Here’s what I knew about NBC’s Smash before last night’s premiere: it’s the network’s response to Glee, it’s supposed to save the network somehow, and it has a solid cast, including an American Idol runner-up.
The series, about all of the aspects surrounding a new musical about Marilyn Monroe, is going to draw hefty comparisons to the only other successful musical series on television. Whether they’re warranted or not, the comparisons will continue to fall into place until Smash proves it’s different.
The plethora of characters that have been introduced seem similar to the first episode of Glee, but unlike the high school series, these characters have been introduced with some substance. There are the typical archetypes: a struggling writing duo (Debra Messing and Christian Borle), a womanizing director (Jack Davenport), a tenacious producer (Anjelica Huston), and a Midwestern girl with hopes of seeing her name in the bright lights of Broadway (Katharine McPhee).
On top of those characters are a handful of minor characters. All of the characters are in some way connected to Marilyn: the Musical, but they also have plots pertaining to their personal lives. While it all may seem like a jumble now, everything was evenly spaced in the pilot and sets up the series as very tightly-woven drama.
The pilot starts slow, but eventually a video of Broadway actress Ivy (Megan Hitly) singing the first song that Julia and Tom (Messing and Borle) wrote for the musical hits YouTube, and people start calling it a smash hit. The project catches the eye of Karen (McPhee), producer Eileen (Huston) and director Derek (Davenport).
Once all of the characters come together into one streamlined plot, the show becomes something of a heart-warmer. You can’t help but want to root for everyone, and while villains need to be made, it’s nice to actually enjoy all of the characters on a show for once. Unlike another musical series, this one doesn’t force-feed the idea of rooting for the underdog down your throat. Smash is age-appropriate and allows viewers to mold their own opinions of all of the storylines.
Also, this musical drama doesn’t rely on big, gimmicky numbers that are forced into the episode to sell albums and provide YouTube clips that will get millions of hits. While there are a few songs included in the first episode, none of them are ridiculous covers or included just to be included. Each song propels the plot forward and better yet, they’re actually good. Even the last song, which seems out of place, offers a terrific ending note to keep viewers interested in what happens next.
Smash’s first episode lights a fuse for what could be a breakout series for NBC. The cast is amazing, the story is charming and the music is everything a drama about Broadway needs to be.