Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why "Nashville" and "Smash" Have Me Wondering About My Psychic Powers

Two recent episodes of two of the major-network TV shows that I watch religiously (the just-renewed Nashville and the just-canceled Smash) got me thinking: Either television has become way too predictable in its old age, or in mine, I spend so much time watching it (usually on my laptop) that it no longer has the capacity to catch me off guard.

(Regarding Smash's cancellation and Nashville's renewal, both of which were announced on May 10, is there only room in prime-time for one musical featuring original songs and dueling divas, one sugar and spice, dark-haired, and in love with a recovering something, the other troubled and bitchy, blonde, and constantly at odds with an overbearing mother? Make that two. It just dawned on me that I almost could be writing about Rachel and Quinn on Glee, too, if the high school musical had fewer covers, and we included Rachel portrayer Lea Michele's real-life relationship with rehabbing Cory Monteith.)

I generally know what's coming up on my beloved daytime soap operas because I never let a weekend go by without scouring the various soap websites in search of spoilers for the coming week's episodes. With prime-time TV, however, I'm generally spoiler free. When the "unexpected" happens, I should be just as surprised as the characters. Unfortunately for the part of me who likes to be shocked by an unforeseen turn of fictional events, they've been rare lately, with two recent sequences in particular making me wonder if my psychic/predictive properties are really all in my head.

One of them involved two hot guys on a couch on the May 1 episode of Nashville. For me, it wasn't wishful thinking, bad acting or amateurish writing that screamed where the scene was headed. Well, maybe it was a little of the former, but both Sam Palladio (as Gunnar) and Chris Carmack (as Will) played the beats expertly, and the writing on Nashville is as high caliber as its original music. Speaking from personal experience, I can say the build up to the attempted kiss, in both the acting and the writing, perfectly captured the awkwardness of the pre-plunge sofa moment, even when the two couch potatoes/players involved are out and proud. That it felt so familiar may have been part of the reason why I was so certain what would happen next. (If you haven't seen it, or want to see it again, click here.)

But I went into the scene with my suspicions already in place because of what had begun to transpire in the previous episode. From the moment Gunnar and Will took that joyride across the railroad tracks, rocking the dynamic of their bromance, I knew it wasn't going to end well. It's not that I would immediately expect a reckless driver/daredevil to be a closet case. It's just that it became clear that Will wasn't what he seemed to be. The last time that happened with a TV Will (young Mr. Horton, on Days of Our Lives), he lost his girl and eventually ended up with a guy. There was no place for Gunnar and Will's increasingly intimate friendship to go but under the bus.

Which, for all we know, may have been what did in Kyle at the end of the April 27 episode of Smash -- a bus. That episode, incidentally, was the first of the entire series, which will air for the final time on May 26, to feature an original song I actually wanted to hear twice: "Don't Let Me Know," performed by Katharine McPhee and Jeremy Jordan.

More likely, it was a car that sped into Kyle since anyone who's ridden a New York City bus knows they rarely move fast enough to do that kind of damage. From the minute poor Kyle started singing Jeff Buckley's "The Last Goodbye," I knew the song would be his. Even if the camera hadn't kept panning to his feet signaling something momentous to come, I would have made the death connection because Andy Mientus's first big Smash number happened to be a song by a singer-songwriter who died tragically and too young.

It's too bad Mientus had to go just as his character was being given a personality beyond being Jimmy's keeper. In the previous episode, he'd suddenly morphed from saint into sinner, and in his post-mortem episode, he ironically got more screen time than he had during his entire time on the show, doling out words of wisdom like the stereotypical wise gay BFF. Who knew he and Julia (Debra Messing) had become such close confidantes off-screen?

The writers didn't have to go out of their way to make Kyle sympathetic again after the brief character assassination that found him cheating with Tom. I, for one, still liked him, and found him to be a far more engaging character than the insufferable Jimmy, which is no offense to Jeremy Jordan, who is a fine actor and singer, though not wholly convincing as a tortured straight twentysomething male.

Unfortunately, to make us -- and every character on the show -- feel sorry for Jimmy and crowd into his corner, they had to give him something truly worth pounding his fists over while railing at the unjustness of it all. Exit Kyle.

I prefer the way Nashville handled the fallout from its own gayish plot twist to the Saint Kyle flashbacks on Smash. I like that Gunnar, though clearly spooked by Will's amorous advances, hasn't been a homophobic asshole about it. Though some of his actions lately have put the ass in front of hole, he's generally a pretty decent guy. As for Will, his morning-after behavior -- a mix of shame and denial -- felt completely real. He did exactly what I probably would have done if I had found myself walking in his cowboy boots. (When in doubt or just plain ol' embarrassed, blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-a-alcohol!)

Now here's a bit of definite wishful thinking: I'd love for Nashville to pursue a Gunnar/Scarlett/Will triangle, with Gunnar, not Scarlett, as the grand prize. I'd buy Will as bisexual, and Gunnar and Scarlett could certainly use more interesting relationship drama than the his career vs. her career stuff that broke up her and Avery. What if Gunnar's response was so ambiguous, never quite crossing over into full-on jerk mode, partly because he's a decent guy and partly because he's not so sure how he feels about Will?

It would be daring, it would be sexy, and it would convince me that I do indeed have the power to predict the future on TV.

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