Advance review: NBC may have its ‘Smash’ — now it just needs viewers

The show premieres Monday.

If you’ve watched NBC at any point in 2012, then odds are you’ve probably heard of “Smash” already. The network, which is pretty much desperate to tout a hit following such duds as “Prime Suspect” and “Free Agents,” has aggressively promoted the musical at every turn, and is even giving it a coveted timeslot following their top hit “The Voice” on the day after the Super Bowl.

Thankfully, we’re pleased to report that all the hype is justified. “Smash” is smart, fast-paced, and perfectly cast as a piece of dramatic television. While there are inevitably some “Glee” comparisons out there, the difference here is that the musical numbers always make sense, and we have some sort of context for some of the production behind the ordeal rather than just expensive lights popping up in McKinley High.

The show follows the production of a Marilyn Monroe-themed musical from top to bottom — whether it is the people in charge of putting the show together (which includes “Will & Grace’s” Debra Messing) to the unknown star (played by “American Idol” alum Katharine McPhee) fighting tooth and nail to land lead role against a stage veteran (Megan Hilty). There are of course the typical collection of characters’ spouses, assistants, actors, and of course backup dancers to go along with this — but every character at this point seems to fir the show. A round of applause to casting, as well, for assembling a strong collection of stage veterans to cross over to TV.

The strength of the show is apparent from the beginning — and it’s in the writing. We get the feeling that there are many moving parts to the production of the musical, and with the success of it on stage comes an enormous amount of pressure for the people working behind the curtain. Just one mistake can make a production fall apart, and putting in the hours at work can damage life at home. The complexity of the relationships are immediately apparent, and it gives the show so much room to work moving forward.

If there are any flaws here, it’s probably just that the pilot should have been extended to give us a little bit more of the characters. We haven’t seen enough of the struggles for McPhee’s Karen yet for her to have the desired underdog effect, and we’re also still not sure why to make of Hilty’s Ivy — is she someone we are supposed to hate? We get a little bit of that feeling so far, but the ambiguity is still present.

With these minor notes aside, we ultimately are rather happy when we can only muster up a pair of tiny issues with a pilot. It’s ironic that a show airing on the same network as “Whitney” would be so sophisticated, but “Smash” is. It’s a realistic take on a world that is rarely looked at serious in other mediums (see “The Producers”), and it has the potential to be a smash in its own right thanks to some incredible music, surprise performances, and a setting that, unlike many shows airing today, actually feels modern. Now, it just has to succeed where so many other musicals before “Glee” did not — it needs an audience of viewers interested in watching music as a means to tell a story.

Photo: NBC

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