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Question: Now that the "traditional" network season is about half over, do you have any shows you've found to be either pleasant surprises (those you didn't think much of initially, but improved) or disappointments? I know that for me, the biggest disappointment has been (as it has been for many people) Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is basically just the 21st-century A-Team. It's fairly entertaining enough, but if it were to disappear tomorrow, I wouldn't shed any tears. The two happiest surprises for me have been The Crazy Ones (which didn't sound like it would be good, and I quit watching after the pilot but have caught up and found it quite enjoyable — probably because they keep Robin Williams' zaniness in check and the supporting cast has proven very funny) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I didn't really know much of Andy Samberg so wasn't that interested, but the early reviews had me check it out. I was very glad, too, because that's one new show I look forward to every week. I find it to be a worthy successor to The Office in its heyday. I'm also finding Almost Human to be getting much better from its middling premiere, though it's still not quite appointment TV. — Scott
Matt Roush: Not a lot about this season's new shows screams "must-see," but for me, the fall's most pleasant surprise was how Sleepy Hollow turned into an enjoyable fright-fest with engaging lead characters (especially Ichabod), and I'll miss it now that it has finished its limited run. My initial take was that it could implode on its wacky mythology (a la Zero Hour), but it didn't take itself overly seriously, so bravo. I agree about The Crazy Ones finding its ensemble voice; I always saw the potential in Brooklyn and am glad the industry (or at least the Golden Globes) is taking notice. Also agreed that S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't lived up to the Marvel-ous hype, but the biggest letdown for me was what a glum mess Hostages turned into. I believe in the potential of that kind of serialized thriller on network TV and was hopeful at the start, but it didn't take long to lose its way. I'm also sorry that The Michael J. Fox Show hasn't lived up to its star's potential and jelled as a family comedy. On the other hand, ABC's Trophy Wife is an unsung winner with a splendid cast (including the kids) that deserves a shot on Wednesdays. (Over the holidays, relatives were crowing about The Goldbergs, which I find awfully shrill, but for their sake, I'll add that to the list of sleepers that deserve patience — which I'd be surprised if it doesn't get.)
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Question: During the last Olympics, NBC got a lot of grief for spoiling the winners before the events had been broadcast, most notably when they aired a promo for the Today show touting Missy Franklin's gold medal victory a few minutes before her event aired. It's not much fun when you go out of your way to avoid the results online only to have the network betray you. Is there any chance NBC has learned their lesson? — Mike
Matt Roush: Hard to imagine there won't be at least a few glitches, especially in a year when the time differences will be as extreme as they will be in broadcasting from Sochi, and with the sort of blanket coverage NBC and its offshoots will be providing. But NBC Sports is very aware of this issue, especially in an era of wall-to-wall news and instant social media. It won't be easy to cocoon yourself from all of the results until you have time and opportunity to watch, especially if you're among the many millions who will be watching whatever the prime-time packages consist of. Figure, though, that the network will need to report on significant Olympics news while doing what it can to protect those who still want to experience the joy of victory and the agony of defeat on time delay.
Question: You have a great clear-cut, no BS way of explaining things that I like, so I thought you'd be the best person to ask this question. I'm an Arrow fan. Love the CW show. Love a ton of things about it, including Felicity Smoak, who I gather has zero to do with the original comics. It seems like every time I read a review or teaser article about episodes, I see comments about the blatant "fan pandering" and "fan servicing" Arrow is doing with Felicity, making her a series regular, having her on Team Arrow, etc., by some viewers. Now I seem to see those complaints leveled at a ton of different shows. I don't get it. What the heck is fan pandering and servicing? I mean ... I watch these shows and I enjoy them. I was thrilled when Arrow added Emily Bett Rickards to the show full time and expanded Felicity into Oliver's team and even opened the door to a potential romance between Oliver and Felicity last week in "Blast Radius." It's fun. It's entertaining. What am I missing? — Julia
Matt Roush: It's not an issue of what you're missing, it's what you shouldn't be absorbing — to wit, the venom of hostile commenters who seem to be affecting your enjoyment of the show and the character. Why even read that stuff? The way it typically works in TV is that when a supporting character like Felicity catches on with the fans, and/or presumably with the show's creative team, that character gets a lot more to do and becomes more embedded in the show's DNA. It's only seen as "pandering" if you're not on board with the evolution. Like you, I can't envision Arrow without her, and enjoyed the triangle that ensued when she went off to tend to Barry Allen, stoking Oliver's jealousy and sense of need. Few such characters are universally beloved, though, a fact that can become unpleasantly more apparent thanks to the wonders of the Internet, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are comics or other purists who resent her intrusion (I'm not a comics expert, so will stay out of it). Debate over TV shows and characters can be healthy, but can also devolve into bitter and cruel invective. My advice: Steer clear, sit back and enjoy, because Felicity isn't going anywhere. (Unless she crosses over to The Flash from time to time, which would be OK by me.)
Question: I love Arrow and am looking forward to the spin-off of The Flash, but is any network ever going to do a women superhero show? - Aleana
Matt Roush: Many have tried to resurrect Wonder Woman, for starters, and I think of Alias's Sydney Barstow as a superhero of sorts from recent times. (Similarly, ABC is developing a show built around the Marvel character of Agent (Peggy) Carter. The WB did try a female-centric superhero series, Birds of Prey, a while back, but it didn't last a full season. I'm sure there are characters ripe for developing from the various comics canons, and I'd also like to see them try. Sounds like a job for ... The CW.
Question: As a TV critic, when you review comedies, where and how do you draw the line between clearly stereotyping people versus attempting to be funny but failing miserably? Two recent examples come to mind: this past week, How I Met Your Mother was criticized for an episode that portrayed highly stereotypical Chinese caricatures. I was more disappointed by a children's show showing Asian stereotypes — a trailer for the Disney show Austin & Ally showed an Asian character that didn't speak English, and the character's dialogue was translated with English subtitles. — Brian
Matt Roush: Didn't see either of these examples, but it's fair to say that ethnic stereotyping (and this goes for sexist humor and gay jokes as well) is a very tricky and rarely rewarding arena for comedy. Fox's Dads, for example, wallowed in Asian and sexist (and other) stereotypes in its dreadful pilot episode and has never truly recovered. (The show isn't very funny to begin with, but going for shock value has its limits when that's the only card you're playing.) A show like Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy can get away with it more easily, because of the anything-goes sensibility of its warped animated universe and because it's such an equal-opportunity offender. As a critic, I try not to be so politically correct in my sensitivities that I can't enjoy a good laugh, even of questionable taste, if it's earned. More often than not, though, it's the cheapest form of pandering humor and tends to raise a red flag about the show's quality as a whole.
Question: I have watched The Mentalist for the last few years and was profoundly grateful when the Red John storyline ended. In the last episode, it seemed like everyone involved in bringing down Red John was being targeted by some unknown entity (presumably not Red John, unless Jane killed the wrong Red John again). Does this mean that Wayne and Grace are returning? I was just getting used to the new team. Also, is there any hope for Jane and Lisbon to become a couple or to clarify that they will not be a couple? I find the "will-they, won't-they" annoying. I don't see any chemistry between Jane and Kim. She is really, in some ways, too similar to Lisbon without the charm or affection for Jane that would be needed for a believable relationship. — Kristi
Matt Roush: It's a very transitional season for The Mentalist, obviously, so for now, with the actors' names still in the opening credits, I'd look at Owain Yeoman (Rigsby) and Amanda Righetti (Van Pelt) as "recurring regulars," who'll pop in and out of the show as the story demands. Some weeks they'll be invisible, but as long as the show follows this storyline of the targeted ex-CBI agents, they'll likely be around, though I've seen nothing to indicate they'll be back for good. Relocating them to Austin wouldn't make much sense, and this current storyline would be a smart way for them to take a final (hopefully not fatal) bow. They'll always be a part of The Mentalist's universe, though, as long as they're still breathing, so I wouldn't rule out return visits in the future. Regarding the never-ending issue of Jane and Lisbon's romantic prospects, that will likely be a slow burner for some time to come, although the post-Red John reinvention of The Mentalist seems to have liberated Simon Baker's performance, which is a lot more playful and flirtatious, ditto with Robin Tunney as his reassigned "equal." Agreed, though, that there are no sparks with the so-far-underdeveloped Kim Fischer (Emily Swallow) character, so let's hope they don't go there.
Question: Here's my beef. ABC's The Assets was supposed to be an eight-part miniseries, but it's been canceled after two episodes. I love spy movies, especially when based on true facts, and wanted to watch all eight episodes continuously, but when I'd check the "upcoming episodes" it only showed two set up to be shown. Was ABC setting this up to be canceled? I'm glad I didn't watch the two, only to become invested in it and then have it canceled and replaced with repeats of Shark Tank. What was the point in all this? It was only eight episodes, couldn't ABC show them on a Saturday or something? With DVRs these days, why couldn't the network at least finish the miniseries? So frustrating. — Vanessa
Matt Roush: No network "sets up" a show to be canceled. But if any show deserved to be, it's The Assets, which was simply a terrible and grindingly dull drama that didn't deserve that plum time period on Thursday (the Scandal slot) to begin with. Consider yourself spared. What was the point, you ask? The main motivation for scheduling shows like this and the also defunct (though still currently airing) Killer Women was to provide ABC with some filler programming to kill time during this awkward period in the new year until the Olympics are over. In the past, some shows like these have made their remaining unaired episodes available online, and that may yet happen with The Assets. Not that I'm recommending it.
Question: I accumulate entire seasons of a show and then watch the entirety over a couple of days. But as such, I fill my DVR quickly. Currently I have 31 episodes of Revolution, 13 of Under the Dome and 13 of The Bridge. Could you help me choose which one to watch now, which one to keep for later, and which one to delete outright to make room for my other favorite shows? — CCB
Matt Roush: So hard to answer a question like this without knowing your druthers. Devouring the first season of Dome shouldn't be such a hardship, and the same goes for The Bridge. I found both underwhelming (Dome starts strong but doesn't always sustain, and The Bridge never really caught fire for me), but Bridge in particular wraps enough of its initial mystery in the first season to make it worth your while burning off in a binge if you're drawn in. With Revolution, that's a much bigger time suck, and I'm not sure there's a great return in that investment. I'd be surprised if it goes beyond this second season, and I bailed a while back, though this season seems to be an improvement dramatically. My advice would be to start on that one, and if it doesn't grab you, delete and liberate your DVR for more promising prospects — have you considered Syfy's new Helix?
Question: I am a huge fan of Shameless. However, after seeing the first two episodes, I've noticed that Cameron Monaghan, who plays Ian Gallagher, has yet to appear. Will he still be making appearances this season? - Cyrus
Matt Roush: Though the actor is enjoying a busy film career, he's still in the show's title credits and remains part of the family, so I'd assume you'll see Ian (whose absence has been well explained) at some point. But answering that more specifically would veer into spoiler territory, so just stay tuned.
Question: Can we talk about Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its extra minute every week? Talk about screwing up my DVR. I guess it makes me do exactly what they want: watch it live so my DVR can pick up the other two 8 pm shows and two 9 pm shows. (Tuesdays are the worst.) It's super frustrating. It is just a ratings ploy or something else? — Kristi
Matt Roush: You've already figured it out, that spilling over the extra minute — which is hardly unique to this show, this network or this season — is intended to drive live viewing, with the hope you'll stay tuned to whatever follows (and lift the lead-out's numbers with even a small overlap). It is aggravating, for sure, when that minute gets in the way of recording something on another channel in the next hour. (And sometimes even with that extra minute, it still cuts off, depending on the show.) I've resorted to manual recording at times when the situation gets extreme, and my rule of thumb is that when forced to choose, it's still best to record that last minute in case there's a plot twist, at the expense of the first minute of the overlapping show.
Question: Please confirm they will keep Rusty on Major Crimes after the Jan. 13 season finale. I loved The Closer but Major Crimes is also great. I never miss an episode and hope they will keep Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) a part of the cast. — Brenda
Matt Roush: Even with the Phillip Stroh case settled, Rusty isn't likely to go anywhere, despite his tearful plea that he's not worthy to stay. Sharon disagrees, and she usually has a say in such matters. Whether you're a Rusty fan or a hater (I hear from those, too), he's part of this spin-off's premise, and I'd be shocked if that changes.
Question: I'm a longtime reader of your column and always really enjoy it. I don't always agree, but that's part of the fun, right? I have Chuck Bartowski on the brain. Chuck was one of our favorites when it was on. Now our kids are old enough to watch and enjoy it, so we've been ordering the old episodes through iTunes and watching them all over again. I'm finding that I'm not tired of it at all (well into it, too, just finished the Shaw story arc in Season 3), and we're having great fun sort of anticipating what's coming next (and taunting the kids). This leads me to my question. I know this is part of your job and it must be hard just to stay on top of current shows, but are there shows you would deem worthy of watching a second time around if you had the chance (or have re-watched and still enjoyed)? PS: Speaking of Chuck, how much fun would it be if Yvonne Strahovski actually played Sarah Walker on the upcoming 24 reboot? Cameo by John Casey? Big Mike? Jeffster? — Brad
Matt Roush: To your big question: I can think of few things I'd enjoy more than the luxury of time to revisit old or even recent TV favorites. (Having more time to read is also high on the list.) TV examples that come immediately to mind: I'd love to relive Fringe start to finish to remind myself how it changed and deepened season to season. I have a boxed set of the complete China Beach, for which I'd been waiting years to be released, and outside of sampling a few key episodes, just haven't had time to fully re-appreciate. Even current shows I've fallen behind on (it happens, and usually it's telling me something when I do) are difficult to catch up with, because there's always new material to sample and preview, and as we like to say in our workplace, these shows don't watch themselves. I love the idea of rewatching a show like Chuck with a new generation of fans. I envy anyone who has yet to experience the fabulousness of a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Thanks to streaming sites, it's all there for those with the time to indulge. As for a Chuck-24 crossover, it would be fun to see some of these actors appear in a more serious setting, but I draw the line at Jeffster. Never my favorite part of that show. (See earlier reference to "fan pandering.")
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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