Ask Matt: Vampire Diaries, The Middle, Pillars, Spoilers, Emmys and More
The Vampire Diaries
Question: I've only recently started watching The Vampire Diaries, as I wanted to wait for the overall reception of Season 1. But once I started, I got fully sucked in and I'm absolutely loving it now. [POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT] However, I'm having a hard time letting go of my lovely namesake Anna. With her ambivalent personality traits and the story line she was given, I thought she was one of the most interesting characters on the show. I have to admit that her demise in the finale hit me quite hard. Is there really no chance at all that she survived somehow? — Anna
Matt Roush: Looked to me like she was a goner, but you know how it goes on shows like this: Just because you die, or die again as the case may be, doesn't necessarily mean you're dead for good. And even if she did bite the eternal dust, I'd think there's potential for some juicy flashbacks as we get more of everyone's back story. And don't you imagine she'd at the very least haunt Jeremy's dreams? Beyond that, I haven't a clue whether we'll see Anna again, as I refuse to get ahead of the story, especially on shows like this. From a critical point of view, though, it's important to believe that characters like this can actually perish even in a supernatural series, or there'd be nothing at stake (pun unintended). Keeps you caring, I'd think.
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Question: Why has The Middle been so ignored? It seems that any time I have heard anything about great new comedies, the only ABC show ever mentioned is Modern Family. Quite honestly, I can't stand MF; it comes off very "scripted" to me. The Middle, however, is realistic, funny and well-acted, and I think Patty Heaton and Neil Flynn are fantastic in their roles. I would love to hear what you have to say about that show! — Lyn
Matt Roush: I have championed The Middle pretty much from the start, but there's no question it lives in the shadow of Modern Family, including from my own perspective. I don't want to get sidetracked into defending the brilliance of Modern Family's multi-generational blended-family ensemble approach, which could very well earn it a shelf full of Emmys this year, but the reason The Middle doesn't get its due is probably partly because of its very broad tone and almost certainly because it's telling a story about a very middle-class family, which to many in the media is just not a very hip thing to do. I relate to it because of my own Indiana roots and because I feel it echoes past greats like Roseanne and Grace Under Fire, which found hilarity in domestic chaos in their own distinctive ways. I'm hoping The Middle will be more appreciated in time—it took Everybody Loves Raymond several seasons to become a hit and then an Emmy favorite—but it's certainly off to a good start.
Question: Thank you a thousand times for the heads-up on Pillars of the Earth! When I saw that it was showing on Starz, I initially thought I wouldn't be able to catch it. However, thanks to my Wii and a Netflix membership, I've been able to catch up online. What a gloriously bloody, romantic, over-the-top, sweeping epic of a show!! You were absolutely right to compare it to the great mini-series of the past like Shogun or North and South. I have been absolutely astounded at the production quality, the locations, the costumes, the acting...well I could go on and on. I really have to hand it to the actors, though. Many of these characters are truly unlikable, but the entire cast is really selling the story so that I'm just as interested in the evil Earl as the misunderstood hero.
Ian McShane is doing a wonderfully understated performance as Waleran. What a voice that man has, even when he's lying through his teeth. I could just listen to his words like they were a lullaby: "Yes, sir. I'll kiss your ring, and burn that witch for you, too. Just tell me about that lovely palace again, please?" I'm completely hooked into the story line for Jack as well. Will he ever get the girl? Will he help finish the cathedral? Will King Stephen's visions of him come true? And, oh poor Maud! How will she ever get the throne back? And Aliena? What about her wool business? Will she earn back the position in society that she lost? I'm even interested in the evil William Hamleigh. I mean who could come out normal with a psychopathic mother like that? Of course he's a paranoid, sadistic, power-hungry jerk. Bless his heart.
I hope more people can catch up with this gem online. Just watch out for the content, though; this is definitely one for the grownups. — Ann Marie
Matt Roush: Glad you're enjoying it—to be honest, more than I did, from the sound of it. What you're describing here is a classic page-turner, the tradition Pillars is so whole-heartedly, if shamelessly, upholding. Having devoured the book several summers ago (if memory serves), I got a kick out of the miniseries' irresistibly hokey melodrama—and the cast has a great time with it, most notably Ian McShane and young Eddie Redmayne as Jack. There should be a place on TV for this kind of sprawling story, and I wish it didn't require a pay-cable outlet making the investment to bring such a project to the U.S.
Question: This is a serious question, it really is. Can you explain why showrunners don't like spoilers? As in how they feel spoilers hurt their shows? I understand some viewers want to remain spoiler free, but it seems there is also a rather large contingent of viewers that would like to know what's coming down the pike. So, from a show-runners perspective: Why the secrecy and aversion to spoilers? — PD
Matt Roush: And believe me, this is a serious answer, especially as you've asked this to someone who generally tries to maintain a spoiler-free zone. There is some value — call it publicity, call it hype, call it (in some cases) pandering — in producers/show-runners providing "spoilers" or, to use a more generous word, teases about the direction a show is heading and to alert viewers to new characters and cast members (especially if they have a TV profile) and in some cases even plot mechanics to keep the fan base appeased and engaged. Some show-runners are very canny about how they dole out that information, but I have to believe they're sometimes holding their noses while they do it. And some do have a tendency to get upset when too much (or sometimes anything) gets out too soon. Personally, I prefer to steer clear of much of this intel—which isn't easy—so I can appreciate the shows I enjoy in their purest form. With a sense of anticipation and surprise, not a resigned sense of "oh yeah, that twist is coming up, show me what you got."
I think back to some major TV twists I covered over the years that I was aware of prior to their airing — Kimberly Shaw's ghoulish return from the dead on Melrose Place, the death of Andy Sipowicz's son on NYPD Blue — and was happy not to spoil them, but to be able to report and comment on them the day after in classic watercooler-TV fashion, with the cooperation of show-runners and stars. (Dennis Franz threatened to track me down if I leaked word of his TV son's death ahead of time, and I believed him.) And then there are true jaw-droppers — most famously LA Law sending Rosalind Shays down the elevator shaft, and (I believe it was a secret) Henry Blake's death when he left M*A*S*H — which took us all by surprise, preserving the emotional impact and as a result going down in TV history. In short, I'm surprised more show-runners aren't opposed to letting "spoilers" leak out, and there's a reason "spoil" is part of that word. Scoops and spoilers are part of how we cover the business of course,, and I understand why a certain type of fan enjoys and craves them, and sometimes they actually enhance the what-comes-next aspect of the weekly TV experience. But the reason some show-runners object to the practice seems pretty clear to me. They don't want their hard work spoiled and they prefer viewers to react genuinely to what they see. As do I.
Question: I appreciate the powers that be on Entourage trying to make Vince interesting this year with his daredevil antics, relationship with adult film star Sasha Grey and his drinking problem, but isn't making the show's main character compelling in the seventh season a case of too little, too late? — Joe
Matt Roush: Can't argue with that. Many seasons, Vince has been the least interesting aspect of the show, and even now, I find myself drifting when the focus pulls away from Ari or Eric (and more recently, Scott Caan's scene-stealing work as Scott Lavin). I'm a little behind on the show this season thanks to TCA and other distractions (including a bunch of things I'd rather watch most Sundays), but I agree with both observations—that Vince has become more interesting and unpredictable this season and that it's still not enough to forgive him for being such a void at what should be the core of the series.
Question: You failed to address a key point in your response to Beverly in last week's Ask Matt column. Which is that the Emmys are based on single episodes rather than the complete seasons. You alluded to this yourself in a previous column's response when you said, "Matthew Fox's performance in the heart-rending Lost finale makes him a contender for his overdue nomination." Shouldn't the awards go to the actors who performed the best over an entire season rather than those who had just a single great episode? I remember reading an article about this in TV Guide many years ago in reference to ER. They said the producers would create an episode every season for each actor to get their "Emmy shot."
I realize that the voters can't watch every episode of every show, but it seems that there should be a better way to do it than letting the actors pick a single episode for consideration. Not to mention, as you said about John Lithgow, there should be some standards for which categories the actors are considered in rather than picking the one they think they have the best chance to win. — Dennis
Matt Roush: This brings up an important issue (and, for the record, it's one that Beverly herself argued in her own response to me to last week's answer, but I've chosen to let Dennis makes the case this week). One of the unquestionable flaws of the Emmy process, both in nominating and in selecting the winners, is that the voting members of the TV Academy tend not to watch enough TV to make a truly informed judgment. Case in point: While I wouldn't be opposed to Hugh Laurie finally winning his Emmy for House, the fact that he might win solely for his bravura work in either last season's opener or the finale, ignoring the fact the show was off its game for much of the rest of the season, doesn't seem quite fair. I still maintain, though, going back to last week's question, that just because Christina Hendricks didn't have as prominent a supporting role last season as some of the other nominees shouldn't disqualify her from being a serious contender.
Question: Has Fox's The Good Guys (Bradley Whitford & Colin Hanks) been renewed for this fall (or midseason)? — Vee
Matt Roush: Despite pulling decidedly underwhelming numbers during its summer tryout run, the show will return this fall—but with an added challenge of being asked to attract an audience on Fridays (at 9/8c, following Human Target). I understand the show may be fine-tuning things a bit for the remainder of its split first season, but I would bet expectations remain fairly low. On the few occasions I watched I found The Good Guys to be harmlessly wacky fun, a more slapsticky take on a USA Network-style buddy show, and Whitford in particular appears to be having a blast, so I hope it finds its niche. Fox certainly could do (and has done) worse on Fridays, but the numbers probably won't be pretty.
Question: Throughout my history of reading your column over the past several seasons, I've gone from show to show based on your recommendations to fill certain parts of my TV habit. I wasn't fond of the Brothers & Sisters pilot, but found it much improved by midseason and started watching based on your recommendation, then found Everwood on DVD during the B&S summer hiatus because I found I liked Greg Berlanti's work. Then I picked up Friday Night Lights. In that they share the same kind of life-focused, small-town family drama feel, FNL kind of dulled the ache while waiting for Everwood's further seasons to arrive on DVD. Knowing that FNL is finished at the conclusion of the upcoming season, I'm sad to see it go but grateful that it has lasted this long. So now I wonder: Where is the next great family drama that will dull the ache of its cancellation and carry on the tradition?
I've seen a few episodes of Parenthood and while it is certainly very watchable and there's a lot of talent there, it seemed to me that it was often trying too hard to get certain emotional responses from me, which FNL has never had to because it plays more naturally. I also found Life Unexpected a delightful surprise and am looking forward to its return. However, many of the later episodes in its freshman season seemed to be hitting the same points over and over again: Lux bouncing between living residences depending on which parent she was more upset with at the moment, then reconciling and starting the cycle again, so if it is going to continue to be interesting, it needs to raise its game and try new things this year. But nothing else other than the shows I mentioned above on the networks' fall schedules seems to fit this genre, and that's a shame. What do you think? — Jake
Matt Roush: Family drama is one of TV's trickiest formats. People often say they wish there were more of it on TV, but they rarely support it in the numbers you see for garden-variety crime dramas, cheesy reality, etc. It's too bad that the only way Friday Night Lights could survive in the long term was because of the joint deal with DirectTV (but thank heavens for it). I don't see anything on the immediate horizon with the ambitions and quality of FNL. I agree with you regarding Parenthood's limitations: a good cast squandered in predictable, heavy-handed schmaltz, and Life Unexpected at first had me convinced we'd seen a rebirth of classic WB family drama, but it devolved quickly into a tiresome cycle of self-righteous pouting and bickering. (Hoping they've worked out the kinks and things improve in season 2.) I'd like to be able to recommend some of the dramas on ABC Family, but with the exception of this summer's evocative Huge, I find them way too plastic and lacking in nuance. My favorite new fall drama has a family dynamic, but Fox's Lone Star operates on a much more heightened level of intrigue and soap operatics, so it may not fill this particular void. But I'd still recommend it.
Question: I am thrilled that this season of Mad Men is becoming a reunion for actors from the WB's one-season wonder Jack & Bobby. In the "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" episode, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was home to John Slattery as Roger, Matt Long as Joey and Jessica Paré as Megan. What is the likelihood that we'll also see fellow Jack & Bobby alums Christine Lahti and Logan Lerman on this season of Mad Men? — Ben
Matt Roush: Way to keep that flame burning. I will gently suggest this is pure coincidence, although to be honest, I'd forgotten John Slattery was even on Jack & Bobby. (Roger Sterling being something of a career-defining role.) But wouldn't Christine Lahti be an interesting and arresting addition to this group? As to the likelihood of future casting, let's just say that of all spoiler-averse shows, Mad Men holds its secrets incredibly close to the tailored vest, and while I'm always happy to see an actor I like show up on this series, I expect in most cases I'll be among the last to know when it happens.
Question: Just wondering if the show The Forgotten will be returning. It was a well-written plot that kept getting better as the weeks went by. Really enjoyed how the writers wove everything as the show played and tied it all up to make good sense. And it was wonderful to see how they put the pieces of someone's life together to bring their memory home to their loved ones. Miss seeing it. I really hope it will be back. — Diane
Matt Roush: Sorry, it's gone—as dead as the John and Jane Does the series used to profile—though clearly not forgotten by its fans. The show never really caught on with a large enough audience, and this fall ABC is trying to get back in the crime-procedural game with less gimmicky approaches to the genre (including Dana Delany's Body of Proof, the legal drama The Whole Truth, and taking over Forgotten's Tuesday time period, the promising Detroit 1-8-7).
That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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