Posts Tagged ‘Katharine mcphee’


Smash on NBC

So, it’s back! The show that both fascinated and frustrated me as a fan of all things musical theatre, NBC’s Smash, has returned with a vengeance and a whole lot of promise.  Gone are some of the most annoying characters and plotlines, and hopefully the playing field has been evened out a bit between Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty) and the focus has been shifted to more than just Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe bio-show that was the center of last season’s storylines.  This year, there are more musicals in the mix, and more composers, as well as new characters and performers, a new writing team and a fresh new outlook.  The first episode was a whole lot of fun—majoring on the theatre industry and the drama surrounding it, and with a lot of nods to real-life Broadway with cameos by Harvey Fierstein, Michael Riedel (again) and other luminaries.  It had a much more “insider” vibe this time but it wasn’t too insular.  So far it’s all looking very intriguing and I hope all the housecleaning will have paid off.   I’m cautiously optimistic.

I like that they seem to be letting Karen be the bitch sometimes, as opposed to last season where she was supposed to be the “nice girl” and came across as a bitch anyway more often than not.  If this show wants us to root for her, they have to give us a reason to rather than just telling us how awesome she is over and over, and letting her be a real person rather than a straw princess is a good start.  She still acts ridiculously entitled especially in her interactions with director Derek (Jack  Davenport), but this time I get the impression that we’re supposed to think that about her, which is a nice change.

Conversely, they’re dialing down the bitchiness with Ivy’s character and letting her be the sympathetic one for once.  I really liked how this episode seemed to be setting the stage for an equalization of the characters rather than last season’s forced “Karen is so AMAZING!  Forget about how great a performer Ivy is and how she owns the screen whenever she performs—she’s the VILLAIN, remember? Look at all the awful things we’ve written for her to do—sleeping with Dev! Taking pills! See? See? Isn’t she such a BITCH!??”

I found that frustrating because all the skewing just made me like Karen less and root for Ivy more.  This season, which seems to be focusing on both equally for once, already seems to be an improvement.  I hope the equalization continues, because for me Hilty was the real breakout star of this show, and I’m glad they’re backing off on the “oh, she’s supposed to be the villain” angle and let her have the show’s biggest moment with her solo at the American Theatre Wing gala, which was outstanding.

I also like that they are focusing more on another of my favorite aspects of last season—the relationship between musical writing partners Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle).  These two have such an interesting a believable relationship, as creative partners and as best friends.  I’ve found it the most potentially fascinating relationship on this show—more so than any of the romantic pairings.

There are appealing new characters as well, like Jeremy Jordan’s Jimmy and Andy Mientus’s Kyle, who work in a restaurant/bar in Brooklyn but are working on a new musical and hoping to make it big, and songs from more real-life composers like Pasek and Paul, Joe Iconis and others, in addition to more Bombshell  songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.  Also, according to the previews and promotional materials, there will be more guest stars this season in addition to Jennifer Hudson (as Broadway star Veronica Moore), who appeared in the premiere and is expected to have a recurring role this season.  It will be fun to see appearances by Liza Minnelli (as herself), Sean Hayes (as a Broadway actor in another musical) and the returning and always amazing Broadway legend Bernadette Peters as Ivy’s mother, Broadway legend Leigh Conroy.

I’ve read a lot of comments online from last season and in the lead-up to this one about how this is a very popular show for “hate-watching”–basically watching it expecting to be amused by how bad it is.  I’m a little different in my approach to this show, because I don’t hate-watch.  I “hope-watch”.  I look forward to each new episode hoping that this show will live up to its incredible potential.  Last season I ended up being disappointed a lot of the time, but there was still a lot that I enjoyed.  Now it’s a new year and a fresh start and I’m all set to hope-watch for another season.  Here’s hoping it’s a good one.

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Pilot Thoughts

I watched the preview of the pilot for the new NBC drama Smash, the much-hyped series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.  I hope to blog about it each week as new episodes air, but these are my initial thoughts about the pilot and concept itself.

First off, it’s Broadway, and I love that.  This is the show about Broadway that theatre fans like me have been hoping for after being teased by Glee (which uses some musical theatre songs but isn’t really about musical theatre). The pilot showed a lot of promise, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. Also, although I understand the initial comparisons by viewers (including myself in this post) to Glee, I hope they will stop soon because Smash is its own show. Aside from having musical numbers, this is nothing like Glee, which is only about Broadway when it wants to be (and it mostly doesn’t).  I gave up on Glee midway through the second season and tried to watch it again in the third only to give up again because the writing and characterizations were too inconsistent.  I have high hopes that Smash will fare better in the consistency department (and hopefully will have much less AutoTune). Here are my initial thoughts:

Positives–I am a self-confessed theatre geek, so anything about theatre is going to get me watching, at least at first.  I also love that they’ve put in some references to shows, performers and writers that real Broadway buffs will recognize.  I also like that it shows the development of the show from the ground up, taking us through the whole process, from writing to demos, to finding a producer (Anjelica Huston) and director, to casting and (in upcoming episodes) workshops and rehearsals.  Also, I like the focus on two common “types” in the running for the role of Marilyn—the Broadway ensemble member who dreams of getting a lead (Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn), and the complete newcomer who waits tables while auditioning and hoping for her big break (Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright).  The characters seem interesting, if not fully developed yet (it’s only a pilot)–the snarky, randy British director (Jack Davenport), the playwright/lyricist (Debra Messing) who is trying to juggle a career and family, Karen’s too-perfect boyfriend (Raza Jaffrey), and more.  I love the interaction between Messing and Christian Borle as the composer.  I loved the musical numbers, and the very New York vibe to the show.  Actually filming in the Big Apple definitely adds to the authenticity of the show.

Reservations—Some of the plot elements are very obviously Hollywood trying to do Broadway and seem contrived to hold the audience’s attention–the “private meeting” at his apartment that the director calls with Karen, the book writer’s family issues, the composer’s grudge against the director, the producer’s big messy divorce, etc.  It seems like all the players involved have a whole lot of heavy personal drama in addition to their work on the musical, but it’s TV and that’s what TV shows do.  I’m OK with all of that if the story holds my attention.  I do wonder, though, that even though I love all the Broadway insider vibes, if those might turn off casual viewers who don’t follow the theatre world closely.  I hope it will draw more fans to musical theatre, but the jury is still out on whether it will.

I also don’t know if I  buy all the “she’s an undiscovered STAR” hype they’re building around the Karen character. The ads I saw during the Super Bowl were about Katharine McPhee as much as they were about the show, with Megan Hilty barely getting any screentime. McPhee is a very good singer and I remember that I wanted her to win her season of American Idol (back when I still watched it), but Hilty as Ivy is excellent as well, even though the show definitely seems weighted to get the audience to support Karen over Ivy. From my perspective, though, Ivy seems better suited for the part from the outset and seems more of a complete performer (singing, dancing and acting) than Karen has been shown to be. I do like that it’s not a black-and-white “hero vs. villain” angle, though, and both characters are sympathetic in their own ways. We will see how it all unfolds, and I will definitely keep watching.

I hope this show will catch on with the general public enough for a full season, and I look forward to seeing how the story develops.  Let’s see if Smash really will be a smashing success.

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