Ask Matt: CBS (Non) Renewals, Smash, The River, Grey's, Awake, More
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Question: Do you think it is possible that CBS will cancel Unforgettable, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY? I really like all of them and I am hoping this won't come true. — Linda
Matt Roush: It is possible one or more of these shows won't be back in the fall, but just because they weren't included in CBS's announcement of early renewals (a whopping 18 series in all) doesn't mean they're necessarily doomed. It really depends on CBS's development and needs going into the new season, and as usual, they're approaching it from a position of stability and overall schedule strength. And while we often say about struggling networks (like NBC) that they can't cancel everything — thus ensuring the survival of bubble shows like Parenthood, for instance — with CBS the situation is that they can't afford, strategically anyway, to renew everything. The CSI spinoffs in particular are long-in-the-tooth and expensive, and much like when CBS eventually let go of decently performing veterans like Without a Trace, Judging Amy and Cold Case, at some point the programmers feel the need to make the call to freshen up the schedule with potential new hits — not always successfully, but CBS's track record is pretty solid. The separation anxiety fans are feeling is pretty common this time of year, but we'll just have to wait until May to see which of these shows make the cut.
Question: I was wondering if after you see a show and review it, do you ever go back and re-watch? Based on your reviews, I have tuned in to The River and Smash. I am sad to say that I have been disappointed in both. Except for the doll scene, which was super-creepy, The River has not really done much to creep me out. (By the way, I absolutely agree with your thoughts on Supernatural, although I will watch until the end. I am hoping the end comes sooner rather than later.) Last week's episode of The River was okay, but really, zombies? Or zombie-like creatures?
I am much more disappointed in Smash. I think Smash is a failure on every level, except for the acting by Christian Borle, Jack Davenport and Megan Hilty. It is failing as a soap opera, and I want to know why shows think soaps are so easy to do because they more often than not fail at it. There is no build-up to the soap elements. Julia seemed to fall back into bed with Michael without any serious qualms. All the plotlines seem so rushed. And they just have so much going on: adoption story, dating drama for Tom, the drama between Derek and Ivy, etc. Maybe it's because I am not a fan of Katharine McPhee-ver, but to me there's no doubt that Megan Hilty's Ivy deserves the part. And have the writers ever been to Iowa? They act like it's Siberia and that everyone there does not have a clue. The Marilyn musical and songs aren't doing it for me either. I just wonder what you saw that I cannot? — Shelley
Matt Roush: Firstly, of course I keep watching most of the shows I review during their regular runs. (Very few of the shows I detest do I stick with — what would be the point — but even then, if they stick around, I tend to check in on them from time to time.) In the case of midseason shows like Smash and The River, I was able to base my reviews on multiple episodes — a luxury that tends to occur at midseason more often than in the fall — and maybe we'll have to agree to disagree on these. I'll concede neither is perfect, but I believe in the idea and (up to a point) have enjoyed the execution of both shows, and I'd much rather see the networks attempt offbeat, ambitious projects like this than deliver the umpteenth variation on a crime drama — though there's nothing wrong with a good one, of course — or a reality show (again, there's good and bad here, so trying not to overgeneralize).
I've enjoyed The River as a fun jump-in-your-seat pulp-fiction horror adventure. That one I'd put in the guilty pleasure column. And I know I'm in the critical minority, but I much preferred its straightforward scares (even the derivative mutant zombies in the research facility) to the pretentious psychosexual ghost-around-every-corner overkill of American Horror Story. And neither comes close to the level of The Walking Dead for sustained serious terror built around flesh-and-blood (oh the blood!) characters. With Smash, I'm still on board with the backstage musical drama (including the actual music, when it sticks to Broadway), which is an incredibly risky proposition for network TV, though I understand the frustration with the sudsy storylines, which often fall flat. But what continuing weekly series doesn't have soap elements to keep the story churning? Smash struggles at making the personal dramas as compelling as the subplots about the process of putting on a show — and it's pretty much a consensus view even among the show's champions that Karen's Iowa detour was the season low point to date — but I'll stick with an uneven show like this that's trying something new for those moments it achieves an exhilarating high. Which is the reason I haven't abandoned Glee, either. But you're not the only having problems with this. Read on...
Question: Last week's episode of Smash has to be the longest hour of TV I have sat through in a long time. My eyes were literally sore from rolling at the clichéd subplots, inane dialogue and the bad acting of Katherine McPhee. What has happened to the show that was so wonderful in the pilot? I don't even like the show music anymore. It's all chopped up in the rehearsals as Ivy and Derek spar about her inability to get anything right. I tuned in initially to see Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston, but they are now badly misused in boring subplots. I suppose Eileen's house hunting and going to a (gay?) bar are supposed to be emblematic of her efforts to get out of the shadow of her soon-to-be-ex-husband and loosen up, but those scenes just dragged on and on. Julia's affair with Michael is wrong on so many levels and so predictable that I was praying that annoying Ellis would find them in the studio during their late-night tryst, but he was out with Eileen playing the Big Hunter video game. Now this stupid affair will go on. Every time Katherine McPhee shows up, she sucks the life out of the scene. The bar mitzvah number where everyone is so enthralled with her was totally unbelievable to me. The only interesting part of the episode was learning about prednisone as a voice cure, but Ivy's dithering about whether or not to take it and then how much to take also took too much time. The teaser for this week promises major meltdowns all around. I think the meltdowns have been happening for weeks. Are you still enjoying the show? Do you know if it gets any better? — Frank
Matt Roush: I have seen tonight's episode in advance (but nothing beyond), which I do think is one of the better ones, and by its end, some of your criticisms will be addressed head-on, giving me hope for the remainder of the season. But if the storyline about Ivy's vocal and emotional insecurities — which pretty much speaks to the heart of what Smash is all about — didn't grab you, and you're not enjoying the music, maybe this isn't the show for you. Give it another shot. This episode features the great Bernadette Peters as Ivy's spotlight-stealing diva mother, arriving just in time to upstage and undermine her daughter as the all-important workshop for potential investors looms. I'm only sorry that just as Smash has begun to stabilize in the ratings, this particular episode will face tough competition with new episodes of Castle — a themed tie-in to the Dancing With the Stars premiere — and Hawaii Five-0. No one said it would be easy.
Question: Is Ivy's trajectory on Smash intended to parallel Marilyn Monroe's life (as Ronald Colman's character in the classic A Double Life gradually became Othello)? Talent, temperament, tardiness, insecurities, drinking ... what's next? Overdose/suicide attempt? — V
Matt Roush: What a great comparison. I love A Double Life! But I wouldn't take it too far, and I hope that Smash doesn't either. Without doubt we're meant to be seeing parallels between the pressures and insecurities bedeviling Ivy and what Marilyn herself went through, but her hesitation at going on the vocal steroid (and something she says in tonight's episode in an argument with her mother) makes me think that Ivy is too self-aware to let her fall into this trap too deeply.
Question: In your weekly review, you wrote about Owen's confession that he had cheated on Cristina in Grey's Anatomy, and I'm not sure what to make of your comment: "Though really, who can blame him?" Are you implying that Cristina deserved to be cheated on or that there are extenuating circumstances for cheating in this troubled relationship? The abortion, that is? I'm interested to know what you think about this new development, because you are a man and the majority of fans at boards are women, and we women tend to be more compassionate and forgiving towards female characters, I guess. Do you think this couple can or should be saved? Or do you think Shonda Rhimes is going to keep Cristina and Owen navigating around each other because Sandra Oh and Kevin McKidd are formidable acting partners even if Cristina and Owen's marriage seems so sad and miserable? Oh gets all the praise, but McKidd is outstanding himself in their scenes, and I imagine this is the reason TPTB (the powers that be, FYI) are pilling so much angst on this couple, because Cristina and Owen are played by two actors who can actually act and sell that those two mismatched doctors love each other deeply. — Sabrina
Matt Roush: I essentially agree with you, especially on the performances of McKidd and Oh, and I should have known better than to be so glib in my week-in-review (which is often my default mode when putting together that weekly rundown), especially about this relationship, which I know so many fans take so seriously. Of course I'm not suggesting that Cristina deserves to be punished, or that Owen is justified for cheating. When I wrote, "Who can blame him?" I was referring to that moment when he admits, quite heart-wrenchingly, "I love you so much that it hurts," adding, "It hurts to love you." This couple is the perfect embodiment of the "you always hurt the one you love" doctrine, and what I should have made more clear is how inevitable (which is not the same as predictable) this twist now seems, especially when you see how much pain and torment Owen is in, even as it causes Cristina more anguish. I'm curious to learn the details of his indiscretion, not that it will excuse him — and I'm sure he'll never stop torturing himself about it, regardless of whether Cristina decides to forgive him. But to your bigger question about whether the couple can or should be saved: Should, definitely. Can, probably. Look at what all the couples on this show go through. This season has been Cristina and Owen's turn to hit the skids — they can't all be happy like Meredith and Derek are these days, or there'd be no show — but they and we have invested so much in these two, I'm betting they'll find a way to reconcile. Not until we all go through more angst, I'm sure.
Question: Just curious. After The Killing's (creator/exec producer) Veena Sud lied to her audience and promised an answer to the whodunit of "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" by the end of Season 1 — then let it leak that you'd get a payoff a couple episodes into Season 2 — then revised that to say that you'd find out Rosie's killer by the end of Season 2 — how should I interpret the fact that Season 2 of The Killing debuts on April Fool's Day? — Michael
Matt Roush: My interpretation: It's pretty obvious that some jokes just write themselves. And another reminder of the uphill climb this series faces to woo back skeptical viewers who feel burned they didn't get any payoff whatsoever last season.
Question: I'm way too invested in whether Harry's Law will be renewed, considering I've yet to see an episode of the show. It's just that it seems to do so well with older folks, but not in the key demos. While I know CBS ain't in the business of show-saving, I wonder if Harry isn't a good candidate for them to make an exception. — Dennis
Matt Roush: Your first sentence made me laugh. You care, but not enough to watch. (I know how you feel.) It will be interesting to see if NBC sticks with Harry's Law, which (depending on when and where it airs) tends to draw a larger total-audience number than many NBC shows, though as you note the audience skews much older than the NBC norm. Whichever way the pendulum swings, I wouldn't expect CBS to come to its rescue. They're doing just fine as it is, with an emphasis on big-tent programming that may do well with the older crowd (which is CBS' reputation, not entirely justified), but are generally able to pull their weight in all categories.
Question: After reading last week's astute reader analysis of where the reality lies with Awake, I would like to offer some additional thoughts and offer a somewhat different analysis. First, do you have any thoughts (or insider knowledge) as to where the "reality" of the show actually lies in the mind of the writers? Have they decided where they plan to actually go with this in the end? And second, I have to say that applying logic to the analysis of where the true "reality" lies can only cause the viewer a problem. (I took a quote from Juliet in Lost to mean that all would fit together in the end in a logical time travel/alternate universe fashion; if I had not heard this one quote and counted on it, I would not have been nearly so disappointed in how the series ended.) Thus, I don't think we can go by whether Jason Isaacs' character is in every scene to determine which (if either) "reality" is actually a dream; there is no reason on earth that in his "dream" he couldn't "know" certain things (the scenes he doesn't appear in) in some sort of unconscious fashion. And of course now I am going to contradict myself about not being "logical" and say that the little tests (such as knowing a passage from the middle of the Constitution word for word) make me believe that for him, neither reality is more real than the other.
That said, I would like to offer up the two alternatives that make the most sense to me as to what is actually happening: (1) He is in a coma and both "realities" are dreams and (2) Both "realities" truly are real. Remember the "parallel universe" theories so dear to scientists? In this point of view, at each moment of time, our future splits into a myriad of possibilities, none more real than any other. In the case of Isaacs' character, two of these possibilities have somehow become linked, and unlike the rest of us, who are unaware of our other realities, his are forever linked. It will be interesting to see in the end how all of this plays out; it would be very disappointing if the series does not make it long enough for us to find out. — Maryann
Matt Roush: I agree with your last point. I do not want Awake to disappear without at least trying to explain to us why Michael is going through this, and I really don't know (or at this point want to know) what the writers have in mind, though I have to believe they're not flying entirely blind here. You make some very good points, and a few that just add to my befuddlement. Right now, I'm more invested in the emotional journey than in the metaphysical specifics (which as you noted caused Lost no end of grief), and on that level, Awake is succeeding for me so far.
Question: I started watching Suburgatory at the request of a friend and have found it very enjoyable. The best way I can describe the show is quirky. Cheryl Hines is fabulous as always, and Jeremy Sisto has a knack for comedy. What are the chances of this show sticking around? The show does not seem to get a lot of buzz and is sort of flying under the radar. — DJ
Matt Roush: Depends on your radar. In my book, ABC's Wednesday night boasts the most solid and enjoyable comedy lineup anywhere on TV, and that only became more true with the arrival of the tartly whimsical Suburgatory as the first show to successfully bridge the wonderful The Middle with the powerhouse Modern Family. (If only Cougar Town were still on Wednesdays, the lineup would be just about perfect.) The chances for renewal are excellent, and I agree with all of your points. The show's a hoot, and the cast is terrific.
Question: So is it safe to say Ringer is officially the biggest bomb of the 2011-2012 season? Do you think the show would have been better off on CBS as originally planned? Personally I love Ringer, but I think the writing is on the wall with regard to its future. — Rion
Matt Roush: Ringer is a lugubrious dud, for me creatively as well as in the ratings, but there have been far bigger bombs this season in terms of expectation: The Playboy Club, to name one; Charlie's Angels another. The CW flies pretty low on most people's radar, and the only truly significant hype element about Ringer involved Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to series TV. (I now wish the TV fates had guided her instead to Revenge, which turned out to be a much more enjoyable mystery soap, and I'd love to see what she could have done with the Emily character, who's far less mopey than Bridget and Siobhan. A Buffy fanboy can dream.) But no way would Ringer have been better off on CBS, which would have had no patience with this show's turgid slow build. It would have been canceled by November, or would have had to become a much different show than the one the CW is airing. At least on the CW, they tend to give you a longer leash with which to fail. And with that network, where so little actually pops, it's pretty much impossible to gauge the criteria for success and renewals. So I haven't a clue if this one's a keeper or a goner. Wouldn't be much surprised either way.
Question: I know the fans don't want it to happen, but since most of NCIS' primary actors only signed two-year contract renewals last season, does it seem that the writers are winding down the show? We're getting back stories, loose ends, flashbacks, etc. Are TPTB wrapping up the show? — Lori
Matt Roush: Not from what I can tell. Although it's also a fact that any show (unless you're The Simpsons) that has just celebrated its 200-episode milestone is closer to the end of its run than the beginning, and talent negotiations tend to become more complicated over time as well. The flashbacks and back stories seem to be a way to satisfy viewer demand for each character to get their moments in the spotlight without affecting the group dynamic too drastically. When a show is as successful and stable as NCIS, the last thing they tend to want to do is to fix what isn't broken. Few shows have managed to stay this popular this long, and CBS is unlikely to do anything to hasten its departure.
Question: Like you, I didn't like Alcatraz that much, but I'm liking recent episodes more and I think I know why. One of my problems with the show originally was the way the flashbacks would try to make the villain of the week sympathetic due to the rough treatment they received during their original prison sentence, but who could feel much sympathy for the killers when they were wreaking havoc in modern-day San Francisco? Recently the flashbacks seem more concerned with setting up the modern-day plots, plus the modern-day stories are getting more exciting. There is one Alcatraz mystery they'll never explain: how they manage to get back to San Fran from Alcatraz so fast when they have to stop a crime! — Brian
Matt Roush: Excellent point. The midseason deluge has caused me to fall behind a few episodes on this one, but I'll try to catch up in time for next week's two-hour finale. At which point we'll have to sweat it out until May to learn if it's coming back.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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