Ask Matt: Frozen Planet, NCIS, Southland, Alcatraz and More
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Question: I am in awe! There is not much TV can do to shock me anymore (I'm a very jaded 33), but the quality of Discovery's Frozen Planet is just above and beyond anything I have come to expect on television. From the production quality to the musical scores to Alec Baldwin's narration, this is easily the best documentary series I have ever seen. I applaud the way this series has been executed and, more importantly, promoted and received by the public. Hopefully some network suit will be paying attention and realize that you don't need celebrities in rehab doing fear factor stunts or else having Donald Trump fire them to get ratings. Just an amazing job all around. — Chip
Matt Roush: Wouldn't it be nice if the networks could expand their definition of "reality" to something a bit more uplifting and illuminating every now and then. Frozen Planet is so impressive, and if you enjoy the way this series has been executed, then by all means — and I can't recommend this highly enough — be sure and watch the "Making Of" episode that airs this Sunday (April 8, 8/7c), in which they go behind the scenes so we can marvel at the ingenuity of the technology and especially at the dedication of these filmmakers who can spend weeks and months capturing these images and behaviors. Productions like this (and before it, Planet Earth and Life) are among the best reasons to have a TV, not to mention High-Def.
Question: Can't tell you how much I am enjoying Jamie Lee Curtis on NCIS. How rare and wonderful to see a TV leading man like Mark Harmon paired with a woman not young enough to be his daughter. You can clearly see how much the two enjoy playing off each other, and I like the idea of a female character that is Gibbs' match in every way: sharp, pushy and with her own set of secrets. And they both look great with grey hair. I'm curious: With the addition of Sean Astin as her sidekick, is there a possibility these episodes are serving as a backdoor pilot (NCIS PSIOPS?), or is it just following in the show's tradition of having a good stock of reoccurring characters to draw from? I also think the fact that I'm so interested in Jethro Gibbs' potential new girlfriend reinforces what a great show NCIS is. Never too flashy, but consistently good over a long period of time. I remember back in the pre-DVR days turning away from the Season 2 finale of American Idol to see the NCIS pilot that was contained within an episode of JAG because I wanted to see Mark Harmon, and ever since the show debuted it's been one that I don't like to miss. — Cynthia
Matt Roush: There's something to be said for consistency and for satisfying the audience, and those are as good explanations as any for NCIS' enduring success. Jamie Lee Curtis has been a terrific addition this season, and her chemistry with Harmon has been great fun. But I'd like to see her (and Astin) remain recurring players as part of the wide world of NCIS and not risk overextending the franchise more than it already has. For now, I don't think we have anything to worry about.
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Question: I couldn't agree with you more about Southland. Incredibly good show that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. This season was wonderful, especially the addition of Lucy Liu. I have only one issue and wonder what your take on it is: For me, the center of the show was the relationship between Cooper and Sherman, which climaxed last season with Sherman forcing Cooper to get the help he needed. So I was looking forward to seeing the evolution of their relationship once John was out of rehab. But I don't think they had a single scene together this season (and no, the roll call scenes don't count). That omission has left me emotionally unsatisfied with this season. — Purduette
Matt Roush: If the former partners had a significant scene together this season, I missed (or forgot) it. This is an interesting and legitimate point to raise, but it never struck me as terribly odd that they would move on to new (and very interesting) partnerships and not spend time rehashing the bad old days, especially considering how unsentimental and aloof Cooper in particular can be on the job. But some acknowledgement of their past history would be good for them and for viewers who've invested so much in their story. Maybe next season, if Sherman continues his psychological downward spiral, his new partner Sammy will turn to Cooper for help, in effect returning the favor for Sherman's wake-up call the previous season. That would be good drama, and it would be good to see Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz play off each other again, I agree.
Question: Regarding The Killing, the next most potent mystery question to answer after "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" is "why did people think the killer would be revealed in the last episode of Season 1?" Assuming that no one person at the network or involved with the show ever made such a promise or suggestion, maybe the real "killer" of people's expectations for the show was the AMC promotion. I objected to their style of promotion from the beginning, anyway — the whole "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" question that the commercials and promos touted is actually pretty stupid, if you ask me. This show is obviously not just a "whodunit." Despite the show's flaws, as you yourself have said, it can be a compelling character and mood study. The killer is not the point — "the killing" and what it has done to the characters is the point. But the commercials and promos turned the whole thing into a shallow "Who shot JR?" or "Who killed Laura Palmer?" thing (the latter another question that should not have defined the show). Even the AMC website features seemed to trivialize the show. (I seem to remember the promos encouraging people to explore Rosie's bedroom on the website for clues!) So my question is, who do you think is the real culprit here? Where did these expectations come from? Was it AMC's own ham-fisted, offbase trivializing of the show at fault, do you think? — Tom
Matt Roush: In the aftermath of the flap over last season's finale, the AMC execs pretty much fell on their sword, apologizing for not having managed expectations better. Implicit in that is the acknowledgement that selling the first season so stridently as a whodunit led many people to conclude they'd get a traditional end-of-season payoff. Thanks for clarifying one point so effectively: that The Killing isn't about a killer but about the impact of the killing of Rosie Larsen on a family, a community and on the law enforcement investigating this very complex case.
Question: I honestly laugh 'til I cry watching Last Man Standing. Tim Allen is hilarious. Nancy Travis is smart and clever and vulnerable. The two of them and their banter is excellent in chemistry. The three daughters are infinitely more funny and interesting than were his three sons on his last sitcom. My question is, of course, what do you think are the chances of this show being renewed? — Tim
Matt Roush: How does 100 percent sound to you?
Question: I really liked Alcatraz and was surprised the ratings were so low. Do you think maybe that Fox will move it to Fridays and have it take over Fringe's spot, or maybe if they renew Fringe for another season, they might put the two together on Fridays? That would seem like a good pair together on Fridays. — William
Question: I enjoyed the season finale of Alcatraz, even though obviously there were more questions than answers, but since it is coming from many of the same people who gave us Lost, I was expecting that. I read that ratings were the lowest for the Alcatraz finale; does this mean the second season does not seem as promising as before? — Mike
Matt Roush: In addressing these Alcatraz questions, I'm reminded of Fox's decision last spring to drop The Chicago Code, Lie to Me and Human Target in one fell swoop, surprising a lot of people who felt the network might keep at least one of these crime and/or action dramas around as a backup. Now we're in the same boat with Fox's big swing in the mystery-fantasy genre this season. Terra Nova is already extinct, which many initially thought opened the door for Alcatraz to stick around. But given the way that show was trending downward in its later weeks, both creatively (to me) and more objectively in the ratings, I'd be surprised if it returns at this point, especially for more than another 13-episode run. The idea of pairing Alcatraz and Fringe on Fridays may work thematically, but it seems more likely if both shows survive, that each would have reduced episode orders and share the time period. The jury's still out on Touch as well, to see how it fares on nights when all the Thursday competition is new. I still think Fringe has a shot at coming back for one more season to wrap things up, especially if Warner Bros. makes it worth Fox's while, but beyond that, I fear we're in for a period of wait-and-see until May.
Question: People who say Syfy should pick up Fringe if Fox cancels it evidently don't watch anything on Syfy. While I enjoy some Syfy shows, I don't think that Fringe would fit with the rest of their programming in the least, not to mention the much higher budget, which they surely don't have. I get more annoyed than I probably should when people immediately suggest that a cable network should pick canceled shows, but I wanted to share a couple of theories where it could actually work and make sense. When watching The Finder, which will hopefully find a good audience on Fridays as well as make a better lead-in for Fringe than Kitchen Nightmares, I can't help but think that it would make a perfect addition to USA's lineup if Fox decides not to renew it. It's a procedural, has quirky characters, a background mythology of sorts, and perfect "blue skies."
Then with NBC's Awake, which I'm enjoying immensely, I can't help but think of the scenario with Southland a couple of years ago where it did all right on NBC, but then (in a rare case) got picked up by cable network TNT because it was too "dark" for network TV. I feel like it's the kind of high concept and (guessing) not terribly expensive show that could really thrive and find a niche audience on a cable network. I know enough about the TV industry to know that these scenarios are highly unlikely, but just wanted to send them your way and see what you thought. — Alex
Matt Roush: I'm not sure about the cost factor on these shows, but you're not the first to suggest that The Finder has the look and feel of the USA Network model. Awake also has "cable" written all over it, but perhaps too offbeat and murky for TNT's brand. (Southland being an exception with its gritty realism.) Playing this game, I'd peg Awake as more suitable for AMC or FX, but as you noted, if neither of these shows make the cut for next season, it's a stretch to think any cable network would come to the rescue.
Question: Is it too late for Smash to be "fixed" yet this season? Are all the first-season episodes finished? I ask because while it's great that they're making some behind-the-scenes changes next season (and yay! to a second season), they're going to lose Smash's audience before then if they don't fix the show soon. I've read a lot of critics' reactions to this show, and fans' reactions, and basically everyone agrees on the solutions: Dump the boring subplots that aren't related to the show, focus in on Marilyn's creation and the relationships of the people putting the show together, get rid of Ellis and give the main characters some depth, something beyond Ivy equals bad, Karen equals good. Oh, and please drop anything aimed at iTunes. But can the show be fixed quickly, and do you think it needs new writers? This show has so much potential and some really great elements, especially the friendships involving Tom — with Ivy, Julia, even Derek. But you have to seek out those parts because they're mired in so much junk. I'm in it for the long haul for a show that I think could be great. But I doubt everyone feels that way. Thanks again. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: This season? Yes, it is too late for Smash to right itself at this point and address the issues that viewers and critics have been griping about in recent weeks. By the time it premiered — and this is one of the risks for midseason shows that have the majority of their work in the can by the time it premieres — Smash was very far along in production (I seem to remember some early promos teasing last week's "Touch Me" number, which tells you how far ahead they were). The best hope for Smash in the second season is to look at the first season (as I've previously said) as a very high-profile "workshop," or maybe even the equivalent of an out-of-town tryout — and wouldn't that be a good way to launch the next season, putting all those problematic and annoying characters who have nothing to do with Marilyn on the back burner — and focus on doing a show about the show. Before the show aired, NBC was worried that a musical drama about the Broadway process would be too limiting. As it turned out, the only part of Smash anyone wants to see is precisely that show.
Question: I had such high hopes for Smash since I watched the great premiere, and while I feel like the sudden critical hate for the show is over the top, the poor writing has really let it down. My biggest disappointment is how they have written Karen. I thought Katharine McPhee was wonderful in the pilot episode, and is not without talent in the acting department. She comes across very naturally to me. However, recently she seems to be being dragged down by the terrible things they are doing to her character. Actually that would imply the writers doing something with her character, but they're doing nothing! It's a disservice to McPhee and to Karen. We're being led to believe that Karen could be the next big Broadway star — well, why not show us this by having her actually sing a Broadway tune, instead of giving McPhee the thankless sing-a-pop-song side plot each week? (Love "Shake It Out," though!) But this is a problem with most of the characters — just how poorly they have been written, and for me it's the biggest problem with the show. Just wondering your thoughts on the writing and characterization, and how it can be improved for Season 2? — Joanna
Matt Roush: Sparing everyone another lengthy rehash on the various detours that turned Smash into Smush (Julia's family, Julia's affair, Ellis, Karen's boyfriend's job prospects, Eileen's daughter, the $7 martini), I will simply agree with you that turning Karen into the Blaine of Smash hasn't been a success, either — spotlighting her in one non-sequitur situation after another, giving her a big pop song in hopes of luring a crossover crowd. Smash is about Broadway. Let her sing something from Spring Awakening, for crying out loud.
Question: Several weeks ago, CBS announced shows that it was renewing. CSI: Miami was not listed. Then I read an article stating that Eva La Rue is out of her contract and free and clear as an actress to pursue other acting gigs. This would not happen if actors were being re-signed to Miami, which essentially states categorically that CBS has canceled Miami. They just haven't issued a press release to the effect. Unless Eva's character gets killed off in the season finale scheduled for April 8, it is probably only days away before I start reading about other Miami actors going on to their next gigs. If Miami has been truly been canceled, then telling fans of the show that the next Miami is the season finale is a slap in the face to the intelligence of its audience. Why is Eva La Rue free to go on to other acting gigs if she weren't freed from her CBS contract? — Dean
Matt Roush: I don't know the specifics involving Eva La Rue, but if she's pursuing new work without regard to CSI: Miami's uncertain fate, then it's possible she's either leaving the show and/or being written out. Or, which seems even more likely, she'd hedging her bets, and who can blame her? At this time of year during pilot season, when an actor does a pilot before his or her show has been officially canceled, the pilot is usually in "second position" to their role on the ongoing series, and if the show they're already on gets picked up, the role in the pilot would need to be recast. That doesn't appear to be the case here, because the reports I've seen indicate La Rue's role in the ABC comedy pilot starring Mandy Moore is in "first position." But it's also a "guest" role for now, which could become a series regular should she choose. The speculation has been brewing for a while that one or both of the CSI spinoffs are living on borrowed time, but CBS isn't likely to make the call on renewal or cancellation until May. They don't make these decisions lightly. And with CSI: Miami's finale scheduled to air so early, billing it as a "season" rather than "series" finale isn't a slap in the face to anyone. It's the way business is done. Miami hasn't been canceled yet. And the Moore sitcom hasn't been picked up yet. So all of this could be moot in a matter of weeks.
Question: Why did they introduce a new character/lawyer on Fairly Legal this year? He's annoying and obnoxious (not charismatic). Maybe if the writers toned him down some, he would be more tolerable. The show was better last year without him. — Katy
Matt Roush: Why? To give Kate someone new to play off of, not an uncommon occurrence for a show entering its second season. But I tend to agree with you. This guy feels like he stumbled in from a bad David E. Kelley show.
Question: I am starting to feel like Detective Britten from Awake as I watch the two versions of Being Human this season. I am enjoying BBC America's version a lot more than I expected, considering that I was initially devastated by the deaths of George and Nina. I miss them and don't miss Mitchell, but I have really warmed up to the odd couple pairing of working-class slob werewolf Tom and aristocratic fastidious vampire Hal. They have provided a lot of tension and also some very humorous and endearing moments. While I generally prefer the BBCA version to Syfy's, there have been some really good episodes on Syfy's Being Human this season, especially the recent one with Sally trapped in a dream world by the Reaper, and Josh, Aidan and Zoe trapped in the house while urgently needing to leave. But as intense and satisfying as this episode was, when Josh offered to let Aidan feed from him, I was yelling at the TV to not do it.
On BBCA's Human, we had recently learned that werewolf blood is toxic to vampires, so Josh's blood should have killed Aidan or made him seriously ill at the very least. Instead, Aidan just said Josh's blood tasted strange and seemingly suffered few, if any, ill effects. After Syfy's version introduced purebred werewolves, I fully expected George and Nina's baby to also be a werewolf. (How else could a purebred werewolf be produced except by two werewolf parents?) When she turned out to be the prophesied non-werewolf war child, it was jarring and seemed to rule out the possibility of purebred werewolves on BBCA's version. Don't the false echoes between the shows bother you at least a little bit? These shows have the same title and premise, yet there are many pieces of the mythologies that don't work the same. Most of the time, the differences don't bother me, but if these pieces of mythology had been the same in both shows, the consequences could have been major. Do you suppose the two sets of producers ever communicate what they're planning to the others? Do you recall any other shows that had two versions running new episodes in the U.S. simultaneously? — Frank
Matt Roush: I'm wary of saying this has never happened, for an adaptation and an overseas original that's still in production airing here concurrently, but it is rare, and as you note, confusing. For me, the Syfy show improved greatly as it divorced itself from a slavish recreation of the source material. I'm not really bothered that the specifics of the supernatural mythologies don't always match up, because it tells me the Syfy version is trying to do its own thing, which includes making up its own rules (as every vampire/werewolf/witch/whatever show tends to do). What would be the point in watching a clone? I still prefer the BBCA version, finding it richer and deeper and better acted, and agree that it has successfully reinvented itself this season. But the Syfy version, from what I've seen, is also a better show this year. Just not the same show as BBCA's, and I'm OK with that.
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