Is it possible to produce a mildly amusing primetime musical drama that doesn’t take place in high school or involve over- the-top singing? Yes, and ladies and gentlemen it’s called “Smash.” In the pilot episode, viewers enter the parallel universe where everyday joes can afford spacious Manhattan apartments with immaculate kitchens, New Yorkers actually take evening strolls in Times Square, and a 24 year-old struggling actress gets her big break by singing a Christina Aguilera song.
The show opens with Karen Cartwright (Katherine MCPhee) belting out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at an audition, only to be interrupted when the director answers her cell phone. After Karen’s failed tryout, we get our first glimpse at Ivy Lynn, a curvy blonde also out for her big break.
Karen’s girl next door looks haven’t gotten her very far in New York, so she waits tables to make ends meet. And she also lives off of her handsome boyfriend Dev (Raza Jeffrey) who holds a cushy job at city hall. All this worries her Midwestern parents, who on their latest visit to the big city, try to convince Karen yet again to move back home. But Karen is determined to make it.
“Sometimes dreams are hard,” she tells her dad. Yes, but sometimes sweetie, dreams don’t mix with reality,” he retorts.
Meanwhile successful Broadway songwriters Julia and Tom realize they just can’t take their planned sabbatical from Broadway — not when they get the idea to produce a musical based on Marilyn Monroe. After all, Marilyn was married to Joe DiMaggio and this means they “can do a baseball number.”
This creates slight friction at home for Julia at home. She and her husband are trying to adopt and they had previously agreed she would take a break to increase their chances of getting a baby.
But Julia just can’t say no to Marilyn. And that’s good news for the blonde Ivy. Tom immediately considers her for the role of Marilyn and records a demo of her singing the musical number he and Julia managed to write in no time flat. All of Broadway is abuzz when a video of the performance is leaked on the internet. Heavyweight producer Eileen (Angelica Houston) shows immediate interest. Eileen has some major drama of her own. She and her soon to be ex-husband are in the middle of a bitter divorce battle and he has threatened to freeze all of her assets.
But the show must go on! Eileen enlists the help of Derek, an egocentric director and enemy of Tom. When it’s time to cast Marilyn, Tom is pushing for Derek to choose Ivy. But as chance would have it, nerves get the best of Ivy who rushes to the bathroom just as she’s about to audition. So Karen takes her spot in line and wows the judges with her breathtaking and passion-filled rendition of “Beautiful.” Karen and Ivy both end up getting callbacks for the part. But who will ultimately be cast? You’ll have to keep watching to find out or you could just take a wild guess.
But if you’re like me, you’ll actually want to tune in next week. The premiere of “Smash” was well-written, moved at a good pace and the song breakouts were kept to a minimum. Much like the NBC comedy “Whitney,”"Smash" was heavily touted by the network, almost to the point of exhaustion. However, unlike "Whitney," "Smash" actually lives up to the hype. A star is born indeed.