Over at the New York Times, Charles Isherwood explores why, after two seasons, Smash lost its way with the public.
“Why tempt the showbiz gods by calling your show Smash in the first place? A $10 fortune teller on St. Mark’s Place might have steered the producers away from that choice. Perhaps it was hubris of Hollywood players to whom people rarely say no.
Also in the fate-tempting department was the decision to place at the center of the show a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. Those who follow Broadway know that an actual musical about Monroe ranks among the most notorious flops of the 1980s, which was a vintage decade for notorious flops. The real Marilyn: An American Fable churned through all sorts of personnel changes and turmoil before opening at the Minskoff and closing after only 17 performances, racking up a total of zero Tony nominations.
Sadly, watching most of the numbers from Bombshell, as the Marilyn musical in Smash was called — and once again, really, ‘bomb’? – I had the uneasy sense that I was discovering just how impossible it must have been to make a non-cheesy musical about such a complicated and celebrated figure. Although Mr. Shaiman and Mr. Wittman are skillful and smart songwriters, their ingenuity was soundly defeated by the inability to avoid all the obvious clichés of the well-worn Marilyn storyline.
Enter Hit List, the downtown musical that was brought into the plot line this season to provide a rival for Bombshell. Exit more credibility. This supposedly edgy show, hatched at a theater modeled on New York Theater Workshop, where Rent began (exterior shots were filmed there), was a flashy pop spectacle that tried with a panting desperation to ride the exotic coattails of Lady Gaga, and of course felt every bit as authentic as a teenager vamping before the mirror.
Tellingly, the funniest Smash joke didn’t happen on the show itself, but on NBC’s late, great 30 Rock. During the finale of that show’s penultimate season, after the travails of Smash had already become fodder in industry circles, Tina Fey’s character Liz gave proof of her unshakeable loyalty by exclaiming to her boyfriend, ‘Hey, I don’t bail, I’m still watching Smash!'”
After a troubled second season, Smash will not be renewed by NBC, it has been confirmed. The final episode will air on May 26. Katharine McPhee told the Hollywood Reporter:
“Sure, I wish that it could have five more seasons, but we had two great seasons and all I can say is I loved every moment of it. I loved getting to the set, I loved the people, I loved my crew. We did amazing things on the show in two years.
With this business, you can never predict what people are going to like or love or hate. All I know is that when the show started and people were so excited about the pilot, I was excited to finally be a part of something that could showcase me. Everyone has perceptions about what you’re capable of and what you can do and this show was a huge gift.”
Season 2 of Smash has seen falling ratings and a downgrade on US TV schedules. However, fans of the show have been glad to see Ivy (Megan Hilty) regain her role as Marilyn in the musical, Bombshell. The twelfth episode, ‘Opening Night’, has now aired, and Smash will continue on NBC every Saturday, while the season finale – a double episode – will air on Sunday, May 26th.
Bombshell, the fictional Marilyn musical that is the subject of hit TV show Smash, is now available on CD and for download. And for fans of the show, Smash returns to US screens for a second season next week.
The season finale of Smash has now aired in the US…
“Hilty is the real genius in the Marilyn role — even Anjelica Huston knows that, even if she couldn’t sway Derek — and if I were here, I would be contemplating the fistful of pills as well. The show wants us to care about Karen and to despise Ivy, who sleeps with other people’s boyfriends and tries to sabotage everything. But the best person in real life is not always the best person for the job, especially when it comes to show business. I hope that next season they let Ivy redeem herself and take her place. Bernadette Peters needs something else to do besides look devastated.” – Los Angeles Times
“There’s no denying that some people have that essence that just makes them watchable — Monroe, maybe more than any other actress, had it, was luminous on screen for reasons beyond just looks. But in trying to tell a story about that ‘it’ factor, ‘Smash’ actually ends up being about another aspect of stardom entirely, one that’s about the people dictating it rather than about who’s on screen…foisting a character on the viewers and insisting that despite how they might actually feel, that she’s the one to love.” – IndieWire
The penultimate episode of this season’s Smash aired in the US last night, reports the Wall Street Journal.
‘The show ends with Marilyn’s death… but there is no applause…only Leo and Frank applaud and then everyone else joins in…but because they have to, not because they want to.
Afterwards Bobby says “First preview, something always goes wrong.” “Like no applause?” Karen asks? And there’s Dev waiting for Karen — he needed space and she apologizes and whoops there’s Ivy…
Meanwhile there’s a meeting of the minds – Tom says you can’t end a musical on a suicide, Julia says that’s what she did, she killed herself and Derek says there are a lot of theories out there about how Marilyn Monroe died (some even say it was murder — Marilyn was only 36 years old when she passed away). Eileen plays peacemaker and suggests a reunion with her younger self — Norma Jean. Eileen is hell bent on making “Bombshell” run forever to standing ovations every night. And she wants a new ending by Monday morning.’
This latest episode is the first to be filmed since the series began airing, and features Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) in Marilyn mode:
‘Movie star/Bombshell star Rebecca Duvall grappled with mounting performance anxiety, and Derek slithered into her dressing room to urge her to use her insecurities to better understand Marilyn, and to revel in her own star power, too. “It’s your escape from the terror,” he insisted. (Srsly?) Rebecca then donned (not entirely convincing) Marilyn drag for a performance of “Happy Birthday, Mr. Director” – ”I wonder if she got Karen to coach her,” snarled Ivy Lynn, hilariously — and before you knew it, Derek was all “Marilyn glowed in the light. She was luminous like you.” And Rebecca was all looking for a compliment that went beyond Derek thinking she was pretty. And then Derek used his condescension – ”You, my darling, are a lovely little actress.” — as an aphrodisiac. Next thing you know the director and his leading lady were going at it in the dressing room, with Rebecca’s creepy manager, super creepy Ellis, and somewhat creepy Ivy standing outside, eavesdropping creepily. Rebecca and Derek doing the nasty brings a whole new meaning to “Let Me Be Your Star,” I guess.’ – TVLine
‘“Smash’s” big gamble, starting out, was whether or not anyone would care enough about Marilyn to care at all about “Bombshell.” The musical-within-a-musical could have been about anything — the Tudor dynasty, contemporary politics, Joni Mitchell, the roaring ’20s, you name it — but they went with an iconoclastic character partly because she’s familiar to a mass audience and partly because she is glamorous and fun and beautiful, qualities the producers wanted to stamp onto their own young stars. The Marilyn story comes with drama already baked in; the high-highs and the low-lows, the rapture and the fame and the suicide. But as the show proves, there are complications that go with Marilyn, and hers is not a story that belongs in just anyone’s hands.’ – Rachel Syme, Los Angeles Times
Blogger and MM fan Bobby Rivers shares his thoughts on TV’s Smash:
“I am a Monroe fan. She was not a belter in her movie musicals. Not like a Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli or Kristin Chenoweth on Broadway. Marilyn Monroe was not designed for theatre. She created herself for intimacy with a movie camera. She cooed. She purred. She was a satiny jazz baby singing ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘. But she wasn’t a belter.
In ‘Smash’, she’s a belter. And the “Smash” Marilyn doesn’t have that sexy subtlety. Instead of pushing her dress down when the breeze from the subway blows her dress up, the NBC Marilyn assertively lifted her skirt up in a number without any breeze at all. But they probably had to add that kind of brassiness to make the Monroe character work onstage and play to the MTV-generation folks in the balcony. The ‘Smash’ version of the Blonde Bombshell seems more Joey Heatherton than Marilyn Monroe.
Joey did movies and musical work on TV shows. Joey could belt a tune. She could dance. She hurled sexy in your face like a custard pie. She hoped to follow in Monroe’s footsteps starring in ‘Sugar’. That was the 1972 Broadway musical version of ‘Some Like It Hot’.”
Megan Hilty – alias Ivy Lynn in TV’s Smash – will play another MM-related character, Lorelei Lee, in a new production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to be staged at the New York City Center from May 9-13.
Incidentally, Rachel York – cast here as Lorelei’s best buddy, Dorothy Shaw – played Marilyn last year in an off-Broadway musical, Me and Miss Monroe.