When I first heard about Smash, the NBC drama that goes behind the scenes of a fictional Broadway musical, I figured it would be a lot like Glee. But it's not like Glee at all. In fact, it couldn't be any less like Glee if it tried...
About the only thing Smash (which is televised Monday nights at 10 ET, right after The Voice) has in common with Fox's Glee is that both shows are centered on music.
To me, Glee seems more like a live-action cartoon because the characters, although fleshed out over time, are more like caricatures than real people. Glee also is fast-paced, breezy, and rife with snappy dialogue and auto-tuned pop songs.
It also doesn't fit neatly into any genre, which is both good and bad. Good because it's more things to more people. Bad because award shows don't know how to categorize it. When the show started in 2009, a discussion among some members of the Television Critics Association had us questioning whether it was a drama or a comedy or a musical. I guess it's all three.
But Smash fits squarely into the musical drama category, with bits of comedy tossed in here and there. It's slower paced than Glee and includes a mix of original songs and Top 10 hits. It's also unlike any show I can think of, which is partly why I'm so in love with it. The characters seem like real people, only with enough soapy drama to make it fun for viewers.
For those who have yet to sample the series, the story follows the making of a fictional Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe (though, given that Smash has been renewed for a Season 2, don't expect it to stay fictional for long). It's written by the successful songwriting duo of Tom (Tony Award nominee Christian Borle) and Julia (Emmy winner Debra Messing).
I missed the whole Will & Grace craze, but I do love Debra Messing. She seems like the kind of girl who'd sit down and have coffee with you.
Julia recently began the process of adopting a child with her husband Frank (Tony Award nominee Brian d'Arcy James), but despite her best efforts to take time off, she finds herself smack in the middle of this musical.
As you might imagine, there's more drama behind the scenes than on stage, starting with a big rivalry between stage veteran Ivy Lynn (real-life Broadway star Megan Hilty) and youthful ingenue Karen (Katharine McPhee, runner-up on American Idol in 2006, seen at right). Anjelica Huston plays tenacious producer Eileen, who's divorcing her husband and jumps into the Marilyn project with brilliant-but-egotistical director Derek (Jack Davenport).
One thing I love about Smash is that even if you've never been to a Broadway musical and, say, live in the north woods of Michigan and have only done community theater, the show makes you feel like you're part of the in-crowd.
Most members of the cast have been involved with Broadway shows, and there are little in-jokes here and there, as well as real-life Broadway stars like Bernadette Peters showing up in the cast. And there are plenty of frothy suds to keep even disoriented daytime soap fans happy: steamy affairs, marital rifts, bitter divorces, juicy gossip, back-stabbing rivalries, nasty drug issues, nail-biting auditions, financial woes, and a running joke about Anjelica Huston's character throwing a drink in the face of her ex.
And all that was just in the first episode!
Seriously, though, there's a lot to love about Smash, which is why from the minute I screened the pilot last fall, it immediately became must-see TV for me.
Parents Should Know: Smash is rated TV-14 (language, sexual references), and the rating is spot-on. The main concern here is sexual content, which begins with a casting couch scene in the pilot and escalates into affairs, implied intercourse, kissing, and assorted love scenes, including gay lovers in bed together. It's based on Marilyn Monroe, so expect seductive dancing and singing, as well as social drinking and a few drug-related storylines.
Jane Boursaw is a syndicated entertainment writer specializing in family movies and TV. Visit her at Reel Life With Jane or email email@example.com.