May 28, 2013

The Curtain Falls on Smash

In the course of its two season lifetime, I probably watched fewer than half a dozen episodes of NBC's Smash. This past weekend, I watched the finale anyway. 


It wasn't hard to pick up on the major plot points. The two musicals, whose casts and production teams the show followed, had now opened on Broadway. The 2-hour finale covered the Tony nominations and awards, and it tied up the characters' stories nicely and neatly. I haven't watched enough to the show to determine if this clean ending was a good thing, but it was definitely satisfying to the casual viewer. I nodded through the conclusions thinking, "Yeah, that seems about right." Contemptible characters like Derek got just enough comeuppance, and characters with whom I tended to sympathize, like Ivy, got the respect they were due. In Ivy's case, the respect came the form of a Tony Award. And thank goodness. Even in the few episodes I watched, it was clear that Ivy was a far better actress than Karen. Whether this means Megan Hilty is a far better actress than Katharine McPhee, I'm not sure. (Although that may be true, too.)

Don't get me wrong, McPhee is incredibly talented - one of the few true talents to come out of American Idol. On Smash, she was surrounded by an all-star cast. In every episode I watched, they were performing at the top of their games. Not to mention the guest stars! So why is it then, that I never got hooked on this show? Why couldn't this well-produced, well-funded, well-acted piece of television make it past two seasons? There are, of course, many opinions. (This one pins Smash's fate mostly on the show's lousy second season ratings.) I have a few thoughts of my own:

First, while this show was originally billed to reach the matruring audience of Glee, in reality it filled an incredibly small niche. Musical theatre lovers abound, but I doubt there are enough of them so singly devoted to commit a weekly hour to a fictional commentary on the subject. Certainly not enough to raise the Neilsen ratings. Case in point: I'm a musical theatre lover and a lover of TV, and even I didn't commit a weekly hour to this show. 

And that's partly because of my second point: the drama didn't have much of one. A point, that is. If you've read other posts of mine, you know I don't run from even the soapiest of primetime dramas. But the drama on Smash seemed consistently petty. Which is fine and relatable if high schoolers are fighting for the solo on Glee. Not so fine if grown women are fighting for a professional lead and sleeping with the director to get it. That doesn't get the characters much sympathy from me. Of course, some would argue that's the reality of the professional theatre world. And I'm sure sometimes it is. But Smash didn't do the that world any favors by pointing it out. 

Finally, the music, though technically good, catchy, and well performed, felt out of place. Which should not have been the case for a show about musicals! It was as though the music didn't know what to be - internal soliloquy or a performance as a part of the shows within the show. Smash attempted to walk the line between being a TV show about musicals and being a musical TV show, but didn't get the balance quite right.

Now, all that aside, I think I can say I loved the Smash finale. So much so that all those flaws almost seem irrelevant. Indeed, Smash gave us that big finish:

Smash did leave me wanting more. Lucky for me, I probably watched fewer than half a dozen episodes of NBC's Smash. So the next time I need some drama, I know just the show.

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