SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't seen Monday's season finale yet!
Ending the season on a high note is great, but now Smash has to sustain it.
Still, if you had any doubts during the show's prolonged midseason slump whether NBC was right to renew this ambitious but undisciplined weekly musical, Monday's season finale must have erased them. This was the show Smash promised to be in its pilot and should be in its second season: smart, focused, suspenseful, musically on target and almost completely beguiling.
Almost. There were a few things that didn't work: Ivy threatening to take pills, Julia's family being pills, and anything having to do with Ellis. But what the show has proved in its last three outings, which focused on the efforts to open the Marilyn Monroe musical Bombshell on the road, is that it does have a compelling story to tell when it gets the debris out of the way and tells it.
Luckily, Smash is getting a new show-runner next season and a new chance to get back on track. How? A few suggestions:
1. Dump Ellis. Designed as a character you love to hate, Ellis became one you'd love to hit, a victim of terrible writing and, in Jaime Cepero, a young actor not equipped for the heavy lifting the character required. Intentionally or not, his badly played confession that he fed Rebecca peanuts to provoke an allergic reaction gives an easy out: At the very least, that's an assault. While many are rooting for a firing squad, imprisonment will do.
2. Save Ivy. Start by taking those pills out of her hands; the whole Monroe symmetry is too Valley of the Dolls cheesy. Then find a way to make better use of Megan Hilty, who has a great voice and showed flashes of being able to create a sympathetic character, but was neither a believable Marilyn nor a particularly entertaining villain. So free Ivy from Bombshell, where her usefulness has come to an end, and let us watch her pursue a separate star track.
3. Help Katharine. What Derek said about Karen on Monday goes for Katharine McPhee: She's a star. Performing the show's final number, Smash's best original song since the pilot, she glowed, and not just because of the lighting. As an actor, though, she's often getting by on charm, natural talent and low expectations alone — and those falter when scenes require her to stretch. She doesn't need a lot of help, but a little coaching couldn't hurt.
4. More Broadway, less pop. Last we looked, this was a show about Broadway. So let the characters express themselves through numbers written for musicals (which are better designed to carry plot and develop character anyway) and leave the pop covers to Glee, which does them better. And never, ever stage a number in a bowling alley again.
5. Better personal stories.Smash's mistake wasn't delving into the lives of its characters; it was making those lives so deadly dull. Leave Julia's deadweight of a family at home (and if that was a pregnancy they were hinting at, drop the hint); send Dev to D.C.; put some heat into Tom's love life; and give us a better reason to believe Eileen is entranced by the bar owner. And no one is allowed to visit Ellis in prison.