Smash season 1 episode 1 recap
Does everyone who loves musical theatre get addicted in the same way? I assume so, right? You go to some performance or other of something at the high school or downtown, not really thinking about it, and then, all of a sudden, you have tears and goosebumps and nothing would be more important than living and feeling that part, right? And then you get the music teacher to photocopy the entire script of Phantom and learn it and sing it obsessively until your family resents your larynx.
So I’m a card-carrying member, obviously, although not obsessive – it’s been too long since I was in New York and I’ve learned that I carry my musical theatre love alone, largely. Which is why Smash seemed like such a private experience for me.
The ebb and flow of showbiz careers has been done to varying success onscreen, although seeing preproduction is a nice reminder that everyone has downtimes. But to me what got me was seeing New York…the real New York. Not just the obligatory Times Square shot, but the bleakness of early mornings before the sun can push itself between the buildings, the constant in-transit-ness of life there, always moving. It’s the kind of place where the place you are in the morning has nothing to do with the place where you buy your first Red Bull of the evening (which is a phrase I stole from Lorella) and I believe strongly that the pace of the place makes you do so much more than you would otherwise.
After all, Tom and Julia put some numbers and a book together in a matter of what, days? (I need to digress here to say that it’s not supposed to be what we notice but I feel palpable relief when I look at Debra Messing and see how not-Grace-Adler she looks). I liked them both. I liked their working relationship, his slight ADD, her complete willingness to fly off the handle. I really liked the sweater coat and I REALLY liked that she wore it twice in the same episode. Tiny details make this feel real.
As for the new faces? Yes, like everyone else, I liked McPhee. A lot, even though the doe-eyed thing did get old quickly (but I’m blaming ever-present Ellis for using up all that good will). She’s not quite the Iowa cliché, she can string a sentence together, but the naivete still comes through loud and clear. I bought her, I liked her, and I still had room to sympathize with Ivy. There’s some suspension of disbelief here, of course – would McPhee’s Karen be able to get into auditions that Ivy was a contender for (and would a child born in 1987 really, really be called Karen)? But I didn’t waste time on that.
I did, however, wonder why, when I’m supposed to be feeling creepy about Derek the director, I was spending more time feeling creepy about oh-so-understanding boyfriend Dev. He’s a little too perfect, and something about the way he was instructing her in the Marilyn scene skeeved me right out. I’ve known guys like this, overinvested in the career of the delicate young actress. It’s weird.
But then again, the Marilyn thing skeeves me, and that might be where I’m coming from. I’ve never found the woman compelling in the way some do. I don’t have a fascination with the stardom eating itself, with her being her own punchline. Lord knows it’s happened many times since.
But that’s maybe what’s most compelling about the show. Lots of people have had sticking points. Marilyn. McPhee. Musicals on television. And yet I don’t know anyone who panned. Everyone is waiting with bated breath for next week.
Is there a way in if you don’t like musicals? I don’t know. I am, as always, compelled by the business as much as anything (and I think Angelica Huston is going to be absolutely riveting) and was relieved when the families - Julia’s, Karen’s – left the forefront. It should be about what it’s about.
Nitpicks? I have a couple, yes – the telegraphing of marital trouble could have waited, and I also wish the director weren’t such a caricature right away – but I have a feeling this may get more subtle as we go. Whether it is or isn’t, it’s never been seen before, and that little gift buys enough goodwill to carry this show a long way on its own. It might not need it, though.
Attached - Debra Messing at The Today Show yesterday.