Sunday, September 23, 2012

Feeling a Little Smashed (ha ha)

Amidst all the stress and chaos and pleasant introductions and gathering of books and funding and all the waiting, I just watched the first season of Smash.  Well, the rest of it.  I started watching from the beginning, but only got a few episodes in before we had to get rid of our cable service on account of the move.  In any case, thanks to Hulu, I got to watch a bunch of commercials, and also Smash.  So while I know I'm months behind on this, I have some small commentary to share.  (SUCH SPOILERS TO SHOW YOU!)

I was torn about watching the show from the beginning.  On one hand, against all my geeky inclinations and real-world intolerance for "hot messes", I do find that I have a dark, murky place in my heart for soapy dramedies like Desperate Housewives and GCB. Also, despite my distaste for unnecessary Broadwayization, I do still like musicals, and have in the past dreamt of a life in theater (ctrl + F, then type "Buzz" -- yes I wrote that).  So I watched it, with a skeptical heart, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much.

My first impression, after watching the first episode, was that Smash is Glee for grownups.  I have a longstanding hate on for how inconsistent the writing has been in Glee, with characters vascillating between zany and serious without any pause between, and also for the inherent immaturity of its characters.  I don't necessarily blame Glee for having teenage characters, but it does get tiresome.  Smash seemed like it would have all the musical review qualities, plus the added bonus of grownups doing grownup things (even if those things were often childish and bitchy).  In any case, I got what I expected, and having avoided any foreknowledge of the show, also got to squeal out loud as I recognized faces in the cast.

There are certainly some things I absolutely hated about the show within a few episodes, mostly in the form of the menfolk.

There's Mike, the (second) sexual harrassment poster boy.  It was understandable that he and Julia (played by that inveterate fag-hag, Debra Messing) had a Thing from the Past, which understandably Came Back to Haunt Them.  It was understandable that she would have a crisis, and maybe even slip a little, but ultimately she chose her family, and that should have been the end of that arc.  Instead Mike turns into a crazy stalker the likes of which I haven't seen since Robin Tunney put a spell on Skeet Ulrich and Fairuza Balk had to kill his ass.

I've had these days.

I kindof wished ol' Nancy would just jump onto the screen in full Craft regalia, screeching and hovering, and drop Mike out a window too.  Instead, we got to spend the rest of the season watching Julia flop around like a wet mop as her husband, too, fell victim to his own case of Inordinate Dick Syndrome (a bit of an epidemic in the series) and started freaking, out of all proportion to either his character's prior setup or his wife's malfeasance.  It was like the writers couldn't allow the audience to blame Julia for anything, so they made her husband an idiot to make up for it (a trick they used with Ivy to make Karen look more likeable, too).

Then there's the worst thing in the show: Ellis, the cartoonishly bratty assistant whose motivations did not match up with his actions at any point.  It wasn't apparent from the beginning, when he was simply an ambitious asshole like everyone else, but Ellis represents Smash's biggest writerly failings.  He did things, regularly, which didn't actually serve any purpose except to foment chaos.  We were given several scenes of him chatting with his improbable girlfriend, with the clear purpose of trying to reassure the audience that what he was doing made perfect sense -- at least in his own head, if no sane person's.

I couldn't buy it, and as he got worse and worse, and showed no moral or even logical compass whatsoever, I realized that he was one of those characters who only exists because someone in creative control needs someone to stir the pot, to do something dickish, and can't think of anyone having a good reason to do so.  Alternatively, he was a character they introduced early on, who was someone's favorite, but no one could think of what to do with him, so they made him into Loki, bringer of peanuts and destroyer of not much (because no one who had spent five minutes with the man could bring themselves to trust him).  The only redeeming feature of this character was how ineffective he was -- he couldn't even pull off a proper assassination, nor keep the attempt a secret long enough for anything positive to have come of it.

Seriously, no one noticed him never not lurking?
I could go on, but I understand that the show met with a lot of criticism over all this, so it's not like I'm breaking new ground.  However, I also have to say that for all the crappy writing and really poorly managed melodrama, and the occasional insultingly bad musical choices (Bollywood?  Right after calling out Duvall for that being a kindof racist stereotype?), I still enjoyed the series.

The music was good.  The choreography was good.  The writing did occasionally pull up its britches and say something, and if nothing else I like the meditations on the nature of fame and popular culture through the figure of Marilyn Monroe.  The musical was not just the thing they were doing with drama behind the scenes; it was the product of their lives, and a reflection of the way people interact with their own mythologies.  Monroe was the perfect Rorschach, standing at the intersection of the actresses' ambitions and the desires of the men, gay and straight, who were endeavoring to bring her back to life.  She was Galatea in a roomful of competing Pygmalions.

To that end, I look forward to season 2.  Not only do I hope that the things I liked will continue to be there, but I hear tell the production team listened to complaints similar to mine, and got rid of a number of problematic characters, including the revolting Ellis (I do hope that Jamie Cepero finds work elsewhere; it's not his fault that he was playing such a horribly written part).  Of course, they could miss the boat completely, but, well, I'm a forgiving viewer.

With guilty pleasure comes guilty responsibility.

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