Smash (Pilot episode)

Posted on January 29, 2012

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The pilot episode of ‘Smash‘ was released online last week, ahead of it’s debut on US TV in February. It’s a similar tactic to the way ‘Glee‘ was launched all those years ago (playing the pilot months before the series premiere). It worked with ‘Glee‘ right?

So, what do we have here. Unlike ‘Glee‘ which sits firmly in the ‘quirky-comedy’ range, ‘Smash‘ is more of a ‘drama-that-can-be-funny’ (like ‘The West Wing‘ could pull off great one liners etc).

The great character dynamics are set up early and clearly and ‘Smash‘ has plenty of scope to go on for years (and let’s be realistic, if the show sticks to its guns about charting the course of a musical from it’s inception to the stage, it could take YEARS to reach Broadway).

The cast is great! Anjelica Houston is the real secret weapon of the show. I adore Debra Messing & Jack Davenport, but Houston gives the show some real firepower. I’m also curious to see how Jaime Cepero‘s personal assistant plays out. A very nice addition to the mix of the series, helping keep the cast young too. Katharine McPhee is strong as our lead and she has great chemistry with Raza Jaffery who plays her boyfriend (and a refreshing piece of casting too – the look in his eyes when he says “Karen’s not a waitress. She’s an actress” made me well up). None of these characters are good or evil, they are all creative (temperamental?) people with different drives and desires. It’s a great set up for drama (as anyone in the theatre knows).

The performances are strong, the characters are clear and there is so much room for great stories. And thank god these people can really sing!

Now let me digress to talk about my personal ‘theory’ when it comes to modern musicals on screen. The ones that work for me establish the rules of the film’s universe early – they burst into song in true musical theatre style early. It let’s the audience know exactly what they’re in for. ‘Hairspray‘ is a great example of this, “Good Morning Baltimore” establishes the film’s humour, sets the scene and establishes the conceit that characters singing out loud is normal. ‘Chicago‘ cheats this slightly by staging all the musical numbers in Roxie’s mind.  For me ‘Dreamgirls‘ failed because it focused on filming singing in context – so when we reached “Family” and the song is sung as dialogue… well, the audience laughed in the cinema when I saw it. The audience wasn’t prepared for the change in tone.

Here’s where I’m uncertain with the ‘Smash‘ pilot… if the show is going to include the basic musical theatre trope of singing to the audience (as opposed to having filmed performances and auditions etc), then I honestly think the pilot missed a trick in waiting to the end to have the two auditionee’s sing a musical theatre number in true MT style. Before the closing few minutes, all the songs are performances, girls auditioning, a staging of a number etc it’s literally the closing minutes of the episode before characters sing as dialogue.

Now I didn’t have the cringe/giggle reaction I did with ‘Dreamgirls‘ but I did think it was an odd choice.

It’s not a fatal flaw by any means, the show has enough charm, humour and drama to keep me coming back.

Rating: If you read this blog, or love your musicals, you’ll love ‘Smash‘.

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Posted in: Play