Ask Matt: The Americans, Revenge, Smash, Bones, The Middle and More
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Question: What's your take on the new FX drama The Americans? I'm sort of cautiously optimistic because I love several FX shows, but this one didn't grab me like Justified and the others have. I thought there was way too much action before I got any sort of character development — it drove me nuts to have to follow the opening sequence for so long without any context. I also found myself fascinated by the next-door neighbor/FBI agent (what is the story with his undercover assignment?!) and less so by Phillip (the husband), but Elizabeth (the wife) left me sort of cold. I hope it improves with more episodes. — Amy
Matt Roush: My initial review of The Americans was quite positive, and I enjoyed this week's second episode just as much — lots of positive buzz in my office regarding next week's episode as well (haven't had time to watch yet), which introduces the great Margo Martindale as the couple's new handler — but ambivalence toward these characters is understandable, not necessarily a flaw. Many of FX's better series focus on anti-heroes who make you queasy for even trying to empathize or identify with them. I'm actually impressed that they've made Keri Russell's character (Elizabeth) such an emotionally remote cold fish of a hard-line Russian patriot. And I had no trouble with the first episode throwing us immediately into the action, revealing them first as spies engaged in dangerous exploits and only then showing us the deceptively ordinary world they inhabit. My biggest problem with the pilot was the overly contrived twist of having the FBI agent moving in across the street, but Noah Emmerich plays him disarmingly enough that it undercut the cliché. The American feels to me like a good fit for FX, and I'm glad it got off to a decent start.
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Question: I am furious with ABC and Mike Kelley regarding Revenge's second season. A year ago I signed up for a clever, stylish and original prime-time soap. During Revenge's first season I thought the characters, the plot, the twists and the thrill was amazing (not since the original Melrose Place went off the air have I appreciated a guilty pleasure as much as I did Revenge). My favorite part was when Victoria and Emily went against each other within a social and glamorous context. Revenge's world was something unique and special that I felt privileged to be part of on a weekly basis. However something has happened on Season 2. The continuous scheming from the two leads has been replaced by a pathetic Mission: Impossible storyline that I find out of place and not in sync with what the first season promised the audience. I have endured the return of Emily's boring mom, the complicated Initiative plot, the addition of unwelcome new characters (e.g. Nolan's CFOs) and the boredom caused by baby Carl. I was willing to stick with the show just because Madeleine Stowe and Emily VanCamp's performances are so much fun to watch; nonetheless, the last few episodes continue depicting Emily as some sort of Alias spy girl, which is not believable and does not support the show's original premise. So now I am thinking about giving up on the show once and for all. I was wondering where do you stand on this issue, and if you believe Season 2 has been such mess as I think it has?
On another unrelated note, I would like to mention that Nikita has been reaching new levels of excitement with every new episode. I am so glad The CW has supported this show no matter the ratings. I am hopeful that Nikita will be renewed for a fourth season. This is a show that has delivered on its promise and exceeded my expectations like I didn't think was possible. —
Matt Roush: Seriously, could they just put a pin in the eye-glazing Initiative plot and get back to the core of the show, which is Emily vs. the Graysons? Can't argue with any of your complaints, and it's a sign of how disengaged I've become that I have yet to catch up with the last two January episodes (which aired against big-ticket programming, which not surprisingly damaged Revenge's ratings), because it's just not as fun anymore. Headline: Scandal is the new Revenge. Trust me on that one.
Regarding Nikita: This is my favorite season since the first. It's tighter, with more purpose behind the plotting, and the missions to take down the "Dirty Thirty" have been generally exciting, with very high (and often emotional) stakes. With Fringe gone, it's the only show on Friday that feels like appointment TV to me.
Question: While an avid reader of your column, I have never written in before, but now feel I need to in order to ensure my perspective of Smash is expressed. Karen, Karen, Karen. I am sick of all the "I love Karen" sentiment. Karen is not behaving any better than Ivy did when Ivy had the lead in Bombshell (remember when Ivy was trying to get Karen fired, and Karen looked like oh-so-the victim). But [SPOILER ALERT] first thing Karen did was get Ivy fired. Whatever. My concern is that the writing will always position Karen as the victim-turned-victor over Ivy, who is doomed to rot on the sidelines at Karen's whim. Your thoughts? I think Ivy is fascinating, much more flawed and layered than Karen, and I would like to see that play out. — John
Matt Roush: There's no question there's a Team Ivy vs. Team Karen dynamic at play within the Smash fandom, such as it is. I'd prefer not to get in the middle of that — I see flaws and strengths in both actresses' performances, as well as their characters' different takes on Marilyn through the first season — but I don't think Karen comes off as particularly heroic in her attitude towards Ivy in this week's two-hour opener, though given how much Ivy has to atone for (including sleeping with Karen's boyfriend, which would be kind of hard to forgive), wouldn't it be even less realistic if the new ingénue didn't flex her diva wings? NBC made the fourth hour available for preview, and I was pleased to note that by then [ANOTHER MILD SPOILER ALERT], Ivy's career path is aligned with a different musical, which only makes sense. (Why would she want to keep lurking in the wings at Bombshell, anyway?) This suggests that Smash will focus less on their rivalry than on the uphill climb they all face in becoming stars on Broadway. And as I noted in last week's column, the less angelic they make Karen, the more interesting she becomes to me. Hoping they see it the same way.
Question: I love Bones, and I love most of the way the show is going except for one thing: Pelant. Every time his name comes up, I want to shut the TV off or throw something at it. How much longer before Pelant finally meets his end? (Which, odds are, would have to be death because in prison this guy would still be too dangerous — and too tempting for the writers to bring back.) — LT
Matt Roush: Can't tell you (and wouldn't if I knew) how long their nemesis will continue bedeviling them, but I'm betting the producers like the fact that this creep gets under fans' skin this deeply. Many procedurals like to create larger-than-life adversaries — a Moriarty, if you will — to keep the heroes on their toes, showing them to be less than perfect, and that not every bad guy gets put away within an hour of TV. Just roll with it.
Question: Just watched the season finale of Parenthood. I must say it was one of the best episodes ever. Unfortunately, the overall tone was that of wrapping up loose ends, and I got the feeling there would be no Parenthood next season. Did you get the same feeling? — G
Matt Roush: I'm still hopeful enough that Parenthood will see a fifth season that I didn't experience the finale that way. Felt more to me like the producers wanted to tell as complete a story as possible this season and not leave the audience hanging — partly because there's no guarantee of renewal for a show like this, which always lives on the bubble, but also because of the long breaks between limited-run seasons. The only element that seemed especially rushed or forced to me was little Victor's personality change from intolerable brat to beatific angel who finally realized how lucky he was to be adopted into this messy family.
Question: If The Middle was a ratings triumph and had earned the Emmy for Best Comedy Series the past three years in a row, would you still champion the show as much as you do? Or is part of the appeal of The Middle its underdog status? — Marcus
Matt Roush: We'll never know the answer to that first question, will we? But I hope you're not questioning my genuine affection for this series, which has only grown by the season. This year in particular, with the mom out of work and the oldest child facing graduation and desperate to get his athletic scholarship, The Middle feels like the most relevant and (within reason) realistic family sitcom since Roseanne. And it's not really that much of a ratings underdog anymore, considering how badly so many other comedies are doing on nights like Tuesdays. Unlike the situation of Community-type "bubble" shows, which this most certainly is not, I don't champion The Middle in hopes of raising its profile or because it needs the help. I cheer it because it deserves to be celebrated, at least as much as some of the trendier shows over-praised in other circles. The next writer pretty well captures how I feel about The Middle these days.
Question: I have loved The Middle since its very first season and have always felt it was overshadowed by the instant popularity of Modern Family, but I truly feel like this season of The Middle has been the best so far and it deserves to be noticed now more than ever. I have laughed, cried and laughed some more at all of the episodes shown so far. The writers and actors on the show have stepped up their game tremendously. I am so impressed with the young actors this season; I feel as though the writers have really focused on developing the children's characters and the actors who portray them have done an excellent job. I have really enjoyed how they have focused on the relationships between the siblings, especially Brick and Axl. This show is a hidden gem and every friend I have recommended the show to has also fallen in love with it. Although it will probably never receive the Emmy nominations, accolades or ratings it deserves, I just think The Middle deserves some much-deserved recognition for being an outstanding family comedy on TV today. I know you too are a fan, what do you think about the season thus far? — Tiffany
Matt Roush: Do you really have to ask? I've explained my current feelings about the show in the above answer, but I would second Tiffany's praise of the Axl-Brick relationship. The episode in which Axl spoiled the ending of the book Brick was reading rang so true for me, it was like a chapter from the memoir I'll probably never write.
Question: I have loved Scandal since episode one, but I keep wondering why we've never seen the President's children. (And if we have, I must have dozed off!) Has Shonda Rhimes ever mentioned this?
Matt Roush: It is peculiar, especially when you consider the celebrity of presidential kids like Sasha and Malia, that Fitz's kids are basically invisible (at boarding school, which also stretches credibility). But if you're looking for emotional realism in Scandal, good luck with that. I've heard Rhimes address this before, suggesting that if the children had been too prominent early on, it might make Olivia look too unsympathetic as a White House home-wrecker. Now that there's a new baby around, it would be weird not to bring the whole first family together at least for a while. But I'm betting the kids will stay in the background, because Scandal is all about the grown-ups getting down and dirty.
Question: I knew there would probably be changes in Cougar Town with the change of networks, but did they forget that Grayson has a child or did they just decide to make him a "dead-beat dad?" It seems like the issue of children was such a big issue between Grayson and Jules (then solved with the revelation that he had a young child) so it's curious to see it just completely written out of the show. — Sarah
Matt Roush: In this case, I'm thinking it's more about putting a badly conceived and executed subplot on the back burner. And given how little we see of Ellie and Andy's kid, which has become a running joke of over-the-top parental neglect, it doesn't surprise me that Grayson is less than a model of fatherly devotion, although it does contradict an aspect of his character that was established before he got serious (if that's the word) with Jules. Best not to take anything that happens on this show very seriously.
Question: Last Resort was a great show. Any chance of it being picked up by another network, such as USA, CBS, NBC? — Billy
Matt Roush: The answer to this inevitable post-cancellation question is usually a conditional no, but in this case, it's a resounding no. They killed off their lead character (and shot the never-seen president, who got everyone in this mess in the first place), resolving as many plot points as they could in what everyone knew would be the 13th and final hour. When a show is canceled this early in its run, there's rarely a chance anyone would step up to continue it. A series this logistically complicated would be difficult to revive, anyway, but because the producers were allowed to finish the show, however hurriedly, there's not a chance it will be back.
Question: Last Resort was never a series that could have continued indefinitely, and yet I felt the series finale was rushed and did not answer all the Washington political questions. But then, who could possibly explain all the political maneuvering that goes on in our Capitol city? No doubt in my mind that the network was bullied by the current administration into early cancellation as the plot was a little too close for comfort.
Flashpoint, on the other hand, ended with such excitement and action. And the one-year reunion at the end of Team One tied up most of the story lines. Would have loved to have seen Ed's wife and children, Dean and Wordy with his beautiful family there as well. Still can't understand why this show had to end since crime certainly continues and these heroes will always be on call, but just happy that nothing else bad happened to Team One especially after losing two former members. Losing Donna was just awful and I know that Greg and Ed will never forgive themselves for not being able to help defuse her bomb. This show made me laugh, cry, close my eyes with fear, gasp at shock or disbelief, want to sing and record the music and feel close to imaginary everyday heroes. — Barb
Matt Roush: Really? Last Resort done in by the actual administration? Get a grip. Suggesting this show was cut short for any reason other than disappointing ratings and poor network scheduling is beyond silly. But I will say that the underdeveloped, half-baked Washington angle was the show's weakest, least convincing, most poorly written and cast element, and suffered most from the hasty demise.
On the other hand, Flashpoint got five seasons, which is a decent run, and I don't know enough about the economics of Canadian TV to speculate why it ended when it ended, but at least they were able to wrap the story on their own terms. And from what I've heard from fans, it was a satisfying finish. Which is more than a lot of shows get.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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