There are plenty of really stupid headline puns on the title of NBC's newest musical drama Smash that I won't make here. Instead, however, allow me some space to rave about a really fantastic pilot that kept me as engaged and excited as I was when I first watched the pilots to some of my favorite shows, such as Southland and The West Wing. Yeah, I'm comparing it to those pilots. This one was that good.
I've already spent a lot of e-ink blogging about what I see as characteristics of a good pilot, and why so often a series can't live up to a great pilot. Yes, I'm fully aware that Smash could be another Studio 60: a fantastic meta-theatrical pilot that maintains momentum for a little while before losing its mind and alienating its audience. But, y'all, this pilot was really great. It's smart and well-written without being pretentious; it's well-cast with dynamite performances; and it has that whole American dream/underdog thing at its core. I already wanted to like it, but I liked it so much more than I thought I would. For what it's worth, Smash gets a pass from me for a while.
For a smart, incisive review of the show, check out Maureen Ryan's rave review here. She rarely steers me wrong.
For my two cents, here's a list of things I LOVED about this pilot [SPOILER ICEBERG, DEAD AHEAD]:
- Katharine McPhee's opening audition scene, which her character Karen imagines herself singing on a big stage in lights. It's magical! It's her moment! THEN a cell phone rings, and the stage on which she imagines herself becomes a bleak audition room. The bubble bursts. Audition over. I love the tongue-in-cheek riffing on McPhee's Idol experience, and her most iconic performance on my admittedly favorite reality show. Classic!
- Characters I already root for.
- Snappy pacing: a show set in NYC needs to move quickly.
- Debra Messing back on my TV!
- Behind the Scenes musical theatre-ness! I love BTS-type shows, anyway, which is why Aaron Sorkin's shows have always struck a chord with me. This one is right up there with them for me.
- The fact that the centrepiece of this show, a Marilyn Monroe musical, requires us to think about Marilyn sympathetically. Much like the musical within the show, there's a sense that there's something special about this concept. Frankly, it made me want to watch All About Eve, How to Marry a Millionaire, and My Week with Marilyn again just to be on the same page as the characters.
- The whole "it's okay to dream big" theme that Glee has started to make us resent.
- The fact that I like both Megan Hilty's character Ivy and McPhee's Karen, even if they are being set up as rivals. I like the fact that one of them not getting the part is going to be disappointing for me as a viewer, but that I'll be happy for the other one. It's gotta be Karen at the end of the day, though, right?
- The baseball number! So. Fun. Did it remind anyone else of this?
- The Chicago-like flashes of the future show. It’s a show not yet realized, but gradually coming to life. The point is that imagination is creating something, and we’re allowed in on the process.
- Katharine McPhee's vulnerability. Turns out she's a pretty darn good actress (I thought she was kind of hilarious in this movie. Just sayin'.)
- As Maureen Ryan points out, Jack Davenport has finally found a great US TV role. He's positively perfect as the cocky, sort of sleezy director here.
- That Karen isn't Norma Jean, but she's not quite Marilyn yet either. I can't wait to watch her grow into the role!
- The original songs are fantastic. No really. I'd download that junk.
As you can see, I think this pilot was superb, and I think you should watch it. It'll suck you in. NBC has been producing some great TV that nobody's been watching, and it's time to reverse that trend! On the arbitrary grading scale that we all seem to like, I give it an overachieving A.