Binge or Purge? Smash

Megan Hilty mops the floor with Katherine McPhee on Smash
Smash (Photo: NBC)

We at What Else Is On unironically love the gone-too-soon NBC show Smash. But should you bother watching it?

Show

Smash, formerly on NBC for two seasons and currently living eternally in our hearts (and on DVD/BluRay and Amazon Prime).

Premise

Smash follows the creation of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe from conception to birth (or “crowning…” of a Tony award winner). Lifeless baby ingénue Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee, who is most famous for the spectacular Hallmark made-for-television production In My Dreams) competes with grizzled sexy veteran Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) for the lead role, and hijinks ensue. With multiple weekly musical numbers that are simply incredible, in both good and bad ways, this show is a non-stop thrill ride for any fan of musical theater and/or possibly-unintentional comedy.

Legacy

This show is, was, and ever shall be the first and only of its kind. Not only did they create not one, but two full-length Broadway shows with Bombshell and Hit List (the fact that Bombshell is not currently on the Great White Way PISSES ME RIGHT OFF), but it introduced the nation to triple-threat Megan Hilty; gave the world its first unanimously-loathed character in television history (Ellis, that son of a bitch); and who could forget Uma Thurman’s turn as movie star-cum-Broadway baby-cum-peanut victim Rebecca Duvall? The pilot made us fall in love. The rest of season 1 made us hate-watch. Season 2 made us LOL. The finale made us want more.

What’s to Love Now

The random musical numbers. Karen was at her best when she was singing covers of songs for crowds of drunks or bar mitzvah goers. Ivy belting out “Who You Are” in her apartment while on steroids for her vocal cord inflammation made us all wonder how her neighbors felt about sharing walls with such a loud woman.

Megan Hilty is a goddess. It was always kind of a joke (unintentional comedy?) that Karen and Ivy were competing for this role that was so obviously meant for Ivy, but Hilty’s performance was so strong yet vulnerable that by the end of season 2, nobody was Team Karen. Nobody. Ivy Lynn won that Tony fair and square, dammit.

Bombshell, the musical! Written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the whole show is simply brilliant. You can purchase the soundtrack and play it in your car nonstop for weeks at a time. Roll down your windows and blare it through your neighborhood, and you will make many new friends. Best songs: Let Me Be Your Star; Twentieth Century Fox Mambo; Public Relations; and Ivy’s version of Don’t Forget Me (I am being very specific here).

What Makes Us Groan

The random musical numbers. The most horrifying moment in television history may be the bowling alley scene in season 1 where they sing “Dance to the Music” while ill-advisedly dancing on a well-oiled wooden lane, which would surely kill anyone who attempted it in real life. The Bollywood number later in season 1 is the sort of “WTF?” moment that would be in the top 3 of any list of “Scenes We Honestly Can’t Tell If We Hate Or Love.”

Katharine McPhee. I will admit that I was not a fan of hers on American Idol, preferring the bluesy, aged stylings of Taylor Hicks to McPhee’s reedy, charisma-free performances. Sadly, although her singing voice improved for Smash, her acting abilities and general “Bob Hope factor” are lacking entirely.

Jimmy Collins. The young, edgy, drugged-up composer love interest of Karen Cartwright was such a legit bitch for all of season 2 that every time he came on the screen I started twitching slightly. The two things that saved his character were: his undeniable talent at song-writing (he is a tortured artist, y’all!); and Jeremy Jordan’s rather amazing singing voice. When he hits that high note in “Broadway, Here I Come,” you will think “that’s what SHE said.” Purrrrrrrr.

Hell, speaking of bad characters, let’s just put all of the following on general blast for being sucky: Karen, Jimmy, Leo, Ellis, Generic Gay Dancer from Season 1 (you may be thinking “which one?”), all Karen’s friends back in Iowa, all the women in the Bombshell ensemble, late-season-1 Julia, late-season-2 Tom, and Eileen’s obnoxious daughter. Whew!

Verdict

As much shit as I have talked about Smash here, I honestly do love this show. It is a fascinating, albeit likely unrealistic, look at the creation of a musical and the drama behind the scenes of its major players. If the sentence “I can’t tell if this is supposed to be ridiculous or not” appeals to you, then without question, this is a show to binge on (until you feel like purging). Get both seasons on DVD and just go to town on it.

Navigational Tips

Must Watch Episodes

Season 1: Pilot; The Workshop; Tech; and Bombshell. These four episodes really cover the basic production of Bombshell, while also being highly watchable. You should also YouTube the Bollywood number from “Publicity,” which is…something to see, that’s for sure.

Season 2: The Song (Jennifer Hudson? Yes, please!); Opening Night; The Nominations; The Tonys. The last two are must-watch simply because you have to know how the Tonys go. That’s the whole damn point of everything.

Skippable Episodes

Season 1: The Cost of Art (goddamn Jonas brother); The Coup (goddamn Meryl Streep’s daughter); The Movie Star (goddamn Rebecca Duvall).

Season 2: The Dramaturg (yawn); The Phenomenon (the most universally despised episode in Smash’s too-brief history).

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About Clare Snyder 143 Articles
After writing for a few publications in college, Clare took an extended break to become a certified personal trainer, get huge blisters during marathons, and find a suitable triathlete/engineer to marry. In her spare time she partakes in many nerd hobbies including replaying Final Fantasy hundreds of times, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and live-tweeting "Whodunnit?" One time Clare was given 43 hot sauce packets in a Taco Bell driveway. There is a strategy to it. E-mail: clare@whatelseison.tv
Contact: Twitter
  • Perhaps this is best saved for our next Musical Week, but I firmly believe the Bollywood number is the alpha and omega of Smash.

    I didn’t realize The Phenomenon was so despised. I thought The Coup had that distinction (go home OneRepublic, srsly), but I guess they can’t all be diamonds in the rough…

    • Clare Snyder

      When I first watched the Bollywood number, I hated it. Then I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I found it on YouTube…and could not stop watching it. It is truly mesmerizing.

      The Coup was so terrible also, but this article on the AV Club very nicely states all the issues with The Phenomenon: http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/smash-the-phenomenon-96873

  • Tara Rose

    “You can purchase the soundtrack and play it in your car nonstop for weeks at a time. Roll down your windows and blare it through your neighborhood, and you will make many new friends.” Not only did I LOL, I read it out loud to my husband. Awesome write-up!

    • Clare Snyder

      Thank you, dear! It’s funny because it’s TRUE. 🙂