Winter TV First Impression: Does NBC's Smash Hit All the Right Notes?

The broadcast and cable networks have nearly two dozen brand-new shows (hopefully) heating up primetime this winter. To help you sort through those offerings, TVLine, as we did in the fall, is presenting some First Impressions. Leading off our wintertime list is.…

THE SHOW | NBC’s Smash (Mondays at 10/9c, premiering Feb. 6 aka “the night after the Super Bowl,” as Mr. Promo Guy makes clear)

THE COMPETITION | ABC’s Castle, CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 and Syfy’s Lost Girl (which debuts Jan. 16)

THE CAST | Emmy winner Debra Messing (Will & Grace), Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor), Tony Award nominees Christian Borle and Brian d’Arcy James, Jack Davenport (FlashForward), Katharine McPhee (American Idol), Megan Hilty (9 to 5: The Musical) and others; Peabody Award-winning playwright Theresa Rebeck is the series creator, while Steven Spielberg is an executive producer.

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THE SET-UP | Messing and Borle are songwriting partners who, on the verge of a planned break, instead get motivated to develop a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Huston plays a veteran producer who has her own reasons for investing in the project, Davenport is an in-demand yet prickly director, and McPhee and Hilty play Karen and Ivy, the very different actresses (read: green vs. seasoned) vying for the plum lead role.
THE GOOD | For starters, the lead cast is pretty damn perfect, from Messing as an accomplished lyricist juggling this venture with her want to adopt a baby (James plays her husband) to Davenport as a demanding, rakish director/choreographer, to McPhee and Hilty as, respectively, a wannabe Broadway baby and a chorus girl hoping to finally claim the spotlight. (We’re glad we’re not the ones choosing between the two.) The story is set up quickly and compellingly, and the pilot episode alone features multiple crowd-pleasing numbers (as well as a big ol’ cliffhanger). There will be the temptation to liken Smash to Glee — and surely NBC saw a chance to capitalize on the Fox hit’s buzz — but this is decidedly a drama, albeit one punctuated by music that stays with you long after the credits roll.

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | I’m two episodes in, and thus far no egregiously weak links have jumped out, save for the occasional step in the direction of expected “drama” (e.g. Karen’s beau, played by Raza Jaffrey, is frustrated when she stands him up at an important work dinner; it’s fairly obvious that ownership of the Marilyn idea will come into question). But even an Episode 2 twist in the adoption subplot doesn’t go quite where you think it will.

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THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | It’s a lot to pin a network’s turn-around on one show, but with this and the yet-to-be-scheduled Awake — both promising, well-pedigreed dramas that have critics buzzing in a good way — NBC has a chance here to restore lustre to its line-up. Between its NYC location shoots (one scene takes place right downstairs from TVLine’s Times Square office), large cast and production numbers, Smash can’t be cheap, so it will be interesting to see how forgiving NBC will be as the freshman fights heavy hitters Castle and Five-0 for eyeballs, with Season 2 of The Voice as its lead-in. But Nielsens aside, this should be the smash hit the Peacock has been looking for.

Watch a video preview for Smash, then vote in our poll below.