Ask Matt: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Face Off, The Middle, Suits, True Blood
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Question: My question is about the new Joss Whedon show that has one of the most convoluted names I've ever heard: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I am a Whedon fan to the max, having watched every episode of every TV (and Internet) show he has ever done, and enjoyed them thoroughly. I am not, however, a moviegoer nor a comic book reader. I cannot remember the last theatrical production I've seen, and the only comics I read are the Buffy/Angel follow-ups. And that leaves me concerned about S.H.I.E.L.D. Every article I read, and even the just-released preview, mentions events that happened/people who existed in one or more theatrical movies, and many articles mention future movies that will tie into the events on the show. Since I never watched those movies — and most likely won't watch the future movies — am I going to be totally lost when the television show premieres?
If I'm confused before it starts — I'm hearing the main character died in a movie, and may or may not be human in the series; that it takes place after the "Battle of New York" — what's going to happen when the show premieres? I currently watch Arrow and watched all of Smallville so have no problem with comic-book spin-offs, but I'm concerned this series is going to be geared to moviegoers who already know the mythology. Have you seen the premiere and can you alleviate my fears? — Karen
Matt Roush: If you can follow the mythologies on a show like Arrow, and if you're coming to S.H.I.E.L.D. for Joss Whedon (as I imagine many will, including yours truly), I think you can trust him not to leave you in the weeds. S.H.I.E.L.D. does take place in a pre-existing universe, but the conceit here is that these characters are operating in the margins of that world, not in the celebrity spotlight where Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, etc., exist. This show will live or die on the ability of Whedon and his team to make this new crew of non-super-powered agents appealing on their own merits, which seems very likely based on the pilot episode — which is largely about assembling the team under the leadership of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson (so likable an actor and character it shouldn't take any newbie long to embrace him — and how he survived his resurrection from the Avengers movie will remain a mystery to even longtime fans for a while). There will undoubtedly be references that will seem alien to a Marvel novice, but no more than what we see in the various DC Comics adaptations. And honestly, if you're that worried about it, how hard would it be to do a little homework and check out The Avengers? Because of this beat, I don't always have time to see a lot of movies, but when Joss Whedon's name is attached, I do try.
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Question: As a fan of science fiction, I've waited patiently for decades for genre shows to be recognized. However, I am still stunned that Syfy's makeup competition show Face Off has been ignored again by the Emmy nominating committee as a worthy contender for Outstanding Reality Competition Series. It is produced and hosted by one of the most respected names behind the camera in TV and movies — the Westmores — and consistently impresses viewers with the quality of artists and work produced under such a limited time frame. In terms of a sister show, I'd put it right on par with Project Runway, where the creations on both shows are visual, and the mentors and judges are well-known names working in the industry today. Why no love for Face Off? Is it because it's on a genre network? — Suzy
Matt Roush: I'd be thrilled if this terrific show would knock Runway (which went stale a long while back) off the list, but in reality categories as elsewhere, voting and nominating habits are tough to break at the Emmys. Face Off does a wonderful job casting its contestants — very few seem to act up just for the sake of the camera — and the challenges are often mind-blowingly creative. (It probably doesn't hurt that I grew up more fascinated by monsters and creatures than by fashion plates.) I'm sure one of the biggest hurdles Face Off faces in getting this kind of recognition is that it's seen as more fringe given the company it keeps. But it truly is fantastic in just about every sense of that word.
Question: Been reading your online column for years, mainly because of your view of underappreciated shows. It's easy to love Dexter, Justified, Breaking Bad. But now, something may help a show that is seriously, especially Emmy-wise, neglected. The Middle is coming to syndication this fall. Can we hope that this benefits the viewership the way it did for The Big Bang Theory? Thoughts? — Gary
Matt Roush: Excellent question, and something I should have brought up in last week's discussion about the show and its undersung cast. It's very possible that The Middle will finally start getting the attention it deserves once its exposure increases in daily syndication. It may still suffer in the Emmy world because the world it portrays so hilariously is not as "sophisticated" or "hip" as other contenders, but I'd be surprised if its popularity doesn't grow once more people begin to discover it. Happens to a lot of shows, though it seems to me Big Bang was already plenty popular by the time it exploded in syndication. A more pertinent example would be How I Met Your Mother. You don't think it suddenly became a hit and actually grew its audience in later seasons because it became better and funnier, right? It's because people found it in syndication and got hooked. That would be a happy circumstance for The Middle, and even happier should some of its cast finally get acknowledged by the industry.
Question: As an avid viewer of the USA show Suits since it debuted, I've come to expect the heavy use of strong language in the show, they throw around s--t, bulls--t, and d--k like it is going out of style (as an aside I find it funny that the captioning company can't bring themselves to spell these words out), but this season I've noticed an almost ham-handed use of double entendres. The one that sticks out recently was the scene with Louis Litt at the mud bath with his British nemesis and Louis considers the associates fine pieces of glass that need to be blown, and then the associates got glass "trophies" that said Louis blew me. While funny, it seemed to really go overboard. My question is, has the writing crew changed or something? I haven't noticed the same use of double entendres on other USA shows, so I'm just wondering what is up with this one. I don't mean to come across as a puritan, one double entendre here and there would be OK. It's just the overuse I'm asking about! — Stephen
Matt Roush: I was going to start this response by lapsing into Beavis and Butt-head speak and going, "Heh, he said 'the one that sticks out,' heh." But I'll rise above. Unlike Suits, which often feels to me to be trying to meet some kind of cussing quota per episode. Can't say if there are new writers, but the powers that be haven't really changed, and the salty language was established as early as the pilot episode. I still enjoy Suits quite a lot — this summer's main storyline has been strong, and I've loved the addition of British guest-stars Michelle Fairley and Conleth Hill from Game of Thrones, as well as Max Beesley (whose chemistry with Donna was off the charts) and Adam Godley as Louis's adversary — but the show clearly isn't above delivering these kind of off-color groaners. Best to just shrug them off and focus on the stuff that works best, like the sexy cast and the slick storytelling.
Question: [TRUE BLOOD Spoiler Alert] Is Eric really gone? Catching on fire would normally mean his demise, but you never know on True Blood. — Janet
Matt Roush: Actually, the problem here is that we almost always do know when it comes to a show that has become as ridiculous as True Blood. Death isn't always "true death" here, especially when it comes to the core cast. It took no time for the show's producers to assure fans after the finale that Alexander Skarsgard will be back next season as a series regular, although how Eric will return and in what form remains a tease. Frankly, I've had it with all of them after this jumbled mess of a season. I may tune in next summer to see if the producers live up to their promise to return True Blood to its Bon Temps roots and tell a more cohesive, coherent story. But I'm not hopeful.
Question: I've been a faithful reader for years. I used to be on top of what was what on TV, particularly regarding drama series. Then about three years ago, I started law school, and fell way behind on my TV viewing. I'm finally finished (just took the bar) and am ready to get back into the swing of things. However, in the past three years, TV has gotten crazy, with dozens of new shows on cable and year-round programming on all platforms. I know you don't love lists, but if you had to make, say, 10 recommendations of drama series that I should be watching, what would they be? (I managed to keep up with comedies while in law school — they were an easy and much-needed break from studying.) — David
Matt Roush: The newest must-see dramas I'd put on your radar include FX's The Americans (shamefully ignored by the Emmys this year) and several from a resurgent Showtime: Homeland (Season 1 especially), Ray Donovan and the upcoming Masters of Sex. If fantasy is your thing, HBO's Game of Thrones is a must; and if you can stomach graphic horror, AMC's The Walking Dead (not American Horror Story unless you're into garish, campy overkill). AMC's Breaking Bad and FX's Justified may predate your law-school hiatus, but catching up on these would be essential, along with Mad Men (uneven this last year, but still) and CBS's The Good Wife (network TV's best hour drama, a joy). Sundance has come on strong in the last year with the miniseries Top of the Lake and the mesmerizing limited-run drama Rectify. Likewise Netflix with House of Cards (which in retrospect reminds me how brilliant the original British miniseries was) and the exceptional Orange Is the New Black. For bonus points, add in BBC America's sensational Orphan Black and current mystery drama Broadchurch, and for nostalgic fun, PBS's sublime Downton Abbey, and we're already way past our limit. This is a boom time for drama for sure. Welcome back to the party.
Question: I have recently had the opportunity to watch the entire run to date of the Australian TV show Offspring. I have found this to be one of the best TV shows I have ever watched. It's original, quirky and heartfelt, with a cast that is wonderful! This also prompted me to check out several other Australian programs that I have also found original and very enjoyable. My question is this: Why don't we get programming imports from Australia like we do from Canada? — Shawna
Matt Roush: I'd wager many viewers don't know when they're watching Canadian imports, but when it comes to British and by extension Australian programming, it most likely becomes ghettoized (in a manner of speaking) on outlets such as PBS and BBC America for a fairly simple reason: the accents. There's a perceived "other-ness" to this sort of programming, which may be why Fox feels confident it can remake the current critical sensation Broadchurch without worrying so much about audience overlap. I'm hoping the critical (and Emmy) success of Sundance's New Zealand-produced Top of the Lake will encourage more programmers to look at some of the best TV from Down Under to make it more accessible to viewers here.
Question: I wanted to get your overall thoughts on the USA series Graceland. I've seen a few posts where you have talked about it in the past, but I was curious what your personal opinion on the show is. I think it's a great addition to the USA lineup, because it's something really different. I know that for most people the complaint with USA as a network is that it is very formulaic, and I have to agree. I've watched Psych, Suits, Burn Notice, White Collar, and even some of the earlier episodes of Covert Affairs, but they all just got a little dull for me. I'm still watching Psych and Suits, but my interest is seriously fading. I feel like with Graceland, USA has something truly original. First of all, it's darker than any other series on the network and the main plotline of the show revolves around heroin, so I feel like it's earning its TV-14 rating. But most of all, I love that the main character of the show, or one of the two main characters (aka Briggs), might genuinely be a bad person. Especially after this week's explosive episode (without giving too much away), I feel like the storyline might be leaning that way and I would actually really like to see that unfold because again, it would be a different angle for a USA show to take. So what do you think? Has USA struck gold and truly found something original for the network or is it just me? — Rachel
Matt Roush: I wish I could give you a definitive analysis, but I'm still catching up on this one (travel, TCAs, summer TV glut, etc.). But I'd agree that Daniel Sunjata's enigmatic and charismatic character of Briggs is the best reason to watch (at least from what I've seen so far). On the other hand, much as I admire his musical theater work, Aaron Tveit's character always struck me too much as The-CW-goes-undercover, which may explain why I haven't make more of an effort to keep up. From the mail I've been seeing lately, you're not alone in your enthusiasm, although I would caution those who seem to equate "dark" with "good" or "better." Sometimes having a well-executed light drama in one's mix is a healthy thing, and my favorite mainstream summer drama that balances light, dark and an interesting milieu remains A&E's Longmire (discussed last week, and which airs its season finale this Monday).
Question: Like John Noble before him on Fringe, Robert Knepper was awesome on Cult playing two roles: Billy Grimm and the actor who plays him on the show within a show. He was equally awesome as T-Bag on Prison Break. Did he get a best supporting actor nomination? No, because not only is Cult a genre show, it's been cancelled and was burned off on Fridays (for which I do sincerely thank The CW!). Why can't some of these fine actors get the recognition they deserve? I'd love to see Knepper at least get nominated. — Doris
Matt Roush: Maybe he will someday — no one doubts Knepper's credentials as a fine character actor who has already created a memorable rogue's gallery of villains. And he's already lined up his next gig, in TNT's upcoming Mob City (December) as, what else, a mobster. But of all the Emmy-snub mail I've fielded this season, going to bat for an instant-flop oddity like Cult (on The CW, no less) goes beyond pipe dream, so more power to you. Still, you make a good point that this summer if nothing else has given fans of "cult" failures like Cult, Zero Hour, 666 Park Avenue and Do No Harm a chance to see those shows play out to the end of their shortened runs. That's a bit of a silver lining.
Question: Where's the love for Hell on Wheels? It's one of my favorites and I especially enjoy the gritty "realness" of that time period in the costumes, makeup and scenery. I've also been very impressed with the photography and lighting, and then there's Anson Mount in all his shaggy, unkempt glory! He's worth tuning in for even if you don't like anything else about the show! Your opinion? — Katie
Matt Roush: It's not enough. I gave this one two seasons, but much like BBC America's period piece Copper, while I find the era and the production details intriguing, the writing and acting are generally so sub-par, heavy-handed, pretentious and predictable that it doesn't compel me to keep watching. Being a fan of the underrepresented Western genre, I'm also not going out of my way to beat up on it. But you did ask.
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