Ask Matt: Supernatural, USA vs. NBC, Lights Out, Nikita, Criminal Minds and More!
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Question: Hoping you might have some thoughts on Supernatural this season. Like a lot of fans, I've been seriously disappointed by the fact my favorite show seems to be floundering without Eric Kripke at the helm. I'm finding season 6 to be an incohesive mess, with little apparent "through line" when it comes to plot and characterization, and disappointing underuse of both Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins. I'd love to know how you see things, and what your thoughts are for the show moving forward to a seventh season? As you know, the Supernatural fandom is very active online, and I'm getting the distinct impression from go-to fan forums that a good proportion of the fandom is underwhelmed by season 6, and have either jumped ship or plan to if things don't look up after the show starts airing again. — Kate
Matt Roush: I gather you weren't part of the crowd at Sunday's PaleyFest lovefest in L.A., huh? These are almost fighting words when you consider how passionate the fan base for Supernatural is. I can't speak for any fan consensus, because I rarely seek out those forums so as to keep my own perspective untainted. But I'm not surprised to hear this season has been a letdown to many — although it doesn't get better than the recent "meta" episode, which I enjoyed greatly, in part as a commentary on doing a "season 6" when the fifth season was for so long regarded as the show's likely endgame. I'm not as engaged in this post-apocalypse season as I have been in past years, and part of that may have something to do with a sense of anti-climax, a feeling that a show like this may have been better off ending on a high. Sam's soul aside, I don't feel the stakes are as high — and I often find myself wishing I were spending time with the civil war taking place in Heaven, as the stuff happening on Earth isn't as thrilling or intriguing as it used to be. (So without getting into the middle of those tiresome "not enough Dean" debates, I guess I would have to agree I'd like more Castiel — and according to reports from Paley, we will get a Castiel-centric episode soon.) But do I think longtime fans will or should bail? In a word: No. In a genre like this, you never know when the next knockout episode will happen — I'm especially looking forward to the upcoming Western-themed hour — and even mediocre Supernatural is a better diversion than most. But if you're missing Fringe for this show on Friday nights, then we have an issue. Fringe is on fire this season, and anyone with an interest in the future of TV fantasy/sci-fi/horror should be watching.
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Question: Long time reader, first time e-mailer. How is it that the same parent company (NBC Universal) that can produce good shows for their cable network USA like Burn Notice, White Collar, Royal Pains, etc., can't come up with a quality show for the flagship network and instead gives us garbage like The Cape, The Event, Outlaw and Chase? Wouldn't it make sense to at some point soon turn over creative control of NBC to the people who are in development for USA? — Chip
Matt Roush: You're hardly alone in suggesting such a thing, but from NBC/U's perspective, why would anyone want to disrupt a well-oiled machine like the USA Network hit factory, which is helping the corporate bottom line during this period of NBC decline. A few things to keep in mind: A show that's a hit on cable may not look as successful in the broadcast-network marketplace, though it's hard to argue that NBC wouldn't be better off with shows as appealing as Burn Notice and White Collar on the schedule. Plus, more pragmatically, a new NBC programming regime led by Showtime vet Bob Greenblatt is about to plant its flag, and some of the pilots in the fall pipeline sound very promising and ambitious, in the same sort of out-of-the-box way that revived ABC's fortunes back in 2004 (the year of Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy). Should NBC's new leadership bottom out as well, which I hope doesn't happen, then maybe it will be time for the powers that be to take a hard look at what USA is doing right and see if that formula could be adapted to the NBC big top.
Question: Until the past few years, I had never taken into account what any critics had to say about movies, TV, Broadway or any other entertainment, as it's always been my belief that critics know nothing more or less about what makes something watchable. It's just one opinion. That said, I subscribed to TV Guide Magazine about three years ago and started reading your reviews. I noticed that I agree with about 95% of everything you have to say, so of course, when a new show premieres, I rarely miss it if you like the pilot, and I rarely watch if you don't.
What I cannot understand is why SO many brilliant shows (writing, acting, etc.) get canceled due to low ratings, while mindless crap (especially reality shows) goes on forever. Are Americans really THAT shallow (or just plain dumb)? The list is too long to mention, but I started noticing the trend many years ago, and it has continued to this day. But two recent cancellations have prompted my first e-mail ever to anyone in the media. First, it was the superb Terriers that was put to a quick death, and now I fear it will be the amazing Detroit 1-8-7. Why else would a show be continually pre-empted during the season? And now, ABC has chosen to air its season finale on a Sunday, when it has always aired on Tuesday. I'll bet many of its obviously very few fans will miss the finale because of this move. (Hopefully, another great FX show, Justified, will gain traction & be renewed.) — Bob
Matt Roush: First of all, thanks for that testimonial. Critics are hardly infallible, but I do like to think they can be useful if they're honest and (within reason) open-minded. To address your frustration, here's how I look at it. Not everyone wants to watch TV to be challenged, and there's no shame in settling for being entertained many nights. I also don't see all reality TV as evil, being a fan of the higher-end competition shows, although I have never seen the train-wreck appeal in franchises like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives and celeb-reality exploitation. But when a gem like Terriers comes along that is virtually ignored by the public, whether because of marketing and scheduling or bad timing or whatever, it does hurt the soul. (At least the full season got produced and aired, and told a complete story, which wouldn't have happened had this aired on network TV.) I'm with you on Detroit 1-8-7 as well. ABC's recent pre-emptions, and the decision to air its finale out of pattern this coming Sunday, are a pretty clear sign this one's being shown the door. I like the show a lot, but it's part of a long pattern of ABC having trouble launching and sustaining police procedurals or anything else in that Tuesday time period, and as much as I admire the show, it hasn't been able to make much noise. And the obvious comparisons with NYPD Blue rarely work in its favor. It's a fine show, but not groundbreaking, and it got lost in the shuffle, which pains me. The good news here, though, is that Justified is doing just fine — plus, it's fantastically entertaining — and I can't imagine it not being renewed for a third season.
Question: I've been watching FX's Lights Out since its premiere and have found it to be mildly entertaining. Then along came his new trainer, Ed Romeo, and the show became riveting. I love Eddie's Zen master approach, how clear he is with Patrick's family, how he cuts right to the point. A great addition — and after two episodes, he is fired. Sorry, but the father-brother-sister dynamic by itself is too lame to lend much more to the plot line, and Eddie was the perfect foil to bring the tension to the surface. I am hoping this is just a plot line head fake, for the show will be much less interesting without him. — Jason
Matt Roush: Mildly entertaining? Didn't think it was possible to be ambivalent about this terrific show. But couldn't agree more about Eamonn Walker (Ed), who was electrifying — worthy of a guest-actor Emmy nomination. (Too bad shows like this tend to fly under the radar, especially for some reason on FX.) Sorry to tell you that from what I hear — I haven't watched to the end yet, though others have — when Lights fired Ed, that's the last we'll see of him this season. And while I get where you're coming from, I'm OK with how it played out. This mini-arc at this point of the season was just about perfect, and helped illuminate the tension between Lights' divided loyalties between his career and his family. Whether the Learys will ultimately lift him up or bring him down in this comeback story, the family is everything to this champ, and that's a key theme of the series. As soon as the gifted but emotionally unstable Ed threatened some of these relationships, there was bound to be a breaking point. I felt the show handled that very well, with maximum emotional and poignant impact. (I'll give you the point, though, where the character of Lights' brother Johnny is concerned; his clumsy conniving has become tiresomely predictable, and the final showdown between Johnny and Ed that resulted in Lights' injury veered heavily into melodrama.) Still, this is one of the midseason's few great new series, and I wish more people were checking it out.
Question: I know this is vague, but do you know what is wrong with Nikita as a TV show? Because something is missing and I can't put my finger on it. The actors are all high quality, the writing seems to have found its niche, and the production values are better than most. Yet the show doesn't seem to grab people. I've recommended it to friends, only to find they watch a couple of episodes and then sort of forget about it. When I ask why, they can't really tell me and usually even say they liked the show. Just not enough, apparently. Even in my own experience I can feel there's a problem. I like the show but it certainly isn't on par with the first season of Alias. But again I don't know why. I just know something isn't there. — Tom
Matt Roush: Nothing's wrong with Nikita that a little humor wouldn't fix. That and a less punishing time period. (I don't know your friends' viewing habits, but given the glut of high-profile shows on Thursdays, I think I know why a casual viewer might easily forget about it. For much of the season, Nikita stacked up on my DVR and I'd end up burning through 2-3 episodes at a time when I got a breather. Note: It plays very well that way.) Nikita has grown on me through its freshman season as the story took some very smart and surprising twists — and when it returns with new episodes on April 7, look for another major game-changer. Since you bring up Alias as a point of comparison, let's go there. Nikita's main problem (lately addressed to some extent by Alex moving out of Division and meeting the hunk next door) is that nearly every character is so caught up in the spy game, there's little breathing room — unlike Alias' early days when Syd had Francie and Will to hang out with and alleviate the tension. Nikita lacks that extra dimension, but it's not as if there isn't plenty going on. I like how they've added such characters as Owen and Ryan to Nikita's posse, so it isn't just about her, Alex and Michael, which does tend to get claustrophobic. If you're expecting this to be the next Alias, I can see why you might be disappointed. It's not as layered, but it's also not as confusing. But it's also not just another remake of La Femme Nikita. The producers have done a terrific job of recharging and reinventing the franchise, and I hope we get to see more of it next season.
Question: What is up with all the extended breaks on the CW series? First there was a long holiday break and now Vampire Diaries, 90210 and Supernatural (among others) are all essentially taking March off. I find this to be a bit much. What gives? — Deborah
Matt Roush: Is this your first year watching the CW? This pattern is hardly new. And would you rather the season end this month instead of in May? Because with only 22 episodes to spread through the season, that's what would happen if they didn't take these intermittent breaks. The problem is that the networks (not only the CW) tend to front-load the first half of the season, airing roughly 10 (sometimes more) episodes straight through from late September through November sweeps before the holiday hiatus in December. That leaves about 12 episodes to be scheduled over the five months from January to May, with four typically designated for February sweeps — which is why March is so peppered with repeats. But come early April through mid-May, you'll have all your favorites back.
Question: I know from reading your articles that you are not a fan of Criminal Minds. That being said, I wanted to ask your opinion of the decision to get rid of Paget Brewster. I am assuming it was the show letting her go, and not her desire to leave. I thought I had read at the beginning of this season, probably in TV Guide, that they were getting rid of A.J. Cook entirely, but were only cutting down the number of episodes that Paget Brewster was going to be in, not taking her off the show. It came as a shock to me to hear that this week will be her final episode. I have checked a number of websites where people are commenting that this was a surprise to them as well, and they will stop watching the show after her final episode, and I am inclined to stop watching as well. Do you think that CBS is going to alienate the fans of the show by getting rid of her, especially considering she is the second female character? — Eric
Matt Roush: The thing about formula TV (and no genre of TV is more formulaic than the crime-drama procedural) is that change is almost never embraced by the loyal fan. My e-mailbag will attest that no one seems happy about the changes on Criminal Minds this season, but as a show gets long in the tooth, cast comings and goings are almost an inevitability, whether for creative or personal or economic reasons. The good news for fans of Paget Brewster is that she's already lined up a comedy pilot for next season — and as a fan of hers dating back at least to Andy Richter Controls the Universe, I'm thinking comedy really is her sweet spot. (Also good news for Criminal Minds fans is that A.J. Cook is returning this week as part of the Prentiss exit storyline.) Do I think that these changes will prove fatal for Criminal Minds? Not likely. People often say they'll break up with a show over matters like this, but experience shows they rarely do.
Question: I am so disappointed in my favorite show The Big Bang Theory for the episode of March 10 titled "The Prestidigitation Approximation." Am I correct in saying that this episode was a blatant rip-off of a Friends episode where Ross's fiance Emily forced him to put a halt to his friendship with ex-girlfriend Rachel? Big Bang also ripped off the very funny line in another Friends episode when Joey says, "Hey, when you go to China, you can eat a lot of Chinese food" and Chandler says "Of course, in China it's just called food." Leonard spoke the exact same line and just replaced China with India. What's up with that? I thought the Big Bang writers were much better than this. — Jo
Matt Roush: Can I borrow your memory sometime? I only wish I could be this encyclopedic — or is the word obsessive. (Not always a bad thing, mind you.) On your first complaint, that seems a bit extreme to call it a "blatant rip-off." Sitcoms are all about situations, and there are only so many original ones to go around. I would be surprised if Leonard and Ross are the only characters in TV sitcom history who've had a new girlfriend warn them off the ex (who happens to be a series regular). For me in cases like this, it's about execution and how true the resolution stays to character. (And I don't despise Priya nearly as much as I hated Emily, if memory serves). On your food joke, score one for you. I don't remember the Friends moment, but see no reason to doubt it. And it probably is too easy a joke, but I'm sure this kind of duplication isn't unique to Big Bang. But on the positive side, wasn't Sheldon's reaction to Howard's faux magic trick a hoot? Never saw that one on Friends. Or did I?
Question: I am losing faith in current television. While I do watch many shows I still consider to be solid (Dexter, True Blood, Mad Men, among others), those that are not on hiatus right now (Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Glee) are just turning awful in my opinion! Grey's is nothing but a bunch of people giving each other 3-5 minute speeches — which, if you haven't tried already, you can fast forward through the speeches and understand what the point/outcome was! The women of Housewives have turned from snarky, in-charge women into awful human beings (making fun of your child? Really?) who act ridiculously unrealistic and obnoxious. And Glee: The music and jokes are wonderful. I laugh and download music each week. However, the storylines make no sense. Did Blaine really just go to Kurt's dad to talk about his son's lack of sex knowledge? What? How do you deal with these eye-rolling storylines?! — Stephanie
Matt Roush: How do you deal? You either cringe and bear it, and hope for a better episode next week, or you give up on a show. The choice is yours. Of the shows you mention, I have finally bailed on Housewives this season. There's not a single storyline or character I could tolerate any longer. Just when you think Susan couldn't get any more annoying, along comes Gaby and her doll obsession or Lynette's latest tirade. Blech. There's enough I still enjoy about Grey's and Glee — and each is still capable of turning out a powerful or just-plain-fun episode on occasion — that I can put up with the annoying excesses. And regarding Blaine going to Kurt's dad, it led to another wonderful scene between Kurt and Burt, so on balance I was OK with that. But eye-rolling comes with the territory, so much so that it's sometimes better just to cover them, don't you think? Less eye strain that way.
Question: I love reading "Ask Matt" because you generally tell it like it is, and don't let show-runner politics influence your reviews/recommendations. As for the purpose of my email: I've been seeing social media's darker side more and more lately. As an example, this past week, two show runners/executive producers have sent out scathing tweets calling their fans "dim-witted" (Hart Hanson, Bones) and telling them they are "stupid heads" and that he is "laughing" at them (Greg Yaitanes, House). I completely understand that there are people that tweet things that are rude and annoying to these people. Yet, as a volunteer participant of these social media outlets, these show runners should be cognizant of the impact of their words. I'm sure you receive negative comments from people, but you would never call someone stupid or dim-witted for having an opinion. I can understand being upset, but to lash out in such a public way makes them look very petty and ungrateful.
Many of these people spent tons of time promoting their shows when they were very much "on the bubble" shows (Bones) or have spent a lot of money purchasing their products (House). I just find this new tide in TV-based social media, of treating anyone that doesn't agree with you like they are somehow mentally unstable or ridiculous, is extremely concerning. At the end of the day, these "fans" welcome their shows into their homes every week. So by stating you are part of a social media platform that encourages feedback from all viewer groups, it would seem to me that you have to take the good with the bad. And maybe it would be a good idea to rethink that nasty response tweet because it says as much about the show runner's character as it does about the "fans" to which they are responding. — Micheline
Matt Roush: An interesting point, although if you're going to mix it up with the big boys, even in the relatively innocuous world of Twitter-speak, it helps to have a thick skin. I have learned from experience, especially in producing this online column for so many years, that lashing back at an irate reader rarely pays dividends and almost never makes the so-called "professional" look good. (Coincidentally, around the time this question came in, I had a phone conversation with a show-runner who doesn't play these social-media games because he knows you can't win with agitated fans, especially "shippers," and it's best not even to try.) When it comes to ping-pong back-and-forth Internet opining, especially on Twitter, it can be way too easy to type before you think and fire off a heated response when it feels like "fans" are piling on, I'm sure. My attitude toward all of this is not to take any of it personally — which I know is easier said then done when you're so passionate about a show. (But then, think how invested the show-runners are.) If I worried too much about this sort of thing, I'd never be able to give anything a bad review. The show-runners should know better than to let even the more heated tweets get under their skin, but from what I hear, they're only human. And it's only Twitter. Can't we all just get along, even it means agreeing to disagree?
Question: What is going on with the Mad Men negotiations between Lionsgate and AMC? Is Mad Men in production for the fifth season yet? — Vee
Matt Roush: I wish, and so does everyone else who loves the show and is anxiously awaiting its return. When I got back from vacation last week, it was one of the first things I looked into, to see if there had been any definitive movement in the negotiations between AMC, the studio and Matthew Weiner. As far as I can tell, nada. Which doesn't mean there won't be a fifth season. There absolutely will. The question is when. Until a deal is struck and the writers get back to work (most especially the visionary Weiner), even speculating on when production can resume and when the show can return is pretty meaningless. And beyond frustrating. Until then, I'll have to be content with the season 4 DVD, to be released March 29 (just got my advance copy, and can't wait to revisit some of the more memorable episodes).
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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