You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


There's a lot to like in "Smash," a new NBC drama chronicling the launch of a show about Marilyn Monroe, and the various parties -- including two appealing ingenues vying for the lead -- drawn into its orbit.

Julia - Debra Messing
Derek - Jack Davenport
Tom - Christian Borle
Ivy Bell - Megan Hilty
Karen - Katharine McPhee
Dev - Raza Jaffrey
Frank - Brian d'Arcy
James Ellis - Jaime Cepero
Eileen - Anjelica Huston

For cynics, TV taking on the musical format represents elitist myopia — an assumption that people patronize Broadway in sufficient numbers to support primetime television. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like in “Smash,” a new NBC drama chronicling the launch of a show about Marilyn Monroe, and the various parties — including two appealing ingenues vying for the lead — drawn into its orbit. Though clunky in places, at its best the series captures the essence of what the movie version of “A Chorus Line” didn’t, providing an illuminating window into the creative process. Although everyone might not “get” musicals, most can understand people’s need to harbor hopes and dreams.

Of course, to live up to its name — even by the standards of a network that hasn’t caught many breaks of its own lately — “Smash” will have to thread a rather daunting needle. Fortunately, subsequent hours (in a cable-like maneuver, NBC made four episodes available) are every bit as strong as the first, establishing solid soap opera elements around the key characters — and, crucially, managing to inspire empathy for the two young women, played by Megan Hilty (“9 to 5: The Musical”) and “American Idol’s” Katharine McPhee, making it tempting to root for both.

They are, naturally, only part of the show’s machinery, which includes a writing team (Christian Borle and Debra Messing) hungry for a hit, an imperious director (a perfectly cast Jack Davenport) and a producer (Anjelica Huston) who has just split from her philandering husband (“Rubicon’s” Michael Cristofer).

Although among the bigger names, Messing’s character quickly emerges as one of the weaker links, especially concerning a “who cares?” subplot involving her stay-at-home husband (Brian d’Arcy James) and their efforts to adopt a baby from China.

By contrast, the core competition for the central role — the potentially career-making opportunity to play Marilyn — proves compelling, and both McPhee and Hilty unleash the kind of Broadway belts that in a theater, anyway, can send chills running up the spine.

Yet if the show is about their yearning — and as the episodes progress, no small amount of their insecurity — there’s also the little matter of the cost associated with what they do for love, whether that’s being asked to make a latenight trip to a director’s flat or (in episode two) disappointing a boyfriend when his work function suddenly conflicts with her audition.

Similarly, in a later episode, McPhee’s character visits her native Iowa, where she encounters supportive friends and skeptical parents, with a fine guest turn by Dylan Baker.

Created by Theresa Rebeck and featuring a mix of established songs as well as original ones from producers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”), “Smash” will draw inevitable but misguided comparisons to “Glee.” That’s because the tone is completely different, mostly in flattering ways. And if that means less likelihood of appealing to teenage girls, it does offer some hope of attracting (and retaining) more discerning older viewers.

How many remains the rub, and despite no shortage of promotion, this could easily be another one of those classy-looking network shows with caviar credentials and basic-cable ratings. Like a big Broadway show, it’s a gamble, with no certainty of paying off — and no out-of-town tryout period.

Nevertheless, given the talent that occasionally bursts off the screen, if “Smash” can sustain the high notes struck by McPhee and Hilty, one would hope (to borrow a favorite show tune) there’s a place for them, somewhere.

Popular on Variety


Production: Credits: Filmed in New York by Madwoman in the Attic and DreamWorks Television in association with Universal Television. Executive producers, Steven Spielberg, Theresa Rebeck, David Marshall Grant, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman; co-executive producers, Rolin Jones, Julie Rottenberg, Elisa Zuritsky, Jim Chory; director, Michael Mayer; writer, Rebeck.

Crew: Camera, Shelly Johnson; production designer, Jane Musky; editor, Andrew Weisblum; music, Shaiman, Wittman; music supervisor, Jim Black; choreographer, Josh Bergasse; casting, Bernard Telsey. 60 MIN.

Cast: Julia - Debra Messing
Derek - Jack Davenport
Tom - Christian Borle
Ivy Bell - Megan Hilty
Karen - Katharine McPhee
Dev - Raza Jaffrey
Frank - Brian d'Arcy
James Ellis - Jaime Cepero
Eileen - Anjelica HustonWith: Michael Cristofer.

More TV

  • Atmosphere71st Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations Announcement,

    How to Watch the 2019 Emmy Awards Online

    The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards won’t be one to miss. Whether you’re a “Killing Eve” fan eager to see co-stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer face off in the same category, a “Veep” enthusiast excited to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus potentially nab the honor of most Emmy wins of any performer in history, or a “Game [...]

  • Actor Aron Eisenberg during the Creation

    'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' Actor Aron Eisenberg Dies at 50

    “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” actor Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog in the 1990s series, died Saturday. He was 50. His character Nog, who appeared for all seven seasons, was a member of the alien race Ferengi, and joined Starfleet after a recommendation from Captain Sisko. Eisenberg returned for a guest spot on “Star Trek: [...]

  • ALL RISE -- A drama that

    TV Review: 'All Rise' Starring Simone Missick

    Finding a new way to do a legal procedural is such a difficult prospect at this point that it would be hard to blame TV for giving up entirely and just going on autopilot. “All Rise,” however, both indulges the basics of the genre and finds some refreshing ways to twist them into slightly new, [...]

  • An Emmy statue stands outside the

    Expect High Heat and Traffic for Emmys Sunday

    If you work in TV, are a fan of TV, or are in fact a TV yourself, the 71st Primetime Emmys promise to be a treat. Television’s biggest awards show takes place in Los Angeles on Sunday night, with some of Hollywood’s brightest stars set to appear as the entertainment community honors the best of [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun

    Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun Rights

    Viacom has sealed a deal with Sony Pictures Television for the cable rights to “Seinfeld” starting in October 2021. The deal comes on the heels of a blockbuster new deal between Sony and Netflix for the streaming rights to the beloved NBC sitcom that also begins in 2021. “Seinfeld” reruns have been a staple of [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content