Ask Matt: The Newsroom, Glee Project, Falling Skies, True Blood, More
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Question: It seems that many TV critics (you being a notable exception) are coming down hard on The Newsroom, and I was wondering if you have an idea of why this is. Yes, it's preachy, but every Aaron Sorkin show and movie is. Successful, intelligent career women are portrayed as being driven mostly by their hormones, but that's true of every woman character on TV that's written by a man (unless played by Julianna Margulies or Connie Britton). And some of the plot contrivances (the wayward e-mails, the Bigfoot obsession, the cute blonde assistant who is smart when the plot needs her smart and dumb when the plot needs her dumb) are cringe-worthy. On the other hand, you've got a talented, likable cast ably delivering some of the snappiest dialogue on TV, which right there puts it ahead of 95 percent of everything else. Give me 10 minutes of Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels bantering back and forth each week and I'd be happy, and the show delivers considerably more than that.
I'm not saying it's not flawed, but the pluses outweigh the minuses by quite a bit, and the show is wildly entertaining. So why the heavily negative reaction? Is Sorkin held to a higher standard? Are journalists taking more shots because the show is set in a milieu they know (a newsroom) rather than the White House? Curious on your take on this. — Rick
Matt Roush: To answer your specific questions, without attempting to speak for other critics who are more than able to explain their (often extreme) positions on this understandably polarizing show, I do think Aaron Sorkin is held to a higher standard than many, which only seems fair given his track record and the anticipation that greets each new project, not to mention something airing on HBO. From my very first review of The Newsroom, I have declared it to be both exhilarating and exasperating, and like you I find the whole package entertaining enough that I tend to rise above if not ignore the glaring flaws. I freely admit I'm a sucker for Sorkin, but even so I find myself wanting to strangle many of these characters at least once per episode (and in last night's episode, Maggie more than once as she kept obsessing on Jim and Lisa's relationship while real news was happening). Staging an over-the-top romantic comedy amid the real-life workings of an idealized cable newsroom is inviting brickbats from journalists, who often come off sounding even more self-righteous in their apoplexy — and sometimes political correctness — than Sorkin's patsies.
When Sorkin met the critics at last week's TCA press tour, even I cringed when he contended there was no difference in his treatment of the male and female characters. (When I see a male character count on his fingers, or fail to understand what "LOL" means, then I might be appeased.) It was clear from the start of that session that he and his harshest critics weren't going to come to any sort of agreement, but the sparring was still an enjoyable spectacle. I do wish there was someone at HBO or in Sorkin's circle who could rein him in from many of the show's sillier and more sentimental excesses, but that's Sorkin, love him or hate him. It's impossible to stay neutral, which is one of the things I most enjoy about him.
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Question: I'm a big fan of TNT's The Closer. However, in this past season, especially after Kyra Sedgwick announced she's ending her role, it seems that the stories are a lot harsher with Brenda's storyline. Hopefully the finale is a lot better. Any news regarding the finale? — Stephanie
Matt Roush: Brenda hasn't had it easy in these last episodes, but for me, that has made The Closer a better drama as she deals with the consequences of her actions — although I can see where fans might see it as piling on for her to suffer a sudden personal tragedy on top of everything else. Still, to watch Kyra Sedgwick play these emotional scenes reminds me of what the franchise is losing when she steps away from this career-defining role. I have seen the final two episodes of the series (and the first few of its spinoff, Major Crimes), and if you think I'm going to spoil any of the details of the finale you must be thinking of someone else's column. I will say these are fairly powerful episodes — tonight's long-awaited reveal of the "mole" in the office packs quite a punch — and after next Monday's finale airs, then it will be safe to discuss whether Brenda and Kyra get the sendoff they deserve. All I'm willing to say for now is that she'll be missed. As I write in the magazine in my review of Major Crimes (which will be posted closer to air), the new show feels like The X-Files trying to continue without Mulder.
Question: I am such a fan of The Glee Project and the talented young contestants, but the show rubbed me the wrong way when Shanna Henderson was eliminated. Why would they get rid of the most talented contestant? I understand that she may not have been the easiest actress to write into the show because she isn't transgendered or ethnic, but she proved her strong acting skills and incredible voice week after week. Even after landing in the bottom three (for the first time in nine episodes), she sang better than anyone on the show, while Blake was predictable and Aylin was in the bottom three again (don't get me wrong, I think they are great too). Shanna absolutely did not deserve to go home just because the writers would have a harder time coming up with a storyline for her — that's their job! Sometimes talent should win out over being hot (Blake) or ethnic (Aylin). Shanna's departure is almost enough for me to stop watching this season — almost, but I love it too much! And PS, Shanna's final vocals on Keep Holding On were the best ever! I hope to hear her sing again very soon! — Gary
Matt Roush: As you'll see, you're not the only one to have a negative reaction to this surprising elimination. When a pool of talent is this strong, some of the cuts are going to hurt — and create the sort of controversy these shows live for. This was the first week when I felt all of the bottom three were bona fide front-runners — how the bland Michael skated by another week is beyond me (although you're only as good or bad as your most recent performance, and he had an unusually good week) — and I imagine I'd have gotten much the same reaction if either of the others had not been called back. I do agree it's off-putting to think a contestant's chances often seem to hinge on whether he or she is "out there" or "different" enough to inspire Ryan as a potential character, when talent should be the only true criterion here. But I don't think Aylin is making it through on ethnicity alone, and Blake is like a more accomplished version of Finn and also shouldn't be dismissed just because he doesn't have such an edge. With these kinds of shows, everyone has favorites, and it's inevitable that some will be gone too soon. With The Glee Project, it can seem awfully arbitrary, but imagine if these kids were going through the actual audition process, which is only about a million times worse. And wouldn't give them nearly this kind of priceless exposure.
Question: I hope you're enjoying the summer. I have two questions about two vastly different shows. First: The Glee Project. I didn't watch the first season, but I heard great things and I have really enjoyed Season 2 for the most part (aside for the cringe-worthy use of made-up words like "romanticality" and no straight-up acting challenges). However, I heard one criticism about Season 1 that I have now seen starting to emerge in this season with the elimination of Shanna. It seems to pay off more if you end up in the bottom three to sing for Ryan Murphy — he gets to know you week after week and starts figuring out how to "write" for you. Whereas I thought Shanna was the most professional and consistent and had one of the best voices; she ends up there and is eliminated the first time. Now granted, this week was a tough choice, but still don't you think this is a flaw in their elimination system?
The other question is about Revolution. Now, I usually agree with you on not judging before I see a show and on paper this looks like something right up my alley: J.J. Abrams, sci-fi, mythology, great cast, but: NBC. I see the promos and so much potential for something good and all I can think of is The Event. And The Cape. Undercovers. The last three seasons of Heroes. I usually try not to judge a show by the network is on, but I think I'd be more excited for this show if it were on any other network than NBC. Thoughts? — Larry
Matt Roush: With The Glee Project, being in the bottom can be blessing and curse. End up there too often, you're likely gone. End up there late in the game like Shanna and fail to impress Ryan with your potential for whatever reason (and this felt decidedly vague), you may stand less of a chance than repeat bottom-dwellers with more distinct personalities. I doubt Ryan goes into these last-chance performance rounds as blind as it seems, but you'd think with so much at stake as a potential new cast member, we'd see him being more involved in the process.
Regarding Revolution, I have my issues with this series (which I'll make clear again closer to premiere and Fall Preview), but the network it airs on is not one of them — although it's inevitably going to be compared to past NBC misfires like The Event. Every series deserves to be judged on its own merits, and as you note, this is a new set of producers, as well as a new network regime and an entirely different premise. So if what you've seen in the endless Olympics promos intrigues you, what can it hurt to check out the pilot in September?
Question: What is your opinion of True Blood this year and what do you think the impact will be with creator Alan Ball leaving after this season? I am surprised to find that I just could not get into the storylines this year. Maybe the mix of stories are so diverse and unrelated to each other that it just lost me, but since we usually only subscribe to HBO for True Blood, we actually found it is no longer "must see TV" and we cancelled our HBO subscription. Is this show still high on your list? — Rob
Matt Roush: I'm hoping with someone new in charge True Blood might again regain the focus it used to enjoy — as in, maybe keeping Sookie and the vamps in roughly the same storyline. It will take a lot to get me to break up with the show, because I still enjoy its Southern Gothic madness more often than not, but this season quickly turned into a hot mess as it tried to juggle too many subplots of uneven quality. (Thankfully, last night's episode appears to have put to rest a few of the least compelling stories: Terry and the smoke monster, the Obama-masked "supe" haters modeled after the KKK.) The vamps' internal power struggle has had its moments — the shockingly early demise of Roman; turning Bill against Eric — but it has surprisingly managed to marginalize a character as epic as Russell in favor of the less impressive lady vamps Salome and Nora (and, by extension, the great and powerful Lilith). The part of the show that never lets me down: Anything to do with Pam and Tara. Last night's Pam-isms: "There are two things I try to stay away from: humans who eat a lot of fish, and politics." And to Tara: "Just because we drank a b---h together does not make us Oprah and Gail." The part of the show that might yet break me: the fairies. That's a world I'd be happy never to visit again.
Question: What is your take on Falling Skies? For a sci-fi story so far, it has kept the sci-fi part on near equal footing with the interpersonal relationships, which is good. They have developed characters that you like and hate. Some of the special effects, such as the robots, are surprisingly crude for a series in which Spielberg is involved, but I look forward to the show. It certainly seems much lower budget than my (still) favorite Stargate SG-1, again, evident in the special effects.
One last, why are catch-up reruns not available for Person of Interest? Neither CBS nor Comcast have them available! — Bruce
Matt Roush: I'm ranking Falling Skies the summer's most-improved series — also the summer's best sci-fi series (sorry, Syfy). It has been so much tougher and emotional this season, especially anything involving the son Ben (the terrific Connor Jessup), and I'm OK with the special effects, because they should be raw and unpolished given the world being portrayed here. As for Person of Interest: This is a recurring question involving shows that aren't available online or On Demand, and that's usually the prerogative of the studio, not the network. It involves deals and contracts I can't pretend to understand, though often boiling down to the fact that some companies don't always want to give their shows away for free and would rather make you watch in real time (imagine!) or record the shows (in first-run or rerun), thus making them potentially more valuable properties when it comes time for sale to syndication or cable.
Question: I recently started watching Showtime's Episodes and absolutely love it. Matt LeBlanc has never been better! I just heard about NBC's new show Animal Practice and thought it sounded like the "show with the dog" with high ratings the Episodes cast is always complaining about. Is there anything about the new show that makes it worth watching, or has NBC been watching Showtime and figures people are dying for a show with an animal in it? — Tom
Matt Roush: If you've loved the monkey promos during the Olympics ... that's basically the show. Can't think of anything else to recommend it — though you can make up your own mind when NBC sneak-peeks the pilot of Animal Practice after this Sunday's closing ceremony of the Olympics. If it becomes a huge hit, then Episodes will once again have proven to be prescient when it comes to the imbecilic madness of the industry it so richly spoofs.
Question: Let me start by saying that I love reading your take on TV. I keep up-to-date with your posts! I've read your praise and criticism for comedies, dramas and competition shows over time, but I was just wondering if you are a fan of reality TV shows. Shows that many of us don't want to admit that we watch. Do you watch shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Teen Mom, The (various) Real Housewives or Mob Wives? Are there any reality TV programs you watch all the time but are afraid to admit? If so, which ones and why? If not, dish anyway! — Cyrus
Matt Roush: I try not to be a reality snob, but certain matters do come down to personal taste, and there are limits. The only kind of "reality" TV I can bear to watch on a regular basis is of the competition genre where actual skills might be rewarded (as well as games and contests like Survivor and The Amazing Race) — and occasionally a "docu-series" will catch my interest, as long as the intent doesn't seem to be making celebrities out of people who only have a gift for being on TV (which pretty much encompasses your entire list). Occasionally when one of these franchises achieves a level of popularity, I'll force myself to sample it so I have a point of reference if asked to comment on it. But on my own, I have never been able to make it through an entire episode of these exercises in narcissism regardless of who's involved. And that's been the case since the very first season of The Real World. But since this subject has come up, let me close this column with two fan tributes to the sort of docu-reality I can stand behind, even if I don't regularly watch.
Question: I love the limited series Push Girls on Sundance on Monday nights. It's the kind of show that can really teach you something. It's real, raw and makes me humble and appreciate my life. I have always lived by a saying that my grandmother always said to us kids: "You have two lives, the one you are given and the one that you make." I was given a life of a healthy woman and live my life and feel grateful for my arms, legs and brain that function normally and I utilize them to their full potential. I wish everyone was just as grateful and then watch this show and get off their asses and do something with their lives like these girls. — Donna
Matt Roush: It is an inspiring series, and I'm sorry I didn't pay more attention to it this summer. Thanks for the recommendation.
Question: After watching the season finale of Deadliest Catch, I really feel I need to give a shout out to the producers, camera people, narrator Mike Rowe and everyone else involved with one of the few reality shows where I don't hate every single person involved. The footage of the F/V Wizard in a sea of ice as a huge wave pushed it towards the shore and the wreckage of another ship reminded us why the show is called Deadliest Catch and was amazing and heart stopping. The obvious pain and frustration in the faces of recovering alcoholics Edgar Hansen and Jake Anderson at their inability to help troubled Jake Harris was heartbreaking. Seeing someone actually lose a finger was scary and gross at the same time. Although not quite as scary as Capt. Elliot Neese stalking his girlfriend and calmly explaining he had to call her 50 times in one day because she didn't answer the phone. And the sight of the Coast Guard rescue swimmer, crying because he couldn't save an injured deckhand and was forced to leave the body with his grieving shipmates and family members ... oh my goodness. Thankfully there was the wedding of Jake Anderson, a good guy who has been through so much, to lift your spirits. Although Jake Harris' appearance seems to indicate he's got a long way to go if he wants to get better.
Although I am fascinated by these rough but sentimental men with an even rougher job, the real star is the magnificent Bering Sea. Dangerous and merciless, yet beautiful and sometimes willing to make you rich. From watching the show I feel like I know a little something about the industry and the people who put food on my table. And if I sit down for the unlimited crab legs at the buffet, I will remember that people worked damn hard to put it there. I really applaud the people who put this show together for being able to sift through thousands of hours of video and find a strong narrative thread that pulls the season together into a theme. The rise of Jake Anderson and Josh Harris and the fall of Jake Harris and Elliot. I watch a lot of great television, but I don't think any of it will stay with me like that season finale. Did I mention that I really love this show? — Cynthia
Matt Roush: This is a truly grueling series, which spawned its own cottage industry of clones. From what I've seen (which admittedly isn't everything), few live up to the groundbreaking original, which tends to be how it works on TV, regardless of genre.
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