The good news: Smash will live to belt again this fall, albeit without current showrunner Theresa Rebeck. The bad news: Unless the series makes some major changes, many viewers might not stick around to watch Karen clench her first Tony while Ivy glowers in the audience.
As my colleague Ken Tucker noted in his review — and I noted in my full recap — last night’s episode represented a new low for the show. But the issues that plagued “The Coup” aren’t exactly new; they’re the same maladies that have been dragging Smash down since episode 2. How can the show’s team ditch what doesn’t work and help Smash reach its full potential? I’ve got five suggestions:
1. Turn the camera backstage — and keep it there
Smash is unquestionably at its best when it’s exploring the ins and outs of creating a Broadway show — think rehearsal scenes and Tom and Derek’s backstage bickering. The superfluous subplots about Julia’s quest to adopt a baby, Julia’s son getting arrested for smoking pot, and Julia’s family doing anything are, well, superfluous. Cut or curb the offstage drama, and Smash will feel a lot more focused — not to mention a lot less soapy.
2. Ditch the awkward pop numbers
In an attempt to attract the Glee generation, each episode of Smash features at least one scene designed to push iTunes singles. These cover-song sequences are unnecessary at best and eye-roll-inducing at worst. Every time, the writers are called on to invent absurd reasons for why they’re happening — how many bars in New York actually have stages?
If characters must burst into song outside the rehearsal space or the theater, it would be more palatable if they at least sang show tunes. Numbers from contemporary shows like Spring Awakening are poppy enough to hang with the best Top 40 fodder, so they’d still work as iTunes bait. Plus, Smash could give extra exposure to songs that we haven’t already heard a hundred times…especially on Glee.
3. Lighten up!
When Smash is funny, it’s really, really funny. Remember when Tom improvised songs about Leo’s arrest? Gold! Unfortunately, since the show is overstuffed with freakouts and drink tossing, moments of levity can be few and far between. Let witty characters like Tom and Derek get their quip on, and maybe we’ll be laughing too hard to notice when Ellis is lurking behind a doorway — again.
4. Let Karen be bad, and let Ivy be good
In “The Workshop,” Ivy sniffed that Karen gets everything handed to her on a silver platter. We’re not supposed to take this comment as gospel — but it’s true nonetheless. Karen is good-hearted, morally upstanding, innocent, and talented, all of which conspires to make her a boring character. But if Karen started showing a few flaws — not defects that are really strengths, like “She’s too nice!” — she’d instantly get 100 percent more interesting. Derek says that Marilyn Monroe needs to be portrayed with edge; so does Karen.
If Karen got a little savvier and a little less perfect, then there would be no reason for Ivy to be written as a petty, snotty diva. At the beginning of Smash‘s run, Ivy was warm, funny, and sympathetic. There’s no reason why she can’t become that character again. Smash‘s central conflict between Karen and Ivy would be much, much deeper if viewers felt torn between both women. The writers don’t have enough faith in their audience to let characters or situations be ambiguous — but ambiguity is exactly what Smash needs.
5. For the love of Sondheim, give Terrible Ellis the boot
A recap commenter notes passionately that the preppy, eavesdropping assistant should be “eaten by a wild boar.” Though I can’t condone violence, I wouldn’t exactly be sad if, say, he suddenly moved to Alaska to spy on a bunch of wild salmon.
What do you think, PopWatchers — can Smash be saved? And what suggestions would you add to my list?