Ask Matt: Mentalist, Good Wife, Smash, Glee, Parenthood and More!
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Question: I'd like to ask your opinion about two of my favorite shows, which I know you also enjoy: The Mentalist and The Good Wife. Although I like almost every episode, I think both shows are having their least successful seasons so far. For me the reason for the slump is the same for both shows: They reached a climactic moment in last season's finale, and then did not explore that moment fully enough. In The Mentalist, the showdown with Red John was one of the best scenes in the series to date. But after promising that viewers would see the "consequences" of Jane's actions, the writers totally copped out: Jane was on trial for less than one episode, and his complete acquittal was utterly ridiculous. (Even if the jury believed that he killed Red John in self defense, they still wouldn't have awarded him a "not guilty" verdict, right?) After that, it was business-as-usual. I understand that procedurals need to return to their case-of-the-week format, but I think that a sophisticated procedural like The Mentalist would have more thoughtfully examined the repercussions of Jane's violent act.
The Good Wife has done something similar, in my opinion. I have always thought they handled the romance between Will and Alicia brilliantly, keeping it at a slow burn and never quite making it the center of the show. The lead-in to last season's finale was exceptional (the revelations of Kalinda and Peter's affair, Alicia kicking Peter out, etc.), and I loved the last scene with Will and Alicia at the hotel. But then I felt in this season that they didn't do enough with the Will and Alicia pairing. There were some promising developments — unexpectedly, Will grows far more attached to her than Alicia to him — but then the relationship was over before the season was half-finished. I'm definitely not a "shipper," but my concern is that the show has lost one of its main momentum-builders, and I feel that the episodes are suffering as a result.
What are your thoughts? Am I right that the writers of these two great shows let opportunities for major developments slide by, or am I missing something? — Jenny
Matt Roush: I agree with you more regarding The Mentalist than The Good Wife, but the situations are so different. The Mentalist is pure escapism, though the ongoing Red John arc gives it some teeth. And last season's climax involving Bradley Whitford as the faux Red John, as riveting as it was at the time, now feels like such a cop-out in retrospect. I get that it's still too early in the show's run to resolve this storyline altogether, but the next time Patrick Jane and Red John come face to face, it had better be for real. As it is, I understand fans feeling burned by the way that played out. With Will and Alicia on The Good Wife, I thought it was quite bold of the writers to let the affair go as far (and as torridly) as they did and then to have Alicia be the one who refused to get emotionally attached (for many reasons, including family and professional integrity). That's a strong, smart reversal of the way these stories usually play out. And ending the affair also felt realistic, given the fishbowl they live in both at work and (for her) on the home front. I look at this as the show giving fans a taste of what they wanted, then pulling back to keep things real, even if it's less than satisfying for the moment. In both cases, we're dealing with long-running shows that are unwilling to resolve these storylines yet. Just as Jane will never stop pursuing Red John, the sexual chemistry between Will and Alicia is never going to go away entirely.
Question: I am involved in an intense love-hate relationship with Smash. I can't quite figure this show out. On the one hand, I adore the main characters: Ivy and Karen, Derek, Julia and Tom, all are entertaining, engaging and obviously talented. From there, though, the show falls down. It seems to me that the Smash writers haven't quite settled on a personality for the show. It's half straight-forward soap and half over-the-top camp. I, for one, enjoy the straight-forward soap aspects much more. Is it possible to gradually tweak the show to weed out the parts that aren't working? And what's your take on the Ellis character, in particular? To me he's just irritating, and not in an "Oooh, drama!" kind of way. I want him off my TV screen. I don't think this show needs an outright villain; the drama between these flawed characters is good enough. Thoughts? — Kirsten
Matt Roush: Couldn't agree more about Ellis. A terribly written and poorly realized character, one of several weak spots in a show that is clearly still trying to find its voice and tone. (The episode in which Karen went back home to Iowa was the show's worst to date, but then it was followed by the episode in which Ivy shut Karen out during rehearsals, which may have been the show's best since the pilot.) For me, Smash is at its best when focused on the show, as if it were A Chorus Line: The Series. The showmances, the financial and creative pressures, anything involving that cad Derek, I'm on board. It can take a while for any show that's truly original to find its legs. I hope Smash gets that chance.
Question: Like so many of your readers do, let me qualify my following statement by explaining the type of TV viewer I am. When it comes to my favorite (and even medium-favorite) shows, I am always in it for the long haul. I don't understand people who will watch a show only until it does something they don't like, and then they use that annoying shark term. I prefer to simply watch a series as it plays out, which inevitably includes "off" episodes or even off seasons. (Nothing else challenged my approach to TV like the last two seasons of Gilmore Girls. It remains my all-time favorite show, but I like to pretend it ended after Season 5 with Lorelai proposing to Luke.) Now, let's talk about Glee. With Glee, and Ryan Murphy, there are basic tenets one must accept when watching it. We know it will be uneven. We know it will be over the top. And we know Ryan Murphy wants to preach to us (the show could actually be called Afterschool Special: The Musical). I've been taught my lessons about bullying, religious tolerance, teen pregnancy, ambition and alcohol. All good and well.
But the last episode before the hiatus may have finally pushed me over the edge, which I thought was impossible. It's one thing to expect to be preached to about one issue in an episode, but in this one we had three: teen suicide, texting while driving, and marrying too young. Not to mention Regionals and Sue's pregnancy (shudder). To say it was overstuffed is an understatement! I won't even address the merits of each story line, just the sheer number of them. Having Karofsky attempt suicide would have been a huge episode in and of itself, and to lump it in with all the other things going on diminished its emotional punch in my opinion. People have hailed Glee as groundbreaking and influential, and I would agree. But I have to confess I'm growing a wee bit weary of the contrived manipulations meant to teach us all how to be better human beings (I've got Pixar for that). What did you think of this overstuffed "winter finale?" — Ryn
Matt Roush: I liked it more than you did, but as usual, it came in for a fair amount of abuse, much of it justified, again as usual. (And sorry to be reaching back for this topic, which continues into the next question, but I took some time off shortly after this aired, and since the show isn't coming back until April, this is my best shot.) The Karofsky storyline was well handled, and felt like a dramatic payoff to the bullying storyline that has stretched over two seasons. But as you said, it was probably shortchanged by being just one of too many storylines (including Quinn's extraneous texting cliffhanger) being juggled in an episode dealing with Regionals and featuring so many musical high points. And I definitely think this was the wrong episode to let creepy Sebastian attempt his own insta-personality conversion. One redemption per episode, please. Much of the episode felt like classic Glee to me, but as always, that means for better and for worse.
Question: Ok, Glee. Yes, everyone's favorite punching bag with its writing, plotting, etc. And I agree that there are so many things it can do better, but truth is, I look forward to it every week and for the most part this second half of the season, I think it's been pretty OK. Now, one criticism has been growing about the show that I find myself agreeing with more and more. We all know Glee has a strong gay angle — but as far as storylines, do you think enough is enough? On the Feb. 21 winter finale, there was the brief exchange when Kurt slammed Quinn that her problems didn't compare with being a gay teen, and that's where he lost me again. Yes, gay teens have a very rough time with the identity issues, bullying and more. But what Kurt (wrongly) argued and what Glee is now pushing is that gay teens have it harder than anyone else: teen mothers (Quinn), paraplegics (Artie), homeless (Sam), overweight (Mercedes), etc. The show used to be about the outsider, all of the outsiders, people like Finn coming to terms with being an athlete in the glee club. But now, especially with Kurt, Blaine, Santana, Sebastian, Karofsky, it has become about gay teens and their struggles. Again, not saying these are not important issues to address and dramatize (Kurt's coming out was handled excellently) but in sidelining everyone else's struggles, they are making a misguided step. Thoughts? — Larry
Matt Roush: The scene where Kurt read Quinn the riot act was certainly controversial and unquestionably heavy-handed and maybe even misguided, as it seemed to slight the journeys his fellow misfits are on. But who's more self-absorbed than a teen in crisis, so I'm willing to let that one go. In part because I find myself continually reflecting on how remarkable it is that a mainstream prime-time hit series (albeit not as "hit" as it used to be) with a significant young following is putting out this message, even when it gets strident. I do feel that Karofsky being pushed to the point of suicide, with Kurt as his rock in the messy aftermath, represents a natural end point for this particular storyline. We get it already, and maybe now that it (and more to the point, Karofsky) is out in the open, we can move on.
Question: I started watching Suburgatory at the request of a friend and have found it very enjoyable. The best way I can describe the show is quirky. Cheryl Hines is fabulous as always, and Jeremy Sisto has a knack for comedy. What are the chances of this show sticking around? The show does not seem to get a lot of buzz and is sort of flying under the radar. — DJ
Matt Roush: Depends on your radar, because Suburgatory is doing just fine. I'm been a fan from the start of its stylized wackiness, and am thrilled that ABC has finally found a solid bridge between The Middle and Modern Family, my two favorite network comedies of the moment. There's no doubt it will be renewed for a second season.
Question: I've been reading your articles for years and have really enjoyed reading about your thoughts and opinions on current TV shows. I have a question for you now in regards to Private Practice. I understand you no longer watch the show; however, I would still really appreciate if you could respond. I've been hearing rumors Private Practice will be canceled after this season. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the show still has a chance to be renewed? Please tell me there's still hope, I'm a huge fan of both of Shonda Rhimes' shows, Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. Thanks! — KC
Matt Roush: I suppose these rumors got traction once ABC decided to separate Private Practice from the Grey's mothership, whose coattails it has been riding from the start. It's being bounced from Thursdays next month to make room for Shonda Rhimes' latest drama, Scandal, with Practice taking over the Tuesday-at-10/9c time period in late April for the final four episodes of its fifth season. I'm not sure it's make or break for the show just yet — much depends on how well Scandal performs, I'd think, and also whether Practice's audience follows it to the new night, showing that it may have some future as a utility player should ABC choose to pair something else with Grey's in the fall. This is probably the most vulnerable Private Practice has ever been, but unless ABC is supremely confident in its development for next season, I wouldn't be surprised if the network holds on to this known commodity a while longer, even as backup. At this point, it's anyone's guess.
Question: I'm curious to know whether or not you think any of the cast of Parenthood might get an Emmy nod before the show ends. Where would you put the odds of, say, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, or even Michael B. Jordan (for his excellent guest-star performance in "Clear Skies From Here on Out") receiving a nomination? The show might have its flaws, but I am a huge fan and would love to see these actors at least get recognized for their excellent, make-it-look-easy work. — Derek
Matt Roush: The odds probably aren't great, given that the show is ending its third season and it hasn't cracked the Emmys yet. (Not to say it never will, given the late blooming of shows like Friday Night Lights, which shares quite a bit in common with Parenthood.) It has to compete with ensemble dramas that make a lot more noise on cable, and while there are many times this cast hits an emotional home run, the show's generally lighter tone may keep it from resonating at nomination time. And while I'd love to see Lauren Graham eventually get her due, I'm betting that day will come in an actual comedy. It probably won't help this show's chances that it ended its season so early. Speaking of which ...
Question: Why did NBC air the season finale of Parenthood so early? — Rob
Matt Roush: The network ordered a season of 18 episodes this year (shorter than the usual 22), and it could have been worse. The initial order was for two episodes fewer. It seems to be a matter of inventory, that NBC wanted to free up the time period for some midseason tinkering — in this case, replacing it for the rest of the season with a reality competition, Fashion Star, which is like Project Runway with X Factor production values. (Still feels more like a Bravo knockoff to me, and surely that isn't the direction NBC wants to be heading.) This decision isn't likely to make any Parenthood fan happy, but I'd like to think the network will come to regret this decision. But it doesn't really affect the show's chances for renewal. It may not be a hit, but it does well enough, especially in the necessary demographics, to earn its place back on NBC's embattled prime-time schedule.
Question: Where's the love for Fringe? What I mean is as recently as last season, there was no end of favorable press about J.J. Abrams' wonderful, fascinating puzzle of a show. Yet this year when Fringe needs good press more than ever, it seems the entertainment press has been MIA. What's sad is I think this year's season is as good as anything else that's gone before, with the usual sparkling performances by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and above all, John Noble. Any thoughts on why all the members of the entertainment press have seemingly deserted Fringe in its hour of greatest need? — Nick
Matt Roush: I wouldn't say all. I've stayed loyal to Fringe (putting it on my Top 10 year-end list), and selected others have as well. But there has been some resistance among the show's former champions to Fringe having created yet another timeline for this season and staying with it for so long, at the expense of many of the stories, characters and developments from what many feel was the series-high third season. I understand that, but don't particularly agree with this backlash. I feel that Fringe is grounding this season in just as provocative and fruitful an emotional arc, as Peter desperately tries to find his way home. It's still like no other sci-fi/fantasy series I've ever seen, and I'm enjoying it. But I can respect opinions to the contrary, even at the risk of fewer people beating the drum for renewal this year. (It's kind of how I feel these days about Supernatural, which has pretty much run its course by now. The rabid fans will disagree, but it's too bad Fringe has to sweat it out on Fox while Supernatural coasts on The CW, where it's hard to tell if a cut-off line for survival even exists.)
Question: Based off your previous columns, you are a fan of BBC 3/BBC America's Being Human. So am I! I have seen the first two episodes of the original version's fourth season, and for lack of a more original word: Wow. I'm not sure where to start almost. One major death off screen, another major death at the end of the first episode, it almost feels like a UK version of Fringe now with such a reboot of storytelling and focus. The show's dynamic on almost every level has changed, which has to be considered a huge gamble, right? The initial purpose of the show was to almost be a parable at how being human regardless of one's quirks was hard or different, but now it has this edge to it with what they are trying to do.
Also, unlike American TV, in the U.K. the main star of any show is usually the show itself. Whether it's Being Human or Spooks (aka MI-5), in the U.K. a character isn't the star of a show, the show is the star of the show, which enables them to freely kill anyone at anytime. The U.S. is much more based on brands, and TV stars are brands, and people tune in to watch the stars, not the show, so there is a diverging philosophical difference. Another difference is that actors in the U.K., once having proven themselves, will get offers from American TV or even Hollywood as is the case with John Mitchell's Aidan Turner, who got a part in The Hobbit. So what are your thoughts of the revamped (pun slightly intended) version of Being Human? And do you see America's version in a different light with its ability to tell a story without the worry of losing its cast to bigger (possibly) and better (possibly) things? Also you once said the U.S. version made a mistake in its casting. Slam on Sam Witwer? And why? — Trenton
Matt Roush: I am very intrigued by this transformative season of the British Being Human, and you make some very interesting points about the willingness of many British series to kill off major characters, even fairly early in a show's run. (Often precipitated, as in the case of Being Human this season, by the actors deciding to move on.) But I should also note that what I've seen of the Syfy version this season, it has improved quite a bit over last year. I still have issues about the principal actors who are not Sam Witwer, but as the show diverges from the original series, it is becoming more interesting.
Question: I was just wondering about your views on Person of Interest and what do you think its chances are for a renewal? I just read that Touch is going to be airing in the same timeslot as Person Of Interest. Do you think it will hurt the ratings for the show? — Ishaan
Matt Roush: I am enjoying Person of Interest more and more as the season continues, and as the world of the show expands with more recurring characters (both heroic and villainous). I'd be very surprised if it doesn't get renewed. It will be interesting to see how Touch fares on Thursdays, a rather last-minute programming change designed to give this very unusual show a boost from an American Idol lead-in. Person of Interest is more offbeat than the usual CBS series, but I think it will do fine against the new competition. This is one of those time periods where there's just about something for everyone, from NBC's comedies to Grey's Anatomy to Person of Interest and now Touch. That's a lot of variety in one hour of prime time. Which is good for everybody.
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