Sparkling ‘Smash’

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

“Smash,” the new NBC drama from executive producer Steven Spielberg, is like a good version of “Glee.” The talent pool is deeper and richer, it’s full of characters who are actually likeable, the story is more mature and it’s more realistic.

The show, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m., follows the production of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. Debra Messing plays Julia Houston who, along with her writing and musical partner Tom (Christian Borle), is attempting to produce a new musical called “Marilyn.” Katharine McPhee plays Karen Cartwright, the “light,” good girl from Iowa auditioning for the role of Marilyn. She has a big voice to go along with her big dreams.

Her competition is the more experienced Ivy Lynn, played by real life Broadway star Megan Hilty. Hollywood legend Anjelica Huston is the feisty Eileen Rand, the show’s financial backer, while British actor Jack Davenport plays the arrogant but extremely talented director, Derek Wills.

“Smash,” much like its inspiration (Broadway and Marilyn Monroe), is flashy, exciting and altogether enthralling. The first hour passed quickly, unfolding at a rapid pace and quickly creating its atmosphere. It’s one that looks fluffy and easily dismissible on the outside. If you can look past the addictive nighttime soap aspects, there’s something really special there.

Early in the pilot episode,  Julia tries to explain to her frazzled husband why she wants to do this musical so much. “There was something about [Marilyn],” she says. “How much she loved and wanted to be loved. She glowed with it.” She may be speaking about Marilyn, but in so many ways she could also be talking about “Smash.” The show glows with its need to be liked. It has so many high expectations for itself, and at times that need is felt. It strains for that Broadway greatness and sometimes falls short.

“Smash” will have to be very careful not to cross the thin line it’s already straddling. If it does fall over, it’s going to turn into a frothy imitation of itself. For right now though, there is a lot to love about “Smash,” and the actors are a big part of that. You can see that the actors are enjoying their roles.

Hilty in particular is a lot of fun. She’s presented as a villain early on, but you start to see vulnerability in her, maybe even more so than McPhee’s Karen. We see a few scenes that tell us she might not actually be the innocent Iowa girl she’s made out to be. There is a particularly racy scene between her and Derek from the pilot that stands out.

Messing and Huston also seem to enjoy stealing scenes. The real standout for me was Davenport, who is crazy fun as the predatory director. It’s a character we’ve seen countless times, but he’s such a good actor and he plays him with such glee that it’s hard not to love him.

“Smash” shows a lot of promise. The kind of show that’s so deliciously indulgent that it charms you from the get-go.

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