Jennifer Hudson and Katharine McPhee on ‘Smash’

Looks like Jennifer Hudson will have to find another way to get to EGOT.

Last night, NBC’s Smash returned to the airwaves after dumping showrunner Theresa Rebeck in favor of Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl) and promising a retooled series after the first season went from critically hyped to universally panned (Buzzfeed has a great rundown of everything that went wrong with the show, if you want to know all the gory details).

Besides brushing aside extraneous characters and bringing on Joe Iconis to write original music for Katherine McPhee’s new love interest, NBC drafted McPhee’s fellow Idol alum Jennifer Hudson to play a Tony-winning actress and probable mentor to McPhee’s rising star Karen.

Bold idea to get more star power on this show. But the mentor relationship (and inevitable duet between the two) spotlights the show’s biggest flaw: McPhee. As EW’s Ken Tucker writes, “McPhee and Hudson, by contrast, represent the weakest and strongest skills of American Idol graduates respectively.” Karen was already a weak character who paled in comparison, both vocally and character-wise, to her rival Ivy (Megan Hilty), but bringing in Hudson just leaves the viewer wondering why McPhee is still on this show at all.

What’s more, NBC gave Hudson nothing to do but sing. She only appeared in the first half of the slog of a two-hour premiere and had barely any lines at that. Hopefully Safran will give her more in future episodes.

If people are watching, that is. Turns out barely anyone tuned in to the premiere (okay, I did, but not many others), despite the massive J Hud hyping.

Smash is still one of NBC’s darlings, and it will certainly live to see another week. And yet, if the show is going to get any kind of audience on Tuesday nights, it needs to do more than have Jennifer Hudson sing. Getting rid of Debra Messing’s scarves was a good start. 


Photograph: Eric Liebowitz/NBC