Ellen Gray: Broadway-based drama "Smash"-es its formula for new season

"American Idol" alums Jennifer Hudson and Katherine McPhee reunite for the season opener of "Smash" on Tuesday.
"American Idol" alums Jennifer Hudson and Katherine McPhee reunite for the season opener of "Smash" on Tuesday.
Posted: February 06, 2013

SMASH. 9 p.m. Tuesday,

NBC10.

LIKE A Broadway-bound show that opens out of town - or has a rocky time in previews - NBC's "Smash" returns for its second season Tuesday still a work in progress.

But at least there is progress.

Maybe no one ever envisioned that a show about the making of a Broadway musical would become a metaphor for the process itself, but with creator Theresa Rebeck having exited at the end of a first season that attracted nearly as many hate-watchers as it did fans, "Smash" is working to clean up the nonmusical parts of its act.

Which is also what's happening on "Bombshell," the show's Marilyn Monroe musical.

"I don't really think it's changed that much," new showrunner Joshua Safran told critics last month, while acknowledging that there was "stuff from last year that maybe some people thought . . . went off on tangents."

To put it mildly.

Look for the two-hour season premiere to address the, um, tangents like a contractor with a punch list, from the messy-but-boring private life of playwright Julia Houston (Debra Messing) - which is about to be replaced with something more like "Will & Grace" - to her scarves.

The big news: Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson - who, like "Smash" star Katharine McPhee, first rose to fame on "American Idol" - is in three of the first four episodes, playing a Broadway star looking to expand her range.

Hudson's far too busy to be a regular, so this could be another of those "Smash" tangents, but as tangents go, it's a terrific one.

I'm less sure about the second show-within-a-show, to be written by struggling Brooklynites played by Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus, but with the departure of Evil Ellis (Jaime Cepero), someone needs to represent youthful ambition. And at least these two aren't just schemers.

Executive producer Neil Meron, by the way, refused to say we'd never see Ellis again.

My Netflix binge

Kevin Spacey ate my weekend.

Along with Robin Wright and Kate Mara, his co-stars in Netflix's "House of Cards," whose 13-episode first season I gulped down within 36 hours of its Friday debut.

If my Twitter feed - heavy on drama junkies and TV fans of all stripes - is any indication, I'm not the only one who engaged in some binge viewing.

When I spoke with Spacey for the interview in Friday's Daily News, I'd already seen the first two episodes of "House of Cards," which was loosely based on a '90s BBC trilogy that starred Ian Richardson, so I did have a head start.

But it occurred to me while watching that Netflix subscribers who were mainlining the show were sharing an experience TV critics have had in recent years.

We got all but the season finale of this season's "Downton Abbey" dropped on us just before Thanksgiving weekend. And HBO has been known to send out entire seasons of shows such as "The Wire" and "Treme" (and the ultimately one-season "Luck") for review.

It's a great way to watch serialized dramas, and it's made me understand the people who'd rather wait for, say, the DVD of a season of "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men" than deal with the week-to-week schedule. It's also made me uncomfortable with the idea of reviewing shows one episode at a time, like reviewing a book chapter by chapter.

Of course, now that I've seen all 13 episodes of "House of Cards," I'm worried about talking too much about what's coming to people who may not have started it yet, or may be taking time out for their actual lives.

Netflix ordered 26 episodes of the series at the start, so we know there'll be more to this story.


Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: EllenGray.tv

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