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In Defense of Smash: What It Shows Us About Women and Careers

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At first the NBC show Smash was a guilty pleasure. As a sucker for any TV show, movie, or book about people sweating their way to the top in toe shoes (or jazz heels) I knew I was destined to at least watch the pilot. Sure, it's corny as hell occasionally, but sometimes a little camp is just what the doctor ordered. Actually I keep hoping the show veers into Valley of the Dolls territory with one or more characters losing themselves to Quaaludes and extreme melodrama, but so far they've just dabbled in that dimension. We'll see how far they go.

Haters gonna hate but it's actually fun to watch the characters and the backstage drama develop. What's most interesting though is each of the character's attempts to balance their burning desire for a career in theater with the demands of relationships, marriages, and children. It's a very female-centric show so the struggles are mostly theirs, and they reflect what it's like for women who try to pursue their passions without alienating or outgrowing their partners. That's not to say Smash shares the subtlety and intellect of Mad Men -- that would be blasphemous, and beside the point. But it is a show worth watching for its campy fun as well as for the struggles of its female leads. Here's a breakdown:

Karen (Katharine McPhee): She's the stereotypical Midwest girl trying to make it in the big, bad city, but she possesses one thing a lot of these women lack: talent. She's started growing some balls in recent episodes, and her issue is that as her career takes off, little cracks appear in her relationship with her perfect up-and-coming politician boyfriend. He works late and attends "important" dinners, and she works late too -- making her miss his important dinners. Can she make her way to Broadway and also play the politician's muse? We'll see.

Julia (Debra Messing): She's the gifted writer of the Broadway show that Smash revolves around, a creative genius whose husband quit teaching science to raise their son and make pancakes for the family while she worked her way to the Tony Awards and brought home the bacon. He's pretty supportive of her extreme bouts of creativity and mania (can you live a creative life and NOT succumb to the occasional panic attack?). Trouble is a-brewing on the home front and I won't spoil it by spilling it, but she seems to be in the middle of a tug-o-war between wanting to be a good mom and wife, and wanting to excel in her career. She's not demonized for this (hallelujah) -- it's just her struggle.

Ivy (Megan Hilty): The seasoned theater actress desperate for her big break. She's got the talent, the experience and the looks, but her own ambition starts to eat away at her -- perfect fodder for pure camp! Sure, she sleeps with the director, but like Julia the show doesn't turn Ivy into a slutty villainess for her actions or her ambition. She could end up turning into a New York version of Norma Desmond -- desperate, washed up, scary -- or evolving into a happy, well-adjusted starlet. She's all about her career, and she might just stomp on everyone in her path to make it happen -- men do it all the time.

Eileen (Anjelica Huston): If you're not tempted to watch Smash yet, maybe the idea of Anjelica Huston camping it up and repeatedly tossing Manhattans into her no-good hubby's face will entice you. Eileen spent most of her life in the shadow of her super successful, wealthy producer husband's shadow. He turned out to be a cheating bastard, so Eileen is in the midst of a nasty divorce (which is why she's flinging cocktails in his face every time he shows up). Eileen decided to strike out on her own as a producer and it's fun to watch her bulldoze her way past her own insecurities and pain and morph into the femme Harvey Weinstein of Broadway. In short -- she's a badass with a bob.

So give Smash a chance. It's not highbrow, but really, neither was Shakespeare. He just sounds that way now.