Critics are hailing NBC's splashy new musical drama Smash as a "Glee for grown-ups." The relentlessly promoted show, which premieres Monday night, is the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, and offers a West Wing-like, behind-the-scenes look at a fictional Broadway show based on Marilyn Monroe's life. Will and Grace's Debra Messing stars as one of the musical's writers, Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston plays a producer, and Broadway veteran Megan Hilty and American Idol alum Katharine McPhee carry much of the dramatic tension as a seasoned chorus girl and New York newcomer, respectively, competing for the lead role. Ratings-challenged NBC has a lot riding on the success of Smash: The pilot alone cost a reported — and staggering — $7.5 million. Will the gamble pay off?
Smash is superb: Calling Smash a "Glee for grown-ups" sells it short, says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter, largely because Smash boasts more gravitas and loftier ambitions than Glee. The tightly written show doesn't sacrifice an iota of its intelligence to appeal to a large network TV audience. The tension between Hilty and McPhee's characters is terrific, while the exceptional musical numbers are worthy of the Broadway stage.
"Smash: TV review"
It's a mixed bag: Smash certainly owes much to Glee, which proved that musical-themed television is still viable and exciting, says Lori Rackl at The Chicago Sun-Times. Sadly, however, the premiere also shares some of Glee's biggest flaws, most criminally its reliance on character cliches. Try not to roll your eyes at the portrayal of innocent Karen as a "naive, fish-out-of-water Midwesterner," particularly when her parents visit New York and "literally gasp at the prices on the menu." But stick with it. In subsequent episodes, "the stereotypes slow down," the characters become more shaded, and the show itself becomes more playful.
"Smash casts spotlight on drama of creating a Broadway musical"
Smash collapses under its own ambitions: Smash is overstuffed with fringe characters, extraneous subplots, caricatures, and cliches, says David Hinckley at the New York Daily News. As the smarmy British director of the Marilyn musical, Jack Davenport is so campy and derivative that he should brace for a defamation suit from Simon Cowell. Huston is wasted in a throwaway role. The out-of-the-blue high stakes given to barely touched-on story lines — particularly an adoption plot involving Messing's character — come off as "bizarre." The one caveat to all this: "One cannot rave too much about McPhee," whose spellbinding beauty and powerful belt steals the show. But that's the only "sparkle under this drudgery."