Monday, 6 February 2012

NEW TV: SMASH




What is it? Give me the set up. It's behind the scenes on a big scale musical: a group of writers, producers, directors, musicians and actors come together to try to put together a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Fabulous rivalries, diva tantrums and cast complexities ensue.

Who's behind it? Done anything good? The seeds of the idea behind Smash actually come - bizarrely - from Mr Steven Spielberg, who has stayed on to executive produce the she along with a host of others. Show creator and writer though is Teresa Rebeck, who was worked on programmes such as NYPD Blue, Third Watch and Law and Order (and she is also a playwright). Still not getting the singing and dancing background here... Perhaps the biggest influence comes from the composers, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who wrote and composed the music for the Broadway and film versions of Hairspray. Smash will be a mixture of both original and covered songs led by the duo.

L-R: Derek Wills (Jack Davenport), Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee), Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), Dev Sundaram (Raza Jaffrey), Julia Houston (Debra Messing), Tom Levitt (Christian Borle), Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston), Frank Houston (Brian d'Arcy James), Ellis Tancharoen (Jaime Cepero)


Who's in it? Should I care? This is choc full of big names, but there are some newbies too. The most obvious stand out is Anjelica Huston, who plays the musical's cutthroat but passionate producer. It's her first big Network TV series! Then there's also Debra Messing, her first big role since Will and Grace (and teaming her back up with NBC) and Brit Jack Davenport who plays the egocentric director of the piece. He was brilliant in This Life and I think his talents have been wasted since - this is a dream role for him. Also mixing with the medium of the show there are small screen breakouts from real Broadway stars, Brian d'Arcy James and Christian Borle. But the biggest emphasis will probably be on the two ladies vying for the lead blonde bombshell role in the musical: Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty. McPhee you'll recognise from coming runner up on American Idol a few years ago - this is her first major acting job after some small parts elsewhere. She of course, brings the amazing voice, but she has a lovable sparkle, too. Megan Hilty is perhaps less well known, but she's a seasoned Broadway actress and here steals the TV screen as fesity Ivy. Look out for Uma Thurman too in later episodes as a Hollywood actress desperate to be involved in the project.


Pilot me. Successful writing partners Julia (Messing) and Tom (Borle) have come up with the idea for a brand new Broadway musical: Marilyn, to be based on the life of Hollywood golden girl and siren Marilyn Monroe which will feature original songs and a top notch cast and crew. Brilliant producer Eileen (Huston) is signed up, as is hot shot but big headed director Derek (Davenport), whose ideas for the storyline and spectacle ruffle Tom's feathers somewhat. With the crew assembled, it's time to start auditions to find the all-important leading lady. Gutsy waitress (and brunette) Karen has stars in her eyes, as she lands in New York looking for the role of a lifetime. Experienced glamorous (and blonde) Ivy wants recognition and the spotlight to be on her for a change and she also eyes the coveted role. Ivy is initially put forward for the part, but Derek wants someone with that little bit extra and that's what attracts him to Karen. Within the tense, glitzy and fleeting world backstage on a musical, these two are not the only ones to clash.

And is it any good? YES! Everyone bloody loves it. The first few episodes have been available online for quite a while now, so it may seem strange to some that this is only now getting its premiere (NBC wanted to wait for the new series of The Voice so they could team the trillsome pair up with each other on Monday nights for mega ratings win). I myself have not indulged but by all accounts the pilot is solid enough, but the show gets better and better each week with interesting characters, soapish storylines and lots of amazing performances. It's already secured a 15 episode season order and has been picked up internationally all over the world (it will air on Sky Atlantic over here, giving it a credibility kickstart already).

Anything else to intrigue me? What you see is what you get with Smash so if you're tuned out by the first episode there's gonna be no big twist to lure you back in down the line. But the writing is smart and it's had comparisons to The West Wing of all things so let it hit its stride. But all things considered, it's probably gonna be a girly pleasure. And in the long run, hopefully later seasons - if it does so well - will each focus on the production of a new musical, perhaps with different characters. And hell, if it does really really well, perhaps we'll see this musical jump onto the famous boards in real life. This show definitely has legs.

Um...it's not Glee is it?
Apparently not. This is real showbiz life, doll, not high school. Plus, songs that actually make sense within the confines of the story and original ones at that. And maybe an actual structure.

OK you've sold me - when's this thing on then? 
Smash starts tonight at 10pm on NBC in America (that's our "Tuesday schedule").




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