The Problematic ‘Smash’ Going Forward

Look, I want to like Smash, I really do. Last night’s overwhelming response to the latest episode, “The Coup”, really got me thinking about the parts that work, the parts that do not work (and I mean DO NOT WORK) and the future of the show going forward. I bring this up because I didn’t mind last night’s episode and seem to be in the minority. I’m no Smash fan by any means, and have outright hated episodes (“Chemistry” being the worst in my mind), and enjoy making fun of the show, perhaps more than any other. But, I want it to work, I really do.

As I watched “The Coup” last night and Ellis took his annoyance and smarmy to a new level, Julia continued to be the worst mother, wife, writer, person in the world and Leo still remained the most self-righteous teen on TV, I just… excepted it. Over the previous seven episodes I’ve come to hate these characters so much that I think watching “The Coup”, my brain just went “Of course Ellis is twirling his metaphoric mustache hairs and scheming” or “Of course Julia and Leo are still the most obnoxious mother and son duo who clearly don’t act like normal human beings”. These characters are so ingrained into my brain and the DNA of Smash that I don’t expect anything else from them, and thus I find myself not surprised or put off by their actions anymore, it’s just an eye roll, and then we move on. I feel like this is a chief reason why this episode seemed to work more for me, as I’m more able to go “Oh, Smash!”, of course that’s what you’d do, and move on to the stuff that actually works for me. This isn’t how a show should work, by knocking you into submission, but it’s looking like I might be stuck in this model.

What does work? I think in the right combinations and faithfulness to their characters, Derek, Tom, Ivy, Eileen and to an extent, Karen, can all work. The best scene in “The Coup” was the “showdown”/spat between Derek and Tom where some quite obvious backstory and pent up feelings were expressed. While the backstory was pretty easy to put two-and-two together and figure it out through earlier episodes, both actors played it well and it helped to further complicate their dynamic. Jack Davenport continually gives the best performance for me as Derek, as he’s able to bounce off Tom, Karen and Ivy quite well, showing three different sides, that aren’t much different, but still enough for us to find layers in his character. Tom dating the gay lawyer dude (too lazy to look up his name) is some nice stuff, but unfortunately the writers don’t seem to care about it too much, putting it in the background, until they inevitably break up in a couple episodes. As long as Ivy’s drive and determination to be a star are coupled with her obliviousness, loneliness and insecurity, her character can work well, especially working off people like Derek. I quite enjoy Anjelica Huston as Eileen, but she’s not really getting anything meaty enough to sink her teeth into and is stuck with some of the outliers, getting to deal with a tedious divorce, a “worst dialogue of the year” candidate in her daughter (hopefully she’s gone for good!), and a cliche interest in a younger bartender. Karen can be sweet and possibly a person to root for, but the problems lie in McPhee’s performance who seems unable to create any emotional attachment to the character (which is obviously much needed) and it makes me hope for the day when a robot replaces her, and is able to display a much more nuanced set of emotions. Dev could work too, but there’s not really much reason to care about him at this point.

With Theresea Rebeck leaving the show and stepping down as showrunner after the first season, I don’t see much hope in the future of Smash, not that she was doing great things in the first place, but still. A lot of the appeal coming into Smash was the hope that we would see the inner-workings of a broadway show, which Rebeck has experience in. We have seen that, and they continue to be the strongest element the show has. Rebeck’s scripted episode “The Coup” (at least directly credited to her) had next to none of that and I can see people’s complaints about that, especially coming directly from an episode written by her at around the mid-point of the season. With news that she’s leaving and rumours that NBC wants to focus more on the character’s personal lives rather than the behind the scenes aspects of a broadway show, this still seems troubling. While getting rid of Ellis, Julia and Leo would do wonders for the show, I highly doubt they would do this, considering the cache they think they have in Debra Messing. I could see them perhaps getting rid of Ellis or Leo (maybe reducing them), but realistically I still don’t see it happening, even with all the internet backlash. Moving forward, unless the show commits to a complete overhaul (not gonna happen), it looks like things might be getting worse, before they get even worse.

I think there’s potential inside of Smash to deliver a great show, I just don’t think that the minds behind it (Rebeck or not) and NBC really care too much about that show hidden deep down. They seem content with what they have, and what supposed changes they say will be made in season 2 do not look like they will improve the parts that actually need improving. It seems like they want to focus on the parts that don’t work as much, direct personal stories, and build the show more around that, while ignoring things that need to be fixed like the overbearing characters who make you want to throw your TV out the nearest window. Especially with the broadway seasoned Rebeck leaving, one can assume that the broadway portions will be decreased substantially, just with her absence alone. I really hope I’m not stuck in this trap where even the worst things in the show don’t bug me anymore because they’re just so second nature to the show. Even the good parts of the show that I do like probably won’t be enough to overcome the truly terrible parts, and it doesn’t seem like it wants to get much better in the future. Perhaps, I’m just used to how bad Smash is and I’m numb to the lackluster parts, or maybe there’s a legitimate show in there that no one seems to want to let out, either way, things aren’t looking good.

10 Tips On How You Can Watch TV Better

I recently came to the realization that I watch too much TV. Not only was I watching a large amount of TV, but I wasn’t enjoying a lot of the shows I was watching in regards to various levels of quality or just plain apathy towards them. I have since “reformed” my viewing practices, by parring down the amount of shows I watch and focusing on shows that I truly love, rather than wasting my time on other fine but ultimately superfluous shows. What follows is ten ways you too can learn to watch TV better…

1. Utilize “Mom TV”: What is Mom TV you ask? Mom TV are shows in which stereotypical “housewives” will have on in the background while they do their various tasks around the house, such as folding laundry or cooking, blah blah blah, stereotypes. These shows require limited engagement and can be easily dropped into without missing much, since the “housewife” will always been in and out of the area of the TV.

To further this point, let me indulge one of the few things I retained from a communication studies class. Marshall McLuhan, a renowned Canadian communication theorist, devised the idea of hot and cool media. Hot media refers to media such as print or radio that requires devotion of a singular sense, such as vision or hearing. We can compare this side to Mom TV where only one sense is paying attention to any given program. Reality shows are a good example of hot media where it’s not entirely essential to be paying attention fully at all moments, and you can not miss too much by having it in the background or dropping in and out. You’ll miss bits and pieces, but you’ll still get the general idea of what’s going on.

Cool media on the other hand is media that requires the attention of multiple senses and the necessity of paying attention, otherwise you fear being completely lost. More heavily serialized dramas and procedural shows, crime shows and such, require devoted attention so as not to miss key plot points that could effect the remainder of the episode or the greater arch of a season. Without paying full attention you can easily miss key details that will leave you out in the woods in regards to what is happening.

Figure out which shows you watch that you need to devote full attention to and schedule them out so you can devote your full patience to. On the flip side, see which shows don’t involve much of your attention and use this to get some work done, whether it be from home, work or school.

2. Cut down on Procedurals: For the unaware, procedurals are any types of shows which have self-contained stories that get resolved at the end of the episode. They have little carry over from episode to episode and thus a viewer can drop in at any time of the season and not have to worry about an overarching story that they have to catch up on. Your prime examples include any number of ‘Law & Order’, ‘CSI’, ‘NCIS’, ‘Blue Bloods’ or ‘Criminal Minds’, each network usually has a plethora of them as they are very bankable. The examples are endless and a staple of TV. These shows don’t do much (as a general rule) but provide quick, cheap entertainment that one can easily drop in on. Unless you’re really taken with one, no need to follow it week to week, but drop in when you have some time to kill.

3. Watch on the internet: Perhaps you’re not always around your TV or maybe you have your laptop at work or school and you have some free time. The majority of shows are posted on the respective channel’s website pretty soon after air date, in both the U.S. and Canada (although it’s harder for Canadians to watch American shows through their respective websites due to restrictions.) iTunes also posts episodes to download for a price that can be easily acquired soon after air date. There are plenty of (legal) ways where you can find all your favourite shows on the internet for whenever you have some spare time.

4. Watch on your mobile device(s): If you have a long commute you can easily stream shows from respective apps or websites that will allow you to watch on the go wherever you want. Or, if you’re savvy enough, you can load previously downloaded shows (hopefully legally) onto your smartphone, iPhone, iPad etc. etc.

5. Wait for the DVD’s: If you have a busy life or couldn’t be bothered following shows week to week, just wait ‘till the DVD’s come out and watch at your leisure. Some people aren’t too fond of waiting week to week and having to wait months to watch an entire season and would rather watch a season in a huge chunk. DVD’s allow you to watch slowly at your own pace, or knock out a season in a day (my style).

6. Limit your shows: Figure out which shows you really like and only watch those. I know this seems obvious, but if you’re not so keen on a show, don’t watch it. I like to figure out my “favourite” shows by which shows I genuinely look forward to watching each week, find out yours, only watch them and cut out the rest.

7. Cut ties early: If you start watching a new show and you find it starting to get boring, or you simply don’t like it anymore, just stop watching immediately. No need to suffer through a show you’re not enjoying just possibly under the hopes that it might get better. If you do hear or read about it getting better, you can always go back and catch up on the DVD’s.

8. Carve out a weekly schedule: If you’re busy or don’t have much time, schedule out a specific time each week or every couple days where you commit to watching an episode or two. This helps as it encourages you to actually sit down and watch a show, but still can be limited to whatever size is most manageable for your time frame.

9. Use Time-shifting to your advantage: If you have satellite TV, your favourite show can be on upwards of three (more or less) different times in a certain night. If you live in the West, you can watch the East channel feeds with shows starting as early as 5 PM or 6 PM (depending on your location). Also, if you have lots of shows to record in one given night, time-shifting allows you to create a puzzle of sorts, fitting shows in across the evening at different times, ensuring you can record it all. Even if you can’t fit a show in, check to see if the channel is replaying it in the coming days (which is very possible) or take #3’s advice.

10. Engage and invest in your favourite show properly: Sometimes watching a show just isn’t enough, whether your fiending for more or are just seeking some answers. Visit fan sites, forums or read reviews and pieces on that particular show. You never know what things you missed or theories you share with others, by opening up or joining in on an online dialogue. Obviously specific shows are more conducive to this than others, but you’ll always be able to find like-minded people who enjoy the same shows as you.

As fun as it is to speculate where every thing could possibly be going, it’s even less fun to actually know all this before you get there. So, AVOID SPOILERS like the plague. I used to seek out as many spoilers as I could for all the shows I watched, until it started to drain all the fun and spontaneity out of my viewing experience. Think of it this way, if you’re reading a great novel you wouldn’t randomly skip ahead a couple chapters and start reading, it’ll most likely ruin the story for you, TV is no different. So, watch where the great expanse of the internet takes you, nothing worse than your favourite show getting spoiled (especially if its been out for awhile, which puts you in even larger danger).

So, there you have it, follow all 10 tips, or none at all. Better yet, pick and choose what works for you and maybe you can watch TV more efficiently and allow more time for things more pressing than watching TV (what that could possibly be, I have no idea). I hope some of this can be helpful for the billions of people who are actually busy and have more important things to do than focus on TV 24/7. That’s what I’m here for.