Ask Matt: Fringe, The Killing, Justified, NCIS and More!
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Question: I don't understand why more people are not watching Fringe. I admit Season 1 was a bit rocky, but Season 2 was great, and so far this season has been the best, in my opinion. It's the only show that seems to fill The X-Files void for me. Last Friday's "LSD" episode was brilliant. I still crack up every time I picture the "How wonderful!" thought bubble above cartoon Walter. And how hilarious was tripping Broyles? He's the only character I've never liked on the show, because he's so rigid, but it was nice to see him loosen up a bit. Too bad it took a bad trip of LSD to do it. Anyway, I know it was renewed for a fourth season despite the poor ratings, but do you think that will be the end? I mean, how can they afford to keep such a low-rated show around?
On another note, I just wanted to thank you for turning me on to The Killing, which I probably never would have watched without your recommendation. I usually don't go for the dark, brooding style this show seems to have, but for some reason, I'm completely drawn in. And while I'm giving thanks, thanks again for turning me on to Justified last year. This season has been awesome. Is it just me, or is Raylan's boss Art one of the funniest characters ever? His "You're like the hillbilly whisperer. I think I'll put you on Oprah" line to Raylan had me rolling on the floor. — Camille
Matt Roush: Thanks for letting me get this week's column started on a positive note. There's so much terrific TV happening right now — can't believe Justified will be over after next week, but what a great ride that's been, and thanks for giving me a chance to throw an appreciative shout-out to Nick Searcy (Art), who brings such a sharp and understated wit to the often stock role of the exasperated boss. These last few weeks, as Art expresses his disappointment and distrust of Raylan in the wake of the Winona money debacle, we feel for Raylan because who wouldn't want Art's respect? (When I chatted with Searcy at an FX party recently, he told me the recent bit about Art's hearing aids came from him. They're real, and Searcy suggested to executive producer Graham Yost that they be worked into his story.)
Regarding Fringe: This is the very definition of a cult TV show, and we're long past the stage where they're making it easy for the casual observer (so to speak) to dip in and out. You have to commit fully to enjoy this one, and it's not getting any easier to find and hold those kinds of viewers. Like Chuck, which has always lived on the bubble, Fringe can't honestly expect to grow its audience significantly at this point from season to season, so it will likely be living on a year-to-year basis. Clearly there's another full season's worth of story left in this premise, and who knows where next week's season finale will propel it. But Fox seems to appreciate the show for what it is, and probably knows it couldn't do any better on Fridays than what Fringe is doing (and we all wish it were doing better). But despite its ratings woes on a tough night, the show is generating great buzz, and my hope is that the producers and the network respect each other enough to make a mutual decision about when it's time to fold tent on this one, so a proper finale can be crafted. I'll be OK if the fourth year is the last if the creative types are all on board. I'd be even more thrilled if they can somehow make it work even longer.
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Question: When I heard that A.J. Cook was going back to Criminal Minds, I have to admit I was surprised. I'm glad she's back because the show wasn't the same without her. Overall, I think the situation with Cook shouldn't have happened in the first place. What do you think? — Allan
Matt Roush: Judging from the mail I have received throughout this entire season, from the fan's point of view this has been an unmitigated disaster. Took the show long enough to fix it, but they have, so score one for the fans.
Question: Is it just me, or is Jeremy Davies bringing his character of Charles Manson to Justified? I just can't get past thinking this is how Charlie would be leading the family in Kentucky. I thought Davies was great in Helter Skelter (but I must admit I like the original version better overall). This show keeps getting better and better. — David
Matt Roush: To be honest, I had completely forgotten about that 2004 remake (the original 1976 Helter Skelter TV-movie with Steve Railsback haunted me for years, and the new didn't measure up dramatically, though I remember Davies being just fine). And while Jeremy Davies' performance of Dickie does have a diabolical side — there's no forgiving what he did to Aunt Helen — there's much more pathos in this character, as he tries and fails to earn his fearsome mother's respect, as well as humor. But that's an interesting comparison, and thanks again for prompting me to praise another member of the wonderful Justified ensemble. (Are you listening, SAG Awards?) Much of this season, we've been justifiably raving about Margo Martindale's staggering work as Mags Bennett, but there are plenty of accolades to go around.
Question: I was just wondering what you thought the chances are for a Lie to Me renewal for fall. I know that Fox is planning on airing repeats of the show this summer; it seemed odd to me that they would air repeats of a show if they were going to cancel it. I don't know how the show has stacked up in comparison with the ratings of The Chicago Code, but I would like to think Fox could find a place for both shows on their fall schedule. Of course I know prime-time real estate is not always plentiful when it comes to deciding on which shows to keep. I'll keep my fingers crossed. — JG
Matt Roush: I'm fielding questions nearly every week about the future of Lie to Me, The Chicago Code and Human Target, and I wish I knew if any of these worthy shows will make the cut for Fox's schedule in May. (At this point, I'm most anxious about Chicago Code, but that could be a function of my being currently caught up in the ongoing season, while the others have been resting for a while.) None are what you'd call breakout hits, and given how crowded the fall season is going to be with The X Factor and Terra Nova (and, by many accounts, Alcatraz), there may not be room to carry any of these over. Hard to tell. One solution may be for the shows to produce shorter seasons of 13 episodes, the way Lie to Me and Human Target did this year — and Chicago Code as well, being a midseason entry — and either share time periods or be used as backup utility players when something fails (and something almost always does). It's possible that even if any of these shows do get renewed, we may not see them on the schedule in the fall. Again, hard to say.
Question: By this time next year the daytime dramas will be down to four. I was wondering how this impacts the Daytime Emmys. I know the event includes children's programming, talk shows and game shows (though that tends to be a depleted genre as well), but those tended to be the appetizer before the main course. I cannot imagine them nominating all four dramas, when realistically only one or two of them are consistently of high caliber. Is this the end of the Daytime Emmy Awards? Should the other shows just get absorbed into the nighttime Emmys and become part of the creative awards? Should the daytime actors compete in acting categories with the nighttime actors? — Brian
Matt Roush: All good questions, and there has been plenty of speculation about this in the wake of ABC's cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live, both shows having long been a presence at the Daytime Emmys. (Who will ever forget Susan Lucci's long losing streak, which ended after 19 nominations?) I don't have an answer, or a recommendation, about how the Daytime Emmys will handle soaps in the future, except to warn against anything that would make the prime-time Emmys even longer or more bloated. I would think even if there are only four (or fewer) soaps battling it out in future years, you could still keep the acting competition in the daytime arena. People watch these shows to see their favorite stars, after all. But how do you honor the relics of a fading institution? Beats me.
Question: Somehow until I read last week's "Ask Matt" column, I had no idea that my two soaps were ending. OMG!!! Like the other viewer, I have been watching these shows for 40-plus years. I can't believe this! It's almost like the death of a longtime close friend. Watching my recordings of these two shows every weekday has been a beloved ritual. What am I going to do?! I treat playing back my DVR recordings of TV shows as a reward after finishing my work for the day. Of course there are plenty of other shows I record, often too many to make the time to watch them! But that isn't the point. I have loved these ABC shows and their characters and plots for so long. Are the writers at least going to write some kind of ending for the shows to give viewers some sense of closure? Or will they just stop airing episodes right in the middle of all the story lines??? Also, what is the date they are scheduled to end? I'm kinda freaking out about this now! I will be in mourning for these shows I've watched since I was a teenager! I can't believe it. I know all good things must come to an end, but still. I'm so upset. HELP!!! — Gail
Matt Roush: Deep breaths, my friend. If there is an upside to any of this — and for the soap fan, I'm not sure there is — it's that the shows aren't vanishing immediately. All My Children won't sign off until September, and One Life to Live will stay on until the end of the year. (Its replacement show is due in January.) And according to ABC's announcement, "To honor the core, passionate audience and their rich history with our soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live will conclude each series in a manner that respects their legacies and the longstanding hopes of many of their viewers." So at the very least, expect closure. But I'm not sure how much that will actually soften the blow.
Question: I was wondering, why do you think NCIS has never been nominated for an Emmy? I think it is the best show on TV. I also do not understand why the actor who plays Tony and the one who plays Ziva have not been nominated. Tony was so great in the scene where they went to rescue Ziva. Everyone on this show is great and I watch the reruns over and over because I love the friendship and respect between the characters. I am also perplexed by Tony never being picked as most handsome for People magazine. He is, in my opinion, way cuter then the two guys from NCIS: LA. I really cannot get into that show. The lady in charge seems silly and them being lectured about clothes and money seems far-fetched. And the dark-haired girl that is supposed to be tough just does not make it as believable as Ziva. But I have been a fan of NCIS for a very long time so that may be why I cannot get into the new one. In general I never really liked the spin-off.
I also wanted to mention why I was not as happy with The Good Wife this season. I did not like the merger and the extra PI coming in and all the bad things he and the female PI did to each other. That was criminal and it just did not make sense. Second, all the people working in the office and then the takeover part... I like it best when Alicia was learning to be a lawyer again and the clients trusted her and she would find out something at the last minute. I would like to have seen her and Peter together more often and for her to commit to the relationship if she really was going to stay with him. But all the other stuff was distracting. — Cynthia
Matt Roush: The Emmys aren't really singling NCIS out, they just don't seem to pay attention to network crime dramas and the more formulaic procedurals in general. Their focus is more on shows that cut against the grain, that stand out by pushing the envelope and being different, even if by doing so they are considerably less popular than NCIS. (Most of this action is happening on cable, which has dominated the drama field in recent years.) And I couldn't agree more, generally, with your take on spin-offs. I have nothing against NCIS: LA specifically except that it is so undeniably unnecessary — although from CBS' point of view, it's an inevitability. And I understand what you're saying about The Good Wife, but your wishes for the show (that it remain locked in place as a legal procedural as Alicia learns the ropes and wins the day) are more simplistic than the shows' aims, even if the show you describe would likely get better ratings. You're not the only one who thought the battle between Blake and Kalinda went over the top too often, but for the most part, the intrigues in the office and in the political arena, and the ambivalence in the many professional and personal relationships, make The Good Wife a more compelling and unpredictable show than the CBS norm. And it's also why it's one of the few CBS shows that's a true Emmy contender.
Question: Why did Skeet Ulrich get killed off on the new TV show Law & Order: Los Angeles? I thought he was good on that show. — Judith
Matt Roush: The original LOLA was struggling to survive, and the only way for the show to make it — the odds on that are still iffy at best — was to shake things up and to do it quick. Dick Wolf's primary goal in the show's makeover was to put Alfred Molina front and center. (He never really seemed comfortable with letting Molina and Terrence Howard trade off every other week in the prosecution back half.) As preposterous as it seems for Molina to give up prosecuting to go back to the detective beat, Wolf seems to see it as a way to strengthen the front half with a more powerful actor providing a more marked contrast with Corey Stoll (whose wry approach I much preferred from the start to the more mannered Ulrich). I'm not convinced this fix will be enough to save LOLA. But to many, including apparently the network, Ulrich seemed to be the weakest link.
Question: I've seen almost every episode of Parenthood. I don't know why I keep watching, other than my great admiration for the cast. The writing, the stories they tell are extremely trying, obnoxious and aggravating. This show takes great actors you know and love and makes you dislike them. It's a reverse Friday Night Lights. I've seen the promos of people gushing over how real these people are, how much they relate to them, and I have to just dismiss them as NBC marketing department lies. They should change the name of the show to Family Shouting Matches. That's all they do. They make horrible mistakes, they scream about it and then make up in a forced, sappy conclusion.
Worst of all is Max. I have read just a few articles, of which there are many, on autism websites, just talking about how inaccurate, condescending and unrealistic the show's portrayal of autism is. They never show Max's perspective of things and he's always shown as a spoiled, tantrum-prone brat who is coddled and half-heartedly negotiated with. I know little about autism, but this show just makes me want to see the dads of TV's past and present to be awarded custody of Max to give him some tough love.
This most recent season non-finale was terribly absurd, especially the bits about Sarah's play, as you pointed out on your Twitter feed. How does a play go from the first table read to opening night in the span of a couple days? They spent like three episodes on that school play Crosby and Joel were putting together. Not to mention Amber going from disoriented from waking up in the hospital to walking around with just her arm in a sling in the same amount of time. In the words of our President: Do they think we're stupid? This show was an absolute train wreck and I hope that was the last episode so these great actors can find themselves with better jobs sooner than later, probably with a less weird vehicle to showcase Mae Whitman's musical talent. Thanks for reading the rant. — Gene
Matt Roush: I'll be surprised if your rant doesn't get under the skin of maybe Parenthood fans — not an itch I'm particularly eager to scratch, but you do bring up some good points. From the creative POV, I also tend to find Parenthood more aggravating than enlightening or moving, and because it represents a neglected genre (the family drama) that I usually try to embrace, I find myself torn when I think about this show. I agree that the exceptional cast almost always rises above the material, but my problem is with the material. Even by the standards of a domestic soap opera, I find the Bravermans' conflicts so contrived (Adam's workplace issues, Sarah flirting with the boss, Sarah being discovered as a playwright, Crosby sleeping with Max's caregiver and groveling to get Jasmine back) that I can feel the beats coming from start to finish of many episodes. When Amber got rejected from college, I cringed knowing we'd have to watch her hit bottom and scream at her mom and smoke and drink and have careless sex and do drugs until she's in some bad accident that rallies the family together. And yet, the scene of Zeek taking her to the auto junkyard was very well played (by both Craig T. Nelson and Mae Whitman) and manipulated the proper emotional response from me.
But where I part company is in your dismissal of the Max storyline. I am aware it's controversial in the autism and Asperger's communities, but there is authentic drama as we see the impact this boy's condition has on his immediate family — Peter Krause and Monica Potter are never better than when confronting their frustration, confusion and terror at parenting Max — and on the family at large (Zeek yelling at Max's appalling insensitivity in the hospital waiting room). Like much of the rest of Parenthood, these scenes aren't always easy to sit through, but unlike much of the rest of Parenthood, I feel we're seeing something that's risky and new for a family drama.
Finally, despite your rant and my qualms, Parenthood is pretty much assured another season. The audience isn't huge, but it does OK in the right demos, and it helps that it's on a network with as many problems as NBC.
Question: I'd like to refer to a favorite saying of Roger Ebert's: It's not what something is about, but how it's about it. A show or movie can have every stock character in the world, but if they are well-written, well-acted and part of an interesting story, then their show or film will also be interesting. Simply having a few tropes is not what makes a show clichéd. If The Killing kept falling back on clichés in lieu of actually moving the story forward, then yeah, Bill's criticism from last week's "Ask Matt" column would be more legitimate. However, refusing to look past basic character descriptions as opposed to actually examining the characters, and dismissing the show as clichéd, makes about as much sense as judging a book by its cover (to use an old cliché).
As for the other set of criticisms, well, that's more of a case of "take it or leave it." However, I think we'd have learned by now from Lost that great TV is so much more than nitpicking little details at the expense of the larger story. The Killing is a moody, evocative piece of weekly noir storytelling. I honestly couldn't care less about a few continuity errors or minor logical leaps. (PS: I'm not saying that everyone has to like The Killing. Some critiques, however, hold more water than others. Even hypnotic rain water.) — John
Matt Roush: A fair rejoinder. And also timely, as I'm getting a lot of questions lately asking which of the new pilots in development for next season seem to have the most promise. My answer: There's really no way to know until you see it. (I also think it's a fallacy to judge something purely off a script.) It's all about execution, casting, tone — and, of course, the writing. But something that sounds incredible on paper could easily be a pretentious or off-putting dud. And something that sounds like a show you've seen a million times before could be revelatory when you see it on film. The Killing doesn't sound exceptional. But once you start watching, its intensity and mood set it apart from every other crime drama on TV. Wait till you see next Sunday's episode. It's breathtaking.
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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