Smash, the newest hopeful for an NBC success, premiered last night, and the Peacock network may have a potential hit on their hands. The show attempts to capitalize on America's latest (returned) obsession with the musical genre and has brought in some heavy hitters to assist. That it's produced by Steven Spielberg, who apparently has always had a love of Broadway and is credited with coming up with the concept, and has a handful of A-list actors such as Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston and Broadway's Megan Hilty, adds to the appeal.
The gist of the show is a backstage drama surrounding a new musical about Marilyn Monroe. Messing and her writing partner, a fantastic Christian Borle, have a few Broadway hits on their hands and despite wanting to "take a break" from work, Messing becomes obsessed with the idea of a Marilyn-themed production.
On the other side of Manhattan, American Idol's Katharine McPhee is a struggling actress defying her midwestern parents' desires for her to just get married to her incredibly good-looking, successful boyfriend (why doesn't she?). But McPhee prevails as all wannabe actresses in such situations do.
Back to the Marilyn plot line: Another actress, who actually could play Monroe, Megan Hilty, is also looking for her breakout part and records a demo for Messing and Borle. Unfortunately/fortunately, the demo is videotaped and put on the interwebs for all the world to see by Borle's personal assistant (who we will most likely find is not as innocent as he pretends to be).
As you would guess, the video is a hit and Messing and Borle have a potential production on their hands. And then...Anjelica Huston drops in and steals the show!
Huston is a hard-nosed, tough-cookie Broadway producer in the middle of a nasty divorce and legal battle. In the pilot, Huston shows only a twinge of remorse for marriage's sad fate, but presumably this internal struggle will rear its head in later episodes.
As one would imagine, worlds collide when McPhee comes to audition for the role of Marilyn with an oddly chosen Christina Aguilera tune.
Of course the show finds itself in some obvious clichés. No one appreciates actors! The director is a sleaze that invites McPhee over for a "private lesson"!
There is enough good to hold an audience for the time being. What works superbly is Messing, who needs to act more. She is fantastic as a workingwoman trying to juggle a happy family (an upcoming adoption) and her work. Her partnership with Borle is believable and warm, two good friends that have been working together for years. There is also a nifty device the show uses to give the audience a taste for what the real production will look like when it is onstage.
The music was meh. Some songs were better than others. When it was used organically (like in an audition), the musical-theater concept worked better than when McPhee just broke into song. The show is not Glee, the music needs to make a little more sense.
If Smash moves in the direction that we hope it does, ditch the melodrama, cut the clichés, keep the characters real and make the music fit; NBC might just have something here.