TV Review: NBC’s ‘Smash’ Is Hit-Worthy, But Will Audiences Latch On?

Smash Katharine McPhee Megan HiltyIt’s no secret that despite some fantastic (or the very least, entertaining) programming, NBC just can’t manage to get a hold on a truly dedicated audience. That’s probably because for every 30 Rock they have a Whitney and they hedge so many of their bets on reality shows like The Biggest Loser and The Apprentice. And as fantastic as some of their series are – hello, Community and Parks and Recreation – many are admittedly just a little niche. So, now that a brand new, accessible and well-crafted series like the Steven Spielberg-produced Smash has come along, NBC isn’t the only one holding its breath hoping desperately that this one sticks.

Smash follows Broadway newbie, Karen (Katharine McPhee), as she chases her dreams with dismal audition after dismal audition. She’s helped along by her loyal, loving boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey), who believes in her more than a helicopter mom on Toddlers and Tiaras. Opposite Karen is the girl who would be a villain on any other show: Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty). As she and Karen vie for the lead in a new Marilyn Monroe musical, we start to see the inner workings of a rivalry that’s a little more complicated than you might think. Ivy has been working on Broadway for years as a chorus girl, but never gets the spotlight she deserves – and a few subtle hints tell us it’s because of her curvy stature in a world where skinny-minnies rule the stage. As Karen is getting her possible big break, Ivy is trying to finally step out of the background. We’re torn – sort of. Karen is still the star; Ivy just complicates things by being a real person instead of a one-dimensional brat.

But the series doesn’t keep it that simple. The girls are just the pretty faces at the front of an arduous process. Song-writing team Julia Huston (Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle) are the ones trying to orchestrate this whole Marilyn romp, and Julia is doing it despite her husband’s request that she spend more time with him and their son. Throw into this mix a veteran Broadway producer with a divorce in the works (Anjelica Huston) and a talented, yet notorious bad boy director (Jack Davenport) who’s constantly at odds with one-half of the song-writing team (that would be the fussy, yet wildly creative Tom), and you’ve got one hell of a recipe for an enthralling, musical good time. It’s admittedly adult, but with traces of that adolescent ambition that for some people, never seems to fade away. It’s the perfect pitch for a wide audience, weaving grounded issues with big dreams.

Then, there’s the comparison we can’t help but touch upon. Original songs and covers abound, but the series doesn’t fall into the Glee trap – yet. Like a proper Broadway show, the numbers are given context via actual context (rather than high school play announcements about why this next song is happening in one, two, three…). The performances also aren’t the end goal; they’re the whipped cream placed gently on top of a steaming, rich mug of hot cocoa. Smash has an engaging, robust story (though to be fair, Glee started that way too) and the songs are just the color that brings that story to life, instead of the color that stands in for the actual story.

Still, just as Fox’s musical series eventually did, Smash has the potential to wind wildly out of control. It boasts six main characters with already thorough backstories and its musical performances are intoxicating (not to mention, they help move the plot along quite nicely). It would be easy for the series to begin to lean too heavily on the music as the plot begins to grow, making it difficult to actually tell the stories while attempting to make room for more singing and dancing. Granted, none of this is an issue if the show doesn’t catch on. That’s why I’m here, imploring you to get your jollies from the fun, glamorous new series. If we work together, NBC won’t have to cut the cord on this one after just three episodes.

Will you be tuning in? Share your thoughts in the comments, or get at me on Twitter. @KelseaStahler

Smash premieres Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. And for more photos from the hit series, click on the picture above.