Last night was episode two of Smash, NBC's somewhat make-it-or-break-it drama about the ins and outs of putting on a Broadway show. So after a big opening night last week, how did the show fare yesterday, quality-wise at least? Hm. Let's say reviews are mixed.
Well, our reviews are, anyway. The central focus of this season of the show is going to be the mounting of a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, and so obviously the most important part of that process is finding the right blushing ingenue to play Marilyn. The pilot episode set us up with two possibilities: A striving and competent chorus girl played by Broadway pro Megan Hilty and a newbie from Iowa (can we please retire Iowa as the state of origin for all noble hayseeds in TV and movies?) played by American Idol second-placer Katharine McPhee. Who will get the big role, the workhorse or the natural? Judging from the pilot, it seemed like that conflict could possibly be drawn out for weeks. But, well, nope! For now at least, the matter has been settled. At the end of last night's episode Hilty's Ivy found out that she'd won the role and McPhee's Karen was shown lying dejectedly on her couch with her boyfriend. So! A resolution! And a happy one, too.
Happy because obviously Ivy deserved the role, being that she'd put in so much work and had been hoofing it on the line for so long. Plus she actually sings with a big, round Broadway voice rather than McPhee's/Karen's more metallic pop music belt. It just made sense. The problem is, though, it seems we're supposed to be rooting for Karen, or at least that's how the show was initially packaged. Hilty was added to the promos months after McPhee had been touted over and over again, which could lead one to believe that the intent all along was for McPhee/Karen to become the breakout star. And how did the show subtly, or not so subtly, telegraph that to us last night? By having Ivy sleep with the director the night (or something) before getting the part. We're probably not supposed to think that's the sole reason she got the role, but it certainly puts a mark on her, one that the sweeter and chaster Karen doesn't have. She gently rebuffed the director's advances in the pilot episode, meaning that, had she earned the role, she would have earned it the right way.
This is all analyzing minutia to perhaps a silly extent, but we do wonder how much the show will value its own innate sympathies versus those of the audience. Everyone we've spoken to seems to heavily favor the Ivy character — she's more real, she seems fit for the stage, she drinks wine in her apartment alone (relatable!) — over the pure-and-pretty-as-cornsilk Karen. Maybe this dynamic will change, it would be interesting to watch that Black Swan/White Swan flip-flop a little, but we are nervous that they've given Ivy the early lead just so we can watch her stumble and crumble as the season goes on. Not that she's being painted as a sadsack villain or anything, far from it, and not that we don't necessarily trust the writers to trade in a lot more gray than black and white. It's just, c'mon. We need a hero to root for here. And we're worried they're going to push for McPhee in a big way.
Though, it is also possible that creator Theresa Rebeck and her writing team have learned something from the Team trend — Team Jake vs. Team Edward, Team Peeta vs. Team Gale, etc. — and they'll simply pose two good options and let us decide. Trouble is, even with that egalitarian and almost democratic setup, they eventually have to choose who wins in the end. And while we ultimately might not be happy with the outcome (gooo Ivy!), we're enjoying the journey so far.
Now if they could just get rid of the neglected boyfriend and the lame adoption storyline and give the gay character something to do other than root for his straight female friends, that'd be great, thx.