Ask Matt: Eureka, Dallas, Falling Skies, True Blood, Damages
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Question: I hope you'll mention the passing of one of my favorite shows, Eureka. With all the hoopla around the finale of The Closer and the buzz about new and returning summer shows, the final episode of this quirky and creative Syfy gem will probably go unnoticed by most. Over the years it's become one of my favorites, serving up some high concept sci-fi stories with a healthy dose of humor and heart. Although I knew it was ending, the announcement last week of the July 16 "series finale" made me sadder than I expected. It's like nothing else on TV and I will miss all these wonderful, eccentric characters and this charming, if sometimes dangerous, town. Thanks for your insightful columns and recommendations! — Lenore
Matt Roush: Thank YOU for setting me up so nicely to salute a show that has brought me quite a bit of pleasure these last few years, one of the more successful blends of inventive fantasy and clever-to-slapsticky comedy, with an endearing lead performance by Colin Ferguson as long-suffering Sheriff Jack Carter (heading a very appealing ensemble). I've enjoyed this last season quite a bit: the culmination of Carter's romance with Allison (Salli Richardson-Whitfield), the twists and turns in rescuing Holly's consciousness (so adorably embodied by Felicia Day) from the matrix where the Astraeus crew was trapped for the first part of the season, and really, anything involving the cheerful android Deputy Andy (a character intended as an homage to the late Andy Griffith's Andy Taylor, which adds a bit of extra poignancy to this farewell). Tonight's finale (9/8c), in which the Department of Defense pulls the plug on funding the town, includes a few digs at the network which did much the same thing, but it's mainly a good-natured hour that acknowledges (via Carter) that "we've had a pretty good run." And with intersecting wormholes causing havoc one last time, Eureka-style, there's a nice moment where the entire show's history flashes before our eyes, reminding us how much fun this show has been. There's a surprise twist that should leave most fans very satisfied, and I'll leave this with the reawakened Holly's realization: "Wow. Wormholes, cyborgs, endless possibility ... no wonder you guys love this place."
Question: I was a huge fan of the original Dallas TV series and I am enjoying the new TNT series but have to wonder about the way they are using some of the original cast members. I like that they are giving Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman good storylines, but am very disappointed with the way Linda Gray is being treated. She was as much a star of the original show as Patrick and Larry, but here she just seems to be an afterthought. I also wonder why even bother to bring Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly on if they are just going to have brief one-liner scenes with no explanation for what they are doing. Do you think the writers will give Linda more to do and expand on Charlene and Steve, not to mention the possibility of other returning cast members like Victoria Principal and Priscilla Presley? — Jay
Matt Roush: The problem with a character like Linda Gray's Sue Ellen — and it was the case long before the original show went off the air — is that she was more fun when she was a mess. Now she's so starched and proper, she's like a high-society mummy, and unless they find a way to let her hair down (the messier the better), I'm afraid she'll continue to come off like nostalgic window dressing. Which is pretty much what the cameos of former co-stars like Tilton (Lucy) and Kanaly (Ray) amount to, nods to longtime fans who the producers figure will be satisfied just seeing that they're still kicking, but they're very unlikely to be given major or even minor subplots to carry. On the other hand, having Ken Kercheval back in several key scenes as Cliff Barnes makes much more sense, given what a thorn in the Ewings' side he always was, and that has been fun to see. (Plus he's useful in giving us exposition on why Pam remains nowhere to be seen, and depending on how long this new Dallas sticks around, I imagine it will be a while before Principal can be lured back, if she ever can be.) It's built into this show's DNA that luring back other series stars will give future seasons more promotional juice, but don't kid yourself that the focus is ever going to expand much beyond J.R., Bobby and their offspring (who are being wiped off the screen by their more iconic predecessors). Isn't Larry Hagman (and his eyebrows) marvelous?
Question: I was wondering with Dallas being the big hit it has been this summer, what are the chances other cable channels, if not TNT itself, will decide to revive other primetime shows with the original cast and continue their stories. The one that comes to mind that I would like to see revived is Sisters. I know Sela Ward is on CSI: NY now, but with it being on its last leg, it probably wouldn't take much for her to jump ship. Dallas is my favorite new series, and I would love more of the same. Do you think it will happen? — Nicholas
Matt Roush: I'd be surprised if producers haven't been pitching this sort of thing, given the fuss kicked up by this revival. But there aren't many shows as iconic as Dallas that lend themselves to this kind of reunion, and not many casts that I'd imagine would be willing and able (or possibly desperate enough, not to mention alive) to try to rekindle the original spark. Sisters was a perfectly fine soap in its day, with a better-than-fine cast, but it's not the sort of era-defining series that would create this kind of stir if it were revived. Personally, I was such a huge Knots Landing fan back in the day that if Dallas' comeback could inspire even a short-run miniseries bringing back characters like Sumner and Karen and Paige, as well as Gary and Poor Val, that would be a kick. Dynasty is probably ripe for a next-generation redo as well, but to be honest, I think I'd prefer for Dallas to be the exception and for the industry to not go crazy disinterring the legends of our TV past.
Question: Just a couple of questions about two summer shows that, to me anyway, seem to have suddenly gotten better (in one case, a lot better) with their current seasons. With True Blood, I just assumed this season would be an improvement since we last saw Tara with a hole in her head from a shotgun blast, so I thought she'd be gone, and good riddance to that mopey, boring, attitudinally-challenged wet blanket. But now I'm accepting that I may have been wrong, as Tara has become one of this season's most interesting characters, especially when interacting with fellow reborn-against-her-will Jessica and maker Pam (although honestly, any scene with Pam is a keeper). Between this storyline and where things may be going with the Authority and the return of Russell Edgington, this show is more fun than it's been in the last couple of years.
On the other hand, Falling Skies seems like it's finally starting to take its premise as seriously as it expects its audience to take it. Last year, a typical episode would have a couple of scary scenes and maybe something else to happen that made us think that yeah, things are kinda bad, but then that would all be negated by the episode closing with a Spielbergian scene of playing children, sweetly soaring music, and adults' faces with happy expressions that said, "Ah, those moments of normalcy that we're fighting for." This year, the show seems a lot tougher because while the tone of most of the episodes remains unchanged, rather than the artificially uplifting conclusion we get something like the commanding officer telling a father that his son may have to be put down, and the CO will do it if he must, but it's better for all concerned if the father does it, and the father seeing it from a command perspective and thinking the CO may be right. Honestly, that's the kind of narrative toughness one expects from premium cable, and not just because some lucky advertiser got to sponsor that speech. Last year I only watched this because nothing else was on. This year, I'm watching because THIS show is on. Quite a difference, and the possibilities that may come from reluctant and tentative steps toward joining with a possible Skitter rebellion (along with the return of Pope) will keep me watching. Are you still watching, and if so, what are your thoughts on their seasons so far? — Mike
Matt Roush: Agreed about Tara, whose rocky-transitioning vampire character is one of the highlights of this season, along with anything Pam does and says. Plus the return of Russell Edgington, and the intrigues involving our main vamps and the Authority, are adding some much-needed spice. I still wish True Blood had a sharper focus and felt less need to service every single character (like Sam and Andy and Terry — and this is the first series ever where I don't care what happens to a character Scott Foley is playing). It's not a perfect season, but I'm on board. (The TV series is so much better than the last few books, for what that's worth.)
And we're very much on the same page regarding Falling Skies. My initial online review of the second season also emphasized the welcome new toughness of this season, which just gets more gripping and potentially devastating by the week. (I am very impressed by Connor Jessup's nuanced work as Ben, the son still struggling with his connection to the Skitters, who may have pegged him as the human leader of their resistance movement, a very smart twist.) As I noted a few weeks ago, I find myself wishing Fox had given Terra Nova a similar chance to grow up in its second season the way this show has, eliminating the schmaltzy treacle to deliver a solid, suspenseful action adventure-fantasy with teeth.
Question: With the Emmy nominations announcement less than a week away, I've read a lot of anticipatory "wish lists." No doubt you will soon be deluged with complaints about who was not nominated, along with countless insults about the Emmy voters (and probably the actual nominees themselves). But something occurred to me as I was making my own list and lamenting that I would likely be disappointed: Have there ever been this many great comedies and dramas on TV at the same time? Certainly, far more than six outstanding shows exist in both genres; some acting categories could have as many as 10 nominees and a stellar performance would still be left out. Instead of feeling sad or angry about who has been "robbed" or "snubbed" (which isn't really how the voting works anyway), should we not feel lucky that there are currently so many series and actors worthy of acclaim? — Eric W.
Matt Roush: There have been other "golden ages" of TV to be sure, but what we're dealing with now is that there has rarely if ever been such a surplus of Emmy-worthy drama (and to some extent comedy) on so many cable outlets, as well as the networks raising their game, mostly in the comedy arena. Thanks for accentuating the positive as we anticipate Thursday's announcement, which as you noted is bound to leave some fans disgruntled when many of the usual suspects (Fringe, The Middle) are left wanting. I'm rooting for new blood including Homeland, Girls, New Girl's Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield among others, and I'm very curious to see how big a spoiler PBS' Downton Abbey will be in the drama categories. But yes, while there are bound to be some disappointments in the no-shows and the shows that get nominated by rote, this is an occasion as well to reflect on just how much great TV there is out there to celebrate.
Question: Ever since DirecTV's acquisition of Damages was announced — and certainly peaking lately with the launch of the final season — I have seen a lot of negativity online from non-subscribers who watched the show back when it was on FX and resent not being able to watch it on other TV providers. I totally understand this, but what I don't understand is a misconception that seems to exist that FX and/or the creators of the show chose to limit their viewership by moving it to DirecTV rather than allowing it to remain on FX, when in fact, FX canceled the show. They aired three seasons of the show despite low ratings and gave it a big push every time and it still didn't work out for them, so even though I love the show, I can hardly blame them for making the business decision to cancel it. Considering its numbers were low from the beginning, keeping it on for three seasons is quite a display of faith and patience.
I think we should be thankful to DirecTV for rescuing the show (and also Friday Night Lights before that) because without them, we would not have had these additional seasons produced at all. Surely it's better that the show got two more seasons. The writers, actors, directors, crew members, etc. were employed for two more seasons, and we got two more seasons to enjoy. If you're not a DirecTV subscriber you can still see the show; you just have to wait. Season 4 was recently released to DVD, iTunes, Netflix and similar sources, and Season 5 will follow once DirecTV is done with it. I just appreciate that we were able to have as long with this show and these characters as we did, and think both FX and DirecTV should be applauded for it. — Jake
Matt Roush: While it's true (certainly in my e-mailbag) that a number of Damages fans were frustrated by not having access to last season while it was first airing because they don't or in some cases can't get DirecTV, the real kudos here belong to Sony TV, the producing studio that is especially aggressive about trying to keep its shows alive when the networks either give up on or abuse these properties. Damages was dead after its third season on FX, and unlike the deal that kept Friday Night Lights going on DirecTV with a later window on NBC, FX wasn't interested in broadcasting these last two seasons even after the fact. (If they had been, they probably would have kept the show on their own schedule.) So the tradeoff here is that either Damages would be canceled forever, or non-subscribers would have to be patient to see these final chapters, which I tend to think is worth it for the die-hard fan. (The final season is off to a strong start, but because many fans won't have access to these episodes while they're airing on DirecTV, I'll be as vague as possible in my discussion of the show's plot twists even after they air. But so far, it looks like it's going to be an excellent ride to the end.)
Question: Is Hilarie Burton (Sara Ellis) still part of White Collar? I ask because I heard Neal has a new love interest this season. — Ronald
Matt Roush: Can't comment on Neal's future love life, but I've seen the first three episodes of this season, and Hilarie/Sara was nowhere to be seen. But I'm told she'll appear in the seventh episode of this summer's run, so she's still part of their world, on a recurring basis at least.
Question: I'm a long-time reader, first-time writer — you know, the usual. I was on Metacritic today because I'm weird and that's how I entertain myself. But as I was looking through my favorite shows' reviews, I came across one you did for Happy Endings last fall. It read, "The largely chemistry-free ensemble of this under-inspired Friends wannabe has exactly two funny standouts: Penny (Casey Wilson) and Max (Adam Pally)." Now usually you and I see pretty much eye-to-eye on what is and is not "good" TV, but I have to disagree with you on this one. Happy Endings feels like one of the freshest ABC sitcoms in a long while, and they must think so too, if they're willing to give it a full third season with mediocre ratings. Have your feelings toward this show changed over the course of its pretty a-mah-zing second season? — Quincy
Matt Roush: Fresher than Modern Family, The Middle, Suburgatory and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23? Or even Cougar Town, a much more engaging show (to me) that got the hook to make room for this one? Not in my book. I know there are plenty of critics doing cartwheels over Happy Endings — I'm even slightly in the minority in my own office, I think — but the show still mostly leaves me cold, and I don't care what happens to any of these robotic joke machines. I stand by my observation that Penny and Max are the main reasons to watch — the other characters I find either bland, clichéd, unfunny or annoying (not in a good and amusing way) — although given the volume of wisecracks per episode, I do laugh at times despite myself. But I imagine I'll find the show much easier to ignore now that ABC has moved it off of Wednesdays, to be replaced (unwisely) by the bizarre aliens-next-door sitcom The Neighbors, which could go down in infamy like last season's Work It (or maybe it will be this decade's surprise lowbrow hit like Mork & Mindy). Honestly, ABC's comedy philosophy can be so schizoid it leaves me baffled.
Question: I've taken notice of reality show contestants being invited back, and/or a contestant's family member being invited. I seem to notice this trend with the CBS reality shows. Survivor has invited back former contestants, with Russell Hantz being the most notable. Hantz's nephew Brandon gets an invite to be a contestant. Big Brother has invited back former contestants, with Brenchel (Brendon & Rachel) being the most notable. It seems that a lot of people have grown to dislike Brenchel. It looks like Hantz's brother Willie will be on this summer's Big Brother. I've even seen Rob & Amber (from Survivor), as well as Jeff & Jordan (from Big Brother) on The Amazing Race. We've even seen several all-star seasons of the CBS reality shows. I'm aware that ABC is working on an all-star season of Dancing with the Stars. My question: What is that CBS seems to like about these former reality show contestants and their families that nobody else does? — Eric K
Matt Roush: The recycling of reality "stars" is one of the more revolting developments in this genre. It doesn't amuse me, it doesn't interest me, and I find it a turn-off even on shows I admire. Although I'm generally OK with the concept of an "all-star" season, as long as they don't overdo it. (It seems about the right time for Dancing With the Stars to go there. Once.) But for these CBS shows to be subsidizing and publicizing the entire Hantz family is something I can do without, and so I will.
Question: What is NBC's deal with Savannah Guthrie? Is she some NBC executive's girlfriend, wife, niece or daughter? It seems like every time I turn to their channel, they are thrusting her out, front and center. First she was a correspondent, then she started doing pieces for Today, then, like a week later, she was sitting on the Today couch, then she was subbing for Brian Williams, and, let's not forget her — spare me! — legal expertise (put your glasses on, Ms. Guthrie, so you look more lawyer-like). Now, NBC announces that she will be the new co-host. What is up with this? And why is Natalie Morales always skipped over for promotions? — Marcy
Matt Roush: Not a fan, I take it. To be fair, Guthrie has a law degree, but what you're really responding to is a network's fast-track grooming of a rising news star, executed on such an aggressively visible level that it's bound to turn some people off. Which it appears to have done, compounded by the clumsiness of the staging of Ann Curry's recent abrupt departure from the Today set. (Given what happened the last time the show promoted the newsreader to co-host, that may explain the reticence to promote Natalie Morales at this moment.) If the reports from last week hold up, Guthrie's first official week as Today co-host will find the show placing second to Good Morning America in total viewers and, more notably, in the key 25-54 demographic. But with the Olympics just a few weeks away, which will serve to showcase the new Today "family" amid the ratings magnet of the games, NBC is hoping things will stabilize soon. If they don't, there will likely be some more sleepless nights and anxious mornings at this embattled network.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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