Ask Matt: Cougar Town, House, Downton Abbey, CSI: NY, New Girl
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Question: I was really excited for Cougar Town to come back but disappointed at the ratings. It's such a sweet, smart, funny show so I wish it had more of an audience. I am not going to ask whether you think it's hurt by the name (since that's been covered ad nauseam) but I'd be interested in your thoughts on its chances for renewal. Yes, the premiere figures were disappointing, but the show was off the air for nine months (right when it seemed as if it was getting some momentum), and is now in kind of a weird time slot, paired with a show with which it doesn't quite fit. It seems to me that those things would make it difficult for the show to find and keep an audience (through no fault of its own). Critics are fans and it has a loyal (albeit apparently small) fan base. Should I start worrying for the fate of the cul-de-sac crew, be cautiously optimistic, or is it too early to tell? — Kelly
Matt Roush: I'd vote for cautious optimism, but it really is too early to tell, though it surely has its work cut out for it. ABC has done the show no favors with the long hiatus and the hasty rescheduling on Tuesday (following the collapse of Work It), pairing it with the much more mainstream Last Man Standing. The show's creator, Bill Lawrence, who went the extra mile promoting Cougar Town through public screenings and social media in the run-up to last week's premiere, has conceded it will take some time for the show to gain traction, and its best opportunity in this time period will come once Glee goes on hiatus after this week. I still regret ABC's decision to bump Cougar Town from the otherwise near-perfect Wednesday comedy lineup in favor of Happy Endings, a show the network's new regime clearly prefers (I beg to differ). It's obvious that Cougar Town is now going to have to fend for itself without the benefit of a Modern Family lead-in, and it's not going to be easy. But if ABC decides to expand its comedy presence next season with more sitcom blocks, they could do far worse than sticking by a show like Cougar Town that enjoys media buzz and a cult following. Raising my own overflowing Big Carl — OK, so it has Diet Pepsi in it as I write — in support. Fingers crossed.
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Question: Do you know if the writing/production team for House got a long enough notice to wrap it up properly? The end of this once brilliant show is OK with me. I just hope it has time for a proper sendoff. How about our brilliant, manipulative and prickly (or just plain mean) doctor developing dementia and undergoing a personality change to become kind and pleasant? I say this for irony's sake, not to be nasty or dismissive of a serious ailment. — Mickie
Matt Roush: The reason Fox made the announcement this early in the midseason was precisely to give the producers time to plot out the end and give House and House the ending the characters and the fans deserve. I've also been getting a number of questions, understandably, asking if past faves like Cuddy and Cameron would return for the end, and if House lives or dies — or, as Mickie suggests, has a personality transplant — and it's just too early to say, though I'm sure spoiler rumors will emerge along the way for those who prefer not to be surprised. I'd love to see Cuddy at least one more time — and while Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) is awfully busy (with Once Upon a Time), the actress has always expressed great fondness for the show that put her on the map before it cast her into the margins for so long. (I still haven't forgiven the producers for that.) My own gut feeling about the show's ending, whatever story they choose to tell, is that House will never stop being House just for the sake of sentimental "closure."
Question: I'm glad to see Undercover Boss moved to Friday's 8/7c time slot. But why didn't they treat A Gifted Man the same as Prime Suspect and bury it somewhere Saturday night or put it on hiatus? Where is my CSI: NY? Certainly its season isn't over already, is it? — Myrna
Matt Roush: Lots of questions over the last week about this latest midseason shuffle, which CBS maybe might have done a better job preparing fans for. If you're happy to see Boss on Friday, something had to give — and CBS opted to let CSI: NY take a break, sharing the 9/8c time period with A Gifted Man, which will play out its first season through the end of March. Once Man finishes its run, CSI: NY will return March 30 to finish out its eighth year to the end of the season. What that says about the renewal chances for either show remains to be seen.
Question: Just wanted to thank you for turning me on to the fabulous Downton Abbey. I love everything about it, and could Maggie Smith be any more delightful as "Granny" Violet? I've always loved Maggie Smith, but she has outdone herself with this role. I can't wait to hear what comes out of her mouth next. I'm with all the others who think the season is too short. Will this show continue for several seasons or is it meant to be more short-lived? I know the Brits do things differently than we do. — Camille
Matt Roush: There is at least one more season guaranteed for Downton Abbey, which will begin production soon and, if the pattern holds, will captivate British audiences in the fall and regale us next winter, leaving us ravenous for more in much the same way as we're now feeling after Sunday's richly satisfying finale. It is expected to be set in the Roaring '20s, and Shirley MacLaine has been cast as Martha Levinson, the mother of American-born Lady Cora Grantham. We can't wait to see her go grande dame-to-grande dame against Maggie Smith. The British do tend to take things one season at a time, and the show's creator Julian Fellowes has said he can't imagine the Downton story continuing indefinitely — each season eats up a lot of story, covering a fair amount of time. But it's also hard to imagine something this successful and enjoyable being cut too short, so I'm hoping we get at least four if not five seasons out of this. In this case, the more the merrier.
Question: I have to tell you that I've been really disappointed with the last few episodes of New Girl. Gone are the sweetness and, more egregiously, the funny from this once promising show. The last few episodes have felt more like I'm watching an extended showing of Animal House that cares more about sexual innuendo than it does about real comedy. In addition, and I'm not trying to be prudish here, this past week's episode was high on the ick factor — but not nearly as high as that episode about the threesome with the building manager (ewwwww). In addition, they've wasted Lizzy Caplan and turned her into the kind of girl very few guys would want to go out with. I find myself rooting against her and Nick not because I want Nick to be with Jess but because the two of them together are boring. And again, not funny. That's to say nothing of Jess' sudden transformation from sweet girl to sex-crazed lunatic. In the immortal words of Fred Willard, "Wha Happened?"
On the other hand, I've watched The Big Bang Theory mature this year into a comedy for the ages. The expansion of the cast, especially the wonderful Mayim Bialik and the under-appreciated Melissa Rauch, has given such life to the show that it could have a great 10-year run — or longer if the funny is even half as strong as it has been. As an aside, this week's Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock recitation was brilliant. But as I was watching both of these comedies this week, I couldn't help but notice them going in two different directions, and while I'm excited for BBT to continue, New Girl is thisclose to being pulled from my DVR. What are your thoughts on the last few episodes of New Girl? — Andrew
Matt Roush: There have been some clunkers during this first season of New Girl, no question, though I enjoyed the Valentine's Day episode more than you (especially the Ryan Kwanten subplot, which was so incredibly silly as they sat on the couch watching Planet of the Apes with Schmidt — who rescues even the weakest episodes — still acting as her wingman). Just thinking of Schmidt going off on "youths!" makes me laugh. It's an aggressively quirky show for sure, and some things are going to work better than others, and if I could swap one thing, I'd trade Justin Long (as Jess' charming beau for far too short of a time) for Lizzy Caplan (who is stuck in a thanklessly dour role). But given that it's a show about attractive young single people, sexual banter is hardly a surprise. I still think it's sweet that Jess had chaperones guiding her through her first potential Valentine's one-night-stand. And Schmidt and Cece? Both Yes! and No! I'm still on board, though it's fairly obvious it's not for everyone.
As for The Big Bang Theory: Couldn't agree more that adding the new female co-stars has added life and expanded the comic universe of a show that is evolving in all the right ways. I loved Sheldon's demonstration of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock so much I watched it multiple times, then repeated it in last week's Week in Review column.
Question: In a couple of your recent week-in-review columns, you actually praised the performance of reality-show star NeNe Leakes, who plays the new swim teacher on Glee and is the star of the terrible Bravo reality show The Real Housewives of Atlanta! Matt, have you been drinking some of The Warblers' slushies? NeNe is nothing more than an annoying reality TV star who's a wannabe celebrity who I thought did a lousy acting job on Glee! She just shouted her lines like she just memorized them with no personality whatsoever! I skipped her second appearance on the show, which was the same episode that had that washed-up pop star Ricky Martin as that lame Spanish substitute character. (I agreed with your review assessment of him and that episode altogether!) This also brings me to my main complaint about this show, which was that Ryan Murphy promised that this season he wasn't going to have any celebrity guest stars and musical artist theme shows! He broke that promise by having these lame guest stars I just mentioned and going back to having musical themed episodes (though I did like the Michael Jackson tribute episode). Did the declining ratings on Glee earlier this season make Ryan Murphy change his mind about the changes he made to this show about not bringing stunt guest casting and no musical themed episodes this season? — Chris
Matt Roush: I share your contempt for the Real Housewives franchise and shuddered at the thought of one of these overexposed shrews joining Glee. But heaven help me, she made me laugh — especially when she gave Sue a taste of her own ranting medicine. But you're probably right that I shouldn't be egging them (or her) on, because if Glee has taught us anything, it's that things enjoyed in small doses will almost invariably be subjected to overkill. As to your larger complaint, Ryan Murphy's pitch for the season was that it wouldn't rely as much on stunts as it did in the misbegotten second year, and that has held mostly true. Glee has been at its best this season when it focuses on the students, especially those considering life beyond high school, but it's still a TV show, and a fairly high-profile and high-concept one at that, so there will always be "very special" themed episodes and "special" guest stars to try to create some extra promotional juice during any given season. The Michael Jackson episode mostly hit the mark — except for the ridiculous Fatal Slushie Incident — and the Ricky Martin stunt mostly did not (and presenting Will as the world's most inept Spanish teacher was just stupid). So when the show comes back in April, I'm hoping it settles down to the business at hand: celebrating music competition and graduation.
Question: What do you think the reaction, ratings-wise, will be to Matt Bomer coming out? I think it's great, but I wonder how Middle-American housewives will take finding out their heartthrob con-man is played by a homosexual man. Ellen DeGeneres dancing around her talk show set is one thing, but an openly gay man (I fear) may be harder to accept for the public at large. — Jennifer
Matt Roush: I honestly don't foresee much if any fallout. I'd like to think most of us have moved past all of this — Neil Patrick Harris is probably a better example than Ellen in terms of sustaining a TV acting career with barely a hiccup, and Matt Bomer is a much quieter sort of celebrity — but if anyone does have a problem with it, it's their problem, not his. When Matt thanked his family while accepting a humanitarian award, it was the most matter-of-fact acknowledgement, not a publicity stunt. If anything, I'd think people would be more surprised to learn that he's raising three kids. He has always kept his private life off limits while promoting White Collar, and I'm sure he and the show will continue to do just fine as long as the show continues to entertain. When I recently conducted a Q&A with Matt at an Apple store in Soho, I was impressed how generous he was with his fans, including one self-promoting lunatic who shed her top in front of everyone — which I'm fairly sure would have occurred under any circumstance.
Question: Based on your strong recommendation, I started watching The River and have enjoyed it and it has met the expectation you set in your reviews. But the early ratings were not high and now I am worried that after eight episodes I might be left hanging. Do you know if there is a satisfying end to this limited-run series should it not get picked up for a second season? Also, how do we viewers take the chance of engaging with a serialized show when there is such risk that we may never know what ultimately happens? — Rob
Matt Roush: I haven't seen the final episodes of The River yet — ABC made five available in advance, which is more than usual for a network series, and I thought they were a scary blast — so can't say for sure how close-ended the season is. But the initial run was never intended to be more than eight hours, and my understanding is that it is a fairly self-contained adventure, though I wouldn't be surprised if some element remains open-ended, given the nature of these shows. My response to your final question is, as usual, to urge you to go along for any ride you enjoy for as long as it lasts. While I consider myself a realist, I'm always to going to recommend anything that grabs me, regardless of its likelihood for long-term success. Next test case: NBC's challenging, fascinating Awake. See my review here.
Question: Wouldn't it be a great idea on Smash to have Karen play Norma Jean and Ivy play Marilyn? That would help to visually show her change/evolution. Anyone else think that's a great idea? — Don
Matt Roush: I've certainly heard worse. It would be fun to see them try to share the spotlight — although as you'll see in next week's episode, even having them share the same rehearsal room becomes a problem. But given the way theater gossip works, I can't help but bring up the unfortunate precedent of the recent short-lived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever revival (starring Harry Connick Jr.), which I had the misfortune to see. The gimmick involved splitting the lead female character (formerly played by Barbara Harris, Barbra Streisand, and in concert — which I was lucky enough to witness — Kristin Chenoweth) into two: one being a gay man, the other being a woman from a previous incarnation trapped within. It didn't work. But kudos for the provocative idea. I don't see Smash (or the musical within) heading that way, but you've nailed it that Katharine McPhee would make a much more natural Norma Jean, while Megan Hilty is better suited for the Hollywood Marilyn.
Question: Will Parenthood be renewed? How can excellent shows like that be on the bubble? How can people watch The Bachelor enough for it to keep coming back? — Richard
Matt Roush: I'd be surprised if Parenthood doesn't return, for several reasons: NBC is struggling on all fronts, and while this family drama — an endangered species in its own right — is far from a hit, and is ending its run early next Tuesday, it's not an embarrassment. And NBCUniversal owns the show, so is likely to be more tolerant toward one of its few dramatic properties that generates critical buzz and audience goodwill. That said, it's not a sure bet, because very little on this network is. I wish NBC could find a time period earlier in the night to test its appeal outside of the treacherous 10/9c hour (when many people are busy with DVR playback). But none of this has anything to do with the inexplicable appeal of shows like The Bachelor. Train-wreck TV will always exert a fascination for a segment of the audience, and I just they were as eager to embrace shows that aimed a little higher once in a while.
Question: Why does The Good Wife's Eli Gold appear to be on an entirely different show? And why does it take up a third of every damn episode? I'm still liking this season a whole lot, but his storylines often seem more diversion than integral. I'd suggest a spin-off (CBS certainly loves franchises), but I'm sure he'll be important again whenever Peter runs for office. — Dennis
Matt Roush: I'm a fan of Alan Cumming, but have to agree the inability to integrate Eli more fully into the world of Lockhart Gardner — whoops, make that "Lockhart & Associates" for the time being — is one of the few weaknesses of The Good Wife this season. Some of the characters in his orbit, most notably Amy Sedaris as the mischievous Stacie Hall, are great fun, but I especially felt Eli to be a distraction this week when the main stories were so strong, especially the pivotal situation involving Will's legal future. I can see why the producers feared losing access to Cumming if they didn't make him a regular, but Eli feels more like a recurring character — one of many (most of whom are similarly terrific) — who is being shoehorned into a show where he's not always a great fit.
Question: I think many viewers were slightly confused last fall when Pan Am tied up a story line by having Maggie blab about Dean's affair with the boss's mistress. The next week we expected some fallout, but life in the skies went on and soon we were caught up in the new twists. Many people forgot about it until suddenly we were given the "previously on Pan Am" montage with scenes never before shown and confusing viewers for the first part of the storyline. On the Sunday before this week's finale, however, the skipped episode was shown, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by my response to it. Because these stories were somewhat in the past, it gave the feeling of being a rerun. On the flip side, though we knew the end result of several story lines (Laura's photos, Niko returning to Croatia), we were seeing the process for the first time. Now we know Laura's reasoning, Kate's struggle with duplicity, Maggie feeling remorse/shame, and even Ted's smarmy come-on is seen more in friendliness now that we know him as a person. What I found interesting about this out-of-order episode is that it brought me closer to the characters. I was reminded of where they were a few months ago and was able to appreciate them with the knowledge of where they will end up. My attention didn't waver (as it would in a previously seen episode) because the scenes were new to me. Seems to me that while many TV viewers will rage about the awkward sequencing, others would appreciate being reconnected with the older episodes with fresh information. — Laura
Matt Roush: What an unusual argument in favor of a serialized show airing episodes out of sequence. Yours is the only positive spin I heard in reaction to ABC airing last week's Pan Am out of order (Feb. 12, opposite the Grammys, and thus way off most people's radar), and while the logic here is a bit tortured, I admire your enduring affection for these characters. Mostly it was the usual explosion of confusion and anger as viewers wondered why, this close to the end of its cut-short first season, Pan Am was rehashing old storylines with no attempt to put it in context. I can only figure that the network wasn't much pleased with this episode, which is why they benched it than buried it opposite the Grammys, but why they bothered to air it at all is something of a puzzlement. As it is, fans will now have to wait until May to learn the show's fate, though I'd expect Pan Am the airline to emerge from the ashes before Pan Am the series gets a second season.
That's all for now — and for the next week or so, as I'll be taking a brief holiday hiatus. But keep sending your comments and questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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