My favourite show at the moment is Smash. And about a week ago some terrible news reached me, Smash had been moved to Saturdays and was very likely to be cancelled. I wanted to be surprised by the news but sadly I wasn’t.
Smash has undergone quite a change since the end of the first season. In part because it’s show runner Theresa Rebeck was told to step down and Josh Safran the previous show runner of Gossip Girl took her place. Why was Rebeck told to step down? It’s a plot that would have been suited to Smash itself. The gossip is that Rebeck ran the show like a dictator and like most fascist dictators had great trouble delegating. She was writing every episode, not using her writers room which was full of experienced TV writers, and she was disagreeing with the studio left, right and centre. How it went down is actually fascinating but this review is more about what happens next.
For more on why Rebeck got the boot: Read This
So it’s out with Rebeck and in with Safran and the show is free from it’s dictator but it has a lot of problems. I would like to state here that these problems exist according to the studio and the critics. Not according to avid fans of the first season like myself. I’m not about to say that the first season was perfect or without a touch of the ridiculous about it but it certainly didn’t need the massive overhaul it got.
But when there’s a lot of pressure to reboot the series in a new direction, can you change things without undermining your current audience? Can you attract a new audience in a second season? Maybe you can but this show certainly didn’t.
There first move was to cut the fat. They got rid of Julia’s son, ditched Julia’s husband in the first episode and exited the comical evil genius that was Ellis, never to be seen again. Essentially cutting the melodrama out of Julia’s life and making her a single character again. They also ditched Dev, Karen’s boyfriend making her a single character.
So far so good, it’s an obvious rule of TV that single characters can have much more fun than characters embedded in long term relationships. So far Julia and Karen’s single status has been a breath of fresh air. Plus Ellis was annoying everyone so I would say all of these moves were positive.
A move which didn’t work so well was splitting the show into two musicals. In an attempt to get a more modern feel to the music of the show, a new original musical called Hit List emerged with young ‘Rent’ sounding type songs. Karen meets a young composer and nursing a little crush introduces him and his writing partner to Derek. Derek is also nursing a massive crush on Karen and so helps the pair get their musical made. Throw in some very confusing drama and politics on Bombshell and all a sudden, Karen and Derek have quit Bombshell and staring and directing in this fledging musical.
The writing to this point is clumsy at best and really feels like the show is back peddling in an attempt to get out of the basic premise of the series. It seems like the writers are purposefully trying to make the audience care less about Bombshell, almost saying ‘we think this series has problems so we’re going to give you another musical that isn’t tainted by last years drama’.
The writers are also sending this message of distance from last years plot with a few minor jokes. For example when Tom tells Julia it’s time to ditch the scarves which she wore all last season and when Ellis’ girlfriend (who makes a quick appearance to tie up his storyline) says it turns out he was gay. Both of these moments implicitly point out some of the weirdness of previous season. But is insulting a show that many people enjoyed and didn’t really critically question, in the shows best interest. To me it almost mocks people for enjoying the show previously.
But the most disturbing move is the subtle changes in characters personalities. Karen who all last season was a good girl who wanted nothing to do with Derek, is now such good friends with him that she sees him outside of work and can’t work in a musical because he’s not directing. Karen also drops her broadway dream, Bombshell, because she’s in love with an annoying composer and can’t work with Tom. Karen was previous pretty good at taking it on the chin which was something to be admired. Where did she get this attitude from?
Derek has also changed since last season. He was the scum bag who would sleep with everything that moved, treat his actors terribly and torture them as every turn. How he’s so obsessed with Karen, he’s threatening her potential love interests. The old Derek was better than that. He also loved Bombshell, he wouldn’t have quit without a fight. The old Derek would have made things go his way with subtle manipulation, not go storming about like a bull in a china shop.
The changes in Tom are also problematic, he’s undermining Julia’s excellent script for a more commercially viable one. He’s now a director, who is desperate to please and then suddenly happy to screw Ivy over by hiring her mother. Then the next minute he’s desperate for her love again. All this drama only serves to undermine your confidence in Bombshell and make you dislike Tom as a weak attention seeking idiot when really he really should have stayed where he was, as a composer and Derek should have kept directing.
All this leaves you with is a show, so changed that it’s almost unrecognizable. And the audience can’t help but feel a little alienated.
Now I know, I have been pretty harsh. But Smash is still one my favourite shows. It still has a lot of offer, like great acting, beautiful music and hot sexual tension, particularly with whoever Derek is with. Plus it gives a fantastic insight into the dog eat dog world of Broadway, from being a actor, director, producer or writer. You really feel like your getting the scoop from the horses mouth.
But the problem with this reboot is it’s too much of a reaction and doesn’t take into account a lot of things that were great and didn’t need fixing. This show is getting better but it needed to get better straight away if it was going to survive, and instituting the massive work of second musical didn’t achieve that. And so it will most likely be cancelled. It’s a pity because despite everything a lot of people love this show, including me and it could have been great.
One last thought, Rebeck may have been a terrible leader but in my opinion the show was better with her in charge. And now it’s on the chopping block, maybe she can finally have the last laugh.