I came home from a night out a few weeks ago, drunk, suffering from what my social group colorfully refers to as the “drunchies”. On the way home, I had picked up a tactical loaf of bread, some cheese, and some delicious pickle. Sloppy, drunk, fancy cheese on toast was on, son. I got home, assembled my pieces of toast with magnificent stacks of cheese, lashings of pickle, a positive monument to all things good. I whacked it in the grill and promptly forgot about it. By the time I remembered, my towering temple of dairy was black and my toast was cinders. It was heartbreaking. Seeing something with so much potential, so many chances and possibilities to be great, is never right. And that brings me neatly onto my topic of the day- Smash.
Smash was pitched to me as a kind of West-Wing-On-Broadway affair, a behind-the-scenes dramedy about putting on a Broadway show. A kind of grown-up Glee with bonafide stars and original songs. It sounded like the perfect show for me.
And I’ll give it it’s due; I watched both series. But I don’t think I’ve even got space in this review to tell you everything that was wrong about this show. And I have an unlimited wordcount. The whole thing reeks of unrealized potential. Take Jack Davenport, playing wankery director Derek, a man a penchant for sleeping with his leading ladies. Cliché as fuck, certainly, but possibly offering a chance to explore the people behind the people. As it was, Davenport swaggered around dreaming of his bit part in Pirates of the Caribbean.
And he was probably the best character in the show. Anjelica Houston, Tom Borle, the magnificent Broadway actress Megan Hilty….carried to the four winds by a rearing, tri-headed beast of bad writing, no characterization, and unenthusiastic performances. Of course, credit must go to leading lady Katherine MacPhee. An American Idol contestant, she can sort of sing if you squint your ears a bit, but sadly often resembles a child’s crude drawing of happy/sad faces sellotaped onto a bollard. Chick can’t act.
Many of the writers spoke out about the apparently tyrannical rule of showrunner and creator Theresa Rebeck, claiming she was insistent on carrying dull, unimportant storylines to their sorry conclusion despite attempts at intervention. This theory would hold up better had she not been replaced in the second series, which promptly proved itself to be more boring than the first and, disquietingly, apparently co-opting on a real-life tragedy. The first series at least succeeded in inflating the camp (often with a laborious foot-pump, but still) to an enjoyable level on occasion, but the second became a stream of non-sensical plots and characters who were surely the last, festering pieces of shit to be picked off the wall.
The show did occasionally prove itself brilliant to Broadway nerds like me (hashtag watchedthetonyawards) particularly with the staged song numbers like the one below.
That’s Megan Hilty singing as Marilyn Monroe on the set of Some Like It Hot.
And that’s what made it even more frustrating. In different hands, with different writers and a rejigged cast, this could have been a catty, clever, campy jewel. The Smash we’re left with is a desolate wasteland of humorless, questionable, often dull television. But on the horizon, there are distant sparkles of West End glitter. And the perfect slice of cheese on toast.