Ask Matt: Closer, True Blood, Eureka, Mad Men, Terriers and More
J.K. Simmons and Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
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Question: I absolutely love The Closer! It's one of my favorite shows and I am always so eager to watch that I usually don't even wait for my DVR to get ahead enough to allow me to skip commercials. This season started off with a bang and I've loved it, but I'm a little concerned. What will happen if Brenda does become chief? On one hand, as a woman, I think it would be great for the character to be a female Chief of Police in Los Angeles. On the other hand, I am afraid for what that would mean for her position as a "closer." If she gets some distance from the cases, how can she possibly get all of those confessions that have the audience on the edge of their seats? Plus, I have not enjoyed the rather jerk-like qualities this whole process has brought out in Pope. I know he's got his heart set on being chief, but it seems a little uncharacteristic for him to be such a jerk now when he has not gone completely into that territory before. Please tell me that whatever is in the works is going to maintain the same quality of scripts and keep Brenda right in the middle of the action! Do you have any insight into the rest of the season or what impact this whole development would have for the future of the show? — Beth
Matt Roush: Now that's a true sign of devotion, watching a show in real time, not DVR time. I'm very fond of The Closer as well. It's easily my household's favorite summer procedural. And we're watching it just as you are, with no foreknowledge of how this hunt for the new chief is going to turn out. (See my recent discussion of this being a spoiler-free zone for why that's the case.) Your concerns make sense to me, in that too much tinkering with a successful formula doesn't always make much sense and can do more harm than good in the long run. (See recent seasons of House.) Still, I can't imagine a scenario in which Brenda is removed from the day-to-day detection of cases, and if she were promoted to such a position, I would bet it would be short-lived. But this current arc has been mostly good for the show this season, I think, adding some tension — between Brenda and Pope, between Brenda and the long-suffering Fritz — and distinguishing it from years past. (Not always easy for a long-running crime drama.) Showing chinks in Pope's armor, and then watching him deflate last week when he learned he wasn't even on the short list, gives the invaluable J.K. Simmons something to play, which is always a good thing. Whatever happens as this season winds down, I'm thinking you shouldn't worry that they'll muck up the show you love too drastically.
On another Closer note: Even if you're not a regular viewer, this week's episode is a standout, as Brenda contends with a military overseer (Gary Cole, excellent as usual) after off-duty soldiers are gunned down in what looks like a gang-related murder. Strong stuff.
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Question: Unfortunately, shows don't always receive a final decision on whether or not they will return for another season before they finish filming their current season. This often leaves more than a few fans more than a little annoyed when the season finale has to serve as a series finale. They are rarely satisfying as a last episode especially if it ends with a cliffhanger. Since True Blood is my current obsession, I am a bit worried about it. They only received a one-year pick up from HBO and I think it was after they had finished filming the current season 3. Why do you think it was only for a year instead of a multi-year pick up? I thought the show was doing really well. And do you think that Alan Ball and his team have any sort of contingency plot/plan for a satisfying season 4 finale in case they don't receive a pick up for season 5? — Dana
Matt Roush: Of all the things to worry about, a premature termination of True Blood should not be one of them. HBO renewed the show early in the game this season, and given its momentum, I think it's fair to say that the show will end whenever Alan Ball decides it's time, and not an episode before. Whatever business reasons are behind HBO renewing the show a season at a time, I couldn't say. But it's hardly a sign of no confidence. Given the buzz and the ratings for this show, which HBO had been lacking since The Sopranos and Sex and the City signed off, I'm sure HBO would be thrilled if True Blood were, like many of its key characters, immortal.
Question: I was wondering why Emmy voters are not giving True Blood the support it deserves. Granted, it is up for best drama this year, but we all know they'll give it to the juggernaut Mad Men, even if MM's last season was much slower and weaker than what I like to call the wild amusement park ride of True Blood. Sure they have the cool, sophisticated Don Draper, but come on, what viewer wasn't yelling at the cliffhangers throughout the entire Maryann season? Mad Men didn't really get out of 1st gear until the very last few shows. I'm thinking that maybe older voters might be turned off by the over-the-top dramatics, sex, language, carnage, etc. Or maybe, everyone was late to the party since it is on HBO and fewer people have HBO so word of mouth was slower. At any rate, I know it's probably a chance in vampire hell, but what do you think? — JL
Matt Roush: [NOTE: This column was put together before the Emmys aired, as there was no time to revise it afterward] Much as I enjoy True Blood, the truth is it wouldn't have a chance getting noticed at the Emmys if it didn't air on HBO. Being on HBO almost always gives a show an advantage, because I'm convinced it's one of the few things nearly everyone in the industry (who all probably wish they worked for HBO) pays attention to. (True, it hasn't helped much with HBO's recent miserable slate of comedies, but we're lucky the networks — and Showtime — have stepped in to fill that particular void.) True Blood is great fun, and without doubt has more incident in a single episode than Mad Men seems to muster in an entire season, but that's hardly the point. True Blood is too weird and extreme — and uneven — to be taken seriously as an Emmy contender. (If I'm wrong, and it somehow wins the best drama prize, consider me shocked. And amused.) The fact that Lost won for its first season is something of a miracle. The Emmy voters do not tend to embrace genre shows very easily, and True Blood for all its enjoyable qualities lacks the gravitas, coherence and (yes) the humanity of most of its competition.
Question: TV Guide Magazine used to run a "best show you're not watching feature," but perhaps there should be subcategories? I would like to put in a vote for Eureka as "the most charming show people aren't watching." I've always enjoyed Eureka, but I feel as if it has been rejuvenated this year with the alternative time-line reboot. While always light, I've felt some urgency in terms of the multiple ongoing romantic stories this year. Henry's rendition of "She Blinded Me With Science" for Grace made me smile more than any romantic gesture on TV for some time. What have you thought of it recently? I see it has been renewed, but what is the timeline for seeing the back end of these episodes or the new season? While USA is always good about telling the audience the minute a finale ends when the new episodes will be, SyFy barely advertises Eureka — I always have to hunt for the start date. Why do they do that? — Rebecca
Matt Roush: Cable schedules, especially when they split seasons in two, are often confusing, and Syfy can be especially mystifying. It would be nice if Syfy would announce the return date for a show like Eureka around the time of its summer finale, but maybe they want to keep their options open in case they need this asset to return to the schedule sooner or later than they think. The good news is that Eureka is still going strong, and I agree this has been its most enjoyable and freshest season in quite a while. The show that seems to me to have been hurt the most by Syfy's stop-and-start scheduling is Caprica, which was just beginning to build some momentum when it ended its season back in March. The second half of its season won't air until January, and that's a potentially fatal amount of time to be dark. Especially for a show that dark.
Question: FX has always done great in the drama area, so what is the "buzz" with Terriers? Looks to be interesting, and on a side note, any Emmy chances for Rescue Me or due to the scheduling, will it be forgotten about again? — Glenn
Matt Roush: I assume you're talking about next year's Emmy chances for the current season of Rescue Me, and you're probably right than unless FX makes a big promotional push during the nominating and balloting period — or if the new episodes from the final season begin airing around that time — it may fall off the radar as the show did this year. Which is a shame, but FX shows tend to have some trouble breaking through the clutter. (Recent cases in point: Justified and, in many eyes, Sons of Anarchy.)
With Terriers (which I review in the current issue of TV Guide Magazine and which will be posted online closer to the Sept. 8 premiere), FX is hewing closer to the Justified model in introducing heroes — small-time, unlicensed, shaggy-dog P.I.'s — who aren't particularly tormented. They're a mess, but not miserably so. The pilot's tone is rather light (though not without some tragic elements), but the story does take on darker and more violent hues as it goes on. I'm an early fan, but do worry that the show's what's-it-mean title and offbeat underdog sensibility may make it something of a slow build. Still, I'd recommend it over roughly 80-90% of the new shows the broadcast networks are serving up this fall.
Question: I have a question about BBC America [BBCA] as a whole. Now don't take this as meaning I'm in a show for the nudity and profanity. However, I find the censoring they do enormously annoying. BBCA does this frequently. They blur George's rumpus-roast in Being Human and eliminate words, and since I'm deaf and need the closed captions, occasionally use symbols. An example would be in the late-great Torchwood they used @ in certain words. In Being Human's case they seem to have neither rhyme nor reason. They let a euphemism for fecal matter fly while censoring the "frak" symbolized word. I remember seeing far worse on Saving Grace and Nip/Tuck. I know they don't censor on-demand, however, nor do they closed-caption the on-demand. I find the censoring does distract my attention from the story; my mind jumps to the "aw, come on" mode. I still watch, and love, some, but well, aw come on. Other times I can't even make it through the initial episodes (Inbetweeners and Skins jump to mind). Mind you, I do buy the DVD later and watch and enjoy some of the shows. Why the [censor] do they [censor] do this [censor]? Pun intended, but you get the idea. — Scott
Matt Roush: This and the next question both find fault and express surprise that ad-supported cable (whether on the basic tier or, in the case of BBCA, digital) still operates with standards-and-practices prudence. While the decency rules are much looser on cable than for broadcast, and certain networks (FX in particular, and AMC more and more) are pushing the envelope as far as they can, there are still concessions made to placate advertisers and to agree not go quite as far as on the pay (no commercials) services. I agree it's a much different experience watching the uncut Inbetweeners and Skins than watching them on BBCA, where the bleeps are so constant it feels like they're written in Morse code. Call me old-fashioned, but I can still be shocked by what they get away with on over-the-air TV across the pond. But with Being Human, I tend to get the gist of what they're saying and (often graphically) doing. I can live with the bleeps as long as they keep importing the good stuff.
Question: Was The Glades made for another broadcast company and then somehow found its way on to A&E? I ask because I notice it having dialogue removed, and that seems strange for a show it ordered. I also notice this on its many reruns, almost as if it seems more concerned with language than the broadcast networks. Insights? — Dennis
Matt Roush: I've watched a handful of Glades episodes and never noticed this "problem," but I got a handful of comments about this, so it must have been noticeable on some of the episodes I've missed. The Glades was produced for A&E, so that's not the issue, but the way I figure it, having seen the same thing happen with other basic-cable entities (I'm thinking here of Breaking Bad and AMC), when the language gets too rough, the network steps in and as opposed to cutting the scene entirely, it just omits the offending word, leaving it to our imagination. Gives the producers creative license to film the scene the way they want (which can be preserved on DVD), but then is altered to adhere to what can sometimes seem an arbitrary and inconsistent set of standards.
Question: I hope you've given Memphis Beat another chance. A few weeks ago, you didn't have complimentary words for Memphis Beat, but it seemed as if you'd only seen the first episode. Since then, I think the both the star's and supporting cast's characters have been developed and the show has become richer. If I remember correctly, another columnist didn't think Alfre Woddard's considerable talents were being used well, but since the pilot, I think her character has turned out to not be the stereotype he thought but a supporter of the policemen under her command and an intriguing character in her own right. Jason Lee is great as the lead, and the supporting cast is varied and interesting. The city of Memphis is itself one of the interesting characters. My best friend now wants to make a trip there. If you haven't yet, please give it another chance! I think you'll be glad you did. — Marie
Matt Roush: When I made my last comments on the show, I had seen maybe three or four episodes, enough for me to feel pretty confident about my lukewarm opinion. Upon getting your e-mail nudge, I decided to watch last week's season finale, and while the story itself was better than some of the episodes I had watched earlier on, I still wasn't impressed or convinced by the characters or the tone. I like Jason Lee a great deal, but don't find him compelling at all in this show, and find Alfre Woodard's performance so weirdly mannered as to verge on the unwatchable. The rest of the cast seems to disappear into the woodwork. This is just one of those cases where we'll have to agree to disagree. For me, and this goes for many of TNT's summer shows, Memphis is one of those one-shows-too-many in an overcrowded field of formula TV. I'm glad those who liked it liked it, but for whatever reason, it just never caught my fancy. The Memphis-style music on the soundtrack is the most appealing thing about this one, and even that strikes me as clichéd. On Tuesdays this summer, I was more a USA Network fan (White Collar, Covert Affairs) and Syfy guy (Warehouse 13), but the variety of options on the night this summer was pretty impressive, which is the positive takeaway in all of this.
Question: I'm really liking this season of Mad Men, even though other people haven't quite warmed up to it. The main reason being the transformation of Peggy. Gone is the mousy, unsure little girl and replaced with an adventurous and more confident young woman. I loved her foray into the downtown scene, as she jokingly flitted off advances from another woman and enjoyed the rush of running from the cops. I cracked up as she peered over the wall into Don's office! All of this was capped off by the bittersweet exchange between her and Pete, as she went off with her boho friends and he met with corporate honchos. She seems to have found herself, or at least exploring more about herself. Can you believe she's the same person that began in this show, the one character a lot of people had a hard time relating to? — Aaron
Matt Roush: And it sounds like this week's episode (which I may not see for a day or two, thanks to the Emmys) was another strong one for Elisabeth Moss. I agree any time the show turns its attention to Peggy, we all benefit. She was especially fun in her flirtation with the bohemian underground, and I hope we see more of her getting out in the changing world. If she didn't win the Emmy for supporting actress last night, this season is shaping up to be a potentially championship year for her.
Question: Have really enjoyed Army Wives from the beginning. Will there be a season 5? The spin-off cop show is just not the same for me. Already lots of those kind of shows on now. — Virginia
Matt Roush: As of last week, according to my sources, Lifetime hadn't officially renewed Army Wives. And the spin-off is still being considered a pilot in development, with no solid green light. Which doesn't mean we won't see both next year — but I'm with you about the show spinning off into yet another crime drama. Do we really need it?
Question: Last year, I wrote to say that I thought it was stubborn and misguided of AMC to run an original episode of Mad Men opposite the Emmy telecast where it was sure to win Best Drama, which it did. Once again, the network is making the same scheduling error, forcing a choice between watching the awards and the show. Ironically, "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency," the episode that aired on Emmy night last year, is actually up for a writing Emmy this year. My question now is: Do they actually have ratings data which demonstrates that the presence of the telecast does not affect the viewership of the episode? Fans could watch during one of its late-night reruns (11 pm, if the Emmys don't run over, or 2 am), but that seems like a long time to stay awake, and not everyone in the world has a dual-tuner DVR to take care of the timeslot conflict. Not to mention that Rubicon is new, too, and at its glacial pace, it should do everything in its power to keep the viewers it already has, instead of losing them to an awards show. So why does AMC hide behind the idea of wanting to do an uninterrupted run when a single week's pre-emption or repeat would actually be a wise idea? — Jake
Matt Roush: It's a fair complaint, but given that this is cable we're talking about, there are several more chances during the week — never as convenient as the regular time period, to be sure — to catch these shows before the next original episode. (It's even less of an issue if you have an On Demand option with your cable provider, as I thankfully do.) This year the situation is exacerbated by the early timetable for the Emmys, airing the weekend before Labor Day, which is another good excuse for many shows (including True Blood) to take a week off. AMC appears to be airing original episodes of these shows that weekend too, which is traditionally a tough time to get viewers to the set on a holiday Sunday. Which tells me that AMC really isn't that obsessed with the ratings race where these shows are concerned. They're happy to get a number, but even more committed to running the shows straight through in regular pattern, figuring the majority of followers will either record the show, watch it during another scheduled run, or catch it On Demand. But why single out Mad Men here? HBO ran an original True Blood opposite the Emmys, and Lifetime presented its back-to-back season finale of Drop Dead Diva the same night, along with many other cable options. The Emmys aren't the ratings juggernaut the Oscars are, especially this time of year, and the fact many competitors chose not to go dark bears that out.
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