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.