Saturday, August 18, 2012

More on "Smash": Sean Hayes and Sheryl Lee Ralph Join the Fray

NBC's "Smash," the drama series about putting on a Broadway show, will look decidedly different when it comes back next winter. When we last saw Karen, the dull girl from Dullsville who is inexplicably loved by somebody behind "Smash," she had already won the role of Marilyn in "Bombshell," the show-within-the-show, so Season 1's search for a star was over. Thank goodness. What a mess that was.

Will "Marilyn" be dunzo when Season 2 begins, with everybody working on new things and putting that disaster behind them? I don't know, but I have my fingers crossed.

Personally, I'd like a multitude of plot and character changes to go along with all the cast and production team changes they've already announced. Not gonna get my hopes up, however, since the early word on Season 2 indicates there's still way too much focus on "Perfect Princess Karen, the Perfectest Princess Who Ever Perfected Princessing," instead of, you know, either firing Katharine McPhee and hiring somebody more interesting or redoing the character to make her less like wallpaper paste. Instead, they've hired a bunch of new people to orbit Karen's dim sun, and the NBC promo for its new season shows Jennifer Hudson, who will be joining the show for a few episodes as a Broadway star of some renown, offering sage advice to Perfect Princess Karen, who is wearing Swiss Miss braids and gazing vapidly into space.

Not a good way to pique my interest.

Still, there is other news that might be good. We've heard recently that Sean Hayes, an ISU grad with all kinds of TV, film and Broadway success on his resume, will also be doing a multi-episode arc on "Smash." Word is that he'll be playing a comedian taking on Broadway in a musical version of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." Would Hayes be the sinister and sexy Valmont in this new show-within-a-show? It doesn't seem like the world's best match of actor to role, but then, it depends on whether it's a spoof or a serious take on "Liaisons." We also don't know if he'll be yet another character in Karen's circle, but the fact that he is bringing in a new show-within-the-show suggests maybe not, if she's still being Marilyn. And the mention of "Liaisons: The Musical!" at least means there's something to take focus off the ghastly "Bombshell."

The other newly announced guest star is Sheryl Lee Ralph, who will be playing the mother of Veronica, Jennifer Hudson's character. Ralph has some pretty nifty credits of her own, including being the original Deena in "Dreamgirls" on Broadway. That gives her a fun connection to J-Hud, who famously won an Oscar as Effie in the movie version of the show. Ralph also appeared in the movie "Sister Act 2: Back to the Habit," which Vulture reports is supposed to be Jennifer Hudson's favorite movie of all time. And she's beautiful and talented, so a good match for Hudson. Will she be a barracuda of a mother, or have they already played that card with Bernadette Peters as Ivy's mum? Will she be fragile and clingy and create lots of messes her daughter has to clean up? That doesn't seem like Sheryl Lee Ralph. Maybe she'll be the life of the party who floats in and out and dazzles everybody, like the character Ralph played in "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

We haven't heard yet that Veronica will be important enough or have enough of a story to need a mother, but if she's there to do more than just reinforce the saintliness and wonder that is Karen, it will be a step in the right direction. And having a mom who presents conflict of any kind certainly doesn't connect her to Karen, the one with the sweet parental units back in Iowa.

And whether Hayes and Ralph are just more props for Karen, or they get to do something a lot more fun and satisfying, the best news is that cool stars with real Broadway chops keep getting added to the show. That can't be a bad thing!


  1. I don't think the writers (well, not last season's) have the necessary sense of humour to do a spoof musical of "Liaisons." I can't quite see Hayes as Valmont, either. Karen--the character and McPhee--needs a serious personality/effervescence injection to carry this show. Surrounding her with really good and effective supporting actors will only provide a point of contrast that won't do her any favours.

  2. That's a really good point, Margaret. I suppose that's what happened last season -- they expected us to see Megan Hilty/Ivy as a supporting character who would help showcase Karen, but instead, she consistently outshone McPhee/Karen. And it made everybody go, "Wait. What? We're supposed to be rooting for the bland girl?"

    The writers lacking a sense of humor is another good point. Sigh.

  3. There'll be new writers this season, but I don't see how that can help with the void at the center.

  4. I've been rethinking Sean Hayes as Valmont and thinking that's probably the plot they're going for -- that a comedian known for goofy movies and TV shows is attempting his Broadway debut in this "Liaisons" musical that people are jeering is totally wrong for him. Like if Adam Sandler signed on to play Willy Loman in "Salesman! The Musical." So Sean Hayes not seeming like a Valmont would provide the conflict and tension.

    Of course, Nick Jonas as the younger man, the one Keanu played in the Malkovich/Close movie version, would be spot on. But maybe Jeremy Jordan will be up for that, with Karen and her new roomie, Krysta Rodriguez, going for Cecile, the role Uma played, the naive one who gets schooled by Valmont. Or maybe that would would be too much of an in-joke and blur the line between Uma and Rebecca.

    If it were me, I'd bring Ivy's mom Bernadette back to play the diabolical Marquise de Merteuil, cast Ivy as Madame de Tourvel, and leave Karen safely doing her clunky Ruby Keeler act in "Bombshell, the Bomb," which has been pilloried by critics ("Bombshell = Stink Bomb," "Bombshell Total Misfire," "No Spark in Bombshell" and "Bombshell Fails to Launch" come to mind) and is struggling to stay open. And then this new "Liaisons" starts, with star power and Sean Hayes's character defying critics, and Karen is envious and wants to be in that show, but everyone just laughs at her.