Smash - The Big Fat Wrap-Up

Oh…this show.

Sitting down for the season finale tonight, I was trying to reflect on everything that is this show. I don’t have much…any initial spark this show had went up in flames the moment they started churning out scenes ranging from bland to BURN THIS OUT OF MY MEMORIES.

For me, the most disappointing thing…you would think with the talent in front and behind the camera that this show would have more traction to it. Granted, Theresa Rebeck, the showrunner, dropping out next season confirmed what we all suspected after the initial impression wore off…namely, she was in over her head. The girl knows how to write a story and characters – her last outing on Broadway, Seminar, had more developed characters and a more engaging story in 90 minutes then Smash had in the past ten episodes or so.

It is safe to say though that Rebeck’s street cred is safe. Hand her an open theater, some yarn and a shoelace and she’ll have a homerun production on her hands…in 9 days.

Because really, the on-camera talent fell into their roles and actually got better over time. Oh sure; there was still some lightweights in the ensemble that needed to be carried (I am looking at you Leo) or some characters who’s sum total of existence was an abomination of the soul (Ellis, report to the stand please). But considering a majority of the characters were written to be overly emotional, confused, absolutely crazy or pathetic messes (and ‘majority’ is not an understatement by any means), the cast produced some mighty good moments that far exceeded any writing they had to work with.

Christian Borle lit up the screen everytime he graced it and if anything, I am glad that Smash gave us a dose of him once a week. Tom had some great scenes with Julia and Ivy and as far as the personal storylines, his relationship with Sam was the best of the bunch (him and Leslie Odom Jr. had a nice, easy chemistry).  Wesley Taylor and Savannah Wise had a moment or a…moment, sometime. Brian d’Arcy James had a difficult character to play – the weirdly forgiving, composed kind-of reconciled husband - but he pulled it off. I know that Derek Wills was far from likeable, but credit must be paid to Jack Davenport for taking the character where it needed to go. Looking at everyone he tangled with, he actually had an interesting dynamic with everyone on the show and it was not repetitive in the least.

Oh sure, I am grading on a curve because the personal storylines, all 18 or 31 of them, kept dragging the show down into the ditches. But it wasn’t all bad and considering this musical on television idea is still uncovered territory, there was at least a concept amidst the poor execution.

Heck, I can even go as far and say that Ivy and Karen, prior to the penultimate episode’s “who REALLY gets the role of Marilyn?” dilemma, had a nice “enemy of my enemy is my friend” dynamic going on with Rebecca Duvall in the picture. Considering we had to deal with them fighting about the same thing week after week, only to be broken up by moments of false sincerity, that was a major improvement. When Dev wound up in the sack with Ivy, there was some actual story tension that came from the personal lives of these characters. No, I didn’t like that, yet again, the writing of the show favored Karen by presenting her as this blissful, angelic person who becomes a victim at every juncture with everyone around her being awful, insensitive human beings (seriously, how many adulterers, liars and sociopaths does the show have?). But that is why the show struggled so much. It can be summed as, literally, the writing and the music.

Writing-wise…I’ll just come out and say it; it sucked big time. The direction was shoddy to begin with – having the personal lives of the cast dominate over the actual making of Bombshell – but the entire narrative of the story was based on relationships and personal drama. There was quite a body count the show amassed and the sum total of it all was “this and that person are flirting” or “these two are going to bump uglies” or “tension is arising because these two are bumping uglies.” Throw in some unfaithful bedroom encounters and it can literally, make your head spin (especially once Dev got involved). Ask anyone watching…no one cares. Get back to the musical and the performing aspect (and enough with the music imitating life trope; ugh, I can’t…).

It would be one thing if any of the personal drama was interesting…but everything played out as expected on the bedroom front. When we actually got back to what the show was supposed to be about…surprise, surprise; everything could be seen coming from 13 miles away. Everyone’s personal drama ran roughshod over the musical and every *actual* conflict from the show was either okay at best or pointless. Rebecca Duvall coming in halted the series and while Uma Thurman’s performance is partially at fault (and that pains me considering she was the star of Kill Bill, my all-time favorite movie), her departure happened right on cue, basically invalidating her entire purpose. Damn the finale episode for being unrealistic (which is not really a criticism in the realm of things) and set up on a longshot, but at least there was a payoff considering the bile we had to plow through the last month.

The finale was better then most episodes, even though just like the show itself, it looked very hastily put together. They did a decent job of conveying that there was a lot at stake, just as any finale would do. No, I did not care for the guest appearances {Nick Jonas was inoffensive, but Bernadette, in my eyes, was an awful contrivance} and Julia’s family issues, Eileen’s ex-husband showing up or the reveal of Dev sleeping with Ivy. But in the lead-up to the show, right down to Julia and Tom’s frantic running to the stage while Karen and Ivy were getting themselves a situated…it was kind of exciting, no? There was that energy in the air that happens right before you are about to see a Broadway show…and this was even more interesting being that we had the behind-the-scenes perspective. Oh sure; there was no tension that Karen got the role considering that was the point from episode one. Quite frankly, there was not one scene in the entire episode that was surprising narrative-wise...but the episode as a whole had its highlights.

I’ll start off with the ending; I liked it. I like the idea of multiple cliffhangers, even if I don’t lovelove any one of them in particular (and yes, the Ivy suicide thing is painful from an aesthetic point-of-view). But these are the types of cliffhangers, Ivy’s suicide withstanding, that don’t leave you tantalizing with a “gotcha” moment, like say, Quinn getting in a potentially fatal car accident before fading to black. No, the plots are all setup for the show’s return next season and that bodes well considering the start of this season was ultimately played too broadly in its objectives.

And I can’t believe I am saying this…but Katherine McPhee finally had a moment where I liked her with no reservations. In an entire season of “enh” to lackluster musical performances, where I only can single out a few, her final number was a knockout and her best to date. Yes, her batting average is one hit per 20 songs or something and it is pretty funny watching the rest of the ensemble act circles around her…but she finally had a moment where she proved to everyone, myself included, that she should be there. Her casting would look worse if Leo and Ellis weren’t portrayed by even worse performers.

I not so secretly wish Laura Osnes secured the role of Karen because she would have had a field day with it and the whole “who should be paying Marilyn” bit would have been more engaging to sit through with Megan Hilty and Osnes sharpening their claws at each other. McPhee has the acting voice and range of .6 octaves and Derek may have those unintentionally hilarious delusions of Karen as Marilyn (which make no sense because she can’t sing, act or even resemble her)…but in the end, Karen finally did something worth cheering about.

I think I have ranted enough…in short, the show ended on a better note then warranted given its spotty history the last two-thirds of the season. I will be tuning in next season and see how things play out. With all the television buzz going on the past two weeks and with the disclosure that the entire show is going to be revamped and the ensemble cut down, I am glad at those prospects and possible even excited. The show is not a hit by any means and it definitely under delivered on the promise it had earlier this season. But that goes to show how strong the initial concept is considering the show is getting a head-to-toe makeover in the wake of poor ratings. Hey, count me in if only to see Christian Borle get some camera time and walk away with the show or Wesley Taylor and his gyrating hips explode my television during a dance number.

Photo Credit: AfterElton
Photo Credit: Slate
Photo Credit: SmashTheSeries

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