Ask Matt: Glee, Sons of Anarchy, Fringe, Revolution, Dance, and More
Chris Colfer, Lea Michele
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Question: I am so mixed about the new Glee. I really like the New York storyline. I love seeing Rachel and Kurt's adventure and growth in the big city. It seems like a breath of fresh air compared to the mundane life in Ohio. It seems the Ohio storyline is just recycling old storylines with carbon copies of old characters. Do you think Glee will just abandon McKinley altogether after this season, because I don't think I can handle another season of the Glee Club trying to go to Nationals. — Lauren
Matt Roush: I'm liking this season of Glee quite a bit so far, but I'm beginning to feel your ambivalence, not unlike Mr. Schue's own difficulty staying engaged in last week's episode. I have high hopes for this week's "Break Up" episode, in part because it promises to move some of these stories forward, shedding some of the past years' baggage. Despite much skepticism, it turns out that folding the New York spin-off inside the actual series has paid off in revitalizing the show, though it has made some of the been-there storylines like the latest student election feel awfully passé. That said, I'm encouraged by some of the new characters at McKinley, especially Melissa Benoist as Marley, who's not so much the "new Rachel" as she is a less strident version of a new leading lady. (No knock against Rachel; I'm not one of the haters.) And I don't think Glee will ever abandon its roots as a different kind of high school musical. The challenge will be to make a next generation's coming-of-age as compelling as what's happening to the graduates out in the "real world." (Or as real as a world can be that has fabulous creatures like Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker interacting as tormentors or mentors.)
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Question: Will Sons of Anarchy ever get nominated for a best drama Emmy? Or any other Emmys for that matter? The acting is superb and the writing just blows me away, but they never seem to get much love. Is it because Kurt Sutter is so outspoken or something else? — Steph
Matt Roush: I looked it up, and so far, Sons has only been nominated once — for its main-title music. That is absurd, and this is coming from someone who's only really warmed up to the show the last few seasons as it is finally facing the tragic consequences of its characters' monstrous ways. Still, the likelihood of this show ever making it into the top category seems remote, given the surplus of great drama on basic and premium cable — not to mention a few network standouts trying to force their way in every so often. Sons of Anarchy is an outlaw show and is treated as such, as much of an outsider to the Emmy party as if it were a sci-fi series (hello, Fringe). It's also often very tough to watch — last week's episode with the horrifically graphic demise of Opie a case in point — and it purposefully lacks a veneer of sophistication or irony that might make it more palatable to the Emmy hoi polloi. I don't really see Sons' lack of Emmy love as a response to Kurt Sutter's outrageousness on Twitter or his blog or wherever else he chooses to vent, although I'm sure it doesn't help. Sometimes the Emmy voters just can't look past the scruffy surface or the preconceptions of genre to see the good work being done (by Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, etc.).
Question: Jon Cryer winning an Emmy in both the lead and supporting categories for the same role is quite an accomplishment. Is it more impressive than the fact that Valerie Harper (the brilliant Rhoda) is the only actor or actress in TV history to win an Emmy in the lead and supporting categories for an original series and its spin-off while playing the same character? And, by the way, isn't it a shame that Harper is not in the Television Hall of Fame? — Joe
Matt Roush: There's still time for Valerie, I'd think (and hope), but in terms of comparison, there's no comparison. Rhoda was the epitome of a great supporting character who was able to carry her own spin-off to glory, reminding us how everything that touched the brilliance of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was golden. No slight intended toward Jon Cryer, who's a terrific physical comedian, but the fact that he submitted himself as a supporting player when he was actually a co-lead was more of a strategic ploy (which paid off) to better his Emmy chances during the years he operated in the shadow of Charlie Sheen. Cryer's win this year was a surprise, and to many (including just about every critic I've read) not a pleasant one, but it's a reminder that the Emmy voters aren't so in thrall anymore to the single-camera form of comedy and sometimes respond to a big belly-laugh, regardless of how low it aims (and it rarely aims lower than Two and a Half Men). It was also something of a reward for his having survived one of the most bizarre and catastrophic transformations any modern sitcom has endured. But is Alan Harper likely to endure in the pop-cultural pantheon with the same fondness and longevity as Rhoda Morgenstern? Don't make me laugh.
Question: I asked you about this last spring before Fringe was renewed for its final season and you responded that you too liked last year's one episode that fast-forwarded to the year 2036 and completely changed the story and timeline of the series and the role of the Observers. Now that the last season has kicked off, I wanted to ask you a couple of follow-up questions. Obviously, having been renewed has freed the creative team behind this great science-fiction show to go much further in this new and bold direction with the story line. I know that based on your response to my question back in the spring, this was not a direction you expected them to take, so I assume you were surprised? Moreover, do you remember any precedent where a show, freed of the need to worry about ratings and renewal (kind of like a politician not having to run for re-election), has rebooted a show with the same characters and actors but changed the story and time lines so dramatically? And is this a very unique situation or do you think this may embolden others in similar situations to do so in the future? — Raymond
Matt Roush: I find I'm always surprised by where Fringe takes me, usually in positive ways, but I've been living for a while with the knowledge that this time jump to the battle against the Observers would happen, so I can't say that this latest reinvention has been a shock to my system. As noted in my weekend roundup, I'm on board with how this season has started and will be with it to the very end, and am very glad they're getting a chance to finish the story, even in a somewhat abbreviated fashion. As always, I pause at answering the "historical precedent" part of questions like this out of fear I'll miss something obvious, but when thinking about low-rated shows that altered the form of storytelling and its timeline in its final chapters with an almost devil-may-care abandon, the show that comes to mind is ABC's Vietnam War classic China Beach, which framed much of its powerful fourth and final season through a prism of memory, giving us closure by jumping ahead in time to show us how many of the characters ended up, in each case haunted by their war experiences (seen in flashback). It's still one of the favorite shows I've covered in all of my years on the beat.
Question: OK, Revolution is actually not that bad. However, I know how J.J. Abrams' mind works, and I do not want to fall into the "How did this happen?" trap without actually getting a "definite" answer. Do you think this is another TV show that will triumph over years and years to come just to be paid off with generic answers? — Mike
Matt Roush: Hard to say at this point, but Revolution isn't nearly as dense and convoluted as some of the shows you're obviously thinking of. In fact, I'd say it's pretty simplistic as fantasy adventures go, and its accessibility (which some might, and will, dismiss) could speak well for its long-term future. The show's creative team has said the answers to why the lights went out (and, I suppose, how) are forthcoming and aren't really what Revolution is about. For now, I'll take them at their word while hoping for something in the way of interesting character development and suspenseful narrative, which would be the main reasons I'd want to stay tuned.
Question: I wanted to get your take on this most recent season of So You Think You Can Dance. I've been a fan of this show since the remarkable second season (when it came down to Benji Schwimmer and Travis Wall) and I find myself looking forward to it every summer. I recognize that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I love watching the dancers put their all into some of these tremendous routines. It is, without question, my favorite reality competition program (with Face Off coming a close second). My question is two-fold. First, I know you weren't a fan of the one-episode-a-week format, and while I agree, I can understand where they were going with it. My big issue with the format change was with the fact that instead of voting for couples (at first) we're relegated to voting for individuals right from the get-go. I don't know about you, but trying to figure out who among 20 different dancers I liked while still getting to know them seemed off-putting. In addition, I always find it easier to vote for a specific dance than a specific person. And finally, it's so much easier to vote for 10 dances than it is for 20 people. Simple math there. Wouldn't it have been better to at least keep the couples together for the first few weeks rather than split up the vote between individual dancers?
And second, couldn't Fox have set aside at least 30 minutes for a results-style show? I never did like the hour-long results show anyway (completely full of fluff), but 30 minutes seems more than reasonable. A group number, results, dance for your life, special guest, elimination and you're done. So much of the results show felt like needless padding, and in the summer it seems reasonable to set aside 30 minutes to maintain the integrity of the show — especially now that it's developed into more of a prestige item rather than a ratings juggernaut. What do you think? — Andrew
Matt Roush: There were a number of problems with the way Dance was presented this summer, and you hit on most of them. Trying to sort out that many dancers early on, with continuity further disrupted by holiday and Olympics pre-emptions, made it difficult to engage with many of the dancers until it was pretty far along in the competition. I'm not sure where I stand on the couples-versus-individuals issue; some dancers may be handicapped by who they're paired with initially, and shaking up the partnerships early on might not be such a bad idea. And while it's a fact that results shows for all of these reality-competition shows are needlessly overextended — two hours to eliminate someone from Dancing With the Stars last week was flat-out ridiculous — I generally felt SYTYCD did a fairly good job with the format, and agree with you that restoring a half-hour version would benefit the franchise without overtaxing our patience. I also second your notion that Dance's value to Fox now is as a prestige item (the only show of its type on the network to make the Emmy cut this year), and what would it hurt to give us an extra half-hour as a treat for subjecting us to so many hours of Gordon Ramsay elsewhere in the week?
Question: I'm wondering how watching The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate weeks ago on Hulu affects ratings and such. It's the only way I watch TV. — Erin
Matt Roush: I doubt this sort of thing makes much of an impact, at least yet. The reason Fox and other networks were putting their shows out early on other platforms had more to do about generating buzz through exposure, and recent evidence indicates it works — like last year's successful launch of New Girl, which used the same strategy, and last week's debut of Last Resort, which did just OK, but given the tough and overcrowded time period, it might have done much worse without aggressive promotion. The trend of "unplugging" from TV in favor of computer streaming, binge viewing, etc., is notable and has generated plenty of ink, but it hasn't yet really shifted the needle (though it may help explain where so much of the younger demographic has disappeared to).
Question: Mondays are worse than Sundays [see last week's discussion] for watching TV: NCIS, Switched at Birth, Alphas, Major Crimes, Warehouse 13, Castle, Hawaii 5-0, Revolution! What the heck is wrong with programmers? Wednesdays and Thursdays have almost nothing on worth watching. Why can't they spread the wealth to those two nights? — David
Matt Roush: Honestly, there's no night of the week that doesn't create dilemmas for some sort of TV viewer, depending on one's preferences (and I imagine some readers will look at your list and wonder what's so must-see about some of those shows, which as always is a matter of taste; and before the comments start rolling in to nit-pick, NCIS is only a first-run show on Tuesdays, not Mondays). I would probably agree that Wednesday is one of the weaker nights, with ABC's comedies the quality front-runner, and not a lot of can't-miss competition, but many Thursday shows on various networks have very passionate fans, so I think it's fair to say the wealth of compelling TV is fairly well spread. But I'd still argue that when it comes to networks' signature programming, with shows that are among the most acclaimed and worth their weight in awards gold, Sundays win hands-down.
Question: I read that Jill Flint is coming back for the Royal Pains wedding in December. Is she staying for good or just coming for the wedding? IMO it seems rather a waste of the actress' time just to have her character come for a wedding of two people that her character is not all that close to. She and Paige never had any scenes together, and she and Evan barely spoke. Jill always seemed annoyed by him. So it's a bit of a stretch to me that Jill would come back from Africa just to attend a wedding and then turn around and go home. Don't you? — Nancy
Matt Roush: I get that some fans are still pretty irked about Jill (character and actress) having been written out of the show, but this seems a bit over the top. I don't know whether Jill is staying or going — I'd assume this is closer to a "special guest star" appearance — but seems to me that most fans would be happy to welcome back a major character, even one who's been dropped from the show, for a major series event like this. But more to the point, while it might be a stretch to justify the fictional character's journey, how could this be considered a waste of the actress' time to come back for the party unless bridges had been burned? And who would wish that? I imagine she's more than happy to reunite with the old gang, and I bet most fans will be happy to see her there, regardless of how long she stays.
Question: After watching the season opener of Hawaii Five-0 last week, I am going out on a limb here with some wild speculation that Doris [Mommy McGarrett] let Wo Fat go because she couldn't shoot her "other" son! What a wild plot twist that would be: Steve has been chasing his brother all along. Reel me back to sanity or say it's so. — BR
Matt Roush: I wouldn't put anything past this show when it comes to ludicrous plot twists, but that would be quite the stretch. Doris shows up again in the Oct. 15 episode, so maybe you'll get another piece to your puzzle then — or maybe it will fan the flames of some more wacky theories. Isn't TV fun?
Question: Maybe it doesn't matter to most people, but I recently discovered when mentioning how annoying the loud background music was on Hawaii Five-0, that others agreed. We were all at a dinner party and I was complaining that CBS shows in particular must have teenaged executives that want to "pump up that music" when previewing their shows. When the dialogue is smothered by the music, I wonder if they feel the dialogue is so bad we don't really need to hear it. I watched Hawaii Five-0 last week and it will be the last time. Is this something that you or anyone else out there has noticed, in particular the shows on CBS? — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Believe me, this matters to a lot of people. I could probably print a complaint a week on this issue. So let me get this particular gripe out of the way while the new season is still young. Because while it may be the case that drowning out dialogue can be a blessing in disguise for some shows, CBS is far from the only offender; in my home, it tends to be ABC which most noticeably overdoes it with the underscoring, especially on shows like Grey's Anatomy, where the jaunty pop score can obliterate whole stretches of dialogue (and when they turn up the volume while the doctors are wearing masks over their mouths, it's especially ludicrous). Again, I'm not sure if this is a loss or a gain depending on who's talking, but there's no question this is one of the most pervasive pet peeves, and has been for some time.
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