Wednesday, May 29, 2013

RIP Smash

Shutting it down.
I just finished watching the two hour season/series finale of Smash, NBC’s hit show about the backstage world of Broadway that we’ve all been eagerly watching (Just me?). Sure, the show may have suffered from a few bouts of plot holes, nonsensical characters, and a pace matching that of a narcoleptic dog, but it was a mostly entertaining spectacle that featured some extremely talented theater actors and composers. The finale does fairly decent job tying up the loose ends of the numerous questions presented by the show, from show-long arcs, like Karen or Ivy, to eleventh hour issues, like the unplanned pregnancy.

The show occasionally did look at some interesting topics, including: the price of fame/success/accolades, the possibility of conquering your inner demons, the merits and values of different forms of artistic expression, and the eternal difficulties of maintaining long-term relationships of romantic, friendly, and professional natures (sometimes all three). Of course, the show never fully explored any of these themes, or would have its characters act in wildly contradictory ways from episode to episode undermining any depth that it had previously reached (Although, maybe that’s more like real life than I have been giving it credit for).

Since the show decided to never really commit to these subjects, I am going to take a page from their writers’ book and leave that brief and unpacked set alone. Instead I’m going to provide you with a short list highlighting the good, the bad, and the truly atrocious. A warning: as you may have guessed, Anya and I are both fans of musicals (Julie Andrews is my spirit animal.), but my love for the theater has been known to occasionally dip into a more obscure (alternatively, fanatic or bizarre) territory. Spoilers throughout.

GOOD - Broadway Talent (Read: Krysta Rodriguez)

Krysta Rodriguez is phenomenal. I first discovered her when she was in the ensemble for Spring Awakening and have basically been in love with her ever since. When I heard that she was joining the main cast for the second season of Smash, I found myself getting excited again after my gradual disengagement from the clunky first season. She didn’t get a lot of screentime, but she found a way to shine with the little she was given. Seriously, if you haven’t done so already, do yourself a huge favor and watch her entire YouTube repertoire (don’t miss “The Answer” or her Christmas monologue from Gremlins). I know that she’s about to be back on the Great White Way this summer in First Date, but if she ever actually wanted to play the Girl in Once... part acquired, no further audition needed.

Krysta is not the only theater vet I was happy to see in Smash. The show featured quite a few current and former Broadway actors, more than I am capable of listing here.  From legends, like Bernadette Peters, to the current generation of young stars, like the adorable Wesley Taylor, there was a plethora of recognizable Broadway faces scattered throughout the show.  While they were often underused, it was still nice to see them (working).  

Aside from actors, the show also has music from some great composers. The show primarily features the work of Marc Shaiman and Andrew McMahon, who wrote some pretty great songs, like the initial hit “Let Me Be Your Star,” the moving “Second Hand Baby White Grand,” and the show stopping “Don’t Forget Me.” The second season welcomed a few lesser-known Broadway composers like Pasek and Paul and Joe Iconis, and also more original pop/rock music from the likes of Andrew McMahon (of Jack’s Mannequin fame). There were some nice covers throughout, but the frequent use of original music (or relatively unknown music, as in the case of Joe Iconis) was where Smash managed to really glow.

BAD - Bollywood Number

I imagine that when the scripts for this episode went out, quite a few of the cast members (this song briefly features just about all of the major characters in the first season) responded with confused calls to the writers, angry calls to their agents, or, at the very least, hopeless heavy sighs (minus Katharine McPhee, who I picture being gleeful over another featured song, and Megan Hilty, who I picture being gleeful over how dumb Kat was bound to look). Smash is at its best with musical numbers when it is displaying the practiced staging of its broadway shows, the processes of the director’s mind creating that polished staging, or allowing us to look into the mind of the actor (who uses their own personal experiences to bring to life the characters he or she portrays).

“A Thousand And One Nights” is not Smash at its worse, but it exemplifies the musical failures of show. This number was a flight of fantasy, similar to drunken Times Square duet between Karen and Ivy, that pulled the audience out of the show, forcing them to wonder, “What the fuck is going on here?” The song not only made very little sense (Karen’s boyfriend is of Indian descent so... Bollywood... ???), but was also executed rather shittily. The whole piece came across as being disrespectful and poorly thought out.

TRULY ATROCIOUS - Katharine McPhee’s “Acting”

Oh, Kat. Kat, Kat, Kat, Kat, Kat. What are we to do with you? Now before all you diehard McPhans go ballistic on my ass, I will say this: She should have won her season of American Idol over this clown:

She does have a perfectly adequate voice for pop music and there genuinely were a few moments on the show where I did laugh at her line delivery in the way it was intended. Unfortunately, Katharine “Dead Eyes” McPhee was literally doomed from the start. The poor dear was first cast opposite the divine Megan Hilty and then spent the entire show locked in competition with her. I maintain that the most unrealistic aspect of the show (among many other options) was that this competition was ever even entertained or that any audience or critic enjoyed Karen’s sad wooden excuse for acting.

Karen fared a little bit better as Amanda in show-within-a-show Hit List than she did with her cringeworthy Marilyn Monroe in Bombshell, but this was simply a terrible casting that I believe negatively impacted the success of the show. You know it’s bad when her best acting moment on the entire show was “The Goodbye Song,” when her Hit List character, Amanda, is dead. Sorry, Kat. Don’t fret too much though, I’m sure you have a bright future as a mediocre American Idol host or novelty cruise singer.



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