You may not be aware of this, given how little promotion on television, in print or on the internet it has gotten *ahem*, but NBC has this little show called “Smash” that started last night. (Or, you may have previewed the pilot episode on Hulu or on the NBC website, but let’s maintain the polite pretense that we only just saw it last night, ‘kay?)
Writing partners Julia Houston and Tom Levitt have a production currently running on Broadway and apparently in London as well, allowing Julia to take a year off so that she and her husband, Frank, can adopt a baby to supplement the one obligatory teenager they already have. But when Tom’s newly-hired “assistant” (if you know what I mean, and I think you do) makes an off-hand suggestion about doing “Marilyn: The Musical,” Julia’s creative juices start flowing, much to the dismay of Frank, who whines that when she is in production they go days without seeing her and if she’s not home to jump through hoops for the social worker then they’ll never get to adopt a baby and OMG the world will end! (or something).
Stoked by the conversation and his assistant’s sweet young ass, Tom writes a song for the theoretical musical. Ivy Lynn, an ambitious girl from the chorus line of their current production “Heaven On Earth,” is fresh off of a rejection for an actual Broadway part, and Tom tags her to come and record the song for them, under the assumption that if the project moves forward she would have a leg-up (see what I did there?) on getting the part. But Ellis commits the incredibly stupid faux pas of recording the… erm, recording session on his cell phone, and emailing it to his mother, who then puts it on Youtube for all the world to see. As one does.
This is where I would normally go off on a rant about the likelihood of this recording session, posted by some housewife in Hoboken or some shit, being immediately seen and commented on by all of the big Broadway bloggers, but this was a pilot episode and we have a LOT of shit to get through, so let’s get on with it, shall we?
Waitress/would-be actress Karen Cartwright, a fresh-faced, 24 year-old, corn-fed Iowan girl (do they grow corn in Iowa? Is Iowa one of those flat, corn-growing states? I can never be bothered to keep them straight. Corn fields wig me out.) is one of Ivy’s fellow audition rejectees. Despite her very mid-western parents’ admonitions to be realistic and give up on her dreams and come home to Iowa where they have corn(?) instead of muggers and immigrants, she sees the video of the Marilyn song online and decides to audition for the part, with encouragement from her British-sounding, Indian-looking boyfriend Dev. (Hey Dev, how YOU doin’?) Karen is –
Okay. Let’s just get this out of the way. Karen is played by Katherine McPhee, that girl who was runner up on American Idol on that season that was won by
Chris Daughtry Taylor Hicks. (Everyone in the world: ”Who?!” Me: ”I know, right?”) Despite having a killer set of pipes, I remember Kat as also having something of a little image problem during her run on AI. I mean, not Katherine Heigl levels of image problem, but there were issues. The album she released after her Idol run was, shall we say, not a success, which I would attribute not so much to the image problems as to the fact that straight-from-the-can, bubble-gum pop music is NOT what her voice is for. Simon Cowell knew that then; it took everyone else a little while to catch up, but it seems they finally did. Because this? This is what Katherine McPhee’s voice is for.
ANYway, since Broadway maven Eileen Rand’s planned production of My Fair Lady is now in escrow pending her super-acrimonious divorce from her blond-screwing husband, Eileen lands on this bit of internet gold and offers her backing to Julia and Tom. Included in the offer is director Derek Wills, who had been tagged to direct the now side-lined My Fair Lady. Tom is horrified by the suggestion, equating Derek to, basically, the Devil, but Julia talks him into letting Derek “audition” for the role of director by putting together the production’s baseball number.
Said number, starring Ivy as Marilyn and several lithe and some seemingly very gay male dancers as baseball players, is declared awesome by Julia and Eileen. Tom grudgingly agrees that the number itself was good, but he still hates Derek and is not inclined to change his opinion after Derek is rudely dismissive of Ivy. And it’s true — Derek is, as advertised, a raging douchebag. In fact, can we just call him Director D-Bag from now on? I think we can.
Director D-Bag, Tom, Eileen and Julia audition several girls for the part of Marilyn, including Ivy (who has to stop on her way into the actual audition to go vomit. Gross.) and Karen, who is the only girl who does not show up dressed as Marilyn and singing a Marilyn song. Karen opts instead to sing X-tina’s “Beautiful,” during which she dismisses her nerves by thinking of her boyfriend Dev and how much she lurves him. Director D-Bag is most definitely interested.
Karen gets a callback, as does Ivy, whose mother is apparently more impressed with Ivy’s brother deciding to attend night-school than she is with her daughter’s shot at a role starring on Broadway. Bitch. Karen is told that they’re glad she didn’t come in with Teh Sex, but now they want her to do Teh Sex, something Karen has been told she can’t do. Dev, a very charming and helpful boyfriend, offers to help Karen get in touch with her inner sex goddess over some wine and a viewing of Some Like It Hot, and it certainly looks to me like Karen is doing just fine with Teh Sex. As would I, if Dev would like to so instruct me. (What? I’m an accent whore. Don’t judge.)
During her *ahem* practice session, Karen gets another call-back — or, more accurately, a text-back — from Director D-Bag, so she hauls herself over to Director D-Bag’s apartment in the middle of the night, where he wants to “help” her prepare for her next audition in much the same way that Dev was “helping” her. For some reason, this comes as a shocking revelation to Karen. And, okay, I get that she’s this mid-western girl and fresh-faced and starry-eyed and questionably-corn-fed and that probably magical unicorns still guard her vagina unless she’s in a loving and committed relationship, but come the fuck on. I’m seriously supposed to believe that she’s never heard of a casting couch, and she thinks it’s normal for big-deal directors to ask her to their apartments in the middle of the night? Whatever, Show.
Karen has herself a small freak-out, but then steels her resolve and slinks out of the bathroom wearing Director D-Bag’s discarded shirt. She sings that “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” thing in the breathy Marilyn voice at him while slinking over to and straddling him. When he’s about to help himself to what she’s seemingly offering, Karen tells him “not gonna happen” and leaves.
To close the show, we’re treated to a montage of Ivy and Karen preparing themselves for the next round of auditions while singing the same song, and I’ve got to say that I hope the show does some more of this, because the two girls sound fantastic singing together.
All in all, I thought this was a strong pilot. The production numbers cut back and forth between the actual singing and an envisioning of what the finished product will look like on stage, but it really isn’t jarring and it’s not even as egregiously corny as these musical numbers generally are. Either that, or I’ve become immune to the mindfuckness of it all by virtue of watching Glee week in and week out and constantly having to ask my husband if I’m actually seeing what I’m seeing or if I’m having a mild stroke. The cast is stellar, the songs are engaging, and the story has some legs. Will the show be a “Smash?” I don’t know, but for now? I’m all in.