When ‘Smash’ premiered, I was one of the most vocal fans of the show. I begged folks not to compare it to the other musical entry on TV, ‘Glee.’ “They’re apples and oranges,” I wrote, full of conviction. And based on the pilot episode of Smash, I was right, as it was original, inspired and fun. But then episode two aired, and three, and four – it soon became painfully clear that Smash had more in common with Glee than just some “singin’ and dancin’.” Unfortunately, those similarities are mostly bad. So I’ve had to eat my words and admit it: the two shows couldn’t be more similar if they purposely tried; and both are stuck in a pattern of awfulness at the moment.
For instance, both series have given us spectacularly one-dimensional characters. (I’d say two-dimensional, but that’s too complimentary.) And I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, but Glee’s characters actually have some depth compared to their Smash counterparts. On Smash, we have been given every stereotypical Broadway caricature there is: the innocent ingénue (from IOWA, no less), the cynical, womanizing director, the gay songwriter, the insecure, ambitious starlet, etc. At least on Glee, the high school seniors have some uniqueness, like the closeted gay football star or the lesbian cheerleader with a huge chip on her shoulder. But even with that, Glee’s kids have also progressively gotten so over-the-top campy, that it’s impossible to take them seriously. Just like on Smash.
More significantly, though, there aren’t a whole lot of likeable characters on either show. Even those that may have started out sympathetically have proven to be rather self-absorbed and annoying. I honestly can’t name a really rootable character on Smash. It’s not Karen, the Iowan ingénue, because she’s just so dull and lifeless, it’s hard to care about her. (I’m a huge fan of Katharine McPhee, but that character has no backbone.) And it’s not really Ivy, Karen’s arch-rival, either, because she’s so needy and insecure, she just grates. Ironically, Derek, the egotistical director has become the most likeable, but I don’t know that’s intentional. But by default he wins, because he’s the most realistic character of the lot.
Glee also made the mistake of damaging their core characters. Sue Sylvester, who used to be a funny foil to the goodness of Will, is now just an overbearing cartoon. But since she’s now dealing with a later-in-life pregnancy, she’s mellowing? Seriously? Kurt has become insufferable, too. What happened to the sweet boy from Season One? Now he’s this rather shrewd, cunning, not-so-nice guy. It’s a problem, because without characters an audience likes and approves of, there’s not a lot of reason to maintain interest. Just like on Smash.
Both Glee and Smash also suffer from the same lack of, well, anything originally realistic happening. Even the “high drama” is too ridiculous to be greeted with much more than an eye roll. With Smash, the ‘big’ drama was Julia’s affair with Michael. But the whole thing was so absurd; I don’t think anyone watching even mustered an eyebrow raise. For weeks, Michael essentially stalked Julia and seemed utterly obsessed with her–calling her relentlessly, showing up at her home unannounced, etc. When Julia finally broke off their affair, Michael was completely heartbroken and devastated… until the next episode, when he calmly told Julia he would never jeopardize what he has with his wife and child for their affair. Huh? Continuity department, anyone?
Similarly, Glee also needs to find a grip on some sort of stability with the storytelling. The most insulting gap occurred with Quinn getting crushed by a truck in the mid-season finale cliff hanger. It was shocking and jarring and I thought it meant a significant shift in Quinn’s storyline. Let’s face it, she was smacked pretty good. Surely she was dead, or at the very least, severely injured? Well, not so much. Because when the show picked back up, Quinn was in a wheelchair, sure, but only temporarily, because her spinal cord was just compressed, not severed. And all her ‘plumbing’ works fine, too. How convenient! And what a copout! Use a cheap stunt to shock viewers and keep them on edge until the show returns. And then have it go absolutely nowhere. Just like on Smash.
The other similarity between the two shows is actually a point in their favor and that’s, you guessed it, the singin’ and the dancin’. There are some supremely talented folks working for both productions and the musical numbers are well-produced, awesomely choreographed and fun. As a former choir/theater geek, I not only relate, but approve. Unfortunately, both these shows have to fill time between musical numbers. It would be nice if those periods were filled with well-written, entertaining stories. It would also be nice of those stories were somewhat believable, with a realistic ensemble of characters.
The scuttlebutt is that Smash will undergo some “re-tooling” during their hiatus – thankfully not a moment too soon. This show started with such promise and I hope it can re-kindle that initial magic. I’m still watching, so I haven’t given up hope yet. But Glee may have just run its course. The kids graduate this year and I’m thinking that would be a fine place to put a period on the Glee sentence.