PASADENA -- It might be fairly argued, in both creative and audience-attraction terms, that Smash failed to live up to its lofty title last year.
But the Broadway-bound NBC musical-drama series deserves praise for its ambition, and certainly earned a shot at a second prime-time season. Starting early next month, it's time for last year's most-hyped new show to finally stand and deliver.
"Changes-wise, I actually think it's still sort of Smash," newly installed executive producer Joshua Safran (who replaces series creator/showrunner Theresa Rebeck) said this week during NBC's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles.
"I don't really think it's changed that much. I think that the stuff from last year that you loved is still there, and the stuff from last year that maybe some people thought ... went off on tangents, we looked at and we sort of tried to find a way to circle back together, but it still is the same Smash, just maybe bigger, more music, a little bit maybe younger in some regards.
"I hope the people who watch it still see the same show that they loved."
Smash, which returns Feb. 5 on NBC (and, in Canada, on CTV), follows the creation and production of a fictional Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Former American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee and real-life Broadway belter Megan Hilty play the two young actresses competing for the show-within-the-show's starring role.
At the end of Smash's rookie season, wide-eyed Midwesterner Karen (McPhee) finally landed the role, prompting spurned Ivy (Hilty) to seek revenge by sleeping with her rival's fiancé. That final twist was one of several soapy/clunky story elements that didn't sit well with many of the fans who followed the show because they loved its musical performances.
In the retooled, about-to-relaunch version of Smash, narrative annoyances such as Karen's former fiancé, show co-writer Julia's (Debra Messing) extramarital affair and painful at-home situation, and producer Eileen's (Anjelica Huston) scheming assistant, Ellis -- undoubtedly the most universally despised character and storyline element in Season 1 -- will have faded into a mostly forgotten past as the storyline focuses on staging the musical, Bombshell, and the goings-on at a younger-skewing off-Broadway show called Hit List.
"One of the fun things ... in the second season of the show is that we do have more original music, more musical sequences per episode, and more diverse musical styles, which we thought was really an amazing way to utilize Broadway," Safran explains.
"When you look at Broadway right now, there's shows that take place in the 1800s (and) there's shows that are today. It really is a bigger world view, and I just wanted to sort of find a way to represent that Broadway on Smash as well."
Joining the cast is young Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan as Jimmy Collins, the co-writer and star of Hit List, who, in preview clips screened for TV critics here, seems headed for a romantic entanglement with Bombshell star Karen.
Jennifer Hudson will appear in three episodes of the new season as Veronica Moore, a big-time Broadway star whose arrival on the scene impacts both Karen and Ivy.
Also on the Season 2 guest list are Messing's former Will & Grace co-star Sean Hayes and Law & Order alumnus Jesse L. Martin. Bernadette Peters will return as Ivy's Broadway-star mother.
Hoping to capitalize on Smash's Feb. 5 return, NBC is releasing a soundtrack CD that includes 22 tracks from the fictional Bombshell songbook (from both the first and second seasons of the show). It will be available to the public on Feb. 12.
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