Ask Matt: Once Upon a Time, Grey's, Fringe, More on Laugh Tracks and More!
Gabrielle Rose and Josh Dallas
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Question: I love Once Upon a Time, but I am worried that the show will turn into another Lost: lots of questions, few answers and a somewhat cop-out ending. Will we see some of the characters regain their happy endings or will the show be six years of waiting for Snow White and the Prince to figure things out? I liked how the Cinderella story was resolved, but also moved the show forward. Can we expect more of this? — Tiff
Matt Roush: If you're actually enjoying Once Upon a Time, and for the most part I am as well, why spend time worrying about whether and when it will let you down? You're probably setting yourself up for disappointment if you're expecting a happily-ever-after resolution for many of the main characters anytime soon. These are still early days for a show that's obviously going to have a long shelf life, and what I expect (not getting ahead of the show) is that there will be self-contained stories based on the fairy-tale legends, revisionist twists like we saw with the Jiminy Cricket character's backstory or the Cinderella character, but other stories — Snow and the Prince, in particular — will take a long and winding (if not yellow brick) road to get to a resolution. Even so, it's already been established as part of the show's premise that everyone is living under the Evil Queen's curse, so the mysteries and questions aren't initially as confounding as the nature of the island on Lost, and there's little chance this show will go as deep down a rabbit hole (to mix even more metaphors) as Lost did to leave some of its fan base unsatisfied.
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Question: Last week it was announced that Grey's Anatomy would be having an alt-reality episode which will feature Derek married to Addison. Understandably the MerDer fans are furious but no one understands us. They're saying, "It's not real, it's a 'what if' episode so it's not like MerDer is breaking up," etc... but MerDer fans feel like it's not fair to us to have an episode featuring a married Derek and Addison. After eight years of ups and downs with MerDer's relationship, they're finally in a pretty good place. Addison has her own show now and the Addison/Derek story is in the past. Why is Shonda Rhimes dragging the whole Derek/Addison/Meredith triangle back to the forefront, even for only one episode? Why should the very large MerDer fanbase have to sit through an episode where Derek and Addison are kissing and acting all couply? Do you agree with MerDer fans' complaint? — Barbara
Matt Roush: In a word: No. With all due respect, this kind of approach to a show is so narrow in focus that it tends to do more harm than good, in this case exacerbated by judging something you haven't even seen yet, which is almost always a no-no in my book. From what I gather about this episode, the triggering "what if" device is more about the impact Ellis Grey (Meredith's mom) would have had on the world of Grey's and Meredith's life if she hadn't had Alzheimer's and died, and the continued marriage of Derek and Addison is just part of that scenario. For all I know, this will turn out to be another wrong-headed heavy-handed experiment like the musical episode, but I always liked Kate Burton's portrayal of Ellis, so I'm intrigued. And focusing on this one element, as if it's a slap in the face to one part of the fan base, isn't much of an argument. I seem to have a reputation as someone who cheerleads the Meredith-Derek relationship, and that's true in that I'm glad the show finally put the two of them together and kept them that way, through all the subsequent ups and downs that happen in any soapy drama. But I'm an even bigger believer in letting show-runners run their show, taking risks that sometimes pay off and other times blow up in their faces. It's their playground and we're just spectators. But judging the game in advance? Rarely a good idea.
Question: I am writing in defense of the TV laugh tracks. I felt that the comment in last week's column about how it was used "to show viewers that whatever was said or done was funny enough to laugh at" and that current viewers are "now 'sophisticated' enough to know when to laugh" really showed a poor opinion of the older generation of TV viewers. I always looked at the "filmed before a live studio audience" to be a natural progression from when TV was broadcast live. And, speaking as someone in her 20s, I hardly even notice it. I grew up watching all the great shows you mentioned in your response in syndication, and I honestly notice it more when a show doesn't use one. I don't even mind it on a show like How I Met Your Mother where I know from the commentaries on the DVDs that it is all "canned" laughter because their show would be too difficult to shoot in front of an audience due to the time-shifting nature of the show. Anyway, I read the column every week and I wouldn't have given Once Upon a Time a shot without your recommendation and now I am glad I did, so thanks! — Genevieve
Matt Roush: I always enjoy when a topic like this spins off more conversation and debate. My take is that it's way too easy to just declare, "I hate laugh tracks. They're stupid," without considering the long and proud history of the multi-camera comedy, which too often is undervalued these days in favor of the "sophisticated" single-camera filmed shows. There's great and terrible work being done in both formats, and sometimes of course, it just boils down to a matter of taste. Here's another twist on the subject.
Question: People continue to complain about multi-camera sitcoms and their laugh tracks, but they never mention the real difference between them and the single-camera competitor: the fact that multi-cam, studio audience shows are stuck on a stereotypical set. Most of them have a major home set (front door-living room-dining room-kitchen-back door), plus at least one bedroom, a patio area, and a workplace set or two). Any time they want to venture somewhere else, they're generally stuck on unrealistically small stages (a school cafeteria with 3 tables, a church with 3 rows of pews, or a supermarket the size of a 7-Eleven). I barely notice the laugh track unless it's overused, but I do notice when every episode is set in the same room, no matter what the activity: the family avoiding discussion of everything until they walk in the front door, or how every party or meeting is always held at this family's house. The single-cam shows can go all over the place and seem realistically set in the real world, instead of on a stage. — Budikavlan
Matt Roush: A fair point. The world and look of a multi-camera comedy tends to be more limited, but there can also be something deeply comforting about returning to these confined sets of homes and workplaces — I'm thinking now of The Mary Tyler Moore Show shuttling between the WJM newsroom and Mary's various abodes, and how authentic it all felt to me at the time (I was a teenager, but still) or how I never tired of going back to the bar in Cheers. This is also the difference between the movies and the theater, and both can be equally transporting (or disappointing) depending on the execution. I've seen plays that felt more real to me than a movie shot on location. Go figure.
Question: I really appreciate how you turned last week's question about why The Vampire Diaries is underappreciated into a plug for Fringe. Thank goodness it's still getting the critical recognition it deserves, if not the ratings. I understand that networks are never trying to kill a show, but I can't help but notice the extremely bad schedule of airing Fringe episodes this year. We only got seven episodes before the winter break, which seems a bit low, and there were the awkward two-week breaks here and there, with fans not necessarily being aware that it would be on the following week. Additionally, there was the unfortunate pre-empting with the World Series, which resulted in the last episode of the year not being the one that was originally intended to be the mid-season finale. Any insight as to why Fox would air so few episodes this year and so sporadically, or why they wouldn't have let it run an extra week? — Alex
Matt Roush: Look on the bright side. At least there's now the likelihood of fewer repeats in the back half of the season, during the winter months when there's a greater likelihood of people actually staying in to watch TV on Friday nights. Not that it's likely to help Fringe much one way or another. Honestly, Fringe is so lucky just to still be on the air, though in retrospect, maybe Fox would have been better advised to delay the season until the new year, running it straight through the way 24 used to be programmed, thus avoiding the World Series disruptions and other pre-emptions (including Thanksgiving weekend, and dropping in one last episode in December wouldn't have made much sense or difference). According to my records, Fox aired four Fringe episodes in a row before post-season baseball kicked in, and then three in a row once the World Series was over, stopping at the Thanksgiving break. Not a great strategy, maybe, but not really abusive either.
Question: Allow me to get this off my chest. I love sci-fi. I loved Farscape, Star Trek, Stargate, and have watched pretty much everything else. But I am not on the Fringe bandwagon for one simple reason: It is a parallel universe story. I don't like parallel universe stories and never have. I could barely tolerate them when it would serve as one episode on Farscape, Star Trek, Stargate, etc. Everyone has done them. I don't like them. I don't want to watch a whole series when that is the main hook. I am an original sci-fi fan; I grew up in the Golden Age — the John Campbell age — and have kept up as best I can. I know that I don't like parallel universes no matter how well they are done.
And last week's column had some interesting points about pacing. I happen to like the pacing in The Vampire Diaries. I like the way they don't drag out the secrets and for the secrets that do last a little longer — at least I know it won't last that long. Look at Ringer. It is a show I should like but it is playing out so slowly I am ready to give up on it. I have two episodes on my DVR and any time I have some free time... well, I can't bring myself to turn it on. So I get that you don't like the pacing on Vamp Diaries but it works for me. And I can get my soapy fix. — Shelley
Matt Roush: Not sure why you think I don't like the pacing on The Vampire Diaries. I wrote last week that, "I do appreciate its breakneck (often literally) pace and what-next plotting." It's the best thing about the show. Couldn't agree more that it's a lot more fun than the pokey Ringer has turned out to be. You want a show that breaks a ton of outrageous story every week? Try Revenge. Regarding your objection to Fringe and the parallel universe storyline: That's clearly your choice. We all have "deal breakers" when it comes to the kinds of stories we choose to follow, and I'm sure there are many who hate the fact that the new Star Trek movie franchise is proceeding on an "alternate timeline." I try not to set such hard and fast rules, and with Fringe, what I appreciate about the warring worlds is that the parallel universe isn't just a one-off gimmick but leads to a richer exploration of theme and character, especially where Walter and his relationship with Peter is concerned, and Walter's guilt about having caused such a cosmic mess by pursuing his personal agenda.
Question: I've been trying to catch up on DVR-ed shows after a couple of busy weeks. The last two Prime Suspect episodes were easily the best of the season. Good character interaction, plus showing Jane has a tender side when needed. Do you know if the show has been officially canceled? Also, what's your take on the show? — Mickie
Matt Roush: Officially, Prime Suspect hasn't been canceled. Realistically, it's toast. It won't continue in production beyond the initial 13-episode order, but NBC will continue to air the remaining episodes whenever and however it can. But there is a new show (The Firm) ready to take over the time period in January, and even Grimm improved on its ratings (though not by a lot) when it aired in Prime Suspect's slot last Thursday. I agree with you that the show just kept getting better, and NBC did try to make it work, even stripping episodes across an entire week's lineup to get it more exposure. But it never caught on, a case of the right show on the wrong network — it probably would have played just fine on CBS — or more accurately, at the wrong time in this struggling network's history to attract a crowd for almost any show.
Question: I'm having trouble with Jai on Covert Affairs. I just don't see the point in his character. He used to make sense, I could kind of see how his role was somewhat important, but now I really don't. They give him these plot lines that they never fully explain, so it leaves me completely confused. Could you please clarify his role these days? — Kristin
Matt Roush: Actually, I feel that last week's season finale defined Jai's role in the show as an antagonist a little more clearly, as he turned on his father, revealing him to be the CIA mole in hopes of getting out from under his nepotistic shadow, then making his intentions clear to Arthur that he's laying the groundwork to go after Joan's job. This recent interview with the producers may give you even more context, but I'm glad Jai has become more than just another pretty face in one of TV's most telegenic casts.
Question: Love reading your "Ask Matt" column every week and I've been meaning to send this one in for some time now. My wife and I both love Parenthood and the way they can keep the stories realistic and relatable without feeling too heavy. It's really one of the few dramas we enjoy. I remember when production started on this show, Maura Tierney was set to play Sarah but had to drop out due to her health concerns at the time (happy to know she has recovered and thought she was an excellent addition to last weeks Office episode) and she was replaced by the always enjoyable Lauren Graham. Did the writers change Sarah's character type or history much to fit the new actress? It's not that I don't think Maura Tierney could play the role, I just think it would've been played a bit differently between the two of them. — Jeff
Matt Roush: My memory is kind of cloudy regarding the original Parenthood pilot, which featured Maura Tierney before she had to bow out. But while the character didn't really change in specific terms of what Sarah and her kids were up to in the pilot, the tone lightened up considerably with Lauren Graham in the role, and that extended to the show as well, dialing back the angst a bit to bring more humor into the family drama. Tierney tends to be an edgier actor, so while I'm not saying Parenthood became better or worse with this pivotal cast change, it did feel different.
Question: What do you think the chances are that Ringer, Hart of Dixie and The Secret Circle will get a renewal? They're pretty good and some of my favorite new shows of the season. — Chris
Matt Roush: It's so hard to gauge what is classified a success on The CW, the ratings bar is set so low. But if it's business as usual heading into the next season, I'd guess Hart and Circle are shoo-ins for renewal, Circle being compatible with (if almost indistinguishable from) The Vampire Diaries and keeping Kevin Williamson busy and happy, and Hart is doing OK on Mondays by The CW's standards. (That show is so cutesy and phony it makes my teeth hurt, but whatever.) Ringer may have to sweat it out until May. It's finally starting to pick up some narrative steam, but if it doesn't start generating some real buzz in the back half of the season, the clock could start ticking.
Question: NBC wants me to watch more of their programming, preferably live, but thinks I should tolerate Fear Factor commercials? Kind of optimistic, if you ask me. I really like SVU and Grimm, but I wish the network would quit testing my resolve. P.S.: Zombie apocalypse? Not a problem. Fear Factor? Not so much. — Anna
Matt Roush: So you won't be watching tonight, I presume? Thanks for giving me a laugh to end the column on. Though we may not be laughing when the Fear Factor ratings come in. I remember when the show first premiered in the summer of 2001 and was an instant hit, I chalked it up as the beginning of the end — and it was a harbinger of much more train-wreck TV to come (hello, Jersey Shore, Kardashians, etc.). The show's return is likely to be just sensational enough to give a boost to NBC's numbers, which could hardly get worse. But at what cost?
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