Ask Matt: Crime-Show Upheavals, Dancing and Killing and More!
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Question: I am thrilled! Laurence Fishburne is leaving CSI. I thought that the mothership of this franchise lost a lot when Grissom left, but bringing in Laurence Fishburne's character was the worst possible mistake ever. He changed the dynamic completely, and instead of an ensemble we got "The Laurence Fishburne Show." His character was imposed on the audience diminishing the show, the rest of the characters and every possible storyline. Therefore, I am very happy this nightmare is over, but is too late for CSI? During the last two seasons the ratings have substantially decreased, and several critics were referring to the upcoming season as CSI's swan song. I think the show has a lot of life left, if the writers are smart enough to build good stories around the cast that the fans used to love. For example, Criminal Minds dramatically improved when Mandy Patinkin left and Joe Mantegna replaced him. This transition was done smoothly and cleverly, totally different from the CSI one. — David
Matt Roush: Although it's a bit unseemly to be tap-dancing on any character's grave (not that they're killing off Langston as far as I know), I doubt many CSI fans will be mourning Laurence Fishburne's departure. At a pivotal point in the show's history when it needed an injection of creative energy to appease the Grissom fans (and I was one of them), instead we got a leaden character — I blame the writing more than the actor, though he was far from on his game here — that proved to be a drag on the ensemble. I can't really fault CSI for giving a new star a star's platform and visibility, but the character itself lacked authority (outside of intellectual bona fides) and he often felt an awkward fit, though I will have fond creepy memories of his violent cat-and-mouse with Bill Irwin's fiendish Nate Haskell. As for CSI's future, many industry observers are surprised CBS didn't cut one of the franchise's shows this season, with NY the one most obviously on the chopping block. Come next May, it's hard to imagine all three surviving, and the mothership's fate may hinge on who they get to replace Fishburne. Because to be honest, they're still really looking to fill Grissom's shoes, and that hasn't been accomplished yet. With Marg Helgenberger also reportedly reducing her presence further this season, the rest of the cast will need to step up. They're more than able, but CSI also needs a new headliner to make some noise.
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Question: Do you think there is any chance Christopher Meloni will make an appearance in Season 13 of SVU? His character of Elliot Stabler had no closure whatsoever, and I would hate to see his exit as a casual mention at the coffee pot. Plus, what really makes the show work is the relationship between Benson and Stabler. How can they end their partnership off-screen? What a letdown to the fans! And the characters. I really think this is the end of a very wonderful series. Why do TV execs let their shows fade off into oblivion, instead of going out on top? Why wouldn't Dick Wolf just give Chris the raise he wanted, and give the show and the characters a spectacular farewell? — Jennifer
Matt Roush: I agree that giving Stabler an official swan song would be a boon to the fans and to the show, but as far as I know, that hasn't been determined yet. Like everything else, it's probably a matter of money — and when stakes and salaries are as high as they are on this long-running and very costly show, it's not quite as simple as just giving the guy a raise. I also agree that with Meloni gone and Mariska Hargitay pulling back by midseason, SVU feels like a show not just seriously in transition, but also very likely preparing an exit strategy. (Wouldn't it be something if SVU and original CSI declared this was their final seasons, and they battled it out to the end in the same Wednesday time slot?) Still, networks are notoriously unwilling to let something go that has significant name/brand recognition — it's so much harder to find anything new that will do as well, even when these shows' powers have diminished — so if both shows are able to reinvent and reinvigorate themselves with new casting, I wouldn't be surprised to see them stick around a while longer.
Question: I do enjoy your column - you are most insightful and most of your recommendations are spot on for my viewing tastes. A couple of years ago, it seemed that network TV was the domain of Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer. With the original Law & Order mothership gone too soon, canceled in LA and limping along with an uncertain cast and future in SVU land, do you see any realistic chance that Criminal Intent might be extended beyond this eight-episode run? So many plot lines have been opened, such as the therapy angle, the potential of a relationship between characters Goren and Eames, just why they came back, etc. that there is easy fodder for another full season. To ease the grueling work schedule of a weekly drama, I am sure fans would rather see a shorter season, a summer season or new episodes every other week rather than having to brace themselves to mourn its passing for the second time!
On a completely unrelated note, I have always thought Robert Sean Leonard has been underappreciated on House and deserved an Emmy nomination for the 2-part 4th season finale when he lost girlfriend Amber. Would you agree, and if so, why the snub? — Jessie
Matt Roush: Thanks for those nice words. But my crystal ball has no clue where Criminal Intent is concerned. I've learned over the years never to say never, and Dick Wolf is nothing if not resilient, but for now, I'd look at this last batch of episodes reuniting the original team as a gift, not as a reboot. I'm not sure it makes economic sense for any of these franchise shows to keep going indefinitely, especially when it comes to maintaining a writing and production team for short episode orders, which for CI is all we'd be likely to get. As for Robert Sean Leonard: It's true he never really got his due, lost in the shadow of Hugh Laurie's brilliance — who it still seems unthinkable never got an Emmy when House was at its peak. The Amber period would have been the perfect time to acknowledge Leonard's work as Wilson with an Emmy nod, but those supporting categories are tough to break into, given the strength of so many drama ensembles. That particular year, the category included two actors from Damages (Zeljko Ivanek won), one each from the then-new Mad Men, Lost and (the only arguable entry) Boston Legal (the inevitable William Shatner).
Question: I want to complain about the way the three judges on Dancing With the Stars crucified, insulted and demeaned such a professional dancer like RALPH MACCHIO! He was the only true professional on that show. For the first two weeks he was the top contender. All of a sudden he was no good, no matter how he tried to incorporate their ridiculous suggestions, which were wrong and demeaning. They just decided he is not to win, let us vote him out. When his partner fell HE got the lesser score, for her mistake. The overall performance was very good and should be judged by that. They made sure he got the worst costumes, music and dances! How mean and insulting can you get? How dare they compare Kirstie Alley who can't dance to a PRO that danced all his life? We think it's time to get rid of the has-beens and get some true, honest professional judges for that good show. Otherwise many of my gang say goodbye. (P.S.: I have been a dancer all my life and you can't fool me with dishonesty.) — Ella
Matt Roush: Feel better getting that out of your system? The thing about competition shows of this sort is that there will always be fans of someone who feel their favorite has been slighted. I don't really buy a conspiracy theory against anyone on this show, and I'm betting Ralph doesn't, either. The dance in which he rescued Karina from her fall won praise from all the judges for his composure, if memory serves, and it bolstered his standing in the competition until near the end, even after his injuries set him back. It's a fair argument that he might have deserved to be in the final instead of Kirstie at that point, but clearly she had a stronger or larger fan following (and, to be honest, a better story). It was already pretty clear by then that Hines Ward was going to carry on the Stars tradition of honoring a charismatic pro athlete with the mirrorball. (And if it had been up to me, Chelsea Kane would have won as the all-around best dancer, coming out of nowhere the way she did.) But in the bigger picture, I have to think Ralph Macchio got exactly what he wanted from his Dancing With the Stars experience. A good time, a terrific showcase for his winning personality and the sort of incredible exposure that has jump-started more than one career.
Question: I was a little surprised that you described the June 5 episode of The Killing as great. Prior to that episode, I was undecided whether to stay with this show next season. This made me decide: I will not be watching this show next season. With only three episodes left this season, I figured that they were going to start wrapping up the murder mystery. I was anxiously looking forward to seeing what Rosie's involvement at the casino was going to be. Unfortunately, the episode wasted one of its remaining three episodes on Linden looking for her son. There were so many things wrong with this episode. First of all, I think Linden is a despicable character. She is a terrible detective, yet she treats her replacement like he is an idiot. The clichéd scene when she first stumbled onto the ferry said it all. You mean she's had a note with the word Adela on it the whole time and she's too stupid to Google it? I'm not sure why we're supposed to care about her family issues when she's made perfectly clear that she cares more about her job than her family. And her son certainly has done nothing to endear himself to the audience. I couldn't care less if the dead boy was him, not that anybody who's ever watched TV before would believe for a second that it actually was. The worst part of this episode? The ending where it's revealed that he was at his father's place the whole time. That was the second place that Holder suggested, and Linden just ignored him like she always does. This episode's plot could have been resolved in 10 minutes if Linden wasn't a complete moron.
It's surprising that you liked this episode since you always emphasize that the strength of the show is the scenes with Rosie's family and you hate the irrelevancy of the campaign scenes. This episode had none of Rosie's family and it was completely irrelevant to the plot. I would take a whole episode of the Richmond campaign over another episode like this. — Andrew
Matt Roush: You were hardly alone in calling me out for having praised this episode. But to think it was all about "Linden looking for her son" is such a narrow reading of the hour. For one, you're right that only the most naïve viewer would believe that Jack would actually be dead. (In the next episode, we learn why the idea of Jack's "deadbeat" dad being his refuge never really occurred to Sarah; the guy normally resides in Chicago with his new family.) What was really happening in this episode, which more than a few dismissed as "filler," was a chance during a stalled moment in the investigation to get under the skin of this unusual Linden-Holder pairing and discover what they're all about and how this discovery might develop into a mutual partnership that benefits them both. The Killing more than anything is about the human condition — of the grieving parents, of the community at large, and certainly of the detectives, one of who has put her life on hold (one of the least convincing parts of the narrative) to solve this case. I was OK for one week not to spend time with the grieving Larsens, because their characters and conflict have already been very well established, and I didn't miss the political angle at all. And as I noted a week ago, Linden being an imperfect detective makes her more interesting (to me) than her often miraculously infallible TV peers.
Of course, much of this discussion may be moot by now, because of the very eventful episode that followed, revealing just it was that Rosie was up to, her aunt Terry's involvement in the same "Beau Soleil" escort operation, and the reveal that candidate Richmond is the creepy "Orpheus" who used the service and obsessed with at least one client about drowning. (And who didn't flash on Anthony Weiner's predicament when the councilman was outed to Linden by a pinging e-mail alert?)
But back to last week's episode, because it's the sort of moment that helps to remind us how tricky structuring a series like this can be. Lamar weighed in by calling it "100 percent filler, and not even particularly interesting filler. ... I just feel more and more let down with every episode because it seems that all the great acting and writing on this show have been squandered by poor plotting. At this point, I don't see how the creators can possible pull out a satisfying conclusion." I wonder if he feels differently after the most recent episode — although whatever the writers do, they're likely to get pounded for it. (Richmond being at once too obvious and too improbable a suspect, for instance.) Finally, Michael wrote in with a lengthy analysis, concluding that the episode threw the series' "whole rhythm out of balance. I love the two detectives, don't get me wrong, but to me it did a disservice to the dominoes starting to topple by suddenly accenting the two of them — and only the two of them — in this 'small' (albeit important) moment at this particular time." Again, everything has changed now, so I wonder if some, if not all, has been forgiven.
One last thought on the show for now: It's ending next week, so we'll be moving on soon, I'm sure):
Question: Regarding The Killing, I just want to voice my disagreement to Jackie, who wrote, "The whole point of following the clues is to try and come up with our own theories, but we keep getting thrown back to square one every few episodes, and so it is impossible to really 'participate' in this show the way we did with Twin Peaks or Lost." I don't think that coming up with our own theories is the point of The Killing at all; the point is to enjoy a detailed, uneasy, descriptive narrative. I generally don't watch procedurals because I, for one, don't like how easy finding the killer seems to be, either for the detectives/crime scene investigators/medical examiners or for me. Every show has a state-of-the-the art lab (and I'm guessing in this economy very few municipalities have those) and the killer is caught in 60 minutes. And maybe I watch too much TV, but with the few procedurals I do watch (Castle, Body of Proof), I can usually name the killer before the second commercial break (drives my husband nuts). I appreciate The Killing because it does include dead ends and red herrings. I don't know if this is how an investigation usually takes place, but it rings much truer than other procedurals that never face a dead end. Plus, for me, the heart of The Killing (much like Lost) isn't the mystery, but, like you said, the characters that we are privy to. I want to know more about the detectives and the Larsens and what makes them all tick — but I could live without the campaign folks (I typically zone out during their scenes). — Erin
Matt Roush: It's true that unlike most TV procedurals, The Killing is pretty much the opposite of escapist. It rubs your nose in the messiness of the grief that never goes away, and takes you down sordid and often frustrating blind alleys with no quick, miracle solutions. This season has been far from perfect story-wise, and some of the visual clichés (the rain in particular) have become mannered to the point of self-parody, but I still admire the show for trying to bring new life (and death) to an overdone genre and not being afraid to aggravate, frustrate and possibly even bore the audience at times along the way. Kind of like life that way. (And for all of its flaws, it's never as dramatically inert as Rubicon turned out to be.)
Question: I see a lot of comments about how funny Modern Family and Community are. Modern Family is one of our favorite shows, but Community (and for that matter 30 Rock) are boring and not funny. We think The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men are by far the funniest shows on TV, and we don't see them mentioned as such very often. Two and a Half Men was one of our favorite shows with Charlie Sheen. We are wondering how it will change with Ashton Kutcher. The show has good characters, but I think the writing is what makes the show funny. Charlie's character is smart and witty, but obviously flawed. Ashton Kutcher seems to attract characters that are more inept and bumbling, and I don't think that will work for him here. I think he needs to play a smarter character to fit into the show's dynamic. So that is the question: What type of character will he play? — Dean
Matt Roush: That's the multi-million dollar question, isn't it? At this point, they haven't revealed details of Kutcher's character, to my knowledge, and even once they do, until we see him in action it would be unfair to judge. If he only does a variation on the dim-bulb Kelso from That '70s Show, that would be a letdown, I think. He needs to be a contrast of some sort to born-loser Alan and congenital slacker Jake — and however he ends up taking up residence with the other Men, he's also going to need to be able to mix it up with essential characters like Berta and Evelyn (without whom the show would greatly suffer). But harking back to your observations on comedy in general, it's clear you prefer the traditional broad-based three-camera comedy (Modern Family being an exception in form, if not content), but tarring the shows that take the opposite tack as "boring" only reinforces how truly subjective the idea of "funny" is.
Question: I was really hoping to love the V reboot. I loved the original and am a fan of both Morena Baccarin and Elizabeth Mitchell. That said, and the finale is proof to me, the main problem with V besides iffy scripts was that the aliens always won. In the original, the humans and the aliens traded off in wins and losses. I don't think I turned on an episode where the good guys planned a big coup and Anna didn't come off smelling like a rose. I am all for doom and gloom (ask my friends) but it was too unrelenting even for me. I think I would have turned the show on its head in the finale and had the good guys kill Anna, only to discover in the new season (if there is one) that Jane Badler's Diana was even worse. But I think the show is done either way.
As far as No Ordinary Family: great idea, but done far better in the animated The Incredibles. This show had fine performances but lacked a sense of humor. — Sharon
Matt Roush: If blurry memory serves, Anna did suffer some setbacks, including the sabotage of her entire cache of unhatched eggs. The real problem for me with V is that the battle never actually engaged. Everyone talked and plotted, with Anna in particular making grand and ominous pronouncements, but it often felt to me like the show was afraid to get down to business, until it was too late. If you like this sort of thing, let me recommend TNT's Falling Skies, which premieres Sunday and goes right for the jugular. It skips past the alien invasion (sparing us clichéd shots of exploding monuments), and throws you right into the trenches of an overwhelmed human population fighting back against some pretty terrible creatures. As we join the show, the aliens appear to be winning, but we're not giving up. The writing isn't especially subtle, especially in the early chapters, but as solid popcorn TV, I'm already regarding it as the show that V should have been and never was. As for No Ordinary Family, read on for another viewer's take on another of ABC's lost opportunities.
Question: I was really disappointed in the season/series finale of No Ordinary Family. It's not that I didn't like it, I loved it. What I was disappointed in is that ABC didn't give it time to grow. The show got better every week and the finale set up a great second season. It appeared that the Powells, plus George, were going to work with the NSA to catch those criminals. I believe that would have been a good season. Did you see the episode and if so, what do you think? — Foster
Matt Roush: I do think the finale's set-up would have resulted in a better second season than the first, but most series (especially on network TV) don't get the luxury to try again if at first you don't succeed. No Ordinary Family had a decent premise but didn't really execute often enough with the necessary level of wit, wonder, action and surprise. Overall, it was just too ordinary, and the finale was too little and way too late.
Question: This may not fall under your normal area of questioning, but do you know if there's a specific reason that Army Wives started this year in (I believe) late April and now is apparently ending its season in mid-June? I don't watch a lot of TV, but this is normally one of my summer guilty pleasures, and I'm surprised that Lifetime would mess around with what has been a great success. Are they trying to make it a non-summer show by inching back the schedule, because now it's ending not long after the regular season? I think trying to make it compete with everything else in the bloated regular season would be a massive mistake. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: This season actually started even earlier, in mid-March, and with a shorter run of episodes, wrapped last night. Last season also began in spring (albeit in April) but there were more episodes, so Army Wives still ended up running through much of the summer. There are a couple of factors that might explain the new scheduling. One being that cable networks don't always want to wait until summer anymore to present their signature series (see USA Network, which airs its shows all over the calendar year now). The other being that Lifetime designed the similarly themed Coming Home to be a companion piece to Army Wives, and that seems to have worked out. Lifetime also seems to consider the much lighter-hearted Drop Dead Diva to be its marquee summer series now, and the network has been actively developing new scripted series, including the new The Protector (nothing original there, but I suppose it fits the brand), so that gave Lifetime the impetus to see if Army Wives could attract an audience during the regular season. Which it did. Doesn't make it easier on the viewer to have to fit this show in while everything else is on, but that's the way the game is played.
Question: I'm looking forward to the return of several favorite summer series, but why isn't Psych on the USA Network schedule? The website says new episodes premiere this fall. Is USA using the summer to launch more new shows? I hope there aren't problems on the set. I was really looking forward to more games of Spot the Pineapple! — Daisyblue
Matt Roush: No troubles and no worries. It's really a question of inventory. USA is premiering several new series this summer, including Suits and Necessary Roughness, which will be teamed up with Royal Pains and Burn Notice, and with White Collar and Covert Affairs holding down Tuesdays, that's already a pretty full weeknight slate. Psych will return in the fall, and has proven to be a pretty good self-starter, so I wouldn't fret. Although it's now the most veteran of the USA series, heading into its sixth season already, so is no doubt closer to the end of its run than to the beginning, not that I've heard any "final season" chatter from anybody. Just saying, nothing lasts forever.
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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