NBC’s Smash is overly dramatic

Broadway musical enthusiasts know that the full experience entails seeing the program in person. Sure, filmed versions are good and film versions are even better, but they don’t compare to the magnetism of real people on a real stage and sitting in a real audience just yards from the stars. Despite this, that feeling is something that film and television producers have been attempting to capture more and more in the last few years.

NBC’s new show, “Smash,” also tries to capture that feeling of a musical in a TV show. It focuses around the careers of two up-and-coming Broadway actresses, Ivy Lynn (Megen Hilty) and Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) who both audition for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a new musical. In addition to the two main stars, the show follows the lives of the two writers of the musical, as well as the director and producer.

The show starts when two musical writers, Julia Houston (Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle), are struck by an idea to write a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. The idea quickly worms its way into their minds until, before they know it, they’re holding auditions for the part of Monroe. Ivy, who’s spent the last 10 years in minor ensemble roles on Broadway, and Karen, who recently moved to New York from Iowa to pursue her acting dreams, get the two callbacks for the role. The two girls become rivals as they fight for the role.

Julia and Tom, also the producers in “Smash,” set out to make a musical that is different from the ones already on Broadway. They aim to make a musical that both portrays and explores the life of a huge star and historical figure, who was really much more of a complex person than her facade of “Marilyn” would lead someone to believe. In a way, “Smash” also attempts to create something that’s different from other similar shows. However, as far as complexity or character depth goes though, the show fails.

It’s undeniable that there is a lot of talent on “Smash,” both from the actors and the directors (not to mention that Steven Spielberg is an executive producer). Despite this though, the show seems to be slipping quite quickly into cliches. Similar to the other current TV musical, “Glee,” “Smash” seems to be choosing predictable storylines for the sake of drama over smarter and subtler character development. Both shows appear to pick plotlines for their characters based on what will either surprise the audience or convince them to tune in next week, as opposed to creating more realistic characters. While the majority of the character storylines so far seem rather predictable, there are some that are already so cliched that they are actually eye-roll worthy. (How many times has an actress slept with the director to get the part before?)

While in a lot of ways “Smash” does feel eerily similar to a version of “Glee” that is set on Broadway instead of in high school, its music numbers and dance sequences are of a higher caliber. “Smash” uses a combination of original songs and covers in each episode, and they do a good job of filming Broadway style dance numbers in a way that works for television. The original songs are ones that are part of the musical in the show, but “Smash” provides plenty of opportunities for covers of already known songs to be worked in as well. The best part of “Smash” so far is definitely the well-choreographed dance numbers and strong vocals of the two leading actresses.

While “Smash” does have a few good elements, it’s mostly just the average show that falls somewhere between a soap opera and a drama-turned-musical. “Smash” does have enough fluff, humor and drama to become a perfect new guilty-pleasure show. However, if one values realistic characters and well developed storylines, it would be better to look elsewhere.