Glee, now in it's third season, has a tag "A biting comedy for the underdog in all of us." Well, sort of. Even while trying to explain how juniors have been around for three years, the high school musical show has had tremendous ups and downs. The "book" (the non-musical sequences) range from embarrassingly bad soap opera to hysterically funny farce to brilliant social commentary... but mostly the former. The musical numbers range from exceptionally well done covers to plot-driving songs to good dances to decent fill-ins. The singers are superb, and Glee numbers have sold 36 million digital singles and eleven million albums. A year ago, Glee surpassed Elvis with the most numbers on the Billboard Hot 100.
With the success of one song and dance show, another has popped up. Smash premiered this month. Where Glee is about outcast teens trying to overcome issues, Smash is about Broadway producers trying to overcome issues. Tagline: "Stars Aren't Born, They're Made". Two producers, amid trying to adopt a child from China, also get talked into holding auditions for "Marilyn: The Musical", about Marilyn Monroe. Backed by a person in a messy divorce case (her husband has the rights to a revival of "My Fair Lady"), the show deals with all the various strong personalities involved.
Meanwhile, casting Marilyn is the first big problem. On one hand, you have an experienced actress who looks and sounds a lot like Marilyn. She's the better actress (imrho), and knows Broadway. Her rival is a relative newcomer, who is (imrho) the better singer and projects the innocence worthy of Marilyn, but isn't as up on the sleeping-with-the-director ways of Broadway. The show features songs from the upcoming musical, with Broadway dancers; sometimes rehearsals and sometimes in full costume. Mostly, the songs are original and very very good.
The prime distinctions between the shows are deliberate: One is on a high school budget where they need to hold fund raisers for bus money. The second is about Broadway, where $200,000 is barely enough to cover rehearsals. Both try and, for the most part, succeed in the look and the feel of their milieu.
Where Glee is heads over heals better than Smash is in the camerawork. Smash's dance numbers feature fast cutting and medium shots: No sense of rhythm or space. Worse than Dancing with the Stars or any of that ilk. Glee establishes the dancer's space and the movements within the stage full of people: Excellently done, especially considering that they're in a high school gym most of the time.
I've seen all the episodes of Glee, and tend to slide over the stupid ego trips and appreciate the brilliant production numbers. After two episodes, Smash is on the bubble (replacing Hawaii 5-0 on the DVR, which has de-bubbled for the nonce) but Carole and I will probably give it another episode or two before closing the house.