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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Smash does not deserve the haters

NBC's Smash faces "The Coup" this week, as Derek (Jack Davenport) has a musical number developed without the input or knowledge of Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing). He isn't the only one facing loyalty issues, though. Ellis (Jaime Cepero) is only too happy to jump Tom's ship and go work for Eileen (Anjelica Huston). Also, Eileen's daughter, Katie (Grace Gummer, yes, Meryl Streep's daughter), comes to visit, and scolds her father, Jerry (Michael Cristofer), for how he is treating Eileen. Not to mention, Ivy (Megan Hilty) is totally jilted when she learns that Derek's new number stars Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) as Marilyn. 

Smash has been getting a lot of flack lately from critics. They complain that the drama feels forced and the musical numbers aren't good enough. This seems odd, given the quality of the show. Glee still gets praise, and it is far campier, with less consistent characters. Perhaps that's the problem. Trained by two years of Glee to expect fluff, Smash presents more realistic situations, fewer spontaneous songs (though there are some), and lots of original music that has to be good. It is.

And if one still isn't happy, take heart there will be a new show runner when the recently renewed Smash returns for season two next year.

That doesn't mean Smash is without any problems. For instance, the kid playing Leo (Emory Cohen) is just not up to the task. Perhaps that is why the writers have Julia overact in the courtroom in "The Coup." Playing opposite of Cohen, Messing tends to run circles around him, so they lower her to his level. Or she is just an upset, concerned parent, and that could excuse a bit of an emotional outburst, too.

The Ivy vs. Karen plot has been pivotal to Smash up to this point, but it now appears to be over. Karen shoots herself in the foot with Tom and Julia by being sneaky with Derek, and Ivy is out because Eileen feels a star is needed if Marilyn's production is going to continue.

Eileen is probably right. As talented as Ivy (and Karen, for that matter) is, she isn't the audience bait that a famous person would be. One might think that Marilyn Monroe is the draw, and there's something to be said for the bold step of choosing a newcomer to capture Marilyn's early persona. That might still happen. But for selling the show to investors, having a big name attached will go a long way to making things easier, and ease is a desirable concept, with all of the other problems being faced. Along those line, Uma Thurman will soon be joining the cast.

The only thing really not working in "The Coup" is Ellis. He is a shifty, despicable character, but that it not the problem. Every show needs a villain, and Ellis fills that role nicely on Smash. What is hard to believe is that Eileen is not hip to his antics. Maybe Ellis lied and told her that Tom was cool with the job switch. But without seeing that, it feels wrong for Eileen to poach him. The characters are wise enough that they should be noticing his too-obvious behavior, and he should be cut out completely. Also, Cepero has absolutely no chemistry with the woman playing Ellis's girlfriend.

Overall, the story in "The Coup" feels authentic. Derek's background with Tom, the details of which slip out this week, explains their animosity. Derek's lack of people skills justify the mistake of going behind Tom and Julia's backs. His idea isn't horrible, he just presents it the wrong way. Gossip does spread like wildfire. Ivy's friends would cheer her up with song and dance, though a few annoyed looks from other bowlers should have been included, and a slip on the slick lane would have been nice.

But a show bound for Broadway never has an easy road. These are things that need to be shown for Smash to work, and hopefully the angry voices will quiet time in time. Watch Smash Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

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