If ever a TV series did not need professional reviews, it’s Smash, the backstage musical about Broadway that begins its second season tonight on NBC at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. I’d never heard the term “hate-watching” before watching Smash while simultaneously eyeing my Twitter feed, a stereo experience that made Smash much more enjoyable.
As Smash-watchers know, the creator and show-runner of the series, Theresa Rebeck, was canned at the end of Season 1, and went back to Broadway (My suspicion is that her play Dead Accounts was written in a vengeful mood), replaced by Joshua Safran, best-known for his work on “Gossip Girl.” For the second season, several of the most ridiculed characters have been eliminated, Debra Messing’s scarves have been thrown out (I have no idea why they disturbed so many people) and several new characters have been added, including a songwriting team portrayed by stage regulars Jeremy Jordan (“Newsies,” “Bonnie and Clyde”) and Andy Mientus (“Spring Awakening” tour and “Carrie” revival).
Many TV-watchers and theatergoers are surely itching to weigh in, but the professional television critics got a head-start — viewing advance copies of at least the first two-hour episode. What do they have to say about Smash Season 2? The reaction so far is mixed. The most negative review so far comes from Mike Hale in the New York Times:
“…the show was no good right from the start…The surprising thing about “Smash” was that a show meant to capture the magic of live theater could be so lifeless: flatly written, with a creeping sanctimoniousness and a middlebrow sensibility that seemed to reflect Hollywood’s idea of what would please a Wednesday matinee audience….Broadway is a vicious, thrilling, glamorous place, and “Smash,” beyond some outré moments, has been small, wan and polite, more Hallmark than Bob Fosse…[T]here are not many signs that the show is taking a turn toward anything better — more realism, more audacity, less sentimentality.”
Other reviews were more positive. Here is a summary, based on Metacritic, arranged from most positive to most negative:
Look, the haters are still gonna hate — that’s a given — but what “Smash” really needs are lovers: Viewers passionate about the story, cast, music and especially that roiling insane magical universe of New York theater.
This two-hour opener doesn’t quite hit that mark — even with JHud on board and bookended by a pair of rousing musical numbers by the series’ two certifiable stars, McPhee and Hilty. That’s because it spends so much time repairing self-inflicted damage from last season — damage that had turned some of the key players into unlikable jerks who slept with the wrong people or too many people.
In Tuesday night’s episode, they become humanized and get their comeuppance at the same time. “Smash” is also a little less “let’s put on a show,” more “let’s figure out a TV narrative.” That’s the most practical direction, but it also makes it all feel a little more earthbound.
A partially successful reboot, with less music, more story
San Francisco ChronicleDavid Wiegand
It’s rare for shows this broken to get fixed… but thanks to some tough decision-making and the arrival of a new executive producer, TV’s backstage musical “Smash” is back and again ready to become the hit it deserves to be.
The second season kicks off with a terrific two-hour show Tuesday night that should be a textbook example to other show runners on how to bring the audience along as you make significant changes to a troubled show.
Entertainment WeeklyKen TuckerSmash is still prone to howler numbers… But without moments like that — and continuing cameos…Smash would not be the Smash we sorta love/sorta cringe at. Like the Marilyn Monroe musical it’s trying to mount, the drama treads familiar ground in a quirky, high-stepping way that you can’t resist watching. B
Rob OwenJudging by three episodes sent for review, these course corrections work. Admittedly, it’s a long way until the end of the second season, and “Smash” could develop a whole new set of problems, but at least some of last year’s errant plotting is under control.
The Detroit NewsTom LongMaybe this will all become coherent. But then maybe it shouldn’t. Sometimes messy is better.
Slant MagazineDaniel GoldbergWhile it’s easy to forget the show’s shortcomings whenever McPhee or Hilty belt out one of Bombshell’s stellar original songs or Jimmy croons a heartfelt power ballad, that’s ultimately not enough to absolve the series from failing to let its most tenable narrative take center stage.
The first season of “Smash” resembled a Broadway show, with a promising overture and an interesting first act, which falls apart after intermission. A new showrunner and various tweaks haven’t righted the ship, as the Marilyn Monroe musical and the TV series it serves share several flaws. Cast changes and additions (a la Jennifer Hudson’s new diva) can’t obscure a skein whose soapy doings drown out its tunes, and where even the music often comes across as flat. NBC might view the program as a success, but creatively speaking, it’s time to write this off as a squandered opportunity.