Over the last two day's I've watched the six episodes of SMASH out there, as of two-thirty PM PDT.
For those who don't know, SMASH is, theoretically, about the development of a new Broadway show based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Like most TV shows that are procedurals, though, it's really about the characters and their lives. And that's where it falls flat, for me. Right now I only really like two characters. The first is Eileen Rand, played by the deliciously scene chewing Anjelica Huston, the producer of the play trying to pull together the backers and money to put on a workshop of the play. The other is Derek Wills, played by Jack Davenport (which is fun because I've been slowly working my way through the original version of Coupling where he plays Steve), the plays director.
The problem with these two characters is that they are so buried in the world of Broadway that they don't provide a way into that world. They know the tricks and rules so they don't explain anything to the audience. Maybe that's part of why I like them so much. They know. They're inside. That's the world I want to know.
There are two characters that are new to the Broadway world: Karen Cartwright, played by Katharine McPhee, and Ellis Tancharoen, played by Jaime Cepero. Ellis is the assistant to Tom Levitt, played by Christian Borle, a co-writer of the play and Karen the the wide-eyed mid-west girl come to the big city to be a star. These are characters designed to lead an audience into the weird world of plays. I don't like them, though.
Karen is too naive. She's constantly shocked at, well, everything. (Except for one time where the director wanted her to sleep with him and she didn't. That was a great moment.) She's exhausting.
Ellis was who I hoped would be the audience surrogate. He's the assistant to one of the writers. He has a front row seat to the creation of the songs and book. He can ask all the questions about how the songs are written and help the audience see how plays are created. Unfortunately, it looks like he's going to is a villain, and he never asks questions about the creative process.
The fact that I don't really like any of the characters isn't my real problem with the show, though. I want to delve into the behind the scenes creation of a play. I like to see how the sausage is made. I want the boring dirty details that go creation.
It seem to me that SMASH moves too fast. The songs are too finished. Where's the revision? Where's the evolution the the music? The alteration of the lyrics? The dances are perfected. Where's the choreographer practicing by himself in front of the mirror finding the perfect step, turn, turn, step, kick, step? Where's the frustration at teaching the chorus the step? Yes, I like seeing the dance numbers and hearing the songs, but when they come out complete it makes everything seem too easy. I don't just want to hear about Julia Houston, played by Debra Messing, having trouble writing the book and lyrics. I want to see her agonizing over finding the perfect lyric, the perfect line. (There was a moment in the third episode when Julia was trying to figure out how to write "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," but it was only a taste of the agonizingly beautiful frustration of creation I want to see.)
And then there are the musical numbers. They are so polished. So finished. I don't just mean the choreography. I mean that the songs are very finely produced. Example: In the first episode Karen sings the song "Beautiful" while she auditions for the part of Marilyn. It starts out with her singing with only a piano accompanying her. Then in come stings and whatnot. Yeah, the lighting changes, suggesting that this is a bit of a fantasy sequence, but why can't it just be a simple audition? Oh, yeah, the people in charge of the show want to be like Glee and make a shit ton of money selling covers, and originals. Still, when they're rehearsing and the only instrument is a piano and then I hear drums and strings and horns I get pulled out of the show and wonder where the orchestra is sitting? At least in Glee they always magically have an orchestra with them.
I plan to keep watching this show, even though it bothers me. I don't hate it like I do Glee. This show was built for a person like me. I love theater, including musical theater. I love TV shows that go behind the scenes. So I'll keep watching.