Critics who previewed “On Broadway,” the second-season opener of Smash that airs Feb. 5 at 9 p.m. on NBC (and has been available for online streaming since Jan. 14), have responded with mixed but promising notices. The creative team for the two-hour premiere episode includes Joshua Safran (screenplay), Michael Morris (direction), Josh Bergasse (choreography), and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (lyrics and music for “Cut, Print … Moving On” and “Mama Makes Three”). The cast includes returning members Debra Messing (Julia), Katharine McPhee (Karen), Jack Davenport (Derek), Christian Borle (Tom), Megan Hilty (Ivy), Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam), and Anjelica Huston (Eileen), with new member Jeremy Jordan (Jimmy) and guest star Jennifer Hudson (Veronica). Not returning with the cast this season are Jaime Cepero (Ellis), Raza Jaffrey (Dev), Brian d’Arcy James (Frank), and Will Chase (Michael).
Daniel Goldberg (Slant): Season two periodically harkens back to the show’s early episodes, before the soapy affairs, pointless cameos, and filler plotlines about apartment hunts got in the way of a series that should always have been about the creative process behind putting on a Broadway show. … Smash isn’t shy about asking us to suspend our disbelief as it reshuffles its cast and tries to regain its footing. … While it’s easy to forget the show’s shortcomings whenever McPhee or Hilty belt out one of Bombshell’s stellar original songs … that’s ultimately not enough to absolve the series from failing to let its most tenable narrative take center stage. 2-1/2 out of 4 stars
Tom Long (Detroit News): The crazy mess that was the first season of Smash is over. On with the crazy mess of a second season. … A number of characters and storylines have been abandoned; but then a number of characters and storylines have also been added. It’s not the same mess, it’s a new mess. … In the mix is a surly bartender-songwriter (Jeremy Jordan) and his songwriting partner (Andy Mientus). And apropos of absolutely nothing, Jennifer Hudson shows up in this season’s opener. Because the show doesn’t have enough singing. … Maybe this will all become coherent. But then maybe it shouldn’t. Sometimes messy is better. GRADE: B-
Brian Lowry (Variety): A new show runner and various tweaks haven’t righted the ship. … The modest changes – other than jettisoning some of the more annoying cast members – mostly amount to a shift in the way Smash approaches musical numbers, staging them against montages of action more like a music video. If that’s meant to help the series connect better with a younger crowd, it’s at the expense of the Broadway origins that captivated some fans in the first place. … The more the network feels compelled to tout such metrics, the less chance Smash is genuinely living up to its name.
Ken Tucker (Entertainment Weekly): Replacement show runner Joshua Safran has streamlined the storytelling and, based on the two-hour premiere and a second episode, saved the right elements. Fortunately, Katharine McPhee’s Karen and Megan Hilty’s Ivy are as Bombshell competitive as always. … Smash is still prone to howler numbers, such as when Derek hallucinates the women in his life. … But without moments like that … Smash would not be the Smash we sorta love/sorta cringe at. Like the Marilyn Monroe musical it’s trying to mount, the drama treads familiar ground in a quirky, high-stepping way that you can’t resist watching. GRADE: B
David Wiegand (San Francisco Gate): The second season kicks off with a terrific two-hour show Tuesday night that should be a textbook example to other show runners on how to bring the audience along as you make significant changes to a troubled show. … The second-season premiere and subsequent episode re-chart the overall course for the show, giving us a somewhat more credible sense of how a Broadway show gets made and bringing the process into modern times with the introduction of two new characters. … The inevitable and believable intersection of “old” and “new” musical theater adds real life and renewed potential to Smash.