THE SHOW "Smash"
WHEN | WHERE Season premiere Tuesday at 9 on NBC/4
WHAT IT'S ABOUT After tryouts in Boston, "Bombshell" -- the musical about Marilyn Monroe -- returns to New York and, hopefully, the St. James. But... well, why give away what happens? Let's just say events force plenty of soul-searching. Yes, even for the director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport). Meanwhile, show rivals Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) attempt to resolve their nasty breach.
Show writers Tom Levitt (Christian Borle) and Julia Houston (Debra Messing) have a new challenge, and Karen may have a new friend, Jimmy Collins (Jeremy Jordan, "Newsies") a bartender who's writing his own musical. Jennifer Hudson joins the cast as Broadway sensation Veronica Moore.
MY SAY In its first season, poor "Smash" managed to attract the sort of following that would thrill only bone-bleached masochists with a mean streak: Hate viewers. These hate viewers watched and howled, tossed spitballs at the show on message boards, and otherwise made a nuisance of themselves.
But they may been on to something. NBC sacked the creator (playwright Theresa Rebeck), then installed a new show-runner, Joshua Safran ("Gossip Girl"), who set to work mending the single most important series on the network. Has the triage worked?
Look, the haters are still gonna hate -- that's a given -- but what "Smash" really needs are lovers: Viewers passionate about the story, cast, music and especially that roiling insane magical universe of New York theater.
This two-hour opener doesn't quite hit that mark -- even with JHud on board and bookended by a pair of rousing musical numbers by the series' two certifiable stars, McPhee and Hilty. That's because it spends so much time repairing self-inflicted damage from last season -- damage that had turned some of the key players into unlikable jerks who slept with the wrong people or too many people.
In Tuesday night's episode, they become humanized and get their comeuppance at the same time. "Smash" is also a little less "let's put on a show," more "let's figure out a TV narrative." That's the most practical direction, but it also makes it all feel a little more earthbound.
BOTTOM LINE A partially successful reboot, with less music, more story.