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Smash: Season One

Universal // Unrated // January 8, 2013
List Price: $44.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 13, 2013 | E-mail the Author
A bright spot in a time period where network TV seems to continue to lose ground to cable ("Game of Thrones", "Breaking Bad" and a number of other newcomers), "Smash" has managed to be a much-needed standout for NBC's line-up. At its core, the series isn't anything audiences haven't seen before, but the series manages to bring a great deal of talent to the table and strong performances and writing help lift it above the norm.

The series may appear as if it's coming after the success of "Glee" (and singing shows like "The Voice", which sometimes feels as if it's on 8 days a week) and trying to capitalize on the musical genre, but it's clear after watching the series that this is not only a different animal, but it stands on its own quite well.

The Spielberg-produced series stars "American Idol" runner-up Katherine McPhee as Karen, a somewhat mouse-y young woman with a big voice, who decides to try out for "Marilyn: The Musical", a play run by a troubled producer, (Angelica Houston, terrific), a demanding director (Jack Davenport, last seen in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies) and a pair of songwriters, Julia Houston and Tom Levitt (Debra Messing and Christian Borle). Karen's key competition is the much more experienced and worldly Ivy (Broadway veteran Megan Hilty.)
The series winds through the competition between the two potential leads and into the production of the play, making for a series that often (and enjoyably so) feels like it's more about the journey than the destination. While the series occasionally wanders off a bit (an adoption subplot is a snoozer), the backstage drama remains snappily paced and involving. The show's tone is also highly appealing - a show that could have easily gone over-the-top instead does a fine job playing quiet moments and genuine emotion. It is a little concerning that the show's creator, Theresa Rebeck, has decided not to continue for season two at all and a former "Gossip Girl" executive has been brought in to run the show.

As for the acting, the series makes for a perfect fit for McPhee, who'd previously found herself in junkier fare like "The House Bunny." Her character is supposed to be the naive one from the Midwest, but McPhee and the writers have come together to create a fully realized character that feels real and charms the audience instead of being a "golly gee" stereotype of the small town girl in the big city. McPhee isn't the world's greatest singer, but she's a good singer and "Smash" shows she's a capable actress. She's got a great on-screen presence, and gives the series a lot of heart at its core.

The same can be said of Hilty, who moves from the stage to the small screen smoothly with this highly enjoyable performance. The same can be said in her case, as well - Ivy could have been the "villain" going up against Karen - but isn't. While I'm not familiar with her Broadway career, she's (very) clearly a natural during the performances.

The supporting performances are terrific, especially Houston and Messing. Messing continues to remain underappreciated, and this is another likable effort from the actress. Houston, as per usual, makes her terrific performance as the distressed producer seem almost effortless. Production values are first-rate, and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman offer memorable tunes.

"Smash" isn't flawless, but it's mostly a delight (and this comes from someone who doesn't even like musicals.) The series exceeds expectations and surprises, offering an entertaining, unexpectedly subtle (compared to what it could have been, at least) take on fame and Broadway.

1 1-01 06/Feb/12 Pilot
2 1-02 13/Feb/12 The Callback
3 1-03 20/Feb/12 Enter Mr. DiMaggio
4 1-04 27/Feb/12 The Cost of Art
5 1-05 05/Mar/12 Let's Be Bad
6 1-06 12/Mar/12 Chemistry
7 1-07 19/Mar/12 The Workshop
8 1-08 26/Mar/12 The Coup
9 1-09 02/Apr/12 Hell On Earth
10 1-10 09/Apr/12 Understudy
11 1-11 16/Apr/12 The Movie Star
12 1-12 23/Apr/12 Publicity
13 1-13 30/Apr/12 Tech
14 1-14 07/May/12 Previews
15 1-15 14/May/12 Bombshell

VIDEO: "Smash" is presented by Universal in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very nice presentation of the series that will likely please fans. While a few minor instances of artifacting were noticed at times, the picture otherwise looked clean and clear, with satisfactory sharpness and detail. Colors also looked first rate, with no smearing or other faults.

SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack delivers as much as one could expect, given the material. Surrounds kick in during the outdoor sequences to deliver a pleasing amount of background city ambience. The rear speakers are also called into action more noticeably during the musical numbers, reinforcing the tunes. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, well-recorded music and well-recorded, natural-sounding dialogue.

EXTRAS: The extras don't exactly have much... razzle dazzle. We get an assortment of deleted scenes (most of which rightly ended up on the cutting room floor, I'm guessing due to pacing), gag reel (sorta funny) and a couple of featurettes: "Song and Dance" and "A Dream Come True". Both are basic promotional fare, offering some minor tidbits of interest about the show but nothing too terribly memorable. For fans of the series, there could have been a lot more - I'm sure there's rehearsal footage and other behind-the-scenes footage around somewhere.

Final Thoughts: Some of the subplots wander and the season starts to get better after it gets warmed up, but overall, "Smash"'s first season is powered along by fine performances from a solid cast. The DVD set provides very nice audio/video quality, as well as a few minor extras. Recommended.
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