Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bombshell

In honor of Tony night (not really, I started writing this weeks ago), I thought I'd revisit Smash now that the season is over. And you know what? I still fucking love it. It's easy to nitpick, especially working in the business, but I am consistently entertained by it more than almost anything else on TV this season (certainly more than any other drama). And even for the things it gets wrong (and it's not a documentary, so whatever), I'm happy to see a show set in "my" world. Slings and Arrows has plenty of unrealistic moments too, but I guess it seems more highbrow so it gets a pass? When I complain about Smash it's not because I hate it, it's because I love it and I want to love it more. I want it to be better, and I tend to think telling a more truthful story about working in the theater might do that (something great about Slings and Arrows is that it feels right, even when it's not). But also for all I know about making plays, I know very little about making television, so who am I to judge?

Not that I won't.

One thing that does drive me crazy is the timeline, not because it's unrealistic (though it is) but because it's sloppy storytelling. Real rehearsals for a Broadway show would last at least three weeks (probably more but Bombshell doesn't have much money so I can buy them cutting it short), but Smash's took two episodes. So, okay, they're skipping ahead, that's fine; they have 13 episodes. But no one's relationships seem to have progressed three weeks' worth. I keep thinking of Grey's Anatomy, where I don't actually know what year it's supposed to be anymore. It was in the interest of the show to keep the original leads as interns for longer than a TV season, so they did. A week of story needn't pass in a week of TV, and I wish Smash would linger a bit longer over the details of both the world and the people in it (even if the short season means they have to skip ahead with a line of clunky exposition), because that's what makes it, you know, interesting.

(Speaking of which, why hasn't there been a Broadway reality show?? I'm looking at you, Logo! I can see how a creative team and producers might not want to let a camera crew into the room (to say nothing of the cast, possibly containing stars), but it would be great publicity for a show and potentially fantastic television. The closest I think we have are the documentary films Show Business and Every Little Step (about a very atypical but still fascinating process), which if you haven't seen and you're at all interested in this world, you should watch immediately.)

But okay, let's just judge the show on its own terms. I'll still defend Katharine McPhee, whose performance really doesn't bother me the way it bothers so many others, but Karen (the character) is getting pretty indefensible. It doesn't help that the writers can't seem to figure out who she is. How much of a neophyte she is seems to change from week to week, in some cases making her actions seem either beyond stupid or just plain mean. Like I said I don't want to ding the show too badly for realism, and I realize this is nitpicking a practically throwaway line, but it is not her "first tech." You don't just move to New York to be a chorus girl out of the blue. You at least do shows in high school and college. Given Karen's sense of entitlement and inflated ego, I'm guessing she went to a conservatory. I mean, you can tell the story of someone being green without her being an idiot. In fact, someone who went from being a big fish in the small pond of college or a small summer stock company or whatever would have just as many problems adjusting to being a nobody in New York as Karen has, for less insufferable reasons.

It doesn't help that Dev is pretty much equally awful. Am I supposed to care about this relationship? He made some good points in his impassioned speech to Karen in "Tech," but the truth is he's been withholding information and then getting upset with her for not being sympathetic to something she can't possibly know about because he didn't tell her! And not even telling her that he's upset! Yes, she's a little self-involved but you can't ask her how her day is and then get upset with her for answering you, and then pout when she asks about you and not tell her. And if you think what she does is so frivolous and stupid then why were you dating an actress in the first place?? This has always been the least healthy relationship on the show all along, and that's really saying something.

Maybe I'm charitable towards Karen because I'm particularly annoyed at how the show has made me hate Ivy. Anyone who's gotten to where she has knows (and her mother helpfully reminded her, in a speech that I thought was the truest thing about the business the show has ever done) that show business is hard and unfair. And if you love it and want to do it you suck it the fuck up! She has every right to be upset about not getting Marilyn, but then she has to pick herself up and move on and remember that she's getting a nice paycheck in a Broadway show. She has to know the drill by now. (What I love most about the supporting chorus characters is how they take everything in stride and seem to be always enjoying themselves, even when the show seems like a disaster.) Megan Hilty is so great that it kind of works, but it's starting to wear thin. They set Ivy up early as a classic hardworking actress, frustrated at not getting her big break yet but plugging along, and I don't like seeing her spiraling down the drain. It's one place where I think the less soapy realities of the life she's chosen actually make for a more interesting story, but maybe that's my bias talking.

Okay, that's three long paragraphs of complaining about show I said I love. But the thing is I don't remember the last time I felt this invested in a soap. I care about these characters enough to yell at them! I love (most of) the cast, most of whom are theater pros. I love that it shoots in New York for real. I love that it has at least one original song each week, and I love most of those songs. I'd see Bombshell -- it looks pretty good! I love that it's beautifully shot. Mostly, I love that it celebrates musical theater, and occasionally behaves like a real musical itself ("Don't Forget Me" was totally a finale of Smash more than it was a finale of Bombshell).

I read more recaps and episode reviews of Smash than anything else. After declaring it was in my professional self-interest to not say much about it publicly, I find myself tweeting about it with other fans (or hate-watchers, I suppose) every week, and here I am writing my second blog post about it when I've barely blogged at all in months. I don't remember the last time I was so engaged with a show. Buffy? This is a practice others reserve for better shows, but I don't care. Smash is my Mad Men.

It's a soap. It's a little trashy by design (just like Marilyn! ...kidding) and it's about something I love and I'm going to watch it for as long as NBC will let me.

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