The Middle

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Question:
Thanks again for your even-handed analysis of the Emmy nominations. I was very happy with most of the nods this year, from the Modern Family love to the overdue acknowledgement of Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler. However, I was rather perturbed by the nominations for outstanding comedies. (I don't get Showtime, so I'll leave Nurse Jackie out of this.) I was thrilled with Modern Family, but less than thrilled with the others. I know Curb Your Enthusiasm got much love for its Seinfeld plotline, but the entire show has always felt to me like an inside joke that only Hollywood insiders could appreciate. 30 Rock definitely had a down year. Glee was horrifically uneven, with outstanding episodes followed by insipid or inane episodes.

And finally, The Office. I suppose this is just Emmy momentum, but how The Office got this nod is beyond me, given how painful this season was (when the conversation around the DVR is "I guess we should watch some Offices so we can delete them," the season hasn't been good). I found The Middle, Community, Cougar Town and especially The Big Bang Theory to be superior comedies this year and was hoping that more than one of them would find their way on to the nomination list. The lack of BBT is particularly egregious to me. Part of what makes an outstanding series is ongoing consistency, and BBT had more consistency than 30 Rock, The Office or Glee. Do you think that overall consistency (and not just the good episodes, even if they were really good) should be considered when we discuss the outstanding series of the year? — Erin

Matt Roush: The exclusion of The Big Bang Theory from the best-comedy category is pure snobbism, a bias against the traditional form of multi-camera, studio-audience comedy. It's one of the worst snubs from what is actually a pretty satisfying nomination list (more on that below). I also agree that The Middle is a sleeper that deserved better, especially where Patricia Heaton is concerned (and those kids! If the Emmys weren't so dismissive of young actors, they'd deserve some attention as well). I'm thinking shows like Middle and Community may take at least another year before they start breaking through. It's amazing enough that so many freshman series got noticed. This year, the true breakthroughs, critically and otherwise, were Modern Family and Glee, and for either to have been passed over would have been unthinkable. Yes, Glee is very uneven, but look at its impact and what a creative risk it entailed. Whatever its flaws, they're more than compensated for by the show's exuberant and emotional heights. In this one instance, a show's consistency is not the point.

Otherwise, it is a factor to keep in mind when judging a show's overall quality, which is what I attempt to do in covering the season and also tends to be how loyal fans look at the big picture. Unfortunately, the members of the TV academy never seem to watch as much as the rest of us, and historically make many of their judgments based on what has already broken through. Case in point: The Office, which also benefited this year by having Jim and Pam's big "Niagara" wedding episode to tout. (I wasn't as crazy about it as many were, but I'm betting that helped put it over the top. That, and the usual Emmy entropy. At least we were spared another nomination for Entourage.)

Question: So the Emmy nominations are in and for the first time in a long time I feel like it is Christmas morning. I watch four out of the six shows nominated for best drama. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are finally given best actor and actress nominations. While I don't think Connie Britton has a chance of winning against Julianna Margulies, I certainly won't fault Emmy voters for picking Margulies, who has had an outstanding year. The fact that two actresses with such amazing subtle performances have been nominated is enough to make me applaud. That I am torn between wanting Matthew Fox and Kyle Chandler to both walk away with the award, I'll call an excess of riches. I wrote to you a while back that I had hoped that Sharon Gless would get recognized for her outstanding work on Burn Notice and I almost couldn't believe my eyes as I saw her name on the list. Only problem, now that she is on it, once again I have a "Sophie's Choice" moment between her and Archie Panjabi, who just steals every scene she is in effortlessly.

I normally find myself on the day the nominations are announced full of frustration over all of the snubs that make you wonder just what are those in charge of nominations watching. Yes, there are still plenty of snubs, but I am only finding one particularly troublesome this year. Why do they continue to ignore Cat Deeley from So You Think You Can Dance? Ryan Seacrest was an embarrassment this past season, mugging for the camera and asking the contestants uncomfortable questions that they clearly did not want to answer, nor did we the audience want them to. Time for them to bump his name off the list and give Cat Deeley the recognition she deserves.

What is your opinion on the 2010 Emmy nominations? Do you find yourself with the typical frustrations over the snubs or are you like me feeling far more elated over the fact that so much worthy new blood has been finally placed on the ballot? — Linda

Matt Roush: Generally, I'm pleased with the nominations for the reasons you mention, and I was especially pleasantly shocked by the Friday Night Lights love. (Got LOTS of mail about that, so the tone this year has been far happier than usual.) But I'm with you on So You Think You Can Dance. It's far and away the best performance competition show on TV, and Cat is a purr-fect host. (Did you see her challenge Nigel Lythgoe last week over his biased comments giving the overrated Jose a pass time and again? Quick sidebar: Just because one has a lack of ego shouldn't make up for having a lack of range.) For some reason, outside of choreography nominations, this show doesn't have the traction it deserves, but for American Idol and Seacrest to continue being rewarded with nominations, especially after this tone-deaf season, is just wrong. I guess I understand that Dance may just not be on the voters' radar, but the even bigger oversight in the reality-competition category is the snub for Survivor. After last season, a banner year for the show, it's unforgivable.

Question: I know your in-box is going to be flooded with (mostly) irate rantings from people who are unhappy with the Emmy nominations, even though many of the people you have championed got nominated. (I'm sure you're grinning ear to ear over Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton). I was really interested in one particular nomination and I got it: Archie Panjabi as dramatic supporting actress. I don't find her category all that competitive and as far as I'm concerned, she is head and shoulders above all the other nominees (with the possible exception of her co-star Christine Baranski). How do you size up this category, Matt, and do you agree that Archie should win it hands down? — Beverly

Matt Roush: I'd be very happy if Archie won — her Good Wife character of Kalinda pretty much defines the notion of a breakout supporting performance. But I'm not sure I agree it's such a slam-dunk. Many Mad Men fans have been waiting impatiently for Christina Hendricks to score a nomination as the awesome Joan (who stepped up again in a big way last season), and now that it's happened, she could be a significant spoiler. Either way, I'd be pleased.

Question: Can we cancel the Emmys if Zach Gilford is overlooked again for Friday Night Lights? His performance in the June 4 episode "The Son" was both understated and devastating, topping even his breakdown scene of two seasons ago. Matt Saracen is one of the best-written TV teenagers ever. While I'll hate to see him (and his grandma) written out of the show, I do think it's time for the actor to move on from this show, hopefully to another role worthy of his talents. — Rob

Matt Roush: I also wish he were getting a nomination as a farewell present, but the Emmys are notoriously stingy when it comes to noticing young-adult (or teen) actors, and this year is no exception. We'll have to settle for the fact that "The Son" was nominated for writing (upstaging shows with far higher profiles), which itself is pretty remarkable.

Question: I love House and, of course, Hugh Laurie. But I have to ask: Why doesn't Robert Sean Leonard get any love (read nominations for anything) as Wilson? He is consistently excellent and his episodes with Amber, especially "Wilson's Heart" and the episodes in which he had to deal with House being the indirect cause of Amber's death, spotlighted some of the best acting on television. Of course, that season came and went and no nominations. What gives? — Versel

Matt Roush: You're right that if Robert Sean Leonard was ever going to get noticed in this role, it would have been for the Amber or post-Amber seasons. (Last season, in which he pretty much played comic relief as the disgruntled Felix to House's Oscar, not a chance.) He's a very appealing actor, but as with much of the supporting cast on this show, his character is somewhat underwritten. And going up against so many ensemble dramas in this golden age of hour-longs, he's hardly the only worthy actor being shut out.

Question: I have just finished season 1 of The Middle and what a show! In the midst of all the hype for Modern Family and even Cougar Town, I quickly dismissed this little comedy as another generic family sitcom, but was I wrong! It took me a while to realize what I liked about the show, considering on the surface it looks pretty standard, but it's very genuine and even though I am huge fans of both Modern and Cougar, The Middle is just more realistic. I hated Neil Flynn in Scrubs but he is perfect here. Patricia Heaton is better here than she ever was in Everybody Loves Raymond. All through last season, I read your positive reviews but was cautious, but you were spot-on. And watching these three outstanding comedies makes me sigh at why ABC couldn't work out a deal to take on Old Christine, which as you pointed out several times was a natural fit with The Middle.

Lastly, whilst The Middle exceeded my expectations, I also want to point out that How I Met Your Mother has really fallen below appointment-TV status for me. I have been a huge fan of the sitcom, but it's become painfully derivative: forced, badly written, with an intrusive laugh track. I finished the latest season back-to-back and it's clear that an ensemble show has become the "Neil Patrick Harris Show" and he is painfully cringe-worthy. And yes, I know he is Emmy-bound and liked, but come on, it's a performance and not a character he is creating, and he hijacks episodes when the comedy is supposed to be an ensemble. Anyways, thanks for pointing out The Middle. I know its ratings are not flash but average, but keep plugging it next season—it needs our support! — Chris

Matt Roush: Not to worry. I'm one of The Middle's most stalwart champions and won't rest until it gets the respect it deserves. I also respond to the fact that for all of its wackiness, it reflects the chaotic mess of family life in a way we haven't seen since Roseanne's heyday. (I find much more truth in its depiction of a Hoosier small town than I do in the overrated and derivative ironies of Parks and Recreation.) Regarding Mother: There's little doubt it becomes "The Barney Show" many weeks, which tends to happen when a breakout character and star skews the balance of an ensemble comedy. But I blame the writers here more than the star, who is a genuinely terrific performer and who should have won his Emmy in this category long ago. Looking back at the last season of Mother, I'm mostly disappointed that they didn't keep Barney and Robin together longer, allowing for more character growth. To see Barney revert so quickly to unrepentant horndog form was a bit of a letdown.

Question: Please tell me Sharon Stone is gone and out of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She was horrid! Any chance Stephanie March will come back? Or how about rotating March and Diane Neal? Or are there other names floating out there for the D.A. position? — Kevin

Matt Roush: Rest easy. She's history. I asked our reporter who keeps track of this show about the new ADA for next season, and as of this moment, no one has been announced. I like your idea of the revolving door, though. March has come back from time to time, and she's always welcome.

Question: I've enjoyed the first few episodes of NBC's Persons Unknown but it's not doing well ratings-wise, so I'm wondering if I'm wasting my time. Do you know what its chances are of making it through to the final episode? — Dennis

Question: I find I'm very intrigued by Persons Unknown. It has become my new Lost. The past few weeks have been especially intriguing with the reveal of Janet's ex husband being the reporter, Joe's involvement in what's going on and Tori's exit and Erika's entrance. I'm wondering what you think of the show.—Dee Bee

Matt Roush: First, to Dennis' question. Those tuning in this week will notice the show has been bounced from Mondays to Saturdays (starting July 17), where presumably it will finish airing the remainder of the episodes. Let's hope. From the second I laid eyes on this one, I smelled danger. One, that was it going to be too weird and off-putting for most people (and I was right). Two, that it would be a miracle for the show to be left on Mondays for the duration of its limited run. (Again, right.) As for my own thoughts: The latest twists have heightened the tension, but from the start, this struck me as another overly convoluted high-concept thriller more interested in plot mechanics than character. Outside of the mother Janet and, to a certain extent, Joe, I don't really care what happens to any of these people. So as a diabolical and manipulative psychological chess game, I'm kind of intrigued about what's going on, but beyond that, not much more engaged than I am by the rest of this summer's relentlessly mediocre tonnage.

Question: Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of Lost over the years, especially since the finale, and for your recent update on sci-fi shows in development. Fringe has taken over my #1 spot now since Lost is gone but I always look forward to the premiere of a new sci-fi series. I've been a huge Matthew Macfadyen fan since his MI-5 days so I'm always interested in what he's doing next. I saw that he had completed The Pillars of the Earth and was excited to see that Starz will be running it as an 8-hour miniseries in late July. Have you heard any buzz about it? — Darlene

Matt Roush: More than buzz, I've actually watched it. Pillars, based on Ken Follett's mammoth best-seller, is a return to the old-fashioned style of historical epic miniseries, a type of TV I grew up on and miss quite a bit. It's awfully hokey at times, but has an irresistibly unpretentious appeal. Matthew Macfadyen plays one of the more pious heroes, a monk who becomes prior and oversees construction of a cathedral that becomes the focal point for the many royal and religious and political intrigues. His co-stars are impressive, both veterans (Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland, Rufus Sewell) and upstarts (Eddie Redmayne, a recent Tony winner for Red, and Alison Pill). Compared to last season's Spartacus, this is rather tame stuff, and a curiously retro choice for a pay service like Starz, but I think and hope it will be successful.

Question: Why was the season of In Plain Sight so short this summer? It seemed like there were only 8 episodes. The show will be back next summer, correct? — Jeanne

Question: I've been enjoying In Plain Sight this year, but not as much as normal, and I think I've put my finger on the reason. Looking back at the season, it seems like they have given Mary and Marshall a lot of separate plot lines. And as it turns out, their interaction is one of the real attractions of the show. Have you noticed or received complaints about this? Do you know if this has been a conscious decision on the part of the writers? — John

Matt Roush: First, Jeanne's question. In Plain Sight aired a pretty standard (for cable) season of 13 episodes. It may have felt shorter because it overlapped the end of spring and the start of summer. No official word yet on its renewal, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't return. Because of when the show aired (the end weeks of the regular broadcast season and the start of the summer, when I took some time off), I didn't watch as much of this season as I have in the past, so can't respond with any authority to John's observations about Mary and Marshall. I agree their interaction as mismatched partners is a big part of the show's appeal, so anything that interferes with that probably wouldn't sit well with me, either.

Question: Why do you hate The Good Guys so much? I wasn't impressed by the first episode, but I gave it another chance. No it's not mind-blowing, but it is funny in an over the top kind of way. Bradley Whitford looks like he is having fun and they have a good dynamic going. Just give it a chance. — Rachel

Matt Roush: I assume you're responding to the question/rant in last week's Ask Matt column, because I don't hate The Good Guys. In fact, I probably gave it one of its more positive reviews when it premiered. I don't write the questions that come into this column, I merely try to represent a broad range of opinion here. The anemic ratings for the show this summer tells me that it hasn't struck a chord, but the comments in last week's column reveal there's quite a vocal fan base enjoying the silly shenanigans of this show.

Question: I take exception to you thinking that Memphis Beat is "disappointingly mundane." It is clever, the main characters are likable and the music wonderful. It seems as though you are partial to the shows with the "boob" factor. In your magazine review roundup, you give Rizzoli & Isles a 7 and Covert Affairs with the 12-year-old junior cheerleader a 6. Come on!! — Cheryl

Matt Roush: I guess I take exception to someone judging shows before seeing them. When/if you watch Rizzoli & Isles and Covert Affairs when they premiere this week, you might indeed find them inferior to Memphis Beat. I'm honestly not all that crazy about any of these shows. The glut of self-consciously and artificially quirky procedurals flooding the summer schedule is numbing me out. (And I also take exception to your selective reading of my column in the magazine, which gave one of the higher scores to A&E's unremarkable but likable The Glades, which has a male lead, although some might consider him a "boob" of a different sort.) But in watching Memphis the last few weeks, I haven't changed my opinion. Using a show as distinctive as FX's Justified as a point of comparison, Memphis Beat comes off to me as inauthentic (the pro forma blues soundtrack notwithstanding), and as agreeable as Jason Lee is, it feels to me like everyone's phoning it in on that show. I wanted this one to be so much better, which is why its stubborn mediocrity unsettles me more than most.

Question: Is it just me, or is anyone else aggravated that since CBS took the Boston Pops 4th broadcast over from A&E that we no longer get to hear the 1812 Overture in full? Every year I looked forward to the Overture from Boston complete with church bells and cannon, but they always start the broadcast at the very end of the piece. The A&E show could have been shortened by eliminating the history and background stuff; the music needed to stay or it shouldn't be called the Boston Pops. Yes, we still get Stars & Stripes Forever but one iconic Pops piece is not enough and I'm sure Maestro Fiedler is turning somersaults. Why wouldn't CBS time it with the Pops to either completely cut this piece from the CBS broadcast, or make sure that the Pops schedules it a few minutes later so we all get to hear it? Coming in for the last few measures is downright silly. It was annoying enough when CBS took the first hour of the Tonys from PBS so we can no longer see the technical awards, but this is absurd! — Ronda

Matt Roush: I was lucky enough to be away from the TV on July 4 (not so lucky where the East Coast's heat wave was concerned), watching fireworks live from across the Hudson River looking into Manhattan, so didn't see this broadcast, but you make some fair points. Might I suggest in future years you consider watching PBS' A Capitol Fourth, which lets nothing get in the way of the music. You may have a personal reason for preferring the Boston backdrop and their legendary Pops orchestra, but having witnessed the National Symphony's concerts for years both live (when I lived in D.C.) and on TV, that's usually a very satisfying show. And to my knowledge, they have never truncated the 1812 Overture.

That's all for now. Keep sending your questions askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and weigh in with your comments about this week's topics. Happy viewing!

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