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.