Smash Blogging: Episodes 1 and 2

by Gordon Elgart on February 16, 2012

Getting the last laugh. Where's your Taylor Hicks now?

It’s about time we popped the cherry on television reviewing on Spinning Platters. Any time there’s a new NBC show about the creation of a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe starring an American Idol runner-up, we’ll be there! Even better if the hype machine is dialed up high, saying it’s going to be an “adult Glee.” I mean, I’m an adult, and I think Glee sucks, so this must be the show for me. And is it ever? It’s everything I’d hoped it would be, and also far, far less. It’s a fascinating, horrible mess, and I’m hooked after two episodes of diverse quality (one’s good; one sucks). Let me explain why.

EPISODE 1 – THE PILOT 

Why am I watching this?

It’s about a musical

I like musicals, a lot. And to be honest, I’ve never even though about how they’re written or put together. This is a bit surprising because I’m obsessed with the process of recording albums, making movies and writing stand up comedy, all things I don’t have any intention of actually doing in my life. So I suppose it’s time I started thinking about the process, especially since I actually have a couple of ideas for musicals buried deep in my notebooks.

Of course, I don’t think this is very realistic at all. I’m not really buying that Debra Messing would be a successful Broadway lyricist and be excited about a baseball number. Did she see High School Musical 2? Baseball numbers are not good. Even Damn Yankees didn’t really have a traditional “baseball number.” Also, Marilyn Monroe?  This is so good she’s willing to break her promise to take a year off to focus on the adoption of a Chinese baby? (More on this later.)

And do people really sing “Beautiful” in Broadway auditions? Wouldn’t that make a casting agent grimace and say, “oh god this song again?” But I’m willing to forgive, because the person singing the song was …

Katharine McPhee

There were many ads during the Super Bowl for this show, but the one that made the biggest impression on the gathered hordes at the party I attended is the one I’ll call the “Sexy Katharine McPhee” commercial. And it’s an effective commercial. I said, “is there any way I’m going to be able to convince my girlfriend I want to watch this show without her thinking I’m only watching it for her?”

She was the one who was too hot to win American Idol. You can’t win that show looking like her. You can be cute and non-threatening like Kelly Clarkson. You can be all-American pretty like Carrie Underwood, and my brother can jokingly call her his “wife,” and his actual wife will giggle and playfully punch him. But if you’re voting for Katharine McPhee, and your girl asks, “are you voting for her because you think she’s hot?” your response would be:

“Am I voting for her because I think she’s hot? No. No. What makes you think that? Of course not. No way.” But you would be. She’s not the only reason to watch though, it’s also because …

It looked like a bad show, but with a good cast

I don’t watch much television. Sure, I watch television shows, but never on TV. I’m one of those people who always waits for the DVDs or the Netflix to watch shows in their entirety. And I limit it to good television like Breaking Bad or Sherlock. But sometimes it’s fun to sit around and watch a bad show. And I didn’t think Once Upon a Time was bad enough, I guess. (That show is horrible.)

Then there’s the cast, who I knew would be entertaining even in a likely train-wreck. You’ve got Grace from Will & Grace (and casting Eric McCormack as her writing partner would have been brilliant stunt casting), Steve from Coupling, Anjelica (effing) Huston and the soon-to-be-scene-stealing Megan Hilty. Oh, and did I mention it’s from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg? (I’m not sure how that helps.)

At the end of episode one, both of our ingenues (McPhee and Hilty) were singing a song called “Let Me Be a Star” and preparing for their callbacks as Marilyn Monroe. It was a fairly inspired ending to a well-done pilot. I could see why the show was greenlit. But something happened between episodes one and two, and that’s why things started getting bad fast in episode two.

EPISODE 2 – THE CALLBACK 

I can’t even begin to describe the inanity of the subplots continued in this episode. Let’s start with the obvious worse one, the adoption subplot. This is the worst subplot in the history of television, finally taking the trophy from the Jack’s wife amnesia subplot from the first season of 24. Let me see if I can do this justice:

1. Debra Messing’s husband (we’ll call him Bob because I can’t remember his name even though I’m watching the episode again as I’m writing this) wants to adopt a Chinese baby, and she’s going to take a year off from writing musicals to work on the adoption.

2. She starts writing the musical anyway because it’s her calling. This upsets him because “what about the adoption?”

3. Now, in episode 2, they continue the adoption process and find out it’s going to be two years until they can get a baby. Bob tells Debra that he wants to go back to work. For some reason, this is horrible for the relationship, because he’s a teacher, and WHAT ABOUT THE BABY?

4. While arguing over this, their dimwitted teenage son (let’s call him Bob, Jr.) gets so upset because they promised him that he would have a little sister. Promised! How could they do this to Bob, Jr? All he wanted was a little sister to ignore while he’s off in college smoking pot and trying to get laid!

5. Now, Debra has to write some sort of letter to her future baby, but Bob doesn’t want to do the adoption anymore, and now Debra is all super gung-ho about it, and she writes some sort of cheesy poetry that the adoption support group (does this exist?) thinks is the most AMAZING thing that’s ever been written. And who walked in just at the perfect time? It’s Bob! He’s back on board! Chinese girls for everyone!

Now that is godawful, but it brings up a theme in this episode. Everything that’s supposed to be amazing here is laid out in front of us. Every time Katharine McPhee’s character comes up in conversation, everyone says how great of a singer she is, how she’s such a wonderful dancer, that she’s a STAR. The director is a GENIUS. It’s a tell don’t show script. I’m worried it won’t get better.

What’s keeping the show afloat are the musical numbers. Both Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty can certainly belt out a tune, and the original songs (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman of Hairspray fame) stand up to multiple listens, which seems to be the strategy of the show. They want us to like these songs so much that we’ll eventually go see a Marilyn musical for real. It’s clever. Can a TV show make a hit musical? It’s surely better than increasingly shitty covers of current pop songs. Take that, Glee.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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