Channel: Sky Atlantic
Smash has been referred to as “Glee for grown-ups”, as it’s another television show that fits into the musical genre, but instead of being set in high school it’s set in the world of Broadway. It stars Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Raza Jaffrey, Christian Borle and Angelica Huston. It was created by Theresa Rebeck and is produced by Steven Spielberg.
The show has finally reached the United Kingdom after having spent the last few months dominating the States. In the first episode, we meet writing duo Julia and Tom, who are inspired by Tom’s assistant (Jaime Cepero) to write a musical about Marilyn Monroe. They’re persuaded by Broadway producer Eileen Rand (Huston) to hire British director (whom Tom hates), Derek Wills (Davenport). After holding auditions, they’re torn between two Marilyns: Ivy Lynn (Hilty) and Karen Cartwright (McPhee). Each girl embodies a different part of what made Marilyn special, and that’s also part of what makes the show special. Karen is the quiet, shy, unsure of herself girl with a natural beauty and talent. She’s Marilyn when she first entered Hollywood. Ivy, on the other hand, is beautiful, blonde, and hardworking. She’s fascinated by Marilyn, and understands the tragic side of her. She’s also been working on Broadway as a chorus girl for years.
Jack Davenport plays the part of a sleazy director well. You can see how hard he works, but, as a person, you can also see why certain characters don’t warm to him like others do (particularly Tom). As I watched one of the scenes in the first episode, I was reminded of many anonymous Hollywood horror stories that I’ve heard of directors inviting potential stars over to their apartment late at night to “work on their part”. It’s a rarity for industries such as Hollywood and Broadway to be shown to have a dark side, but it adds a depth to the show. Most show that it’s difficult, but not that it’s sleazy, too.
Debra Messing returns to screens in the show after departing since Will & Grace finished in 2006. Having seen her in that for so long, I didn’t realise that she could do more serious roles or was a trained singer, but she’s a great addition and plays Julia well. She may be a workaholic but you can tell that family is still important to her. It’s also rare to see writers portrayed in such a glamorous/positive way; usually they’re portrayed as desperate and whiny, and people don’t always see just how much work writers put in, or that being a writer isn’t just a job description.
The majority of the songs are written for the show, and they’re far from the cheesy pop you’re going to find in Glee. They’re broadway-style songs (for obvious reasons), and, despite the short amount of time given to write them, they’re of a high quality and fit the characters and their situations well. They also tie in nicely with the Marilyn Monroe theme. As I’ve said already, both Ivy and Karen embody different sides to Marilyn. Karen is in a relationship, as Norma Jeane was when she first began to model. Her husband later blamed their divorce on Hollywood pulling them apart, so it will be interesting to see if the parallel continues. Personally, I hope that it doesn’t, as I love the couple together, but it is clear that Broadway is already putting cracks into what seemed like a perfect relationship before Karen auditioned.
It’s also nice to see that the writers have researched their facts: Marilyn is referred to as “Norma Jeane Mortenson”, not Baker, and they also mention her mother’s schizophrenia. However, it is somewhat annoying that they keep referring to her mother as “crazy”, rather than explaining that she had a serious mental illness. It doesn’t help with the stigma, especially when the condition wasn’t fully understood in Marilyn’s time.
Overall, the first two episodes that have aired in the UK have been well-written and well thought out. The characters have depth, and the actors have chemistry. The songs are fit for purpose and aren’t going to make you vomit, and they’re staying true to the real Marilyn, not the one that everyone thinks that they know.
Smash the Series