Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pilot Script Review - Smash

Network: NBC
Written By: Theresa Rebeck
Draft Date: January 12, 2011
Pages: 63

Oh, honey. No. Just, no.

I try to find silver linings in these reviews. I really do. But I just thoroughly, completely, 100% dislike this. The plot follows a number of different people who will, eventually, be involved in some way in a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.

Unfortunately, a number of these people are, um, awful. Like, I totally understand that it's the entertainment industry (the "legit" side, anyway) and you have big personalities and creative difference (believe me, I know all about creative differences). But give me something to love. Please. I'm begging you. Otherwise... why do I care if this group of people succeed at bringing this apparently genius idea to fruition?

This doesn't try to be a Glee-print in the Broadway world, which I'm thankful for... but in a way, I wish it had taken SOME of what made the Glee pilot work and put something similar into effect. We're not exactly rooting for a group of misfits, here. And the supposedly show stopping song and dance numbers, which are meant to wow us, fell completely flat for me. Poorly selected songs that say nothing about the characters singing them. And I *like* musicals (though I'd hardly call myself fully-versed on the world of the Great Whit Way).

The weird thing, here, is that I think the pieces are present. They're just put together in an extremely unappealing (if, again, real feeling) way that's all about their outside lives and often not even tangentially about THE SHOW.

First, there's beautiful blonde Karen, struggling to even land bit parts on stage and in soap operas. She waits tables and has a charming boyfriend who works at the mayor's office. Who doesn't love the story of a struggling ingenue finding a way to succeed? But while I do root for her... she doesn't really do much until the very end to try and take her destiny into her own hands. And even that is very much leaning on the extremely "dark" side of what the entertainment industry, and acting, can be about. This isn't her story whereas, I'd argue, Glee is very much Rachel's story despite our entrance to the world through Will.

Next we have Ivy, mid-30s, a chorus line girl who should've broken out as a star, but hasn't for some reason. And now... she may be too old to do so (at least as Marilyn). While her predicament is certainly realistic for the world, it's not exactly fun to watch.

I'm not entirely certain what the hell Stephen is doing in this script. It's evident at the end that he'll be playing Joe DiMaggio in the musical. His plot revolves around he and his wife bickering over their schedules and taking care of their son.

There's Eileen, a 62-year old producer in the midst of a nasty divorce with her producing partner who has to let go of projects thanks to her ending marriage, and latches on to this Marilyn idea to show that she's down but not out. She gets things going, perhaps too quickly, and may put the entire production in jeopardy because of that. Eileen, I like. I totally understand where she's coming from with the things she does. She feels like she has something to prove, and so is rushing things. Unlike our two above actress and the actor characters... Eileen at least has some role in moving the plot along due to her human flaws and foibles (this is a character piece, after all) and yet she remains likable.

On the flip side, we've got Derek, a homophobic director. Yes, there are several times this is pointed out and how weird it is for the world he works in. He's willful and opinionated, as directors are wont to be. He's got a bit of sleazy to him, too, and because he has the choice between the Marilyn musical and an indie film, it can feel like his way or the highway. Again... realistic, I think. Just not really that fun or entertaining and I'm certain I don't want to invite him into my home / on my television on a weekly basis.

We're getting to the heroes of the piece, fear not: Tom and Julia. They're a writing team coming off a successful (if ill-titled) show and taking a break for various reasons. Julia and her husband are trying to adopt a child and Julia's husband things that would be impossible if Julia is working, as she barely sees her family (they do have kids) when she is. Tom... I'm not sure what his deal is, though I don't think he's thrilled to be taking a break. He and Derek had words 11 years ago (I assume they were in the homophobic range, as Tom is gay), so he's unhappy about Derek directing, and they get into creative flights. Tom also is a manslut and sleeps with a few people through the pilot, one a dancer, the other I'll get to later. I want to enjoy Tom and Julia's interactions in a Will and Grace way, we're told they have the kind of familiarity that only comes with years of friendship, but their shorthand is just kind of... impenetrable. Plus Julia has all her drama with her husband that fleshes her life out... but doesn't even remotely seem related to what's supposed to be the big draw here: putting on a show about Marilyn Monroe.

Who's bright idea was this? It was Ellis's idea. He's Tom's personal assistant, new to New York, a good-natured midwesterner. He has a habit of adopting other people's stories as his own. While Tom was out of town (pre-pilot), he was house-sitting and saw a book about Marilyn and left it out. When he goes to clear it away, they see and start talking and Ellis suggests she'd make a great musical. They immediately poo-poo it, it's been done, it was a flop, etc. But then Julia goes home and can't get it out of her head and, well, how many stories happen when characters say "no"? So, later, Tom and Julia are recording a demo of a sample and Ellis, once again, gets the ball rolling by surreptitiously recording the performance on his phone and sending it to his mother (apparently), who then posts it to YouTube and it gets around. And suddenly, something that was just a lark and a half-baked idea becomes The Idea. There's no turning back. You buy Ellis doing this because he has his heart in the right place and he's so new at this. You do. And then, at the end, for no reason at all, after lots of Tom and Julia talk about Tom not being able to sleep with Ellis because Ellis is straight (and has a girlfriend or at least a casual sex friend)... Ellis sleeps with Tom. Why? He says "It might be useful." And suddenly... the character is ruined. I don't understand what he did or why and he hasn't shown himself to be calculating in the least. Just, sort of, dumb and lucky with things he does out of instinct being the right thing to do at the right time. I don't know. Maybe there's more here. He got the job because his mother slept with Tom's brother in college (only that's a lie, it's actually his casual sex friend's mother who did that). Is there some kind of game plan here? The script makes no indication, but in this single act totally assassinates Ellis's character. And, really, Tom's. Keep it in your pants, buddy.

That, by the way, happens to be on the last page of the script. It left among the sourest of tastes in my mouth. If I'd been enjoying the rest more, I might have said "okay, maybe they'll cut that unmotivated twist," but with the rest of the story underwhelming as it did... no. Just no.


James said...

Travis, After Ellen gave Smash a glowing review. I don't think Anjelica Huston would have signed up for this show if it weren't good.

Travis Yanan said...

@ James

Quality in entertainment choices is subjective. I like being proven wrong by screeners, because then it was my lack of vision and not the project's failing. We'll have to wait and see. This is merely my opinion about the script.

I suspect Anjelica Huston is playing Eileen, in which case it's a good part for her... but don't count on actors, even those of Huston's renown, to pick either great projects or great roles.

Aaron said...

Travis, whenever you keep mentioning the Glee pilot, It keeps on reminding me how good the show was too what its become now. :(

Anonymous said...

I hope this show gets picked up. It will provide alot of work for dancers / actors in NYC.

Sillyplatypus.com said...

Agree Travis. Pilot had no locomotion. Found myself asking "Why?" a lot. why are you telling me about this character? Or that one? None of what I was reading seemed relevant, nor had any rooting interest particularly been created once we shifted off of Karen's initial audition failure. Just all over the place with no clear goal to grab the reader. Maybe the show will offer enough charms visually or otherwise to overlook the lack of strong story.

Brian said...

Just curious -- what are your thoughts now that you've seen the finished product of the pilot?

Travis Yanan said...

From http://travisyanan.blogspot.com/2011/06/pilot-screener-reviewlets-nbc-dramas.html

Smash: hated the script. Thankfully, a lot of the seedier elements were taken out. The ending was changed SIGNIFICANTLY, which is welcome because it left a horrid taste in my mouth when I read it. There's even a cliffhanger, of sorts... you don't know who has been cast as Marilyn (in the script, it was a foregone conclusion), and there are insanely compelling reasons to route for both of the women who are up for the part. This show belongs to Kat McPhee and Megan Hilty. The songs were changed from the script and feel relevant to the story. "Let Me Be Your Star" is far and away a better original number than any original song thus far on Glee. I don't think this is going to be a show all about "when are they gonna sing a song that I can download?" It just... it came together. It feels special. Hands down, my favorite screener so far. Cannot wait for this show. Hope it's a huge hit. Also hope they can somehow work it out that they only make a clean, crisp, 13-episode season every year that keeps the quality up to a cable standard (only having the 3 writers, and them writing 22 episodes a year, really screwed Glee up after those first 13 in Fall 2009).