What “Smash” Can Learn from “Glee”


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A few weeks ago, I gave up on Glee. I was tired of the insanely inconsistent characterizations and the preachy, condescending, After-School Specialness of it all. By the time Karofsky was brought back just in time to Not Die and Be Cured of His Sadness, and the LUDICROUS marriage storyline, and then Quinn’s Driving While Intexticated mess, I threw up my hands. When this show debuted it was irreverent and comically unrealistic, playing with all the heightened emotions usually present in musicals. The heightened reality has to exist in a musical, because it’s the only way you reach the part where you burst into song. It’s the only way the leap isn’t too far to jump.

Now, Glee has descended into a set of characters whose motivations swivel to the beat of the next solo number. I can’t hang in there forever. Quinn’s car crash was my final straw.

Then this happened.

I don’t care who you are or how you feel about Glee, that is glorious. And just like that, I’m back in, because I can put up with (read: do my nails or eat dinner during) the meshuggana of the plot if it means I get to see exciting rearrangements and new renditions of awesome songs. (The Whitney song above is a new arrangement. There is an existing rendition of Whitney doing this a cappella, but that’s just an isolation of her vocal track from the real record. This is a four-voiced piece, arranged that way.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching Smash since it debuted, and like I noted in other articles, I think it’s been doing fairly well for a new show. The characterizations don’t change, even if the general audience cares way less about the fate of a Broadway musical and Baronness von Huston than the producers seem to think they do. The plot’s fast and tight, and makes up for some pitiful acting (Julia’s son – wow).

Yet every time they are not singing a new Broadway song, or making me laugh with their deep understanding (if sometimes willfully ignorant – no way any Broadway chorus girl gets let out onto the street in her costume!) of theatrical bitchiness, I tune out. I am trying to remember one cover of theirs that I ran to iTunes to download. I can’t.

This is what Smash is deeply failing to understand about how, why and when Glee became so dang outrageously popular: sticking Katharine McPhee’s admittedly beautiful vocals on a cover doesn’t an iTunes hit make. A copycat rendition of “Call Me” or even the really cool rendition of “Rumor Has It” that was in episode four doesn’t send me flying to iTunes. Do you know what does? THIS:

This is what Smash isn’t doing quite right, yet. We need reimaginings, we need new arrangements, we need WOW numbers or, quite frankly, I’m heading over to listen to the real thing. That “Rumor Has It” number out of Smash paled next to Adele. The one that mixed “Someone Like You” with “Rumor Has It” is one of Glee‘s top hits.

Take that Whitney video. That is what you do to a Whitney song to make it something that complements the original. When I listen to Smash‘s music, I only listen to “History is Made at Night” fourteen times in a row (and all for that fabulous lift at the line, “Someday they’ll write lots of books / About our fame and glory / But if all their reports / Are just movies and sports / They’ll be missing the whole story!”), and sometimes, sometimes, “Let Me Be Your Star.”

It feels as though Smash is trying hard to have both worlds – the new numbers and Broadway things, into which they pour all kinds of choreography and personality – and the iTunes downloads of milquetoast covers of popular songs. That Florence and the Machine track, I can listen to by Florence and the Machine. Whereas Glee‘s rendition of “We Are Young” was different for its layered choral parts, the ways the choruses got added to and built upon by the presence of ten or so voices: I can listen to that alongside the one by fun. and still be satisfied musically.

Now, whenever Smash goes into a popular song, I shift in my seat, roll my eyes, and wait for it to be over, like popcorn advertisements in a movie theater. I’m still willing to suffer Glee if it means I’ll get the kinds of musical interpretations that make my iPod exciting for the next week. I can’t say that I’m going to be rushing to relive Smash‘s superior plot structure. To be fair, it has gotten a lot right with this new musical genre. But if the show wants to excite and inspire, and get to the top of the iTunes charts the way that Glee deservedly does week after week, it needs to approach the way it does these numbers once more. With feeling.

  • http://twitter.com/juliana_marques Juliana Marques

    Once More with feeling <3

  • http://twitter.com/NathRivera_ Nathaly Rivera

    I agree, I’m a gleek and also started watching ‘Smash’ and seriously, I believe they’ve rested on the fact that they’ve got a great cast, creators and producers, I mean, with Spielberg in the crew… you can win a golden globe with only having him in there. Also yeah, the plot is awesome because they don’t have plot twist every 3 episodes but still, ‘Smash’ has this “lack of magic” that made ‘Glee’ so succesful and I totally agree when you say that it might be because of the lack of ‘WOW musical numbers’.
    That’s all.
    ‘Smash’ is great but they can do better than that (I mean, the thing that I like the most about glee is the fact that they’re fearless of doing whatever might be absurd, even if it makes the plot take the weirdest path in the world [and with that they still manage to keep me interested]).

  • http://twitter.com/bekabee Rebecca Brickley

    I think another thing that Glee gets right (sometimes) is how they use songs in the context of the story. They re-imagine the the storyline surrounding the song – not just the arrangement. While Smash will take a pop tune, plug it in, and sort-of hit the meaning right on the nose, Glee will take a tune and help us uniquely connect it to a character or situation. Recently, they did this with “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Though Matt and Darren are fantastic, the arrangement and the recording aren’t that much different than Gotye’s version. But, Glee reinterpreted the song to be about two estranged brothers, and the single became their 200th song on the Billboard Hot 100. People could connect to the song in a completely new way.

  • roryfan2002

    Quinn was Texting and driving sober.Dave was not cured of his sadness either.

    • http://leakynews.com LeakyNews

      The phrase “intexticated” isn’t implying alcohol. It means she was under the influence of texting.

      as for Karovsky, yeah, we got to see him dream his wonderful life (as the straightest possible person ever) with Kurt and feel better about it and then… OFF THE PLANET!

      I also see you are a Rory fan. Don’t start me on what the hell they did with HIM!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574081907 Jacob Horvath

    The only thing glee has left going for it is the music which is the ONE thing they have that is better then Smash. All you have defended and argued in is the music you leave out the plots and characters of the show, which both Smash would win in. From what I understand is that you are only tuning into glee because of the music and nothing more.
    Yes I do agree that some of the songs in Smash aren’t great I would say the original songs do make up for there covers.
    The characters on glee have gotten out of control (with the car crash and what not). Glee has only truly built up a few characters then keeps adding in more and more different characters then building on them while Smash has kept the characters in a
    nice spot allowing them to develop all equally, something Glee never did.
    The plot of glee, like the characters has gone south. Glee has started to represent a unrealistic view of a troubles which they think there show should be addressing. Sure the whole Dave thing was great but in real life that would NEVER happen sure the bullying does but the results don’t.
    I personally know I am in the few when I say this but I prefer Smash over Glee any day.

    • http://leakynews.com LeakyNews

      Well, this is the point of the article (though I did talk about the superior plot, characters and structure of Smash): is that if Smash took what Glee did right about its music to heart, it could learn something.

      I agree that the original songs totally make up for the covers. The original songs are boss.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574081907 Jacob Horvath

        I think something that might be overlooked is 12 episodes vs. 3 seasons. I think that Smash hasn’t hit its prime moments yet, while glee has past them.

  • 19yearslater

    Yes to all of this. “History is Made at Night” is the song that first got me interested in Smash music, actually. Glee’s characterization is utter crap, but yeah- I watch it because it reimagines songs. What they’ve done has made me listen again to a pop song I’d never liked before. And yes, that’s why Glee became popular.

  • 4/22

    I agree with the music notes on this article, but not as much the other praise of Smash. It feels like a show that has all of the right ingredients, but is mixing them the wrong way. I love musical theatre and was incredibly excited for the show, but only made it through a few episodes before tuning out. To put it simply: Smash is boring. I didn’t connect to any of the characters and felt the pacing was off. Glee generally burns through their story lines at too fast a pace, and I was excited to see that Smash was trying to do the opposite of that but wasn’t given enough reason to care for any of those characters. Glee notably has its issues, but I’d rather take a hit or miss show that, when it does occasionally get it right, it really, really gets it right. Smash, on the other hand, remained flat for the episodes I made it through. Maybe once they’re done with Marilyn I’ll give it another chance.