by Craig Ogan
A debate will soon rage, rending families and friends. Had the debate occurred in January it may have been mentioned in the Republican debates.
After a month without Glee (Tuesdays on Fox), “Gleeks” (I am one) have been watching Smash (Mondays on NBC).
Now that Glee has returned: Is Smash better than Glee?
Glee returned with an attention deficit disorder script asking for a suspension of belief. It’s that typical suspension making the McKinley High glee club’s quest for nationals seem trivial compared to mounting a Broadway show.
“Trivial” is used advisedly. Glee has tackled pregnancy, coming out, bullying, heart attacks, death, divorce, single parenthood, gay parenting, running for Congress, coping with handicaps (physical and mental), poverty and homelessness. Big issues!
Smash deals with working with investors, adultery, divorce, writing music, mild drug/alcohol abuse, getting along with coworkers, letting “mom” get under your skin. Everyday issues, not groundbreaking.
Yet, Smash has a coherent narrative arc — bringing Marilyn Monroe to the stage. Glee tends to forget that the arc should bend to something (nationals or high school graduation, maybe).
Even though it takes on big issues, Glee writers ask us to suspend our disbelief a tick further than comfortable. For instance:
The gorgeous Dianna Argon as Quinn Fabray is injured in a car accident (a device to prevent the marriage of Finn and Rachel – Cory Monteith and Lea Michele). She returned to school in a wheel chair, looking as radiant as ever. She and wheelchair-bound Artie (Kevin McHale) had an effortless song and dance. Dramatic suspension has never been so stretched.
Smash has a sub plot of Debra Messing as adulterous Julia Houston. It shows how it started and ended, how it affects her marriage. You see Julia’s heartache, the hurt she caused and her remorse is palpable. Her behavior effected the production with missed deadlines and actor’s losing their jobs. No happy ending, but the arc continued.
Both are ensemble casts weaving many story strands. The difference: Smash will be a Pashmina scarf, Glee a Navajo blanket. Both beautiful, but with distinct differences, Smash will end up a seamless garment, Glee will show every strand.
The use of the characters makes the difference. Glee gives equal time to 14 major characters. The show ends up with vignettes with little to link them together. Smash doesn’t give equal time – a character is used in proportion to their contribution to the arc.
Both shows are a paean to the power of women over age 50. Do any of the Glee teens or Smash ingénues hold a candle to the interest generated on screen by Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester or Angelica Huston’s Eileen Rand?
Glee comes alive when Sue is on the screen. Jane Lynch makes Sue an anticipated and appreciated character, regardless of how cartoonish the script (think of her as the Grinch).
When Eileen Rand kissed Thorsten Kay’s, Nick the bartender in the closing scene of Smash, there was no doubt what would happen next. It was smart and sexy in a way that Glee’s Santana kissing Brittany just didn’t achieve.
Hooray for post-age-50 sexuality and sensuality!
Speaking of sex, there is portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships in both shows. Glee is about triumphing over discrimination and bullying. It’s now a little “cute.” Smash shows gay people (any lesbians yet?) going about their business: working hard to succeed, being leaders and followers. There is an adult male/male relationship going on which never seems cute.
What’s the difference? The seriousness of the writers.
Glee writers seem to be agenda driven and “focus grouping” their scripts. The music is fun, sometimes heartbreaking (see Rachel singing “Oh My Man”). The characters are endearing, but the situations are calculated to achieve a predictable gotcha moment (was anyone surprised by the outing of the bully Dave Karofsky?).
Smash is good serial TV in the tradition of Dallas or 24. It is going somewhere and we’ll watch the finale because we are not sure of the final scene. The writers are making us care about the characters, the show and whether Marilyn Monroe gets to Broadway.