Smash - Season One
Are you Team Ivy or Team Karen? If you have no idea what the question means let alone your answer but were looking to be able to understand your theater geek friends’ Facebook posts, skip the "Smash Season 1" DVD set and find the series on some on demand streaming service or catch it when NBC inevitably reruns it before the second season’s debut.
However, if you’re already a "Smash" fan, especially if you persevered after the infamous Bollywood dream episode, then you should particularly avoid spending money on this set. Yes, you can use it to pinpoint the exact moment the season’s decline started, but the extras and special features are so skimpy that those hoping for a ’behind the scenes’ look at the show about the making of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe will be epically disappointed.
Created by Teresa Rebeck, a writer whose work includes the recent Alan Rickman Broadway play "Seminar" (and who will not be running "Smash’s" second season) and with original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the Tony-winning team of Broadway’s "Hairspray," "Smash" started out strong. "American Idol" runner-up Katherine McPhee and actual Broadway star Meghan Hilty each shone as actresses competing to make it big by landing the plum role of Marilyn Monroe in a new musical. The original songs were good ("Let Me Be Your Star" from the pilot in particular and just try to get the Marilyn/DiMaggio duet "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" out of your head). There was the possibility for both onstage and backstage drama. The show starred Debra Messing and Angelica Houston for crying out loud.
But then Messing’s lyricist character of Julia was saddled not only with a baggy and unattractive wardrobe but a tiresome family and awkward affair with one of the show-within-a-show’s cast members. The show’s writers, so determined to create tension by creating bad guys, not only saddled Hilty’s Ivy with a diva complex but also a drug problem and then had her sleep with rival Karen’s (McPhee) boyfriend and made production assistant Ellis (Jaime Cepero) so bitchily ambitious that he spiked the smoothie of a tone-deaf and peanut-allergic movie star with peanuts. And then apparently a couple characters had minor strokes or were tripping on something because Karen had that bizarre Bollywood dream and director Derek (Jack Davenport) started having visions of Karen as Marilyn herself. Yes, things got a bit ridiculous.
Still there was enough good with the first season of "Smash" that if the new showrunners can focus on what did work -- like the renewed focus on actually showing the making of a show and not the characters’ less interesting personal lives or more original numbers that advance the plot (Ivy’s beautifully agonizing delivery of "Let’s Be Bad") and fewer pointless performances of pop songs in Times Square -- there’s hope for Season Two.
Unfortunately, there’s no hope for the DVD’s special features. There are one or two deleted scenes for each episode, but all were wisely cut and only one is of any interest. Broadway legend Bernadette Peters guest starred as fictional Broadway legend Leigh Conroy, Ivy’s mother, cajoled into singing when she visits her daughter in rehearsal. The deleted scene features a terrific performance by Peters of "Rose’s Turn" from the musical "Gypsy" (Peters had starred in a revival of the show several years earlier). Peters can certainly sell that song, but a better and more ironic choice for her "Smash" character was the song that aired, "Everything’s Coming Up Roses," also from "Gypsy." Much as she disliked her mother stealing the limelight, Ivy likely wished she had had a stage mother like Mama Rose.
The DVD set also has some highly unfunny goofs and limp featurettes: "A Dream Come True," ostensibly about the making of the series but more about a few interviews where one cast or production team member gushes about another, and "Song & Dance," with scant interviews with Shaiman and Wittman and series choreographer Joshua Bergasse. The lack of any actual rehearsal footage is truly appalling (Guys, if people are interested in watching your series at all, they’re very interested in seeing how a show is put together). It’s also truly a missed opportunity to have no interview with Uma Thurman, guest starring as the movie actress who temporarily takes over the lead role in the Marilyn musical.