NBC’s attempt to cash-in on the success of Glee and American Idol produced an up-and-down first season of the soapy backstage goings on behind the scenes of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe.
Katharine McPhee stars as Broadway newbie Karen Cartwright, the most talented member of the cast eventually chosen by the show’s director (Jack Davenport) as the show’s lead, even if he is dating her main competition (Megan Hilty). Other storylines involve the various love lives of the musical’s writers (Christian Borle, Debra Messing), bedhopping, drug problems, and the struggles of the show’s producer (Anjelica Huston) in both her personal and professional life.
The addition of Uma Thurman late in the season as a Hollywood celebrity who lacks the singing and dancing chops necessary to pull off the lead of a musical offered the role of Marilyn to keep the flagging production afloat, is, like everything else about the First Season, only partially successful.
Somewhere, lost among all the various soap opera plots, original songs written for the show (some of which are actually not bad), and never-ending cattiness between our leading ladies, is the process of putting on a Broadway musical. Although it’s not nearly as much as you’d expect. Yes, Smash delivers some strong musical numbers over its 15 episodes, and it seems to know the basics of blocking and choreography, but it also gets far too easily mired in storylines that don’t serve the overall plot.
Smash is a show of moments that simply wilted the longer the spotlight was focused on it. McPhee is well-cast but Karen’s story has no real arc and it takes everyone far too long to recognize she’s obviously the best choice to headline their Broadway show (hell, half of the characters aren’t convinced halfway through the season finale). As they are shown over the course of the First Season the choices made to bring Marilyn to stage aren’t really hard, it’s just the characters are often too dumb, or too distracted, to make the intelligent decisions.
The mixed success of Smash‘s first season has led to big changes scheduled for Season Two including the the culling of many of the supporting roles along with the addition of Jennifer Hudson and Jesse L. Martin to the cast. However, if the writing doesn’t get more consistent and the focus of the sophomore season isn’t more on the actual show rather than cliched romcom standbys used in favor of actual plot than I wouldn’t hold my breath for better results.
The four-disc set includes all 15 episodes, extended and deleted scenes, a gag reel, and behind-the-scenes features on the casting of the show and a look at the show’s music and choreography with composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and choreographer Joshua Bergasse.
[Universal Studios, $59.98]