Making the Drama Integral

I’m watching a show implode which is making me sad because I had enjoyed SMASH, but it is also offering some interesting lessons in What Not To Do.  Smash is a television series about taking a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe to Broadway.  I was a singer, I performed with the Civic Light Opera, I love Broadway and try to see a couple of shows every time I go to New York.  The show was created and run by a woman who has, in fact, taken shows to Broadway so it was a look behind the scenes at an interesting world that isn’t well known to most people.  It had cool characters — the gay composer and female librettist who are partners and have created successful musicals.  The two young ladies vying for the lead.  The old woman producer trying to mount this production.  The brilliant and acerbic British director (who is far and away my favorite character).  There were some terrific numbers composed for this show (I bought a lot of them for my IPod) and staged beautifully with great choreography.  It was really interesting watching them go for a big name movie actress to play Marilyn, discovering she couldn’t actually sing, etc. etc.  All of this was cool.

What was way less interesting was — in the wise words of George R.R. — “All the damn family drama.”  I didn’t care that the librettist had a fling with the guy playing Joe DiMaggio and it wrecked her marriage.  That her teenage son started acting out.  That one of our ingenues had boyfriend problems.  Now the other ingenue sleeping with director that felt much more real and again a look behind the curtain.  If you don’t think the casting couch is real, I’ve got a bridge for you.

Anyway, that was first season.  Then comes second season and they decided they had to skew younger, and bring in a “bad boy”.  So now we have a composer/librettist team that are two men and the gay and straight are reversed, and the composer is this complete jackass and our leading lady walks out of Bombshell (the Marilyn show) to do this off Broadway thing because he’s just so hot.  No, he’s not.  He’s an ass and his music isn’t all that good either.  And her leaving the show made me question her sanity and IQ so now that character is pretty well trashed for me.  And now we discover the Bad Boy has drug problems.  Whoa that’s a surprise.  In addition to all this family drama there was this incredibly stupid subplot about doing Dangerous Liaisons as a musical with a physical comedy guy playing Valmont who also has mental problems.  It wasn’t funny and it didn’t tell me anything about behind the scenes in musical theater which is why I watched the show.  Was it an attempt to be edge?  Funny?  I don’t know.  Whatever the intent, it didn’t work.

George and I agreed that we like shows where we learn something about worlds that we don’t know and the drama comes from doing those interesting job.  We know a lot about book publishing and writing and about Hollywood, but we don’t know how things work on a major newspaper, or how to bring a show to Broadway, or train a race horse to get to the Derby, etc. etc.  We all know what it’s like when a relationship goes bad, or mom gets breast cancer, or dad starts drinking.  Not only have most of us experience “real life” we’ve seen it done to death on television for fifty years.  I know the networks and executives think that family drama makes the characters more relatable, and up the drama, but I think it’s just become lazy writing.  Need a B plot?  How about mom and breast cancer?  Need a C runner?  Kid is getting bullied at school.

Please can we put the bad boy to bed and go back to trying to create buzz on a new Broadway show by gaming the reviewers?  That was interesting.

One Response to Making the Drama Integral

  • S. C. Butler says:

    You nailed that one on the head. The big flaw with so much TV (and SF/F writing) over the last 10-15 years is the perceived need to make the drama personal. Well, maybe it works for some folks, but it sure doesn’t work for me, for just the reasons you said. If I want personal drama, I’ll go read Virginia Woolf.

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