Katharine McPhee, Jeremy Jordan
Someone should make a musical about the remaking of Smash between its first and second seasons. Let's call it Phantom of the Rewrite.
Or maybe The (New) Producers, seeing how NBC replaced the original creator/showrunner in hopes of calming this elaborate backstage drama's own behind-the-scenes creative turmoil, which manifested on screen in turgid and oft-ridiculed soap opera between the splashy production numbers (which are still mostly terrific). Smash 2.0 (Tuesday, 9/8c) wastes no time addressing, while slyly commenting on, the show's problem spots, many involving Debra Messing's character, insecure lyricist-librettist Julia Houston. Her dull husband, cloddish son and needy lover? History. Her hideous scarves? Mocked. Also soon to be gone. Along with reviled characters like the scheming, lurking Ellis and Karen's cheating ex, Dev.
And in the most telling in-joke, when the out-of-town reviews come in for the show-within-the-show Bombshell, what gets the most savage notices? The writing! How meta of Smash.
Julia's still a mess, though in a nod to Messing's previous hit Will & Grace, she moves in with her gay composing partner, Tom (scene-stealer Christian Borle). It's one of several smart choices as Smash expands its focus beyond the world of Bombshell, a gossip magnet thanks to financial/legal setbacks and a sexual-harassment scandal involving its cad of a director, Derek Wills (Jack Davenport as the show's most entertaining character).
Taking a page from the old Mickey-and-Judy "let's put on a show" playbook, Smash introduces its winsome ingénue Karen (Katharine McPhee) to a headstrong young songwriter with hip Rent ambitions (rising star Jeremy Jordan, who headlined two real Broadway musicals last year). This subplot, like much of Smash, is cheesy and corny, but works when the impassioned singing starts. Which, for a musical drama about musicals, is what matters most. Smash has a ways to go to earn its standing O, and the hate-watchers are still probably gonna hate. Without a sure-fire lead-in from The Voice this season, the ratings might turn out to be more suitable for off-Broadway, but at least the sour notes are fewer and farther between.
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THEIR LIPS ARE SEALED: But for how long, as Fox's New Girl (9/8c) dives headlong into the hilariously awkward aftermath of last week's kiss between Jess and Nick — an inevitable twist that we all saw coming (thanks, promos!), and yet their impulsive and lingering smooch resolves nothing. Nick stays busy passive-aggressively perfecting his panicked backwards moonwalk every time Jess comes near, and she's conflicted about how much to spill to her smitten swain Sam (David Walton, who's been a real bonus this season). As they comically banter about how much the kiss means, if it means anything, it all comes to a head at an Indian marriage convention where Cece is shopping for new husbandly prospects, naturally prompting a turbaned Schmidt to crash the party. (The way Schmidt uses "Calcutta" in a threat to other suitors is especially inspired.)
The Mindy Project's title character would love these rom-com shenanigans, but in a week-early Valentine's themed episode (9:30/8:30c, Fox), she's got her own dilemma: a double date involving her latest guy (B.J. Novak), whose female BFF she sets up with Danny, and their instant connection throws off her own mojo.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE: In the Kentucky of FX's marvelous Justified (10/9c), with bad apples who get in the way of Raylan and Boyd's separate (but equally perilous) search for the long-missing Drew Thompson. There's a bonanza of guest stars this week, including The Following's Natalie Zea in an all-too-brief return as Raylan's expecting ex Winona, another welcome cameo by Patton Oswalt as the overeager Constable Bob, plus Mike O'Malley as an enforcer from Detroit and Gerald McRaney adding to his gallery of wily coots.
ALL BETS ARE OFF: For Deputy Jack Lamb (Jason O'Mara) of CBS' Vegas (10/9c), who's frantically cleaning up the mess that left his girlfriend's mobster father dead in last week's violent confrontation. As a lounge singer (Jersey Boys Tony winner John Lloyd Young) symbolically croons "Let's Face the Music and Dance," Jack has to decide whether to cover up his involvement or come clean to his sheriff brother and the grieving Mia (Sarah Jones). That's a juicy enough story to make this week's self-contained subplot (about a friend of Dixon's caught up in a car-theft ring) even more regrettable and tedious than usual.
REMEMBER WHEN: PBS' enjoyable Pioneers of Television (check tvguide.com listings) ends its winter run with a look back at a mostly vanished art form: the network TV miniseries, for which you'd think last year's all-star blockbuster Hatfields & McCoys on History might have revived some interest. Those really were the days when a network like ABC would devote an entire week — I was there every night, including on my birthday — to a ratings-shattering epic like Roots, which is remembered by its stars. Also featured: Rich Man, Poor Man, one of the first "novels for TV," and marking its 30th (!) anniversary, the lushly romantic The Thorn Birds.
THE TUESDAY GUIDE: Cyber-terrorism is a hot topic: front page of The New York Times on Monday, the driving motivation behind last week's villain on Person of Interest, and now on CBS' NCIS (8/7c), the team goes after a super-hacker who could help them find the world's most-wanted cyber-terrorist. ... Who do we have to thank for all of this high tech? The early mavericks of Silicon Valley, the subject of a 90-minute American Experience on PBS (check tvguide.com listings) which focuses on Intel founder Robert Noyce, who led his "Traitorous Eight" scientists into an era of invention, including the integrated circuit, that changed pretty much everything about modern life. ... On USA Network's White Collar (10/9c), the underused Diahann Carroll finally gets to work her celebrated pipes, singing two numbers at the fabled Cotton Club as Neal and Peter's latest forgery/money-laundering investigation takes them into the world of New York jazz.
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