Ask Matt: The Good Wife, The Killing, and More!
Julianna Margulies, Josh Charles
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Question: I have watched All My Children and One Life to Live for 40 years. I watch GMA and stay with ABC just waiting for them to come on to see what has happened. They are an escape from reality with spice, and ABC wants to give us more reality? There are mannnnny other stations for that. If ABC cancels my soaps, I will not watch them ever again any time of the day or night. AMC and OLTL are icons. Regis retires in November and Kelly understands. AMC and OLTL are a part of our lives and our friends. This is a wrong choice that ABC needs to reconsider or I'll be watching The Early Show, Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, Gunsmoke and Walker Texas Ranger, not reality. Oprah's leaving. Put the new shows there, or move the soaps around, just do not cancel them. 40 years of loyalty cuts deep and never heals. Why did they move AMC to LA and hire the veteran head writer just to cancel? Someone's thinking is screwed up. — Mary Alice
Matt Roush: These are no ordinary cancellations, and I know the feelings run deep over the loss of shows that are more like institutions, not to mention treasured daily habits for many. Even though the writing had been on the wall (as they say) for some time, the news of ABC's dual cancellation still felt shocking when it was confirmed last week. I have never been a steady watcher of daytime soaps — hourly prime-time serials are about as much as I can handle — but to observe an entire part of the industry petering out is always unsettling. (I can't look at what's happening here without thinking of the demise of the traditional variety show, which I grew up with, and the blockbuster network miniseries, which was at its peak when I started covering the business.) All I can do here is sympathize. But to answer your AMC question: The move to L.A. was a last-gasp attempt to keep costs down, but it apparently wasn't enough, and bringing back the head writer seems to be a symbolic gesture to assure fans that these last months will be good ones.
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Question: I love The Good Wife. Very entertaining. I have seen several reports on how poorly the show has been doing in the ratings this season and I think I finally figured out why: The show evolved. At the beginning of the first season that paralleled current events, viewers tuned into see what was basically a love story. Love gone wrong, adultery, scandal, betrayal, secrets, lies, loss of identity, learning to love again, even finding long-lost love. The first-season finale revolved around the question of who will she choose: Will or Peter. All summer viewers waited. Who will she choose? The second season began and in my view, worse than picking Will or Peter, she never chose. The question was taken off the table. The sparks between Will and Alicia were allowed to cool even while Alicia halfheartedly stayed to support her husband. The Good Wife revolves around a different legal case every episode now. The show is more about the love of clients and only Lockhart-Gardner gets any real airtime. The star of the show is now the law firm. I enjoy the show but it has more in common with L.A. Law now than its own origins, and with numbers dwindling, the question of why needed to be asked.
Why? The show evolved and viewers, who were fans of a love story that seemed to fade away, became frustrated and withdrew. For me personally, the show's change is natural as Alicia finds her footing and her identity. However, I have friends who watched faithfully and recently stopped. Their sentiments are the same; it's not the same show. They are not wrong. (P.S. Long live The Good Wife.) — Jason
Matt Roush: I'm glad you haven't lost your love for the show, because I certainly haven't. And while I get where your friends are coming from, that's a very narrow reading of what's happening on The Good Wife. (It also sounds like these viewers are awfully close to being Will-Licia "shippers," and would only be happy if she'd chosen Will.) It's true that Eli's interception of the phone message took Alicia's "choice" out of her hands, but in another way, I look at it that Alicia chose her family and the status quo during a critical period rather than upending her entire life to pursue a relationship with Will. This triangle became further complicated when Tammy (Elizabeth Reaser) entered the picture. But that situation aside, there's so much more to this show than a mere legal procedural, though this being on CBS there are going to be procedural elements every week. The Kalinda mystery and the bombshell revelation about her fling with Peter — and where is that going to lead? — the battle over the future of the firm, terrific subplots involving Eli and America Ferrera and (more of this please) Christine Baranski's Diane with Gary Cole. And there's almost always a tension in the scenes between Alicia and Will, even if it's more subtext lately. It's risky ever to point to a simple single reason to explain a show's ratings. The Good Wife is holding up fairly well for a show that doesn't hue to the usual CBS formula. To me, that qualifies almost as a miracle.
[Note: Apologies in advance for non-Good Wife followers. A number of thoughtful questions came in about the show this week, and since (to me) it's on a creative roll, I'm going to indulge.]
Question: I have been a big fan of The Good Wife ever since the beginning, and I still think it's one of the best written and acted shows on TV right now (an opinion that I think you share). As an avid reader of your column, I remember reading last season about the criticism that Lockhart Gardner wins almost every case, and the show would be even more compelling if they lost every now and then. That criticism doesn't bother me so much because I'm willing to suspend some disbelief. The one problem I have started to have with the show, however, is that Alicia's legal skills are too perfect. Maybe I'm extra in tune to it because I'm an attorney myself, but the premise is supposed to be that Alicia is a junior associate who has been out of the game for a number of years. Yet she's incredible in the courtroom, she never makes a mistake on a case, and she has several other firms in town courting her with job offers. I certainly don't think she should be bad at her job, but a misstep every now and then seems like it would make the show even better, because while all of these things are happening with her personal life, she is also figuring out how to be a lawyer again in a game that is drastically different than it was when she started out. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between her skills and those of Will and Diane, who have been doing it much longer. I thought I'd get your thoughts about this. — Carrie
Matt Roush: This is probably a fair criticism, but I'm willing to overlook it because I don't think Alicia appreciates how good she is, and incidents like her face-offs with the cunning Michael J. Fox character (how good is he?) play to her insecurities. (Until, of course, he made a bid to steal her away after the last round.) In the first season, she couldn't afford many big mistakes because of the competition with Cary, but it's probably true she has become something of a miracle worker for Lockhart-Gardner this year. I still find the cases on this show to be generally compelling and surprising, but The Good Wife is still enough of a traditional TV show that the hero is going to come out on top a lot (even if her personal life remains a shambles, at least right now).
Question: Am I the only one who found the Hugo Chavez subplot on last week's episode of The Good Wife rather off-putting? I love TGW. It's by far my favorite network drama. It deserves all the praise it gets for being intelligent and sophisticated, which is why I was so shocked to see it reduce an issue as complex and contentious as our relationship with Venezuela to goofy slapstick. Granted the Venezuelan government is not an ideal democracy, but it's also not an unequivocally oppressive dictatorship like Libya or South Korea. With this in mind, having multiple characters use the word "dictator" to refer to Chavez without any real discussion seems simplistic at best. I feel like it would have been more interesting if the show had tried a little harder to offer a more nuanced perspective.
But I understand TGW is first and foremost a legal drama and can't afford to devote several minutes to expounding on foreign affairs (even if that was the episode's title). It's really the dramatic sins of this episode that bothered me the most: The cartoonish Chavez impersonator making ridiculous comments about American pop culture in a generic, garbled accent might have been hilarious on South Park, but felt woefully out of place in the Lockhart-Gardner boardroom. Oddly, the jokes didn't even seem like typical Chavez evils-of-capitalism gaffes. They just seemed like generic Mike Myers (a more appropriate comparison than Will's suggestion of Woody Allen) slapstick villainy. In short, it just seemed like a very uncomfortable change in tone, and detracted from the incredibly riveting election-day plot. (And what an ending!)
One last question: Where has Chris Noth been? It's odd to have seen so little of Peter Florrick in the past few weeks at the climax of his campaign. Has Noth been busy with another project, or was it simply a stylistic choice to reduce his screen time? — William
Matt Roush: Fair points on the Chavez subplot. To argue the other side, The Good Wife also yearns to be entertaining and to not take itself altogether seriously, which is why you see quirky judges (some almost as wacky as the David E. Kelley variety) and, in this case, an international case played largely for laughs. I agree that tonally it was jarring, as was the appearance of Fred Thompson satirizing his own celebrity, but it's not as if the show all of a sudden turned into Harry's Law. Regarding Chris Noth: He is currently appearing on Broadway in an all-star revival of That Championship Season, which is limiting his availability, but in this case it also seemed like a creative decision to place Alicia on the outside, emphasizing her sense of isolation and betrayal when she realized the truth about Peter and Kalinda. Keeping Peter off camera during his moment of triumph was glaringly noticeable, but the writers wanted the focus of this episode to be squarely on the wronged wife. And that makes sense to me.
Question: We just love the new CBS show Chaos on Friday night. Each character is interesting in his own right, and the show is something fresh and funny for a spy series. Do you think it will survive? — CK
Matt Roush: So far, if the ODS team's mission was to wrangle ratings, they're not doing a very good job. CBS did Chaos no favors to throwing it on Fridays in an early hour during the spring, and there's no buzz around it, so the consensus is that it's being burned off. Enjoy it while you can.
Question: I would like to know if Off the Map will be picked up for another season. I really enjoyed watching it. The characters were very interesting and the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. I may have DVR'd this show, but it was the first one I watched the next day. I know it isn't cops, guns or mayhem, but it is such a good show. — Beverly
Matt Roush: Again, not a lot of hope on this front. ABC promoted it decently enough this winter and let it stay put on Wednesdays for the entirety of its run, but as with many 10/9c dramas, Off the Map's ratings weren't exactly off the charts, and its prospects are dim. I agree the scenery set this one apart from the norm, and I would have been curious to see how it would have fared if they'd played it behind Grey's Anatomy a couple of times. (I'd certainly consider watching this over Private Practice.) I'm afraid this is going to be another in a long line of casualties this season.
Question: I seem to recall a show called Murder One, with a bald-headed lead that had the same concept as The Killing. I hope this show fares better than the former. — Brian
Matt Roush: That bald-headed lead was Daniel Benzali (replaced in season two by a pre-Without a Trace Anthony LaPaglia), and I do think The Killing will have a longer shelf life than Murder One — if only because The Killing is on cable, where the threshold for success is far smaller. The Killing is so deliberately paced, moody and intense that it would be a hard sell for a broadcast network, which likes its mysteries tidier and less emotionally traumatic. The similarity between Murder One and The Killing has to do with premise, as both take a single case and devote an entire season to it. But tonally, they could hardly be less alike. And since I do try to give all sides a hearing, here's a non-fan's take on The Killing.
Question: Desperate for something, anything, to watch this sub-par season, per your recommendation I started watching The Killing. First off, I'll be watching to the end of the season because I need to know who the killer is. However, I don't get the overall appeal of the show. The rhythmic rain must be causing some kind of mass hypnotism. As a long-time reader of your column, print and electronic, going back many years, I've seen you complain repeatedly about unimaginative writing smacking of desperation and tired old worn-out clichés thrown together in a sorry example of what passes for creativity. Is that not what this show is? Seriously, it's nearly a Wayans Brothers film. How many clichés can we mash together and milk for laughs: The gum-smacking veteran detective on her last day, the only detective in a major city competent enough to handle a murder investigation, the worked-to-exhaustion single mother of a tween with a horrible haircut and bad attitude. The inexperienced new partner who needs to learn a lesson but might end up knowing a thing or two. Billy Campbell as a smarmy politician, which is all he's legally allowed to ever play. And on and on.
I have no doubt that by the end of this thing, someone will have reformed a prostitute with a heart of gold, saved a dog from a fire, taken in a hard-as-nails but lovable street urchin, and been shot multiple times yet recovered within a day. If you're going to spend 13 hours on a single case, you need to put a little effort into attention to detail, as the lazy writing screams out for the MST3K treatment. We're told how critical the first 48 hours are, but Linden spends most of the day staring pensively out the window as the moody rain falls and the music swells. She walks around like she's in molasses — how about showing some hustle if time is so critical? They spend nearly the whole third day staking out a potential suspect, just so they can ask him if he did it and then let him go? They find the peephole into the cage as a parade of people walk up and press their hands all over it and faces up against it? The janitor is the only one with keys to the room? Really? High-school kids could never find a way into a locked room? Man, we're only on the third episode. Maybe I'll just go look for spoilers on Wikipedia. — Bill
Matt Roush: You and I seem to be watching two different series — or, at the very least, we're watching in very different ways. The Killing is almost an anti-procedural, and is obviously very stylized in its bleak noir trappings (the rain, the brooding silences). What keeps this from feeling clichéd for me is the intensity of the emotions, most notably in the excruciating sadness and grief of Rosie's parents (the incredible Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton). Mireille Enos's lead performance as Sarah Linden fascinates me, although the main criticism I had about the early episodes was the strained (and too-familiar) subplot asking us to believe she's postponing her move to California with the love of her life to stick around and solve this case. It's an unnecessary distraction for a character I find hauntingly inscrutable in her stoic restraint, a contrast to her funky, impulsive, twitchy and restless partner (and I can't recall seeing someone of his ilk in a typical detective series). I do find The Killing hypnotic, and not just because of the rain, so haven't really felt the desire to nit-pick the improbabilities the way I do when I watch shows like the various CSI dramas and the new Body of Proof, where crime-scene techs and medical examiners routinely overstep their bounds. Clearly this doesn't work for you, the same way AMC's inert Rubicon didn't work for me. And can I beg you: If you do find spoilers, please keep them to yourself.
Question: Just thought I'd drop a quick line about what has become my wife's and my favorite drama and one you haven't written about in a while. Law & Order: UK is really great. The stories may be adaptations of previous episodes from the original Law & Order, but what they've done to them is nothing short of amazing. The actors are wonderful. A recent episode titled "Denial" broke our hearts. Did you catch it? It was so heart-wrenching. Like Steven Hill in the original, Bill Paterson does wonders with little or no dialogue. What I really love about the show is the racial mix in the casting. In all of the original L&O shows, if there was a black or Hispanic character, it usually had some bearing on the case. In UK in most cases it is truly just coincidence. The judge, defendant, girl or boyfriend, victim, killer just happened to be of another race. Also, there is an equality in the characters. The DA, Chief Prosecutor and his assistant are all on a first-name basis and actually compliment each other and tell each other that they've done a fine job. What's your take on this? Do you think the show could be eligible for an Emmy nod? — Charles
Matt Roush: It's up to BBC America whether to submit the show for Emmy consideration — which seems a long shot, given that this is a remake of such a prominent franchise and it would be competing against so many originals on cable and network. I haven't watched every episode of the UK version — a matter of time more than inclination — but you make excellent points about its quality and its distinctiveness, most notably in its color-blind casting. (Sometimes race is an issue in a case, but when it isn't, the diversity is seen as business as usual.)
Question: Your weekend fantasy show list missed the return of Sanctuary on Syfy. Warehouse 13, Eureka, Haven and Sanctuary all have intelligent tongue-in-cheek humor & sly (OK — sometimes not so sly) references to fantasy history and situations. The Eureka season 1 moment where the missile is coming up through the street & the sheriff just watches and says, "Oh, that can't be good" has to be a classic moment. This season it rebounded from an uneven stretch and I hope that the upswing will continue. I love Fringe and the other shows you review regularly, but please, some love for the "Syfy 4." — Mary Lu
Matt Roush: You're right, I was remiss in not including Sanctuary in that discussion of Friday night fantasy shows. But I don't really buy this idea of a "Syfy 4," because that would imply all of these shows are created equal. And for me, they're not. When Eureka and Warehouse 13 return this summer — both on July 11, along with the new series Alphas — I'll make critical note of it, because I enjoy both of these series as fanciful escapist larks, especially Eureka. I've tried to warm up to Sanctuary in past seasons to little avail, and admit in the glut of this spring's extremely busy midseason (including a little distraction called Game of Thrones), it got away from me this time. And Haven I did not like at all — although I'll sample it again when it returns this summer, but unless they've changed the entire cast and writing staff, I don't have high hopes of embracing that one. In all genres including fantasy, there's good, bad and indifferent — and excellent (hello, Fringe) — and that applies to Syfy's product as well.
Question: I just wanted to thank you for waking me up to Fringe!!! I started watching when it first aired, right around the time I was finishing college and starting law school, so it sort of got lost in my busy life. But I go on TVGuide.com every day just to see what's happening ratings-wise with various shows and to keep up with the gossip. And I read your column every week. And lately I have been hearing some excellent things from you about this season of Fringe. I got excited just reading. Plus I heard that it was on the bubble. So I went back and finished Season 1 and caught all the way up to the current episodes in about a week, so that I could watch the new ones as they air. And you're right. FRINGE IS ON FIRE! I literally could not stop watching. I'd go to school puffy-eyed from staying up all night watching episodes. Hallelujah, I've seen the light — no, not the shimmering light from "over there," but an awesome Fringe fan creating light all the same. Thanks, Matt! — Alexis
Matt Roush: I wanted to end this column on a positive note, and couldn't think of a better one than this. It also allows me to gush about Friday's trippy LSD episode, which was another high point in a season bursting with them. I was floored, in the best way possible, by the animated sequence representing Leonard Nimoy's (apparent) swan song as William Bell, as Walter and Peter enter Olivia's tormented consciousness in a scenario not unlike Inception but with far more emotional clarity. If Alexis' comments, and my enthusiasm, inspire even more people to seek out Fringe and experience the mind-blowing entertainment of this best-yet season, I'll consider it a good day's (or even year's) work.
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