TV Retrospective: Smash

It didn’t feel right to start this blog any other way than by talking about Smash. Fucking Smash.



Smash was a TV show that ran on NBC for a couple seasons a few years ago, following the production of a musical about Marilyn Monroe, plus some weird RENT-but-pointless thing in the second season. It was terrible. I watched every episode.

I don’t actually have a lot to say about Smash; its last episode aired over three years ago so I don’t remember a lot of it. I do remember that for some reason dead-eyed Katharine Mcphee was supposed to be a more compelling Marilyn Monroe than Megan Hilty (LOL, nope). And I’m pretty sure Megan Hilty was the only one on the show actually trying. Maybe Jack Davenport too but it might have just been his accent doing the work.

Other highlights: Debra Messing as a writer living an improbably glamorous life (an affair with her lead actor? Really?), Anjelica Huston as the mentor figure who’s really no more mature or wise or knowledgeable than anyone else, and some really pretty decent representation of gay men. Not that queer women seem to exist in the show, though, and there was some weird biphobia in there, too. Baby steps?

What’s most baffling about Smash, though, and what I really want to talk about, is the bizarre disconnect between how the characters on the show talked about writing and how the show itself was written. Because, you know, the show covered the development of two different musicals, so especially in the second season the topic of how to effectively write those musicals came up in the show. And the characters seemed to be pretty good writers: they understood pacing, structure, thematic material, and so on.

So it was clear that the writers of the show understood those concepts, too, or they wouldn’t be able to have their characters express them. And yet, Smash was full of insipid conflicts, shallow characterization, cliche plots, and did I mention the insipid conflict? The gulf between the writers’ theoretical knowledge and what they actually got onscreen was incredible.

An example: toward the end of season two, the characters working on RENT-a-like determine that they need a dramatic character death (a murder, specifically) to increase the tension and stakes. From the way the musical is portrayed, this is a good choice that fits it tonally and thematically.

Then, I think a couple of episode later, a moderately important character introduced at the beginning of season two is killed in a car accident. Does a random character death fit the tone of a lighthearted drama with teen-show-level conflicts? Not particularly. Did this character death accomplish anything other than making the dead character’s asshole best friend contemplate his own assholeness? Nope. It was basically pointless. Where the writers correctly assessed that a death would improve the story of the RENT-a-like, they completely missed the mark in the death on the show itself. Did I use the word “baffling” already?

. . . Okay, so maybe I did have a fair amount to say. Years later and Smash is still stuck in my craw; it might not have been any good, but it sure did stick with me.

Oh, also, there was this weird thing where one of Smash‘s characters is apparently the same as a character in Revenge on ABC:

Ivy Lynn (Smash):

  • Ended up with a problem with pills in the second half of season 1
  • Apparently overdosed in the final moments of season 1’s finale
  • Got pregnant towards the end of season 2

Charlotte Grayson (Revenge):

  • Ended up with a problem with pills in the second half of season 1
  • Apparently overdosed in the final moments of season 1’s finale
  • Got pregnant towards the end of season 2



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