Ask Matt: Fringe, Dexter, Walking Dead, Post-Mortems and More
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Question: In season 3 of Fringe so far, the focus has heavily been on Olivia and her emotional turmoil. Any chance we'll be seeing more from Peter? He's been painfully absent and with everything he's gone through recently, it must all build up and make him close to breaking-point, right? We often see Olivia and Walter have meltdowns and heart-breaking scenes, but there are so few from Peter. Joshua Jackson's an amazing actor when given the opportunity! — Helen
Matt Roush: This question arrived in my e-mailbag before last week's "Marionette" episode aired, so I have to assume Helen was satisfied by how central Peter was to the story, and how Jackson nailed his scenes with Olivia: the big reveal and then the climactic, sad aftermath. If Peter was less visible for much of the first part of the season, that's in large part because he doesn't have an alt-world doppelganger, given that he already IS alt-Peter. Moving forward, when the show returns (Jan. 21, in a new Friday time slot), we have to assume Peter will be much more integral to the story. In part because of that mystery machine the Walt-ernate is so obsessed with. In case you missed it, here's what Natalie Abrams reported in answering a question in last week's Mega Buzz column: "The pieces of the machine puzzle will come together when the show returns next year. John Noble calls it 'a huge turning point' for the season. 'What they've done with the machine — and Peter — I actually think it's super exciting," Anna Torv adds, noting that the upcoming machine-centric episodes are "awesome for Josh [Jackson].'" Excited now?
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Question: As a massive Dexter fan, I've found myself unattached and disappointed with the fifth season. I accepted that it would not be as strong as the fourth season and was interested in how it would deal with Dexter losing Rita, but moving into this season's close, I am eager for it to finish and hope that the sixth season will redeem what a lackluster and uninteresting year this has been. There's been a few problems: the Maria/Angel "snooze" subplots, a wooden and uninvolving performance from Julia Stiles, a pedestrian killer storyline that looked like it came off an episode of Criminal Minds, to name a few, but the problem I have had is how it has dealt with Rita's death. Her death was a risky game-changer and moved the show into a new direction, but all it seemed to do was return Dexter back to doing what he was doing in season 1 (killing bad guys, covering his steps), and moving the kids away to Florida was a sloppy and predictable move.
I get that Dexter doesn't feel emotion, but his handling of the Rita death and how it splits his family apart felt unauthentic and cold and in hindsight now seemed an excuse to remove his family and it appears that he hasn't changed as a person. After five seasons, Dexter is still the same person he was in season 1, now with a baby and the good old plot device of the babysitter who is always around so he can continue his killing. If anything has a pulse this season, it's Debra, who at least has been doing something interesting this season. Michael C. Hall as usual is giving it everything he can, but the season has made me frustrated as a die-hard fan and I just can't wait for it to be all over. What are your thoughts this season? Has it all been worth it? — Chris
Matt Roush: I waited till watching Sunday's season finale before answering this, and while I see where you're coming from in terms of this year's villains and the hit-or-miss characterization of Lumen, I'm not nearly as down on the season — and the development of Dexter — as a whole. It was undoubtedly an uneven season and sagged quite a bit in the middle, but I was OK with the way they handled Rita's death, especially the immediate aftermath, when a numb Dexter tried to endure and understand the stages of grief while having trouble getting back his killer mojo. Even the kids turning on him made sense, although I agree the saintly babysitter is an awfully convenient device. I do think it was worth it for Dexter to experience being with someone who sees the true Dexter and accepts him for it — although ultimately is unable to live with it once she achieves her own bloody vengeance. With the baby, the family, Lumen, watching Deb let the vigilantes get away (not knowing it's her brother behind the screen): Dexter is continually confronted by the mysteries of humanity and there are moments when he actually sees hope for himself. But only to a point. And really, what a great final line: "Wishes, of course, are for children." The fact is there is no Dexter if Dexter gives up the hunt. As he tells Lumen: "Don't be sorry your darkness is gone. I'll carry it for you always." All of which may be an argument for the show not continuing indefinitely. It can be frustrating if you really want to see change in a character this perversely audacious. But as imperfect as this season was, the way it ended probably left most of the show's fans eager for next season to begin already.
Question: I have been a big fan of the Independent Film Channel (IFC). They have had some great movies and shows unedited and commercial-free. Well, they have now started airing commercial breaks during movies and shows, though the content is still unexpurgated. They say they are doing it so they can put on more original programming. Personally, I would prefer less original programming and more uninterrupted independent movies. The commercial breaks have made IFC unwatchable and really damaged their "indie cred." I have posted my complaints to their Facebook page and sent them an e-mail. Is there a chance that if enough people complain or stop watching, they will reverse this policy?
Also, I am so sad that Terriers got canceled, but at least it didn't have a frustrating, cliffhanger ending. (I will miss this show!) What is your post-mortem on its lack of success? I feel if the show had been called Ocean Beach instead of Terriers, it would have been somewhat easier to market. Do you think airing it in the summer or another time of year would have helped? — Todd
Matt Roush: I'm sorry to hear about this development, and I'm sure you're not the only one accusing IFC of selling out by selling ads. Although I'm gratified to hear they're not cutting or censoring the product to placate advertisers. That would be far worse. (And I would guess it's still more satisfying to watch movies on IFC than on AMC, where butchering is fairly common.) But even something as "independent" in nature as IFC has to survive on a business model. It's a cable fact of life that adding original programming to a schedule tends to make more noise and enhance a channel's value, but it also comes at a price. While I hope they're respectful of your complaints, I wouldn't expect them to abandon this new format if it helps them maintain some modicum of independence in their programming.
Regarding Terriers: I have made both of these suggestions in my various commentaries on the show as it neared the end of its tragically under-seen run. Now that we know what the conspiracy of the main story was all about and what was at stake, Ocean Beach would have been a perfect title (evoking Chinatown, among others). And airing during the less competitive summer months — less competitive where network programming is concerned, anyway — may have given FX more of a chance to promote and market the show and be heard. Terriers got lost in the fall madness, but given how offbeat and (as FX chief John Landgraf put it) subtle its charms were, this could very well have been a tough sell any time of year.
Question: Such a shame that FX decided not to continue Terriers. Thanks for supporting it. Do you think there's any chance another network might pick it up? — Gayle
Matt Roush: In this instance, a resounding no. Unlike Damages, which DirecTV rescued for the next two seasons (a programming strategy they now say they're moving away from to concentrate on their own development), Terriers lacks big-name stars, and despite some glowing reviews, it never really achieved any kind of cultural cachet. It fell between the cracks, and I can't think of any network that has the resources or the gumption to take that kind of risk.
Question: Now that the Terriers season is over, does FX plan to do a marathon of all the episodes? Thanks to Dish Network dropping FX for several weeks, I missed the middle episodes and didn't want to watch the last batch without seeing the ones I missed first. I can always wait for the DVD, but I'm impatient. — Phil
Matt Roush: I haven't heard anything to this effect, but I think it's rather unlikely that FX would commit any significant block of time, even over the holidays, to repeating something that had such desperately low ratings the first time around. If you're willing to watch on your computer, some episodes are available on Hulu (although probably not the episodes you missed during the blackout), and the entire season is available on iTunes. Regarding a DVD release (no date set to my knowledge), I can only hope many lucky people will discover this show in that format. As a complete 13-episode story, it's hard to imagine a better investment of time.
Question: I wanted to give a big "Thank You" to you for the recommendation to try The Walking Dead. You were right on the money with this show. You have become my TV barometer as to what I should try. Just as the wait is too long for Mad Men and Sherlock, so will be the wait for next season of this fantastic character-driven show. Who would have thought I could care about a zombie? Of course the majority of them I don't, but the wife of the man and his son who was still trying to get back in her house on the first episode to that poor half-bodied person crawling in the park just trying to survive by instinct haunted me for days. The actors are great, and although I can't say I was familiar with Andrew Lincoln and some of the others, I do remember Laurie Holden from her X-Files days and have always enjoyed her work. I hope that the writer and staff changes do not affect the way the story line was being mapped out for next season. I suppose if the original executive producers and creators are still on board, it should stay on track. — JG
Matt Roush: You're welcome, and thanks for reading. I know there is some worry that they're fixing what isn't broke by making staff changes behind the scenes. But this initial six-episode mini-season established a pretty terrific foundation, and it's going to be a whole new challenge to tackle a second season that's twice as long. I see nothing to suggest they're not up to the task.
Question: Thanks for the heads-up regarding The Walking Dead. I've been a zombie movie aficionado ever since I sneaked into a theater showing the original Dawn of the Dead at far too young an age more than 30 years ago, and it's great to see post-apocalyptic clichés turned on their heads, such as how the Hispanic gang in Atlanta turns out to be the people who stayed at the nursing home to take care of their elderly relatives when the staff took off, and how the time-worn "escape through the sewers" is abandoned before it even begins. It's also good to see things I haven't seen before, such as Rick's surprisingly emotional speech/apology to the anonymous torso zombie in the park, the "gutsy" plan to walk right past a crowd of walkers, zombies feeding on meals of opportunity like horses, deer and rats when preferred selections aren't available, and the idea that sometimes a zombie will sit and rest until dinner comes along instead of just being a perpetual wandering machine. If The Prisoner was an ugly strikeout and Rubicon was at best a bloop single, all other AMC original dramas have been resounding home runs. Broadcast is the proverbial wasteland hiding a few jewels here and there, so I know the answer for them, but has any other cable channel had this kind of batting average? — Mike
Matt Roush: I like how fans keep bringing up that moment from the season premiere when Rick stood over the crawling half-zombie, delivering a poignant eulogy before dispatching the creature. Moments like that, quietly mournful and haunting, are what distinguish The Walking Dead from any horror series I've ever seen. Regarding AMC's success rate (blemished by Rubicon, but nonetheless impressive): This channel's surge in originals, led by Mad Men, is impressive because of the acclaim and the awards they've managed to reap, but only The Walking Dead has been a true ratings breakthrough. Although it's easy to take them for granted because their aim is more mainstream, you have to give kudos as well to cable powerhouses like USA Network in particular (which I think of as the CBS of cable — it knows its audience and rarely falters) and TNT. And for all that we gush about AMC shows these days, I'm betting that if it weren't for the envelope-pushing sensations on FX (starting with The Shield, through Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me), AMC may never have been inspired to take this giant creative leap.
Question: Why didn't they give The Whole Truth time to make it? I know the ratings were probably not good from the start since it had a couple of good shows to go up against, but it was fantastic. When I watched the very first episode, I thought there was no way I'd like the show, and not knowing which side was actually right. But I stuck around for the VERY end and they always let you know what actually happened! I truly loved the two stars and had hoped they would give it a chance! I guess they are just too busy filling time with "reality" (and I do use that term loosely) shows. Give us a break! — Lee Ann
Matt Roush: The failure of The Whole Truth has nothing to do with reality TV, and as convenient as it might be to blame reality shows for everything that annoys you on TV, it's just not the case. This show probably would have failed in any regard. ABC put it up against two other courtroom dramas: one that's part of a franchise (LOLA), another (The Defenders) that's perfectly geared to its network's target audience and with a Vegas setting that feels more escapist than the norm. The Whole Truth, despite its gimmick of giving you the skinny on who was actually guilty or innocent, was too generic to stand out. And I always felt that by splitting the show so schematically and frenetically between defense and prosecution, it was hard to develop much of a rooting interest for either side. At times, the back-and-forth ping-pong felt so superficial that I wondered if I was watching a trailer for a legal drama. The bottom line on the failure of a show like this: The ratings were terrible and there was no media groundswell to support it. You don't even need a third strike to be out with those odds.
Question: [In last week's Ask Matt, Castle's executive producer welcomed fan suggestions of who should replace the late Stephen J. Cannell at the crime writers' poker table when the time comes. Here are a few early responses.] I think Castle should add Nora Roberts to the poker-playing table. The woman publishes a new novel every other day, which will not only make Castle look bad, but may actually put her in the lead of all the writers at the table; I'd love to see a strong woman get the best of those boys. Plus her romance novel background can have her giving advice to Castle, which he then takes too literally and screws everything up. Love it! — Laura
Matt Roush: Does Nora Roberts really publish more frequently than James Patterson? Hard to imagine. (Unless, like Patterson, Nora farms her name out to other writers. But I digress.) But otherwise, fun idea.
And here's a few suggestions, minus elaboration, from Sherree: "Kathy Reichs (Bones series), Carol O'Connell (Kathy Mallory series), Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series as well as others), John Sandford (Prey and Virgil Flowers series), J.A. Jance (J.P. Beaumont and Joanna Brady series), Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar series)." Some good picks here, but it seems unlikely Kathy Reichs would spend time with another fictional sleuth, as she's already committed to one over on Fox.
Question: Any sign that Law & Order: SVU will end? Please tell me it will. From teens on up, the behaviors are creepy and most women feel violated by this. It is like being a voyeur to a physical and emotional violation of women. We have concluded that the only people glued to this show would be those persons who enjoy the "improper" side of all the content. Get my drift? I had not watched for some time and now the show is worse. Please tell me it will end. — Barb
Matt Roush: There's no question SVU deals with sordid material, week in and week out, but is it really worse these days than before? Maybe at times more ludicrous, I'll give you that. Your question is well-timed, though, because this appears to be a pivotal year for the series, with its longtime show-runner leaving after this season, just as the contracts for Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni once again are up for renewal. My colleague Ileane Rudolph recently put all of this in perspective, and it really does seem to hinge on whether the stars will choose to return for a 13th (!) year. My gut tells me NBC's new leadership will do whatever it takes to keep this around for at least another cycle or two as the network tries once again to rebuild. But whatever happens, the show's long-established cringe-inducing content is not going to be the issue.
Question: A question that's simple and weighty all at once: Would you have any hesitation about calling Friday Night Lights one of the best TV shows ever? I ask this while acknowledging that too many people are quick to slap the "Best Ever" label on a show simply because it's their favorite, seldom recognizing that popularity and quality are often two very different things. (Lost was one of the rare examples of a show that was both a water-cooler hit and a true creative, artistic achievement.) But with FNL, I'm talking quality and art. I think FNL does merit that best-ever label. In my late 30s, I'm a bit too young to be really familiar with some of the other shows that many label as classics and "Best Ever:" Hill Street Blues, All in the Family, M*A*S*H. But Friday Night Lights, for the skill and obvious love with which it is written, shot, acted, and produced; and for its quality and its humanity, has got to make the list of the best, most artistic and most well-done TV ever made, wouldn't you agree? And as a side note, what are your thoughts on the current, final season, if you've been watching? I think it's already shaping up as the show's best, most heartfelt year, and we're not even at the halfway point yet. Looking forward to a back half that will surely be emotion-filled as we visit with former, returning characters for the final time and say goodbye to the Taylors for good. — Travis
Matt Roush: There is definitely a place in TV's hall of fame for Friday Night Lights. Few shows have captured family and American life with so much authenticity of place and spirit and moved us so much while telling these stories of coming of age, marriage, leadership, responsibility, friendship. If there's anything keeping it off the top tier of the classics you mention above, it's that the show's quality was not matched by popular success, so its impact on TV isn't likely to be as significant. Which doesn't make our affections for the show any less valid. That said, this hasn't been my favorite season — at least not yet. (That may change when we see how they go about wrapping things up. The emotions are already churning.)
[SPOILER ALERT for those unable to watch right now] Julie's misadventures at college in particular felt like something from a more conventional show — it's one thing to watch her make mistakes, even (sigh) sleeping with a TA, but to have the hysterical wife shriek, "Julie Taylor is a slut!" is something I wish I'd never seen. Or, more to the point, might expect to see on a show like Life Unexpected. But the family aftermath once Julie comes home? Classic FNL. As is much of the business involving these East Dillon characters. Just look at how Billy Riggins — and Mindy, for that matter — have evolved into something approaching role models, at least where poor Becky is concerned. Such a great show. I know I'm not ready to let it go.
Question: I have loved Parenthood ever since the show began, and the past few episodes have really been strong: heartwarming with a mix of humor, drama and all the family issues we have experienced at one point or another. The cast is fantastic and the pace of the episodes is just perfect. It doesn't drag along like other dramas on TV. I know the show doesn't come back until March, but with the ratings not doing well, what are the chances of it being renewed for next season? Also, I would like your opinion in that is there really no place for family-oriented quality dramas on network TV? From Friday Night Lights to Parenthood to even Eli Stone, it seems that nothing really lasts. Quite disheartening if you ask me. — Kiks
Matt Roush: First to clarify something I've seen reported incorrectly elsewhere: Parenthood isn't off the air until March. It's scheduled to return in January with new episodes in its regular Tuesday slot, then it disappears in February and will return in March on a new night: Monday. Confusing, yes, and probably not the best news for the show's potential to build an audience. Haven't a clue about its chances for renewal, because there are so many variables, including new management at NBC, and who knows what shows will muster favor by next May.
Regarding the bigger-picture question: It is a constant puzzlement to me how often people say they want more shows on TV that reflect who we are and how we live—as opposed to how we die, most often violently. But then the audience simply doesn't support these sorts of shows. It may be because this new breed of family drama rarely sugarcoats things, and what people really want in their TV is escapism. (Or, judging by what flies on a channel like ABC Family, glossy junk food.) So yes, it is disheartening. I'm not nearly as big a fan of Parenthood as I am of Friday Night Lights, but even so, it's the kind of show I wish network TV were more hospitable towards.
That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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