Ask Matt: Finale Fever, Cougar Town, The Killing, Cancellation Fallout and More!
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Question: I know that last week was packed with season finales, talk of cancellations, and predictions of the successes for next fall, but I hope The Good Wife might get some attention. I'm in no way a TV expert, but the gestalt of the last scene was surprising. From the editing to the acting to the music (so out of place for the show, but somehow appropriate at the same time), those few minutes just felt like what great TV is. In particular, the editing of the elevator ride made me feel as though I was watching a cabler. While on the page the plot was perhaps mundane or even cliché, the execution was impressive. — Erin
Matt Roush: Couldn't agree more. Of all the major season finales last week, The Good Wife's was the one I was looking the most forward to and it's the one still knocking about in my head most pleasurably. The mounting tension as the elevator doors kept opening and closing, with Alicia and Will heading toward that inevitable clinch and kiss, followed by the fumbling with the key at the Presidential Suite door (with Alicia taking charge, a nice kicker there), it was about as perfect a way to end a terrific season as you could hope. Plus we got the smart twists involving Eli joining the firm (with Alicia attached to him as liaison), Peter responsible for the bloody glove being sent to the firm, and that great moment when Kalinda realizes she's just slept with another cheating married spouse (this time a woman). It's funny you mention cable here, because when I moderated a Good Wife panel a year ago, Julianna Margulies said she had hoped to come back to TV in a cable vehicle, and her cable show just happens to air on CBS. It's that good, and I hope the Emmy voters take notice.
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Question: Just a quick question about The Mentalist. Now that Red John is dead (great scene by the way of Jane shooting RJ! I knew he had a gun in his pocket!) and no longer a threat to Jane, what will be the purpose of Jane being a part of the CBI? The whole show revolved around Red John and Jane's connection mainly mentally, so what will they do now? Will the writers be focusing on the rest of the CBI gang and how they all interact with one another and who will be the new chief or will Hightower come back? I never thought of Jane and Lisbon as a couple, ever, just thought it was too weird. But why would the CBI need Jane's services any more now that Red John is no longer a threat to him or anyone around him! I was wondering if you had any ideas for the next season of The Mentalist. — Amy D
Matt Roush: I'm sure they'll find a way for Jane to still be of use to the CBI — because really, what would they do without him? — in much the same way that the Castle writers will keep their hero working with Beckett, no matter how improbable it seems, even with a new boss (to replace the late Capt. Mongtgomery). But first, The Mentalist will have to deal with the consequences of Jane's public execution of Red John. However that plays out, and there should be plenty of drama along the way, I imagine the fallout will involve keeping Jane yoked to the CBI team for the foreseeable future. I give The Mentalist a lot of credit for bringing this story arc to a head and to (as far as we can tell) a conclusion, instead of stretching it out into the fifth or sixth season. That took guts.
Question: The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite comedies currently on TV, or at least it used to be. I feel like the show has been dumbed down a bit lately, and adjusted to appeal to a wider audience. I don't really like that the cast has just as many girls as guys now. Bernadette is somewhat entertaining, Amy Farrah Fowler is still rather one-dimensional, and Priya is just outright boring. I honestly can't believe that the writers would have Raj and Penny hook up in the finale. The walk of shame was admittedly hilarious, but obviously they're out of ideas if they're making those two get together. I liked the dynamic of the four guys with Penny, but now the girls frequently have their own storylines and subplots, which are not nearly as exciting as what the guys are usually up to. I feel like there has been a definite decline in the "geekery" of the show this season, with far less pop-culture references and nerd language this season. That was what set The Big Bang Theory apart from other comedies to me — it was just so much smarter, but now they're much more focused on the relationships and stupidity like other comedies often are. Any thoughts on the show's change in direction this season in general, and the twist at the end of the finale? — Alex
Matt Roush: I take exception with some of your specific criticisms — especially regarding Mayim Bialik, who's a riot as Amy and adds a great deal to the show, especially when she bonds with (and brings out the best in) Penny; she's no less dimensional than the other geeks, and as a distaff version of Sheldon, she fascinates me. While I agree the show has become broader and somewhat cruder over the seasons, "dumbing down" especially when too many of the jokes aim below the belt, I don't have a problem with the show's universe expanding to include these other characters, and giving the girls some latitude to carry a B-story once in a while and take some of the focus off characters who risk wearing out their welcome with overuse. The fourth season seems a good time to refresh the formula with new characters before it goes stale. And regarding the twist with Penny and Raj: I can't imagine that being anything more than a particularly ill-advised one-night stand. They both looked pretty horrified about it. For me, it was a funny accent to an episode where many of the ongoing relationships were in a state of flux. And I would think you're happy that Priya is headed back to India; I understand why you don't think she's funny, but she's pretty much meant to be a straight (wo)man anyway, a device to stir some jealousy in Penny, some discomfort in Raj, and to shake things up a bit. Again, not such a bad thing for a show in its fourth year.
Question: I loved Catherine Tate as Donna Noble on Doctor Who, but I was surprised to see her in The Office season finale. Warren Buffett aside, she did seem kind of the odd person out in that group of more well-known American actors (at least stateside). I was curious how and or why she became involved in the season finale. — Chris
Matt Roush: There's a "cool" cult factor where Catherine Tate is concerned, and I saw her inclusion in part as a sly nod to the show's British origins. I actually found it refreshing that one of the cameos was not as self-consciously star-driven as the others (which mostly fell flat to me). There's industry buzz that she could actually be the front-runner for the Dunder Mifflin post. I don't know how I feel about that. But then, I had trouble making it through that episode, so color me ambivalent about the whole post-Michael Scott situation.
[Note: The next three questions share a similar theme; my reponse comes at the end of the series.]
Question: As a big fan of Shawn Ryan, The Chicago Code and the FX network, and given Ryan's past relationships with FX, how come it's never mentioned that a prematurely canceled, critically acclaimed show like The Chicago Code may not just switch networks and get picked up by FX for a season 2? It really surprises me that a good match like this doesn't get more traction. — Tim
Question: Unfortunately, two of the shows that I actually follow on a weekly basis are being canceled, Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC) and The Chicago Code (Fox). Both are well written and have interesting characters. I know they will not be returning, but is it not possible for a network like USA or FX to pick them up? This has done in the past with Southland and Stargate SG-1. — Ted
Question: First off, thanks for your great reviews and guidance on shows to watch. I know Human Target is considered a "fluff" show by some critics. However, I loved the characters (Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley, et al) and mourn its demise. Any chance the USA Network "Characters Welcome" would pick up this show? Seems like a perfect fit. — Cathy
Matt Roush: I guess it's no surprise that the most frequent question in my mailbag during a week of mass cancellations was variations on the above, as fans cling to a shred of hope that there may be another home for a canceled favorite and that someone might swoop in to the rescue. The sad fact is: This almost never happens. Cable networks have their own development divisions, and USA and TNT in particular are green-lighting more projects than ever before. They're not really shopping for anyone else's castoffs, though as always there are exceptions to the rule, Southland being the most notable recent example. (And even it is struggling to survive season to season.) For a show to make a leap from a broadcast network to cable also tends to involve significant budget adjustments — and that would have an especially big impact on an action series like Human Target. Being filmed on location, The Chicago Code and Detroit 1-8-7 are also unlikely candidates, if only for economic reasons. And while it's true Shawn Ryan has a history with FX, he didn't develop Chicago Code for that network, and for all of its virtues, it's probably not edgy enough to be a fit there. (For the record, most of the cancellation complaints I get continue to focus on the Fox trio of Code, Human Target and Lie to Me. Still hard to fathom that the network couldn't make room for at least one of them on the back bench.)
Question: Is it just me, or is it taking a little long to find out who did The Killing? I really like the show, but I'm getting anxious for a conclusion. And much of the beginning "clues" turned out to be red herrings. It's frustrating. How close is the American version to the original? I looked at this show like a good mini-series. How many episodes are there in all? Is the killer finally revealed? I don't like to be teased, so I hope the killer is revealed soon! — Myra
Matt Roush: I've shielded myself from the original series so as not to spoil my enjoyment of the AMC show, so can't answer that one except to say that I believe this version is trying to at least capture the tone of the original. But in both cases, the concept is to do a season-long murder mystery, and the AMC season is 13 episodes, so the finale will air June 19. It's really no different than reading a mystery novel, is it? The answer will come at the end, probably not before, and any mystery worth its salt is going to lead us through a number of dead ends and false leads before revealing the truth. I don't know for a fact that the killer will be named in the season finale, but you won't be the only one disappointed if he/she isn't. Just be patient. The Killing is taking a decided risk in delaying gratification week after week and trusting the audience to indulge its measured, languorous approach. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but if you want quick, pat resolutions, there's always any number of CBS shows.
Question: I just re-watched the Castle finale for the second time and am still blown away by how brilliant is was! I know the comparison may seem a bit odd, but it hasn't been since a Lost finale that I was left literally sitting on the edge of my seat with my jaw hanging open and tears in my eyes. I can't decide which part was my favorite: Castle's confrontation with Beckett, the reveal of the Captain's role in the investigation of Joanna Beckett's murder, the fight between Ryan and Esposito, Castle carrying Beckett to safety, the final showdown between the Captain and Lockwood, the entire funeral scene, or Castle (FINALLY) telling Beckett he loves her after she is shot. So I guess really all the episode was my favorite. I am surprised at how shocked and emotional I was after the episode was over. It will be very interesting to see where the show goes from here. What did you think of the finale and how do you think the show should proceed from here? — Amy C
Matt Roush: For me, this was Castle at its best, with some neat twists and, more important, some real emotional payoffs as Castle and Beckett clashed over his attempts to protect her and warn her off the case, and her reckless attitude leading to her being shot in the truly startling final scene. The "I love you, Kate" was a valentine to the fans, for sure. It's not my place to tell the writing team where to take it next, except to warn then against resetting the dynamic as if none of this ever occurred (as in, she didn't hear his declaration of love). I understand that they may bring in a new boss who will be more antagonistic to the Beckett-Castle partnership than Montgomery ever was, and I hope that isn't overplayed.
Question: I love your column and look forward to it every Monday to hear your perspective on television. I know you have grown tired of Brothers & Sisters, but I was saddened by its cancellation. As a gay man, I thought it helped represent different positive journeys of the gay community from the younger gay couple to the older gay man coming to terms with his sexuality late in life. But then I started thinking about Glee and how it also represents the gay community almost too much. I think depicting these gay stories are great at educating the average U.S. viewer and normalizes the idea of being gay, but do you think it gets to the point of too much? I wonder if Glee's declining ratings has to do with the prominence of its gay themes, which did not exist quite as much in the earlier episodes of season 1. What do you think? — Rob
Matt Roush: I get where you're coming from, and while I'll miss Kevin and Scotty most of all the Walkers (except maybe Nora), even their story felt played out to me, and I had begun to find them more irritating than endearing. So kudos for sending them all out in the finale with the semblance of a happy ending. I'm sure the gay content in Brothers & Sisters limited its audience to some degree, and many even is the case with Glee, where inclusiveness and the embrace of diversity has always been a key asset, even before the gay bullying storyline and the super-gay Warblers stuff that followed. Glee's ratings have come down to earth a bit, which is to be expected when something blazes that bright at the start (and airing against a juggernaut like NCIS is also a factor), but its young demos are still robust. And while I'm sure there are those who decry Glee as being "too gay," its sensibility has always been so, and for all those who are turned off by it, there are many who embrace it, and advertisers and marketers ignore that audience (which they don't) at their peril.
Question: I have noticed that a major character has died in either the next-to-last episode or finale on all my shows so far this season. I found one article that actually counted up 17 deaths so far this May sweeps! Why do you think this is being done? Aren't the usual cliffhangers enough? I really am finding this season of show endings the most depressing ever! — Alice
Matt Roush: The word you're looking for is overkill. Seasons build to big finishes, and I suppose many series feel they'd be accused of pulling their punches if they didn't turn out someone's lights for good. It can easily become a tiresome gimmick, but I'm of the school that thinks as long as a character's death has impact (like Capt. Montgomery's on Castle or Red John's on The Mentalist or Mike Franks' in NCIS), it's worth doing. This issue used to come up a lot with 24, which wouldn't have had nearly the impact if you didn't believe nearly any character could die at any moment of the ticking clock.
Question: I understand ABC's thinking in that they want to use Modern Family's guaranteed large audience to help launch new shows like Mr. Sunshine and Happy Endings. However, what's up with their treatment of Cougar Town lately? I wasn't too impressed with its first few episodes, so let it go when it was airing against Glee. But lately I've found it again and am really surprised how enormously it has been improved. And then it went away. Its numbers have already been slipping, then it just returned from a long hiatus for Mr. Sunshine's tryout, and now it is being pushed to mid-season where it will follow a boring-looking freshman comedy, not even air on Wednesdays anymore, and only fill space between Dancing With the Stars cycles. How do they expect casual viewers to even remember it in December or January if it's only on for a short time and constantly shuffled around? It is hardly a big event series like Lost or 24, so I'm not sure they can get away with the delays. Plus, there aren't 22 weeks in between cycles of Dancing With the Stars, so what happens to the other episodes? I do hope that they aren't reducing it from a full-season episode order.
I'm not saying it necessarily has to be tethered to Modern Family for its entire run, but if they are going to move it, it should be to a permanent location where it will be given the chance to put down roots and thrive with enough marketing support to let that happen. Instead, it feels like jerking it around will end up leading to the show's demise. (I know Paul Lee is new at this job, but he should look back a few years to what Steve McPherson did to Men in Trees as an example of how not to treat a once-promising show.) What are your thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: This move probably upset me the most of anything during upfront week. There are so few instances of back-to-back comedies I truly enjoy that for ABC to disrupt this flow (and to insert the irritating Happy Endings in its place to pour salt in the wound) is very aggravating. I'm hoping that when some of ABC's new comedies hit the skids (which could happen sooner than later), Cougar Town will get a reprieve and be rescued from this limbo. It's the worst kind of position to put any show in, and while Cougar Town did get a full-season order, which the hit-or-miss scheduling means that some new episodes could spill over into next summer, it's hard to see this as a vote of confidence.
Question: I had the Bones finale twist spoiled by a Canadian FB friend, but I pretty much figured that was where it was going when I saw the previews. And I think it's another example of incredibly lazy storytelling on the part of the Bones writing team. The whole "Zack is suddenly involved with Gargamel" incident put me off watching for a long time and I'm kind of annoyed with myself with starting again. I'm often irritated by their tendency to do what I call "yadda yadda" in ending their episodes, wrapping up mysteries in ways that make no sense or show any care on the part of the people constructing them. I realize Bones is more about the characters than the mystery, but a little effort to tie up the mystery would be appreciated. To handle a crucial plot point like Bones and Booth sleeping together and having a baby this way is so disappointing. That's all they have for loyal viewers? Seeley and Tempe are too stupid to use birth control? Seeley, who has already suffered the consequences of accidentally getting someone pregnant, is dumb enough to do it again? With its charming cast and American Idol lead-in, Bones should be able to be as big a hit as NCIS, but I really feel the hit-or-miss writing is what has always held the show back. I'd like to tie the writers in chairs and have them watch a few years of NCIS, and maybe they could learn how to slowly unfold a story arc, have realistic character development and not basically flip off your fans. It infuriates me because I actually enjoy this show most of the time. I feel like a parent with a smart kid who keeps brining home C minus grades when I know they could ace the test. I know they can do better! — Cyn
Matt Roush: I have to say, the angry tone of this letter shocks me (but doesn't really surprise me, given the beating Bones gets for nearly everything the writers do with the characters). While the pregnancy twist at the end was abrupt, I felt it was handled rather sweetly, especially in light of all the Angela-Hodgins angst this season, and anything that would put Bones and Booth in a happy place is OK by me. I agree that the focus on character and relationships on Bones often short-changes the mystery of the week, but I don't see how this development "flips off" the fans — especially because most fans know Emily Deschanel is pregnant herself and would probably gripe all next season if they'd made her hide it. And while it's true Bones will never get the monster ratings NCIS enjoys, that's the difference between a procedural on Fox and on CBS — and considering how well Bones is doing on Thursdays, even considering the Idol lead-in (which doesn't benefit every show equally), they must be doing something right.
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