Sunday, August 5, 2012

10 Random Thoughts I Had After Watching the First Season of "Smash" on DVD

1. I wish I had access to Diva Universal (the channel that airs Smash in Bangkok) at home, and not just because when I finally got around to watching the NBC musical drama, it was about six months too late. Watching TV shows for the first time on DVD makes me so much more demanding and high-maintenance. A series has to work a lot harder to hold my attention for 15 episodes over the course of two sittings in 2012 than it would have back in the day when shows could only be enjoyed one episode at a time, one week apart. Unlike Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe musical at the center of Smash, TV on DVD can't be retooled to sort out the kinks if I'm not clapping at the end of the first episode. I wasn't, but it was good enough to keep me watching... and watching... and watching... (Next up: Revenge.)

2. Debra Messing deserves a lot more credit than I usually give her. She can play women I'd never want to have lunch with and make me root for them anyway. Julia Houston, the lyricist for a successful Broadway musical-writing duo, is every bit as neurotic and self-involved as Grace Adler, with another gay best friend who gets far more caught up in her personal life than she ever does in his. Julia is Grace in an alternate NYC universe who gives birth to a Leo instead of marrying one. I'm not in the habit of rooting for someone who has not one but two extended extra-marital affairs with the same guy, but Messing is so good at playing on my sympathy that I found myself wanting her husband to take her back. God, I hope the baby is his!

3. The Jennifer Hudson Effect strikes again -- and I'm not talking about the American Idol loser-turned Oscar winner joining the Smash cast next season! While season five Idol champ Taylor Hicks sinks further into anonymity, runner-up Katharine McPhee has landed the plum role of Iowa-good-girl-turned-aspiring-Broadway-ingenue Karen Cartwright. McPhee has that brand of nonthreatening slightly bland beauty that's made Janine McAdams a box-office star, which is probably why, despite having an incredible voice and an arsenal of sexy stage poses, she never made it in pop music. Somewhat a non-entity initially on Smash, she'd improved considerably by the time I got to the third of the four DVDs, so much so that I actually started to miss her a little when she was off-screen. So far so good, but I'd like to see less cat without claws more queen of the jungle next season.

4. At the opposite end of the appeal spectrum, testing both my tolerance and my patience: Jack Davenport as Derek Wills, two tired archetypes in one: smarmy, Lothario stage director and jaded Brit. I like Davenport as much in Smash as I did in The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is to say not much. (Was I the only one who shrugged when Tom Ripley put his character in an off-camera choke hold right before the credits rolled?) Derek is the sort of guy that Hugh Grant would have made me love to hate but love a lot more than hate 10 years ago circa Bridget Jones's Diary and About a Boy.

5. When did we overcome on TV? I'm talking about black people and gay men. Well, we've still got a long way to go (both black people and gay men -- on and off TV), but when I left the U.S. six years ago, you couldn't show two men kissing on TV without courting major controversy. Now you can not only show two men kissing, but one can be white and the other black. Makes Queer As Folk, which pretended that gay black man didn't exist, seem nearly as quaint as Will & Grace, which pretended that gay men didn't have sex.

6. Angelica Huston (as Bombshell producer Eileen Rand) is as sexy now as she was in The Grifters 22 years ago. I'll take her in a major supporting TV role over extended cameos in indie movies like 20/20, but it's time for Hollywood's movie casting directors to realize that when they're looking for an actress of a certain age past middle age, Meryl Streep doesn't always have to take the romantic lead. More Angelica Huston, please!

7. The original songs are surprisingly strong, much more so than the ones I've heard on Glee, but the pop covers don't work as well as they do on the other show (loved McPhee's take on Snow Patrol's "Run," though). In fact, they make Smash seem too corny, like it's trying too hard to be the other show, which might be why it didn't get more than four Emmy nominations. With such a strong ensemble of dramatic actors, Smash could use exactly what Emmy nominee Uma Thurman prescribed for Bombshell -- more talk, fewer songs.

8. Speaking of Uma Thurman, was I the only one who cringed when Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) raised the issue of Thurman's Rebecca Duvall being too old to play an actress who died at the age of 36? At 42, Thurman can pass for 36 a lot more easily than Sam can pass for straight.

9. There, I said it! The recurring comments (mostly from Tom, Julia's Will-alike partner) about Sam seeming too straight to be true rang hollow and false. I have no idea if Odom is gay or straight in real life, but Sam's self-conscious sports obsession didn't throw me. He set off my gaydar the moment he first appeared onscreen fawning over Ivy. But what to make of Ellis, the nosy, obsequious and diabolical assistant? He set off my gaydar even more loudly than Sam did, yet we saw him in bed with his beautiful girlfriend while his seduction of Duvall's male assistant (or whatever his title was) took place mostly off-screen. Maybe mainstream viewers still aren't ready to watch two too-stereotypically "gay acting" TV characters getting it on.

10. I still love New York! Someone mentioned Vintage, which brought back memories of a Teen People Christmas party we once had there. If I ever move back to New York, the West 40s would be near the top of my list of places to live. It's come a long way from the early 90s when my first boyfriend lived in Hell's Kitchen. If I could find a place there as awesome as the $10,000-a-month bachelorette pad that the cute real-estate agent showed Eileen for one-tenth of the cost, I'd be booking my one-way flight back ASAP.

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