TV: The Problem with Smash.


Smash, the Steven Spielberg-produced musical-serial about a Marilyn Monroe Broadway show, debuted with promise. I quite enjoyed the first few episodes, with Debra Messing as one of the musical’s writers, Angelica Huston as its producer, and Broadway star Megan Hilty as the number one contender for the role of Marilyn. But then Smash kind of plateaued.

Clem Bastow, writing for TheVine, seems to think it’s because of Katharine McPhee’s inclusion as the other competitor vying for the lead, and I have to agree. Bastow writes:

“The trouble with McPhee’s performance in Smash is that it jolts me out of my suspension of disbelief… [B]ut whenever Karen/Katharine opens her mouth, the fourth wall comes crashing down around me. Her voice is thin, her performance mannered, she acts with her chin like a young Gwyneth Paltrow, and self-consciously holds her mouth in such a way to suggest a very pretty female version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.”

I’m all for Hilty’s Ivy Lynn, who’s spent ten years in the chorus and lives and breathes Marilyn through and through. But I just can’t get behind McPhee’s Karen Cartwright who, as Ivy rightfully observes, got to New York five minutes ago, hasn’t paid her dues and is already getting callbacks for lead roles. She can’t act (McPhee as Karen nor Karen as Marilyn), complains about everything and is an ineffable dolt.

But in the last few weeks, Smash has been looking up. I immensely enjoyed the episode when Ivy lost the plot after being replaced as Marilyn by Uma Thurman’s major movie star, Rebecca Duvall, and had to go back to being an angel in the chorus line of Bombshell’s (the name they’ve settled on for the fictional—but very well could be a real Broadway show if Smash’s commercial success continues—musical) writers’ other Broadway show, Heaven on Earth. Ivy loses it, mixes her throat medication with alcohol, goes on stage high, and ends up singing Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” with Karen in Times Square (video above. Please excuse the horrid quality, but I wanted a clip that actually showed the scene rather than just the audio).

I still can’t stand Karen and Ellis, the sneaky assistant to Huston’s Eileen and, formerly, Bombshell writer Tom Levitt but, if it’s about Marilyn Monroe, I’m willing to let Smash go out with a bang.

Are you watching Smash? What do you think of it?

Elsewhere: [The Vine] You Ain’t Gettin’ 88 Cents From Me, Smash.

Image via IMDb.

5 thoughts on “TV: The Problem with Smash.

  1. Hi Scarlett – I enjoyed your post on the problems with Smash. I’ve been writing at length about the show – more towards recaps than analysis.

    If you don’t like McPhee as Karen or McPhee as Karen as Marilyn – I can understand that. Liking or not liking a performance is very objective and up to the viewer. But lumping Karen in the same boat as Ellis – not sure I can go along with that.

    The Ellis character is written to be hated – so much so that one can’t see the actor’s performance because the character is so detestable. Karen is not written to be hated, she’s the broadway newbie, the hick from Iowa, and she’s both gullible as well as naive. She is always taken in by the manipulative Ivy, or Rebecca. She has no idea about what’s going on with Dev, or anyone else.

    But I kind of like her performances. I agree she doesn’t look or feel as right for Marilyn as Ivy – but that’s the built in and necessary conflict – between the characters, as well as for the viewers who are asked to choose between Ivy or Karen.

    And that’s why Karen and Ellis can’t be gathered into the same bundle. IMHO.


  2. Hi JMM,
    Just because a character isn’t written to be hated doesn’t mean the public won’t respond to them in that way.
    I agree that Karen and Ellis are nothing alike but, to me, they’re the two aspects bringing the show down. I could do without them both, but on the other hand, how might the show’s plot function without them (especially Karen)?

  3. Bingo – A) We need some character(s) to hate passionately – which usually means we love other character(s) just as passionately.
    B) Without this frisson – or action and reaction – you wouldn’t care one way or another.

    As you say – the show’s plot would have some glaring holes to fill without them.

  4. Pingback: TV: Has Smash Jumped the Shark with This Bollywood Number? « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  5. Pingback: TV: The Problem with Smash. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm

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