Stars: Debra Messing, Christian Borle, Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee, Jack Davenport, Angelica Houston
Writers: David Marshall Grant
Director: Michael Morris
Network: NBC, airs Mondays
Original Telecast: February 27, 2012
There is no getting around it that SMASH is a fun show to watch. The singing and dancing are wonderful fun. The original songs don’t suffer too much from Andrew Lloyd Webber syndrome (beating you over the head with soulful sappiness and the tendency to become insidious ear worms). In fact, the featured production number in this episode “The Cost of Art,” I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl, is a fabulous riff on 1940s Big Band Swing.
But, oh, the cliches! Let’s see, we’ve got Ivy (Megan Hilty) acting the diva and protesting her former rival Karen (Katherine McPhee) being included in the ensemble. And while it turns out that Karen may, in fact, be having trouble blending in, the diva thing? So obvious. Never mind. Ivy is complaining that Karen is too loud, she stands out too much. The writers get points for it turning out to be within the realm of possibility that Karen is, in fact, having trouble blending in with the rest of the ensemble. But having Ivy’s best friends helping her? Why on earth would Karen trust them when they were so clearly antagonistic toward her?
Then there’s Eileen (Anjelica Huston) having trouble raising money for the show because her evil ex has frozen everything. So what is she doing? Selling all her prized possessions, in this case, a sketch by French Impressionist Edgar Degas. Enter evil director Derek (Jack Davenport). He’s throwing a birthday party for Lyle West (Nick Jonas), a former child star now fabulously wealthy TV star that Derek says he discovered. Oops. Co-writer Tom (Christian Borle) says he was the one who cast Lyle when Derek didn’t want to. So Tom’s writing partner Julia (Debra Messing) convinces Eileen to go to the party by telling her about how successful and rich Lyle is and all of a sudden Eileen wants to go.
Okay, the cliche is turned slightly on its head in that Eileen doesn’t ask Lyle to invest in the show – she simply tries to sell him the drawing. It’s Lyle’s idea to invest in the show with the drawing as collateral. And that leads to… Guess where? An impromptu performance of the Wolf number in Derek’s living room.
As for Julia, she’s having her issues after her affair with the male star Michael (Will Chase). Obviously, the two still have feelings for each other, even though he’s now married to someone else. As noted before, this is not a believable relationship. Julia’s character has been set up as a happily married woman and while there are some cracks in the marriage, they’re hardly that serious and Will Chase, as a performer, just doesn’t come across as irresistible. Or maybe it’s just another you-know-what, and if Messing pulling up shades of Grace whenever Julia is involved with Will isn’t a big clue, I don’t know what is.
The problem isn’t so much the cliches, themselves. There is good reason and precedent to play with that very element – look at 42nd Street. It’s all about the cliches – that’s where SMASH blows it. It tiptoes around the obvious rather than embracing it. If you’re going to use these elements, then use them. Turn them on their heads, such as when Eileen tries to sell Lyle the drawing instead of asking him to invest. Or make a big deal of how obvious is it that Ivy’s sleeping with Derek. The story of Broadway is rife with this sort of thing, so the trick is to celebrate it, not pretend it’s straight up reality.
That being said, SMASH is still more fun to watch it than not. The performances are generally really fun. And the best, most interesting parts are when the characters are allowed to play out an appropriate twist on an old theme. And the singing and dancing – that simply rocks and makes the whole show worth it.
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Article:TV Review – SMASH – Season 1 – “The Cost of Art”