Ask Matt: Damages' Rescue, Summer Crime Drama, The Choir and More!
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Question: Just wanted to get your thoughts/reaction to DirecTV saving Damages from FX's cancellation fate. I am beyond thrilled one of my favorites and one of the best dramas on TV was rescued! (On a side note, I think Damages was robbed of a Best Drama Emmy nomination.) It will be a long haul to wait until summer 2011 for new episodes, but will be worth it to see Patty spar with Ellen again during a thrilling legal battle. — Kevin
Matt Roush: I'm always pleased when a show I like gets a new lease on life. Was overjoyed for Friday Night Lights when DirecTV came to its rescue (allowing the show to recover from a very flawed second season and move on to new heights) and feel the same for Damages, especially since the show regained its mojo in year 3. In fact, the season was so satisfying I would have been OK if that had been all we got. Still, two more arcs for Patty and Ellen? Who'd complain about that? But for the dark lining in this silver cloud, read on.
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Question: Well, we have DirecTV to thank once again for saving the best television that no one watches. I was wondering your thoughts regarding the Damages renewal announcement, which comes as a delightful surprise because I had grudgingly accepted that I was watching its final season when the third aired on FX. I don't want to nitpick too much because I appreciate DirecTV's willingness to produce new episodes very much. But it does present a challenge to viewers without DirecTV, as there will not be a second window run on FX. I understand the marketing appeal of making this a DirecTV exclusive in an attempt to gain new subscribers; were I able to do so, I would change my TV arrangements to DirecTV in a second. However, since I am a college student and find it easiest to live in the dorms, I am left with no choice but to take the TV options provided to me by the school, which chooses to contract with Comcast. While a major company such as DirecTV is probably not concerned with servicing just me, it does point to the fact that there are probably many Damages fans who are simply not able to make the switch, and I hope that DTV will find a way to accommodate us through iTunes or the like, as I would be very willing to pay a reasonable fee for the episodes. Your thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: True, there will be a number of people from Damages' rather small (if loyal) fan base who will be either unwilling or unable to convert to DirecTV during the show's run. But from DirecTV's perspective, the exclusivity is the reason to go this route again, to be able to market the service as a place to find certain types of TV available nowhere else. During the first run of these next two seasons, I'm figuring the episodes won't be available anywhere but DirecTV for at least some window of time. But from Sony's perspective, making them available at some point for On Demand online streaming gives them another revenue stream to help pay for this investment. And of course they'll be released down the line on DVD as well. So patient fans will get to see these episodes one way or another, eventually. All in all, still a win-win.
Question: I'm wondering what you think about Rizzoli & Isles and Covert Affairs? I gave both premieres a look, but only continued watching the latter. I find Angie Harmon a one-note actress. Her characters in every show all seem to have the same personality. She has no chemistry with Sasha Alexander, who at least has an interesting character. With so many crime shows on the air, I was hoping for one that had another take on crime solving. Just having two women in the leads is not new. Covert Affairs, on the other hand, tells an interesting story. It's a great addition to the USA brand of shows. Even though the character of Auggie seems a bit of a stretch, Christopher Gorham brings so much to him. The actor makes the character "real" and adorable. I was one of the few who didn't like his character, Henry, on Ugly Betty, but I really like him here. And I like the bickering married couple, though I'm not sure why. Maybe because you don't normally see married couples in workplace shows who aren't madly in love. What's your take? — Myra
Matt Roush: When I blurb-reviewed the latest wave of new summer crime dramas in the magazine, I gave Rizzoli a slightly higher ranking than Covert Affairs based on their pilots, but after watching second episodes of both, I'd reverse that decision. Doesn't really matter about the critical response, though, when it comes to this bottomless glut of crime dramas. Both shows are instant hits and will be with us for quite some time. You're absolutely right there's nothing new about Rizzoli, which is probably the point. It's called pandering to the masses, and it's paying off. And yet there's no question to me that both Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander are bona fide TV stars, and their appeal carries the show a great way. But OMG the writing! Especially in the Boston Strangler redux episode. They're pushing the quirks so hard (Isles diagnosing her date over dinner) you can see them sweat. Whereas Covert Affairs muted some of the pilot's preciousness in the second week, and as you noted, there's plenty of charm to go around: from Piper Perabo (who I like more than some of my colleagues) and Christopher Gorham for sure, although Anne Dudek so far has been largely wasted. I'm not as keen on the squabbling married bosses, finding that subplot painfully contrived, but Peter Gallagher and Kari Matchett are well cast and the show goes down easy. Are either of these shows must-see for me? Not yet.
Question: I have to tell you thank you for your recommendation to watch BBC America's wonderful The Choir. As someone who's been involved in choirs my entire life, I suppose I'm pre-destined to like this show, but what surprises me is how much I'm invested in each of these students right from the get-go. The show rightly focuses on the students and their inspiring choirmaster, and I find myself getting a little misty-eyed during every episode when people are overcoming the challenges of deeply-rooted social expectations — especially when it comes to singing. What's more, I love that the show is hopeful, joyous and celebrates the accomplishments of ordinary people. To be honest, I wish there were more shows on television like this. With all the dreary cop shows (and even some of the less dreary ones) populating our television landscape, this show is a remarkable breath of fresh air on my DVR and I look forward to it every week. My only hope is that we'll get more shows like this in the future. — Andrew
Matt Roush: Glad you enjoyed it, giving me a chance to plug it again as it heads into its next story arcs over the next few weeks. I haven't made it through all of my Choir screeners yet — have I mentioned lately how overstuffed this TV summer is? — but I hear the best is yet to come, as Gareth brings the gift of music next to an all-boys' school — that will take us through August — and then, in what I hear is the best batch of episodes, to an entire community. (Look for the "Unsung Town" arc to start September 8.)
Question: Just read that Jorja Fox is returning as Sara Sidle on CSI, though it is not known yet whether she'd come back as a recurring star, as she has been since her initial "return," or as a regular cast member. Though I was happy to read the news — I think the show is better when Fox is on it — I'd be happy if she does a recurring role because then she'd still be Sara Sidle Grissom, but if it's as a regular, I would think her tie with Gil would have to be eliminated, and I've rather liked the mentions because I still think the show lost a lot when Grissom (William Petersen) left. I know that sounds rather "female," and silly of me to want to hold on to some of the Grissom-ness, but I'd bet a lot of people feel the same way. How about you? Do you think Jorja adds to the cast, and that the "association" helps? Or does it really not matter in the scheme of things? — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Whether Jorja Fox is full-time or part-time on the show, the continuity she brings to long-time fans as a link to the much-missed Grissom is probably invaluable. I'm glad she's sticking around.
Question: Please tell me this Eureka alternate universe is not here to stay. I love Jo and Zane together and the way things were left hanging is killing me. — Amy
Matt Roush: All I know is that the current situation will still be status quo the first week of August, when Warehouse 13 and Eureka do their cross-overs (or so I've been told). Beyond that, I don't know how things will evolve with Eureka's topsy-turvy world (because that would spoil it for me as well), but given that anomalies are the norm for this show, I'm willing to ride it out a bit longer. (Besides, if they revert back to the way things were, that might mean losing James Callis, to whom I've already grown attached.) I get your frustration over how this temporal hiccup broke up those two characters, but I'm glad to see the show shaking things up in its fourth year.
Question: What is your take on the upcoming season of Weeds? I really liked the first few seasons, but I've been annoyed by the Botwin clan for a couple of years now. First of all, Nancy is truly a horrible mom. I overlooked the earlier drug dealing, but getting involved with a Mexican drug cartel went too far for my taste. And her sons are truly the product of their upbringing. I held on until the end last season, but decided to cut my losses and not watch the new season. Unfortunately, the promos have me kinda hooked, and I like the idea of Nancy on the run. So, what do you say? Should I stick with it? Is there a method to creator Jenji Kohan's madness? — Dale
Matt Roush: As always, it's a very personal and subjective choice about when to break up with a long-running show. But I couldn't empathize more with your distaste for this fractious fictional family, as the show sinks deeper into degradation each season, going beyond dark-comedy social satire to something completely unhinged from actual human behavior. Nancy's dazed approach to life (and parenting) got old for me a while back, and I'm not sure I'd be watching either if I didn't have to. That said, I've watched the first episode of the new season, and while it's all transitional and I'm not sure what the regular season will be like once the family gets resettled, it is interesting (and even almost horribly amusing) to see everyone's reaction to pint-sized sociopath Shane in the wake of his mallet murder of Pilar. I'll stick with it for a while to see how the family adjusts to yet another new environment, but it feels more like duty than anything resembling actual anticipation. I wish the show was plotting a graceful exit, but it doesn't sound like it.
Question: I thought Eric Close did a great job in the season finale of Criminal Minds, and as a Without A Trace fan, it was wonderful to see him back on CBS. Do you think it's possible that his character survived the shooting, and if so, do you think it is possible that he makes a return appearance, maybe even joins the cast as part of the BAU team this fall? — Dee
Matt Roush: Good news/bad news. The bad: According to CBS, his character died in that episode, so don't look for him joining that show unless it takes a supernatural twist. The good news: CBS just picked up the comedic action drama Chaos for midseason, in which Close appears with Freddy Rodriguez as part of a group of rogue CIA spies, so he's still back on the network. Probably a better fit, anyway.
Question: I was wondering if you knew why the people at Criminal Minds are dropping both the female characters, at least from what I've read. Are they going to replace them or just have all guys on the program? — Genie
Matt Roush: From all accounts, this is more a bookkeeping than a creative decision, and while A.J. Cook is leaving for good, Paget Brewster will be appearing on at least a recurring basis. And if it helps cushion the blow, CBS has announced that Kirsten Vangsness (who brings some welcome comic relief as Garcia) will be doing double duty on Criminal Minds and its upcoming midseason spin-off, Suspect Behavior, which has signed Janeane Garofalo to the ensemble cast. So it's not entirely true that these shows are inhospitable to women — if you can look past the brutalization of so many of the victims-of-the-week.
Question: Please forgive me, but I was thoroughly enjoying Happy Town. Will they ever let us see the rest of the episodes? I'd really like to find out what happened. — Maryann
Matt Roush: You are forgiven, but for what, I'm not quite sure. (To each their own is my motto.) The two episodes that never aired on ABC are now available for viewing online at abc.com. At this point, I'd be shocked if the network actually broadcast them.
Question: I know many fans feel the same as I do, that The Big Bang Theory deserved an Emmy nod. Critics apparently don't agree, however. What is it about the show that makes it unworthy? — Sue
Matt Roush: Don't blame the critics for this snub. (The Television Critics Association has nominated Big Bang the last two years and gave Jim Parsons the individual achievement in comedy award last year.) The reason the show missed the cut after a season when it built on its breakout status, while a played-out show like The Office stays in the mix, has everything to do with the industry bias against traditional multi-camera live-audience sitcoms. They're seen as being not as "hip" or "sophisticated" as the single-camera shows, even when the latter tend to be considerably less amusing. The competition in the comedy field became more crowded last season with innovative and justifiably acclaimed upstarts like Glee and Modern Family, but that's no excuse for overlooking a show as genuinely delightful as Big Bang.
Question: Why do they completely overlook Two and a Half Men as the best comedy on TV, bar none? The other so-called nominations are rarely in the top 20, whereas Two is mostly in the top 10 consistently. I know the Academy members must hate Charley Sheen, but the rest of the cast should be recognized. I realize Jon Cryer and Holland Taylor were nominated, but the show should get nominated.
And my second question: What is it with the music and singing on these shows? They drown out the dialogue, and in many cases, it is very distracting. Many times I would like to choke the sound engineer responsible for this nonsense. I can only presume that the network wants to sell music to the "bubble-gum set." I watch a lot of TV and have been since 1949. Thanks, Matt, but this stuff really burns me up. — Vincent
Matt Roush: See the previous Big Bang answer to help explain why Two and a Half Men was snubbed this year, but it's not really a fair comparison. Two and a Half Men has enjoyed quite a bit of Emmy attention the last few years. It was nominated three times for best comedy (earning some head-scratching among detractors who find the show too vulgar and witless), and this is the first time in five years that Charlie Sheen hasn't been nominated. (I guess you could blame his own notoriety for that this year.) Holland Taylor, Conchata Farrell and Jon Cryer (who won last year for supporting actor) are also multiple nominees. But this is as good a time as any to point out that while some high-rated shows are Emmy regulars, this is not a popularity contest—which is why the top-rated crime procedurals are almost never a factor. Success is its own reward, but that doesn't always translate to critical or awards attention, especially where network TV is concerned.
As for your gripe about background music drowning out dialogue, I'm going to crib from my colleague Ingela Ratledge, who in a recent "Is It Just Me?" column tracked down an LA-based sound editor, Noah Blough, who explained that background effects are typically mixed in soundstages using sophisticated Dolby surround sound. "Everything is balanced, tuned and sounds great when they're done with it," he says. Problem is, many of us don't have set-ups this state-of-the-art in our homes, and the varying quality of home TV units means that by the time these tracks make it into our own living rooms, it's often been squashed through a traditional right/left "stereo" sound format, and "suddenly they don't sound so good anymore." (Personally, I have much more trouble hearing things on my old-school TV in my office than on my HDTV sets at home.) The problem for me is with the relentlessness of these background scores, jacked up in such an intrusive way that it can ruin the experience, regardless of how good your TV and sound system may be. It's a literal pain in the ear.
That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions, add comments below if you wish, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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