Monday, January 23, 2012
Quick Review: Smash
I don't really understand this new tactic where network shows post their pilots on Hulu pre-debut for a free full-form stream. With the ever-widening gap between what Americans watch and what the Nielson ratings say Americans watch, it doesn't seem like you'd want to give anyone a reason to NOT tune in live.
That said, it sure worked for New Girl so as long as the word of mouth you generate is greater than the loss of potential live viewers than hey, why not? Plus, it gives us the chance to discuss our impressions of a new show before it technically "airs".
From a purely strategic perspective, I think "Smash" is a genius move by NBC. The execs over at the Peacock obviously green-lit this project as an answer to the season 2 zeitgeist of Glee. As luck would have it, season 3 of Glee has disappointed and viewers seem tired of the inconsistent characters and the circular storytelling and, I would assume, are ready for something new and fresh to take over their musical itch.
At the same time, interest in reality programming has also dimmed this year. With an overabundance of talent competitions competing for our less-than-thrilled attention it makes perfect sense why a viewer would seek out something scripted that provides their weekly fix of musical talent and pizzaz but spares us the delusions of grandeur and bickering judges.
From a quality perspective, I was charmed by the way that Smash was both traditional and unique. In the post-Lost world it is so rare to find an hour-long scripted drama that doesn't beat us over the head with the elusive promise of "mythology" or involve solving a murder every week. Our characters have their task -- put on a Broadway show -- and we are going to watch them do it. It's that simple and after the first 44 minutes I couldn't help but wonder why every new show feels like it has to be complex to entertain.
The cast is superb. Katharine McPhee is simply adorable -- I stopped watching Idol long before her debut so she's a completely new face to me -- Angelica Houston is as fascinating as always and, most surprising to me, I liked Debra Messing much more than I ever thought I would. I know her only from her former sitcom Will and Grace so I expected Grace 2.0, instead her character, part of the writing team the birth the Marilyn idea, is a mature, understated, down to earth family woman who Messing inhabits with complete comfort.
It's also nice to see that Jack Davenport was able to crawl out of the black hole that was Flash Forward and fine some work. His character is, so far, the least 3-dimensional -- he plays the swarmy, hard-to-work-with Director who 'discovers' McPhee and essentially propositions her in exchange for her casting -- but hey, you can only do so much in a pilot.
Bottom line, the only other pilots that impressed me this much this season were Revenge and American Horror Story, and those shows turned out to be completely delicious. Smash is a gamble, but one that I think should, and hope will, pay off. Here's hoping that Smash is the medicine that NBC's doctor ordered. B+