We’ve seen this show advertised to freaking death for MONTHS. We confess that we saw the pilot ages ago, because they had it on iTunes, amazon, and hulu. If you thought your only option to see the premiere was last night on NBC, allow us to introduce you to something called the internet. We waited until today to post on it though.
The first thing you need to know about this show is that it’s nothing like Glee. It's not a Glee rip-off. It's just as original as Glee was. We don’t know if it topped the Glee pilot, but the episode easily topped most of the other Glee episodes we’ve seen. The show isn’t stuffed with too many plots and characters, like Glee, and the characters are more well-rounded. That’s not a high bar though.
We didn’t see much from the pilot that we didn’t see in all the previews and sneak peeks. If you remember, we loved the preview and got really excited about it, so we liked this material the first time around. We are a bit miffed that we didn’t see much that was new, but that shouldn’t get the pilot a bad grade. We wish the premiere had included two episodes. That way, TV enthusiasts would see something new, and people would get hooked deeper into the show the first time they tuned in. It would have been a good idea. Alcatraz did that, and they are doing alright.
The episode opens with Katherine McPhee singing her signature American Idol song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". She is wearing a pretty dress that would look better on a child, she appears to be on a stage, and there is a starry backdrop. She's a star! Pysch. It's in her imagination. Kat is not performing on a stage before adoring fans. She is auditioning and it doesn’t look like she got the part. This was a perfect joke for people who know Kat from Idol. It's time to forget that she's Kat, who already had great moments on the Idol stage and is known for the Judy Garland song. This is Karen, struggling waitress trying to break into Broadway. And her resume is thin.
A girl named Ivy follows Kat’s audition. She is played by Megan Hilty, Broadway vet. Ern saw her in Wicked during a trip to New York City. Megan played Glinda and was great and hilarious. Almost as good (if not as good) as Kristen Chenoweth. Her voice is less…pretty than Kat McPhee’s on this show, and Kat’s character is, overall, more likable. We will be shocked if Kat doesn’t end up as Marilyn, because the actress playing her is more well known and the character is the underdog. Still, Ivy is likable too. Anyway….
Debra Messing (!!!) plays Julia, a woman who writes and creates musicals. She has a working partner named Tom (played by Christian Borle, whom Leeard loves unabashedly). Tom has an assistant named Ellis, who Julia seems to hate right away. Julia’s newspaper informs her that a My Fair Lady revival has just gone the way of a turd in a toilet, and Julia complains about how no one does new musicals anymore. Ellis suggests that someone do a musical about Marilyn Monroe. Julia says it’s been done and that musical tanked too. Then Tom comes back with, “You could do a baseball number.” This changes everything.
Julia has a nice apartment, a teenage son, and a husband. Julia and her husband are going through the adoption process. Indeed, they meet with a social worker who loves all the musicals Julia has worked on. It looks like they've got the adoption in the bag, so far. Julia mentions the Marilyn idea and her husband basically tells her, “No. You are taking time off to do this adoption.” Oh well, we guess that’s the end of the series. Naw.
Karen vents to her cute boyfriend, Dev, about how she isn't getting anywhere with this whole acting thing. We know Dev won’t last. Karen’s goals will get in the way, Devil Wears Prada-style. Karen and Dev have dinner with Karen’s parents, who are there to crush her dreams. They think Karen should get a real job, give up the dream, and stop being a waitress.
We see Tom meeting Ivy in a chorus dressing room. Ivy has the experience, credentials, talent, and ambition to star in a musical, but she has been in the chorus for years. She finds out that she didn’t get the part she auditioned for and confides to Tom how sad she is about the way things are going. We sympathize immediately. Ivy is going to be a rival to Karen, but she’s also going to be a person as well. We will be sad when Karen gets Marilyn, especially when it is Ivy on all the demos.
Yes, Tom and Julia cut a demo for Marilyn. It's just a demo, Julia tells her husband. The musical will be years away. Um, at this pace it will be ready in a month. They use Ivy as the demo singer. Ivy should totally get the part, based on her looks and voice. She has Marilyn’s body and hair. That’s more than Kat has. Ellis leaks the demo tape when he sends it to his mom and his mom sends it to everyone else. Julia wants him fired, but Tom keeps him on after Ellis talks about how blessed he is to get to see the behind-the-scenes of a musical. Julia is mollified when a prominent critic hears the sample and raves about both the idea and the songs.
Tom and Julia meet with Anjelica Huston’s producer character, Eileen, who wants to produce Marilyn. We find out that Eileen is going through a divorce. She recommends Derek Wills as the director, but Tom hates that guy. Tom comes around to the Derek idea when he finds out that they will have Derek audition for the part. Groveling is just what Tom wants to see.
Derek is played by Jack Davenport, the guy who tries to marry Keira Knightley in one of the Pirates movies. He was also in Flashforward. He is cold and British and decent-looking. Despite being a prominent theater director, he is straight. He choreographs the first number. They get Ivy to sub in for Marilyn, singing the song about baseball. It’s called “The National Pastime,” and it’s very fun and Marilyn.
Next, they hold auditions for the lead role and Karen shows up. She is the only girl who didn’t come dressed as Marilyn Monroe. We don't know if the show was trying to get us to think that she was being herself, not trying too hard, not oversexed, innocent, or a rube. She sings “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, and it’s nice to hear a version of that song that isn’t oversung to death. As usual, Kat’s voice is nice. She gets a callback, because she didn’t overplay the sexiness. But now they want to see that she CAN do sexy. Derek sends Karen a message, asking him to meet him in his apartment at night.
Karen goes to meet him. Dumb. She doesn’t sleep with Derek, earning her approval from every woman watching this show, which is important to have, at this point. Nice strategy, Smash. Karen goes to the bathroom and cries. Then she puts on Derek’s shirts and proceeds to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” sexily, while getting close to him. Before the kiss moment, she says, “Not gonna happen,” and walks out, smoothly. During callbacks, Karen and Ivy sing “Let Me Be Your Star,” an original song for this musical. It’s a legitimately good song! The showrunners have a hard decision to make. Until next week!
The show had lots of short scenes, designed to snatch the attention of the popcorn-brained among us. We both enjoy Broadway shows and soundtracks, so a behind-the scenes show about that sounds good to us. One of us doesn’t admire Marilyn Monroe much at all, so the fact that the songs are going to be about her might suck for that blogger. We like the mix of pop and good original songs on the show. Leeard really wants to like this show and thinks the episode was good for a pilot. She adores Katherine McPhee. Ern thinks Kat’s voice sounds woefully damaged and prefers the belting Megan, however Kat is a good actress and has a likeable air about her. Overall, we are more than pleased with the cast.
Ern also thought the pilot was too normal, as if it didn’t want to scare anyone off by being too musical-y. Hopefully, subsequent episodes bring on the Broadway. We read that Julia’s husband is going to start singing, so the character might do the thing where they just break into song. Ern loves Brian D’Arcy James’ voice, so we’re fine with that. We’d like to see the show take some risks and spend more time with the musical numbers. We are fine with three per episode though. You don’t want to overdo it.
Our advice is that you watch this show, if you are at all interested. The pilot was good and this is the sort of show that will get better from there. NBC deserves our support for Community, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, The Office’s early days, Parenthood, and the upcoming Awake, which we are pretty sure is gonna rule. We should at least give this one a shot. The show is smart and grounded. We look forward to more.
Episode grade: B+