‘Smash’ season two: still a high gloss soap opera

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The NBC Broadway backstage drama “Smash” returns Tuesday night after a much-publicized end-of-season-one shake-up last year.

Show creator and executive producer Theresa Rebeck was let go, but judging by the first new episode, it’s hard to see many changes in the series’ engaging mix of soap opera and good New York City color.

As is usually the case with a movie or TV show dealing with a specific profession, the insiders (i.e. lots of Broadway folks and the show queens who follow them) spent last winter complaining about the many factual inaccuracies on view — things like actors exiting a theater without changing into their street clothes and the salary figures an actor might be paid for a workshop production.

I thought most of those criticisms were silly, when it was apparent from the beginning that “Smash” was designed as a soap/serial with the usual cheating boyfriends (and wives), bitchy backstabbings between the leading ladies, and lovers who enter and exit without much rhyme or reason.

The naysayers dealt in the same sort of criticism New York-based TV shows and movies face when struggling characters have nicer apartments than they could afford in “real life” and seem to live and work in a world populated almost exclusively by very attractive, very sexy people who look like actors (!)

I don’t think Rebeck or Steven Spielberg (the power behind the throne) ever intended “Smash” to be the “Breaking Bad” of Broadway.

Although many week-by-week viewers of the first season complained of a decline in quality, I watched the whole series in a marathon viewing and found the episodes to be all of a piece — escapist fun with a more realistic than usual backdrop (the producers asked actual theater world players like Jordan Roth and Michael Riedel to appear in cameos and most of the show was shot on well-chosen locations in the city).

The only real sign of changes on “Smash” in the first episode of the new season is the really clunky way the producers and writers get rid of two of the major male characters — the aspiring actress played by Katharine McPhee is left a kiss-off note from her Indian boyfriend Dev and the writer played by Debra Messing splits from her husband in a very poorly directed, and ludicrously rushed, scene set at a big party (I felt embarrassed for what the show puts exiting actor Brian D’Arcy James through).

The pluses in the new “Smash” include Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson (above) as a nice multiple Tony-winning musical diva (i.e. Audra McDonald) and recent “Newsies” star Jeremy Jordan as a bartender/composer who is working on a Jonathan Larson-style downtown musical. Jordan is set up as McPhee’s new beau (and artistic collaborator) and they make a very attractive couple (below).

And as for Theresa Rebeck, her name is still listed prominently in the opening credits as “creator” and “executive producer.” If NBC and Universal had kept the shake-up secret, no one would have suspected that she wasn’t working on the show anymore.

Joe Meyers

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