Ask Matt: Smash, Revenge, Awake, Southland, Betty Mania and More
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Question: I watched the first episode of Smash this week and I enjoyed it. I like the cast, the music and the dancing, and the overall "Broadway" feel of the show. I just can't find myself going along with what is apparently the central idea of the show, which is that Katharine McPhee would make a better Marilyn than Megan Hilty. Really? Don't get me wrong, I love Katharine McPhee's voice, but nothing else about her is right for the Marilyn role! Whereas Hilty is, as she is apparently told in a future episode, "born" to play Marilyn in every way. Maybe part of my problem is that NBC (as usual) went overboard in promoting the show, with most of the ads prominently featuring McPhee, with the rest of the stellar cast in the background. Matt, you've seen more than the just the first episode, what do you think? — Catherine
Matt Roush: Stay tuned, because the Marilyn issue is resolved, at least initially, fairly quickly — although the development of the musical, and both ingénues' place within the show within the show, continues to evolve. (If you've been keeping up with coverage, you probably know that Uma Thurman has an arc later in the season as a star being wooed to step into the show; we haven't screened that far ahead, though.) I heard a fair amount of grumbling during the very long promotional build-up to the premiere that Megan Hilty was being slighted in favor of McPhee-ver, but that's understandable given the stakes involved here, that you'd lead with the stars people already know — Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston got plenty of attention as well — in hopes of making new stars out of players like Broadway baby Hilty and the sensational Jack Davenport (the director), who's still waiting for his big U.S. breakthrough.
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Question: I've been reading you for years, far long enough to know that you might want to hit me for lamenting the future end of a series that hasn't even completed its first season. BUT. I am a person who likes my television series tied up with a big red ribbon when they take their final bow. Every question doesn't have to be answered (I loved the Lost finale), but I don't want the lead character — no matter how tragic a figure — to die or be killed (see: Prison Break). So this is my question to you: Do you see any way that Revenge could wrap up as a series (hopefully several years in the future) without a tragic, possibly fatal ending for Emily Thorne? I've been fairly captivated by the show, and I sort of root for Emily to avenge her father's wrongful conviction and death. However, if she achieves all of her goals and destroys everyone who had anything to do with it, 1) I don't know how she'll be able to live with herself, and 2) I don't know how Jack would be able to live with her, either. This conundrum seems to put the possibility of my very important big red ribbon in serious question. Do you care to weigh in on whether Emily might be able to somehow redeem herself eventually, or whether she's destined for doom? And does it matter to you in the long run, or are you, as you often put it, simply enjoying being along for the ride? — Katherine
Matt Roush: This would be a more legitimate concern if (as another question I received this week wondered) Revenge were a one-season show — or, as they used to call such things, miniseries — and this story arc of Emily-vs-the Graysons was the ultimate end game. But it became clear pretty early on that there wouldn't be much of a show if it was only about Emily knocking off her enemies one by one. I'm curious to see where Revenge goes once we catch up to the shooting on the beach this week (taking us back to the pilot episode), because the real challenge will be to break new stories and introduce new complications and characters to broaden the theme of revenge into a full-blown prime-time soap. Your questions deal with important story points that need to be played out —especially what will happen if/when Jack discovers her true identity — but through it all, there's always the subtext of the toll this vendetta is taking on Emily/Amanda's soul. The fun for now is watching her be both hero and monster, but ultimately, if she can achieve justice for her father that will put her more in the redemption column. Just don't expect a happy ending anytime soon, because what fun would that be?
Question: As a frequent reader of and writer to your column, I wanted to thank you for your always insightful responses to my questions and other peoples' questions. You're the voice of reason in a sea of fan irrationality, and I each week learn something new and interesting when reading your column. So again, thank you for what you do, and please keep doing it and making my Mondays a little bit brighter with Ask Matt! I'm thrilled to finally see Awake on NBC's schedule, but I also can't help but be immediately worried. It's airing on NBC, it's a high-concept show, and possibly most troubling, it's airing on Thursdays at 10/9c, where Prime Suspect and The Firm have already failed this season. I know that networks are never purposely "setting up a show to fail," and I'm sure NBC is really hoping it will do well, but it seems to have quite a few things working against it. I know that the critics gave it generally favorable reviews, so I was wondering what you thought about it, and its potential chances of success. — Alex
Matt Roush: Thanks for those nice words. As I've often said, doing this column is always a highlight of any given week. I learn quite a bit myself about what truly matters to the dedicated TV enthusiast. Your question is a good one, because of all the risky shows this midseason (including Smash and The River), Awake could be the hardest sell. It's certainly facing an uphill climb in that Thursday time period — and just think how NBC used to own it with shows from Hill Street Blues through ER. I've seen the most recent cut of the Awake pilot — my review will be in this week's issue, and will be posted online closer to the March 1 premiere — and I think it's a knockout. But first, you have to accept a premise that on paper seems like a downer: a man caught between two realities after a car accident, one in which his wife died and the other in which he lost his son. And yet somehow Awake finds uplift in this poignant existential dilemma, though as one of his shrinks wonders, how this situation can be sustained over the long haul is anyone's guess. Which is why it's so smart for the show to include an intriguing procedural element — thus, making it possibly more commercial than you'd think — because the hero (Jason Isaacs, who's incredibly compelling) is a detective, and the cases in each reality begin to bleed into each other (how very Fringe!) and help him solve the cases. It's a truly original series, which always gives me cause to worry, but it is exactly the sort of show NBC should be trying, even if it doesn't work. I doubt anyone is predicting an easy ride for Awake, but my hope is that the viewer isn't asleep at the wheel for this one.
Question: I am in awe of Southland this season! As you know, it's so rare to be genuinely surprised by a TV show, let alone so consistently as Southland does. I'm just worried that even though creatively it is the best it has ever been, it might not be going well enough to be picked up for a fifth season. Any thoughts? — Liz
Matt Roush: Southland is a good example of a show that only got better when it moved from a network (NBC, which in an earlier regime was afraid of its grit) to cable (TNT). It's an even better example of a show that has only sharpened its game in the wake of economic cutbacks. The cast has been trimmed severely, but the focus is tighter and I like nearly everything they've done this season: pairing Ben Sherman and Sammy Bryant, bringing on a very impressive Lucy Liu as the new partner of John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz, still the aching backbone of this series). It's never going to be a breakout hit, so I fear it will live perpetually "on the bubble." But with only 10 episodes per season, I'm hoping this is one of those cases where corporate synergy (within the Warner Bros. empire) rules and allows the show to just keep doing its thing for as long as they can. This certainly doesn't feel like a show that's creatively out of gas.
Question: I was just curious what you thought of House of Lies and Californication. I've watched House but don't understand what's supposed to be entertaining about it. Are we supposed to be shocked that this is how business is conducted? I like the actors, but just find the show irrelevant and NOT funny. It certainly crosses the "line" and is raunchy. I think I'll just turn it off. Are you enjoying it? Californication is really uneven this season. One week it's just gross, the next less gross but endearing, the next gross, the next sweet. Why? Am I missing something? What are we supposed to be learning about Hank this year? That he loves his girls? We know that already. That he wants to be a part of the family again? We know that. But Charlie continues to drag Hank down (hate the character), so we're just treading water. Am I missing something? — Ellen
Matt Roush: I do enjoy House of Lies as a very broad and outrageous satire of the debauched state of American business and am especially loving Don Cheadle's electrifying performance, but it's clearly not for all tastes (or maybe for anyone with taste). But I came to your conclusion about Californication and bailed more than a season ago, feeling it was spinning its wheels, and its overall unpleasantness (especially anything involving Charlie) outweighed any possible entertainment value. Still, I'm sure there are those who enjoy it as much as I do House of Lies, and that's fine. Especially when it comes to pay cable, nobody's forcing anyone to watch.
Question: What information can you share about why CBS continues to shuffle Rules of Engagement on and off the air. It is now being usurped by the new series Rob. I liked it as a companion show to The Big Bang Theory and am sorry that it isn't continuing there. — Caryn
Matt Roush: To explain the peculiar predicament of Rules of Engagement, which is one of the most abused "utility players" in recent TV memory, I can't improve on this story by our Michael Schneider. I'm not the biggest fan of Rules, though I do get a kick out of the core relationship of Patrick Warburton and Megyn Price, but I certainly prefer it to Rob, which somehow manages to hold on to enough of Big Bang's gigantic audience that Rules is destined to once again remain in limbo until CBS decides it will come in handy again. It boils down to CBS being so top-heavy with hits on a schedule that doesn't have enough shelf space for all of its comedies. If the network decides (as some have speculated) to expand the Thursday comedy block to two hours next season, that could very well open the door for Rules to return on a full-time basis. But for now, don't hold your breath.
Question: I really love Pan Am. It's my favorite new show this year, and I am wondering if it is going to get a second season? I would hate to think that it would not get the opportunity to grow its audience and really dig into these great characters. — Matthew R.
Matt Roush: With the finale airing this Sunday after only 14 episodes, you'd have to conclude Pan Am's chances of returning are about as remote as the rebirth of Pan Am itself. I loved the pilot episode but felt the stories afterward never really lived up to its breezy escapist potential, and while it's still a pleasurable show to watch (as in look at: it's gorgeous, and so's the cast), overall there's no way to see it as anything but a disappointment. Still, ABC won't officially make the call until May upfronts.
Question: I love Betty White. For as long as I can remember, she has been a staple in my entertainment even as a child. Though I have to say I am growing tired of award shows, etc. honoring her with awards I frankly don't feel are justified. I mean I can't believe they gave her the SAG award recently over Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie or the other contenders. It is to the point where it seems the voters are giving her awards just for being Betty White. I am just thinking it's taking away from others who deserve a win. For example, I adore Alec Baldwin, but don't necessarily think he deserves EVERY TV award he has received in the past few years. We get it, you're great, now let someone else have a chance at it. I think in cases like Betty White they should just name an award after her and be done with it. There are plenty of actors and actresses overlooked at the SAGs such as Claire Danes for Homeland in the drama category. It is too bad these award shows don't have limits on how many times actors can win. It's almost like Betty White is Dowager Countess Violet Crawley in the annual flower show on Downton Abbey who wins out of voters' guilt even though the voters agree the other actresses are the Mr. Molesley whose flowers are more deserving. I am glad we have actresses like Betty White who are still working in such an unforgiving industry, and I am sure I will be hated on for saying something against Betty White, but I am getting over it. Am I the only one? — Maya
Matt Roush: Don't blame Betty White for the lameness of this year's SAG Awards (in the TV categories, anyway). But I did enjoy your Downton analogy and agree that her win in that category was something of a tired joke. But awards come and go, and Betty White is forever. She is beyond question a beloved living legend, and the celebration of her 90th birthday this year just reinforced that. Even so, when she appeared in a bathrobe at the end of that sensational action-parody Super Bowl promo for The Voice, I'm sure there were as many groans as cheers for going back to that same punch line again. I'm tempted to say she should learn when to say no, but then again, why should she?
Question: Just curious: What do you think is the likelihood of an eventual Chuck reunion film sometime in the mid-to-distant future? — Ronda
Matt Roush: Distant, I'd think. They wrapped things up pretty nicely in the series finale, and I think everyone should be satisfied with that, be glad they got to make the show for as long as they did (against the odds) and move on.
Question: I am completely hooked on Downton Abbey but was wondering why the seasons are so short. Seems like it just began and they are already talking about the season ender. I think they only run 7 or 8 episodes. Is that a PBS norm? I have to say I am really enjoying The Finder on Fox. Funny with great cast chemistry but would expect nothing less from the creators of Bones. I am also really looking forward to Touch. The sneak peek episode was fast-paced and really kept my interest, and I loved how all the dots connected at the end. I read that Glee is going on a little two-month vacation, and that usually spells trouble for a show. I have been impressed with its improvement over the last few weeks. Sue is still mean, although rarely seen, but not over-the-top insane, and they are back to centering on the music and have had some fantastic performances. Do you see it too or do you think they are doomed? — Sharon
Matt Roush: Taking this subject by subject: The run of Downton (which concludes this Sunday with the two-hour "Christmas" finale), at roughly 10 hours over eight weeks, is actually fairly long by British-TV standards. Think of each year's installment as a miniseries — the Emmys do — and be glad not only that it leaves you wanting more, but that in a year we'll get more. I found The Finder to be a perfectly pleasant show, but it lacks the oomph to be a self-starter like Bones, and I'd be surprised if it has any more luck scoring a renewal than The Chicago Code did a year ago. That will especially be the case if Touch does as well on its return as it did in its sneak peek. Glee's break isn't that unusual — instead of airing repeats in March, it's sitting out to make way for some midseason comedy tryouts and will be back to finish the season in April. This is not a sign the show is in any trouble. I agree it has improved lately, especially when it focuses on the students about to graduate — although it's still wildly uneven, and last week's Ricky Martin episode was so random it might have been dropped in from last season. But doomed? Hardly.
Question: I guess in life almost everything is reductive; but currently it is seen so evidently in television. Once Upon a Time begets a fairy tale-esque pilot from the CW, CBS, NBC. Essentially, success breeds the wish of more success. What always seems to fail TV executives is that genre shows only work because they are new, different, or just damned compelling. Mad Men is epic because it was groundbreaking and compelling; Pan Am didn't become one because a) it was compared to Mad Men, and b) it wasn't new or interesting enough. In truth, a show like The Good Wife would almost always work because of its cast dynamic. They could be doctors, cops, or Muppets and still with good writing I'd argue it would be a hit. Yet millions will be spent for a new fairy-tale genre to compete with Once, instead of finding the next type of show. So Matt, what is the next new hit genre? The future? The 1920s, akin to Boardwalk Empire? Ancient times akin to Spartacus? I get how broadcast-to-cable shows are now hampered by pay cable shows in their ability to have no boundaries, but they also have longer show runs, at least broadcast networks do. It's like HBO/Showtime/Starz followed the British format, if not their budget. Still, what, in your opinion, is the next genre that hits big?
And is it just me, or is A-Mahz-ing (Where is Merriam-Websters on this?) Penny's hookup with V-Neck Dave inevitable on Happy Endings? — Trenton
Matt Roush: Thankfully, it isn't my job to predict the next big trend or genre. Although it looks like everyone is trying to find a new twist on the classic Western for next season, so we'll see how many of those projects come to light and if any of them stick. As you rightly note, every bandwagon comes with the inherent danger of falling off the rails because of lack of originality. As always, it comes down to vision and execution. So just as The Good Wife is so much more than just-another-legal-drama, I wouldn't even dismiss the next '60s period piece or fairy-tale-derived project or vintage-TV remake out of hand, because you just never know. As for Penny and Dave possibly hooking up on Happy Endings, they've certainly teased the possibility enough to be a Watercooler topic a while back. Stranger things have happened.
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