Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Smash - The Cost of Art / Let's Be Bad

Honestly I'd forgotten this show even existed. Sure, I remember the big campaign NBC put out hyping its premiere after the Super Bowl, but I missed the pilot and hadn't really given the show a second thought. With several of the shows I usually write about taking late Winter breaks I decided to tape a couple episodes of Smash and give it a shot.

For those unfamiliar with the show's concept, it takes place behind the scenes of a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Much like Glee, each show incorporates several songs and dance numbers into each episode including Broadway standards, current pop hits, and original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

"The Cost of Art" finds Eileen (Anjelica Huston) looking for alternative revenue sources for the show as Karen (Katharine McPhee) gets a hard lesson in how politics play a big role behind the scenes as rehearsals begin with Ivy (Megan Hilty) craftily abusing her role as star to push the Iowa native far into the background.

Taking pity on Karen, Bobby (Wesley Taylor), Jessica (Savannah Wise), and Sue (Jenny Laroche) perform an intervention and try to get the farmgirl's clothing and sense of style up to Manhattan standards and teach her about a few tricks about being a back-up performer in a single night.

Meanwhile, Ivy hits the town with the director (Jack Davenport) for the party a young star (Nick Jonas) he helped discover which Eileen hijacks into fundraising opportunity. A little convoluted? Sure, but it does give the episode its standout original number "I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Love to Howl" performed by Ivy.

Even missing the first three episodes it was pretty easy to pick up on the basic plots which are far more soap opera-ish than I expected. The show certainly showcased the talent of the cast (with the exception of Huston) but didn't really sell me on the characters. Still, it was enough for me to give the show another episode to sell me on the premise.

Things heat up in rehearsals as Derek (Jack Davenport) pits Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Karen (Katharine McPhee) against each other by pointing out how much better the chorus girl is with aspects of the character than the star in order to get the performance out of his Marilyn the show deserves. Well, that and the fact he's an incredible misogynistic dick that likes dominating young women.

As Julia (Debra Messing) works through problems with the script, dealing with working with her old flame (Will Chase) with her husband (Brian d'Arcy James) out of town, and the arrest of her teenage son (Emory Cohen) for possession of marijuana, Tom (Christian Borle) discovers there may be more to the lawyer (Neal Bledsoe) he's been seeing than he originally thought.

The songs for this episode include Karen's performance of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" while dressing for her boyfriend's (Raza Jaffrey) work function, Ivy's dream sequence performance of the original song "Let's Be Bad," and Tom serenades Julia on the stoop with Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You."

The problematic aspects of the dream Broadway sequence aside the episode did have moments but the show really overplays its hand by not so much foreshadowing what's to come as shouting it out at the top of its lungs. I'd also prefer to see a little more art and less soap then what these two episodes have shown. Is it enough to bring me back for one more week? With its far superior timeslot competition Castle and Hawaii Five-0 still on hiatus, probably. But after that, anything goes.

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