When I saw the pilot of Smash a few months ago, I was blown away. I immediately told everyone I knew about the show, heralding it as “the second coming of television.”
I’m a huge Broadway fan, having seen half the cast in a show at one point or another (Megan Hilty, Brian d’Arcy James, etc.). A show that gave a realistic look at a Broadway musical in the making! A compelling competition between a novice and a veteran! And “Let Me Be Your Star” was one of the greatest songs I’d ever heard – I always got goosebumps hearing it, and I’ve listened to it so often that I have it thoroughly memorized by now.
Then the next few episodes aired, and I came down from my euphoric high quite a bit. For starters, none of the songs since have matched up to “Let Me Be Your Star,” though we have had some gems along the way (“History is Made at Night,” “Let’s Be Bad,” “Thousand and One Nights”). However, Smash also fell into the Glee trap of throwing in pop songs for no good reason. The pinnacle of this horror was a drunken rendition of Rihanna’s “Cheers,” which is about as far from Broadway as you can get. But the show needed to sell singles, so I forgave it. Moving on.
Smash also lost sight alarmingly fast of what it should be focusing on. I watched Smash for a look behind the scenes of Broadway. If I wanted to watch a show about political intrigue, I would watch just about any other show on right now. So why are Dev and RJ taking up valuable screentime? Smash was at its strongest when dealing with Broadway; episodes like “The Workshop” are the best in the show.
The show also stopped being as subtle as the pilot was. Ivy was transformed into a conniving diva whom I think we’re supposed to hate. Yet I was still rooting for her over Karen, who was far and away the most bland character on the show. Everything seems handed to Karen on a silver platter – bar mitzvah gigs, recording contracts, playing the lead in the preview – and she acts as though they all aren’t worth her time (not learning the songs for the bar mitzvah, blowing off the music producer, and so forth). Is it any wonder she drives Ivy mad?
But despite all of these issues, Smash was still fairly enjoyable to watch…until yesterday’s finale. I was so livid after watching it that I was tempted to never return to Smash again. I’ll now be getting into the final episode, so SPOILER ALERT!!
So, when Rebecca drops out of Bombshell, the people in charge need to choose a replacement. Is this done with careful consideration? No. Derek has a hallucination, and takes that as a vision from God demanding he make Karen the lead, despite her not knowing anything.
The producer and writers don’t override him; not even when Karen has an emotional breakdown and storms off during rehearsal. Julia and Tom have the power to stop the entire production if they want. I assume Eileen also wields considerable sway. So why don’t they all tell Derek to stop thinking with his crotch and to put Ivy in? So much for realism.
Ivy then asks Derek why he chose Karen over her, and the response outraged me more than anything else all season. “She just has something special that you don’t.” First off, can someone please explain what that is? A good policy I learned in Writer’s Workshop was “show, don’t tell.” We’ve been told that Karen has some innate magical singing talent that makes anyone who hears her go weak-kneed with awe. Yet we’ve yet to actually see this magical talent of hers – it’s clear Ivy is just as good (or far better) from what we’ve seen.
Second, the moral of this story seemed to be, “it doesn’t matter how hard you work at something, it’s no use trying if you’re not born with the magical something that a select few others have.” And this really bugs me. I have talked to many people in the theatre world while stage-dooring after shows, and the consensus is that if you work hard, persist, and grab opportunities when they come, you will get ahead in the business. Smash‘s message is “don’t bother.”
then there is the way the show has vilified Ivy’s character. In the pilot, she was a likable character. She was very ambitious, willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. But I felt her frustration, and I wanted so badly for her to get her big break. Let Karen spend ten years in the ensemble and then get the big lead; Ivy’s earned it!
Since then, Ivy has become a pill-popping nightmare. She slept with Dev just to mess with Karen, and now she’s going to attempt suicide-via-pills. This does not tally with the Ivy we saw in the pilot. It’s quite condescending, trying to make sure we’re all rooting for Karen by eliminating Ivy as a viable alternative. Smash would be much stronger if it presented us with two legitimate candidates to root for.
So overall, this finale is one of the worst I’ve seen. Smash can still be fixed, especially with a new showrunner at the helm next season. But they need to take a long hard look at what they’re doing. If I wanted to see Katharine McPhee doing pop hits, I’d have watched American Idol. If I wanted to see political intrigue, I’d watch any other show on TV.
If Ivy is eliminated from the show, or continues to be vilified, that eliminates the most realistic insight into Broadway that Smash has (apart from the characters in charge – Tom, Julia, Eileen, etc.). So let’s just hope season 2 can make up for this abysmal finale.