Ask Matt: Southland, TV Prequels, Hannibal, Grey's, Splash and More
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Question: This is more a commentary than a question, but what are your thoughts on Southland? Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy have recently landed new pilots, so it would appear that this will be the last season of the very fine cop show Southland. Yes, the show is an ensemble and could certainly go on without the two characters they portray, but it would be a different Southland without them, even with a cast as strong as one that includes Regina King and C. Thomas Howell. I suppose I could just be suffering from a degree of Cancellation Anxiety, but I think the signs are all there. That being said, instead of lamenting the probable loss of this wonderful TV show, I will simply be glad that TNT saw the virtue of picking it up when NBC so unceremoniously dropped it and be thankful the fans have had the last additional four seasons. If this is it for Southland, I will truly miss Michael Cudlitz, one of the best actors on TV. It is such a shame that this actor has not really got the attention deserved for his portrayal of the conflicted, deeply in the closet, former pill-addicted John Cooper. Whatever the fate of Southland, I hope we see lots more of him in the future. — Chris
Matt Roush: I agree on all of your points, especially the gratitude for having been given the chance to watch Southland develop and become a much better show on cable — a tighter focus on fewer characters made for a much stronger, memorable series — and the praise for Michael Cudlitz, who continues to find new depths and nuance in the John Cooper character. I just hope, whether this is the last season or not, that Cooper isn't left in a state of such existential despair as he appears to be in right now. (It's been an awfully bleak season for most of the characters — killing off Lydia's mom seemed like piling on, to be honest — which probably hasn't helped its commercial prospects.) But even with some of the actors lining up new projects just in case — can't blame them — the show isn't officially dead yet, though I'm not in denial about its chances. With Southland, we should just be thankful for every precious and gritty hour we get.
Question: I'm finding The Carrie Diaries a little bit too on the nose. Within the first 10 episodes, Carrie is already working at a fashion magazine in New York, drunk a cosmo, tried on a pair of Jimmy Choos and made self-referential comments about not wanting to be talking about sex and dating for the rest of her life. She just needs to have sex and start smoking and we have the Carrie we all know from Sex and the City. It's all too much, too quickly. Surely the show would have benefited from easing viewers into these "iconic" moments and play them out over the series. Rather than throw Carrie into New York within the first episode and working at a fashion magazine within the first 10, the show would have been better off to have Carrie writing for her school newspaper (maybe as an advice columnist) and perhaps as a Season 1 finale she goes to New York for the first time.
The great thing about a show like Smallville was that they eased viewers into each Superman milestone over 10 years. They earned each new power and each reference about Clark's future. The Carrie Diaries is similar to Smallville in that we know how the story ends. So why was Smallville so delicate with their iconic moments and The Carrie Diaries is just throwing everything up in the air? On the same note, will similar prequel shows, Hannibal and Bates Motel, both start referencing Chianti and showers respectively within their first episodes? Or do you think they'll earn their big moments? — Kevin
Matt Roush: All good points, and I agree more or less — though I can't say I've kept up with Carrie lately in this busy midseason — but The Carrie Diaries no doubt felt compelled to introduce Carrie to the city more quickly than Smallville took Clark to Metropolis because of the needs of their respective genres. Even though he was slowly earning his metaphorical wings, Clark was still delivering the superhero goods in the early seasons, but if Carrie was just another high-school soap (albeit in '80s drag), without giving her and us a taste of the fabulousness to come, what would be the point? Similarly, Bates Motel and Hannibal (both of which I like, especially Hannibal) give sly nods to their characters' iconic nature — in the Bates pilot, a body is hidden in a motel-room shower, and in Hannibal, the title ghoul's cannibalistic appetites are a running theme (as are episode titles like "Aperitif," "Amuse-Bouche" and "Entrée") — and in each case, these moments are like a reward for the longtime fan, without being quite as obvious or clunky as Carrie's teen-intern storylines.
Question: What do you think the renewal chances are for The CW's Carrie Diaries? It can be quite a little charmer, with moments of real sweetness. It's doing better than Hart of Dixie and Cult. Do you think it has a shot at maybe a 13-episode second season? I feel like The CW will want to be somewhat diverse and not be a complete genre network. — Fabian
Matt Roush: With this little network, outside of a few no-brainer breakouts (Arrow, The Vampire Diaries, the seemingly eternal Supernatural), most shows tend to live "on the bubble," where it's hard to tell what's a success or a flop. Which is a way of saying "who knows" about the fate of Carrie. It's a toss-up, but if The CW does renew Hart of Dixie again (which seems likely; at least it's a known quantity by now, and I know enough to steer clear of its toxic cutesiness), the network will need a compatible show to pair it with, and it could do worse than Carrie. It could also do better, and the future of these shows, as with many others on all of the networks, depends on the strength of the development of new shows for next season. All will be known come May.
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Question: Now I know why NBC is in last place! They program Hannibal, a new show I want to see (loved the books & the movies) at the same time on Thursdays as Scandal and Elementary, two shows I am totally hooked on. My advice? Move it or lose it! — Pam
Matt Roush: At least NBC is putting something on you have a desire to see. That's a step up from instant losers like Do No Harm and Deception, no? When a network is coming from behind like NBC, it is going to have to take big swings and force its way into crowded time periods, especially on a night like Thursday, when the networks front-load many of their hottest properties (the better to sell those movie ads). NBC once owned Thursdays and the 10/9c time period (ER, L.A. Law, and so on), and Hannibal is a fairly aggressive move to make some noise — though risky, given its extreme content. It's NBC's bad luck that this Thursday is one of the few nights where there are two solid performers at 10/9c — Scandal in particular just keeps getting buzzier, and Elementary exceeds expectations of the CBS procedural formula — and it may be true that for Hannibal to succeed, it may have to move to a more open night, not that there's many easy time periods. And it's unlikely NBC would schedule something this graphic (those death tableaux are seriously creepy) before 10/9c. So it's really up to you to decide which you'll watch live, which you'll record or (if you have the option or inclination) watch On Demand or online. All of these shows are available on several platforms, so if you truly are interested in watching Hannibal, you should be able to find a way even if you can't kick the Scandal addiction. Which I completely understand.
Question: I'm bringing this question to you in the hopes that you can shine some light on a topic that is making me more and more frustrated as the years go by, barriers fall, but prime-time TV seems caught in the time warp of Will & Grace, and that's the blatant censorship of sexually explicit scenes between gay characters in primetime. What has caused me to write to you is last week's episode of Grey's Anatomy. In many ways, it was one of my favorite episodes of the season. In particular, I was enormously happy with the intimacy that the show finally granted Callie/Arizona in this long, challenging story arc. My frustration to date mostly stemmed from their lack of intimacy rather than sex. But the show made a huge point that sex had been lacking up until this episode. And yet, when the moment finally came, it was a 15-second kiss, fade to black. The actors did everything they could to give this scene meaning. Again, I don't want to detract from them or Shonda Rhimes, because I blame neither. To me, this type of censorship occurs at the network level. And I'm frankly sick and tired of it. Who the hell does ABC think is going to turn off their TV in disgust in Season 9 of Grey's Anatomy because two women (who are married!) got it on after a year without?
What I'd like to know from you is what are the current network rules regarding these issues, and how can I change this dynamic, not just for ABC, but for all network TV? Isn't it time that they stop worrying about these types of issues when their ratings for 18-39 are dipping below 3.0 on a regular basis? Isn't that demographic the one most accepting of gay relationships? On a show where sex is king, the double standard is just so incredibly apparent that it literally hurts people who are craving representation on a visceral level. And that kills me. I can see people dismiss these issues as folks desiring titillation. But I hope you see and understand that that's not at all the motivation. It's the censorship. — Jenn
Matt Roush: Can't speak to any actual rules set in stone, but the proof is in the presentation, isn't it? I see where you're coming from, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the argument, but because I often find the sex-capades on Grey's to be clownish and tiresome, I actually appreciated the restraint with which this particular story played out. The intimacy of the scene in which Callie tends to and massages Arizona's aching leg was far sexier to me than any scene that would involve shedding their nighties and getting physical on screen. That said, the taboo involving same-sex intimacy is clearly losing ground, as gay characters on shows including Glee and especially The New Normal have been shown in extremely romantic and even sexual situations. Network TV has always been more squeamish about explicit sex than about violence — read into that what you will — and that obviously extends to same-sex passion, which even on cable (with some exceptions, especially in the pay arena) is rarely depicted with the frankness of heterosexual love scenes. I imagine this barrier will continue to fall as generational attitudes change, but while I'm the farthest thing from a prude, I still hope TV will occasionally continue to exercise restraint. Some things, straight or gay, are better off left to the imagination.
Question: Having seen the first episode of Splash, it is obvious the networks are scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of reality topics. So at no cost, I am offering a suggestion: How about a new reality game show called Celebrity Tiddly Winks? One team could be the Tiddlies and the other the Winks, and they could flip those little plastic tokens into used Starbucks cups. Wink Martindale (if he is still alive) would be the perfect host, or maybe Donald Trump? — Aries
Matt Roush: Love the Wink shout-out — he is still very much alive, by all accounts, and I'm sure he's thrilled to be remembered — but otherwise, don't give these programmers any ideas. It's more likely they'd dress people up as Tiddly Winks and catapult or flip them into who-knows-what, and it wouldn't be as cute as you make it sound. And please, don't even joke about Trump. His current show-on-fumes shouldn't even still exist, and wouldn't if NBC weren't so desperate to fill a few more hours of its sagging prime-time schedule.
Question: I have been very displeased with the reboot of Body of Proof. I was glad it got a chance for another season, but then they killed off likable characters last season and while the replacements have been fine, they turned Dana Delany into a b----. Yes, her character has suffered a loss, but the reaction is totally out of step with the character we enjoyed last season. The writing seems a steep drop from last season. My wife and I also started watching Golden Boy because we are both Chi McBride fans — we loved him on Human Target. But we just don't like the main character. So my question is, why are networks surprised that shows fail when they give us main characters that are just plain hard to like? It's not the actor but the writing. His attitude is the same as the detective we aren't supposed to like, and most people will not give a show 13 episodes to show why we should like the character. The quick flashbacks aren't enough to convince me I'd ever like him. — John
Matt Roush: Seems to me the character of Megan on Body of Proof was portrayed as pretty abrasive from the start, but I have yet to see a response from any of the show's fans applauding the changes in the latest reboot. Regarding Golden Boy, and any show where the lead character is less than perfect (a trait more common to cable dramas than network procedurals), I find it can make the hero more interesting if he occasionally has clay feet, and Golden Boy doesn't shy from showing that Detective Clark's ambitions and actions aren't always to be admired. Chi McBride's character is meant to be a moral compass, a voice of reason and experience that is ignored at Clark's peril. I like that dramatic dynamic, and my main problem with your problem with shows that dare to make their lead characters unlikable — and Clark's hardly a Sipowicz (for better or worse) — is that the result would be a lineup of shows undistinguishable from each other, which is already an accusation leveled at CBS for its assembly line of procedurals (sometimes deserved, but not always).
Question: Is it safe to assume Jemima Kirke's Jessa was not featured very often on this season of Girls (I think she was only in five or six episodes) because she was pregnant? I think her hippie character is so vital to the show, and in my opinion the first season was better because of her. Am I alone in thinking that? I know how much people love Hannah. — Sam
Matt Roush: You're probably right in that assessment. It was clearly getting harder to hide her baby bump under those peasant dresses, and the episode where she and Hannah visited her predictably bizarre family gave Jessa the opening to make her latest impulsive exit. As for whether her absence made a negative impact on the last episodes, that like everything else involving Girls is a subject of debate. She's as polarizing a character as anyone on the show, and to me seems less tethered to reality than many of the others, but you're right that it will be good to have the entire ensemble back in place, if not back to normal, next year.
Question: Does the TV Academy Hall of Fame have egg on its face, so to speak, now that Valerie Harper is getting such a huge outpouring of love and respect? Do you know that the members added for 2013 are all men? It kind of goes against the fairness Valerie has fought for all these years (and Rhoda would have fought for). And to think Valerie is the only actor to win an Emmy for an original series and its spin-off in the supporting and lead comedy categories (sorry Betty White, Cloris Leachman and Kelsey Grammar fans). I know that you honor this comedy and acting genius as much as I do. Do you have anything to add? Oh, and let's send our prayers to Valerie! — Joe
Matt Roush: She's certainly earned that kind of recognition, and it will be a shame if an honor like this (as so often happens) occurs posthumously. But for now, let's hope for the best, and as you said, prayers and positive cards, letters, tweets, thoughts are without question most appreciated.
Question: Why on earth are the networks putting a show on TV, showing it three or four times and then when we look for it the next time, something else is on? I don't ever remember shows being so sporadically broadcast. I tried watching Vegas, Revenge and Nashville. But it got too frustrating to figure out if they would be on or not, so I quit watching. The people making these decisions are not helping find a stable audience for a show by this constant, irregular broadcast method. Also, what is up with viewers not being able to watch Person of Interest online? Some of us are working or otherwise engaged on Thursday night, and it would seem to be more viewer-friendly to let us watch online. — Dee
Matt Roush: March is the cruelest month when it comes to network repeats. Always has been as long as I've been on this beat, and once a midseason I'll let someone rant about it like it's something out of the ordinary. Unless a network removes a show from the lineup altogether for several months, as NBC did with Revolution and Grimm (and I'm sure fans weren't happy about that), or premieres it very late in the season (as used to happen with 24 and Lost), any series that is on the schedule from fall through May is going to endure a period in the late winter/early spring when originals will be broken up by repeats or pre-emptions. It's no worse this season than any other, and while it can be frustrating, it's Network TV 101. Until the network model begins to adhere more closely to the cable formula — shorter runs of episodes, split seasons, etc. (all of which comes with its own pluses and minuses) — you're just going to have to put up with it.
If it seems worse, it may be because we're now living in a culture of instant media gratification, and we're not accustomed to waiting or being denied anything we want when we want it. That also applies to the online availability of certain shows, and Person of Interest falls into the camp of being produced by an entity that isn't CBS, and the studio won't release episodes to be shown On Demand or online, believing in this case that it enhances the show's value if you're forced to watch it live or record it if you want to see it.
Question: I'm confused. I watched what I thought was going to be the Deception season finale (and probably series finale), but there was really no conclusion. They "revealed" the killer, but I'm not totally sold, and... nothing happened. What gives?! I need my closure!!! —Samantha
Matt Roush: All they promised was an answer, not an ending. They probably didn't have a clue when they filmed this limited-run tryout if they would get to tell more of the story, so they chose as they usually do to keep their options open. It may not be satisfying — and I can't speak for the reveal (didn't watch), but at least you got one — but that's how it usually works unless they know it's over when they've still got time to craft an actual final chapter. (Situations like this season's Last Resort are the exception to the rule.)
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