Ask Matt: Terra Nova vs. Fringe, Awake, USA's Leading Ladies and GCB
Mary McCormack, Frederick Weller
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Question: Just wondering about Terra Nova and the rumors that they'll be shopping it around to another network. It took them pretty much forever to get the first season prepared, I'm assuming because of the special effects. If they wind up on another network, that probably means a smaller budget, faster production, fewer dinosaurs, more focus on the people, character-driven stories, etc. Right? Sounds entertaining to me. (I do confess, though Terra Nova struck me as a bit of a mess in some ways, I was looking forward to seeing how the story played out.)
It also occurred to me that if losing Terra Nova means we get to keep Fringe, I think I'm okay with that. Terra Nova was hugely expensive, right? Fringe, may be lots cheaper, therefore worth keeping? Here's hoping so. I'm enjoying Fringe so much, I love it when shows allow their characters to have a history and react appropriately. (Peter, gently rejecting this new alt-Olivia, because he remembers what a betrayal it was with Faux-livia, and what a mess it all became, vanishing baby notwithstanding.) — Anna
Matt Roush: Bad news for Terra Nova probably does mean better news for Fringe — and you're right that it's much less of an investment for Fox, especially if the studio makes it as financially advantageous as possible for Fox to keep that show on for at least one more season. Also opens the door wider for Fox to give Alcatraz or, more likely, Touch (if it can approach the impressive numbers of its January sneak peek) a shot for next season. I'm skeptical that anyone, even the apparently desperate Netflix, will pony up to keep Terra Nova going, but in this anything-goes marketplace, I'd never say never. One thing's for sure: If it does return on some other platform, it's going to need to sharpen its act dramatically, regardless of how often we see dinos in action.
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Question: I was wondering your opinion on what I consider to be extremely unlikable lead characters on USA Network shows. In Plain Sight and Fairly Legal are returning this Friday. I like In Plain Sight more than Fairly Legal, but the lead characters are hard to take. Mary is flat out rude and mean to every single person she encounters. I don't know how Marshall can like her. She seems completely put upon by everyone. I think the show did a good job making her mother and sister such pains that you could almost forgive her for her anger issues. However, the same cannot be said about Kate in Legal. She is always late and bending the rules to suit her. She is downright rude to her stepmother (I am sure there is a back story, but what I see is a woman who loved her husband who died and is trying to carry on his business), and she treats her ex-husband like a glorified one-night stand. I know her quirks are supposed to be endearing, but there is nothing likable about a person who treats people like crap and pays no consequences. I was literally jumping for joy when the ex-husband kicked her to the curb. What are your thoughts? — Rachel
Matt Roush: I get what USA is doing with its emphasis on "characters" in its branding, and in this case — especially with In Plain Sight — the idea is to give these lead roles some "edge" to keep them from seeming generic, but without going so dark they become actual anti-heroes, because that's more the FX style. USA's tone from show to show aims for blue-sky escapism, but not without some bite. With Mary, we're meant to find her incessant grouchiness humorous, especially since her job entails bonding with people in witness protection (not to mention her partner and other co-workers), ditto Kate's insouciant sass on Fairly Legal, but the risk here is that over time they just come off as insufferable, which is clearly what's happened with you. I also prefer In Plain Sight to Fairly Legal, and that has a lot to do with basic premise as well as execution, though I'm a fan of Sarah Shahi as well as Mary McCormack. I'll be watching the premieres of both, so look for a review later this week.
Question: I watched Lost for 6 years, and never worried about the mythology, who was conspiring with whom or whether or not all the plot changes were internally consistent. I just went along with the ride, and let the surprises come. I always did wonder, though, whether the writers always know where they were going, wrote the first few episodes openly enough to not close off any potential plot lines, or were just lucky. Which brings me to Awake. In order to keep the possibility that both realities are dreams, the writers have to make sure that every scene is told from the point of view of Jason Isaacs' character. Dreams, after all, are lived by the dreamer, and everything is seen through the prism of his vision. (I went back and watched the first season of the original Life on Mars. Every scene either contains John Simm, or is seen through his eyes. But that's a little easier to maintain over an 8-episode series than a 13- or 22-episode season.) RexWorld mostly confirms to this. The only scene that Britten is not in is when Rex and Cole are working on the motorcycle, and Britten could have been watching from the shadows, having been hipped to the motorcycle/beach lie. In HannahWorld, however, there were several scenes obviously not from Britten's point of view — his wife visiting Cole at his house and the storage facility, and the Captain talking to the Other (sorry, I couldn't resist).
To me, that means one of 5 possible scenarios: 1) HannahWorld is the real one, and the writers have dropped the ball in the second episode. 2) HannahWorld is truly seen through Britten's eyes, and he is aware of his Captain's skullduggery (barely possible — he seemed truly surprised when Hannah told him about her visit to Cole). 3) The writers are telling their story with an omniscient POV, which to my mind weakens the storytelling, and are hoping we won't notice. All three of those possibilities tell me the writers weren't as prepared, or lucky, as the Lost writers, and have written themselves into a corner. The fourth possibility is that both worlds are real in some way, and Britten will eventually have to choose (much like Life on Mars) and the fifth — there is a third "reality" that the audience is being exposed to that Britten does not know about. These last two would intrigue me if that's where the writers are heading. It's only the second episode, and already my head hurts. I can't wait for the next one. — Rick
Matt Roush: What I love about your analysis here is that the confusion (and even the skepticism) hasn't dampened your enthusiasm for embracing a show that's taking such chances with narrative. I guess I'll start paying more attention in upcoming episodes to point of view — but I'd like to think the writers won't be restricted solely to scenes from Michael's (Issacs) perspective, to allow Hannah and Max and maybe some of the other characters to develop a bit. For now, I'm happy to live in both realities as if they're real and see where it takes us, because I'm so emotionally invested in Michael's discoveries. (Not sure how I feel about the Captain's conspiracy mumbo-jumbo, though.)
Question: Gotta say I loved GCB! It was just good old plain fun. I have always loved Kristin Chenoweth and she's playing a side of her I have never seen. Glad she will get to sing once in a while too. Annie Potts back on TV just is the icing on the cake. I hope this show is in for a good run so it will give people time to become fans. Do you know how many episodes are in the can? Smash has become a quick favorite too. The stories are a little uneven so far, but the show tunes are making up for it. Is this also a trial run with a few episodes or will this run into summer? Only other comment is shows that have odd seasons drive me nuts. I really liked Drop Dead Diva and for the life of me I can't remember the last time it aired and when and if it's coming back. Sometimes I swear it's an entire year or so between seasons. Any news on its return? — Sharon
Matt Roush: From what I can tell, GCB appears to have completed production of its 10-episode midseason run, and I'm not sure where Smash is in wrapping its 15-episode first season (probably close if not already done), and in all of these cases, these should be looked at as trial runs (as all fall premieres basically are as well), with the hope that they'll establish themselves and earn a spot on next season's schedule. Right now, the jury's still out on both. With Drop Dead Diva, you're dealing with a cable series that only produces 13 episodes a season, and those seasons tend to air during the summer into the early fall. That appears to be the case again this year, so look for Diva to premiere sometime in June or early summer.
Question: I wanted to ask your opinion on separating actors as the people we watch on TV from whom they are in real life. The Middle is one of my favorite shows, and I already knew and didn't care that Patricia Heaton is a Republican in real life. But seeing her unleash such vitriol on a private citizen recently, and then reading about previous, similar comments she has made makes it difficult for me to watch The Middle. Same with Kirk Cameron, whom I used to love when watching reruns of Growing Pains. For Patricia Heaton, it's not the politics but the bullying personality that bothers me. For Kirk Cameron, well, it is the politics (if he were right, wouldn't he be starring in The Smurfs and on How I Met Your Mother right now and Neil Patrick Harris be promoting his direct to DVD movies?). More seriously, Chris Brown and now Rhianna have also made choices that have given me a very negative view of them. I know celebrities love to claim freedom of speech, but that's a legal matter, not a social one, and it's my right as a (former) fan to abandon ship. As a critic, are you able to separate a personal dislike of an actor from your enjoyment of the show? And do you think that actors should keep their mouths shut in service of the show? Love the column! — Kelsey
Matt Roush: To answer your last question first, here's my advice to all (even non-celebrities): Think before you tweet, people! I'm in the business of free speech, so I figure everyone, even a celebrity, has a right to express themselves how they see fit, but they should also be aware that words, especially fighting words, have consequences, and where's the harm in putting a sock in it, I ask you. And of course it follows that fans and other spectators in this increasingly public world of instant raucous discourse have every right to judge accordingly. From what I can tell, at least Patricia Heaton (often her own worst enemy in these situations, and I take no delight in pointing that out) has shown remorse over her ill-advised attempt to jump on that particular bandwagon, so I'm willing to try to forgive — in part because what they're accomplishing on The Middle is so special I'm not willing just yet to let anything (even her antics) spoil the fun. To address your larger question: As a critic, I do try to judge any work on its own merits, although none of us operates in a vacuum, and some people are such lightning rods for bad publicity — hello, Charlie Sheen — that you can't always ignore the offscreen in writing about what's on screen.
Question: I was curious about your opinion on why the miniseries had fallen to the wayside? Some of the new TV series seem to be perfect for that format. For example, Ashley Judd's new series Missing doesn't seem like it has a plot designed for a full series but would be perfect for a miniseries. — Erin
Matt Roush: You're on to something here, and this trend of shorter-order network series was well reported last week in a story by our own Michael Schneider. The traditional miniseries fell out of favor quite a while ago, and nowadays even on cable, multi-part limited series tend to air over several weeks (see Mildred Pierce) rather than in one fell swoop (like in the glory days of sprawling sagas like The Thorn Birds and Lonesome Dove, which initially aired all of its chapters within a single week). With shows like The Missing and The River, we seem to be seeing the networks testing a return to the format, and it's also a response of sorts to cable, which can take bigger risks by producing fewer episodes.
Question: As a long-time reader and enjoyer of your articles, I find we mostly agree on what's worthwhile viewing, and I agree to disagree when your opinion differs from mine. Having said that, I have to take umbrage with the uncalled-for dig at Supernatural in last week's Ask Matt column. Maybe if the question to which you were responding had specifically raved about SPN and claimed Fringe was a piece of junk, the comparison would be just, but what did Supernatural ever do to you? For those of us still loving the show and hoping for another season, this kind of criticism puts that in jeopardy. At least SPN is still ambitious and passionate even if it doesn't always land its hits. Why not pick on a show that's just coasting? Of course, if that was your point about Supernatural, we'll have to agree to disagree again, but what you said felt like an unexplained and unfair wallop. — Alissa
Matt Roush: I thought twice before adding my two cents on Supernatural to that discussion on Fringe, knowing that sharing any unkind thought about this type of cult series risks offending a very vocal fan base. But I felt it was germane to the conversation about why some champions of Fringe were oddly silent this season. Supernatural is my kind of show, but this season feels so diminished and uninspired I have found it very hard to stay engaged or to throw my support behind it, and I'm hoping that the show will eventually bow out while there's still some gas in its tank. I'll stick with it for now (though it's easy for me to fall behind on any Friday night series that isn't Fringe), and like any self-respecting fan, I'm looking forward to the return of Misha Collins. I do regret suggesting the show was coasting, because that comment was aimed more at the CW, which has a tendency to let shows stay on the air way past their expiration date (Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, you name it). Which is why, no matter what I may have to say about it, I have little doubt that Supernatural will be back next season. I just hope when the time comes, the producers and the network will collaborate to give the show as fitting a send-off as Smallville got last year.
Question: Has CSI: NY been canceled? — Carole
Matt Roush: No, not yet. I'm bringing this up again because I must get at least a dozen or more questions a week of this variety since the show's hiatus, which began in mid-February, telling me that CBS did a spectacularly bad job in preparing the fans for the break. CSI: NY will be back March 30 with new episodes through the end of the season — and I'll be reviewing the return episode, which includes a flashback element to the 1950s — but I should also take this opportunity to prepare fans for the worst. The show almost didn't make the cut last season, and much like how NBC began to scale back the Law & Order franchise after they had run for many years and became prohibitively expensive, the expectation is that CBS could trim one or more of the CSIs from the lineup next season. (In this case, though, the revamped mothership appears to be the most stable and least in danger.) This is by no means a done deal yet, so no premature grieving.
Question: Is A Gifted Man gone for good? I saw that a new episode of The Mentalist was running in its time slot last Friday. Or is CBS just testing the waters to see if that "winning" show will do as well on Fridays as it does on Thursday? — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Gone for good this season for sure, and most likely for good for real, given that CBS cut the episode order short and some of the actors are already finding work elsewhere. (You go, Margo Martindale.) A Gifted Man has ended its season, and you're probably right that the bonus Mentalist last week is a sign that the network is toying with options as it decides which shows to juggle and where come the fall.
Question: With all the crime dramas on TV, Prime Suspect had an original, singular look. I loved the cast, especially Maria Bello, the scripts, the parallel connections and subplots. Something about the shooting of it seemed to capture my attention, the locales, the lighting, the noir element. The storyline didn't work toward a simple ending of closure. There was always something open-ended, especially since the precinct was laden with a non-connected sort of fraternity. This show was put together wonderfully. Why do you think it didn't catch on with the viewers? Poor PR? Viewer expectations of crime shows? True-to-life portrayals? Hard looks at difficult issues? This show had an HBO quality to it. — Kevin
Matt Roush: I'm not sure I'd go as far as putting this on an HBO pedestal — this wasn't exactly the next Wire, or even the next Prime Suspect, referring to this series' groundbreaking British namesake (and comparisons to the Helen Mirren series was one of this show's earliest problems). But NBC's Prime Suspect was at least as good as the clutter of crime dramas all over the other networks' schedules, and it's a shame that an audience that can find time for Criminal Minds couldn't find a way to put this on their radar. The real problem here wasn't so much the content of the show — although I'm sure some people found it hard to warm up to Maria Bello's character (and the cartoonish sexism so prevalent in the pilot was dialed back along the way, though first impressions may have proved fatal) — as much as the fact that it's one of many in an overstuffed genre, and it wasn't able to break out against the double whammy of airing on low-rated NBC as part of its low-rated Thursday night lineup. NBC did what it could to get the show noticed, even stripping the show across the entire schedule every night for a week. But it never caught on, and in retrospect, it looks like the right show on the wrong network at the wrong time. If it had been developed for USA Network — harking back to the earlier question about hard-to-like heroes — it would probably still be running. And on CBS (where far less interesting shows like Unforgettable can do just fine), it might have been a hit.
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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