Friday, February 8, 2013

Multi-Media, February 8, 2013

Let Me Be Your Star!
Smash is back, and this time with purpose
by Stuart Munro

Let’s face it. Smash is the show we were all looking forward to last season, and wound up becoming the show that most of us loved to hate. It had started well enough, but somewhere along the line it became a murky mess with no clear direction. Only towards the end of the season, when Bombshell headed to Boston, did things seem to come back together. Still, it was no surprise when creator Theresa Rebeck was let go, and a new show runner was brought on. But could Joshua Safran repair this damaged (though not totally broken) boat and keep it from going under?

(Does anyone remember that adoption plot that somehow vanished midway through season one? Oy...)

After seeing the two-hour series première, I’d hazard a conservative “yes.” The show already seems to have a clearer trajectory than it ever did in season one, with fewer extraneous plot lines and a handful of characters who have completely vanished. Sometimes this is a relief, as in the case of the scheming Ellis (Jaime Cepero) who was so pointless from episode one I’m amazed he managed to make it until the end of the season. But some other characters, like Frank (Brian d’Arcy James) and Leo (Emory Cohen), will be missed (at least by me). I loved the family dynamic that had been created here, and I especially loved watching the slow and often painful reconciliation after Julia’s (Debra Messing) multiple infidelities. Sadly, they’ve failed to make the cut, and Julia’s family disappears in a far too brief and mildly confusing scene. This happens a few times in this première – big changes happen quickly, if not entirely unconvincingly, most likely to help get the show moving along its new path. Derek (Jack Davenport) gets a stern talking to about how he abuses his position of authority with the women he works with, and new character Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) finds out why no one likes him . . . even though we’ve only just met him.

Which brings me to some of the new plot points, most noticeably Karen (Katharine McPhee) and her obsession with Jimmy and his new musical. What I find most bizarre here is how Karen has suddenly turned into a would-be producer after the sudden demise of Bombshell, as well as a bit of a bitch. Apparently fame has gone to her head in a big ol’ way. Still, if we get to hear Jeremy Jordan sing on a regular basis because of this new storyline, I’m really ok with that. It also gives us some new musical theatre tunes to listen to while the financial roadblocks for Bombshell get smoothed out. The new songs, by composer Joe Iconis, have some fantastic melodies, but lacklustre lyrics – they may make for good pop or cabaret songs, but I have a hard time imagining them on stage advancing a plot in any way. Still, it’s nice to have something different. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman stuff, but it’s nice to have something new as well.

There is a downside to having Jeremy Jordan paired so closely with Katharine McPhee: he’s a much better actor than she is. In fact, most of the cast seem to have stepped up their game this season, and McPhee’s natural talent is only taking her so far. If she’s not careful, she’ll get overshadowed by people who are simply more talented than she is.

Still, I’m happy to see the show being streamlined to an extent. Creating a new musical is, for me, exciting and dramatic enough that all the extra plots from season one just seemed unnecessary. I hope we don’t see too many new storylines introduced before these get resolved. (Does anyone remember that adoption plot that somehow vanished midway through season one? Oy . . .) I also hope we see better use of the musical numbers this season. So far, it seems like the songs from Bombshell are being used for montages that help move things along in the story, while some of the new music is being treated as more stand-alone. There were only one or two bizarre pop tune musical sequences that seemed to serve little purpose except to entertain (or fill time . . . you decide).

Whether Smash will regain its audience remains to be seen. I’m hopeful. It’s nice to see a show about our community being developed as a major television show. But if this season’s creators aren’t more careful than last season's, it’ll descend into the kind of schtick that Glee can somehow get away with, but Smash never will.

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