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Thursday, February 23, 2012

My beef with NBC's "Smash"

In this corner, weighing hundreds of thousands of channel views on YouTube, is "Submissions Only," a hilarious web series about which I gushed last month. It parodies New York's theater audition scene, has great characters, brilliant comedy, and is at the same time procedural and informative. Aaaand in the other corner, with swiftly declining ratings, is "Smash," NBC's soap opera drama that chronicles the mounting of a Broadway musical. There's sex, tears, British accents, lots of montages of Catherine McPhee/Megan Hilty gazing longingly, swallowing their pain, singing through hardship, and reaching for the stars!

Okay, okay, I'll stop being cheeky. As you can probably tell from my preamble, "Smash" is not my favorite show. But, here's the thing: I watched the pilot and didn't hate it. In fact, I liked it. I was rooting for it so hard! It's a TV show about Broadway, for Pete's sake! And that's awesome! 

But since then, my hopes have been all but dashed. As the characters get flatter, and the stakes get lower, and the camera-mugging gets muggier, disillusionment has overtaken me.  

The show's just not working. Here's why.

(DISCLAIMER: I understand only three episodes have aired, so I freely admit that this rant post is by no means conclusive. Let it thusly be deemed cautionary -- an airing of my grievances. I remain hopeful that these train wrecks flaws can be resolved before it gets canceled throughout the remainder of the season. Let it also be noted that I'm no expert on some of these matters; I can speak only from my limited experience in the biz of show, armed with my relative ability as a writer/performer to identify when something rings true and when it makes me want to vom comes off as hollow.)

1. Marilyn Monroe. 

There's a blonde elephant in the room, and it's Marilyn Monroe. Namely: why her? "Smash" relies so heavily on the intrigue of Marilyn Monroe as a person. They're constantly alluding to the contrast between her larger-than-life persona and her quiet vulnerability, threading it like it's some kind of important theme or whatever.

Unfortunately, I agree with the nay-sayers on the show: "Who would want to see a musical about Marilyn?" The sad truth is that she doesn't resonate culturally with this generation of viewers. When the writing duo (played by Christian Borle and Debra Messing) haggle about which characters they should include in their joint work, they mention Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio with such gravitas, as if we should know how and why they are so profoundly important to Ms. Monroe's story.

Except, um, who cares? My level of understanding of Marilyn Monroe has as much depth as a Wikipedia page. That's just the truth. Sorry. And I'm guessing I'm not alone.

So I'm skeptical about where this can go. As long as the show's fictional producer (Anjelica Huston), writers, and actors are so invested in Marilyn, we as viewers will be expected to share similarly heightened feelings. I mean, Megan Hilty's Ivy treats her actor's journey of discovery like it's the most sacred and enthralling pursuit of all time, but I couldn't care less. I feel alienated, and, frankly, bored when I hear her mention it.

I can't really see how this whole Marilyn thing is going to fly, especially if it remains so central to the show. In short, if I were a producer approached to invest in Marilyn: The Musical, I would hold onto my money.

2. Musicals take years to put up, and yet this process is the show's main source of conflict.

Everybody is racing to mount Marilyn: The Musical. Why? The thing is, writing and putting up a musical is the slowest process EVARR. Musicals (like all works of art -- plays, books, screenplays) go through many drafts and iterations. In theater, this happens in the form of table reads, staged readings, workshops, and then maybe -- just maybe -- full-on productions. Which is to say: nobody, especially not Ivy and Karen, should care about this confounded workshop (for which producer Eileen Rand is hoping to raise a whopping $200,000?? Why??).

By and by, this idea of "putting up a musical" is the centerpiece of the show's sources of "conflict." (Who will get the part??? Will Karen stay in the ensemble??? Will the evil and weirdly monotone-voiced assistant demand credit for the writers' idea?????) But this backdrop couldn't be less dramatic. The whole "will she or won't she get the part conflict" never mattered. Ivy got the part for now, but Karen remains in the wings in the ensemble. Also, there are lots of auditions. Lots of jobs. Lots of parts. So who cares who gets it?

Not me.

3. The show would be interesting if it would just be honest.

People are fascinated with worlds about which they know nothing. There's a reason why we all loved (still love!) Law and Order: it's the ultimate procedural show. The layperson doesn't really have a day-to-day sense of how crime and punishment works, so we love seeing it dramatized in a step-by-step manner that's not (too) far-fetched.

This was why I was so excited about "Smash"; I was looking forward to seeing a creative theater process on the small screen. If you read my book, you know it's an interest of mine to purvey to non-theater folk what it's like to work in theater: I tried to write about how it works, what kinds of obstacles there are -- the basic nuts and bolts of the process.

Instead, "Smash" totally bastardizes the process, almost like it's embarrassed by it. "Smash" so badly wants the theater world to be something it's not -- a world where there is ONLY ONE great director, and he's hot and British (not to mention straight and predatory); a world where all high-powered producers dine, by coincidence, in the same restaurant; a world where struggling waitresses have great apartments; a world where one writer can HATE HER PARTNER'S ASSISTANT SO MUCH BECAUSE HE BEHAVES IN DEEPLY INAPPROPRIATE WAYS but not gently request that he be let go.

Okay, okay, I know: lots of shows distort reality and make stuff larger-than-life. But in "Smash" there's such a fundamental disconnect, it doesn't come off as distorted, it comes off as surreal! It's like "Smash" merely wears the disguise of a show about theater, when really it's a half-baked soap opera about...nothing.

I wish it would just be more honest. Which leads me too...

4. The show needs fewer and better characters.

Who are these people? What do they want? Why does Debra Messing's son really, really want a Chinese sister when he's going away to college in like a year? Do you know anything about Ivy besides her being really, really, really into Marilyn, slightly neglected by her unsupportive family, and that she's maybe starting to like the director (with whom she's sleeping)?

And what the eff is that assistant's problem? Seriously, though. Get the hook.

These characters ring flat. And there are so many of them! Show me some depth, please. "Smash" needs three-dimensional characters with real sources of conflict, especially since the tone of the whole show is über-serious. I can count on one hand the show's funny moments (and I would only raise one finger for the, uh, three times Eileen threw a Manhattan in her ex-husband's face).

A dramatic TV show takes real human drama that's rooted in something -- real backstory, real stakes -- not something that's thrown in after the fact, like spices on an undercooked dish.

5. Autotune.

Why. Why. Why.

And thus ends this post. I hope some of these things can be resolved, because I do want "Smash" to succeed. I suppose I'm passionate about this because it's one of the first mainstream attempts (in recent memory) to portray the theater world to a non-theater audience. It also features some super talented actors, many of whom are fairly new to TV, and I hate to see them short-changed with such sub-par material.

Here's hoping things get better! As always, I invite you to comment and join the discussion.

Peace out!


Sunday, February 19, 2012


Here are pictures of some of the super rad peeps who entered the Godspell giveaway. They're holding copies of Unnaturally Green, open to their favorite quotations. In the words of Celine Dion, I lurve them all! Thank you again to everybody who entered, and for supporting UG!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And the winner is....

Mucho congrats to Nicholas Clar, winner of our Godspell giveaway! His favorite UG quote was:

Think of something, anything!

Yay, implied profanity!

Thank you to all who entered! Contestant pictures are forthcoming (from those who entered and gave me permission to post).

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Submissions Only" is freaking fantastic

Yo dudes! I may be behind the times, but I finally got around to watching every single episode of Submissions Only, a web series that parodies the New York audition and theater scene, and I am totally HOOKED. If you're at all curious about what it's like to work as an actor in New York City, particularly as a musical theater actor, this is a very accurate (not to mention HILARIOUS) glimpse into that whole world.

The series showcases mondo-talented actors whom you'll recognize from stage and screen -- featuring the insanely funny Kate Wetherhead, who also (brilliantly) writes and directs (alongside Andrew Keenan-Bolger), Broadway star Santino Fontana, whose name sounds like an Italian soda spritzer (and who is, as the Italians say, molto simpatico), as well as Colin Hanlon, whom I saw play Fiyero on the Wicked tour, and whom I occasionally see working out at my gym, looking extremely strapping (no, I haven't yet said hello; instead I lurk in corners, staring wantonly). Bonus: There are tons of great cameos from the über-famous, including Kristin Chenoweth. Yay!

So, what are you waiting for? WATCH IT! Check out the complete episode roster here -- and brace yourselves for lots o' laughs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Godspell" tickets giveaway!

A new month, a new giveaway! Because I haz the sweet hook-ups, I recently secured TWO FREE TICKETS TO SEE GODSPELL ON THE BWAY! And I'm giving them away on this blog! AAAAAAAH!!!!!

HERE'S HOW TO ENTER! (Three steps)

1. Snap a photo of yourself holding your copy of Unnaturally Greenopen to the page containing your favorite quotation! (You can also pull it up on your e-reader.)

2. Go to this blog's submission page and upload the photo, writing your name in the "Here is my idea" box. (If you like, you can also transcribe the quotation into the "Here is my idea" box -- but it's not required.)

3. Check back on February 15, 2012 to see if you won!

It's as simple as that! If you don't live in NYC, you can win always try to win the tickets to give to a friend, or make an East Coast trip out of it! The winning voucher is good for any Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday night performance through May 1, 2012.

And in case you didn't know -- Godspell is back for its first-ever Broadway revival! Written by Grammy and Academy Award-winner Stephen Schwartz (composer of Wicked (OBVS!) and Pippin as well as the movies Pocahontas and Enchanted), Godspell stars Hunter Parrish (“Weeds,” Spring Awakening) and many others, including Nick Blaemire (with whom I once recorded a demo about a Duck that runs for president; he probably wouldn't know me if I accosted him on the street, but, oh well, he's really funny in the show!) and Celisse Henderson (who was Shen-Shen in Wicked San Francisco before I arrived; she also probably wouldn't know me if I accosted her on the street). You should totally go see it! It is great!

And, to recap, the winner will be announced on February 15, 2012! Good luck!