The MSQ Review: Smash


Someone who cuts uses a sharp object to make marks, cut or scratches on the body on purpose. Someone who Smashes subjects themselves to emotional and intellectual damage by watching Smash, NBC’s over-hyped series about Broadway.

Hello. My name is Macho Show Queen and I’m a Smasher. It’s a given that I like the world in which this show takes place. I enjoy the work of composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. However, I am no fan of playwright/series creator Theresa Rebeck. Yet somehow I watch Smash—every week. 

For the life of me I cannot tell you why. It is so obviously constructed that any 98-year-old grandmother could tell you what’s coming next. It’s so entirely void of original thought or emotional substance that it makes popcorn look nourishing. 

If you haven’t seen the show, Smash tells the story of the creation of a musical about Marilyn Monroe. Two actresses audition to play the legendary actress. Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) gets the part and Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) does not. But Karen does get cast in the chorus. Her consolation prize is a crash course in being a chorus girl in her first Broadway show and resentment from Ivy. 

Anjelica Huston plays the musical’s producer, but her life is complicated by a divorce from her husband, a more powerful producer played by Michael Cristofer. The songwriters are played by Christian Borle and Debra Messing (who is risking her marriage by having a fling with the male lead of the show, played by Will Chase.) Jack Davenport plays the egomaniacal and demanding director.

Think of the single most obvious ways to tell a story. Then re-think them only to make them dumber and more obvious. Now you have the recipe for Smash. There are countless moments that scream out for something real to happen. Every action should have an appropriate reaction. Smash has none. Ms. Messing’s son has seen her make out with someone other than her husband, yet he hasn’t confronted her. She slept with Mr. Chase in last week’s episode, but we’re spared the awkwardness of her having to go home to her husband after the tryst. Smash dutifully avoids the honest messy stuff. 

Ms. Hilty can sing the hell out of any song and when she gets a chance to do so it is enjoyable. I don’t think Ms. McPhee is a star, no matter how often the show tells me she is, but she also has her moments to shine. Though that wasn’t the case last week. Singing at a Bar Mitzvah, but distracted by the drama on “Marilyn,” she doesn’t give a damn until the final song. Suddenly she is focused, professional, and ready for her big singing moment in the show. Which, of course, leads to a major recording contract break. Isn’t that what happens to everyone?

There are a couple bright spots in Smash. Raza Jaffrey is completely natural as Karen’s boyfriend Dev. Mr. Borle is both charming and endearing. And the songs are pretty damn good.

But Smash isn’t. I’m hoping by writing this that I’m taking the first of the necessary twelve steps to get over my ridiculous addiction to this sophomoric television show. Now that I’ve admitted I am powerless over my addiction, I’m looking to believe in some greater power than can restore me to sanity. Maybe it’s time I got back to watching South Park.

Photograph courtesy

Related Content

  • Dev

    great piece.

    I’m in the same (show)boat. I know I’m watching and enjoying a severely flawed show and I also that in no way can I actually recommend it to friends with a clean conscience. Love the songs, love Katharine’s innocent face (but hate her character) and usually get a little smile on my face for most of the songs. But I keep wishing something “real” or at least interesting would happen.

    At the same time, I’m crossing my fingers it doesn’t get cancelled.