I do love me a musical. I know, I know, I’m a massive stereotype, but whatever. I do. So, “Smash”, a new show from the States promising to follow the making of a big Broadway show is right up my alley.
So first and foremost, if you don’t appreciate campness, then you probably won’t like this. Pretty much every character makes so many unlikeable decisions or acts nasty towards another character, if this was any other programme, I’d have switched off ages ago due to aggressive hatred to every last person involved. But for some reason, I don’t mind that every single character is a complete bellend at some point or another, because frankly I find it quite believable that people involved with Broadway really do act like that.
The show kicks off with the casting of Marilyn Monroe in a new biopic musical. The choice is quickly whittled down to the naive, inexperienced Karen (played by former American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee) and the very experienced, slightly bitter Ivy (played by some big Broadway star, Megan Hilty). I won’t spoil it with who wins, but they both remain in the cast, Karen’s naivety and niceness getting more and more irksome with every episode (plus it doesn’t help the Katharine isn’t the most gifted actress in the world) whilst Ivy just starts losing her fucking mind and morphing into the Broadway equivalent of Gollum.
Elsewhere in the cast, there’s Debra Messing (Grace from Will & Grace) who starts off with a beyond boring adoption storyline, before the writers realised that, you know, snore, so ends up shagging the guy playing Joe DiMaggio. Again, this would make me really dislike a character but she has a way of making you root for her. It helps that I don’t particularly like her husband.
Jack Davenport off of Coupling features as the director of the show who is a gruff no-nonsense womanizer. If you’ve ever seen Coupling, you’ll know this seems unlikely, but he just about manages to make it work. There’s also Angelica Houston as the producer who is fucking amazing, as she is in everything, and I will not hear a bad word about her because she’s Angelica Houston and she’s fucking amazing.
But if all the other characters are unlikeable, that’s nothing compared to Ellis. The assistant to one of the writers, he is the most hateful character I have ever seen in a TV show before. And not in an entertaining villainry sort of way, like Janine in EastEnders, but in a “so-fucking-annoying-I-want-him-dead-right-now” sort of way. From his bow ties and his cardigans, to his putting his ear against every door ever, and yet despite him openly backstabbing pretty much everyone, nobody thinks to, say… fire him?! I HATE HIM SO MUCH.
The songs, however, are uniformly amazing. They’re written by the guys behind Hairspray and they all just completely SOUND like show tunes, and every time they go into one I just want to head straight to the West End and take in a show. I love them. Most of the time, unlike Glee, the songs are completely in context, you can always see the band, and the autotuning isn’t so obvious as to be intrusive. However, more and more frequently as the episodes go on, are the Glee-like covers and fantasy moments that come out of nowhere and are nowhere near as good as the originals. Bless them, but Karen and Ivy just don’t get the same sort of intensity as, say, Jessie J or Florence Welch. Karen singing Shake It Out actually was pathetic.
Which is a pity because the show is actually nothing like Glee apart from having some musical numbers. It takes place in a “realistic” place (as realistic as rich people in Manhattan can be, anyway) and the ludicrous plot twists and massive plot holes that have recently characterized Glee are nowhere to be found, so that’s nice.
But, be warned, if you do start watching Smash, recently it’s gone off the boil a bit. I’m up to episode 11, and frankly there’s been too much focus on boring characters like Debra Messing’s son (who can’t act even a little bit) or Katharine McPhee’s boyfriend (who’s fit but who may be the most boring character in the history of television), plus you’ll get sick to back teeth of how much everyone bangs on about Marilyn fucking Monroe. WE GET IT, SHE WAS FABULOUS, SHUT UP. But Uma Thurman’s recently turned up in a recurring role so, *makes scales gesture with hands*. I hope it find it’s way again, because the first few episodes are really very good indeed.
Smash starts tonight, Saturday 21st April on Sky Atlantic at 10pm