Ask Matt: Remakes, Community, Vampire Bad Boys, Pan Am, Fringe and More!
Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor
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Question: I was wondering what your take is on all the griping and complaining people do about the recent reboots and remakes of classic TV series lately, especially in light of the recent cancellation of Charlie's Angels. I find most of the complaints about plots, writing, acting, story lines, etc., laughable, especially in light of the series most of us are talking about. Most of the shows so far that have been rebooted (Charlie's Angels, Knight Rider, Bionic Woman) and some of the others that have been either done or have been in consideration were not Masterpiece Theater to begin with. The plots and acting in the originals, if I recall, most of the time were as thin as a gallon of chicken broth made from one chicken wing. So why are the reboots held to a higher standard? — Tom
Matt Roush: Maybe Syfy's Battlestar Galactica ruined it for everyone by showing the possibilities of a grand re-imagining of a cheesy original. But truth is, it isn't really about expectations where most of these reboots are concerned. In the best-case scenario, we're merely hoping for a show that won't ruin the nostalgic affection we might still harbor for the junk TV of our youth. (Depending on when you grew up. Case in point, when I heard years ago that Lost in Space was being remade as a movie, I got excited. Then I saw it.) The problem here is that when we first hear about a remake, much of our instant reaction (often reinforced by the eventual product) is as cynical as the lazy programming strategies that turn to these brand-name titles to try to prop up a schedule. As always on TV, it's about the execution, and while it's true that most of these "classic" properties are easy to mock — as they often were even back in their day — the fact that they have any cultural resonance at all means there's something that can get lost in the translation. And when the result is something as poorly cast and amateurishly produced as the Charlie's Angels redo — which potentially could have enjoyed a bounce the way the feature films did — then there's no mercy in the reviews or in the ratings.
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Question: First off, I couldn't agree more with your recent write-up of Community, with special emphasis on one of their best episodes ever, "Remedial Chaos Theory." The first three episodes of the current season were good, but seemed a little flat in areas. After the shake-up in writers after season 2, I was a little apprehensive going into season 3, but such fears were allayed on Thursday with one of their strongest, most creative and funniest episodes to date. Although there are a number of reasons why "Remedial Chaos Theory" will likely make most Top 10 lists for the show, one element that really stood out to me was that Chang was completely absent from the episode (a fact which I only noticed well after the episode was over). Indeed, not only did I not initially notice that Ken Jeong was missing, but I think his absence had a lot to do with my enjoyment of the episode. I've enjoyed Chang in the past, but for me, he's best in small doses. Even when I'm enjoying what he's doing (like the noir voiceover in "Competitive Ecology"), I find that on some level at least, his storylines are just not connecting entirely and don't seem to fit with the rest of the show the way it once did. As reluctant as I am to say it, I think it's getting to the point where an episode without Chang is like an episode of Glee without Sue: Better. Both Sue and Chang seemed so essential early on, but more and more, I find I'm liking them less and less.
Are you enjoying Chang this season? Did you miss him last episode? Or does a little Chang go a long way? — Lacy
Matt Roush: What I loved about last week's episode was its focus on the core characters and how it so cleverly shifted the group dynamic depending on who left the room. There were so many brilliant payoffs in the running gags, all staying so true to character, and given that it was all taking place off-campus in a very self-contained experiment-with-form episode, it made sense for there to be no cameos by Chang, Dean Pelton or any of the other Greendale zanies. But I wouldn't go so far to say that it's a better episode because it's Chang-free. He can be a bit much, for sure, and he's intended to be an irritant, and part of the ongoing comedy has been his desperation to be part of the group when they're just as intent to keep him out. I would agree a little of him goes a long way, but I don't think he's anywhere near the Sue Sylvester level — yet — of wearing out his welcome.
Question: I had a question about the concept of the bad boy. I watch The Vampire Diaries religiously, and I enjoy the character of Damon. I understand that he is a vampire and his very nature is evil, and I also understand that he longs to be more caring and loving, especially with Elena. However, I remain convinced that Elena's best love interest is Stefan. Even though Damon has shown some redeeming qualities, he mostly has tried to kill everyone Elena loves (sometimes accomplishing it), used her friend for blood and sex and forced her to drink his blood so she would turn into a vampire if she died. I am not sure how anyone could root for them as a couple. This trend of wanting the heroine of a show to be with the bad boy instead of the decent guy is upsetting. We see it on True Blood and that show from last year, Life Unexpected. I think it shows young girls that you should strive to be with the bad boy because he is more exciting and overlook all the horrible things he has done to you and others. People may think Stefan is boring, but he respects Elena and would never do anything to intentionally hurt her despite his vampire nature. — Rachel
Matt Roush: The allure of the bad boy is hardly a new phenom; just think Marlon Brando and The Wild One as an icon that set the trend. What I like about the way Vampire Diaries has evolved Damon, and True Blood Eric, especially in Blood's last season (my favorite since the first), is that we get to see the side they've long repressed in their embrace of evil and/or power: the romantic who lurks beneath the villain, which only makes them more interesting and compelling as characters. With True Blood, the whole time Sookie indulged her torrid fling with the "good Eric," she dreaded the day he might revert back to form. With Diaries, we have Elena leaning on Damon and drawn (as any romantic would be) to his inner struggle to honor his brother while protecting the woman they both love from this evil incarnation of Stefan. None of this ignores their past bad deeds, but supernatural tales tend to be stories of redemption as well, and the reason these shows work is that the respective heroines have chemistry with both the good and the bad vamps, and our ambivalence about who to root for is part of the fun. In Diaries, no matter what wickedness Stefan commits under Klaus's spell, we're still meant to believe that he and Elena are soulmates. Ditto (departing from the Charlaine Harris books) Sookie and Bill, though that's less clear at this point. But if you're looking at these characters to be role models for the young audience, you're barking up the wrong genre.
Question: Watching last week's episode of Pan Am, I groaned when the title card came up announcing first that things were "24 Hours Later," then "12 Hours Earlier" or something. I'm an avid fan of Lost and Damages and don't mind shows integrating flashbacks into their structure, but in the case of Pan Am, the nonlinear storytelling doesn't seem to really benefit the story in any meaningful way, in that it would be just as effective, if not more so, if chronological. In the pilot, the flashback with Colette sleeping with the passenger she doesn't know is married is completely pointless, because her dilemma has already been established. Therefore, the flashback didn't really tell us any information we didn't already know. I want to like the show since there are many enjoyable elements in it, but do you know if the flashbacks are going to ease up soon? In the case of this show, they just seem to be confusing. What are your thoughts on how the show has progressed since the pilot? — Jake
Matt Roush: I wish Pan Am's storytelling had more of a saucy bite — I haven't been especially swept away since the pilot episode, but I still find the show very pleasurable to watch on a purely aesthetic level, which may not be enough to counteract the fading ratings, though I hope ABC gives it more time to figure itself out. The flashbacks don't really bother me, although in the Berlin episode, the device of starting the story at the end of the trip and backtracking is a pretty tired (and here, unnecessary) gimmick. So I agree with your specific criticism. In general, if the flashbacks illuminate character, that's fine with me, and back story is critical for a show like this, especially in the early stages as we see where everyone came from. In the Berlin episode, I thought it was especially well executed in making us feel Colette's discomfort and panic upon being reminded of the Nazi occupation by being on German soil. So far, there has been a flashback element in every episode, so it seems as if they've established a pattern in the way they're planning to tell their stories, for better or worse.
Question: Something has been bugging me about the mockumentary facet of Modern Family. In the recent episode when Luke bounced a basketball off of Phil's head and into the basket, they spent the rest of the episode trying to recreate it so they could catch it on video. Well, if there's a "mockumentary" crew already there, then they have it on video, don't they? It took me out of the premise and had me questioning whether we're supposed to believe they're being videotaped all the time or not. Didn't that seem odd to you? — Gord
Matt Roush: To be honest, it didn't occur to me at the time, but it's a fair point. Although with any of these shows that use this mockumentary device (including The Office and Parks and Recreation), it's best not to take the camera's presence so literally. The premise is the world being depicted here, not the way it's being filmed. If I obsess on the idea that a crew is actually following these people 24/7, it doesn't really make sense. I like to think when they address the camera directly on these shows, it's the video version of the old Shakespearean aside, giving us insight to the characters and their situations we couldn't get with normal exposition. I don't think of the "crew" as actual characters, because that really would take me out of the show, and who wants that?
Question: Since most people I know use DVRs to watch programs now, it has been so frustrating that episodes of The Good Wife and House have been cut off because of sports running long. This has occurred for two weeks now and is starting to become an ongoing problem. Ratings must be affected. At least they should repeat episodes that are cut at another time and put a message or crawl on the screen to let the public know. My friends have even stopped trying to watch The Good Wife altogether from now on. Networks are losing. Cable at least repeats its shows. — Robin
Matt Roush: I'm sympathetic to this issue, because it affects me as well, mostly on Sundays with CBS — but last week, the baseball overruns screwed up Fox's Monday and Wednesday schedules, and those were last-minute situations that are relatively rare, but unavoidable. To CBS's credit, on Sundays with football overruns, the network has begun airing a crawl that repeatedly lets the viewer know when the next show will begin. You have to be watching CBS to be aware of this, so if you're time-shifting with the DVR, my advice still is to set the machine for the show following the one you want to record (or adjust the time setting for at least a half hour beyond the end of the program) to account for overruns. It really isn't that difficult a concept, and it's definitely not something that should cause a loyal fan of a show as great as The Good Wife to bail.
Question: Fringe is great, it really is. I wish more people watched the show. It always seems like it ends too soon because I want to keep watching it. The writers on the show are so creative. When Peter got zapped into the lake this week, I was so excited and happy that he is back. What did you think? I did miss Lincoln this week, even though it made sense that he was not there. Do you think we will still get to see him as often now that Peter is back? I like the idea of a Peter/Olivia/Lincoln love triangle, do you? Now that Peter is back, will the history go back to what it was before he got put into limbo or not? I thought they effectively got rid of the baby issue by making him disappear. I did not like the idea of the faux Olivia and Peter baby to start with. Did you? We do get a full season of Fringe this year, right? I wish there were more episodes of Terra Nova too. I understand the episodes are expensive to produce, but even the summer shows usually have 12 episodes. Hopefully it will get picked up for a full season next year. I am just happy that sci-fi is hanging on in the TV world! — Susan
Matt Roush: I loved the reveal of Peter's return, and the fact that nobody including Olivia recognizes him. Such great twists on this show. My understanding is that the timeline stays as is, but now has to adjust to the existence of a Peter Bishop within it. I'm fascinated to see how they reestablish his relationship with Olivia (and Walter, of course), and how Lincoln's presence on the team changes the dynamic. Like you, I'm OK if this eradicates the baby subplot, but I don't want to get ahead of the story. (Reminder: This is not a spoiler column.) Regarding Terra Nova, I'm OK with the limited first season — and if I'm not mistaken, it's at least on par with cable in airing 13 hours before it wraps in December. The show is still finding its groove, and if it's renewed (which I believe it will be, given the investment), the growing pains of this first season can be addressed in the second. It's never going to be the edgiest sci-fi drama. It doesn't have to be. We have Fringe for that. But as a pleasurable and gorgeous looking piece of family-friendly escapist adventure, it's growing on me.
Question: When Ringer started, I wasn't much impressed. Those scenes on the boat? Haven't seen "special effects" that bad since the '70s. Yikes. I was beginning to think Sarah Michelle Gellar had a dog on her hands, but I decided to record the first few episodes and watch them all at once, just to give the show a chance. Ringer seems to be getting much better as it goes along. Bridget seems less dumb than she did at first, which is a relief. Maybe there was just too much data being spilled in the first episodes for the characters to come through? The main flaw I see is that it seems to take itself so terribly seriously. Lightening up a bit might be more fun, at least for me.
I do like Person of Interest quite a lot. It seems to have a sense of humor, wit, even. (And how many other shows would benefit from a touch of the same?) As for those older shows? Some of them are definitely showing their age. Maybe those new fairy tale shows will liven things up a bit? Here's hoping. (P.S. Fringe is still my favorite show on the air. I'm so intrigued, and impressed that their storytellers have the freedom to just let the story go where it will.) — Anna
Matt Roush: It's true that Ringer is finally picking up some steam, but I couldn't agree more that stepping back more often to appreciate the absurdity of the situation would make the melodrama much more fun. It is all so painfully earnest at times, especially in the domestic scenes of Bridget trying to fix her sister's family relationships. This is a show that needs to embrace the outrageous. A key moment will be to see what happens next regarding the bloody situation at the Henry-Gemma household. And I'm on board with Person of Interest at well. Anything that strays from the typical procedural format is welcome in my book.
Question: In reading your review of The Walking Dead's return (which I am really looking forward to), I thought about another truly memorable horror story brought to the small screen in 1977 and I thought maybe you remembered this. It was on PBS's Great Performances series and it was a special production of Dracula with Louis Jourdan of all people starring as Dracula. I know at the time I had seen this I couldn't quite picture the talented singing star of Gigi being Dracula, but I remember after watching this very faithful version of the book brought to TV I was astounded at how good he was and how terrifying this adaptation proved to be. I know PBS ran this for several years and then it disappeared. I also remember at the time that others reviewing this film also thought it was a terrific take on the Dracula story. I just wondered if you had ever seen this and if so do you have any idea what happened to it and if it might ever come back on PBS. (I called my local PBS station and I don't think anyone there is over 35 because I couldn't get anyone to remember this). Thanks for your input. — JG
Matt Roush: Tis the (Halloween) season, and I'm always looking for new, or not-so-new, thrills this time of year, so thanks for this recommendation. I've seen many versions of the Dracula story, but this one escaped me, premiering during one of those periods of my life when I wasn't watching a lot of TV. (It happens.) I wouldn't expect this adaptation to find its way back on PBS — certainly not on a national level — if only because a more recent Dracula aired as part of the Masterpiece series in 2007, with Marc Warren as the Count and Poirot mainstay David Suchet as Van Helsing. If you need a fix, the Jourdan version is readily (and cheaply) available on DVD.
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