A while ago I posted about this show after viewing the preview for the premiere. At the time, I was concerned for the show in terms of its story and character development but cautiously optimistic on a few counts. Now that the full premiere has aired I have a bit more to say. As is often the case with special two-hour episodes, the premiere was really just two episodes stuck together; the second episode even included its separate title card so there was no mistaking the fact. Both episodes had their strong points, but they had some glaring problems too.
I wasn’t happy with a lot of the characterization last year, with the character Ivy typically being a jerk while main character Karen was never anything but an innocent little lamb. So far Ivy’s been shown in a better light with some moments to shine and Karen has also grown. As I mentioned from the preview, she’s started to actually do things rather than let things happen to her. She’s giving Ivy a taste of her own medicine, which may be immature and vindictive, but I’m okay with it. For now, at least. I don’t want this to become Karen’s new personality but a little vengeance is understandable and downright enjoyable.
Helping out with diversity on the show, we now have Broadway performer Krysta Rodriguez (Latina) as Karen’s new roommate, Ana, and film/recording star Jennifer Hudson (Black) as Broadway darling and possible rival. Both actresses look like they’ll be mainstays on the show this year. I really have high hopes for Ana especially because I love Krysta already, and Karen is so much more interesting when she’s interacting with her. One of the things I found so boring about Karen last season was that she seemed so aloof, always disconnected from everything. In the scenes she had with Ana and especially another new character named Jimmy, she was excited and alive and I hope that lively character happens more often.
For the bad on the show there’s the continuing problem of the creators’ and producers’ personal lives throwing unnecessary obstacles in the path of the musical’s creation. The reason this bothers me so much (apart from it being sloppily executed to begin with) is that it has nothing to do with creating a musical. There are real problems and challenges that come with writing a musical and mounting it on Broadway which make great stories, and could be fascinating TV. Instead, the writers of Smash have chosen to give us a series about relationship woes the likes of which can be seen anywhere on TV and apply them to a show business story. It takes what could be a unique and interesting show and makes it common and predictable and that’s just disappointing.
There was also this moment where the show almost made a really good point, but then missed it entirely: The director of the musical, Derek, is kind of a cad and in the second episode of the premiere he is accused of sexual harassment by several performers he’s worked with in the past. He, of course, thinks he’s done nothing wrong until he confronts one of the women coming forward with her accusation and she tells him that he doesn’t understand the power he has as a director in relation to the actors he works with. This was a really, really awesome thing to address, but because the writers of this series don’t seem to know how to write anything other than the most basic television tropes, she ended the encounter by saying “Or did you think all those girls you slept with actually liked you?” Suddenly, the point wasn’t about Derek’s taking advantage of these women but rather how sad he was to think that people thought so little of him.
The victims here are the women who were taken advantage of, not the person who took advantage of them! Why the show thought Derek was the one who ought to be the object of sympathy in this moment is beyond me. If they wanted to show him feeling sad, at least have him feel sad about what he did, not pitying himself because people don’t like him. There was also this idiotic number* which took place in Derek’s mind that seems to place the blame on the women as if they were the ones mistreating him.
The continued mishandling of these potentially interesting and unique stories is what really disappoints me about the show. While the character work is looking a little better for the coming season these are the issues that are really bugging me and I don’t have particularly high hopes for them to be addressed any time soon. If the show ends up being great in the coming episodes I’ll gladly eat my words, but as of right now Smash is just misstep after misstep.
*This number was idiotic because of how it related to the story, not because it was poorly written, performed, or staged.