Rant and Rave: ‘Smash’

Image courtesy of Mark Seliger/NBC

TV Series 3-5-star-rating-black-hi 2

Rare is the show whose pilot episode was deeply applauded and appreciated by critics the world over, calling it “smart and slick”, “pretty damn perfect” and “excellent”. However, it isn’t rare to see a show lose its quality and appeal within a year or two; in Smash’s case, people started to dislike the series within 7 weeks. What happened to the excellent writing, show stopping choreography and inspirational music that flourished in the pilot episode? Why did something so promising crash in just a few weeks?

The Chorus Girl Who Can’t Compete

One of the most defining aspects of Smash was its ensemble cast, a line-up of today’s brightest stars on and off the Broadway stage; the ensemble included the likes of Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport, Debra Messing and Christian Borle, a Broadway alum, no less. However, many questioned the competition for the role of Marilyn Monroe in Bombshell. Katharine McPhee, who plays naïve Karen Cartwright, is pitted against Megan Hilty’s Ivy Lynn, a chorus girl paying her dues in Broadway for years. Their strengths (and weaknesses) are highlighted to help the audience see who embodies Monroe best. As the season progressed, it was clear that the show was headed to the direction where Karen was the oppressed newbie, and Ivy was the veteran who can’t compete. The show tried to make the platform balanced for the two, but after laughable plot points, and revelations, the first season ended with Karen playing Marilyn for Previews while Ivy still can’t compete.


Smash can be acknowledged for the term “hate–watching”. So many polarizing concepts made the show unbearable that by the first season finale, ratings dropped significantly. Ellis (Jaime Cepero) is the production assistant everyone hates because of his schemes against (almost) everyone involved in the production of Bombshell.

Hate–watching persisted when Theresa Rebeck, creator of Smash, introduced Michael Swift (Will Chase) as Joe DiMaggio for Bombshell, a man whose feelings for Julia Houston (Messing) weren’t kept, resulting to an affair that managed to destroy Julia’s marriage and (almost) the entire production of Bombshell. After season 1, NBC announced that Rebeck was fired, and Josh Safran, showrunner of Gossip Girl, was to replace her.

Bombshell vs. The Hit List

As a result of Safran’s appointment, four actors were fired (Cepero, Chase, Brian d’Arcy James and Raza Jaffrey, the latter two played Julia and Karen’s respective beaus) and the show was under a major makeover. Almost a year later, Smash premiered with new actors (Jeremy Jordan of Newsies fame, Krysta Rodriguez as Ana Vargas and Andy Mientus as Kyle Bishop), a slew of guest stars (Jennifer Hudson, Liza Minnelli, Sean Hayes) and a chance for redemption. Regarding the dismal ratings, Safran introduced The Hit List, a musical that is the equivalent of Bombshell but more modern and hip, telling the story of Amanda and Jesse (played by Jordan’s Jimmy Collins character), their love and Amanda’s rise to fame. Karen Cartwright and Davenport’s Derek Wills, the first director of Bombshell, migrated to Hit List after a creative dispute with Tom Levitt (Christian Borle); this made Ivy Lynn the official Marilyn. The similarities of the two musicals are very obvious since Amanda and Marilyn Monroe shared the same journey.

While Hit List incorporated “status updates” and “tweeting” to cater to the hipsters of the modern New York theater scene, Bombshell traversed Broadway with a spring in its step and some minor surprises that involved the audience. In a way, Bombshell symbolizes the traditional Broadway shows everyone grew to love, while Hit List served as a reminder that like everything else, Broadway is changing and is adapting with the times. To add drama, Kyle Bishop, writer of Hit List, gets hit by a car and dies, seemingly mimicking the tragic fate of Jonathan Larson, creator of Rent.

Don’t Forget Me

Despite the revisions to the cast, Smash received dismal ratings; NBC decided to cancel the show. From then on, every song Smash has done, whether original or just a cover, has been meta. The performances have been pertaining to goodbyes saying that Smash is indeed ending.  One could say that Smash is a two-act musical. The first act involved the introductions and main plot, reducing its characters to introduce new ones by act two; the second tackled the progress and the eventual success of Bombshell in the Tonys. Many cited the finale, The Tonys, as too happy and too focused on satisfying the audience, but it was excellent because the ensemble really showed their acting chops as the show welcomed the curtain call. Anjelica Huston’s Eileen Rand served as the sole producer of Bombshell from start to finish, and her storyline was one of the show’s best plots because it described the business of Broadway clearly and without bias. Breakouts like Krysta Rodriguez, with her spunky attitude and performance of “Reach For Me” from Hit List, and Andy Mientus, made the second season much better and more fun to watch; the award-worthy turns of Bernadette Peters as Ivy’s mother and Jennifer Hudson also made the show refreshing and rejuvenated the ailing show.

Smash provided good television amidst a sea of tedious procedurals and overhyped comedies. Though it had its own share of flaws, Smash shone brightly in even the most unexpected of places. Safran made good with his time, and tried to make the show as satisfying as it could have been. The race to the finish has never been this irresistible and the big finish was well worth the ride.

Daniel Ian Comandante

By Daniel Ian Comandante

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