17 September 2012

My Thoughts on Smash - And I Don't Mean To Compare It With Glee

Do I like Smash so far? I guess I like it enough to keep watching it. My friend recommended this show to me awhile ago. "If you love Glee, you are going to love Smash." Her words. 

I got really excited when I saw the TV commercial of Smash on television. Since I've heard so much about it, I really wanted to check it out! The ad campaign of the show ran for a long time. I find that TV networks in Australia would run the ad for a few weeks without telling you the air date and then when they finally tell you the air date, you still have to wait for a few more weeks. The ad featured the audition scene with the series star Katharine McPhee performing Beautiful, it was repeatedly advertised pretty much every second commercial break during prime time. And now that I know it was the audition scene for the series' Marilyn The Musical, I thought to myself what an odd song choice for such audition?! That audition has American Idol written all over it, may be it was intentionally? Anyway... 

My expectation for Smash was certainly high. My impression is that this show is executive produced by Steven Spielberg, it is a show about a star-in-the-making, it is her journey to stardom -- the typical inspirational kind of story set in Broadway. It has the buzz. It has all the right elements. It cannot go wrong! I wasn't disappointed with the Pilot. In fact, I thought it was good. Good enough for me to keep watching. But there is something that is not quite right about Smash. It took me weeks to figure it out. 

I know there are people who compare Smash with Glee, and there are those who don't want to compare because they are two different shows. To me, as a viewer, they are not too different. They both depict the behind the scene journey of a group of very talented performers who sing and dance, and dream to be become a star. It comes down to the characterisation, the focus, the pace, the story and, most importantly, the way music is incorporated into each episode. Without the musical influences and the musical numbers, Glee is another high school dramas like 90210 or Hellcats or Dead Poet Society; and Smash is The Devil Wears Prada without the Broadway stuff.

I may be in the minority when I say this, but one of the things I love about Glee is Mr Schuester because he is the kids' constant, he is their mentor and he is the unsung hero of the story. Without Mr Schuester, there is no unity, there is no GleeSure, we have a group of extremely talented kids who perform great musical numbers weeks in weeks out, and they are more than capable in carrying the show on their own. But what holds the Glee club together is Mr Schuester, who also has his own Broadway dream. Another thing I love about Glee is that there is always something inspiring or something heart warming about it. The story of Kurt inspires many viewers; Rachel is true star-in-the-making who nails every song from Broadway to Pop; the Kurt and Rachel Wicked performances are one of the best things ever on TV; even Finn's dance move is inspiring because he really tries even though he is really bad at dancing. I think each character is given a good song to perform when the timing is right. Like Santana, she is awesome as Anita (West Side Story); there is no better person than Artie to do Thriller and Blaine to do Wanna Be Starting Something

Television viewing can be personal, and sometimes it is that personal connection viewers are looking for. I was in a school choir and we were going to something similar to a sectional. I had so much fun, those were the best days of my high school years! So to me, Glee reminded me of good times, and there is a connection there between me as a viewer and the show. Glee is written to inspire, I think. There is a 'feel good' element to it, and I like that. When real life is not so inspiring, when real life people shoot down every single idea you propose and when you have no where or no one to turn to, you turn to popular culture to be inspired. Stuff like this is part of your journey to be something greater. 

What about Smash? I know Smash is supposed to be this huge Broadway-inspired show that is executive produced by Spielberg, the script and performances are supposed and expected to be great. Some even call it the grown-up version of Glee. But what Smash is missing is the inspirational factor. I know it is a different show with different stories and characters, but I think Karen is no Rachel or Kurt, Julia is no Mr Schuester and Eileen is no Figgins (wait.. what??). The musical numbers haven't given me the goose bumps, the bitchiness of Ivy is pure annoyance and not as entertaining as Santana, and I am sure sooner or later everyone will be sleeping with everyone. The positive thing is, the musical numbers have been fine, and they are more polished and more grant. But you don't really expect anything less. 

But I want more from Smash, starting from the heroine's journey of Karen. If Karen is written to remind me of someone, it is Andrea Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada, I can't help but think Smash is the Broadway version of The Devil Wears Prada. But that's fine, right? Karen is this stereotype star-in-the-making character, she is talented but I don't think she has been the centre of the story and she should be the centre of all things in Smash. I want more first person point of view, I want the story to focus on this character more. I don't think she has been given the opportunity to shine, and I think McPhee can be a bit wooden when she sings. It doesn't matter what songs she sings, she always has the same expression on her face and her voice is not as powerful as it should be. She shouldn't be singing as McPhee, but she should be singing as Karen. 

When you see a character, even before she becomes a star in the story, you can see the star quality in her, you know she is going to have a well deserved epic ending. Like Rachel, her big voice delivers every song whether it is a Wicked or Bonnie Tyler's song, and she gives a powerful vocal performance week in week out, you know she is a star even before she becomes one. But with Karen, I know the story is steering towards her stardom, but you know Ivy is a better choice as Marilyn, despite sleeping with the director. I don't feel that Karen deserves the role because I, as a viewer, is not convinced that she is Marilyn. Her voice is not as powerful as Ivy, her performance as Marilyn is not convincing, and her life as a waitress with a decent boyfriend and a supportive family is not that interesting. You don't just want to feel sorry for her, you want her to nail it, you want her to kick ass. But she hasn't. 

There is enough there for me to keep watching Smash. I hope the story and characterisation will get better. I am still hoping to be inspired. I am still hoping to see that Defying Gravity moment that every Broadway star-in-the-making deserves. I am looking for this one moment where the character, Karen, really shows us what she's made of. Defying Gravity is the moment for Rachel and Kurt. It is the unofficial theme for these characters and this song is the symbol of hope and stardom. This scene defines their characters and what they are made of. I am still looking for similar moment that belongs to Karen. I am still waiting for Smash to be a smashing hit.

Related post: Teachers in Popular Culture

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