history. Eileen convinces Derek to let her convince Tom. Derek lets it slip that Jerry called and offered him a new movie.
Ivy and Karen both audition for Marilyn, and both get a call back.
That night, Dev helps Karen to get her inner Marilyn, because they mentioned she should play up the sex in her call back. When Karen receives a call from Derek for a private meeting at his house, she hurries over, because he wants to work with her privately. He wants her to show him her Marilyn. She runs into the bathroom, finds one of Derek’s shirts, puts it on, and sings Happy Birthday to Derek. When Derek leans in for a kiss, she stands up and walks off.
At call backs, we see Karen and Ivy preparing and singing “Let Me Be Your Star.” Tom’s reaction to Karen is very cold, and Derek’s reaction to Ivy is bored. But that’s all we see as the screen fades to black at the end of the song.
I’ve actually watched the pilot a few times. There are some parts I didn’t really like, but overall, I liked how the episode set up the story and the overall tone. I’ll look at the storylines and cast and give you my overall opinion.
There were a few parts that really made me smile. Karen’s reaction to being interrupted in her first audition by the director taking a call was nice. As well as those same casting people staring at Ivy’s ass. Julia turning around her opinion about critics when one responds positively. Julia asking for Ellis’ phone when Tom plays the new song.
I’m very curious as to what happened between Tom and Derek. There really is a lot of tension there, and it must have been something huge. Their tension also shows in their (dis-)interest for Ivy. Tom is a total Ivy fan, and Derek seems to be bored by her. When Derek mentions he hates gay guys to Eileen, I was glad she mentions he shouldn’t be working in the theatre.
One of the parts I didn’t really like or understand was the whole Ellis-storyline. I don’t understand how Tom could rehire Ellis, and I don’t understand why he was to be included in the process of making the musical (apart from mentioning Marilyn the Musical as a new project). I did like how it wasn’t really clear if he was gay or not, and there seemed to be some (funny) tension between him and Julia.
The storyline between Eileen and Jerry contained a lot of tension, and I’m curious to see how their divorce will go. I did like how Marilyn the Musical seems to be Eileen’s attempt at an individual business opportunity.
And the development of this musical will put a lot of tension on Julia’s relationship with her husband. This last story did seem like there should be more there. She did promise to take a year long break, and now she’s diving back in. So either she didn’t mention the plans are going forward, or they’ve had huge fights about it already. To me, it felt like there should be more there.
And let’s look at the casting. Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty are well matched. Their voices are impressive and blend well. Their status in the show matches their Broadway experience, and I can imagine this is a real dilemma when casting a show. Anjelica Huston is a very powerful woman, and her just walking down a hallway (during “Let Me Be Your Star”) was just plain impressive. Debra Messing has proven she can be funny as well as emotional, and she showed both, as did Christian Borle. Brian d’Arcy James has been cast in a non-singing role (so I’ve read), and from what I’ve heard from the “Next to Normal” album, that’s a big mistake. And Jack Davenport plays the arrogant, seductive (womanizing) director very well. Raza Jaffrey is very supportive and sexy, and I hope he gets to sing or dance sometime. And Jaime Cepero as the sexually-ambiguous assistent seems to be cast well.
I also want to take a quick look at some of the songs that were featured in the show. I loved “Let Me Be Your Star,” as it really did showcase the voices of Karen and Ivy, and it set the mood for the quick glimpses at our main cast. “The National Pastime” was written newly for the musical, and I liked it. Especially combined with the choreography/staging, it was a nice starting point for the musical.
Overall, I liked the show, the pace, and the tone. Pilots are always hard to judge a show on, but the first impression is good, and I want to see more. To me, they should tone down or postpone some of the minor stories so they don’t loose focus on the main plot. For instance, maybe the tension between Julia and her husband could have been postponed for the second season. Or maybe Eileen could have just been coming out of the divorce with her husband and lost nearly everything.
Next week on “The Callback,” Ivy and Karen have to jump through hoops for Derek, Julia and Frank are frustrated with the process of an international adoption, and Eileen has to fight for Marilyn through the divorce. It will air on February 13 at 10/9c on NBC. And remember, you can find the singles on iTunes here and episodes online at NBC.com.