Ask Matt: Mad Men, Undercovers, MTV, Grey's, The Event and More!
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Question: I'd argue that Mad Men's recently wrapped fourth season was perhaps its finest to date, but I'm disappointed with the way the writers treated Betty throughout the season. Betty was easily one of my favorite characters during the first three years of the show, and I was thrilled when January Jones finally received an overdue Emmy nomination for her stellar work. However, not only was the actress sorely underused this past season, but she was asked to play Betty as a one-note shrew for the majority of her screen time. There were glimpses of the broken woman inside the monster here and there, but unfortunately I think Matthew Weiner has turned Betty into a character Mad Men fans love to hate. I can't help but view this as a waste of a great actress and a potentially fascinating character. What's your take on Betty now that season 4 is over? Can she be redeemed in the eyes of fans next year, or has the character outlived her usefulness now that both she and Don have moved on? — Donnie
Matt Roush: When I reflected on the finale, and by extension the season, in my recent Finale Watch column, I wondered as well whether Betty is redeemable at this point. The petulant, childish firing of Carla, and her inability to cope with the Glenn thing (weird as it is), may have been the last straw. Not to mention her continuing cruelty toward poor Sally. But then, in that final scene in the empty kitchen between Betty and Don, it's hard not to feel some empathy (if not sympathy) for the character. Look what she lost, and for what. Her simple acknowledgement that things aren't perfect doesn't come easy, and her sessions with the therapist remind us that in many ways she's just a confused, unhappy daddy's girl who is particularly ill suited to being a modern mother. Whether she's redeemable or not, there's almost no way this character has a happy ending. When I think of Betty, I often puzzle whether the writers are being unfair to her or whether it's just a bold choice to paint a character this harshly and coldly. As far as her place in the world of Mad Men: Once the marriage ended, it's hard for her not to be marginalized, given the show's focus. (Would I rather spend time with Peggy and Joan? Yes.) And given the limitations of January Jones' range (from what I can tell), maybe less is more here.
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Question: I was watching Undercovers and wondering why you think it has not captured an audience the way other J.J. Abrams shows have? My theory is that maybe a lot of his cult fans (I count myself as one of them, finding Alias a masterwork, even in the unpopular later seasons) tuned in or recorded but then found themselves lost, no pun intended, when there were seemingly none of the signature Abrams high concepts and mysteries we are accustomed to. I think the only reason I watch it is for the spi-fi I love, like Alias. I don't find the stories particularly engaging in the same way Lost or Fringe is, but it's at least an entertaining hour of TV, which makes me curious why other shows with an escapist nature like CSI or NCIS are hits and Undercovers is not. I'm curious to hear your thoughts. — Matthew
Matt Roush: Your question came in while I was catching up with the last few episodes for a column I'm working up for the magazine. (Look for it in next week's issue.) The more I watch Undercovers, the more disappointed I get. It's almost shocking to me that the minds behind Alias and Lost are responsible for this drab, derivative show that lacks spark, sparkle or suspense. It goes out of its way to avoid the dense, dark layers of an Alias, and that would be OK if the show worked as an engaging caper, but it doesn't. The leads are attractive but banal, and the supporting characters (with the exception of Gerald McRaney's amusingly gruff boss) are uniformly annoying and forgettable. The show's a dud. Many critics likened the show to the sort of thing you tend to see on USA Network, but even their more formulaic shows are kickier than this. It's a real shame.
Question: What did you think of The Gates and will we be seeing more of it? I thought the season finale was awesome, and thoroughly enjoyed all the different characters and the interactions between them. There were also plenty of twists and turns to keep viewers interested. — Bob
Matt Roush: ABC has finally confirmed that The Gates won't be back next summer. Even though I didn't make it all the way to the end of the season — the numbers weren't promising, and when the episodes bled into September, I got too busy — I found it to be the most original and intriguing of all of ABC's scripted summer shows. While I found the execution often sketchy, I liked some of the suburban supernatural mash-up and would have liked to see where it went next.
Question: Regarding the reported Bones spin-off: Do REAL spin-offs happen anymore, or always just back-door pilot characters created specifically to spin? — Brad (from twitter)
Matt Roush: I suppose the classic form of spin-off — taking a breakout character from an existing show and building a new show around him or her — is more rare nowadays because producers and networks are loathe to screw around with something that's working and risk doing damage to the ensemble by taking a key element away. (The only recent "classic" spin-off I can think of is Private Practice. And, though it required the original show to end for it to happen, the unfortunate Joey.) Nowadays, spin-offs tend to be extensions of a brand franchise (Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds) or the riskier proposition (in the case of this projected Bones project) of trying to use a successful show to launch something new by bringing in a character and seeing if he or she pops well enough to earn a show of their own. That hardly even qualifies as a spin-off, more like a handoff.
Question: I just read in the new TV Guide Magazine that MTV is developing versions of BBC shows Skins and The Inbetweeners. While I love both shows, I am a little horrified at the prospect of these shows being Americanized. I can't imagine MTV will be able to make them as raunchy as the British originals, or as touching. Are you looking forward to these remakes? — Frank
Matt Roush: I'd be lying if I didn't admit to some healthy skepticism here. I've only seen a clip of the first episode of Skins, and it was an almost exact replica (with the exception being the actor wasn't nearly as appealing as the British original). Naturally, we're being told MTV's version will eventually develop a voice of its own, so I guess we'll have to wait and see. If the new Skins doesn't take as many bold chances as the British original, I can't imagine why anyone would want to watch. I'm even more nervous about an Inbetweeners remake, because that hilarious series is so contingent on ensemble magic to make the racy shenanigans palatable. You have to care for these characters even as you pity and mock them. Tricky stuff. But until I see these shows, I need to keep an open mind. And in the larger picture, I'd rather see MTV try ambitious projects like this, even if they don't ultimately succeed, than just keeping churning out new versions of Jersey Shore-style sludge, which I'm sure is heading our way regardless of what happens with these scripted series.
Question: Why don't producers include a clause in their contracts with the networks, when putting a new show on the air, ensuring that the viewers will get a resolution to the continuing narrative in the case of serialized storylines? I'm thinking of NBC's Journeyman a few seasons ago (although those producers saw the writing on the wall and wrapped it up on their own), Life (who was behind the frame-up? What happened to his partner's father? Was his former partner dirty? Etc.), last season's FlashForward ... I know you didn't think highly of any of these, and I do understand it's a business; but would the added cost of a 2-4 hour wrap-up not be outweighed by the avoidance of ill will from us, the viewers? I refuse to watch The Event this season for precisely this reason: Why get invested if they don't care enough about me to give me closure when they pull the plug? Joan of Arcadia was particularly galling: Intelligent storylines with a healthy, uplifting message every week, and just when they introduce The Adversary and set really interesting things up for the next season, it's unceremoniously dumped after the season is over (for Ghost Whisperer??!). I'm still steamed about that one. — J.D.
Matt Roush: I get the sense of frustration every time a show, particularly a serialized one, is canceled, and I also understand how being burned repeatedly makes a viewer less inclined to jump aboard the next convoluted train. (Although when a network gives a full-season order to a show like The Event, as imperfect as it is, I think those with an interest in these sorts of shows should take that as a sign to at least sample it.) But it's hard for me to address your larger concerns without sounding as cold-hearted as a network suit. You acknowledge that TV is a business. Well, it's an unforgiving one, and don't fool yourself that anyone making the decisions is going to "care enough" to give you closure if a show isn't working, whether creatively or in the ratings. That's why I believe the burden here is on the creative side. If they're lucky enough to have all of their episodes shown, whether it's just a 13-episode order or a full season (when renewal isn't a slam-dunk), there's a point where continuing to build cliffhangers into the story is irresponsible. Each arc of a show should have enough closure to be satisfying to the viewer. Because there's no scenario in which it makes sense for a network to order up a two-hour (let alone four) wrap-up of a show they've lost confidence in.
Question: I was wondering if Rubicon had been renewed. I saw James Badge Dale on The Pacific and decided to check this show out and I really liked it. It was sort of a Tom Clancy book for 13 weeks. On YouTube I ran a preview of The Cape from NBC. This show looks good and I was wondering if it's a midseason show. I don't know if viewers are ready for more superheroes after the whole Heroes mess, however. I will check out The Walking Dead on AMC, but I don't know if a zombie show can be sustained over a full season, especially in December when the "mood" runs out. — Richard
Matt Roush: As I write this, there has been no word about a second season of Rubicon. The audience and mixed critical reaction was, in a word, muted, and I'm curious if AMC will stick with it. This network has been on a roll, but this could be a litmus test of how far AMC will go to stand by a true underperformer. (Full disclosure: I wasn't much of a fan.) To your other observations: The Cape is a midseason show, and I'm eager to see it as well. No reason to think audiences won't embrace another superhero show if it's well executed. And this one looks to be more exciting than the stubbornly bland No Ordinary Family. Regarding The Walking Dead, which blew me away, think of it more as a limited-run miniseries. The first season is comprised of a mere six episodes, with the finale scheduled for Dec. 5, so we don't really need to worry about these scary zombies ruining the holiday spirit, or vice versa.
Question: I have a question about Private Practice. Although I am only a casual watcher of this show, I was disgusted at the episode where they brought back an abandoned, orphaned child whose father was part of the "family," only to have every doctor reject her. That was cold. I am used to disturbing things on TV, but I don't understand how making the entire cast look terrible is good TV? It made little sense to bring her back when she could have been off in TV land with her mythical happy aunt. This show blew up her mother in a meth lab, then killed her father a few months later, only to have her abandoned by her aunt and left at the practice. I can't believe they then sent her to foster care after telling the aunt to let her know if they could help. I know Shonda Rhimes has a problem with happy couples, but to lay this all on a child seems distasteful. I know this is a show, but it really turned me off of Private Practice. — Sharon
Matt Roush: This show turned me off (or was that me doing the turning?) a long time ago, and I didn't watch (yet) this particular episode. But judging from the Twitter response to it, you're hardly alone in being disturbed and even outraged by the way that story played out. Shonda Rhimes tweeted this in response: "Am loving that the Betsey storyline is causing this much debate. That's how I know we did a good episode." You can feel free to disagree.
Question: I'm trying to recall if there is any show that put the back-and-forth couple together for 4+ seasons. I'm asking because Grey's Anatomy will have Meredith and Derek together for four straight seasons (given it's been announced both actors will be there for season 8 and Shonda has said they will never break up). I'm so confused by the MerDer fans' vicious statements directed to (and about) Shonda Rhimes on the Internet. I think Shonda should be applauded, not attacked, for moving a couple from apart/angsty to committed/thriving and keeping them there year after year. I can't think of any other couple that was put together and stayed together for 100+ episodes on a TV drama. Do you know of other shows that have done this? — Kim
Matt Roush: If anyone can think of historical precedents to the MerDer situation, fire them off in the comments section. It does seem rather rare for a show to be built around an on-and-off couple that finally takes the leap (albeit on a post-it note) and then stays together, more or less happily, and more important, stays on as a central element of the show (unlike, say, ER's Doug and Carol). I am very content with Meredith and Derek being a team, though not without their personal and professional conflicts, and I appreciate that we're being spared the threat of them breaking up during every sweeps period. Whatever complaints the MerDer "shippers" have at this point, I doubt that I would share. And you'll have to excuse me for not really being interested enough to investigate. In this case, I'm all for letting sleeping docs lie.
Question: This season I think The Apprentice creatively is the best season of the show since its peak in season 1. What is going on with its ratings, though? The Celebrity Apprentice does so well in the ratings. The Apprentice this season is in NYC and on Thursday nights, so why is it doing worse then the Los Angeles version? I heard NBC has not marketed it properly. It's not facing tough competition and it's back after three years, so I would figure ratings should be good. How does NBC's strong relationship with Mark Burnett and Donald Trump affect future seasons? I know The Celebrity Apprentice will be back! But will NBC's strong relationship with Mark Burnett and Donald Trump keep The Apprentice on the air? It hasn't moved from its Thursday 10-11pm ET timeslot yet, which means NBC is committed to the show. What are your thoughts?
And what is going on with 24? Any movie updates? Who's in the movie? When does it begin production? When will it be in theaters? There has been no news on it yet! — Justin
Matt Roush: Having reached my point of Apprentice fatigue several cycles ago, and definitely reaching my limit during the dreadful Celebrity seasons, I can only conclude that the Celebrity versions destroyed any appetite for the "real-people" format, and that the only way this franchise attracts an audience again is through the next round of train-wreck celebrity casting. The show is now officially a joke. The sad part of the joke being that, from what I hear from those few who are watching the current cycle, this season is a step back in the right direction. It's not so much a matter of bad marketing but bad scheduling. This is not a show that works in the 10/9c hour, especially on Thursdays, when so many viewers use that hour to play back things they were recording earlier in the night while watching other shows. Plus, The Mentalist really does represent tough competition. The scheduling of The Apprentice on Thursday was a last-minute desperation move when things went south on Love Bites. I'm sorry this particular cycle didn't get a chance to prove itself on Sundays, where the show tends to do fairly well in the back half of the season and where I assume the next Celebrity version will be scheduled this winter.
As for the 24 movie: You haven't heard any news because (I presume) there hasn't been any news. I assume it's still in development, and traditionally, it takes a lot longer for things to happen in the world of movies than on TV.
That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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