Ask Matt: True Blood Boiling Over? And More!
Evan Rachel Wood, True Blood
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Question: Welcome back! This question is a two-parter. I'm in love with True Blood. It's so often described as lurid, melodramatic, overripe, etc. But the glory of the show is that it's all of those things while also containing moments of startling humor or tenderness, where we actually find ourselves caring about the characters, be they supernatural or just plain natural. That tension is what makes the show special, but I fear for it for that very reason. Oh, I don't fear its cancellation (it's too much of a phenom for that). I fear that it may follow the grim path of shows like Nip/Tuck or the U.S. version of Queer as Folk: going so over-the-top it loses sight of its characters, becoming so overheated that it melts. I can think of no series in recent memory that has this much potential for such a downfall (other than Glee). Do you share this fear?
Second question: What do you think of Evan Rachel Wood as the Queen? Opinion is deeply divided. I think she's a hoot-and-a-half, a scene-stealer on a show where scenes are not easily stolen. Others think she's stiff and overly mannered. Where do you land? — Ryan
Matt Roush: I try not to spend a lot of time worrying about how and when a show I'm enjoying will fall apart. Likening True Blood to Glee makes some sense, because both are recklessly uneven and yet exhilarating precisely because of their unabashed excesses. True Blood at least has the foundation of Charlaine Harris' enjoyable novels to fall back on (although Alan Ball has put some masterful new twists and kinks and characters into the mix), so I'm thinking it will be a while before it completely goes off the rails. (And I'm not alone in hoping that Ball will devote part of one of the next seasons to the best book in the series: Dead to the World, with its incredibly strong Sookie-Eric storyline.) Many fans and critics have been fretting about Glee's potential for self-destruction almost from the beginning, because we all saw what happened to Nip/Tuck. The difference being that for all of Glee's snark and edge, it's essentially a hopeful show, a comedy with serious heart as well as major pipes, whereas Nip/Tuck became more bitter, cynical and heavy-handed in its shock value as the seasons wore on. Hoping for the best where both shows are concerned, and still enjoying them a great deal.
Concerning Evan Rachel Wood as Queen Sophie-Anne: It is an odd performance to be sure, very campy and unquestionably mannered. But it's a strange character as well, a powerful vampire cloaked in a coquette's body, still indulging her girlish qualities until those moments when the eternal beast kicks in. My main problem is that when we spend time in her court, playing Yahtzee or whatever, I'm always itching to get back to the main action in Bon Temps. As the stories expand their focus to Mississippi and beyond, I figure that's going to continue to be an issue.
Question: As a longtime fan of intelligent and complex sci-fi on TV, I have been disheartened to see so little interest by producers or writers in the genre. With the success of the whole Star Trek group, Farscape, and, lately, Battlestar Galactica, I would think that the mainstream networks (plus show developers) would be motivated to put together something that stimulates as well as entertains. Of the current series available on TV, Eureka is pretty good to better than good, Sanctuary is way too uneven, Stargate Universe is bleak & boring, and V is cartoon sci-fi. That's a pretty thin menu.
Do you see any indicators that someone/anyone is working on more sci-fi for those with brains and imaginations? Finally, I hope and pray that Joss Whedon cranks up his creative mojo real soon. I miss his quality of work. — Jan
Matt Roush: Sci-fi traditionally is a tough sell for the mainstream networks, especially of the darker and meatier variety. Launching shows in this genre is an expensive and risky proposition, and as you'll see when you sample most of this fall's new output, risk isn't what the networks are particularly interested in right now. (NBC's The Event does have an element of the fantastic in its premise, so we'll see how that goes. It can't be worse than the last few seasons of Heroes.)
Otherwise, a partial list of sci-fi/fantasy titles in active development that have caught my interest includes: AMC tackling horror in a zombie series, The Walking Dead; BBC America's current success with Doctor Who and a second season of Being Human coming later this summer (which is being developed into a U.S. format by Syfy, and I'll reserve judgment on that until later), plus a new season of Primeval for next year as well as a bona fide sci-fi series, Outcasts, set on a remote planet; Torchwood's much anticipated new season, courtesy of Starz; HBO's epic fantasy series A Game of Thrones, also for next year. And with the exception of the morose Caprica (which is beginning to pique my interest), while Syfy has gone rather light as it aims for mass appeal in many of its sci-fi/fantasy series (Eureka, Warehouse 13, etc.), I'm intrigued by at least one title on their slate: Alphas, whose pilot will be directed by Lost's Jack Bender. Will any of these be as rich as Battlestar Galactica or as full of potential as Firefly or as peculiar and dangerous as Dollhouse? We'll see. But yes, let's hope it doesn't take too long to get Joss Whedon back doing TV, whether it's network or cable — or the Internet, for that matter.
Question: I've got a question about one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Human Target. I always thought that the show was an enjoyable action piece, and with Jackie Earle Haley and Chi McBride along for the ride, you just had a feeling these guys were seriously having a good time. Here's my question: While it was picked up, Human Target was moved to Fridays (typically a dead zone for TV, as far as I'm concerned). Will this move help the show, or hurtle it toward premature cancellation (see: Firefly, Dollhouse and just about anything Fox put on Fridays as of late)? — Steve
Matt Roush: Seeing the move to Fridays as a positive development would be disingenuous, but it is a lifeline of sorts for a show that could have fallen through the cracks altogether, especially as it isn't produced by the Fox studio (already making it an underdog). The upside anytime Fox moves a show to Friday is that expectations couldn't be lower, so if Human Target does any business whatsoever it would be a pleasant surprise. And should something fall apart on one of the weeknight lineups, a show like this would make a great utility back-up player. I agree with you that this show is lots of fun, and the spark provided by the supporting players is infectious. I'm hoping it finds its niche, but it will almost certainly be an uphill climb.
Question: I can't stop talking about the Breaking Bad finale. It has to be one of the top television moments of the year for me at least. I read your response last week to Katelyn's question, and I agree with you that Breaking Bad has surpassed the work of such filmmakers as the Coen Brothers, who I find are caricatures of themselves at this point. While Breaking Bad is very cinematic in its look and presentation, I would say that it is in a class of its own that other TV shows and even some filmmakers have yet to accomplish. It's more like watching the work of Orson Welles on television for me than the Coen Brothers because it is that innovative. Two scenes stand out for me for outstanding camera work and direction. The first is when Mike shoots the guy he can't even see through the wall going by the expression of the other, the second is when Jesse is pointing the gun at Gale (who by the way was reading "Everything's Eventual" by Stephen King") and in the final shot, the camera gives the illusion that Jesse is moving the gun, so for a second you think he may not have shot Gale. Yet when I re-watched the scene I could clearly see that it was the camera work, not Jesse.
I am conflicted about Skyler wanting to join Walt in the money laundering, I think in a weird way she sees it as being able to get close to him and control him, especially since she never went through with the divorce. At the same time, I also see her getting involved as a kind of full-circle moment for the narrative, so maybe it will be more interesting, yet since she kind of emasculates Walt, I think it will eventually backfire. They took the time to remind us that Mike is human as well, in the shot with the little girl in the car, then quickly reminded us otherwise. Either way this is about as compelling as television can get. While I watch a lot of great shows like Glee, Modern Family, True Blood, I think what sets shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad apart from the rest is that while the writing and actors make the characters human to us, the actual filming and cinematography is always one step ahead, and the combination of both takes our mind on one intriguing ride. — Maya
Matt Roush: Breaking Bad really did raise its game in the third season, and as a result, I'm finding it harder than usual to engage in the summer menu of escapist/formula TV because it's hard to shake this one off. That final shot of Jesse pointing the gun felt to me less like ambiguity (did he or did he not shoot Gale?) than a Hitchcockian manipulation of point of view putting us the viewer in the line of fire, implicating us as well in Jesse's kill. Brilliant. Given that this season was (for me) all about consequences, having Skyler start getting her hands dirty in Walt's money-laundering scheme is a natural outgrowth of the moral contamination and rot that continues to spread from Walt's criminal undertakings. He is horrified by this twist of events, but there's little he can do to stop it. Plus, she's really good at it. It is going to be an excruciating wait until next season.
Question: Every year I am in awe of just how well written, acted and produced the shows like Supernatural and Gossip Girl are, and each year I am disappointed to not see one of them nominated for Emmys. Why is it that CW shows are never nominated for Emmys? — Doug
Matt Roush: We could argue the quality of some of these shows (Gossip Girl in particular, which I finally had to break up with this season), but the root of this answer lies in the genres that the CW specializes in: Prime-time soaps geared to a young audience, and supernatural thrillers. It is very difficult for these sorts of shows to be taken seriously by the Emmy voters no matter who's airing them, and there's always been a condescending prejudice toward the CW (and before that, the WB and UPN) because their demographic target is roughly a quarter- to half-century younger than the Emmy membership norm. For me, the shows most unjustly neglected during this long history were WB classics like Buffy, Gilmore Girls and Felicity. This year, I'm not sure I would have made much of an argument for any of the CW's shows to make the cut when the drama field overall is so incredibly strong.
Question: I was wondering if you have been watching ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series. Some haven't been so great (Silly Little Game was, well, silly), but some were really strong. While they are documentaries, I get a Friday Night Lights vibe from many of them. They might prominently feature sports, but they really aren't about sports. They are about people, from the Baltimore Colts Marching Band to Len Bias' mother to Reggie Miller, and that is what elevates them from simply a rehash of the greatest moments in sports of the last 30 years. What do you think about the series? — Erin
Matt Roush: You nailed it when you remarked on this series' focus on the personal, because by and large these documentary films have been deeply personal labors of love from notable filmmakers telling intimate and emotionally charged stories that happen to exist within the world of sports. I haven't been able to watch all of the movies in this series yet, but I've seen enough to have been very impressed by them and am glad the TCA nominated the series in the news and information category.
Question: Of all the new shows that have come and gone this season, I think the only one I'm really going to miss is Miami Medical. It started merely okay but as CBS has been burning off the remaining episodes, I'm enjoying it more and more as a solid medical drama. I'm going to miss it even more since the medical show seems to be almost extinct as TV is dominated by the legal/detective mystery. The L&Os, the CSIs, two NCIS shows, Criminal Minds, Medium, The Mentalist, The Closer, White Collar, Rookie Blue, Flashpoint, and so on. Even the new shows like The Whole Truth, Undercovers, Body of Proof, Rizzoli & Isles are all variations of the cop/legal show. Grey's Anatomy and Mercy are soap operas set in a hospital and HawthoRNe's close; House was always a detective show with diseases rather than real medicine and now it's more soap opera than anything. Since ER ended, Miami Medical has been the only real medical show on TV. I miss the genre and I'll miss this show. It deserved a better chance. — Mary
Matt Roush: I'll admit I didn't give this show much of a second chance myself. It all felt so generic to me, despite Jeremy Northam being the headliner, and I felt CBS dropped the ball twice this season in trying to get a medical franchise going: first in the dreary Three Rivers, then with this sunnier but all-too-familiar trauma-rama. However, you make a fair argument that in a TV landscape way too cluttered with ordinary crime procedurals, why can't there be room for at least one ordinary, old-fashioned medical drama? Seems unfair, but I also wish this particular series had shown me something new or distinctive. I get what you're saying about Grey's as a soap (I look at it many weeks as a hospital sex comedy, laced with melodrama), but it satisfies my need most weeks for medical drama as well. (The less said about Private Practice the better.) On another note, if you haven't discovered Nurse Jackie, which cloaks its medical stories in a dark, almost Paddy Chavevsky-esque absurdism while giving us an uncompromised character study in Edie Falco's self-destructive title anti-hero, I highly recommend it. But it's hardly conventional, either, so doesn't really address your problem.
Question: I agree with the person who wrote you a while back to ask for more of the regular TV season's scripted shows to air their repeats during the summer. I am getting tired of all these reality shows and thus not being allowed to catch up on the shows that I could not see during the regular season. The cost of a scripted show does not factor into showing their repeats, and maybe it might help the cost the networks paid for that show. Most of these reality shows are not really reality. Reality, to me, is going through mundane periods of nothing exciting, and these reality shows inject unplanned, game-show types of events into them. I, for one, am not interested in the lovemaking that goes on in some of the reality boyfriend-girlfriend, husband-wife pairings. — Carl
Matt Roush: I'm with you on what largely passes for "reality" in the summer (with the exception of a few particularly choice reality-competition series). Each year, as the volume of time-wasters increases, I wonder how much damage is being done to certain series by keeping them off the air for such extended periods of time, instead of giving them an extra chance of exposure by repeating them during the summer months. Example: Is True Beauty so important to ABC's summer bottom line that it merits keeping Castle repeats off the Monday lineup, where it could potentially attract new viewers in advance of a challenging fall when it will compete with the new Hawaii Five-O? Makes no sense to me at all to keep a show like that off the radar, consigned (for now) to Saturdays. At the very least, the networks should be continuing to tout and market their ongoing shows' online presence during these long summer breaks, anything to keep them visible and viable. The networks, of course, will argue that too many repeats during the summer is the equivalent of a "lights-out/gone-fishing" policy, and concedes the marketplace to cable during the off-season. Still, there should be more of a balance, especially on behalf of those millions of viewers who still watch TV the old-fashioned way and could use the summer to catch up with or discover what they missed during the regular season.
Question: As a fan (and loyal viewer) of Lost for the past six years, I've given the final episode (and the final season in general) a fair amount of thought over the last few weeks. And while I agree that character development and dramatic resolution should always come first, and that the final season (for the most part) delivered handsomely in those regards, one question I would have is: Why can't we have it both ways? Why couldn't the show's creators have given us a finale that was both emotionally satisfying AND intellectually satisfying, in terms of the show's various "mysteries" and whatnot?
I think there's something to be said for the idea that, when you encourage viewers to invest their minds and imaginations in a story that is, at least to some extent, a mystery, then you are creating a sort of implied covenant with those viewers, an understanding that you will eventually reward their investment by providing a satisfying resolution to that mystery. Imagine if, for instance, the final episode of Smallville ended with Clark Kent losing his powers, hooking up with Chloe Sullivan, and the two of them moving to Hawaii and opening a cocktail lounge. Such an ending might be emotionally satisfying, in terms of the characters' personal storylines ending on a positive note or what have you, but it would have nothing whatsoever to do with what we've been encouraged to believe this show is ABOUT for the past 10 years, which is, of course, Clark's evolution into becoming Superman.
Not a perfect comparison, I know, but I think you get my point. A story is like a tapestry. When you set certain things up, and thereby create (not to mention trade on) the expectation that those story elements will eventually be paid off, you then have to follow through and actually PAY THOSE THINGS OFF at some point. If you don't, then not only will you tick a lot of people off and make them feel cheated and taken advantage of, but you leave those story threads hanging: unresolved, undeveloped, incomplete. The story of Lost, therefore, goes from being the beautiful tapestry it could have been, to one with threadbare patches here and there, and loose threads hanging off the corners. I have a lot of respect for the people who create this show, and quite frankly, I expected (and feel that I, and all the rest of the show's fans, deserved) more.
That being said, I did enjoy the finale. I just felt that, while the "Sideways" storyline was emotional and (for the most part) well thought out, the island-based storyline this year was hackneyed, confused, and essentially all over the place. The supposed "rules" governing Jacob and the Man in Black's conflict with each other were random and frequently contradicted each other, and certain characters' motivations were either never fully explored or showed no internal logic to the extent that they were established.
Widmore, for instance, supposedly believes that the world will end (and the survivors and all of their loved ones will "cease to be") if the Man in Black leaves the Island. Why does he think this? There's nothing to establish it in Jacob and his brother's flashback episode. And later, when he agrees to tell Smokey why he brought Desmond to the Island in order to stop him from killing Penny after he leaves: If the world's going to end, won't Penny die anyway? No internal logic. Ilana was never developed at all. She says she's been training to protect the "candidates" her whole life. Training how? With whom? We don't know anything about Dogen, how long has he been on the island or how he got there. Why did Jacob approach him directly, rather than manipulating him through subterfuge, like everyone else? Ill thought out.
I know that you've long been a fan of the show, and I'm not trying to take anything away from your enjoyment of it, by any means. I've often appreciated your defending the show (in past seasons) against the charge that it was confusing, or "made up as they go along," or whatever. I've had those same arguments many times! But, alas, I think we finally have to admit that they were flying blind through most of it. It was still a good show, just maybe not the GREAT show it could have been. I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this. — Tony
Matt Roush: Well, I'll try to be brief, which risks me coming off sounding glib when I say that some of your concerns and questions may be perfectly valid, but perhaps some of these issues weren't avenues or stories the show's creators felt were particularly worth the time or trouble to tell or explain. As expansive as Lost's canvas was, in TV terms it was also finite. It was pretty clear as it was coming toward an end that certain questions and mysteries (and, for that matter, characters) involving the island were going to remain clouded in myth. Did we really want to spend more time, or an entire episode (given the show's structure), getting to know or understand Dogen's motivations? I'm not so sure, especially given the impatience so many fans seemed to have regarding the Temple storyline and setting. As I noted when I first wrote about the finale, Lost was not a perfect show by any means but it was a grand experience. That we're left still pondering some of the enigmas is not necessarily a bad thing, even if in some specific instances it can be frustrating or maddening. A final season even more weighted down by exposition may well have left viewers more dissatisfied, since the impulse is to greet any answer with a "yeah, but what about ..." debate. Epic fantasies are troublesome and burdensome creatures — anyone awaiting the next installment of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series can attest to that—but on balance, I'm thrilled we got as much payoff as we did with Lost's grandly emotional finale.
Question: Love 24 and Jack Bauer, but my son and I have a question. Why did they leave the parole officer in the vent? Dana killed him and stuffed him in the vent. As soon as that happened we wondered if they would find him or leave him there. Get the poor guy outta the vent! — Kim & Stephen
Matt Roush: Ah, Dana Walsh, the gift that keeps giving, even posthumously. This may have been one of the silliest moments in the most ludicrous subplot of the disappointing final season. But the thing to keep in mind with 24 is that, incredible as it seems, Dana's murder of poor Bill Prady happened just hours (not weeks) ago in the scheme of things. CTU hasn't even entirely recuperated from the electro-magnetic pulse. There's always tomorrow, and we have to assume the body will start stinking up the joint (although hard to imagine it will stink worse than the writing) and once Chloe gets over the trauma of saying goodbye to Fugitive Jack, she or an underling will discover the corpse before long. We just won't be there to see it.
Question: Is USA splitting apart the current season of In Plain Sight and Law & Order: Criminal Intent or are they running the whole current season uninterrupted? — Dean
Matt Roush: Confusion is understandable, but in this case, both shows are airing their seasons straight through, not (as is often the case on USA) as a split season.
Question: I love your column and look forward to getting your opinions and insights each week. I'm hoping you can shed some light on what it's going to take for a network to pick up a Katee Sackhoff show. Her pilots weren't picked up the last two years, and I don't think I can take seeing her in another horribly written role like on 24. With such a fantastic cast (Nia Long, Treat Williams, Goran Visnjic), I'm confused as to why Boston's Finest wasn't picked up by ABC when a lot of their choices seem very underwhelming. I agree with Jimmy Kimmel, who joked at the Upfronts that we definitely don't need a third Shonda Rhimes medical show. Did you see the pilot? What are your thoughts on why it wasn't picked up, and do you think we'll get to see Katee in a role that's worthy of her? I'm so glad that Nathan Fillion has found success (although I'm not crazy about Castle), now if only Katee and Jason Dohring could find great projects, I'd be so happy. Thanks again for your column and letting us fans rant at you :) — CJ
Matt Roush: The fault, as they say, lies not in the stars, but in the other intangibles that decide which pilots make the cut each year and which don't. There's no question Katee Sackhoff is an in-demand talent, and one of these pilot seasons, we have to expect she'll make a pilot that will not only be the right fit for her but for the network in question's needs. In ABC's case, the network put into a play a number of crime/legal pilots for the fall season, and for reasons known only to the programmers at this point, they went with Detroit 1-8-7, Body of Proof and The Whole Truth instead of Boston's Finest. Could be a mistake, we'll see. But it's not like there's a conspiracy. More like a reminder that it's harder than it looks to get a show on air (which doesn't explain the head-scratching reaction we have to some of the junk that actually makes it to air), not to mention the high failure rate for shows that somehow do make it through the pilot process. TV's not for the weak of spirit or the thin of skin. And no, I haven't seen this pilot. The networks and studios aren't as eager to share the shows that don't make the cut as they used to be, and quite honestly, with the summer glut of new programming, when would any of us have the time or inclination to watch something with no future?
That's all for now. Keep those questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/roushTVGuideMag
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