When Smash first premiered on Feburary 6th, I thought it was something special. The show impressed me with the cast and dazzled me with original music (from Hairspray’s Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman). The behind-the-scenes moments made me feel part of the process. The epic battle between Ivy and Karen—and actresses Megan Hilty (Broadway diva) and Katharine McPhee (Broadway newcomer)—divided friends (and nearly brought a few of us to yelling matches). I believed that a smart, consistent, scripted TV show with music had finally arrived.
I thought Smash would be my anti-Glee. The Kander to my Ebb. The shoulder pads to my Bea Arthur.
But in 10 short weeks, everything’s changed. Instead of studio scenes with Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing) writing the Marilyn musical, we have the been-there-done-that-so-many-freaking-times plot involving Julia’s affair. Instead of drawing out the competition between Ivy and Karen, we have endless episodes involving the ever-vested, pansexual opportunist Ellis (who I believe is the worst character on TV). What makes it all the more frustrating is the frequent flashes of brilliance: Inspired moments that are always overshadowed by cloying melodrama.
As the show approaches the season’s end on May 14th and we begin our trial separation (a.k.a. the summer), here are a few areas I think Smash should work on for season 2:
1. Focus more on the behind-the-scenes development of Marilyn/Bombshell. Like West Wing, we love the “walk with me” moments, the glorification of the minutiae. When producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) instructs Julia (Messing) and Tom (Borle) to go finish a song, don’t cut away. Bring the work front and center.
2. Avoid the cavalcade of guest stars. Uma Thurman as the movie star is tedious. Grace Gummer’s one episode appearance as Huston’s daughter was annoying. (The character just came from Micronesia. Yeah. I hate her.) They are meant to bring dimension to the show; instead, they are distractions. For exceptions, see #3.
3. Highlight more Broadway stars. Bernadette Peters playing Megan Hilty’s mom (and singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”) and Norbert Leo Butz (Tony Award-winner for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) performing in the fictitious Heaven on Earth were divine. This is a show celebrating theater, so why not give more theater actors an opportunity that isn’t Law & Order? (By the way, did you know that Smash has the amazingly talented Ann Harada—Avenue Q—playing a character with almost no lines?)
4. Fire Ellis. Give him his comeuppance and get on with it.
5. Take time with the storylines. Like Glee, we’ve seen seasons’ worth of storylines crammed into the first few months. The show was advertised as the competition between Ivy and Karen, but by episode 3 Ivy had the part. (Since then Ivy was fired, Karen became the understudy, and Ivy was rehired into the ensemble.) What’s the rush?
6. Get a new costumer. Messing’s costumes are a disaster. Check out Vulture’s “The Lady Loves a Schmata” slideshow for a glimpse of the horror.
7. Figure out what to do with Anjelica Huston. Instead of being a wilting flower, Huston’s Eileen should be powerful and unapologetic. Flirting with a bartender, slumming in a dive bar, and tiptoeing around Ellis are beneath her.
I’ll try Smash again next season. I’ll spend this summer remembering the good times, trying to get “Let Me Be Your Star” out of my head, and thinking similar thoughts about The Killing.
But, seriously, Ellis has got to go.