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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Smash: Season Two
Smash: Season Two
Universal // Unrated // August 6, 2013
List Price: $44.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted August 28, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Smash Season 2 DVD Review


Smash
is an ambitious television series with one of the best concepts attempted in television to date: the series is a musical featuring original songs and new renditions of popular favorites in music, and the songs are highlighted throughout the episodes, while the series tells a story of creating a Broadway musical, as the characters of the show are attempting to make a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, entitled Bombshell.

The main cast included talents who were involved with Broadway theatre, music backgrounds, and high profile television and film productions: Debra Messing, Angelica Huston, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Jack Davenport, Christian Borle, and many more excellent actors of immense caliber and range made up the splendid cast. You get to know their characters as creative directors, producers, writers, composers, and actors working to bring Broadway productions to life.

The problem with all of that wonderful, feat-tapping jazz? The drama behind the scenes. As the tagline on the season two DVD set proclaims, "Follow Your Dream. Watch Your Back.", and that message could probably be said about the production of Smash itself. This was probably, essentially, the main thing that led to the series cancellation following its two year run.

The show premiered to gigantic ratings and over the course of the first season the ratings fell and were not anywhere near what the show began with, and NBC was already beginning to consider writing the show off with cancellation. The show was critically well received though, at least in regards to the early episodes, and there was still a loyal fan-base of viewers tuning in weekly. It was renewed but with some changes in places. Starting with the decision to fire to series creator from working on the show.

Creator Theresa Rebeck was supposedly difficult for the other writers to work with as she was requiring them to send scripts to her for re-writes before they went to production, and this is a show that wouldn't be made with writer-room meetings (which most shows apparently do not attempt, with exceptions being high-profile shows like The West Wing and Mad Men). If the show-runner was really creating all that drama for the other writers, it was never felt on the series. The show spoke for itself as a quality production.

The writing was good. Rebeck is talented, and created one of the best shows that NBC has aired in the past decade. Yet the creative rug was metaphorically yanked out from under her and she was fired from the show because of complaints levied from other writers on the show and also apparently a head producer (not executive producer Steven Spielberg, who apparently wasn't aware the drama was happening within the production).

Thus enters the second season of Smash. The show has some brand new writers (entirely new to the production) and a brand new show-runner who wasn't even involved with the series during the first season outing. The new creative director of the writing became Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl), who began the second season on a bad note which didn't manage to wrap up any of the season one finale cliff-hangers or continuing plot-threads. Instead... REBOOT time began! I wasn't impressed as the show began writing off characters with one sentence write-offs and plotlines were ignored or forgotten. The show felt like a strange, hollow, and cold version I wasn't familiar with and it felt like a giant network-created disaster.

The series I loved was seemingly still around, but it didn't feel the same at all and the characters felt, well, as out of character as one might imagine with a new show-runner who hadn't worked on the show before. The season also began with a much touted multi-episode guest appearance from singer/actress Jennifer Hudson, whose appearance was essentially wasted by having her simply singing songs (however beautifully) while she was supposed to have a good story arc.

Hudson is an immense talent but the writers gave her nothing to work with and she spent most of her run on Smash simply singing songs (admittedly, with near perfection), which was not a thing the series needed when it was trying to retain viewership and find new audience members. What should have been a ratings boost by introducing a cool story arc, simply seemed to feel like the typical network-executive idea: "Hey, as long as we have Jennifer Hudson, we're guaranteed a ratings boost, no matter what!"

It wasn't long before I was feeling like writing off the show as most of the main cast felt like an out of character shell of the former characters that made up the world of the first season.  It's no surprise knowing that most of the loyal viewing audience ditched the show when it started to be something drastically different. Smash was quickly becoming a ratings bomb.

Luckily, the series didn't just continue declining in quality from there.  With much surprise, Safran actually managed to become the "most improved" writer of the show and brought something good to the table in the second half of the season and going in to the ending.  Concluding the show on a good note seemed to be a priority. The show was essentially guaranteed cancellation by that point and yet the last episodes of Smash were notable.

The second season introduced a new plot-line involving some new characters, which is something the show didn't necessarily need. This secondary plot was so bit off-putting, essentially taking away time from the main one: the  creation of the Bombshell Marilyn production. However, it grew on me, and became a good part of the season overall. The developed storyline fit well with the show, but the music was a different thing. The new songwriting for this side-plot involved too many composers; some good, some downright terrible. It also didn't help that a lot of the choreography was new for this new side-plotted musical called "Hit List" and that the series also had multiple choreographers, unlike during season one, where one immensely talented person handled the behind-the-scenes work on a grand scale.

One of the best qualities of the show remains intact. That is the writing duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who continued to write new songs for the Bombshell musical element on Smash and during other key moments of the series. The songs they wrote were great and one essential element to why the show was as good as it was -- the music -- the original music of immense quality that was brought to life by the cast.

At the end of the day, Smash: Season 2 isn't as bad as I thought it might be when I heard the original show-runner had been replaced. Nonetheless, I can't help but wonder if the show is something that would still be on air today with many more seasons to go if the network had simply allowed the show to creatively flourish on its own terms: the creators terms. Yet the series wasn't flawless in season one. Who knows what would have happened with the show.

What I do know is that Season 2 starts off bumpy and with a lot of bad episodes, then returns to being a quality production by the time the second half of the season rolls around. I enjoyed the finish. The last few episodes and the series finale were worth the trip and fans of Smash will certainly enjoy revisiting it after the rocky start is overcome. The series was never flawless. However, it was one of the more ambitious and entertaining shows on television. With the engaging songs, musical numbers, and some memorable characters it was a quality show. Smash's run may be over but hopefully there can be a Broadway revival. One can dream.

The DVD:


Video:

Smash: Season 2 arrives on DVD with high quality transfers of the episodes that mirror the PQ found on the first season set release. The show looks splendid for the most part, with solid PQ which represents the series well, and that will please series fans. During the musical numbers, Smash looks at its absolute best with lush colors and impressive wonderment throughout the presentation. The image has that clean modern television show "look" that works well for it.

Audio:

The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio isn't a showstopper, perhaps, but during the musical numbers it definitely seems to liven things up quite a bit with some nice surround activity and space to emphasize the musical qualities of this show. The sound design is relatively high quality. It certainly impresses for a television show and one in which part of the main attraction is the music.

English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are included.


Extras:

The only bonus materials are "never before seen dance numbers", deleted scenes, and a quick outtakes reel. The dance numbers are essentially rolled in with the deleted sequences to show moments cut from the broadcast version.

There are several deleted scenes included across the season's release, with some deleted footage included on each disc. The cut funny-moments are cute and charm, but are just the typical cast outtakes you can find on any DVD release. There aren't any great making of materials (or an option to select-a-song for standalone playback, which I was hoping for with both seasons).

 

Final Thoughts:

Smash was not a smash hit. It crashed and burned by the series finale, at least when it came to ratings. The first season was generally consistent and high quality for the entire run. Season 2 started off abysmally and went through peaks and valleys where the show was downright bad before returning to a state of generally high-quality production. The series picked back up and managed a good final run of episodes. It's too bad relatively no one watched these episodes as it aired as the show might have been salvageable then. However, the series final episode basically concluded the show on a rather (surprisingly) good note. Fans won't feel like the series lacks an ending.

I will miss Smash. It was one of the best shows created in the past few years of television. There were some bad plot-lines, annoying characters, and the overall quality of the production was in many ways inconsistent. But when it was good, or should I say great, it was amazing, and the show managed to be a fun, thrilling, and memorable musical-show unlike anything else seen with television to date. I love the show and I genuinely hope it can discover a growing new audience on DVD. Because, when you get down to it, Smash really was a 'smash' creation; something downright beautiful, memorable, and  worthwhile.

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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