TV on Disc: 'Smash' – Hey kids, let's put on a Broadway show!
The backstage drama reworked for 21st century stage culture
TV's latest flirtation with the musical format has been rocky, to say the least, thanks to the challenges of coming up with original songs and staging production numbers on a weekly basis. Even "Glee," the high school jukebox musical that turned musical numbers into a revenue stream (thanks to iTunes partnership) as well as a ratings bonanza, tripped up in subsequent seasons.
"Smash," a drama set around the creation of a (wholly fictional) Broadway production of a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, gets high marks for convincingly ready-for-the-big-time original showtunes (thanks to the songwriting team of movie, TV, and Broadway veterans Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and a cast filled with stage-seasoned performers like Megan Hilty and Christian Borle along with the TV vets. The rest of the show, I confess, warbles between contrived backstage drama and soap opera silliness.
"American Idol" sweetheart Katharine McPhee is the ostensible starlet of the show, the small town girl with Broadway dreams who competes for the lead with seasoned pro Hilty (her ferocious rival) and lands a spot in the chorus, though Debra Messing is more of a foundation as the author and lyricist trying to balance family and career. Ultimately they are simply storylines in an ensemble piece with a manipulative director with a nasty disposition (Jack Davenport), a snarky but likable composer (Borle), and an experienced producer (Anjelica Huston) flying solo for the first time. Along the way you get divas and backstabbers, affairs and betrayals, hard lessons and double-crosses, and Uma Thurman as a movie star drafted to give the show box-office appeal.
In other words, it's a glitzy soap opera with musical numbers, most of them quite good, and melodrama big enough to play to cheap seats stomping over any metaphorical resonance the stardom dreams of these hopeful trooper might have with the Marilyn story they inhabit in rehearsals. I guess that's appropriate to a series all about show people who live their private lives as if characters on a stage, but do they have to lean on such obvious complications, or slip into such outré territory as the infamous Bollywood number (not to mention sabotage by peanut)?
The show, which Steven Spielberg doesn't simply produce but reportedly pitched as an "Upstairs, Downstairs" in the New York stage world, is retooling for the second season, which is scheduled for an early 2013 launch. They are jettisoning (along with the series showrunner) characters and homelife storylines and bringing in Jenifer Hudson for a guest shot. That might help expand the show's base beyond the Broadway babies, musical fans, and "hate watchers" currently sticking with the series. I hope so, because in the musical TV pond, I still favor the shamelessly melodramatic but much more savvy "Nashville."
15 episodes on four discs on DVD (no Blu-ray version). The supplements are slim, which is par for the course for TV, but on a show like this, something more in depth on the songwriting and choreography and staging of the stage number might have been interesting. As it stands, there are two generic featurettes -- "A Dream Come True" (an overview of the cast) and "Song and Dance" (self-explanatory), under eight minute apiece and more promotional than informational -- plus deleted scenes for most episodes.
Also includes an UltraViolet digital copy of the entire season for download and instant streaming.