In which I Smash up my free time

I had a plan. I was going to sit down and write a bunch of thoughtful, sometimes elegiac, sometimes funny, sometimes just plain useful things, and post them on this blog while I had the time. Instead I sat down, opened up Lightbox and started watching ALL THE TV I have missed in the past few years of night work and no cable.

I’m still not free. I may never be free. The worst part of it is, I keep having awesome thoughts about shows nobody cares about any more.

I started by watching the breathtakingly good Breaking Bad, in as near to a single sitting as was physically possible, and then went out and bought the first two seasons on DVD even though I’m supposed to be watching my budget. I may share my thoughts about that some time, but not today. No. You see, the thing is, I like brilliant, brainy, complex television. But I love trash more.

Tread the boards – lightly. Breaking Bad fanart: Jens K Styve

So my next binge was Smash. An all-singing, all-dancing, cameo-encrusted story of Broadway and the battle between two would-be stars for a career-creating leading role in Bombshell, a musical about Marilyn Monroe. One, Ivy: a theatre-seasoned triple threat with a decade of hard graft behind her, but inexplicably, no big break. Played by Megan Hilty, an actual theatre person who is pretty amazing. The other, Karen: that one really pretty girl who was on American Idol  a few years back. No, wait – I mean, a bland ingenue from Iowa whose raw talent and fine cheekbones inexplicably captivate all who see her. Played by that one really pretty girl who was on American Idol a few years back.

Why do I care about these people? SMASH — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Jaime Cepero as depraved assistant Ellis, Anjelica Huston as sassy producer Eileen, Jack Davenport as snide director Derek, Katharine McPhee as Mary Sue Karen, Megan Hilty as Ivy, Debra Messing as housewife show writer Julia, Christian Borle as Julia’s BFF and writing partner  Tom. — Photo by: Mark Seliger/NBC

Smash was by all accounts a critical failure, which I learned after watching two episodes then succumbing to the urge to Google. I could see why. I could see the dropped and overstuffed storylines, the irritating Mary Sueishness of Karen, the increasingly wacky and at times straight-up embarrassing nature of the non-stage musical numbers. The overuse of quirky woodwind. The awkward cameo appearances by Real Theatre People. But there is plenty to love. The singing! The dancing! The Marilyn impersonations! The tiny insights into how musicals are made, and how much of what ends up on a stage is about commerce and making things work, rather than some pure and lofty vision. There’s Debra Messing, who I’ll watch in anything. Anjelica Houston! Bernadette Peters! Jack Davenport! Pretty much all of the cast, even Katharine McPhee, are enjoyable. The  numerous gay characters are just there being humans, instead of providing Teaching Moments (although it would be hard to have  a show about Broadway without them, let’s face it.)

And there are so many more things about Smash that are terrible, and yet somehow glorious. Things like  Anjelica Houston’s over-soignee Broadway producer falling for rugged, martini-making crim-with-a-heart-of-gold Thorsten Kaye, who more importantly is also New Ridge on The Bold and the Beautiful. Kaye is so radically different in look to Original Ridge (Ronn Moss, who looks like a waxwork Paul Stanley in 80s fashion drawing form) that there is no way one can accept him as the same character. Now, in my mind, when Ridge left Forrester Creations for a year or so he worked in NYC, moonlighting as a bartender and gaining criminal connections. And was murderered and replaced by a guy whose $7 martinis, when thrown in people’s faces by Anjelica Houston, have the power to  alter perception. (Houston throws martinis a lot.In one episode alone she does it three times.By season 2, she’s doing it in the opening credits.)

Megan Hilty: nothing like Marilyn at all. Image: Shutterstock

And there are things like how people bizarrely decide that tall, thin, brunette Katharine McPhee could be better at pretending to be Marilyn Monroe, in a Broadway musical, than Megan Hilty. “She’s got something …. like TV audience recognition.” And, that a Rent-lite musical made up largely of what sound like Shania Twain songs, with a Lady Gaga-style “Diva” added to create something resembling dramatic tension, will end up a) being described as “edgy”, b) playing on Broadway ten times faster than Bombshell did, and c) both sweeping the Tonys AND being a “cult hit” because its book writer conveniently got hit by a car while bemoaning the songwriter’s betrayals. In song. And, that the “bad boy” songwriter From The Streets™ composes on a piano. For musical theatre. Because when you are On The Run® from your abusive family and gritty drug-dealing past, you can count on there at least being a piano lying round the place on which you can Expunge Your Angst In Song™ and think about staging.

Yes, there’s a lot to mock about Smash, and it was cancelled after two seasons, but everyone can sing (OK except Huston), most can dance, and who doesn’t adore a bit of theatrical escapism of a winter’s night? Like [spoiler] poor, deceased season 2 Kyle, I’ve got a soft spot for a flop. Roll on my next trashy binge!


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