TV Review: Smash

TV Review: Smash

The world of the famous takes centre stage in 'Smash'. 

By Mark HadleyWednesday 26 Sep 2012TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

Mark Hadley reviews the new series 'Smash'.

Rating: M
Distributor: Seven Network
Release Date: Tuesdays, 9:30 PM

If you’re old enough to remember, Smash contains a lot of the same hopes that energized the Broadway wannabes in the 1980s TV series Fame. This time around, though, the singers and actors are a lot older and a lot wiser.

Smash is the story of a small group of writers, producers and talent who’ve built their careers around Broadway shows. Debra Messing (Will & Grace) plays Julia Houston, a successful lyricist who is working on a new musical called Bombshell, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Her creative team includes Anjelica Houston as Eileen Rand, a producer and financier, and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) as the brilliant but philandering director Derek Wills. 

Audiences are treated to the expected tension between professional and private lives – Julia is trying to adopt a Chinese baby; Eileen is getting divorced – but the majority of the drama centres on casting the actress who will play the role of Marilyn. The episodes jump between the ten-year professional chorus girl Ivy Lynn and the naïve but talented Karen Cartwright, fresh from Iowa. Both find themselves dancing up to and over moral lines as they consider the price of fame.

Permit me a seemingly random digression…

The first documentary my wife and I worked on together – take note, she employed me – tracked the footsteps of three performers working in New York. Being A Part Of It showed just how much it cost a Broadway lead, a jazz pianist and the first violinist of the American Symphony Orchestra to be a part of the Big Apple. I remember a male star of the musical Jekyll & Hyde telling me, “I knew there were some producers who gave me jobs because they liked me – you know, liked me.” In a sentence he’d revealed the currency of fame: ‘me’. How many hours are you prepared to work? How many relationships will you sacrifice? How many people will you give yourself to, to get into the spotlight?

Smash deftly assembles all of these trade-offs into a weekly hour. While my wife and I were watching the first few episodes of season one, the interviews we’d conducted a decade earlier kept coming back to us. I’ve never seen a program that so well assembles all of those best intentions, dubious characters and compromising decisions that are supposed to load the dice of fame. But Smash captures that ultimate irony too: nothing can guarantee success. The fictitious production Bombshell lurches from one crisis to the next before it finally makes it to Broadway, and no-one can be sure that any of the key characters will be there when the curtain finally goes up, regardless of their talent. The writer of Ecclesiastes observed all of this and offered a piece of wisdom well worth tucking away:

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“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong,
Nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned;
But time and chance happen to them all.”

For a program built around the American dream, Smash does a good job showing just how fragile success can be. Talent and determination are never enough. In fact the writer of Ecclesiastes warns us that if we don’t lift our eyes to the One who actually directs all things, we’ll be doomed to great disappointment under the sun.