'Smash' Needs to Go Full Drama

NBC's once promising, now struggling Smash should drop the attempt to be a savvy look backstage, and just fully embracing the camp and going for out-and-out soap.

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Last night's episode of NBC's once promising, now struggling Smash featured former boy bander (brother bander?) and current Broadway star Nick Jonas in a guest-starring role. It would be hard to classify this as stunt casting, as Smash's demographic and Nick Jonas' don't exactly synch up as we see it, but there was something winking about it that made us wish the show was like this all the time. Really, Smash would be best not in attempting to be a savvy look backstage, but in just fully embracing the camp and going for out-and-out soap.

Jonas's presence on the show — all husky crooning and silly sexiness — was only part of the show's glimmerings of real camp/soap potential last night. The real showstopper here is shaping up to be, duh, the rivalry between our blonde and our brunette, that eternal struggle between vamp and ingenue, sinner and saint, black swan and white. Up until last night the show had mostly played the Ivy v. Karen duel as a Chorus Line-style rivalry, as a vaguely inside-baseball showbiz tale meant to highlight the difficulties of the acting life. Which is all well and good, a noble effort to be sure, but unfortunately the constraints of a network television program don't let the writers actually tell that story that way it needs to be told. But an amped up, borderline ridiculous contest between two needy show people, as we perhaps saw start to emerge last night? Ok, we'll take that! We'd prefer the former, but that's so far proved too difficult to execute, so we'll have to go with the latter. Smash should keep turning up the dial on all of this nonsense if they want to quicken the show's pulse and get audiences hissing about it again.

They also need to find more fun things for Angelica Huston — who, as she forever indelibly proved in The Witches, can most certainly camp it up — preferably stuff that's a far cry from wistfully selling a Degas painting to fund this Broadway workshop. Again, were we actually getting a serious industry tale here, that could be fine. But Smash is just not believable enough for that, so why keep trying? Make Huston's character a bon vivant drunk or a conniving she-monster. Sure that kind of show is almost assuredly not what Huston signed up for, but she could learn to like it! Hell, she'd have to. Presumably she signed a contract, right?

Another crucial change that needs making is this: Guys, if you're going to insist on putting non-Marilyn the Musical-related song and dance numbers in your show, then just put song and dance numbers in your show. Isn't it awfully convenient that they're always going to some root-toot Broadway bar where everyone sings and does choreography all the time? Or that the British director dude had a bday party for Jonas's character that included a full band and a performance by Mr. Jonas himself? What kind of birthday party is that? Silliness. Just can it with the explaining of the musical numbers all the time, Smash. If you want singing in the show, just make the damn characters sing whenever they please. Glee, a show Smash (or any other show) should in no way be emulating but still, eventually eased up a bit on the restrictions of singing reality and has been better off for it since. I know Rob Marshall came along and used Chicago to tell everyone that spontaneous musical numbers can never actually just exist, they can only be imagined or whatever, but I'm here to tell you that doesn't have to be true. People on Smash can, and probably should!, just break out into song Oklahoma-style whenever the heck they want. Because who cares? On the new campy/soapy version of this show that we're envisioning here, there are so many fewer rules. How liberating, right?

Surely some Smash fans out there will find all this to be blasphemy, but oh well. We're sick of waiting for this show to get rock-solid and become the West Wing of the Broadway world. Let's just take the easy off-ramp to Camptown and just call it a day, OK? It was a noble effort — to try and tell a serious, realistic theater story on NBC — but it just doesn't seem possible, not this time around anyway. Maybe on HBO. (If only they'd picked up that Patti LuPone/Norbert Leo Butz show from a while back. Remember that one? Sigh. Though, new hope?) Smash is running out of good will with lightning speed, so something's gotta change. Roll out the episodes you've got in the can, guys, and then get to pizazzing this thing up. It might sting a little in the beginning, but we think it'll taste mighty sweet in the end.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.