Normally when a show gets as much pre-premiere hype as "Smash", I'm inclined to dislike it before even seeing it. But something about the "Smash" ads kept drawing me in, and when I read the feature story in Entertainment Weekly, I knew I'd have to check out the first episode, regardless of how overhyped it was.
Hype aside, I was beyond impressed with the first hour of "Smash". It just felt like something special, from start to finish, something that wasn't quite like anything else I watch on TV. It's not "Glee" for adults, it's not "High School Musical: The Professional Years" and it's not "Fame 2012". There are levels of complexity to the show that, even in the limited time in the pilot, made the characters feel like three-dimensional people and not just parts in a play.
Obviously the show is setting up the battle for the role of Marilyn between Katherine McPhee's Karen and Megan Hilty's Ivy, but it's not like that was the dominant storyline of the episode. Hell, the two characters never even interacted. It was really just two individual stories about two different types of girls taking two different paths to stardom, and the way the show played the two characters off each other without forcing them into direct competition was incredibly well done.
There were plenty of real world Broadway references, but it felt like "Broadway Insiders for Dummies" -- and I mean that in a good way. It wasn't so bogged down with inside references that someone who doesn't follow the ins and outs of Broadway (read: me) wouldn't get it. And I thought the characters did a good enough job selling what they were referencing that it didn't matter if the references were 100% accurate or not; it's about believing they're accurate to the world the characters exist in, and I believed that.
I did think there were some pacing issues, not necessarily with the shot itself, but with the timeline of the events in the show. I wasn't quite sure exactly how quickly or not plot points were actually unfolding in relation to real world timelines, but it didn't take away too much from the show. Also, the "casting couch" scene with McPhee and Jack Davenport's Derek Willis was a bit absurd, but I'm willing to let it slide.
As for the musical numbers, I thought they were impressive, but the show would have drawn me in without them, which is something I can no longer say for "Glee". Whether that will be the case going forward remains to be seen, but I'll definitely be watching.