At “The Callback,” SMASH really gets it.


If SMASH was guilty of picking low-hanging fruit in the pilot episode, setting up predictable situations with predictable characters, it paid off right away in its second episode, keeping the insanity of what goes on backstage at a musical grounded, and all of the characters involved real.

Backstage dramas can easily slip into melodrama, in no small part because the people who inhabit that world are as much characters as the people they portray, and the way they present themselves to people is often crafted.

“The Callback” had opportunity after opportunity to drift into melodrama – and never came close to wallowing in it. Instead, it showed the people and situations as simply and plainly as possible, trusting the situations to give the major moments their importance.

This episode brought us to the crucial decision that songwriters Tom and Julia have to make, along with director Derek and producer Eileen (Angelica Huston).  All of them have a good deal at stake, yet they do what people do in these situations, which is try to portray poise and confidence.  It is perhaps Eileen, the stern, hard-nosed producer from the first episode, who gives us the most range here, being at one moment decisive, and the next vulnerable, showing us the little girl who still gets giddy at the prospect of a new musical.

Songwriter Julia has to deal with the struggles of a pending adoption, and the stress that puts on her family, and this is handled very well, with the accompanying reservations and concerns.

The main plot of this episode is to resolve which girl, Iowa transplant and newbie, Karen or veteran chorus player, Ivy is going to get the part, and thankfully they resolve that question in this episode rather than let it linger.  Everything about director Michael Mayer’s pace picks up from the original epsiode, and the time flies.

Writer Teresa Rebeck’s experience backstage has given her a great ear for these characters.  Rebeck captures the cattiness and the cliques backstage.  As someone who has sat on the other side of a casting table, the frustration and inanity of going over the same ground over and over when trying to decide is exactly what happens. It’s refreshing that Rebeck doesn’t try too hard to make it more dramatic, and the irony is the matter-of-fact approach makes the final decision that much more powerful.

This same approach makes for great rehearsal scenes, doing a good job of watching actors play actors, which is not as easy as it seems.  Derek (Jack Davenport) as the director/choreographer shines in these scenes, being alternately cruel and supportive.  He doesn’t let us like him, but he won’t give us enough to hate him, either.

SMASH also hit it’s stride when showing us both the rehearsal and how the numbers would look on a Broadway stage, a transition that was awkward in the pilot.  The sequences will no longer invite references to that other TV show that has theater folk singing and dancing.

Finally, there are the songs, without which all the rest doesn’t work.  Marc Shaiman’s music, set to Joshua Bergasse’s choreographer (Bergasse plays the dance captain) is worthy of a Broadway stage.

At the end of the episode, practicality and not emotion win the day, and the more experienced girl gets the part, as would likely happen.

If SMASH can stay grounded like this, it just might take off.

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Author Spotlight

JB Bruno

John J Bruno – Producer, Line Producer, Writer John J Bruno (JB) brings almost thirty years of working in the entertainment industry: in theater as a producer, director, designer and acting teacher; in independent films as producer, line producer, production manager, writer and assistant director. Among his featured credits as line producer is Man of the Century, featuring Frank Gorshin, Anne Jackson and Tony-winner Anthony Rapp. Produced on a modest budget, Man of the Century won the Audience Award at Slamdance, and was then released by Fine Line. He was more recently line producer on the Tamil-US production of Achamundu, Achamundu. Directed by Arun Vaidyanathan, Achamundu,Achamundu featuring Tamil film stars Prasanna, Sneha and Emmy Award-winning American film actor John Shea earned Best Feature Film Award at the Chennai International Film Festival and, here at home, won the Best Homegrown Feature Film Award at the Garden State Film Festival. In the summer of 2000, he ...Read Full