Hate-watching “Smash” is one of life’s great pleasures

Last season, the camp was unintentional, but the new showrunner turned that weakness into this season's strong suit

Topics: Smash, TV, Television, entertainment news, jennifer hudson, katherine mcphee, debra messing, camp, hate-watching, newsroom, Aaron Sorkin, theresa rebeck, gossip girl,

Hate-watching "Smash" is one of life's great pleasures (Credit: NBC/Eric Liebowitz)

“Hate-watching” is a not a properly descriptive term: “Hate-watching,” when truly practiced, is a joyful experience. If one truly dislikes a show — finds it boring or offensive — one does not watch at all. Watching, one does not feel a rush of bitchy glee at the ridiculous heights the show scales, the incidental lunacy it achieves. Hate-watching is what happens when you turn into your most judgmental self and start pointing and laughing, but without feeling a twinge of guilt or shame that your time could be better spent. The object of your derision is not unworthy, it’s not just some god-awful TV show — it is a god-awful TV show with pretensions and the ability to surprise you, even if it is only with new lows. Hate-watching a show is not the same as loving it, but, as ever, hate and love bear a passing resemblance: They are the feelings reserved for that which you are most passionate about.

The last year has been a really tremendous time for hate-watching: Between NBCs “Smash” and HBO’s “The Newsroom,” it has never been easier to love watching a TV show that you don’t respect, but don’t respect in an affectionate way. When “Smash” began it seemed like it might be great drama about the making of a Broadway musical. It quickly demonstrated that it would be a sub-par drama about the making of a Broadway musical. At the end of its first season, Theresa Rebeck, the creator of the show and creative person most responsible for “Smash’s” nose dive, was let go and replaced by “Gossip Girl’s” Josh Safran, who was supposed to shore up some of the series’ more absurdist tendencies. I will admit that I worried, briefly, that the new season of “Smash — which starts tonight on NBC — might be so improved as to become a show it was no longer possible to hate-watch, just one solid enough to inspire indifference. I should not have worried: The new season of “Smash” leans into the hate-watch. It is less accidentally ridiculous, and more knowingly, willfully campy, less pretentious, but also, for better and worse, less likely to include a Bollywood dance number.

The new season picks up shortly after the last one left off, with the cast and crew of “Marilyn” returning from the show’s run in Boston. Old, dull characters are swiftly jettisoned — goodbye to boring love interests Dev and Frank — and new ones introduced — hello to the excellent, former “Newsie” Jeremy Jordan! The story wisely widens, to include all the side projects the characters are involved with while waiting for “Marilyn” to make it to Broadway.

There are some meta-gestures in the direction of a new start — a joke about how Julia (Debra Messing) has to stop wearing all those scarves, an acknowledgment that the “book” for “Marilyn” is terrible and the reviews scathing — but the most significant change is that, courtesy of Safran, a bunch of “Gossip Girl” tricks have been availed on “Smash,” where they more or less fit right in. In tonight’s premiere there are no fewer than three parties where large parts of the cast assemble, two of them very swanky. The big soiree at the episode’s climax is a play straight from “Gossip Girl,” which had a gala in almost every episode. (It’s a ploy perfected by “Gossip Girl” creator Josh Schwartz when he was working on “The OC,” which typically had a party, usually one in which someone ended up in a swimming pool.) There are jokes about Brooklyn and Bushwick and the G train. There are nefarious plotters with perfect information using their cellphones to trade secrets. And the characters give meaningless advice: When Ivy asks her friend Sam what she should do to make sure she stays in the show, Sam tells her, “Well, besides being on your best behavior, you have to find a way to stay on the show.”

You Might Also Like

There have been some nice adjustments: Jeremy Jordan, playing a super-talented bartender, is super-talented. His nascent romance with Karen (Katherine McPhee) — in which he nags her endlessly, and she likes him for it — makes much better use of McPhee’s innate vibe than any story arc last year. She’s much more believable as the nervous girl with absolutely no game, who tells a boy she’s trying to impress that she likes the Strokes, than a once in a lifetime talent.

But “Smash’s” own weird tics are still very much in evidence. Jennifer Hudson is the latest celebrity to turn up, playing a big-time Broadway star with a controlling mother. Jennifer Hudson is a great singer and if “Smash” really wants to turn itself into a platform/outlet for former “American Idol” contestant duets, there are worse musical numbers that they could do, obviously, because they have done them, but “Smash’s” problem is not that it has a tiny cast, and it doesn’t need to keep turning itself over to short-arc players.

The most major indication that nothing much has changed at “Smash” is the suggestion that “Smash’s” very own super-villain, that evil millennial Ellis (Jaime Cepero), is not gone for good. Cepero had reportedly been fired at the end of last season, only to be rehired. TV characters that make the blood boil aren’t all that common — you don’t just toss one out, however many poisonous peanut smoothies he’s made, when the whole point of your show has basically become to get the audience’s blood boiling. That “Smash’s” new showrunner knew better than to permanently ax Ellis is the best sign of all that the hate-watching can continue apace.

Willa Paskin
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>