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Ask Matt: Fringe Finale, Nashville, the Downton Abbey Effect, and More

January 22, 2013 2 comments

Question: What can I say except: “Awesome!” Fringe could not have ended any other way. I was fully prepared to be sad and upset, but the ending left me feeling fulfilled and satisfied. I applaud anyone who had anything to do with this amazing show. Walter, Olivia, Peter and the gang have become family to me and I am happy knowing that they have a future. So thank you universe, whichever one you choose, for this wonderful show. And thank you, Matt, for always championing Fringe and giving it space and time in your column. — Rachel

Matt Roush: Happy to report that the reaction (so far) to the Fringe finale, in my mailbag anyway, has been uniformly rapturous. Rachel’s point about the characters feeling like family helps explain why Fringe, however challenged in the ratings and however convoluted its mythology could be, struck such a chord with its cult following. Here’s another even more elaborate valentine.

Question: They said the finale of Fringe was being done as a “love letter to the fans” and I think it was, and now I’d love to send a love letter to Fringe and to Fox for taking us on this marvelous ride and for giving us wonderful closure! I loved the fact that we were treated to seeing the Observers and the “loyalists” taste some of the horrible endings others went through in the first four years. I loved that we got to go back to the “alternate universe” for a little while, and that Bolivia and Link had a family. I loved that September wanted to walk off into the future with Michael, to show him he loved him, was excited that Walter wasn’t going, but then when September died it was fitting and beautiful and sad when Walter took Michael’s hand and led him off, and when Peter said “I love you dad.” I loved when they found Gene the cow in amber, when Walter told Astrid she had a lovely name, that they saved Broyles, that Olivia crushed Windmark, that they wound up back to the point where they were in the park in 2015 with Peter asking Etta to come to him, they were going home, only this time she did. I loved so many things, and it made saying goodbye to this marvelous show, that made it into the hearts of so many viewers but unfortunately not into the rating books, so much easier. And what I want to know, after this long dissertation, which I can’t help but crow about, what did you think of the Fringe finale?

I know you’ve been a supporter of this great show, and now that it’s gone into the abyss of TV shows that once were, do you think it had a fitting end? I think it will go down in TV history as one of the best finales ever, but what say you? I love to read your comments, marvel at your insight, your humor, your ability to be fair, kind and for me, always on the money, and I’m dying for some Fringe closure from you! — Dorothy

Matt Roush: Well, thanks for that mash note — to the show and to this fellow fan. Much of what Dorothy loved about the episode I did as well. I do think it was an appropriate finish, especially as it was grounded in the love these characters had for each other and the sacrifices they chose to make — including dangerously recharging Olivia’s powers, even if only temporarily, to give us a last glimpse of the alt-world, where some of my favorite Fringe moments occurred. I imagine this episode will be well regarded as finales go, but if it falls short of legendary status, that may have something to do with how marginalized Fringe had become by the time it ended. I’ll be curious to see if the show’s reputation grows over time, as people discover and rediscover it on other platforms.

Question: I love the fact that Nashville name-checks some of the biggest names in country music like Martina McBride and Lady Antebellum. It adds some validity to the premise, but it also can get a little too meta for some of us. In the most recent episode, Rayna’s manager mentioned that the guitarist “comes highly recommended. He played with Brad and Keith.” Now, it isn’t specified, but one can easily assume that “Brad and Keith” are Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. The writers are obviously intending to imply that the guitarist has to be pretty good to play on a stage with those guys who are known for their guitar skills. But why on earth would they choose to name drop Brad Paisley when his real-life wife (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) plays Peggy on the show? Totally took me out of the show for a minute or two while I was figuring that out.

That’s not the only example. They have said on the show that Rayna has won multiple CMA and Grammy awards, and again, though it hasn’t been specified what years she was supposed to have won, it can be deduced that she is approximately the same age, with a similar career path as Martina McBride. So we could figure that in the show’s world, Rayna may have won some of the years that Martina actually won. I realize that it is just a TV show, but for country fans like myself it can be difficult to separate. So my question is: What are your thoughts on the reality of the country music scene bleeding into the fictional universe of the show? — Catherine

Matt Roush: One of the best things Nashville has going for it is the authenticity of its depiction of the music business, from the concert arenas to the smaller local haunts where real magic is made. Anything that adds to that feeling is OK by me, but then I’m not nearly so immersed in the country-music scene, so it doesn’t throw me. (My main exposure comes from my local country-western bar; if you’re ever in the Hell’s Kitchen area, Flaming Saddles is a must!) If you were telling me that these moments were ringing false, I’d be more alarmed. But it shouldn’t be that difficult to separate reality from this show’s fiction, which is at its best when it focuses on the music.

Question: My question is very simple. After watching that scene in last week’s Justified with Boyd and Preacher Billy, then flashing back to Walton Goggins’ guest spot on Sons of Anarchy as the transvestite, not to mention his time on The Shield, he is just electric. How is he not headlining his own show by now? — Geoffrey

Matt Roush: The fact that Walton Goggins has broken out so vividly in each of these series is a testament to his value as a top-tier character actor and scene-stealer. It’s quite possible that a great leading role is waiting for him somewhere — if it ever happens, my money’s on FX — but I wonder if he’d be as effective in carrying a show as he is in bringing to life these intensely enjoyable supporting characters, where we’re always left wanting more. As long as he’s working, I’m happy.

Question: We are big fans of Justified. However, my husband has a problem with staying awake during the program. That was fine the last couple of seasons because we’d catch up with it the next day with On Demand with our cable company. This year it’s not on demand, and we don’t have a DVR. The cable company gouges us enough. Any reason why we can’t get Justified or is that something through our cable company? As long as I have you here, both CSI’s are available On Demand but not Criminal Minds? — J

Matt Roush: Check again. On my own cable system, Justified‘s season opener is now available for viewing on demand (though not online except via iTunes), but I’m not sure how many days after broadcast it may be delayed; these things vary by the show and network. If it isn’t available, it may be a function of your cable provider. Regarding network series like Criminal Minds (and, also via my mailbag, shows including Person of Interest and The Mentalist), those deals for online or On Demand availability are generally determined by the studio, not the network, again on a show-by-show basis, and there’s still a theory in some circles that by not giving a show away for free, it may increase its value in syndication and the DVD marketplace.

Question: Do you think that the incredible popularity of Downton Abbey will bring more British-made shows to America? I was a big fan of BBC America at one time, but its programming lately is lackluster at best. It has nowhere near the amount of shows it once had, and seems to mainly air Top Gear, Kitchen Nightmares and, oddly, Star Trek: The Next Generation. I love Picard and company, but it is sad to see the channel that brought us great British television like Waking the Dead reduced to airing old American reruns. Do you think Downton Abbey‘s success could reinvigorate BBC America or maybe push PBS to bring us more British television? — Amanda

Matt Roush: Keep in mind that the Downton Abbeys of the world are few and far between, even in England. Its success already has inspired PBS to go outside the Masterpiece window to acquire another winner in Call the Midwife, which returns with new episodes in late March, and they just announced another multi-part drama, a mystery called The Bletchley Circle, to air in April. PBS is seeking other opportunities with international co-producers, but doesn’t have the deepest pockets, so much of what you’ll see there will likely still be contained within the Masterpiece franchise.

BBC America is a more commercial enterprise (no Trek pun intended), and when you see full nights devoted to unscripted shows in constant rotation, that’s a clue about where the eyeballs and dollars are. Why the channel leans on U.S.-produced shows like TNG and Battlestar Galactica is more of a puzzle, I admit. The channel did successfully branch off this summer with a homegrown Sunday drama (Copper, which for me didn’t live up to the standards of imports like the new Ripper Street), but for now it seems like the channel is content with packaging most of its dramas in pods like the Saturday lineup of fantasy/sci-fi/thrillers (including most famously Doctor Who) and the Wednesday Dramaville banner (home of great shows like Luther and The Hour). It’s worth noting that outlets like Encore (The Crimson Petal and the White), Ovation (this Tuesday’s The Scapegoat) and Sundance (Appropriate Adult) have acquired notable British dramas in recent years, and HBO has collaborated with the BBC on next month’s Parade’s End miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I would expect Downton to spur even more interest in partnering for long-form period dramas, but it may take a while to see the results.

Question: I love Elementary! I think the chemistry between Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller is intriguing and well balanced. Very entertained by each episode, but the “M” episode is my favorite so far. My question: Is there a possibility that Sherlock is, in fact, behind the hiring of Watson as sober companion and not his father? It seems a very Sherlockian thing to do and would explain the absence of Holmes Sr. I’d like to believe Sherlock is capable, on some level, of foreseeing his own need of stable and constant supervision by someone like Watson. It’s the only way he can get what he needs while satisfying the persona he’s created. What do you think? — Kristine

Matt Roush: I wouldn’t rule anything out where this clever show is concerned, but I like the idea of Holmes’ family back in London having a vested interest in what he’s up to in New York. I also hope we’ll see Holmes père one of these days — the real deal, not another fake — and/or a Mycroft of some sort. While it seems clear that by now Sherlock knows he needs Watson to function at capacity, I’m not sure that was the case when we entered this story, and I’d like to think we’ve seen actual, not feigned, character growth within their partnership.

Question: I’ve never been more furious at a group of TV writers as I am at the Criminal Minds team right now. The “Zugzwang” episode was the worst wrap-up of a storyline that I have ever seen. The writers had us invested for months with the Reid/Maeve stalker storyline, finally giving us an emotional and real character focus, and they turn around and toss it away like that? I felt as though one group of writers spent the time crafting that story and then an entirely different group decided they were done with it and decided to wrap it up quickly. None of the story made any sense. He’s friends with her for 10 months and never once did she ask her criminal profiler friend to investigate the stalker and when they finally do, it’s solved in minutes? Really? What exactly was the point of destroying Dr. Reid like this and never giving the viewers a payoff? Worst episode ever. Why did they even bother? I have some serious doubts about the people responsible for making decisions on this show. — Shelly

Matt Roush: I had those doubts by the end of the very first episode of this exploitative series, my least favorite member of the CBS crime family. All I can say about this (because I’m too polite to tell fans “told you so” when we disagree) is: What did you expect?

Question: I really like The Jeff Probst Show. The format is so much better than the other talk shows. He spends almost the entire hour with his guest, not five minutes interrupted with a commercial. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I love how he wears jeans and has his feet on the coffee table, just like home. I hope it gets renewed. — Patricia

Matt Roush: This show may be too laid back to survive in the competitive arena of daytime talk, which proved to be too much for even a seasoned talker like Anderson Cooper. But he does seem to be enjoying himself, doesn’t he? If once the tribe has spoken he doesn’t earn a second year, at least we know he has a great night job to fall back on.

Question: Please tell me what happened to 666 Park Avenue. Are the final episodes going to be aired? I’ve already heard it was canceled, but can’t ABC at least finish what was started? I love this show and wish they’d changed their minds on this one. — Mary

Matt Roush: ABC filmed all 13 episodes of the original order, and by all accounts plans to air them, though now it seems unlikely we’ll see them before summer — and should they never see the light of day, I wouldn’t be terribly shocked, though fans would have every right to be annoyed if they don’t.

Question: The Big Bang Theory was voted best comedy by the People’s Choice Awards and has been in the top 10 if not the No. 1 spot in the most viewed shows of the week, so when do you think the Emmy voters will award it the best comedy statue? I like Modern Family, but I love TBBT. On another note, I didn’t want to like The Carrie Diaries, but I do. And I know you gave it a good review, but I will not however be following The Following. There is enough murder in real life, real-life crazies out there, and I don’t want to watch it on TV. I am just afraid the extreme violence on this show will give someone not in their right mind some very bad ideas. — Sharon

Matt Roush: Not since Everybody Loves Raymond‘s second Emmy in 2005 has a multi-camera comedy filmed in front of an audience won the big prize. No matter their popularity, this style just isn’t in vogue these days with the majority of voters. Big Bang seems to just get hotter by the season — and building up the female characters has made the show even funnier — but I’m not sure it will ever be able to overcome the industry bias. I agree that The Carrie Diaries was a pleasant surprise and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops. But when it comes to a show like The Following, to each his or her own. I’m a fan of well-crafted and well-executed horror and suspense, just as I welcome great comedies like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s no surprise that The Following isn’t for everyone — it isn’t meant to be — and its timing in the wake of recent tragedies is unfortunate and unsettling. But for those with an appetite for a scary thriller, The Following doesn’t pull its punches, which is why I can recommend it.

Question: Why in the world are they showing episodes of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 completely out of order? Everyone I have spoken to about this show keeps asking the same thing. Any insight you could give me would help a ton! — Teri

Matt Roush: There’s a one-word answer for this: Carelessness. If ABC wants us to believe they care about this offbeat show’s iffy future, they have an odd way of showing it.

Another question on the same subject, from Erin, finishes by asking: “When they release Don’t Trust the B— on DVD, will the episodes be in the correct order?” My answer: I certainly hope so. The studio has no control over how the network programs its shows — but you can bet if it were doing as well as Modern Family, it wouldn’t be jerked around like this — but the studio has total control over such things as DVDs, so that’s probably your best option to see this show as it was intended to be seen. In order.

Categories: :: Ask Matt

Ask Matt: Dance Shows, Suits, Breaking Bad, the TV Olympics, More

August 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Question: Any thoughts on this season of So You Think You Can Dance? I know this show is one of your favorites. I think the show has done a pretty solid job of compensating for the loss of the results show this year, and I have to commend the producers for still putting on such a well-produced show that fits in practically everything I love about it while still ending it on time (big kudos to Cat Deeley for keeping things moving along so effortlessly). But while it’s still the show I love, the format change and unfortunate interruptions this year from Independence Day and the Summer Olympics have forced multiple eliminations in some episodes to keep them on schedule, and we’ve lost a few promising contestants that I feel may have been cut too early on. Maybe this speaks more to the amazing talent and great casting that’s making almost every elimination feel so hard to take, but despite the show’s commendable efforts this year, the revised format and scheduling seem to be working against it this season. I’d love for it to go back to two nights a week next year, but considering the recent ratings, I’m assuming Fox sees value in this new format to keep it cost effective if it renews it next summer (fingers crossed!). How are you finding this season so far? — Brodie

Matt Roush: First off, I wouldn’t worry about this show being renewed, given that Dance was the only Fox show of any genre (besides animation) that got Emmy nominated for best series. And bravo for Cat Deeley’s second straight nomination. She never lets me, or those inexhaustible dancers, down. Dance is a prestige item, if not a ratings blockbuster, and it does well enough, even though this season has had trouble building momentum, for the reasons you’ve already mentioned. The multiple eliminations before we even know who some of these dancers are and what they can do; the unfortunate preemptions (though I’m not complaining about the show sitting out the Olympics; I wish more summer shows had done the same); and most particularly the lack of even a shortened results show has kept me from feeling fully engaged, at least so far. I’m excited that they’re bringing back some all-stars to dance with the contestants starting this week, and now that we’re down to the Top 10 with no breaks till the finale (I hope), and now that all of those plugs for “National Dance Day” are behind us (I also hope), I expect I’ll get caught up all over again. I am glad they’re crowning a boy and a girl this season — I wish they’d though of that the year Kent Boyd somehow placed second. Final thought, looking back at last week’s experiment at re-creating so many of Mia Michaels’ amazing routines, almost always to lesser effect: Maybe this just isn’t one of the show’s most standout casts (though I do have my favorites, including the gone-too-soon Amelia), although it’s also true that the way the show has been scheduled this summer has made it hard to know for sure.

 

Question: What do you think about having past champions like Kelly Monaco, Drew Lachey and Apolo Anton Ohno compete in the All-Star season of Dancing With the Stars? I personally don’t think it’s necessary to have past champions compete against past contestants that haven’t won the previous seasons of the show, because I think only the past contestants that haven’t won the mirror-ball trophy should only compete on the DWTS all-star season, and having past winners on the show competing for a chance to win another mirror-ball trophy is very unfair for the other contestants! How come they couldn’t ask more past contestants like last season’s Katherine Jenkins and William Levy (who I felt were both really robbed of being winners last season) to the all-star season this year? — Chris

Matt Roush: If these “stars” were competing for something more tangible than a silly mirror-ball, I might agree with you. (For example, I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring back past winners of shows like Survivor to get another chance at the million dollars after having already won.) The notion behind Dancing With the Stars’ all-star season is to see how audience favorites from different seasons, including past winners, will fare when pitted against each other. This actually has the feel of an “event” to it, which might not be the case with a cast made up entirely of also-rans.

Question: I was a Suits fan from the beginning, but now it’s starting to grate on me. Daniel, Mike and Jessica are coming off as much too self-righteous, especially given the lie they’re hiding. And piling on Louis is getting to be a bit much. Mike making fun of Louis was just awkward; the kid is pretending to be a lawyer, but he makes fun of Louis. Give me a break! I will be unable to watch this show if Daniel, Mike and Jessica don’t tone it down. Do you have any idea what the writers have in store for this series? Please tell me Louis will continue to be senior partner. I’m tired of the liars looking down on him. — Angela

Matt Roush: I’ve only seen up to this Thursday’s mid-season finale, where quite a bit is resolved regarding the office power struggle, and I wouldn’t care to project beyond that. But consider that you’re watching a show about lawyers, fairly ruthless ones at that — including Louis, who went so far as to surreptitiously record his rivals to use as blackmail. The fact that you feel empathy toward that toadie is a testament to Rick Hoffman, who is doing some of his best work in the best role he’s ever had. But do I think they’re ever going to stop picking on him and belittling him? Not likely, and not soon. These aren’t particularly nice people, even though we find ourselves rooting for them (or most of us do, anyway). Mike’s youthful arrogance and Harvey’s seasoned arrogance aren’t always shown in the most positive light, but no matter what she does and says, Jessica is never anything less than fabulous. This is one of my favorite Gina Torres characters ever, and should she or any of her cohorts “tone it down,” the show’s over. I think I prefer my USA shows to have a little edge — if not so much self-conscious swearing, which as we’ve previously discussed gets old and looks desperate.

Question: This season of Breaking Bad is absolutely fantastic! The train-robbing scene from last week was so incredible! I am, though, shocked with what happened with the boy on the bike in the last scene of that episode. Please tell me that will not go unpunished, because I have kids of my own and it was hard to see a scene like that. A lot of stuff happens on the show which is sometimes hard to watch, but that was just terrible! — Mike

Matt Roush: It’s without doubt one of the most disturbing moments in this show’s dark history, and that’s saying something. If you watched this Sunday’s episode, you’ve seen the immediate fallout from this fatal mishap as it effects the team — which is getting seriously close to Treasure of the Sierra Madre meltdown level these days. Walt’s moral relativism as he tried to look on the bright side of this ill-fated caper was one of his most chilling displays of inner rot yet. I don’t know if they will ultimately be punished for this specific horrible crime, but we’re getting closer and closer to the endgame, and I can’t imagine it will be pretty for any of them.

Question: I found myself very disappointed in NBC’s Olympics coverage, for a few reasons. Even when trying to avoid spoilers, quite often the NBC Facebook page would give away who received medals before they played the tape-delayed footage during prime time. Also, I compared what we saw of the opening and closing ceremonies with what friends overseas saw, and we seem to have gotten a much abbreviated version of both. And then after the prime time Closing Ceremony, NBC tweets that The Who would be aired after the broadcast of Animal Practice. Perhaps instead of the 7-8pm hour being filled with “things we didn’t see during the last two weeks,” they could have shown the entire ceremony. Is there a reason the powers that be at NBC chose to show only parts of certain ceremonies and events such as the decathlon? And how much longer do they have the Olympics contract? I’d like to know how much longer I have to put up with their coverage, or lack thereof. — Gwen

Matt Roush: You’re stuck with NBC’s Olympics coverage at least through 2020, and given how well their coverage did in the ratings, I doubt seriously they’ll change their approach anytime soon (although with Rio’s Summer Games four years from now, there will be many more opportunities for live event coverage). Trying to make it through this year’s Olympics spoiler-free turned out to be a fool’s errand, but the Olympics aren’t like regular sports, and even when we knew what the results would be (often positive from the USA point of view, but not always), it didn’t seem to lessen our appetite for watching the drama play out, even in overly packaged and edited form. NBC has paid a fortune for these rights and has the discretion to chop up some of these events as they see fit, putting together a polished package in prime time that might aggravate purists (and tweeters) but more often than not still resulting in a pretty compelling show. Plus, for die-hard Olympics fans, this was the first time NBC gave viewers the option to watch nearly everything streamed live if they wanted to watch the entire event in real time. Regarding the Closing Ceremony, though, it was unconscionable for NBC to delay the big finish with The Who until after midnight ET, so they could promote that idiotic sitcom with the monkey. It was one of the network’s worst judgment calls, and left a very bad aftertaste for the entire Olympics experience.

Question: At the end of last Sunday’s episode of Army Wives, the tag line for the preview mentioned three more episodes “before it all ends.” Is this the last season? I don’t think it is, but I haven’t been able to find anything about it being renewed either. I believe they were splitting the current season, but I’m not sure if we’re on the front or back half of it now. Any scoop on if it’s coming back? — Beth

Matt Roush: No word yet. The promos (clumsily worded, I agree) are all about this current season ending, not the series as a whole. Although it’s also true that Lifetime hasn’t officially renewed the show, which is now ending its super-sized sixth year. Given how important Army Wives has been to the Lifetime brand, I’d be surprised if the network doesn’t give the show a proper sendoff and buildup to the end when they decide it’s time to close shop. If it were to end its run abruptly in a few weeks — the season finale airs Sept. 9, with J.R. Martinez the high-profile guest star — that would be awfully bad form. Even for TV execs.

Question: I wondered if you knew what the deal is with the cable networks (A&E, USA, TNT) having the 10 pm (9c) shows run over by a minute or 3 now? It makes it really hard to record shows when none seem to fit in the one-hour time frame anymore. I often record during prime time and then record some replays over night, but now they’re all off by a few minutes which just builds as the night goes on. What gives? Just more commercials during prime time? Just want to frustrate the viewers? It’s working. It’s like they’re all taking after American Idol, which can’t quite seem to fit “You’re going home” into a two-hour show and has to run over. I’ve also noticed that for some, they’re not putting the last episode online until the next show has aired, or even waiting a month, by which time I don’t remember if I missed the beginning or end and don’t care anymore, which lessens my interest in the show in general. Not a good plan for keeping viewers. — Sue

Matt Roush: First, the overrun issue. Cable appears to be taking a cue from the broadcast networks, in extending some of their hit franchises a minute or more to lead into the show that follows, thinking that’s the best strategy to keep viewers from flipping away. (In some cases, like Mad Men, the show runs longer for creative reasons.) This strategy has been going on for some time on the broadcast networks, and has been an aggravation from the start. The cable scheduling seems to take into account that everyone has DVRs that automatically account for this extra time — if the networks hold to their schedules, which isn’t always the case; I’ve recorded a few USA Network shows this summer that still stopped short of the final few seconds of the climax. What a pain. But when it comes to networks (again, I’m assuming this gripe is aimed at USA) not putting their episodes online for a month (although they do go On Demand fairly quickly), that strategy is designed to force people to watch or record their shows when they air. Which is how they make their money. Which is their right.

Question: I’ve just now heard about Alphas on Syfy. I missed Season 1, and jumped in by watching the first episode of Season 2. It seems to be X-Men‘s cousin, from what I can tell. Have you seen it? If so, do you enjoy it? Is it worth investing my time into it? I know, that’s kind of a subjective question. — Don

Matt Roush: Nothing wrong with a subjective question, as long as you take into account that not everyone agrees on what’s worth watching. (I would venture that several of the shows that have come up in this week’s column aren’t ones I would necessarily recommend, but I can appreciate that others enjoy them.) My initial impression of Alphas wasn’t all that enthusiastic. I like some of the actors (David Strathairn as team leader Dr. Rosen and especially Ryan Cartwright as Gary, the boyish human computer), and appreciate that these superheroes don’t always play well together, but the whole enterprise felt a bit less than fantastic — bland, to be honest, and I only watched sporadically through the first season. (Bottom line: If you’re just starting to watch now, that’s probably OK.) Things seem to have improved this year with more of a serialized through-line as our heroes chase down the escaped rogue Alphas, and Rosen spars with the possibly immortal Stanton Parish. Still, it doesn’t exactly scream “must-see.” In the bigger picture, while I enjoy the whimsy of Warehouse 13 and already miss Eureka, I still yearn for Syfy to give us a show that’s a little more out-of-this-world than Alphas manages to be.

Question: I am pumped that Unforgettable lives on another day, even if it is in the summer, but I’m concerned about the news that a majority of the supporting cast is not returning. I love Kevin Rankin as Roe. Actually, he is who I am going to miss. He is the comic relief that is needed at times in an intense story. Was it just the late reprieve by CBS that these actors will not be back? On that note, I will be very upset with CBS if they pull an Old Christine on this show. ABC showed interest in The New Adventures of Old Christine, and like a kid in a sandbox, CBS renewed it so that ABC could not have it, then proceeded to treat it like dirt and in the end canceled it. Of course, ABC then did not need it with Modern Family and The Middle doing so well. TNT and Lifetime showing interest in Unforgettable makes me think it might be the same song, just a different verse. — Amy H

Matt Roush: In this case, a fan’s proper response should be relief and maybe even gratitude that the show got a second life. Dropping cast members sounds to me like more of a money issue, given that Unforgettable will now be operating under a summer budget, which logically would be less than that for a regular-season contender. On the other hand, I’m also betting that, as one of the few (possibly only) new scripted series CBS will air next summer, it will get more promotion when it returns than it would if it were struggling for attention during the fall or winter seasons — which would make it the opposite of how CBS treated Old Christine in its latter years. CBS won’t want people to forget Unforgettable exists when it comes time to exhume it.

Question: I just finished watching the last episode of NYC 22 and thoroughly enjoyed having it around this summer. I was surprised CBS canceled it so quickly on its regular run. Saturday nights fit it very well and I’m curious as to what kind of ratings it garnered. I also know CBS is bringing Unforgettable back next summer, ostensibly to compete with Rookie Blue, but wouldn’t a better fit have been NYC 22? I know it’s too late, but could CBS have missed the boat on this decision? — David

Matt Roush: Can’t see how. The show tanked on arrival, which is why CBS burned off NYC 22 on Saturdays during the summer. Even by the standards of the network-of-procedurals, this one was a derivative dud, and it was pretty easy to see the network was never really behind it. Unforgettable at least has a twist and a gimmick. NYC 22 and Rookie Blue are cut from such the same thematic cloth that I don’t really see the need for both — and Rookie, being a Canadian import, is a much cheaper proposition for ABC to use as summer fodder — so I’m not really buying this argument.

Question: In your recent analysis of the Emmy nominees, you wrote, “Kudos to History for reviving the old-fashioned Western miniseries in Hatfields & McCoys.” I agree with the kudos to History, but disagree with your characterizing this story as a Western. It takes place almost exclusively in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. Neither state could be considered Western by the 1860s, the “West” in West Virginia notwithstanding. I suppose you will also consider the New York-set Copper a Western as it has an 1860s time setting, a lawman (anti)hero, robber baron class villain and saloon girl prostitutes. To my mind, Hatfields & McCoys is more in the tradition of historical dramas like North & South and its sequel, which follows families before, during and after the Civil War. However you classify it, Hatfields & McCoys will be deserving of any awards it wins. — Frank

Matt Roush: Would you settle for calling it a “Mid-Western?” (I hail from the nexus of Indiana-Kentucky-Ohio and always considered myself a “Midwesterner.”) Geographically, you have a point. But tonally, Hatfields & McCoys had the feel of a rural Western, whereas Copper is much more urban in feel — but both are more accurately classified as “historical dramas,” and like you, I think Hatfields is very well positioned to take home a bushel of Emmys (something not likely to happen to Copper unless it improves beyond the first two episodes I’ve screened).

That’s all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com

Categories: :: Ask Matt

Ask Matt: The Newsroom, Glee Project, Falling Skies, True Blood, More

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Question: It seems that many TV critics (you being a notable exception) are coming down hard on The Newsroom, and I was wondering if you have an idea of why this is. Yes, it’s preachy, but every Aaron Sorkin show and movie is. Successful, intelligent career women are portrayed as being driven mostly by their hormones, but that’s true of every woman character on TV that’s written by a man (unless played by Julianna Margulies or Connie Britton). And some of the plot contrivances (the wayward e-mails, the Bigfoot obsession, the cute blonde assistant who is smart when the plot needs her smart and dumb when the plot needs her dumb) are cringe-worthy. On the other hand, you’ve got a talented, likable cast ably delivering some of the snappiest dialogue on TV, which right there puts it ahead of 95 percent of everything else. Give me 10 minutes of Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels bantering back and forth each week and I’d be happy, and the show delivers considerably more than that.

I’m not saying it’s not flawed, but the pluses outweigh the minuses by quite a bit, and the show is wildly entertaining. So why the heavily negative reaction? Is Sorkin held to a higher standard? Are journalists taking more shots because the show is set in a milieu they know (a newsroom) rather than the White House? Curious on your take on this. — Rick

Matt Roush: To answer your specific questions, without attempting to speak for other critics who are more than able to explain their (often extreme) positions on this understandably polarizing show, I do think Aaron Sorkin is held to a higher standard than many, which only seems fair given his track record and the anticipation that greets each new project, not to mention something airing on HBO. From my very first review of The Newsroom, I have declared it to be both exhilarating and exasperating, and like you I find the whole package entertaining enough that I tend to rise above if not ignore the glaring flaws. I freely admit I’m a sucker for Sorkin, but even so I find myself wanting to strangle many of these characters at least once per episode (and in last night’s episode, Maggie more than once as she kept obsessing on Jim and Lisa’s relationship while real news was happening). Staging an over-the-top romantic comedy amid the real-life workings of an idealized cable newsroom is inviting brickbats from journalists, who often come off sounding even more self-righteous in their apoplexy — and sometimes political correctness — than Sorkin’s patsies.

When Sorkin met the critics at last week’s TCA press tour, even I cringed when he contended there was no difference in his treatment of the male and female characters. (When I see a male character count on his fingers, or fail to understand what “LOL” means, then I might be appeased.) It was clear from the start of that session that he and his harshest critics weren’t going to come to any sort of agreement, but the sparring was still an enjoyable spectacle. I do wish there was someone at HBO or in Sorkin’s circle who could rein him in from many of the show’s sillier and more sentimental excesses, but that’s Sorkin, love him or hate him. It’s impossible to stay neutral, which is one of the things I most enjoy about him.

Question: I’m a big fan of TNT’s The Closer. However, in this past season, especially after Kyra Sedgwick announced she’s ending her role, it seems that the stories are a lot harsher with Brenda’s storyline. Hopefully the finale is a lot better. Any news regarding the finale? — Stephanie

Matt Roush: Brenda hasn’t had it easy in these last episodes, but for me, that has made The Closer a better drama as she deals with the consequences of her actions — although I can see where fans might see it as piling on for her to suffer a sudden personal tragedy on top of everything else. Still, to watch Kyra Sedgwick play these emotional scenes reminds me of what the franchise is losing when she steps away from this career-defining role. I have seen the final two episodes of the series (and the first few of its spinoff, Major Crimes), and if you think I’m going to spoil any of the details of the finale you must be thinking of someone else’s column. I will say these are fairly powerful episodes — tonight’s long-awaited reveal of the “mole” in the office packs quite a punch — and after next Monday’s finale airs, then it will be safe to discuss whether Brenda and Kyra get the sendoff they deserve. All I’m willing to say for now is that she’ll be missed. As I write in the magazine in my review of Major Crimes (which will be posted closer to air), the new show feels like The X-Files trying to continue without Mulder.

Question: I am such a fan of The Glee Project and the talented young contestants, but the show rubbed me the wrong way when Shanna Henderson was eliminated. Why would they get rid of the most talented contestant? I understand that she may not have been the easiest actress to write into the show because she isn’t transgendered or ethnic, but she proved her strong acting skills and incredible voice week after week. Even after landing in the bottom three (for the first time in nine episodes), she sang better than anyone on the show, while Blake was predictable and Aylin was in the bottom three again (don’t get me wrong, I think they are great too). Shanna absolutely did not deserve to go home just because the writers would have a harder time coming up with a storyline for her — that’s their job! Sometimes talent should win out over being hot (Blake) or ethnic (Aylin). Shanna’s departure is almost enough for me to stop watching this season — almost, but I love it too much! And PS, Shanna’s final vocals on Keep Holding On were the best ever! I hope to hear her sing again very soon! — Gary

Matt Roush: As you’ll see, you’re not the only one to have a negative reaction to this surprising elimination. When a pool of talent is this strong, some of the cuts are going to hurt — and create the sort of controversy these shows live for. This was the first week when I felt all of the bottom three were bona fide front-runners — how the bland Michael skated by another week is beyond me (although you’re only as good or bad as your most recent performance, and he had an unusually good week) — and I imagine I’d have gotten much the same reaction if either of the others had not been called back. I do agree it’s off-putting to think a contestant’s chances often seem to hinge on whether he or she is “out there” or “different” enough to inspire Ryan as a potential character, when talent should be the only true criterion here. But I don’t think Aylin is making it through on ethnicity alone, and Blake is like a more accomplished version of Finn and also shouldn’t be dismissed just because he doesn’t have such an edge. With these kinds of shows, everyone has favorites, and it’s inevitable that some will be gone too soon. With The Glee Project, it can seem awfully arbitrary, but imagine if these kids were going through the actual audition process, which is only about a million times worse. And wouldn’t give them nearly this kind of priceless exposure.

Question: I hope you’re enjoying the summer. I have two questions about two vastly different shows. First: The Glee Project. I didn’t watch the first season, but I heard great things and I have really enjoyed Season 2 for the most part (aside for the cringe-worthy use of made-up words like “romanticality” and no straight-up acting challenges). However, I heard one criticism about Season 1 that I have now seen starting to emerge in this season with the elimination of Shanna. It seems to pay off more if you end up in the bottom three to sing for Ryan Murphy — he gets to know you week after week and starts figuring out how to “write” for you. Whereas I thought Shanna was the most professional and consistent and had one of the best voices; she ends up there and is eliminated the first time. Now granted, this week was a tough choice, but still don’t you think this is a flaw in their elimination system?

The other question is about Revolution. Now, I usually agree with you on not judging before I see a show and on paper this looks like something right up my alley: J.J. Abrams, sci-fi, mythology, great cast, but: NBC. I see the promos and so much potential for something good and all I can think of is The Event. And The Cape. Undercovers. The last three seasons of Heroes. I usually try not to judge a show by the network is on, but I think I’d be more excited for this show if it were on any other network than NBC. Thoughts? — Larry

Matt Roush: With The Glee Project, being in the bottom can be blessing and curse. End up there too often, you’re likely gone. End up there late in the game like Shanna and fail to impress Ryan with your potential for whatever reason (and this felt decidedly vague), you may stand less of a chance than repeat bottom-dwellers with more distinct personalities. I doubt Ryan goes into these last-chance performance rounds as blind as it seems, but you’d think with so much at stake as a potential new cast member, we’d see him being more involved in the process.

Regarding Revolution, I have my issues with this series (which I’ll make clear again closer to premiere and Fall Preview), but the network it airs on is not one of them — although it’s inevitably going to be compared to past NBC misfires like The Event. Every series deserves to be judged on its own merits, and as you note, this is a new set of producers, as well as a new network regime and an entirely different premise. So if what you’ve seen in the endless Olympics promos intrigues you, what can it hurt to check out the pilot in September?

Question: What is your opinion of True Blood this year and what do you think the impact will be with creator Alan Ball leaving after this season? I am surprised to find that I just could not get into the storylines this year. Maybe the mix of stories are so diverse and unrelated to each other that it just lost me, but since we usually only subscribe to HBO for True Blood, we actually found it is no longer “must see TV” and we cancelled our HBO subscription. Is this show still high on your list? — Rob

Matt Roush: I’m hoping with someone new in charge True Blood might again regain the focus it used to enjoy — as in, maybe keeping Sookie and the vamps in roughly the same storyline. It will take a lot to get me to break up with the show, because I still enjoy its Southern Gothic madness more often than not, but this season quickly turned into a hot mess as it tried to juggle too many subplots of uneven quality. (Thankfully, last night’s episode appears to have put to rest a few of the least compelling stories: Terry and the smoke monster, the Obama-masked “supe” haters modeled after the KKK.) The vamps’ internal power struggle has had its moments — the shockingly early demise of Roman; turning Bill against Eric — but it has surprisingly managed to marginalize a character as epic as Russell in favor of the less impressive lady vamps Salome and Nora (and, by extension, the great and powerful Lilith). The part of the show that never lets me down: Anything to do with Pam and Tara. Last night’s Pam-isms: “There are two things I try to stay away from: humans who eat a lot of fish, and politics.” And to Tara: “Just because we drank a b—h together does not make us Oprah and Gail.” The part of the show that might yet break me: the fairies. That’s a world I’d be happy never to visit again.

Question: What is your take on Falling Skies? For a sci-fi story so far, it has kept the sci-fi part on near equal footing with the interpersonal relationships, which is good. They have developed characters that you like and hate. Some of the special effects, such as the robots, are surprisingly crude for a series in which Spielberg is involved, but I look forward to the show. It certainly seems much lower budget than my (still) favorite Stargate SG-1, again, evident in the special effects.

One last, why are catch-up reruns not available for Person of Interest? Neither CBS nor Comcast have them available! — Bruce

Matt Roush: I’m ranking Falling Skies the summer’s most-improved series — also the summer’s best sci-fi series (sorry, Syfy). It has been so much tougher and emotional this season, especially anything involving the son Ben (the terrific Connor Jessup), and I’m OK with the special effects, because they should be raw and unpolished given the world being portrayed here. As for Person of Interest: This is a recurring question involving shows that aren’t available online or On Demand, and that’s usually the prerogative of the studio, not the network. It involves deals and contracts I can’t pretend to understand, though often boiling down to the fact that some companies don’t always want to give their shows away for free and would rather make you watch in real time (imagine!) or record the shows (in first-run or rerun), thus making them potentially more valuable properties when it comes time for sale to syndication or cable.

Question: I recently started watching Showtime’s Episodes and absolutely love it. Matt LeBlanc has never been better! I just heard about NBC’s new show Animal Practice and thought it sounded like the “show with the dog” with high ratings the Episodes cast is always complaining about. Is there anything about the new show that makes it worth watching, or has NBC been watching Showtime and figures people are dying for a show with an animal in it? — Tom

Matt Roush: If you’ve loved the monkey promos during the Olympics … that’s basically the show. Can’t think of anything else to recommend it — though you can make up your own mind when NBC sneak-peeks the pilot of Animal Practice after this Sunday’s closing ceremony of the Olympics. If it becomes a huge hit, then Episodes will once again have proven to be prescient when it comes to the imbecilic madness of the industry it so richly spoofs.

Question: Let me start by saying that I love reading your take on TV. I keep up-to-date with your posts! I’ve read your praise and criticism for comedies, dramas and competition shows over time, but I was just wondering if you are a fan of reality TV shows. Shows that many of us don’t want to admit that we watch. Do you watch shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Teen Mom, The (various) Real Housewives or Mob Wives? Are there any reality TV programs you watch all the time but are afraid to admit? If so, which ones and why? If not, dish anyway! — Cyrus

Matt Roush: I try not to be a reality snob, but certain matters do come down to personal taste, and there are limits. The only kind of “reality” TV I can bear to watch on a regular basis is of the competition genre where actual skills might be rewarded (as well as games and contests like Survivor and The Amazing Race) — and occasionally a “docu-series” will catch my interest, as long as the intent doesn’t seem to be making celebrities out of people who only have a gift for being on TV (which pretty much encompasses your entire list). Occasionally when one of these franchises achieves a level of popularity, I’ll force myself to sample it so I have a point of reference if asked to comment on it. But on my own, I have never been able to make it through an entire episode of these exercises in narcissism regardless of who’s involved. And that’s been the case since the very first season of The Real World. But since this subject has come up, let me close this column with two fan tributes to the sort of docu-reality I can stand behind, even if I don’t regularly watch.

Question: I love the limited series Push Girls on Sundance on Monday nights. It’s the kind of show that can really teach you something. It’s real, raw and makes me humble and appreciate my life. I have always lived by a saying that my grandmother always said to us kids: “You have two lives, the one you are given and the one that you make.” I was given a life of a healthy woman and live my life and feel grateful for my arms, legs and brain that function normally and I utilize them to their full potential. I wish everyone was just as grateful and then watch this show and get off their asses and do something with their lives like these girls. — Donna

Matt Roush: It is an inspiring series, and I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention to it this summer. Thanks for the recommendation.

Question: After watching the season finale of Deadliest Catch, I really feel I need to give a shout out to the producers, camera people, narrator Mike Rowe and everyone else involved with one of the few reality shows where I don’t hate every single person involved. The footage of the F/V Wizard in a sea of ice as a huge wave pushed it towards the shore and the wreckage of another ship reminded us why the show is called Deadliest Catch and was amazing and heart stopping. The obvious pain and frustration in the faces of recovering alcoholics Edgar Hansen and Jake Anderson at their inability to help troubled Jake Harris was heartbreaking. Seeing someone actually lose a finger was scary and gross at the same time. Although not quite as scary as Capt. Elliot Neese stalking his girlfriend and calmly explaining he had to call her 50 times in one day because she didn’t answer the phone. And the sight of the Coast Guard rescue swimmer, crying because he couldn’t save an injured deckhand and was forced to leave the body with his grieving shipmates and family members … oh my goodness. Thankfully there was the wedding of Jake Anderson, a good guy who has been through so much, to lift your spirits. Although Jake Harris’ appearance seems to indicate he’s got a long way to go if he wants to get better.

Although I am fascinated by these rough but sentimental men with an even rougher job, the real star is the magnificent Bering Sea. Dangerous and merciless, yet beautiful and sometimes willing to make you rich. From watching the show I feel like I know a little something about the industry and the people who put food on my table. And if I sit down for the unlimited crab legs at the buffet, I will remember that people worked damn hard to put it there. I really applaud the people who put this show together for being able to sift through thousands of hours of video and find a strong narrative thread that pulls the season together into a theme. The rise of Jake Anderson and Josh Harris and the fall of Jake Harris and Elliot. I watch a lot of great television, but I don’t think any of it will stay with me like that season finale. Did I mention that I really love this show? — Cynthia

Matt Roush: This is a truly grueling series, which spawned its own cottage industry of clones. From what I’ve seen (which admittedly isn’t everything), few live up to the groundbreaking original, which tends to be how it works on TV, regardless of genre.

Categories: :: Ask Matt, :: Spoilers

Ask Matt: Emmys, Glee Project, NY Med, Suits, Longmire, more

July 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Question: Frankly, the Emmys should just be the Cable Television Awards now, and they can have a “special mention” category for everything on broadcast. I don’t have cable, I don’t want cable, and I haven’t seen any of the nominees from cable. There just isn’t enough room these days for the leftovers, no matter how good broadcast shows may be, so there’s not much point watching the awards. — ACS

Matt Roush: I’ll spare you the lecture on how much great programming you’re missing out on, but your reaction to the Emmy nominations reminds me of the days — not so long ago — when cable was an outsider looking in, hosting its own awards show (the ACEs) before they were invited to the Emmy party. I doubt anyone expected cable to take over to the extent it has now, where this year for the first time not a single show from the Big Four broadcast networks cracked the Best Drama category. (PBS, however, is nicely represented by Downton Abbey.) Some are wondering if the Emmys should set up separate categories for cable and broadcast because the playing fields, creatively and economically, are so uneven. Not a slippery slope the Emmys are likely to go down — for one thing, network comedies are competing fairly well these days, and who’s to say another breakout like Lost or 24 isn’t around the corner (and let’s hope The Good Wife’s omission from this year’s list is an aberration; it’s definitely a mistake). But to your final point, one of the first topics discussed in our office after the nominations came out was how low-rated this year’s Emmys might be, with so many niche programs battling it out for the top honors.

Question: I have to agree with Leonard Nimoy’s gripe about the lack of Emmy love for Fringe. Seriously, I know there are more important issues in the world, but as far as TV goes, when will the Emmy voters get with it? Since as far back as The Twilight Zone, science-fiction shows have told terrific allegorical stories about society and humanity as compelling as, if not more than, any police or medical or legal drama. At least Fringe is a serialized procedural and they wear regular clothes, not space suits or costumes. With The Avengers making a box office fortune and The Walking Dead getting record cable ratings, can we get the powers that be to see sci-fi as legitimate as any other genre and thus worthy of being celebrated? Is Rick Grimes any less of a textured, layered, complex human being than Don Draper? And yes, I know Game of Thrones kind of helps ease the pain, but still. — Adam

Matt Roush: You’ll get no argument here, but even if the industry could shed its bias against sci-fi, fantasy and horror, it would be hard these days for a show like Fringe to compete against the tonnage of prestige cable (and now PBS) dramas that currently clog the category. Plus, Fringe is awfully dense in its mythology, making it inexplicable for non-watchers to appreciate, so while I won’t excuse the snub, I understand it. Even so, it should be apparent to anyone that John Noble is giving one of TV’s best performances as the tormented Walter (and the chilly Walternate). Too bad Fringe doesn’t air on HBO. He’d be a shoo-in. On the other hand, as much as I enjoy The Walking Dead and Andrew Lincoln’s still-waters-run-deep take on Rick, there are very few characters on TV as complex and fascinating as Don Draper, and I’m still waiting for Jon Hamm to get his much-deserved first Emmy.

Question: As an adult that still can’t seem to turn away from shows like The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle, Smallville (when it was on), etc., I have to wonder why shows from the CW never, and I do not remember them ever, get nominated for awards? Or are even acknowledged in an award-type setting. I understand it is geared toward, perhaps, a younger demographic but denying that effort on the part of cast, writers, directors and so on is a little biased. Please clear this up for me if you can; it kind or irritates me a bit to feel like these people are not getting their fair shot at accolades. — Nezette

Matt Roush: See above question regarding genre bias, and compound that with a similar Emmy disdain towards younger performers and shows marketed specifically to that audience. But looking at it realistically, while I embrace some of the CW’s shows as guilty pleasures (Vampire Diaries and Nikita currently highest on that list for me), I would never expect them to factor into anything beyond People’s Choice or Teen Choice sorts of fan-based awards. These are cult series, first and foremost, with no pretensions or expectations of awards glory. Just be glad the CW gives (most of) them a long leash to keep achieving their main goal: entertaining a small but avidly devoted audience.

Question: I am watching The Glee Project for the first time. It has joined a very short list of reality competition shows that I like. It has an appealing, inspiring cast, intelligent judging and a minimal emphasis on melodrama and conflict among the cast members. Because the judges are going to actually be working with the winner on Glee, their criticisms and comments for the contestants are spot on. I have yet to disagree with an elimination, but each one is tough. As you have pointed out, this show gives viewers a glimpse into what goes into preparing the musical performance parts of an episode of Glee, as well as how the contestants work as an ensemble and show their spark as individuals. I find myself wishing the show was longer some weeks, as we don’t see much of them preparing for their homework assignment number. Do you think they will do a better job at finding this year’s winner something great to do on Glee? As much as I liked the winners and runners-up from last year, only Alex Newell really got a splashy part, while the two winners rarely made it out of the background. I barely remember the girl runner-up. With such talented castoffs from The Glee Project, is it likely that the producers will reconsider any of them later for parts on Glee?

For a couple of weeks after The Glee Project, Oxygen ran The Next Big Thing NY, which I watched and enjoyed. It seemed to be a good companion show with its talented youngsters and their outrageous performance coach. It was then trundled off to an earlier time period on Wednesdays for two weeks before finishing its run with a two-hour season finale beginning at 6/ET on a Wednesday. Fortunately, I had the TV on and was flipping through the program guide when I saw that a new episode had started. I missed the first 20 minutes of the show but caught it later On Demand. I have seen promos for the new Oxygen show All the Right Moves which looks good, but the premiere date and time has been changed a couple of times already. I don’t know whether to try to watch it or not. Do they not understand that viewers might get frustrated and give up trying to find shows they keep moving around? — Frank

Matt Roush: First, The Glee Project, which I agree is one of the very best competition shows, at least as Emmy-worthy as some of this year’s nominees. It’s so fresh and engaging I find myself wishing they were gunning for a prize more relevant and promising than being shoehorned into a past-its-prime Glee — although who knows how this transitional season will play out. We can only hope that whoever wins will get a role with more dimension than either Damian or Samuel was able to work with. And while Ryan Murphy insists that there will be only one winner this season, he and his colleagues would be crazy to let some of this talent slip away.

Regarding The Next Big Thing, which I didn’t like nearly as much as you did — the coach was so preeningly obnoxious I could barely make it past the first episode — that’s a case of a network burning off a toxic dud where it would do the least damage. I have higher hopes for All the Right Moves, in part because I’m such a huge fan of Travis Wall (from his So You Think You Can Dance history), and I look at the revamped time period as an upgrade: initially scheduled for 11 pm/ET, now airing at 9/8c in front of The Glee Project, but from what I can tell it was always intended to premiere July 31.

Question: I am so happy to see that ABC is demonstrating some good taste in reviving the excellent medical documentary series, this time in New York City, as NY Med. This series, which featured hospitals in other cities in years past, like Baltimore and Boston, is outstanding. It is a nice alternative to the standard reality programming, showing real people in dramatic situations with none of the crass fighting and silly antics. It brings tears to my eyes almost every week. Bravo to ABC for putting something of quality on their summer programming lineup. — Laurie

Matt Roush: Agreed. Watching the first few episodes this season, I found NY Med to be the most honest of tearjerkers. Some of the “subplots” following the doctors and nurses outside the hospital fall flat for me, because they can’t help but pale next to the intensity of their daily routine. But the life-and-death stories are very compelling, and this is a rare bright spot among the networks’ otherwise disposable summer time-wasters.

Question: Since Eureka was left wide open for a new and improved show, when will Syfy be stepping through the portal and giving us back our show? Can we expect a fall offering or will we have to wait a year until next summer? My eldest thinks they are going to drop the ball on this. I hope he’s wrong. — Debbie

Matt Roush: Your eldest is right. What you saw as “wide open” the rest of us saw as closure. This was Eureka’s swan song, unmistakably billed as a series finale, and giving the town and its characters a happy open ending is probably as much as we could have hoped for given the circumstances. I found the finale to be very satisfying, although as a fan of course I would have liked there to be more. But that’s not going to happen. It’s over. Job well done.

Question: Am I the only one watching Longmire? I found it because I’m a huge Lou Diamond Phillips fan, but all the characters are great, and it can be funny as well as very moving. I was just wondering if any of the networks are planning a new “Western” since Justified and now Longmire have paved the way west again? — Gena

Matt Roush: You’re hardly the only one watching Longmire. It’s successful enough that A&E has already renewed it for a second season, which is a very good thing. And while several networks developed Western project for next season, only one made the cut for the fall, and it’s a bit of a hybrid: CBS’ Vegas (Tuesdays at 10/9c), a crime drama set in the ’60s when Las Vegas was still something of a frontier town, with the glittery gambling oasis just beginning to take shape, pitting a rancher sheriff (Dennis Quaid, every inch a CBS star) against an interloper of a Chicago mobster (Michael Chiklis). Also of note if a darker shade of Western is your taste: the second season of AMC’s railroad melodrama Hell on Wheels, starting Aug. 12.

Question: Really enjoy your column and your taste in material (Happy Endings notwithstanding ;), so I’m curious for your take on this. Suits is an intelligent, stylized and fun show (Gina Torres even when lounging is the epitome of awesome). I look forward to this show, but the amount of profanity throughout Season Two is taking this classy series down a notch. On the July 19 episode, the show had almost every actor utter either s*** or bulls*** for a total of 10 times in just 43 minutes. Not to mention the amount of “GDs” which I lost track of. I get that cable series like to push the envelope, and USA Network is obviously really behind this particular show, but why the sudden gutter dialogue? It makes these witty, powerful characters so much less than. Could you please let USA know that foul language is not the way to darken their “blue sky” mantra? It’s taking the fun right out of the show. — JP

Matt Roush: It does seem like Suits is operating on a quota system of casual profanity most weeks, obviously trying to demonstrate a cable “edge” but which comes off as awfully forced. Yes, we can all assume big-city lawyers swear, but on this show and this network, it tends to make things feel more artificial, not more natural. That said, I think Suits is having a much stronger second season, plot-wise, and the salty language has been a device from the beginning, so I find myself being able to look past it while still wishing they weren’t so insistent in rubbing our noses in it.

Question: After looking forward to Bunheads immensely, I immediately abandoned it after its second episode. I’d been iffy about the show in the first place, since the parallels to Gilmore Girls were so blatant (Michelle = Lorelai, Fanny = Emily, Paradise = Stars Hollow), but because the dialogue was still snappy and the setting (a ballet school) so inherently interesting, I gave it another chance. You know how that turned out. However, my nagging curiosity is getting the better of me: Has the show improved? Thanks to the miracle of On Demand, a catch-up session might be in order, so I ask you, is it worth it? — Ryan

Matt Roush: The second episode was by far the worst of the ones I’ve seen, but I’ve fallen behind a few weeks myself, which probably isn’t a good sign (though it’s also an indication of how much summer programming there is to keep up on, plus prepping for the current TCA press tour, which ensures I’ll fall even further behind). My advice is to give it another shot, for one or maybe two more episodes, and if your reservations are still that strong — and my guess is they will be — then let it go. My goal is to make it at least through the first season (though obviously not in real time), and if things improve, I’ll weigh back in.

Question: I just read your most recent column and I have to somewhat disagree on your thoughts behind CBS recycling the reality stars. You said you don’t mind the occasional “all-star” season, and I would agree. I’d like to see them switch it up and do all-new all-star seasons with players who have never played the game before. It would be fun to see an edition of Survivor made up entirely of Big Brother contestants or an edition of The Amazing Race with nothing but Survivor contestants. Imagine a season of Big Brother where they took a group of Survivor or Amazing Race contestants, used to a fast-paced game, having to switch gears for a long, slow burn in the Big Brother house. — Scott

Matt Roush: Sorry, this all sounds perfectly dreadful to me. But then, and this is no big surprise to regular readers, anything with the words Big Brother in it tends to chill my blood. I have always considered that show the opposite of good or riveting TV, and the difference between adventure-based competitions like Survivor and The Amazing Race and a claustrophobic exercise in fame-whore narcissism like Big Brother is incalculable to me. While I’m sure Big Brother contestants would embrace any opportunity to get back in front of the camera, I’d like to think (perhaps naively) that the entropy of the Big Brother experience would not appeal to many, if not most, of the Survivor/Race alums. In any case, I still feel all-star stunts should be done sparingly, and exploiting reality “stars” with repeated exposure is never a good or healthy trend.

Question: I just read the comment in your recent column about the return of Dallas. As an original fan, I’m enjoying it like the others. But I wish they would bring back thirtysomething, only they’d be fiftysomething now! Have you heard anything about thirtysomething coming back? I had heard there would be a reunion years ago but nothing ever happened. — Linda

Matt Roush: As far as I know, no such reunion is in the cards, but just thinking about it makes me feel kind of old. And, of course, nostalgic for a kind of drama too rarely seen on network TV anymore. If we can’t get Michael and Hope and Nancy and Elliot and Ellyn and Melissa back on our screens (the ship sailed long ago for Gary), wouldn’t it be grand for Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick to bring their warm, humanistic vision of relationships and life back to TV? We can hope.

That’s all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

Categories: :: Ask Matt, :: Spoilers

Ask Matt: Eureka, Dallas, Falling Skies, True Blood, Damages

July 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!

Question: I hope you’ll mention the passing of one of my favorite shows, Eureka. With all the hoopla around the finale of The Closer and the buzz about new and returning summer shows, the final episode of this quirky and creative Syfy gem will probably go unnoticed by most. Over the years it’s become one of my favorites, serving up some high concept sci-fi stories with a healthy dose of humor and heart. Although I knew it was ending, the announcement last week of the July 16 “series finale” made me sadder than I expected. It’s like nothing else on TV and I will miss all these wonderful, eccentric characters and this charming, if sometimes dangerous, town. Thanks for your insightful columns and recommendations! — Lenore

Matt Roush: Thank YOU for setting me up so nicely to salute a show that has brought me quite a bit of pleasure these last few years, one of the more successful blends of inventive fantasy and clever-to-slapsticky comedy, with an endearing lead performance by Colin Ferguson as long-suffering Sheriff Jack Carter (heading a very appealing ensemble). I’ve enjoyed this last season quite a bit: the culmination of Carter’s romance with Allison (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), the twists and turns in rescuing Holly’s consciousness (so adorably embodied by Felicia Day) from the matrix where the Astraeus crew was trapped for the first part of the season, and really, anything involving the cheerful android Deputy Andy (a character intended as an homage to the late Andy Griffith’s Andy Taylor, which adds a bit of extra poignancy to this farewell). Tonight’s finale (9/8c), in which the Department of Defense pulls the plug on funding the town, includes a few digs at the network which did much the same thing, but it’s mainly a good-natured hour that acknowledges (via Carter) that “we’ve had a pretty good run.” And with intersecting wormholes causing havoc one last time, Eureka-style, there’s a nice moment where the entire show’s history flashes before our eyes, reminding us how much fun this show has been. There’s a surprise twist that should leave most fans very satisfied, and I’ll leave this with the reawakened Holly’s realization: “Wow. Wormholes, cyborgs, endless possibility … no wonder you guys love this place.”

Question: I was a huge fan of the original Dallas TV series and I am enjoying the new TNT series but have to wonder about the way they are using some of the original cast members. I like that they are giving Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman good storylines, but am very disappointed with the way Linda Gray is being treated. She was as much a star of the original show as Patrick and Larry, but here she just seems to be an afterthought. I also wonder why even bother to bring Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly on if they are just going to have brief one-liner scenes with no explanation for what they are doing. Do you think the writers will give Linda more to do and expand on Charlene and Steve, not to mention the possibility of other returning cast members like Victoria Principal and Priscilla Presley? — Jay

Matt Roush: The problem with a character like Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen — and it was the case long before the original show went off the air — is that she was more fun when she was a mess. Now she’s so starched and proper, she’s like a high-society mummy, and unless they find a way to let her hair down (the messier the better), I’m afraid she’ll continue to come off like nostalgic window dressing. Which is pretty much what the cameos of former co-stars like Tilton (Lucy) and Kanaly (Ray) amount to, nods to longtime fans who the producers figure will be satisfied just seeing that they’re still kicking, but they’re very unlikely to be given major or even minor subplots to carry. On the other hand, having Ken Kercheval back in several key scenes as Cliff Barnes makes much more sense, given what a thorn in the Ewings’ side he always was, and that has been fun to see. (Plus he’s useful in giving us exposition on why Pam remains nowhere to be seen, and depending on how long this new Dallas sticks around, I imagine it will be a while before Principal can be lured back, if she ever can be.) It’s built into this show’s DNA that luring back other series stars will give future seasons more promotional juice, but don’t kid yourself that the focus is ever going to expand much beyond J.R., Bobby and their offspring (who are being wiped off the screen by their more iconic predecessors). Isn’t Larry Hagman (and his eyebrows) marvelous?

Question: I was wondering with Dallas being the big hit it has been this summer, what are the chances other cable channels, if not TNT itself, will decide to revive other primetime shows with the original cast and continue their stories. The one that comes to mind that I would like to see revived is Sisters. I know Sela Ward is on CSI: NY now, but with it being on its last leg, it probably wouldn’t take much for her to jump ship. Dallas is my favorite new series, and I would love more of the same. Do you think it will happen? — Nicholas

Matt Roush: I’d be surprised if producers haven’t been pitching this sort of thing, given the fuss kicked up by this revival. But there aren’t many shows as iconic as Dallas that lend themselves to this kind of reunion, and not many casts that I’d imagine would be willing and able (or possibly desperate enough, not to mention alive) to try to rekindle the original spark. Sisters was a perfectly fine soap in its day, with a better-than-fine cast, but it’s not the sort of era-defining series that would create this kind of stir if it were revived. Personally, I was such a huge Knots Landing fan back in the day that if Dallas’ comeback could inspire even a short-run miniseries bringing back characters like Sumner and Karen and Paige, as well as Gary and Poor Val, that would be a kick. Dynasty is probably ripe for a next-generation redo as well, but to be honest, I think I’d prefer for Dallas to be the exception and for the industry to not go crazy disinterring the legends of our TV past.

Question: Just a couple of questions about two summer shows that, to me anyway, seem to have suddenly gotten better (in one case, a lot better) with their current seasons. With True Blood, I just assumed this season would be an improvement since we last saw Tara with a hole in her head from a shotgun blast, so I thought she’d be gone, and good riddance to that mopey, boring, attitudinally-challenged wet blanket. But now I’m accepting that I may have been wrong, as Tara has become one of this season’s most interesting characters, especially when interacting with fellow reborn-against-her-will Jessica and maker Pam (although honestly, any scene with Pam is a keeper). Between this storyline and where things may be going with the Authority and the return of Russell Edgington, this show is more fun than it’s been in the last couple of years.

On the other hand, Falling Skies seems like it’s finally starting to take its premise as seriously as it expects its audience to take it. Last year, a typical episode would have a couple of scary scenes and maybe something else to happen that made us think that yeah, things are kinda bad, but then that would all be negated by the episode closing with a Spielbergian scene of playing children, sweetly soaring music, and adults’ faces with happy expressions that said, “Ah, those moments of normalcy that we’re fighting for.” This year, the show seems a lot tougher because while the tone of most of the episodes remains unchanged, rather than the artificially uplifting conclusion we get something like the commanding officer telling a father that his son may have to be put down, and the CO will do it if he must, but it’s better for all concerned if the father does it, and the father seeing it from a command perspective and thinking the CO may be right. Honestly, that’s the kind of narrative toughness one expects from premium cable, and not just because some lucky advertiser got to sponsor that speech. Last year I only watched this because nothing else was on. This year, I’m watching because THIS show is on. Quite a difference, and the possibilities that may come from reluctant and tentative steps toward joining with a possible Skitter rebellion (along with the return of Pope) will keep me watching. Are you still watching, and if so, what are your thoughts on their seasons so far? — Mike

Matt Roush: Agreed about Tara, whose rocky-transitioning vampire character is one of the highlights of this season, along with anything Pam does and says. Plus the return of Russell Edgington, and the intrigues involving our main vamps and the Authority, are adding some much-needed spice. I still wish True Blood had a sharper focus and felt less need to service every single character (like Sam and Andy and Terry — and this is the first series ever where I don’t care what happens to a character Scott Foley is playing). It’s not a perfect season, but I’m on board. (The TV series is so much better than the last few books, for what that’s worth.)

And we’re very much on the same page regarding Falling Skies. My initial online review of the second season also emphasized the welcome new toughness of this season, which just gets more gripping and potentially devastating by the week. (I am very impressed by Connor Jessup’s nuanced work as Ben, the son still struggling with his connection to the Skitters, who may have pegged him as the human leader of their resistance movement, a very smart twist.) As I noted a few weeks ago, I find myself wishing Fox had given Terra Nova a similar chance to grow up in its second season the way this show has, eliminating the schmaltzy treacle to deliver a solid, suspenseful action adventure-fantasy with teeth.

Question: With the Emmy nominations announcement less than a week away, I’ve read a lot of anticipatory “wish lists.” No doubt you will soon be deluged with complaints about who was not nominated, along with countless insults about the Emmy voters (and probably the actual nominees themselves). But something occurred to me as I was making my own list and lamenting that I would likely be disappointed: Have there ever been this many great comedies and dramas on TV at the same time? Certainly, far more than six outstanding shows exist in both genres; some acting categories could have as many as 10 nominees and a stellar performance would still be left out. Instead of feeling sad or angry about who has been “robbed” or “snubbed” (which isn’t really how the voting works anyway), should we not feel lucky that there are currently so many series and actors worthy of acclaim? — Eric W.

Matt Roush: There have been other “golden ages” of TV to be sure, but what we’re dealing with now is that there has rarely if ever been such a surplus of Emmy-worthy drama (and to some extent comedy) on so many cable outlets, as well as the networks raising their game, mostly in the comedy arena. Thanks for accentuating the positive as we anticipate Thursday’s announcement, which as you noted is bound to leave some fans disgruntled when many of the usual suspects (Fringe, The Middle) are left wanting. I’m rooting for new blood including Homeland, Girls, New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield among others, and I’m very curious to see how big a spoiler PBS’ Downton Abbey will be in the drama categories. But yes, while there are bound to be some disappointments in the no-shows and the shows that get nominated by rote, this is an occasion as well to reflect on just how much great TV there is out there to celebrate.

Question: Ever since DirecTV’s acquisition of Damages was announced — and certainly peaking lately with the launch of the final season — I have seen a lot of negativity online from non-subscribers who watched the show back when it was on FX and resent not being able to watch it on other TV providers. I totally understand this, but what I don’t understand is a misconception that seems to exist that FX and/or the creators of the show chose to limit their viewership by moving it to DirecTV rather than allowing it to remain on FX, when in fact, FX canceled the show. They aired three seasons of the show despite low ratings and gave it a big push every time and it still didn’t work out for them, so even though I love the show, I can hardly blame them for making the business decision to cancel it. Considering its numbers were low from the beginning, keeping it on for three seasons is quite a display of faith and patience.

I think we should be thankful to DirecTV for rescuing the show (and also Friday Night Lights before that) because without them, we would not have had these additional seasons produced at all. Surely it’s better that the show got two more seasons. The writers, actors, directors, crew members, etc. were employed for two more seasons, and we got two more seasons to enjoy. If you’re not a DirecTV subscriber you can still see the show; you just have to wait. Season 4 was recently released to DVD, iTunes, Netflix and similar sources, and Season 5 will follow once DirecTV is done with it. I just appreciate that we were able to have as long with this show and these characters as we did, and think both FX and DirecTV should be applauded for it. — Jake

Matt Roush: While it’s true (certainly in my e-mailbag) that a number of Damages fans were frustrated by not having access to last season while it was first airing because they don’t or in some cases can’t get DirecTV, the real kudos here belong to Sony TV, the producing studio that is especially aggressive about trying to keep its shows alive when the networks either give up on or abuse these properties. Damages was dead after its third season on FX, and unlike the deal that kept Friday Night Lights going on DirecTV with a later window on NBC, FX wasn’t interested in broadcasting these last two seasons even after the fact. (If they had been, they probably would have kept the show on their own schedule.) So the tradeoff here is that either Damages would be canceled forever, or non-subscribers would have to be patient to see these final chapters, which I tend to think is worth it for the die-hard fan. (The final season is off to a strong start, but because many fans won’t have access to these episodes while they’re airing on DirecTV, I’ll be as vague as possible in my discussion of the show’s plot twists even after they air. But so far, it looks like it’s going to be an excellent ride to the end.)

Question: Is Hilarie Burton (Sara Ellis) still part of White Collar? I ask because I heard Neal has a new love interest this season. — Ronald

Matt Roush: Can’t comment on Neal’s future love life, but I’ve seen the first three episodes of this season, and Hilarie/Sara was nowhere to be seen. But I’m told she’ll appear in the seventh episode of this summer’s run, so she’s still part of their world, on a recurring basis at least.

Question: I’m a long-time reader, first-time writer — you know, the usual. I was on Metacritic today because I’m weird and that’s how I entertain myself. But as I was looking through my favorite shows’ reviews, I came across one you did for Happy Endings last fall. It read, “The largely chemistry-free ensemble of this under-inspired Friends wannabe has exactly two funny standouts: Penny (Casey Wilson) and Max (Adam Pally).” Now usually you and I see pretty much eye-to-eye on what is and is not “good” TV, but I have to disagree with you on this one. Happy Endings feels like one of the freshest ABC sitcoms in a long while, and they must think so too, if they’re willing to give it a full third season with mediocre ratings. Have your feelings toward this show changed over the course of its pretty a-mah-zing second season? — Quincy

Matt Roush: Fresher than Modern Family, The Middle, Suburgatory and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23? Or even Cougar Town, a much more engaging show (to me) that got the hook to make room for this one? Not in my book. I know there are plenty of critics doing cartwheels over Happy Endings — I’m even slightly in the minority in my own office, I think — but the show still mostly leaves me cold, and I don’t care what happens to any of these robotic joke machines. I stand by my observation that Penny and Max are the main reasons to watch — the other characters I find either bland, clichéd, unfunny or annoying (not in a good and amusing way) — although given the volume of wisecracks per episode, I do laugh at times despite myself. But I imagine I’ll find the show much easier to ignore now that ABC has moved it off of Wednesdays, to be replaced (unwisely) by the bizarre aliens-next-door sitcom The Neighbors, which could go down in infamy like last season’s Work It (or maybe it will be this decade’s surprise lowbrow hit like Mork & Mindy). Honestly, ABC’s comedy philosophy can be so schizoid it leaves me baffled.

Question: I’ve taken notice of reality show contestants being invited back, and/or a contestant’s family member being invited. I seem to notice this trend with the CBS reality shows. Survivor has invited back former contestants, with Russell Hantz being the most notable. Hantz’s nephew Brandon gets an invite to be a contestant. Big Brother has invited back former contestants, with Brenchel (Brendon & Rachel) being the most notable. It seems that a lot of people have grown to dislike Brenchel. It looks like Hantz’s brother Willie will be on this summer’s Big Brother. I’ve even seen Rob & Amber (from Survivor), as well as Jeff & Jordan (from Big Brother) on The Amazing Race. We’ve even seen several all-star seasons of the CBS reality shows. I’m aware that ABC is working on an all-star season of Dancing with the Stars. My question: What is that CBS seems to like about these former reality show contestants and their families that nobody else does? — Eric K

Matt Roush: The recycling of reality “stars” is one of the more revolting developments in this genre. It doesn’t amuse me, it doesn’t interest me, and I find it a turn-off even on shows I admire. Although I’m generally OK with the concept of an “all-star” season, as long as they don’t overdo it. (It seems about the right time for Dancing With the Stars to go there. Once.) But for these CBS shows to be subsidizing and publicizing the entire Hantz family is something I can do without, and so I will.

Question: What is NBC’s deal with Savannah Guthrie? Is she some NBC executive’s girlfriend, wife, niece or daughter? It seems like every time I turn to their channel, they are thrusting her out, front and center. First she was a correspondent, then she started doing pieces for Today, then, like a week later, she was sitting on the Today couch, then she was subbing for Brian Williams, and, let’s not forget her — spare me! — legal expertise (put your glasses on, Ms. Guthrie, so you look more lawyer-like). Now, NBC announces that she will be the new co-host. What is up with this? And why is Natalie Morales always skipped over for promotions? — Marcy

Matt Roush: Not a fan, I take it. To be fair, Guthrie has a law degree, but what you’re really responding to is a network’s fast-track grooming of a rising news star, executed on such an aggressively visible level that it’s bound to turn some people off. Which it appears to have done, compounded by the clumsiness of the staging of Ann Curry’s recent abrupt departure from the Today set. (Given what happened the last time the show promoted the newsreader to co-host, that may explain the reticence to promote Natalie Morales at this moment.) If the reports from last week hold up, Guthrie’s first official week as Today co-host will find the show placing second to Good Morning America in total viewers and, more notably, in the key 25-54 demographic. But with the Olympics just a few weeks away, which will serve to showcase the new Today “family” amid the ratings magnet of the games, NBC is hoping things will stabilize soon. If they don’t, there will likely be some more sleepless nights and anxious mornings at this embattled network.

Categories: :: Ask Matt, :: Spoilers
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