The Outhouse's resident "Gleek" Erik Galston checks out NBC's "Smash."
For three years FOX's "Glee" has been the only scripted musical on television. With tonight's debut of NBC's "Smash," that's about to change. On a basic level "Smash" and "Glee" are similar. They both contain musical performances, and both shows release those songs as singles. However, that's where the similarities end. Unlike "Glee," "Smash" is not a comedy. While there are comedic moments, the show is a drama first and foremost. Instead of focusing on a bunch of high schoolers, "Smash" focuses on the making of a Marilyn Monroe-centric Broadway Musical.
The pilot episode does a great job of introducing the audience to the main characters. Karen Cartwright (American Idol's Katharine McPhee) is an aspiring actress waiting tables while struggling for her big break. Julia Houston and Tom Levitt (played by Emmy winner Debra Messing and Christian Borle respectively) are the writers of the musical. Julia struggles to balance home life and her career, while Tom is struggling with decisions made about the musical. Ivy Lynn (Broadway's Megan Hilty) is Christian's handpicked choice for the lead role. Eileen Rand (played by Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston) is the producer of the musical dealing with a messy divorce that could ruin the musical before it starts. Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) is the director of the musical, who has a history with Tom and believes that Karen might be the best for the role. Every character, even the minor ones, is three-dimensional, giving viewers of all types someone to relate to.
The plot of the first episode was pretty straightforward. Clearly meant to introduce the characters, the show does a good job of setting up the various relationships between the characters. It shows that Karen and Ivy have somewhat of a history auditioning for the same projects. Tom and Derek really don't get along because of their past history working together. Meanwhile, Julia's family supports her through the episode, even though she was supposed to take the year off to adopt a child.
The plot really gets going once Tom's new assistant accidentally gets the demo of one of the musical's songs posted on the Internet. While Julia is worried that the musical will be ripped apart before they even write it, she finds out that the song is received positively, pushing her to really move forward with the musical. Tom clearly believes that Ivy should be Marilyn since she looks like her and has experience, but after Karen blows them away during her audition, everyone thinks twice about it being a done deal.
Derek invites Karen to his apartment to work on her audition, but really he just wants to sleep with her. Karen plays along at first, but then stops and walks away. The show ends with both Karen and Ivy auditioning a second time, with an original song from the musical.
One major difference between "Glee" and "Smash" is the music. While "Glee" covers various songs each week, "Smash" will mainly be using original songs. Yes, Karen did sing a stunning version of "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, but it's not the norm for the show. The real standouts were the songs written for the show. Three songs were performed: "Never Give All the Heart," "The National Pastime," and "Let Me Be Your Star." "The National Pastime" was great because it showed not only just the rehearsals but also a glimpse into what it might look like in the musical itself. "Let Me Be Your Star" was the closing song of the show, song by both Karen and Ivy. The actresses' voices worked beautifully together. In perhaps a nod to McPhee's tenure on "American Idol," the show briefly starts out with Karen singing "Over The Rainbow" from the Wizard of Oz. That song was the song McPhee sang during the finale of her season of "American Idol."
This show may not be for everyone, but i do urge anyone who may have a slight interest in the show to watch the first episode. The acting was great and the musical numbers were amazing. Former viewers of "Glee" who aren't happy with that show may find that "Smash" is a better show for them. Just don't watch it expecting the next "Sue Sylvester." For those who hate Rachel Berry, Karen Cartwright is the exact opposite. If you're on the fence about the show, give the first episode a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Written or Contributed by: Erik Galston