“Everything that I’ve done has turned out so wrong. What if I can’t fix it?”
When Julia says the above line towards the end of the first hour of Smash‘s second season premiere, it’s hard to ignore the self-awareness of it. After all, this is a show that had a famously troubled first season (and a well-documented one at that), and a fairly large amount of hype to which it had to live up.
To say that expectations were high going into this year’s season premiere would be an understatement (to view my own personal assessment of those expectations, click here). So, let’s jump in and see how it went.
The premiere was essentially two separate episodes. The first, “On Broadway”, is definitely the stronger of the two, as it has a lot to do and high stakes at that. It wastes no time, opening with an awesome musical montage to a new song called “Cut, Print, Moving On”, which might as well be the episode’s mission statement. Karen’s got a new reputation and a new roomie (Krysta Roderiguez). Ivy is dumping the pills. Julia is going to make a go of things with Frank. Eileen finds a theatre. Some of these things will end horribly.
So, looking at Act 1 of the premiere:
The Good - The above-mentioned montage. The appealing Krysta Roderiguez (who gets little more to do than chorus friends Bobby and Jessica but apparently has a better agent). Andy Mientz’s nice-guy new addition Kyle. Derek, who is still the most watchable part of this show (God bless Jack Davenport).
Jennifer Hudson, who belts a fun little number called “Mama Makes Three” in her show and joins Kat McPhee on the title tune. “Broadway Here I Come” is a cool song (Joe Iconis is behind the music for the Jeremy Jordan musical).
The Bad - Eileen’s husband is basically a cartoon super-villain (at one point he actually ominously texts someone “proceed with the plan”). There’s a very silly subplot about Sam considering turning down the Book of Mormon tour to be with Tom (which would qualify as the dumbest thing ever). The fact that poor Ivy is just beaten down and beaten down until she just cain’t be beaten down no more!
The Ugly - “On Broadway” was…not good for our leading lady. Look, I like Kat McPhee’s voice, but putting her in a duet with J Hud was a huge mistake, especially on a song that is definitely geared more for a brassy sound. Also, Frank’s plot-driving meltdown in the episode made me feel so bad for Brian D’Arcy James, and I am happy to think that he is now finally free to pursue other, more awesome work. Finally, much of the talk about what went wrong with Bombshell was Julia’s book. Julia is the proxy character for Theresa Rebeck. Yeesh.
Moving on to Act Two, (or Episode 2, “The Fallout”), we see a Derek struggling with his women/lawsuit problems, Julia afraid to get out of bed, and Karen wooing the promising songwriting team of Jimmy and Kyle with talk of the Broad Way and Her Famous Friend Derek.
Where to begin on this half? Oy. I did not like. Tom and Julia’s entire subplot hinges on this horrible sitcom-esque lie about an American Theatre Wing dinner, and that they get to make a big speech! It was practically a parody of itself. Karen has somehow turned into this mentor figure for Jimmy and Kyle, when in reality she is an unemployed actress with one out-of-town credit. For some ungodly reason, Derek Wills magically teleports inside a Robert Palmer video to be reamed out by all his exes.
Most critically, and detrimentally, there are huge problems with Jeremy Jordan and the character of Jimmy. Here’s the thing: he sounds amazing, sings like a dream. I bet the dude is a solid actor. But, and as an actor myself I am so so sorry to say this, he is just not good on this show.
I’d blame the direction, but people around him are getting their character point across. I get what the writing of the character is going for. Can’t blame the stage-to-screen transition itself because Christian Borle, Krysta Roderiguez, and Andy Mientz are looking fine. But Jimmy, as played by Jordan, is an unappealing, harsh, borderline-sociopathic skeeze-bucket. I imagine we’re supposed to be picking up on sparks between him and Karen, or see this as some kind of protective shell. However, that is just not clear here. So, when he has his outburst about how they want to “do it on their own” and “don’t need anyone’s help”, he just comes off as a whiny little hipster (it doesn’t help that he’s established as living in Green Point, Brooklyn). It is a wholly unappealing character. Maybe he just needs a Newsie cap.
The one positive I can fall back to about episode 2 is this: in the end, when the creative team gangs up to perform “Moving the Line” in front of the Theatre Wing crowd, it’s actually pretty fun. There’s a caper-y energy to it, Megan Hilty sings her face off, and as the gang leaves arm and arm, I think, “yeah, I’d watch a show about these folks working together”. Call it the “anti-Jordan”.
Maybe that’s the big problem with Smash‘s return. For all the fixes and character deletions, it also lost what actually worked in season 1 – the bits in rehearsal where professional people did their jobs well and it was interesting. Meanwhile, new problems have arisen in NEW clichéd personal stories and DIFFERENT unlikeable new faces! I fear Josh Safran has cured several symptoms, but missed the diagnosis of the disease.
Until next week, folks, have a good one!
“Oh come on!” – in response to the stacking meltdowns and mishaps at the party.
“Oh Tom, did you pack something warm for your trip to the moral high ground?”
“Julia the adulteress is an ambassador but the serial seducer isn’t?” – on not receiving an invite to the Theatre Wing dinner.
Smash airs on Tuesdays, 10pm on NBC.