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TV That Matters: 2/9 Justified, Smash, 30 Rock

By Matt Ern, Columnist

Matt Ern

Smash- "Smash"

B+

 

It seems like we can't get enough of our musicals.  The Glee-ification of American marches on with "Smash," a new show about the opening of a musical about Marilyn Monroe.  NBC seems to have pinned a lot of its hopes to "Smash" since it's getting killed in the ratings left and right.  The good news is the show isn't half bad.  It's certainly more palatable than "Glee" and more likely to appeal to the average television viewer. 

 

In a bit of spot-on casting, Katharine McPhee plays Karen Cartwright, the young actress hoping to get her big break as Marilyn.  After her audition she becomes the frontrunner for the part, replacing another more experienced actress played by Megan Hilty.  Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport, and Christian Borle round out the rest of the cast.  

 

And while there's certainly no lack of musicals these days, the idea of a drama about the world of theater and Broadway is relatively unique.  There aren't any shows like that I can easily recall, which means "Smash" will allow us into a relatively niche world for the first time.   

 

Where "Smash" stands out from its musical peers is a really solid story and interesting direction during the musical numbers that alternate from the audition room to Broadway fantasies.  Just based on this first episode, the series seems like it'll be a slam dunk for fans of musicals but also compelling enough to draw more casual fans.  This could be the show that finally rescues NBC from a pretty terrible slump. 

 

 

Matt Ern

Justified- "The Devil You Know"

A-

 

Justified is the best show on television, and that's not likely to change when Mad Men comes back.  This season has moved along at a rapid pace, accelerating conflicts between Raylan and the various criminal organizations of Harlan to a breakneck pace. 

 

In a typical season of Justified, the first episode would introduce the main villains, and then a case-of-the-week format would take over until the shoot-out packed final episodes.  But Raylan's cases this season have revolved around the overall storyline.  This week it was Dickie and Dewy escaping from pison, although their accomplices turn on them rather quickly because they're only interested in Dickie's money.

 

And that's money that's being stored by Limehouse, so we have another big-bad come into play.  This leads to Raylan and Limehouse's first scene together, which means a major shoot-out between the two can't be far off.  And rounding out the season's villains, Quarles approaches Devil with an offer to leave Boyd's crew and work for him.  But Devil's plan to turn on Boyd backfires when Boyd kills him.   

 

In the end, Dickie isn't able to get all the money he feels he's entitled to, so he surrenders to Raylan (who mostly spends the episode running people over) so he can be sent back to prison because he'd be safer there until Limehouse can come up with more money. 

 

The way every plot has been intertwined so perfectly so early on in the season is incredibly fulfilling given the way this show has improved each year.   I don't know if they can keep up this pace, but if they can it will probably go down as the best show of the year (a potentially final Breaking Bad season can claim that honor though). 

 

Matt Ern

30 Rock- "Today You Are A Man"

A-

 

This was the strongest episode 30 Rock has had in recent memory for a variety of reasons; mostly because it potentially laid the groundwork for the punch line for a five year old joke.  In season one Jack claims that in five years they'll all either be working for Kenneth or dead by his hand.  It could have been a one-off joke, but I've always said if 30 Rock could actually pull that off it would be the best moment I've ever seen on television.  And here we are five years later with Kenneth quitting the page program to pursue a better job.  My fingers are crossed. 

 

The episode also introduced Kristen Schaal's new character which is supposed to be around for a multiple episode arc this season, which is awesome.  Everything about this episode pretty much worked like gangbusters, something that hasn't really happened on 30 Rock since the first season.

 

 Liz using Jack's own negation techniques against him was funny, and then it went to hilarious when Jack cut out the middle man by negotiating against himself.  That scene was reminiscent of him playing the parts of all Tracy's neighbors and family members back in season 2, which was one of the best things the show has ever done. 

 

And with all the incredibly funny things happening in this episode (such as Tracy and Jenna's rendition of ‘Who's on First?') they still found time to have great character moments.  Tracy and Jenna learn a lesson about how they can make everyone's lives easier by not acting like children and Kenneth decides he's going to earn everyone's respect by getting a better job.  Now I don't expect Tracy and Jenna's lesson to carry on to next week, but it was still a nice moment. 

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