Episode 192: It Could Be Kabuki

The Overthinkers tackle NBC’s new musical-theater show Smash.

Overthinking It PodcastMatthew Wrather, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and David Shechner overthink NBC’s slightly less than smash-hit Smash, touching on issues of representation, musical production, psychoanalysis, avant garde performance art, kabuki theater, and Juggalos.


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10 Comments on “Episode 192: It Could Be Kabuki”

  1. cat #

    It is impossible to tell that Smash is costing a lot of money because most of the musical numbers are done with pretty bare sets and the rest of the time everything is BEIGE and GRAY. If you can’t tell, the color palette is one of my major issues with the show which already tends to put me to sleep with its plotlines.

    I agree. The original musical theater songs in Smash are the best part.

    I prefer Kat McPhee’s voice to Megan Hilty’s natural singing voice (which is incredibly grating) though I like Hilty’s imitation of Marilyn.

    I accepted the incredibly well staged performance at Nick Jonas’ birthday at the director’s apartment but what bothered me was the line he had at the very end when he agreed to finance the show/buy the painting which was too perfect. It was like a musical theater number. It had the right number of beats and rhymed even though he would (in the universe of the show) have had to improvise it that second. Also, otherwise, the song would have a gap in that spot.


  2. cat #

    I agree that Smash is bad in a different way than Glee is bad. There are a lot of things about Smash that I appreciate in comparison to Glee including the well choreographed numbers and the portrayal of a process of putting on a production that involves rehearsal. But then there’s the acting and the dialogue and the plots.

    It’s interesting that Smash is a show about a show but unlike Kiss Me Kate it chooses to transfer mediums. It’s not a musical about a Shakespeare play. It’s a TV show about the making of a musical. It is using its direct competition (TV) to popularize itself (theater) and then launch the story back into the original medium of theater. I kind of see it as being similar to the way a lot of theater productions have been broadcast more and more lately. The operas at the Met, the concerts of Les Miserables and Phantom, and even just a while back they filmed Legally Blonde the musical and put it up on MTV to accompany their reality show. I guess I’m wondering if the ultimate goal is to give people access to the work itself (the particular show/story) or to give people a taste of the production to entice them to actually attend a theater performance. And how successfully are those goals being achieved?


  3. cat #

    As to audiences or networks becoming more comfortable showcasing programs for subaltern communities, I would argue that they are not doing so. Rather, it is that (in most cases) elements of these communities have drifted into the culture and their popularity has led to a surface level representation of what is still subaltern. Smash needs to be seen through the lens of Glee and usually is whenever it is discussed. Yet as Matt pointed out, neither show is a completely accurate view of the world it purports to portray and neither show really tries to alienate and confound its audience with things that are characteristic of their respective world. Glee tempers the musical theater with high school drama, conventional messages for young people, and lots of pop music. Smash has periodic musical numbers but nothing tremendously new and alienating. If anything, they’re throwbacks to earlier styles. And Smash tempers the musical theater with long stretches of boring dialogue and stereotypical characters and plotlines.

    And lastly, thank you. I’m counting this as the musical episode. :)


  4. Joseph #

    I only feel this is worth saying because it is a very common misconception. The firmament is the sky, not a synonym of foundation.


    • Upthrust #

      On the contrary, ‘foundation’ is a pretty good translation of the Latin ‘firmamentum’. The fact that firmament was made to also mean sky is a weird artifact of biblical translation. The fact that both meanings exist together made a lot more sense when the firmament was the structure which kept the stars in the sky orbiting the Earth.


      • RichardR OTI Staff #

        You’re both right!

        The English, translated from the Latin conflated the sense of “firmament” from “foundation” to include “sky” because the original Hebrew word was rendered into “firmamentum” in Latin just because the translators figured they were talking about the sky, and the Roman idea of the sky was some kind of solid structure. The actual Hebrew word, though, rakia, is probably better translated as something like “film” or even “membrane.” It’s a strange word but the verb form of it refers to hammering a piece of metal into a very thin sheet.

        “A weird artifact of biblical translation” is a good way to put it.


  5. Neil #

    This adds nothing to the discourse, but I love Fenzel’s audible cringes at Matt’s Fierstein impression… For I am always doing the same.


  6. Gab #

    I’m sure you’ve all seen this, but, well… http://funwithcole.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/warped-dr-seuss.jpg

    I do agree, the original songs are really fun.

    I’m actually wondering if they may do something like with the movie Norma Gene and Maralyn in the show, meaning have the actresses swap when she goes blonde as a way of adding some new tension to that interesting dynamic between the two main characters. And by “they” I mean the producers and directors of the fictional Broadway production.

    I think Smash is better than Glee, but it’s rather new and hasn’t had enough time for me to grow as angry at it as I am at Glee, so meh… But I agree with what you say about why, Wrather. Mos’ def’.

    I’ve done Fifteen Minute Hamlet with four other people. Fun times, honest. ;)

    Fenzel, Smash actually somewhat addresses the gender-politics thing a bit. The main producer of the show, played by Angelica Houston, runs into a lot of trouble when trying to fundraise, and the main retort she gets from her potential financiers is that they want her almost-ex-husband involved. And he accuses her of being too much of a “dreamer” or something to be a good producer.

    Oh, and I posted my comment on the last podcast before listening to this one, so yeah… Cat’s suggestion was pretty fulfilled. My previous one still stands.


    • Gab #

      Gah, my speculative comment still isn’t very clear, due to the myriad levels of which you spoke. Okay, so what I’m trying to say is the real-world producers may write in the in-show producers having Karen (played by McPhee) be their Marilyn pre-plastic surgery and stuff, and have Ivy (played by Hilty) be their Marilyn after or something. The former to add drama, the latter as a “compromise” or something.


  7. Lon #

    Man, with all the talk of meta-entertainment and cross-over with procedural, I was surprised there was no discussion of Castle in the podcast. It even has the ‘distinction?’ of having had actual novels published under the name of fictional author Richard Castle.


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