TONIGHT: NBC’s Smash network TV at its finest

By now, you’ve seen eleventy-billion million previews for Smash. If you were watching an award shows lately, or the Super Bowl, chances are you saw and heard Katharine McPhee howling her lungs out followed by Debra Messing looking like she’s about to be named as CTV News anchor.
I like Smash–it remains the best pilot I saw last spring. Tonight’s two-hour premiere is a show stopper, with McPhee a knockout as a Broadway wannabe with tons of talent. It’s just taken so long to get here, and I’ve seen those promos for so long, I wonder if some viewers–like those Super Bowl ads streamed millions of times on the Internet–aren’t sick of it before they’ve ever seen it.

McPhee and Hilty: Monroe the merrier

You can’t blame CTV and NBC for promoting the hell out of it. NBC, especially, needs Smash to be a smash. They’ve already given up on The Firm, punting it to Saturday nights to ride out that 22 episode order. (The new  drama Awake, an intriguing show which is also worth a look, will take NBC’s Thurs. slot.)  They’ve got Smash tucked behind their one bonafide smash–The Voice–which returned strong after the Super Bowl and should definitely help Smash get sampled tonight.
It deserves a big opening. McPhee is a winner as a young ingenue aching for her Broadway break. Angelica Huston is reliable as always as a producer who needs a hit to remain queen of the Broadway scene after a nasty divorce. The successful songwriting duo Tom and Julia (Christian Borle and Messing) think they have it in a new musical about, who else, Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe’s ghost seems hyper active this year what with the Oscar-nominated feature film out now and this being the 50th anniversary year of the actresses death. Everybody on Smash seems very excited to do a Monroe musical because they can work in a baseball number, which, sure, I guess.

Huston and Davenport are Broadway gold

While everyone holds their own in the pilot, Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) is really the straw that stirs this drink. He plays egomaniac director Derek, a part that is as cliche as they come yet somehow he manages to bring a very human face to the man.
Megan Hilty is also good as the other actress auditioning to play Marilyn, a more assured and experienced Broadway singer who isn’t going to let McPhee’s Karen step into Monroe’s stilettos without a cat fight.
I’ve read a few nit-picky reviews lately whinging about how over-the-top the audition scenes are but I just found they delivered as pure entertainment. Unlike Glee, which often seems alarmingly under written between musical moments, Smash offers plenty of story between the songs and everybody plays it straight.
Then there’s McPhee. The former American Idol hopeful has a vulnerability and a way with a song that makes you forget the scene where she’s being hit on by the director that seems stolen from a thousand other places.
There are some grand show numbers in future episodes. Steven Spielberg is among the executive producers and the series has serious Broadway-level showrunners in Craig Zadan and Neil Maron (Hairspray). This sucker will not be closing out of town.
One note of caution, however: have you seen ratings for The Tonys’ lately? Smash may be too smart for the room, and NBC’s room is not all that robust to begin with. Still, if you want great entertainment and HBO’s not part of your cable package, you won’t find a better network TV show than Smash (10/9c, NBC, CTV).

Follow @BillBriouxTV

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