How Smash Could Become a Different Show
April 17th, 2012
On the one hand, my opinion of Smash remains unchanged since the last time I dropped in on it: this is still a show that does not have a clear grasp on what it wants to accomplish, unable to move beyond the bounds of the musical with any confidence. While Uma Thurman’s arrival as Rebecca DuVall has helped flesh out the musical narrative, building on the detente between Ivy and Karen which makes them both more viable as characters, the show doesn’t know when to quit when it’s ahead: just as Julia’s personal life finishes imploding, Karen’s boyfriend Dev is elevated to a full-blown liability for both Karen and the narrative as a whole.
And yet I continue to watch. Part of me is simply riveted by the tone deafness of the series to its own creative struggles, and wonders how they believe this story should be resolved at the end of the season. However, more prominently, I am legitimately fascinated to see what this show looks like in a second season. Rarely has there been a case where that much hype has turned into this much vitriol, the squandered potential almost overbearing in our reception of the season’s final act (perhaps unfairly, even). And yet, despite all of this, the show has earned a second season since the last time I checked in on it, and so I find myself watching every episode wondering how much of this show, this near-complete mess of a show, will actually remain when it returns next season – the show, as the title suggests, survives on my DVR through its creative rough patches because it is sheltered by this anticipation for what might be to come.
Without entirely jumping the gun, given that the season isn’t yet over, I did want to offer a few thoughts on how the current model might need adjustment in the future, and why I’d argue this puts the show in a far more compelling place moving forward than its narrative alone would suggest.
February 13th, 2012
As is evidenced by the limited output here at Cultural Learnings, I don’t have a lot of free time right now, which is why I’ve been prioritizing watching television (an exercise that I find particularly useful in teaching contemporary television) over writing about television (which, while still something I enjoy, often ends up taking up time that I simply don’t have). As a result, I didn’t review the pilot of NBC’s Smash beyond my initial thoughts after watching the episode on iTunes ahead of its airdate.
However, as Noel Murray has quite rightfully pointed out in his review of tonight’s second episode, “The Callback,” I wasn’t exactly quiet about the show last week. I’m not sure what exactly had me so punch on Monday evening as I watched the pilot for the second time, but I think Noel is right to suggest that I was being “provocative” in my attempts to boil down Smash to its most basic qualities. One of my Twitter followers actually called me on being evaluative so early on, but I did clarify that I didn’t see my tweets as evaluative: the show is still finding itself, which means I’m willing to give it time to grow.
That being said, there is something about the Smash pilot that seemed markedly prescriptive, clearly delineating how we were to feel about the onscreen action despite the inherently subjective nature of musical theatre (and performance in general). While I agree with Noel that parts of “The Callback improved on the exclusivity of the pilot’s narrative, grounding the dueling narratives of Ivy and Karen in more concrete performance styles, the show is still operating with a baseline: while it might be open to your opinion on which of the two performers is better, you need to accept that both of them are world class talents. It’s a notion that I’m still struggling with, and a notion that reflects the problems of narrowly defining and serializing a circumstance that would be considerably more complex (if less immediately marketable) in reality.
“Father Frank, Full of Grace”
March 27th, 2011
By the conclusion of its first season, I would argue that Showtime’s Shameless found something of an identity independent of its British predecessor. This is not to say that the show is better or worse, something I can’t judge given that I’ve seen only brief glimpses of the British series, but I felt as though the first season seemed driven by characters more than versions of characters. Between the work of Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Kenney, the Gallagher siblings feel as though they (if not necessarily the world they inhabit) are real people who I want to see face the challenges that result from their position. Their story never felt like we were seeing someone else’s story transposed onto these characters, as each performer seemed to be driving the characterization as much as any sort of influence from across the pond.
That is a testament to the strength of the cast, and the writers for working with them, but it is only one component of the series’ future. The other side, the part where we consider the world that John Wells and Paul Abbott have created in Shameless’ Chicago, seems problematic as the show heads into an extended hiatus before a second season. “Father Frank, Full of Grace” has some strong moments, but it has already put into motion an enormously problematic return to the status quo which threatens to undermine whatever strong character work might be done.
Or, to put it in other words, it’s already threatening to be just like every other problematic Showtime series.
March 22nd, 2010
I often write in my reviews of the Big Bang Theory that I feel the show needs to spend more time showing me why its central characters are still friends: Sheldon has done enough mean things, and been the recipient of enough poor treatment, that the dynamics of their friendship have more or less been reduced to “because they make a good sitcom cast on good days.”
By comparison, I rarely question the dynamics of the central five characters on How I Met Your Mother, but “Say Cheese” wants me to interrogate why these people are still friends. In the process, the episode takes both Lily and Ted to some unfortunate places, showing sides of their characters which make them seem quite unpleasant.
However, while the Big Bang Theory doesn’t have to resolve its tensions since it will simply ignore the events of one week’s episode in the next, How I Met Your Mother is all about continuity, and by the end of “Say Cheese” they find a way to turn Ted and Lily acting like jerks into a healthy investigation of what it means to be friends. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly strong or enjoyable episode of the show, but it’s another sign that even some unfortunate premises can be improved when the core values of a show and its cast dynamics are there to keep you watching.
February 5th, 2009
Only four days after I was admittedly frustrated by an hour long episode, we have a unique test of my concerns in “Lecture Circuit,” the first of two parts of the same basic episode. What we have, essentially, is an hour long episode split into two parts: we leave most of our storylines at a cliffhanger, and it’s clear that we’re picking this up next week.
As the first half of an hour long episode, this was actually a very well containted episode that despite never really grasping at resolutions nonetheless offers a logical buildup to next week’s conclusion. The episode paces itself very logically: it’s a slow build, and one that isn’t really concerned about breaking new ground, but I enjoyed it for precisely that reason. While the hour-long Super Bowl episode was far funnier, and ultimately the better example of the show’s comic potential, it’s nice to be able to sit back and spend some time with the characters.
“All About Insecurities”
November 11th, 2008
As far as new plot developments go, tonight’s episode of Privileged was not exactly a step forward for the series: while Megan’s college roommate Karen (Everwood’s Sarah Drew) arrives to add a new wrinkle to Megan’s position, the idea of Megan questioning how much her current position supports her talents and her future is something the show has dealt with quite often. While Rose and Sage do end up headlining at a club opening and hobnobbing with guest star Perez Hilton, we knew from last week that there were going to be some hiccups in their academic endeavours once their “careers” took off.
And yet, I actually thought a lot was done within these individual plot elements to give the stories some depth. Privileged is operating on a feather-light structure, one that is dangerously close to being overtapped by my personal estimation, but if the show is able to subtlely move the story along as “All About Insecurities” did I believe that it can do very good things with the rest of this season and beyond.