Super Bowl weekend is closing in -- and with it the true beginning of broadcast's midseason, heralding the arrival of a number of new scripted series that many critics believe to be collectively superior to last fall's freshman class. Specifically, I'm talking about two on NBC -- Smash and Awake -- and two on ABC -- The River and GCB.
To begin with the biggest and the best, NBC's Smash -- a drama with music that chronicles the making of a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe -- might be the boldest broadcast undertaking since Lost, in that it is utterly unlike any other television series I can recall, including legendary nineties musical misfire Cop Rock and the currently tiresome Glee. Smash is not a musical, although at times it briefly slips into that format, but not so much as to be a potential problem. Rather, its performance sequences are generally a part of the narrative -- formal and informal rehearsals, spontaneous singing at parties, or stylish flash-forwards to what the show-in-development's production numbers might look like in their final form.
Almost all of the songs in this series are originals, the likes of which one would likely hum when leaving the theater, which brings up an interesting observation: After watching the first four episodes, I can totally see the songs and production numbers in them being linked together to form an actual Broadway musical. At the very least, Smash (premiering Feb. 6) will be one of those rare television series to produce a seriously entertaining soundtrack album. There will be much more to say about this wonderful show in the weeks to come.
I'm rooting for Awake (which has yet to be scheduled), a well-written procedural crime drama dressed up as an intense emotional exploration of family relationships. Or maybe it's a meditation on the meaning of life. Jason Isaacs is terrific as a detective who apparently moves between two realities after surviving a devastating car accident in which, it seems, either his wife or his son was killed. In one world his wife is still alive; in the other his son survived. Awake won't be an easy sell, because it's somewhat downbeat and more than a little foggy: Isaacs' character has either lost his wife or his son or, to get even more metaphysical, perhaps both. Or he may not have lost either and he might be experiencing this entire series in one of those all-too-convenient TV comas. That may be too much angst and confusion in these increasingly despairing times.
This column continues over at MediaPost.