Why We’ll Never Stop Talking About NBC’s Smash

An important thing to remember about Smash is that when it premiered, 10 years ago today, the NBC musical drama was supposed to be capital-G Good. We’re talking “awards contender” Good. “All star cast” Good. “Executive produced by Steven Spielberg” Good.

Sadly, that didn’t ultimately align with what we got, which was two seasons of the messiest yet ultimately most fascinating broadcast drama of the 2010s — maybe even the 21st century so far. The thing about Smash is, if it had been a total failure, it wouldn’t still occupy space in our mental real estate. But there were just enough glimmers of good TV, aligned with some moments of pure brilliant camp and what is legitimately a top-tier original soundtrack, to ensure its place in television history.

Perhaps you missed Smash when it originally aired, so here’s a quick refresher: Created by playwright Theresa Rebeck and executive produced by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, Smash offered up the behind-the-scenes story of a new musical about Marilyn Monroe being created for Broadway.

What might have been a relatively straightforward series quickly went haywire in Season 1, with the central drama of two young actresses (Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty, forever iconic as Karen and Ivy) striving for the lead role overshadowed by plot threads and meme material like:

•The difficulties of adopting a child from China
•Eileen (Anjelica Huston) throwing martinis at her ex-husband
•A lot of karaoke
•Karen’s boyfriend’s job in the mayor’s office
•The mafia, somehow? There were definitely gangsters involved
•Derek the director (Jack Davenport) making casting choices on behalf of his hard-on
•Ivy’s pill problem
•Uma Thurman’s poisoned smoothie

There were some elements of Smash that were objectively quite bad, with the infamous Bollywood number probably representing the show’s nadir. (Just… whoof.) But while Bombshell was a fictional production, original songs were written for the show by Broadway alumns Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray), and they’re legitimately so good that occasional discussion of launching Bombshell as a for-real musical comes up often. (A charity concert featuring the music and cast was produced in 2015 and streamed online in May 2020, in the early days of the pandemic).

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