TV Series Review

There's a broken heart for every light on Broadway. So goes the old song. And NBC's musical drama Smash seems bent on illuminating every one.

It chronicles the roller-coaster ride of Bombshell, a would-be Broadway musical that's had a dickens of a time actually getting to Broadway—creating plenty of fractured hearts and friction-filled plot points along the way. Onscreen writers Julia Houston and Tom Levitt squabble. Director Derek Wills canoodles. Producer Eileen Rand gets booted—sort of. The production itself, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, gets tweaked and fixed and reworked and trashed and praised and revived and reworked again.

And we haven't even gotten into the sordid stories of the show's stars. Or one-time stars. Or soon-to-be stars.

At the center of it all is Karen Cartwright, a small-town ingénue who in the first season shoved Broadway vet Ivy Lynn out of the buxom lead role. This wide-eyed Iowa girl proved her doubters wrong and found a bit of success on the Great White Way. Will she ever reign as queen? Well, maybe, as long as she makes personal sacrifices, and as long as the play's creators and its director don't kill each other, and as long as the financier doesn't go belly-up, and …

On the surface, Smash bears some passing resemblance to Glee, its popular musical compatriot on Fox. But aside from the fact that both shows' leads sometimes burst into song with little provocation, not much else sticks. Glee resides in a surreal high school landscape where one-liners sprout like dandelions, Sue Sylvester prowls the halls like a Vaudeville villain and feisty teens search for their oh-so-special voices, on and off the stage. Smash is an older, arguably wiser show populated by more jaded characters. Dreams still can come true, it tells us … but then it asks, are they worth it?

If Glee tells us that all we really need is a song in our hearts, Smash insists that no song—no matter how pretty it is, no matter how fervently sung—will pay the electric bill unless some big producer likes it. Thus, Smash sets up a grittier but more realistic narrative. If Glee uses stardom as a form of salvation, Smash insists that celebrity and happiness don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. As Tom says, "We are in an industry that's lousy with talent. Is it too much to ask for a little kindness too?"

But kindness isn't something this show excels at, especially when it comes to how it treats its audience. Sex is a subject that has a huge presence here—from racy, suggestive dance numbers to premarital rolls in the hay to the crimes of the casting couch. Gay and straight relationships (and the specific sexual interludes that accompany them) get lots of screen time and are frequently talked about.

Smash isn't interested in teen sex the way Glee is. But it's certainly consumed with grownup relationships, which are simply assumed to be sexual.

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Episode Reviews

Smash: 3-5-2013
Smash: 3-5-2012
Smash: 2-6-2012



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Debra Messing as Julia Houston; Jack Davenport as Derek Wills; Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright; Christian Borle as Tom Levitt; Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn; Raza Jaffrey as Dev Sundaram; Jaime Cepero as Ellis Tancharoen; Anjelica Huston as Eileen Rand; Brian d'Arcy James as Frank Houston; Jeremy Jordan as Jimmy Collins; Andy Mientus as Kyle Bishop; Krysta Rodriguez as Ana Vargas






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