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New series debut Monday, Feb. 6: Heard enough of Smash yet? No you haven’t

In television on 02/06/2012 at 9:25 am

Yes, you’ve seen the promos on NBC and CTV enough times that you’re already sick of this new drama. But try it. I think you’ll like it. I love it.

Smash

Debuts:
Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. ET on CTV and NBC, regularly airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET (watch a meet-the-cast sneak preview online right now)

Premise:
Two of Broadway’s most successful musical theatre writing teams decide to write a musical inspired by the life of Marilyn Monroe. Casting frenzy, career victories and disappointments, midlife crises, and the messiness of new love, old love and old rivalries ensue. Cue the band. Also, might be interesting to Google All About Eve.

Cast:
Christian Borle (The Bounty Hunter) is Tom Levitt, one half the genius writing team. The common-sense half. Single. Who has just acquired an eager assistant.
Debra Messing (The Starter Wife, Will & Grace) is Julia Houston, the neurotic half of the writing team. Also wife, mom. Got baggage.
Katharine McPhee (Shark Night 3D, The House Bunny, American Idol) is Karen Cartwright, the dark horse in the race for the lead role in Marilyn. Sing it.
Jack Davenport (FlashForward, Swingtown) is Derek Wills, petulant but brilliant director. Nothing but trouble. Also other stuff.
Megan Hilty (Desperate Housewives, The Closer) is Ivy Lynn, the top contender in the competition for the lead role. Shall we say she’s … living it?
Anjelica Huston (Medium, Huff, The Royal Tenanbaums) is Eileen Rand, producer. A barracuda with a cocktail. Lives for theatre. Not that there’s much else going on in her life.
Jaime Cepero is Ellis Tancharoen, Tom’s new assistant. Hmmm.
Raza Jaffrey (Mistresses, Spooks) is Dev Sundaram, Karen’s devoted non-theatre-type boyfriend. Bedrock.
Brian d’Arcy James (Rescue Me, Person of Interest) is Frank Houston, husband to genius writer Julia. Also bedrock. Maybe a little erosion…
Steven Spielberg (Terra Nova, Falling Skies, The United States of Tara) and Theresa Rebeck (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Canterbury’s Law) are among the exec producers, with Rebeck pulling a lot of writing duty as well.

Review in six words*:
Previewed four episodes. Watching again live.

Real review:
I hate musicals. They’re not all horrible. Just not my taste. Also, too often the music takes you right out of the story and then plunks you back. Unpause. Narrative continues. But Glee has worn me down. It doesn’t plunk. I find myself smiling a lot for the pleasure of the music and performance, but also how the music is used to extend the viewers’ knowledge of the characters and story. Nice.

So Glee definitely put me in more of a mood for Smash, but I think I would have loved it anyway. And i do love it. The entire cast is excellent. The music is just enough and not too much. The story grabbed me not for its grandeur – I expected something called Smash would go way over the top in the first episode – but for its intimacy. In the first hour, you get small scenes with most of the main players that hint at the complexity of their connectedness. Tom and Julia (Borle and Messing) are the core, immediately believable as longtime partners and best friends. Made me think West Wing, without the speedy patter.

Having said that, Messing’s Julia is not yet convincing as Tom’s creative equal, though I’ll forgive that (for a while). Tom’s new assistant? I’ll also forgive the torquing of melodrama there, hoping it will go somewhere not too overwhelmed with soap bubbles. Another weak spot is Julia’s husband or, more accurately, her marriage. Work it, my dear. It’s not quite there yet.

Funtime:
You might want to be a star, might you? Well the show’s Facebook page wants you on the cover of Playbill, the program that comes with every New York theatre show. This app allows you to jam your own photo on the cover.

* The six-word conceit is inspired by Smith Magazine’s six-word memoir series, in which they invite people to submit six-word memoirs, often on a theme such as Father’s Day, and then publish them. Lovely. Wonderful. An excellent exercise in boiling stuff down. Which I don’t do often enough and thought I’d try here.

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