By this point you must think that I have a weird obsession with Marilyn Monroe. I spent a whole blog reviewing My Week with Marilyn, saying that Michelle Williams totally deserved awards for her part as Monroe. Then with my Oscar blog, I encouraged the idea that Michelle Williams still deserved the Best Actress award, with possible competition with Rooney Mara who did a fantastic job in the English adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If the BAFTAs are anything to go by though, Meryl Streep will probably walk out with the Oscar too, though I still lament that both The Iron Lady and My Week with Marilyn were left off in favour of films such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But the icing on this cake of obsession has to be Smash
First of all, let’s get the Glee comparisons out of the way. Glee has become such as sensation that their songs often enter into the charts, sometimes competing with the original songs, so it’s obvious that no one really has a problem with the actual singing in Glee. But it was inevitable that another television show would come along and that it too would be about music and singing and people would be determined to compare them. Fortunately for Smash, there really isn’t much of a comparison.
Though Smash is only three episodes into its first season, and as a mid-season replacement will likely only get twelve or thirteen episodes, it’s already set a standard for itself that is miles apart from what we’ve come to expect from Glee. Glee is like the pop machine. It’s more mainstream and at times ridiculously catchy but for every catchy song there’s some terrible sounds out there and it’s plagued by the media latching on to every single thread of drama that they can possibly find. For instance, Kurt Hummel’s storyline about being bullied for his sexual orientation, changing schools and coming back seems to be a three year story arc, building towards both the growth of the bully and Kurt himself. Santana’s lesbian storyline was the formation of a joke line from the first season. Seriously, it felt like a huge turn around for the character that as soon as something like this was revealed they had to make something of it. A recent episode had Santana file complaints about Will Schuester’s lack of Spanish skills and use of Spanish stereotypes and honestly that felt like it had more character depth than anything from the entire lesbian outing arc. But that’s Glee in a nutshell. For everything good and serious and catchy, they have the inane. Ideas such as Will Schuester being a Spanish teacher that can’t speak Spanish are ridiculous but they play hard to stereotypes as well with the homophobic bully that’s really just gay himself.
Smash is more like Broadway. The songs aren’t always as catchy and you won’t really know them but they match the overall tone of the episode and the series, so you never really feel like the show is going out of its way to play a song that they thing everyone just wants to hear. It’s doing its own thing, completely detached from the mainstream music industry, but still manages to be interesting and funny in its own right. It’s a lot of hard work too because there’s more attention to detail and more that requires focus but the finished result is quite the spectacle. You will find yourself wanting to see more, to know more. The first episode ends on a huge cliff hanger but it never feels like the writers are trying to withhold information from you. It feels as though they actually understand tension and suspense, without the need for action. One part in the second episode literally has all the characters involved in the production, from writers and composers to directors and producers, discussing the leads. All they do is talk about the characteristics of both but it’s a great way of building the tension between the two choices without having something so primitive as a cat fight.
The leads in question are Ivy Lynn and Karen Cartwright played by Megan Hilty and Katherine McPhee respectively. American audiences will probably know Katherine McPhee best from the fifth season of American Idol while Megan Hilty is most famous for her Broadway performances in Wicked and 9 to 5: The Musical. The producers and writers of the show have done a great job in making both seem like viable options to play Marilyn Monroe on stage. Ivy Lynn has the look and natural simmering sexuality that a lot of people associate with Monroe. In fact, at one point she’s shown practising the voice and facial expression and she pulls it off incredibly well. However, Karen Cartwright is the better singer. Katherine McPhee’s voice really gets to shine in a few of the songs. They also seem to think that Karen has a lot of the innocent associated with Monroe in her early years but I’m not sure how well that comes across. She’s shown ‘practising’ the sexy parts with her boyfriend and later seduces the director, although she shows enough poise and self control to stop before things go too far. Despite being told that she’s innocent, it doesn’t really feel like there’s any evidence to back that up. They do make a point of showing her to be inexperienced in the dancing department, practising the routine at home, which I think is a nice touch, because it feels more real to see her as a work in progress.
I won’t spoil who gets the role of Marilyn Monroe, though it remains to be seen whether it will stay that way for very long. Either way, I think that Smash is one of the few new shows that has really done something with the premise. The characters are interesting and though they’re all brought together by the Broadway production, they each have their own personal struggles that keep them engaging independent of the show. That’s going to be a key factor if they ever decide to move on to a different production. The songs are all original too so they all feel fresh. Overall, I think it’s a fantastic new show which should entertain everyone, whether they’re obsessed with Marilyn Monroe or not.