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nyunews.com | tuesday, february 7, 2012 | Washington Square news

ARTS

edited by JONATHON DORNBUSH ARTS@nyunews.com

‘Smash’ delivers triumph for NBC

VIA NBC.COM

NBC creates authentic portrayal of Broadway By Bethany McHugh The first few moments of “Smash” bear a striking resemblance to an episode of “American Idol” — the lights, the fog machine, the appearance of Katharine McPhee. However, this is the only time that “Smash” shows any similarity to any other TV series. What unfolds throughout the show is a truly original concept with talent and creative integrity to boot. Debra Messing and Christian Borle star as Julia and Tom, writing partners who are developing a Broadway musical inspired by the life of Marilyn

Monroe. Aiding them is producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston), director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) and actress Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), who draws attention to the production after a video of her singing goes viral. Tensions rise on-set when Karen (McPhee) is found through an open audition, placing her and Ivy in stiff competition for the lead role of the show. The pilot of NBC’s new musical drama successfully forecasts the show’s plot as well as the technicalities of the world in which the characters exist. The audience is exposed to a realistic look at how a show of such caliber is produced. Unlike television’s other scripted musical series, “Glee,” “Smash” takes itself seriously. It doesn’t focus on the mundane drama of people’s personal lives but rather on the complex nature of theatrical professions. What’s particularly amazing is the show’s glamorous production value. “Smash” certainly looks expensive — but not merely for the sake of being flashy. It appears polished, clean and appealing, with music productions feeling

natural and not dubbed over. It sounds as if the actors are singing their hearts out live. Messing is perfectly cast and shines with the little material she is given — turning the show’s most undervalued character into a spectacle. McPhee is also surprisingly likable, and she gives Hilty a run for her money in the vocals department. The two young actresses, both known for their musicality rather than their acting, light up the screen and are perfectly capable of such challenging roles. Admittedly, some of the casting choices are jarring. It’s surreal to see movie star Anjelica Huston in a song-anddance TV show. The search to cast the perfect Marilyn Monroe makes for a surprisingly unique and colorful TV show, and while it’s unlikely that “Smash” will hold on to this storyline forever, it’s a great place to start. The pilot introduces enough characters and intriguing theater elements that a dull first season seems impossible. “Smash” is poised to be the success that NBC needs — and a creative and worthy one at that. Bethany McHugh is a staff writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

Half-time show fails to impress By Josh Johnson Super Bowl halftime performances can be hit or miss. The best I can say about Madonna’s performance this year is that she was better than the Black Eyed Peas’ excruciating performance last year. The main problem is that for all the fuss that the NFL makes about the show, the only people who end up caring are degenerate gamblers betting on whether Madonna will start with a headset or a handheld microphone. Sure, MIA gave the world the finger and the show featured what looked like the cast of the “300” prequel. Sadly, we also had the oblivious LFMAO and a new Madonna song that sounded suspiciously like “Hey Mickey.” Even Cee Lo Green waddling out to sing “Like A Prayer,” while entertaining, couldn’t save Madonna’s performance from being placed in the uneventful column. With that in mind, here are some (realistic) suggestions to make next year’s show memorable: Foo Fighters: I’m shocked that the Foo Fighters haven’t played the halftime show before. After the wardrobe malfunction fiasco with Janet Jackson, the NFL has wanted to take the least offensive path possible. Who is less offensive than the Foo Fighters? The harshest criticism the rock band gets is that they’re better than most of the crap out there. Add that to the image Dave Grohl has as one of the most entertaining frontmen in rock today,

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The Fray’s ‘Scars & Stories’ lacks excitability By Rebecca Kovach

Seven years, a sophomore release and a Christmas EP after their successful debut, “How to Save a Life,” The Fray has returned with its third major album, “Scars & Stories.” Though musically and lyrically impressive, the album takes the phrase “better safe than sorry” to a new level, delivering the same sound that has defined the band in the past. Even for those unaware that the group still releases music, “Heartbeat,” the first single from “Scars & Stories,” feels current but is instantly recognizable as the band’s work. The song exudes warmth with every carefully placed chord and piano melody. Lead singer Isaac Slade’s throaty vocals are like a comforting old friend as he belts out, “You gotta love somebody/ Love them all the same/ I’m singing, oh/ I feel your heartbeat.” Beyond the first track, it is difficult to identify any truly mesmerizing songs. That is not to say that the rest of the album is by any means bad. In fact, the whole album is a collection of equally enjoyable anthems and ballads. But the songs transition so flawlessly into one another that it becomes hard to discern one from the next. After listening multiple times, a few tracks begin to edge their way

COURTESY OF NBC

and you have a Super Bowl act that is almost too perfect. Lady Gaga: If you’re going to get Madonna, you might as well get the newer, younger and more relevant version. Arcade Fire: I know Arcade Fire may seem like a stretch, especially since this year’s show seemed like the only shot the band had at performing due to its upset Grammy win last year. But let us not lose hope. The only thing holding it back is its relative obscurity, but who’s a better stadium band right now than the Arcade Fire? People are going to watch the halftime show regardless. Even the hipster kids who felt they were too cool to watch the game would cave if Arcade Fire was to perform. Josh Johnson is music editor. Email him at jjohnson@nyunews.com

Rebecca Kovach is a contributing writer. Email her at music@nyunews.com.

Speilberg’s ‘River’ has potential By Ana Luisa Crivorot

Madonna performed during halftime at Super Bowl XLVI.

ahead of the pack. “The Fighter,” a song about love and loneliness, features an infectious chorus that’s easily memorized. With a haunting bridge, “Fighter” builds from a solemn solitary piano line to a passionate conclusion. “Run For Your Life” is another strong effort. Its lyrics offer an inspirational message to listeners: “Run for your life, my love/ Run and you don’t give up/ All that you are, all that you want/ Run for your life.” The song ends on a delicate yet intricate melody that reflects its refreshingly positive outlook. Perhaps the most easily overlooked song on the album is the slow and sorrowful “I Can Barely Say.” The song’s long, echoing piano notes are bolstered by heartbreaking string arrangements and regretful lyrics such as “I wanted to run/ I wanted to love and be loved in return/ But will I ever get back?” “Scars & Stories” is solid from beginning to end but remains unfortunately stagnant throughout. The soft-rock persona ever-present on the album is what The Fray does best, and for better or worse, the band seems to have made the conscious decision not to change it.

Horror and sci-fi television shows rarely find more than cult followings. However, executive producers Steven Spielberg and “Paranormal Activity” director Oren Peli are determined to make sure “The River” does not suffer this fate by creating a show with enough frights to attract even the most jaded television viewer. Inspired by “The X-Files” and similar spinetingling programs of television’s past, “The River” promises a clever tale of science fiction and, more importantly, good horror. But while “The River” delivers the scares, the question remains whether the show’s plot will be comprehensive. “The River” tells the story of famed adventurer Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), a Steve Irwin type who has disappeared during an expedition along with his crew. The show begins in slow fashion with the introduction of Cole’s dysfunctional family, including his wife Tess (Leslie Hope) and brooding son Lincoln (Joe Anderson). Add to the mix a few more disgruntled characters, and “The River” begins to feel like a soap opera. Fortunately, once the show picks up, it does so with unbridled energy and never looks back. Tess leads an expedition of her own to find her missing husband, taking a camera crew into the uncharted, dangerous depths of the Amazon River. From this point on, “The River” turns into an unapologetic showcase of terror. Demons run amok, possessing innocent bodies. Ghostly hands shoot up to pull their victims into the water. A group of spooky porcelain dolls are found hanging from a tree. The show will do anything to hold its audience’s interest, and it works. The horror is aided by its documentary-style

camerawork, a technique perfected in Peli’s “Paranormal” franchise. While comedies like “The Office” and “Modern Family” have been using the style for years, “The River” demonstrates that the technique supports the chaos and paranoia of the environment while also engaging viewers as part of the ride. Though the cast is composed of unique, complex characters, the true star is the scenery itself. The lush, colorful jungle and the magnificently designed creatures of the wild combine for a breathtaking setting. It’s beautiful and terrifying. One particularly striking shot of the river reveals in haunting style its humongous, snakelike stature. The river evokes the classic horror film “The Shining” — the maze-like structure akin to that film’s setting adds to the sense that the characters are doomed with no way out. At this early stage, “The River” succeeds by titillating audiences enough to keep them coming back for more. The character relationships and overall mystery are rich enough to remain interesting for the immediate future. But with the uncertain lifespan of horror-driven shows, it is unclear whether “The River” will garner enough momentum to survive multiple seasons. Ana Luisa Crivorot is a contributing writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

VIA ABC.COM

“The River” provides a suspenseful pilot.

WSN020712  

February 7, 2012

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