FALL TV Preview ‘11: SMASH

You’ve seen the commercials. You’ve heard the hype. Now there’s only one thing you want to know: Which of the new fall shows are worth watching and which should be avoided at all costs? In this continuing series, we give you the scoop on some of the most highly-anticipated shows of the season, with today’s focus being SMASH, NBC’s attempt to cash in on the GLEE phenomenon.

The Boilerplate: Since these pilot presentations may go through numerous rewrites and casting changes prior to premiere, this by no means should be considered an official review. Rather a preview of what one can expect come Fall.

The Plot:In the era of THE VOICE and GLEE, executive producers Steven Spielberg and Craig Zadan & Neil Meron (producers of Chicago and Hairspray), and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray), bring you the blood, sweat, and tears of the making of a Broadway musical. While Wicked and The Lion King pack audiences in on the Great White Way, Julia and Tom, a successful songwriting team played by Debra Messing and Christian Borle, begin work on a new musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. When a tenacious producer (Anjelica Houston) jumps aboard, so begins the difficult task of casting the silver screen icon. Ivy Lynn, a tough Broadway veteran, seems like the obvious choice. But enter Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee), a young girl from Iowa with a dream of making it on Broadway who walks in and blows everyone away. So who will get the part and begin a journey that will change their lives? It’s an age-old story, but a star just might be born once again.

The First Impression: With an all-star cast both in front (Debra Messing! Anjelica Houston! Jack Davenport!) and behind (Zadan & Meron! Shaiman & Whitman!) the camera, it should probably comes as little surprise that SMASH has already sung and danced its way to the top of our must see TV list. That said, what certainly might come as a surprise is that despite the obvious comparisons to GLEE, SMASH — and we mean this in the best possibly way — is anything but. Yes, there are a handful of thrilling musical numbers featuring Megan Hilty and AMERICAN IDOL’s Katharine McPhee, the latter of which will have leave many viewers saying, “Lea Mi… WHO?” But more importantly, SMASH brings with it the one thing GLEE has been sorely lacking: An emphasis on story complete with real adult characters making potentially life-altering decisions. And while we don’t pretend do know whether or not Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) will be able to navigate the shark-infested Great White Way in an effort to successfully create a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, we can all but assure you that you too will be giving SMASH a standing ovation by the time the curtain falls on the 44 minute pilot.

The Concern: Despite our rave first look at the on screen product, two big off screen issues do come to mind as we ponder the success, or dare we say failure, of SMASH. First off, if the likes of brilliant-but-canceled shows such as ACTION and GROSSE POINTE have proven anything over the years, it’s that your average viewer isn’t nearly as open to the behind-the-scenes look at how the — for lack of a better word — sausage is made as we are. Secondly, and more worrisome still is the fact that if COMMUNITY, PARENTHOOD, 30 ROCK and PARKS AND RECREATION have illustrated anything, it’s that critical acclaim does not a hit NBC series make. Which is to say, although we can sing a show’s praise all we want, it remains to be seen whether or not the rest of the country (Translation: The portion who have inexplicably elected to spend hours on end with the troglodytes of the JERSEY SHORE versus a high quality scripted drama or comedy) will embrace the show as quickly as we did.

The Verdict: Is positive, with the only real negative being that we have to wait until Midseason to find out what happens next.

SMASH is scheduled to premiere sometime in January 2012 on NBC (CTV in Canada)

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  • TL

    Comparing the storytelling styles of an adult musical drama and a teen-oriented musical comedy doesn’t seem apt. They require different writing techniques, and it seems like you just wanted to take a swipe at Glee. It’s your blog, so more power to ya, but that jab felt pretty petty.

  • Farleyiligan

    I think the blog is very good at delivering what it is supposed to deliver. Considering that it is also a musical drama, there will always be comparison to Glee. And by the looks of it, it has all the makings of a hit. The trailer alone made me want to watch it right away but alas, we have wait until early next year to find out. Glee was a mess this year and now that they have some tough competition they needed to hire quality writers to ante up their storylines.

  • Groucho

    From what I’ve seen, if they can keep up the quality the trailer shows they will be just fine, and more. Maybe they would benefit from a shorter, HBO-type season, so as not to tax the writers? I don’t know, waiting for True Blood to come back just about stretches my patience to the limit. At least it’s usually worth it. Just from the trailer, everybody looks terrific, and it will be great having weekly Katharine McPhee again.