Monday, May 27, 2013

RIP(?) Smash

It seems silly to eulogise the NBC series Smash. The show seemed to make self-loathing an art form. One that it wasn't particularly good at, but occasionally struck magical gold. I've discussed many times both here on the blog and in the real world (something of which the Smash writers know absolutely nothing about if their second season efforts are anything to go by) about how there wasn't just potential in the series, but in each scene. There was always something brilliant waiting to break out from all the wilted melodrama and whingeing entitlement, but it never got there. And during the second season, it never even got to the glorious camp-ridden heights of the first. I'm sad to see the idea of Smash gone rather than Smash itself because, with its failure brings the sad knowledge that television networks won't even try something like it again any time soon unless its aimed at the youth set like Glee (a show that has had its own fair share of problems, but benefited by a willing audience with pocket money and an iTunes account).

It doesn't feel like an axing, really, but more a mercy killing on NBC's account. I was surprised to read that second season showrunner Josh Safran had actually long ago concocted a season three plot arc. That the arc involved the intolerably self-righteous Karen Cartwright moving to the big screen and filming a big Hollywood musical (in New York City, natch, in order to keep contracted actors in a job) shows that even to this day nobody seems to have figured out why the show was eventually such a disaster: Katherine McPhee. She's certainly a pretty woman and a half-decent singer and performer with the right material, but she was the wrong fit for Smash. That executive producer Steven Spielberg thought it was Megan Hilty that was the problem speaks volumes. The second season's obsession with Karen, Jeremy Jordan's petulant Jimmy, and Hit List, the fictional musical inspired by Rent (even down to killing off the book's writer for sympathy/plot contrivance) that had a plot nobody could follow, was a failed experiment at juggling two shows at once - a good idea in theory, but poorly executed - that ultimately destroyed any good will us Smash fans once had. I guess it was its own ability to be occasionally brilliant made it impossible for the rest of the show to keep up.

By the last three or four episodes, the production seemed so obviously rushed that I would have sworn they knew the axe was going to fall (the entire season was filmed before airing, which could explain season one's insistence of Karen as Marilyn, but why the continued devotion to her in season two when she was clearly unpopular). By the season finale that aired last night, the inevitable cancellation that hung over the series for fans all season long seemed a natural fit given they were tying up loose ends left and right, giving happy endings to (almost) every major character, and providing a general sense of "it's over". The opening performance of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" was bold italic underlining the sentiment. I guess it just shows how off the behind the scenes people really were as to what people wanted to see.

The biggest casualty of Smash's new direction was character. By the end they'd almost all lost direction: Ivy Lynn was legitimately considering keeping her baby (with Derek Wills of all people) and leaving her thriving Broadway career behind to be a "Mr and Mrs Smith" like she sings about on stage eight times a week; Tom and Julia both had separate plot lines that involved them utilising mobile phones in darkened theatres, something any lover of theatre would cringe at, while Tom began acting like a horny, ravenous dog by the end; Anjelica Huston's Eileen Rand was flipping and flopping all over the place, changing her attitude from scene to scene by the final episode; and the potential delicious evil of the Daisy Parker character was entirely misjudged making me long for the days of Ellis. That her character ended up celebrated flies in the face of reality given the general public's obsession and bloodthirsty nature for slut-shaming.

Furthermore, characters were introduced and ditched at a moments notice. The season's opening storyline involving Jennifer Hudson was entire superfluous to everyone that came before and after. They couldn't even get her back for a cameo in the finale. Jesse L Martin, too, who was criminally not asked to sing once on the show, was curiously missing from the final several episodes. Curious given he shepherded Hit List and he apparently had no desire to watch its premiere or attend the Tonys? I think not. And speaking of the Tonys. Wow. That has to have been the worst fake awards show I have ever seen. So cheap and tacky - nothing at all like the real show that is big and shiny and fun. Such a missed opportunity, too, given the prevalence of theatre stars they could have had guest star - Sutton Foster, Anika Noni Rose, Harvey Fierstein, and Audre McDonald were just one of the names mentioned. And then there's the after party, which looked as if it was held in a bar in Brooklyn with maybe 60 people in attendance. This is the climax of the New York theatre season, it doesn't die in a whimper. Although, given that apparently no other shows apart from Bombshell and Hit List seemed to exist in this alternate universe, it was probably a good choice for Sutton Foster to stay at home on the couch. It seriously was like nobody involved in the writing and directing of this show had ever actually been to the theatre. I'd genuinely like to know when Josh Safran last went.

See how mad this show made? And we didn't even a reprise of "Let's Be Bad", instead getting a baffling Roxie and Velma style duet between Ivy Lynn and Karen. I'm sorry, what? Who could tell by the end, really. Who was mad at who, who was bonking who, who was rich and who was poor. It was all a crap chute, which is a crying shame. Thankfully not everyone will emerge out of the show covered in muck. Anjelica Huston is Anjelica Huston and will continue to work whenever she wants while Debra Messing never embarrassed herself and even in fact did the best work of her career. Megan Hilty, meanwhile... well, if she decides to return to Broadway after the end of Smash and having released a CD who would blame her? They'd certainly welcome her back with open arms and without a wind-machine aided Karen Cartwright to steal her spotlight.

You were a strange ride, Smash. Frequently frustrating and maddening; occasionally brilliant. By the end you swerved too close to a literal reading of your finest achievement - that'd be "Let's Be Bad" (below) - to last, but it was wild having Broadway on the box once a week while it lasted.

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