To the unfocused eye (or ear), the new NBC musical drama Smash is the next Glee. It’s Glee 2.0. It’s NBC’s version of Glee. If Glee is for teens, Smash is for adults. It’s GLEE!
I’m here to say, no, Smash is not Glee 2.0. It is not just for adults (and Glee is not just for teens). I’m here to say that Smash is without a doubt the anti-Glee. (By the way, this is coming from a huge Glee fan.) In interviews leading up to the premiere, Smash producers have talked extensively about the comparisons.
They do start by giving thanks to Glee for opening the doorway for other musicals to make their way to the airwaves instead of just being relegated to the big screen or to Broadway or other theaters. But they then transition into saying that Smash is nothing like Glee. And again, I’m here to say that that is exactly true.
Let’s Burst Out in Song … Or Not
Since both shows are musicals, let’s start with the obvious comparison: music. The generality of including music is the only similarity. But when you delve more into the specifics of the music and the use of the music, we come to a parting of the ways.
Over the course of the past two and a half years, Glee has morphed into a musical that brings the songs to the forefront and they seem to come up with storylines based on those songs. That’s not to say they do that every time, but that’s the consensus of what fans think of Glee now. The members of New Directions (and at times the adults) sometimes spontaneously burst out in song, the way you would see it happen in something like Grease or High School Musical.
Smash, on the other hand, doesn’t burst out in song just because they’ve gotten the rights to those songs. There were only thee full performances in the pilot, not including the little snippets of Karen on “Over the Rainbow” in the opening, Ivy in the recording studio or the terrible Marilyn auditioner.
The use of the music is meticulously laid out and thoroughly crafted to fit realistically into the storylines. The three full performances in the pilot were “The National Pastime,” “Beautiful” and “Let Me Be Your Star.” They fit into the storyline in a realist manner and each had a purpose to them.
To add to this point that Smash doesn’t heavily rely on the music, look no further than the halfway point of the pilot. That’s when the first performance began. That means at least half of the episode was filled with letting us get to know the characters and the storylines. I applaud the producers for this decision. Some may have thought the first half was a tad boring or slow, but I found it to be anything but. I found it highly refreshing.
“Loser Like Me” vs. “Let Me Be Your Star”
Speaking of the music, how powerful was that final number during the Smash pilot, of “Let Me Be Your Star”? Both Glee and Smash have provided us with original songs. But the showchoir hit has only used them sparingly. Smash will rely more on originals. From what I’ve read, each episode will feature originals about half the time, and the other half with covers. I love this idea.
Where’s the Auto-Tune?
If you listen to Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty’s voices in the pilot, you may have noticed that their singing voices sound normal. Fans have complained countless times about the overuse of Auto-Tune on Glee. There have been times when their voices have not sounded humanly natural (not counting the purposeful use of Auto-Tune on “Telephone” and possibly one or two others).
In the three songs from the Smash pilot, I heard no use of Auto-Tune. In a scripted show, you are obviously going to edit and perfect the vocals so nothing sounds wrong. But Smash allowed their naturally powerful and beautiful voices to show through without gimmicks.
Is Smash the Anti-Glee?
We are only in the opening stages of this show, whereas Glee has had a couple years to morph into what it has become (the changes, though, started about half a season to a season in). So my whole argument here could become moot and pointless with time. Glee‘s Ryan Murphy got a little ahead of himself once the show became hugely successful. My hope is that no matter the level of success that Smash has, it will continue down this trend the pilot (and the subsequence three episodes that some critics have viewed) has started.
Smash is about the creation of a Broadway musical. And there are real-life Broadway people working on this show behind-the-scenes. They know what it’s really like to craft these shows and they know the internal struggles and drama that occur within that world. As far as I am aware, Glee doesn’t have any showchoir people working on their show. That’s why Smash is the anti-Glee — because they’re going to provide a spectacle that we haven’t seen before in primetime, not even from Glee.
(Image courtesy of NBC)