Mary McDonnell

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Question: Let's play armchair programmer. While I am enjoying Major Crimes, it does feel a bit like we're just waiting for Brenda Leigh to show. Do you think they could have benefited from holding Major Crimes until the traditional December run of The Closer to let us get a little distance? Or is it purely a creative question? Major Crimes looks just like The Closer. Could the show benefit from some slight visual tweaks? Perhaps a slightly different opening sequence? — Steven

Matt Roush: For me, the problem here is more creative. It made good business sense for TNT to launch the spin-off right on the heels of the heavily promoted Closer finale, and it paid off. But from a critical point of view, it only accentuates the problem with Major Crimes: the lack of a compelling and entertaining central figure like Kyra Sedgwick's much-missed Brenda. It feels like there's a hole at the heart of the series, which isn't helped much by the new emphasis on deal-making over Brenda's form of gotcha interrogation. By comparison, Mary McDonnell's Sharon Raydor seems like a humorless schoolmarm, and the subplot involving her ward Rusty isn't so much humanizing her as bringing the show to a screeching halt whenever he shows up to pout. You're right, of course, that comparisons can't help but be made when Major Crimes copies so many visual and structural elements from The Closer. It really does feel like we're watching the exact same show. Only less so.

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Question:
Any news on the direction of Covert Affairs for next season? I must say the producers and writers have done a great job giving the viewers more Christopher Gorham. Moving out Annie's sister was a good move. I always wanted Annie to be less bouncy and eager to please, but of late it seems her experience with Lena has moved her closer to the selfish/dark side and not in a good way. For goodness sake, give her a gun when she goes on dangerous missions! You can only run so far so fast in heels. I hope they show a little less of the Joan/Arthur work dynamic, but overall the show is doing a better job than last season. So I'm hoping for more Gorham, a more mature Annie and just a dash more realism to temper the sometimes cartoonish action. — Lee

Matt Roush: Let's put this season to bed before worrying about the next one, but I agree this year has so far been the best, and the next two episodes (tonight's and next Tuesday's) are especially pivotal and dramatic, and especially strong showcases for Piper Perabo, Richard Coyle as her spy target/love interest Simon and the essential Gorham as the ever-loyal Auggie. If you're a Covert fan, you won't want to miss this, and I think it's fair to say Annie will never be quite the same after what goes down in these episodes. I've liked watching Annie be torn between various elements of the agency this season, and Sarah Clarke (who I keep calling Nina from her 24 days) has added some real bite as Lena. I also agree that writing the sister (Danielle) out of the show was the right decision. Frees Annie up personally and spares us all of those innocuous "how was your day?" conversations. But realism? That may be too much to ask for, but who can say? We've got a ways to go before this season wraps for good; the show starts a hiatus on Sept. 18 (taking a pause as the broadcast networks' premiere weeks kick in), then returns Oct. 16 and plays out the rest of its season through November. I'm on board.

Question: What are your thoughts on Syfy's competition show Face Off? I generally can't handle much of the reality fare out there, but this show has had me glued to my TV each season it has aired. I find the artistic display amazing and the judging to be refreshingly honest and constructive without being cruel. And the behind-the-scenes contestant drama is just enough to be entertaining without overshadowing the competition itself. Why can't more competition reality shows be like this? — Chris

Matt Roush: Loved this show from the get-go and am delighted to have it back this summer and early fall, filling the void left by The Glee Project having wrapped last month. The creativity on display by most of the contestants never fails to impress, and the creature/fantasy challenges are such a perfect fit for the Syfy brand. (I'm also looking forward to the upcoming competition show Hot Set, being paired with Face Off starting Sept. 18, in which production designers compete to build movie sets with fantasy/sci-fi/horror themes. Haven't had a chance to watch yet, but it sounds like my kind of thing.) I agree about the judging. It's often biting but also fair, and usually accurate, and I love Ve Neill's enthusiasm each week.

[By coincidence, both Covert Affairs and Face Off are previewed in my online round-up of Tuesday TV this week.]

Question: Last fall, Salt Lake City's KSL-TV wanted no part of NBC's The Playboy Club, and this fall they've turned down The New Normal. Why doesn't NBC just say enough's enough, drop the H-bomb on that station and go shopping for another affiliate in that market — one with less touchy owners? And don't tell me the reason is because the only other available stations there are all on UHF —it's not 1964 anymore, and I'm sure all the TVs in use there can bring in stations with higher channel numbers than 13. Plus, UHF is no longer the mostly undesirable frequency it was decades ago. Back in 1994, NBC had to switch to a UHF station to stay on in Kansas City, and it's a far superior affiliate now than the pre-emption-happy VHF I was stuck with when I lived there long ago. As for KSL, they might as well become an independent. — David

Matt Roush: How long has it been since I've thought about the distinction between UHF and VHF channels? Nowadays, it's all about network vs. cable, basic vs. premium, and so on. Thanks for the nostalgia trip. I wouldn't pretend to know enough about that particular media market to comment with any authority about the financial/business relationship between NBC and this persnickety affiliate, but thankfully for those in the region who might like to see what all the fuss is about, local channel KUCW has once again stepped up to air the show (as it does with Saturday Night Live and did last year with The Playboy Club).

Question: As a huge fan of the original British series, I felt an obligation to check out MTV's version of The Inbetweeners. I'll damn it with faint praise by saying it was better than the U.S. version of Skins, but other than that it seemed like a less charming carbon copy of the UK show. My question is this: Why do these American adaptations always start with a near shot-for-shot remake of the original pilot? It's incredibly distracting if you've seen the original series, and I doubt the writers enjoy copying someone else's material instead of putting their own stamp on things. Why not take the characters and concept of a series, then make an entirely new pilot around them? What are your thoughts on this "new" version of The Inbetweeners? — Donnie

Matt Roush: Not as bad as Skins was, true, but nearly as unnecessary. For the first episodes to so slavishly copy the original only heightens how much less able this new cast is when it comes to nailing the jokes and the humor. The biggest problem being the central character of Will. In the British version, as played by the brilliant Simon Bird, his constant humiliations are often the funniest thing in the show. In the U.S. version, he's almost a straight-man sad sack, and it brings the whole series down and makes it feel flat. (The Simon character is the only one more or less working for me in the new version.) I've seen one upcoming episode that doesn't appear to be a direct steal from the British, and it did a pretty good job at emulating the show's premise of just when you think things couldn't get worse for these idiots, they do. But it still lacked that appallingly zany zing of the original. Given the success MTV is having with originals like Awkward and Teen Wolf, I hope this latest botch convinces them to keep their scripted projects homegrown from now on. And while we're on the subject, I am looking ridiculously forward to seeing the British Inbetweeners' feature film, being released this weekend.

Question: I recently caught up with The Newsroom after falling behind, and I decided that I really like it. My only problem with it, and it is the problem I have had with every Aaron Sorkin show since The West Wing, in that it is too pretentious. I don't know (and I could be wrong), but I don't think people in the news business have conversations like they do in The Newsroom, where it seems like the fate of the world rests on what they decide. I think that kind of writing worked on The West Wing because it was believable to have that level of gravitas in the White House, but I don't think it comes across as real in the setting of a TV show? Do you agree? — Ryan

Matt Roush: This problem was much more obvious on Sorkin's short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where the people making a late-night comedy show had the same sorts of high-minded and often very unconvincing debates. I like the fact that there are high stakes on The Newsroom, about the direction of the news they want to deliver and the ratings that could spell their doom if they ignore tabloid sideshows like the Casey Anthony story. There's great drama in that material, and it's the best part of The Newsroom many weeks. Where I really took issue with the series, and with Sorkin's approach to the workplace and the characters, was how silly it got, with incredibly clumsy and annoying romantic subplots, infantile character traits (especially for the female characters) and moments of slapstick (the drinks in the face, Will being unable to put on his pants without falling) that would make the Three Stooges groan. No newsroom, even a fictional one, can exist without humor, but in my experience it's usually smart and pointed, not imbecilic.

Question: I have noticed that you do not take too kindly to the AMC Western Hell On Wheels. I am wondering if you watch the whole season if you don't like the first episodes of a season, and whether you might be persuaded to change your opinion as the season goes on. I am of the opinion that this show takes a little time to grow on you and it is now at the must-watch stage for me. I now have all my friends addicted also. The last two episodes being so compelling, please tell me if you might just admire the show just a little bit more. I certainly do. — Tracy

Matt Roush: So far, I've stuck with Hell on Wheels this season (and I watched all of last season, I believe), as well as my other great disappointment this summer in the field of historical drama: BBC America's similarly turgid Copper. I like the genre, so keep watching hoping to be more engaged. But I can't guarantee staying current when the networks kick in with more urgent and appealing Sunday programming over the next few weeks (Hell's season finale is currently scheduled for Oct. 7). And in general, if I don't like a show after the first few episodes, I see no reason to subject myself to it anymore than anyone else would. There's too much TV and too little time. I would concede that the conflicts in the last few episodes of Hell have picked up steam, but just because I have my nose rubbed in gruesome violence and a gritty mud-and-blood milieu doesn't convince me I'm watching powerful drama. Truth is: I still can't connect to almost any of these clichéd characters and the largely inferior acting, which ranges from wooden to pompous to mumbling (a trait shared by Copper, whose premise I find intriguing but whose execution I am finding excruciatingly dull). I want to like these two series, and am glad there's an audience for them, but I'm still waiting to be wowed or moved — or even possibly entertained.

Question: Will Common Law be renewed for another season? I'm concerned that USA Network's Friday placement may have affected its chances. — Dora

Matt Roush: Hard to say. USA tends to give its shows a fairly long leash, but neither of its recent Friday dramas (Common Law and Fairly Legal) has got the green light yet for another season. Friday isn't as much of a death sentence for cable shows as it tends to be for the broadcast networks (the renewal of Grimm notwithstanding), and programmers tend to take these matters into account, but Common Law didn't seem to generate a great deal of buzz, and USA is juggling an awful lot of original dramas these days. So my answer is: Don't know, and stay tuned.

Question: With the recent question about Alphas and the commentary on Falling Skies, I am wondering about what shows have had significantly improved sophomore seasons. Right now I can't think of any better improvement than Falling Skies. I think Alphas improved, but still isn't great. Justified had a great sophomore season, but its freshman season was good as well. Those are all recent examples. What are your thoughts? What shows am I not thinking of? And are any returning shows showing great improvement that they might be worth tuning back into if we didn't already have them on our radar? — Megan

Matt Roush: I wrote a recent column for the magazine on this subject, singling out USA Network's Suits as another series that had improved in its second season just as much as Falling Skies had. (Suits moved beyond the premise of the fake lawyer to delve into a gripping office power struggle.) I agree that Alphas still leaves a lot to be desired, but the Stanton Parish/escaped alphas arc has made things livelier this season, and I also included Starz' Boss on my list of improved (if not in the ratings) sophomore shows, and praised MTV's Awkward and Teen Wolf on their second years, although I liked their freshman seasons as well. In terms of network shows returning for a second season, I haven't seen anything yet, but I will tell you the ones I'm most keen on following, because they improved so much throughout their first season: Person of Interest, Once Upon a Time, Revenge and even the very guilty pleasure of Scandal.

Question: I've watched Survivor since day 1 (missing only two shows due to ER visits). For the most part I've enjoyed every show. It seems as if in the past three or four seasons, the competitions have gotten more physical and even dangerous. There have been injuries requiring contestants to leave the game. Does anybody agree and who do you contact to share concerns? — Fran

Matt Roush: Just venting your concerns in a forum like this tends to get the word out (though you can always contact the network or the show), but I'm sure this hasn't escaped their attention. In fact, it's become such an issue that this upcoming season set in the Philippines (starts Sept. 19) will welcome back three players who left previous seasons of Survivor for injuries or medical reasons.

Question: Has anyone noticed the parallels between Eureka and Longmire? Both have an unmarried sheriff with one daughter, a female deputy, a deputy who wants the sheriff's job (at least initially) and a wise best friend named Henry. There is also some romantic tension between the sheriff and his female deputy in both shows. Maybe it is all just coincidence, but it does seem curious. Could there be a connection? — Greg

Matt Roush: Seems a bit of a stretch. The details more or less match up, but the characters and the setting are so different in their particulars, not to mention the tone of each show, that I think you can write this off to coincidence. Though if a cheerfully robotic Deputy Andy suddenly shows up on Longmire next season, you may be on to something. (One more thing they have in common: I like both shows. And I miss Eureka something awful.)

That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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