Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Smash, I'm leaving you for Scandal, and this is why...
I tried Smash, I really, honestly to god did. I held on desperately to "promising". I even tried to hold on to "flawed but...", hoping you'd pull an 11 o'clock number miracle. To continue to use the language of musicals I hoped it would improve on the road. That on your way to the season finale you'd cut numbers, reshuffle, and recast. Well of course some of that is impossible due to the realities of a TV vs. stage, but as this piece ably sums up, you have not only embraced your worst flaws, you've made the goddamn show about them.
After all, who wants to see a sizzling showstopper like "Let's Be Bad" when we can piss about with yet another scene between lyricist Julia and her miserable son Leo? Who could also be replaced, if the show was looking to cut costs, with a sack of potatoes in a flannel shirt without any noticeable difference. Who wants to see the process of putting together a musical, and all the fights and wrangling an audience never gets to see, when we could spend some more time with Karen's achingly boring boyfriend Dev, and his equally pointless coworker?
You don't seem to know who you are are Smash. I would say that's what's keeping you from sailing forth as a great backstage musical, but it's time to admit you are permanently run aground on an attractive, dark haired sand bar called Katherine McPhee. She cannot act, and more fatally she cannot perform. She sings, her voice is nice, but her eyes remain flat, and we never get the sense the song actually means anything to her. She is the core of the show and it deflates around her.
It makes the idea of Karen as Norma Jean and Ivy as Marilyn not work because blankness is not the same things as innocence. It makes her A Star is Born narrative preposterous as she isn't a little raw but ready to be groomed for stardom. She's utterly timid and uncomfortable in front of the camera. Reminding me of no one so much as myself as a child, being forced to have my picture taken at family gatherings and casting furtive glaces for my chance to slip away and read in blessed peace.
I haven't even got to Megan Hilthy as Ivy yet, and I don't even need to say much as it's already been said by many, many others. Yes Hilty has the leg up of being an actual Broadway veteran. But even ignoring that, Hilty so out acts, out sings, and out shines McPhee it's embarrassing. And I can tell the show knows it too, the audience certainly does.
And so I'm leaving you, because I've found someone else. I've found a show that respects my needs for soapy intrigue and well drawn characters, Scandal. I admit I was wary when I watched the pilot, perhaps smarting from how much you burned me Smash in that department. I liked what I saw. Kerry Washington is tremendous as Olivia Pope, a political fixer whose invincibility in that department is matched only by the verge of erupting volcanic disaster that is her personal life.
She's surrounded by stock types in her office, The Lovable Rouge, The Bruiser With A Heart Of Gold, The Fiery Tempered Red Head, and so on. But there's a comforting familiarity to stock types played well, which they are. Moreover in each episode, and particularly in the fourth, we've been getting more and more information about them and Olivia that is opening them, and the possibilities of the show, up.
Scandal knows what is is Smash, and that's why it's slowly clicked over from "promising" to "good". It's political flights of fancy recall The West Wing at it's warmest, and WW wing alum Josh Molina is even on hand to be Olivia's frenemy and sparring partner in the D.A.'s office. And I can't say enough about Washington's Olivia Pope. One of the great pleasures of the show is the close ups on Washington's face. Watching her think, or react to a new piece of information. Some of the tensest moments arrive not from any particularly lurid plot detail but in contrast between the white suited brilliance of Pope's political machinations and the stormy, messy details of her private life. Watching the nerve wracking race to see which part is going to emerge the ultimate victor.
Round all that out with a terrific soundtrack leaning heavily on seventies R&B and Soul and you can keep your Bollywood fantasias Smash. We'll always have Hilty belting out "Let Me Be Your Star", what a pity we'll always have McPhee awkwardly trying to mimic spontaneity by flailing her arms to "Shake It Out" too.