Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Smash's best (and worst) musical moments

This week's episode of Smash, "Heaven and Hell," was, surprisingly, pretty good. Both Karen and Ivy had likable moments, Ellis got put in his place, and coverage of Julia's personal life was... brief. Plus, we were treated to a great new musical number (albeit not from the newly-title Marilyn musical, Bombshell): "The Higher You Get, The Farther You Fall" from Tom and Julia's previous success, Heaven on Earth. So, in the spirit of that particular, charming number, let's recap the best (and worst) musical moments from Smash's run so far.

"The Higher You Get, The Farther You Fall," from "Heaven and Hell"

I literally have no idea what Heaven on Earth could be about, but this clip makes me want to see it all the same. Despite Ivy's total unprofessionalism (I know she's supposed to be upset about losing Marilyn, but no actual chorus girl would turn in that lackluster of a performance), the tune is catchy, the choreography is appropriately clever, and Norbert Leo Butz is charismatic (can we get him as a series regular? Please?). I finally understand why people are so into Tom and Julia's work.

"History Is Made at Night," from "Chemistry"

Despite the terrible Michael and Julia subtext at work in this number, I love this song. It's pretty damned great, what with the awesome harmonies in the chorus and the easy chemistry between Michael and Ivy. Plus, the scene is great for capturing the number in a transitional state: watching Michael flub his lines and Ivy fall, giggling, onto the couch is charming, and a nice break from all the over-produced "dream theater" numbers.

"Let's Be Bad," from "Let's Be Bad"

Alright, so I just bitched about the production values on the imaginary numbers, but this song is the exception that proves the rule. "Let's Be Bad" might be the musical high point of the series so far, and it's the moment when I first got Ivy as Marilyn. Megan Hilty does a fantastic job here as the erratic, drugged-up sex symbol, sometimes showing off the patented sex appeal and other times nearly collapsing from the combination of narcotics and too-high expectations. It's a phenomenal performance.

"Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Love To Howl," from "The Cost of Art"

This is another number that triumphs despite the presence of several irritating factors, most notably the awkwardly shoehorned-in guest star, Nick Jonas. But even the presence of the tween idol can't destroy the fun of the jazzy horn blasts, wolf howls, and Ivy's wriggly, breathy Marilyn impression.

"The 20th Century Fox Mambo," from "The Callback"

This number, which appeared in Smash's second episode, was really the first musical number that convinced me Marilyn: The Musical (as it was called at the time) could actually be a good show. The choreography was quick and clean, the song itself was witty and fun, and there were plenty of mid-century movie trivia gems for cinema buff like yours truly. McPhee's blonde wig looked a little silly, but the rest of the number shone as brightly as her sequined dress.

Not all the number can be the best, however, and Smash has aired several production numbers that are downright awful. So let's be bad, and talk about the musical moments that had me cringing, rolling my eyes, or yawning in boredom (sometimes all three at once).

"Let Me Be Your Star," from "Pilot"

It's not that "Let Me Be Your Star" is bad. It's just that the song is exactly the same as so many other big, belted, power-pop ballads that close out the first act of musicals these days. "Defying Gravity" from Wicked started the trend, but it's become such a cliche since then that what should be a huge, emotional number here is just boring. When Spamalot parodied your first-episode closer way back in 2005, it's time to rethink some things.

"A Song For You," from "Let's Be Bad"

It's hard to believe the episode that gave us the sublime "Let's Be Bad" also included this dreck, but it's sadly true. From the total lack of chemistry between Michael and Julia to the ridiculousness of performing, loudly, on a sidewalk in a residential neighborhood late at night, to the ongoing terrible plotting that made this number possible, "A Song For You" is just a mess. I knew that this song was bad when I actually wished for the presence of the hateful Ellis, just because it would mean the number was over.

"Shake It Out," from "Chemistry"

Honestly, it's hard to know where to start with this one. Karen's lackluster performance of Florence + The Machine's "Shake It Out" is barely enough to get those awkward sixth-graders dancing, much less get her the attention of a big-time recording executive. I'm not a Katherine McPhee hater, but Florence Welch she ain't.

"Touch Me," from "The Coup"

"The Coup" was the worst of Smash's nine episodes by a longshot, and this bizarre, "modern" take on Marilyn wasn't helping. McPhee gave it her all, but she wasn't enough to counteract the distracting strobe lights, thumping techno beat and cage-like enclosure. Not to mention the fact that "Touch Me" bore absolutely no resemblance to the six songs already written for the show, making Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic, as McPhee so excitedly exposited) a totally unrealistic choice for a new songwriter.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. Though "The Coup" may not be so good, I very much enjoyed the song "Touch Me." Its composition is very "in": Very house with lean synths. The writing of the verses is nice: McPhee lands on scale degree two which "clashes" with scale degree 1, producing this kind of empty sound.

    Wooo smash!