Ask Matt: Thrones Unspoiled, Nurse Jackie, Mad Men, Orphan Black
Game of Thrones
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Question: So I was watching two shows I really like this week coming to the end of their seasons. The first, Orphan Black, is not so well known, though I expect that is in the process of changing. The other, Game of Thrones, is very well known and discussed. I realized as I watched these shows, how little the first one has any type of spoilers and with the second, as well read and known as it is, that I hadn't had it spoiled for me prior to this episode. I have watched many shows both with and without knowing spoilers, and after watching Thrones, I'm almost convinced that I should never read about shows prior to watching them again. I was completely taken by surprise with the events in the episode and as a result it had a much more visceral impact on me than if I had known some of the things to come. Let's have more non-spoiler columns such as yours. — George
Matt Roush: Well, thanks. I am by nature spoiler-averse, preferring to experience things with the element of surprise — or in the case of Thrones, shock and dismay — intact. (Although with Thrones, I read the first three books years before HBO began filming them, so I knew what was coming — and in writing that weekend's TV roundup, hesitated even calling attention to the episode, but figured putting it in context to pivotal penultimate episodes of past seasons was the way to go.) Knowing in advance that characters (even if unnamed in leaked teasers) are going to die or hook up or whatever seems such a self-defeating way to approach the medium. That said, not every piece of information or reporting about a show should be construed as a spoiler. I don't mind reading set pieces and producer/actor interviews in advance of a season or even season finale if the intention is to put the show and its characters in context as long as they don't give too much away — because then what would be the point of watching? Same goes for reviewing, which is my job as critic. I'm often writing about shows based on advance screeners throughout a season, careful not to spoil crucial events while also giving my opinion when possible of episodes that I feel are particularly "must-see." I'd like to think that enhances the experience rather than spoils it.
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Question: I've been catching up with this season of Nurse Jackie and I think it's a strong one. It's logically lightened up (for this show) as Jackie deals with recovery and the new guy in her life, and at the same time, maybe seeing her daughter head down the same path she did. The changes in direction for the other characters and the new additions seem to be working, too. What are your thoughts?
And Mad Men is just having a very weird season. But I can't stop watching. I know you weren't altogether thrilled with it earlier in the season. What do you think now? — Miles
Matt Roush: Agreed on Nurse Jackie. I've really enjoyed this season, and Edie Falco's scenes with Adam Ferrara as her new cop love interest have been particularly gratifying and enjoyable. There's still enough drama and trauma to keep things interesting on the home and work front, but I'm glad it hasn't been a total downer and that the show is making Jackie's process of recovery neither miraculous nor hopeless. Morris Chestnut won me over immediately as the tough new ER chief, and I may even be warming up to the season's strangest character, the bizarre and horrifyingly under-qualified sexpot doctor played by Betty Gilpin. (Her scenes with the mystified Coop always make me laugh.) On balance, a lighter Jackie may actually be a better Jackie. Very happy that Showtime renewed it for a sixth year.
Mad Men is another story. I've never been this disappointed and disengaged with the show, which has felt so pretentiously heavy-handed for much of the season. But just when you think you've reached your limit, an episode like the one with Don and Betty at Bobby's summer camp comes along to remind you how wonderful Mad Men can be. It's still woefully uneven, and as much as I enjoyed last week's escapade with Joan trying to subvert procedure while the firm is in post-merger disarray, I found the Hollywood-in-the-'60s party scenes to be about as subtle in its forced hallucinatory grooviness as a lesser Blake Edwards picture. But like you, I wouldn't dream of not watching. Even when the show doesn't live up to my expectations, it's never ordinary.
Question: Any reason why BBC America edited the sex scenes between Sarah and Paul for the 10-episode Orphan Black marathon shown last weekend? Perhaps the time slots during Saturday afternoon? And I agree about Tatiana Maslany needing an Emmy nod. Also, Felix is the most fun gay character I've seen since Sean Hayes' role on Will & Grace. — Paul
Matt Roush: Your theory makes sense to me about the edited episodes airing outside of prime time — I watched most of this series on unedited screeners, and didn't watch the marathon, so can't speak with any authority on that issue — but yes one more time to Tatiana Maslany being recognized by anyone handing out nominations, and also to the shout-out for Felix (Jordan Gavaris), truly one of the show's secret weapons.
Question: What is your opinion on the will they/won't they dynamics on the NCIS franchise? I have enjoyed both the Tony/Ziva relationship on NCIS as well as the Kensi/Deeks relationship on NCIS: LA. But after eight years on NCIS Tony/Ziva has not shared their first "real" kiss, while after only four seasons we got to celebrate one for Kensi/Deeks. Since both shows have the same premise, why do you think the original NCIS is holding back on advancing the Tony/Ziva relationship in the same manner? I know a lot of shows cite Moonlighting as their reasoning, but I feel that shows like Castle proves it can work. — Cheryl
Matt Roush: There's a difference between a show like Castle, whose entire premise is built on a core relationship and calibrating the sexual-romantic tension from season to season, and an ensemble drama like the NCIS shows, where a different balancing act is required. I've often felt the mothership's show runners have kept Tony and Ziva on a very slow burn so they don't overwhelm and take over the show with a workplace love story. I'm not a regular NCIS: LA watcher (my rule: one is enough for almost any franchise), but Kensi and Deeks aren't nearly as central to the action as Tony and Ziva are in their world, so there's less risk involved in moving their relationship forward. That's just my theory, but it makes sense to me. And for what it's worth, no one really believes in the Moonlighting curse. It's all about the execution.
Question: I am still grieving over the end of Southland. Will any of the writers, actors, etc. receive any awards for their work? I especially was impressed with Gerald McRaney's performance in the last season. Unforgettable. — Yvonne
Matt Roush: McRaney and Michael Cudlitz, powerful indeed. Southland was rightfully awarded a Peabody this year, and Cudlitz and Regina King are nominated in the supporting categories at Monday's Critics' Choice TV Awards (from the Broadcast TV Journalists Association), so maybe there's hope that the Emmys will finally take notice before it's too late. But honestly, it would be a surprise. Not because of lack of merit, but because of Emmy myopia when it comes to low-rated shows that fail repeatedly to get on the voters' radar for whatever reason.
Question: To the list you recently published in TV Guide Magazine of short-lived series that were canceled too soon, I wish to add Honey West (1965-66), which just concluded a rerun cycle on MeTV. A female private eye was unusual to see in the mid-'60s, and Anne Francis played her to perfection. Sadly, the show was slotted opposite Gomer Pyle, USMC, which killed it, it was filmed in black-and-white at a time when ABC and CBS were just starting to take the color plunge with selected series that season, and it was only 30 minutes long. I also feel that this series above all others is one that should be remade — in color and maybe an hour long, although the old half-hour length might work after all in this age of short attention spans. Maybe this time it could amass 100 episodes or more. Comments? — David
Matt Roush: How could I have forgotten Honey West? I have friends who are still obsessed by this show and character — and her pet ocelot, Bruce — and you're right that she's ripe for a reboot. (There have been rumors over the years, but so far nothing concrete.) I did remember one of her more contemporary descendants, Carla Gugino's sizzling U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco, but Honey West blazed the trail first and deserves to be remembered. Nice catch.
Question: Before we say a sad final farewell to the Smash-that-might-have-been (and a less-sad farewell to the Smash-that-actually-was), I'd like your thoughts on two things: One, what is your opinion of show runners filming most or all of a season's episodes before any of the episodes air? A lot went wrong with Smash, including utterly atrocious writing, but I think the show would have had a better chance if the people running it could have gotten feedback early on and fixed what was wrong before all of Season 1 aired. Then, essentially the same thing happened with Season 2. Artistically, maybe it shouldn't matter what the audience's feedback is. But realistically, if the goal is to keep a show on the air, I would think it would help. My second question: Do you think Smash's failure will mean that no one will dare do a similar show at some point in the near future? That would be a shame. Broadway and the live theater environment are so rich for storytelling, and the fact that Smash premiered to strong numbers indicates a significant interest in the topic. I just don't know if networks would now consider it too big of a risk. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: Smash is hardly alone in producing many of its episodes without benefit of feedback. Many midseason and cable series (with shorter runs produced well in advance of scheduling) operate this way, and you may be overestimating the ability or tendency of shows to course-correct in the midst of production. It does happen, of course (Nikki-Paolo on Lost, Kalinda's ex-husband on The Good Wife), but I'm not sure it would have had much impact on a production as ambitious and as flawed as Smash. Your second question is more intriguing to me, as I've heard this fear expressed by talented producers, who often worry that if they fail at something as grand and different as Smash was intended to be, that it will stifle the networks' desire to try something on that scale again. It would be a shame, but I'd like to think that the pop-cultural impact of Glee, and even the lesser success of Nashville this season, demonstrates a desire and a market for musical comedy and drama. Let's see how the live broadcast of The Sound of Music does on NBC during the holiday season. It may be that the next trend will be toward big musical productions and "event" specials, not mediocre backstage soaps. I'd be OK with that.
Question: So this fall Robin Williams makes his return to series TV, starring in the new sitcom The Crazy Ones. After seeing some of the clips of the show online, this show looks like a potential hit. I'm sure CBS is hoping it will be a hit as well, because pretty soon veteran sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother will be ending. So my question is: Do you think The Crazy Ones will be a hit for CBS? — Allan
Matt Roush: Hard to say at this point, and it's not like any of us have a crystal ball about such things. I've seen the entire pilot, and hoped for something a bit crazier and funnier, but that might be immaterial to the fact that snagging Robin Williams for a TV comeback is a big deal that will get a lot of attention and promotion. Airing on an expanded night of comedy that includes CBS' most dynamic hit, The Big Bang Theory, is another element that works in this show's favor for at least opening strong. And that's half the battle these days, just getting seen. Which I'm fairly sure won't be a problem for The Crazy Ones, at least initially.
Question: About a year ago, I discovered Friday Night Lights on Netflix and "binge watched" the entire series. As a result of all of the Kickstarter press, I have just now discovered Veronica Mars and am watching several episodes a night. I love both shows. They are both are "up my alley." I can't really believe I never watched when they were on the air. Both shows were also a critical success, but never a ratings success. People like me were the problem; I never got hooked when it would have been important to watch to keep the show on the air. And I'm clearly not the only one. I thought I would get your take. Is the problem that there is too much to choose from on TV, did the marketers for these shows just fall down on the job, or something else? — Carrie
Matt Roush: The clutter of modern-day TV may contribute to keeping many shows from finding an audience during their initial run, but sometimes it's probably just as much a matter of perception. When Friday Night Lights was on NBC its first two seasons, it was hard to convince people that it was about more than just high-school football. By the time it moved to DirecTV and the industry began to take notice, its limited distribution and confusing second-run broadcast pattern on NBC still gave it the feel of a marginal cult item. I'm glad to think it's enjoying a rebirth on platforms like Netflix. Same for Veronica Mars, which aired on the most niche of broadcast networks (UPN and then The CW for its final season) and despite critical acclaim was unable to cross over to the mainstream, most likely because of the perception that it was just another teen drama, albeit with a mystery hook. I wouldn't demonize the networks or blame the marketing execs for failing to turn these tough sells into hits. After all, Veronica got three seasons (and soon a movie), and thanks to DirecTV, Friday Night Lights miraculously made it to five. So it's possible to see these as success stories, and the fact that they're available to be discovered by new audiences all the time only adds to their legend.
Question: I have found One Life to Live on Hulu and really enjoy these characters again. However, I'm having a problem with knowing when to expect a new episode. Is it just one episode a week? The last one listed as I write this is Chapter 5, Part 2 and it was shown originally on May 30. It is now June 4 and there is no new episode yet. What is the schedule? — Dana
Matt Roush: Color me confused as well. But here's the situation. Shortly after the revivals of One Life to Live and All My Children began to be released online, the schedule changed from four new episodes per show a week to only two, with Life posting new episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with AMC on Mondays and Wednesdays. And now a labor dispute is forcing an early production hiatus through August, although enough episodes apparently are in the can to keep the schedule on track through the summer.
Question: I thought Crossbones was supposed to be a midseason replacement. What happened? — Laura
Matt Roush: It still is as far as I know. It may not be on the fall grids you're looking at, but NBC released a tentative midseason lineup — and it's best never to trust those, because so much can change once the new season gets underway — and Crossbones is currently slated to air on Fridays after Grimm in the new year (probably after the Winter Olympics, during which time it can be hyped to a huge audience).
Question: In this week's TV Guide Magazine, there is a story on the winners and losers of the recent TV season. The X Factor is once again pronounced a loser, yet it is renewed for a third season. Does Simon Cowell have a no-cancellation contract for this show? How many more years does he get to turn this piece of crap into a winner? — Frank
Matt Roush: At least one. And that makes two too many. Not only does this show not work, and it hasn't from the start, but it effectively helped hasten the demise of American Idol on the same network. But in a time of lowered expectations across the board in the world on network TV, it still draws a younger audience than Fox could likely achieve in the same time periods with scripted shows, so X lives on by default, because there's no other reason to keep it going.
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