‘Smash’ upends ‘The National Pastime’

[Flash 10 is required to watch video]

At Variety On the Air, I offered a largely positive take on new NBC musical drama Smash, but with a few scattered misgivings about some aspects of the show, including a couple of the musical set pieces in early episodes. Above is one of those numbers, the baseball (cough)-infused “The National Pastime.” Apologies for the spoiler for my West Coast readers.

Smash depicts the making of a Broadway show based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, and her relationship with Joe DiMaggio is apparently one key part of the fictional fiction. That explains the genesis of the above number, which despite the enthusiastic performances (and barely bridled sexuality) of Megan Hilty and friends, is kind of a nightmare. Corny doesn’t begin to describe it.

When I watched it a second time Sunday, months after seeing the screener last summer, to see if I had been too harsh in my initial assessment, I decided that I was – that it only ranked about an 8 on the nightmare scale, as opposed to a 10. But what still bothered me the most was how beside herself with joy Debra Messing’s character, the songwriter, was at the number. Her revelry at seeing “The National Pastime” wrapped in this kind of glory made me fear for the musical she was co-creating in the show.

I mean, in the world of this musical, you’ve got about two hours to tell the story of Marilyn in a meaningful way, and you’re going to spend three precious minutes with this? Surely there’s a better way that doesn’t involve making me wish baseball had never been born.

Some will enjoy “The National Pastime” just fine, and in any case, the rest of Smash is much better than this. But I can’t help it: “The National Pastime” is a big fat swing, leg-kick and a miss.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1147836750 Jessica Finkelberg Silver

    You are just talking crazy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1147836750 Jessica Finkelberg Silver

    Allow me to elaborate.  A musical has two, two and a half hours, but we have TWENTY TWO that NBC needs to fill.  People like ME want to see MEGAN HILTY IN A PRODUCTION NUMBER no less than every twenty or thirty minutes.  That leaves LOTS of room for numbers like “National Pastime”.  I thought as a number smushed into a preeetty nimble pilot endeavoring to present the ABC’s of musical theater to a mainstream crowd, it was good stuff, and if I personally thought Debra Messing’s goggle-eyed amazement at what the British genius did with some baseball bats and bad puns was a little ridiculous, I chalked it up to everyone being in such close proximity to Anjelica Huston.  Look at it this way, Jon.  In the musical theater world, this is the number everyone on the production team loves but they decide to axe in New Haven.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    I understand that NBC (and “Marilyn,” or whatever the musical is called) has time to fill (though not 22 hours just yet – more like 10 at least until a renewal comes).  I just think they can do a lot better than “The National Pastime.” 

    I’m not quibbling with how musical numbers are integrated in Smash itself – in fact, as I wrote at Variety, I think this is done very well.  But “The National Pastime” is just a bad number. It was the equivalent of one of the comedy routines on “TGS” in “30 Rock,” except that show nods and winnks  when it is doing something terrible.

    And the other thing is, as part of an effort to lure more than just musical theater junkies to watching the show, I think the number is a massive miscalculation.

    But hey, if they axe it in New Haven, then everyone’s happy!

  • Anonymous

    LAT’d on a more significant topic: Russ Mitchell has apparently been DFA’d.

  • http://www.mythphile.com/ Ellen

    Poor Jon, I’m afraid you have more discerning tastes than some of your readership. I grinned like a Cheshire Cat at Madonna’s cheesy pop spectacle (all the more because I’ve studied ancient Egypt and Rome, making me appreciate the Cecil B. DeMille school of antiquity kitsch all the more). Therefore, I am not shocked and am simply mildly amused by this shallow melange of baseball-themed camp, innuendo and sparkly (!) uniforms.

    Or maybe it’s just that in this postmodern world, some of us have learned to compartmentalize our brains and view each thing according to its own idiom.  I appreciate baseball with one side of my brain while appreciating Jungian archetypes, the meters of Sappho and Cicero’s run-on sentences with another. And yes, I’m afraid I can also appreciate entertainment that’s best suited for the more vulgar tastes of ancient Romans. (My mother, on the other hand, is still stuck in the ivory tower, and keeps mock-threatening to disown me since I “came out” as a professional sports fan. We all have our limits. I would probably have your reaction if someone tried to mix baseball and Twilight.)

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       LOL.  Although I admit I hated to see baseball bastardized in this fashion, my complaint is more with the fact that that number, applied to any subject matter, would have set off alarm bells.  Just way too superficial, yet not amusing. The sexuality is its only redeeming quality – otherwise it would be a total zero.

      It wouldn’t have stuck out as much if I hadn’t liked the rest of “Smash” as much as I did.

    • Anonymous

      I did have this reaction to the baseball scene in twilight. My recollection of the scene is vague, but I do remember my wife telling me that I might like Twilight because “it has baseball in it.” She was wrong.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Watching the show again right now.  They make a big deal in the first act to Debra out of “You can have a baseball number.” This appeals to her significantly, but then we find she only means to use her baseball powers for evil!

  • http://twitter.com/seanrobmac Sean MacArthur

    So, Jon, you’re telling me you found the whole “director of the show calls actress (that’s been called back for said show) over to his apartment to prep, i.e. seduce, her on becoming Marilyn.” This of course would happen, just like Mark Ellis will bat .320, w/ a .415 OBP. And yes, ‘The National Pastime’ was rough, as was all of Debra Messing’s performance. Hilty, McPhee, Huston are all wonderful in the show, and I can’t wait for next week.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       Not understanding your first sentence.  If you read my Variety post, though, you’ll see some reference to cliche, and Davenport’s director character is one of those who skirts that. 

      I like Messing’s performance, but I’ve seen others criticize it. I’m not a fan of the adoption storyline, which seems forced.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Via my Twitter: HIlty is the proven veteran talent. McPhee is green but higher-ceiling. It’s Juan Rivera vs. Jerry Sands. Harang vs. Eovaldi.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, I liked the National Pastime number, the song and the choreography. Didn’t love it, but I liked it. I can’t imagine why you would look at the number through the eyes of a baseball fan (and I hope you are not going to reply to that with, “Well, I’m a baseball fan”). We’re not dealing with Field Of Dreams here. It is the Marilyn Monroe story, and the number doesn’t involve a Joe DiMaggio character; it is all about Marilyn, so it is appropriate that in the number we see the game from “Marilyn’s” point of view — a girly, silly, sexy point of view. Looking at what I just wrote, I can see some knowledgeable female baseball fans cringing at those words and thinking they suggest a sexist attitude, but I don’t believe it is an insult to THOSE women to suggest that Marilyn herself would have — or maybe just might have — thought about baseball rather differently than they do.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      I’m not looking at it (only) as a baseball fan. I was looking at it as a fan of musicals who doesn’t like to see what I thought was an outrageously dated and superficial song in a modern show.

      • Anonymous

        “Dated?” Marilyn married DiMaggio in 1954. It was right and proper for the number to reflect that era, and — like I said — Marilyn’s point of view, which also would have been influenced by her time.  Marilyn was not a 21st century woman, or even a woman of the 20th century’s feminist era.

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

           I understand the chronology.  I stand by how I feel.

          • Anonymous

            I didn’t think I was going to change your mind. But I think we have established that we disagree about how the whole “Marilyn musical” (the show within the show) should be approached. You want modern, I say it should reflect the style of musicals of Marilyn’s own era.

          • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

            Yep. I think it’s a mistake to be a slave to that style – if you’re trying to build a SMASH, you need to take into account what people would want to see today. That doesn’t mean turning it into a thoroughly modern musical, but I think there has to be more inventiveness and less superficiality than what that number showed.  You have to acknowledge the fact that there’s a reason no one makes “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” anymore, whatever people thought of it 60 years ago.

  • Anonymous

    Can someone explain to me why they’re “introducing” McPhee when she’s already been in at least one movie as well as Idol?  I thought that was truly reserved for true first performances.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      If it’s basically your first starring role, you can play that card.

      • Anonymous

        Just like how “Ocean’s Eleven” introduced Julia Roberts.

        • http://twitter.com/NormWeldon Norm Weldon

          Or “Raising Hope” introducing Cloris Leachman

  • Anonymous

    But I thought football was the national pastime at this point.  If you look at the Super bowl numbers from last night, you’d be hard pressed to say otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    I would say that the linked video pretty much took what interest I would have had in watching this show from 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 into negative numbers.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT