'Smash' Review: The Making of a Musical Sensation
'Smash' Review: The Making of a Musical Sensation
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
If you've ever wondered how a Broadway musical gets made, from soup to nuts, Smash is the show for you. NBC's dazzling new musical drama (premiering Monday at 10pm) effortlessly achieves a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe. The large ensemble, breathtaking musical numbers and attention to detail help make it one of the best new shows of 2012.

As the series begins, musical writing partners Tom and Julia (Christian Borle and Debra Messing) decide to take a break from the fast-paced world of Broadway so Julia can adopt a baby. That sabbatical is short-lived when Tom's new assistant (Jaime Cepero in a scene-stealing debut performance) mentions that Marilyn Monroe would make a good musical.

That single idea is the inspiration for the series, and one of the many joys of Smash is watching it unfurl into a full-fledged production. At each step the show offers a glimpse of how a Broadway musical comes together, like when Tom gets excited that Marilyn was married to Joe DiMaggio because "We could do a baseball number."

Smash then introduces all of the key players in the production, each so well-crafted and multi-dimensional that I would gladly watch a TV show about any one of them. Angelica Huston plays the big-time producer going through a nasty divorce and Jack Davenport is deliciously mean as the womanizing director who has serious tension with Tom from a previous project.

Then it's time for auditions and that's where Smash's dueling leading ladies come into play. Megan Hilty is stunning and a true breakout star as Ivy Lynn, the hard-working chorus girl who sees this as the chance to finally step into the spotlight she deserves. Her primary rival is Karen Cartwright (American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee), a newbie to the stage who makes up for her lack of experience with tons of charisma.

The musical performances by both stars are brilliant and part of what makes Smash so darn good is that there isn't a clear frontrunner. Ivy isn't just the one-dimensional mean girl standing in the way of Karen's dreams, she's a character who wants and deserves it every bit as much.

In just one hour, Smash succeeds at fleshing out the fascinating world of Broadway. It gives us characters we want to know more about and stories that feel real and emotional. It's rare for a TV show to be so good from the start, but Smash is.

There are sure to be Glee comparisons since Smash also features singing, but those would be unfair. Glee is a splashy, silly teen melodrama with pop songs designed to sell CDs. On Smash, the songs only appear when absolutely necessary to the plot, and the story is far more adult and serious.

The real test for Smash is going to be its difficult time slot. Monday nights at 10pm are dominated by two very successful shows, Castle and Hawaii Five-0. Can Smash find a new audience and become a hit? Or will it flop like so many other shows in this time slot (The Playboy Club, for example)? I hope it finds an audience, because Smash is a rare gem, a thoughtful, mature, fascinating look at a world we don't get to see a lot of on television.

You can watch the full series premiere now.

Smash airs Mondays at 10pm on NBC following The Voice.

(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)