Ask Matt: Vampire Diaries, Dexter, Glee, the TV Laugh Track, and More!
Question: As we approach the annual barrage of year-end Top 10 lists, I'm dreading the fact that one worthy, excellent TV show will be overlooked by most critics: The Vampire Diaries. Don't get me wrong, I love Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones as much as any sane person, but I also think TVD is one of the most expertly paced, perfectly plotted shows on TV right now. Unfortunately, I don't think many professional critics bother to watch it, though they'll analyze lesser shows like True Blood and The Walking Dead just because of the networks they air on. Even if critics don't think The Vampire Diaries is Top 10 worthy, I think it at least deserves to be part of the year-end conversation. Why is it so hard for a show like this to be taken seriously? — Donnie
Matt Roush: I like Vampire Diaries and probably give it more consideration than many critics do — just try sitting through Secret Circle afterward, and you instantly appreciate how much more enjoyable TVD is — and I do appreciate its breakneck (often literally) pace and what-next plotting. But this is one of those shows I classify as more of a "guilty pleasure," and while I can enjoy the over-the-top twists and turns, it just doesn't feel serious enough as a supernatural drama for me to take it terribly seriously. There is a CW factor at play here as well, I'm sure, because we're being asked to believe these characters are still in high school, plus the various authority figures are so shallow, and Mystic Falls seems to have at least one major social event every week where someone ends up dead or missing. True Blood is just as campy, and though I felt it had its best season this year since the first, it's not really Top 10 material, either. The Walking Dead earns points for its graphic ruthlessness, and I wasn't nearly as bored on the farm as others seemed to be. But the only sci-fi/fantasy type show making the cut on my Top 10 list this year (which will be published in the issue on stands next week — and online at some point) is Fox's Fringe, which not only blew me away with its creative ambition and worlds-colliding risk-taking, but actually made me care for Peter and Walter Bishop and the various versions of Olivia Dunham. Nothing derivative or silly about that show.
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Question: I know some people are not crazy about Dexter this year. However, honestly, I absolutely love it. I thought last year was horrible — Deb decided to let the killer(s) go? Come on! — and this year is more exciting to me, just because of how "character"-driven it is with every character on the show. Obviously from Dexter with his faith and the "light" and the "darkness" factor, to Deb with her relationship problems with her therapist, to Quinn with his downslide after Deb broke up with him. Plus side storylines with the closed case that Deb reopened, to the Ice Truck Killer hand that the geek stole and now in his house! A lot going on this year and I am enjoying it more than I did last year! With that being said, I did not see that twist coming with Gellar! Some people say they did, others say they did not. Either way it made last week's episode even better! Any chance you know any spoilers regarding the finale and when does it air? Because last year's finale was terrible. — Michael
Matt Roush: The Professor Gellar reveal really was one of the biggest red herrings anyone has tried to pull off in a long time. I'm on board with it, especially because Colin Hanks is having such a field day now, so I do agree this season is better than last year's — though they're all going to pale compared to the fourth season with John Lithgow's "Trinity Killer," and I really enjoyed the episode this season where Dexter went to Nebraska (with the shade of his brother in tow) to clean up some loose ends with that story. The subplots involving Dexter's co-workers aren't jazzing me any more than they ordinarily do, but now that we know (after Sunday's episode) that Doomsday's endgame is targeting the Miami Police Department, I'm hoping for some meaningful mayhem on that front. Beyond that, I have no spoilers — that's not what I do in this column — but I can tell you the season finale is in two weeks, Sunday, Dec. 18. And the buzz is that there will be some game-changers as the show heads into what will likely be its final two seasons.
Question: I'd become disenchanted with Glee this season. With a season of, for me, a plethora of must-see broadcast TV, I had to cut some of the shows I watch and/or tape for later viewing, and Glee was one of them. Last week, with so many repeats, I once again watched it, and was blown away by the music. Coach singing "Jolene," Santana singing anything, Finn, Puck and his "teacher," the baby's adopted momma (isn't he supposed to be under 18, and is this "grounds" for her once again taking her golden voice and leaving the show?), had me once again entranced, and thinking the music was worth sticking around for. But after the show ended, I wondered. I always loved the music — or most of the time; toward the end of last season, not always — and thought that far outweighed the lack of story, but is it enough to bring me back? Is it enough to bring back many viewers that have dropped the show? I'm on the fence. What about Fox? Are they going to "hold em, or fold em"? And what about you? Are you still in the stick-around mode? I'd really like to know your thoughts on a matter you might feel you visited one too many times. — Dorothy
Matt Roush: As aggravating and uneven as Glee can be, I doubt I'll ever drop it. The highs, musical and otherwise, are still stimulating enough to get me through the more cringe-worthy stuff (like Sue's behavior and Kurt's outfits), and I've always been a believer that there should be a show like this on TV — which is why I'm also high on NBC's upcoming Smash, a much less problematic series creatively from the get-go, though its commercial appeal has yet to be determined. Despite Glee's ratings decline this season, it's far from the point of cancellation. It still has enough young-demographic appeal and watercooler potential to be of value to the Fox brand. But whether Glee can win back those it has alienated or frustrated is a tougher call. Once people break up with a show, and Glee has given fans plenty of reasons to do so (especially last season), it can be hard to win them back, regardless of what's on the playlist. On a similar note ...
Question: Wow, last week's episode of Glee blew me away! It reminded me of the first season and why I watched it to begin with. I normally fast-forward during the songs or awkwardness that make me cringe, which recently has been more than once an episode. Not so this episode, but my question for you: Do you think the crazies that were up in arms over the episode where teenagers very tastefully lost their virginity will be as offended with the fact that Puck and the teacher got it on? I'm willing to bet no, and I'd love to hear your professional opinion on why that is. — Dan
Matt Roush: So far I'm not aware of any uproar from the usual circles — in particular, one self-promoting organization that will go unnamed that most recently took credit for the apparent demise of Fox's low-rated Allen Gregory, as if its lack of quality or appeal weren't to blame. Maybe because the episode didn't hinge entirely around sex, and what went down between Puck and Shelby was mostly off-camera — Discretion? On Glee? — the watchdogs haven't got their knickers in a twist yet. I'm assuming there will be consequences from this rather unpleasant and tasteless subplot, which might also appease the nay-sayers.
Question: I had read recently that David Shore had a meeting with Fox execs to confirm whether or not Fox was going to renew House for a ninth season. Have you heard anything in the chatter as to what the fate of the show might be so that I can prepare myself if this is truly the end for House? — Brandon
Matt Roush: There are no updates that I'm aware of; I'd think Fox will have to address this next month during its winter TCA session, if not earlier. Hugh Laurie's recent statements about quitting TV after House ends no doubt stirred up more new speculation about how much longer the show can go on. I've pretty much broken up with House this season — don't like the new characters, the old ones bore me, and I miss Cuddy — but I'd come back to see how it wraps if they do decide to end it this year (which I think would be wise). And there's still plenty of time to plot an end game at this point. The worst result would be for Fox to scrap the show in the spring without any warning. That would be no way to treat a show that has done so well for the network, and I don't see that happening.
Question: The laugh track was used early in TV history to show viewers that whatever was said or done was funny enough to laugh at. Why do shows still use them? I turn to another channel when a laugh track is used. Don't producers know that people are now "sophisticated" enough to know when to laugh at dialogue or actions? — Amy
Matt Roush: Seinfeld. Friends. Everybody Loves Raymond. Cheers and Frasier. Roseanne. Will & Grace. All in the Family. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Big Bang Theory. And yes, I Love Lucy. Need I go on? Sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience, with laugh tracks sweetened or not, may not be to everyone's taste, but they are and have always been hugely popular for a good reason, and not just for people of a certain age. Properly executed, written and performed, they are among the most enduring classics TV has ever produced, and the best of these shows are written for the express purpose of generating laughter from a live audience, with the expectation that the home audience will laugh along. And for the most part, they do. When a traditionally filmed sitcom doesn't work (see: Whitney), there is nothing more painful than listening to canned (or sweetened) laughter when you're sitting there stone-faced. But I've seen my share of "sophisticated" single-camera comedies that are just as bad if not worse. There's a style to writing and producing both types of TV comedies, and I refuse to buy the argument that one is better than the other. The Modern Family creators earned their stripes with shows done the "old-fashioned" way, and thankfully, they're still producing belly laughs regardless of the format. For those interested in the state of the art of the laugh track, check out this recent excellent survey from the esteemed Joe Adalian.
Question: While it is definitely not a perfect show, I feel Terra Nova has been improving every week, especially as it ups the stakes for the characters, as it did with the recent Taylor-focused episode and last week's reveal of Skye as the mole. I have to say I did not see that coming, and am really looking forward to watching that play out once Jim and Taylor are made aware of it, which I'm sure is coming soon. How long until Fox has to make a decision regarding a second season? I know you expect one, but especially given the long lead-time necessary to handle all of the effects, is there a date by which the network must say yes or no in order for the production to meet the hypothetical additional order? Can they wait until the upfronts in May to pull the trigger, or does the order have to come sooner? If they can wait until May, is that what you expect them to do? I know ABC often rewards its big hits with early renewals, and while Terra Nova is not a huge blockbuster, I think an early renewal might help their cause to produce more episodes next year. I've heard that Fox is contractually obligated to order 22 for the next round but am not sure if that will come to pass or not given the logistical difficulties of the production. If they really do want 22, I'd think sooner would be better than later to inform the producers of that decision.
On a similar note, have you heard anything about what ABC's plans are for a ninth season of Grey's Anatomy in regards to the cast? All the remaining principal characters who have been there since the pilot have deals expiring at the end of this season, and a few of them have made comments to the press about weather or not they want to return, but the last I heard was Ellen Pompeo saying that no one has approached her about a new deal. Given the level of behind-the-scenes scrutiny at Grey's in the past, it would surprise me if negotiations actually manage to be kept completely from the media. So, do you know if these have started yet? I hope they are completed in such a way as to give any characters who must be written out a proper farewell arc, rather than just an abrupt exit stage right as was given to Burke and, to a lesser degree, Izzie (Katherine Heigl was intended to come back for a few more episodes which ended up not happening, as I recall.) The Izzie sendoff was fine, but my understanding is that they didn't know her final episode was her final episode when it was written, and I don't want to see that happen again. Granted, Burke and Izzie's exits were slightly different situations, but still. If some characters are going to leave, I would like closure with their stories if at all possible. — Jake
Matt Roush: With Terra Nova, the renewal if it happens (for however many episodes) almost certainly has to be decided before the May upfronts for the show to be able to meet production deadlines. Can't say if there's a specific date that would represent the point of no return, but I imagine Fox will want to wait to see how the final episodes perform this month before making that call. It's a tricky situation; they've spent a lot of time and money developing the show, but its numbers haven't merited an early pick-up, and creatively, it's only now beginning to pick up steam, which might be too late. This is another topic I'd expect to come up during Fox's TCA executive session.
With Grey's Anatomy, contract negotiations are rarely private, even when the participants would rather they be. (Negotiating through the media is always a popular tactic.) I'm sure as they get down to business, we'll all be hearing about it, and if you asked me to bet, I'd put my money on everyone coming back for at least another season. If any of the major players do depart at season's end, they deserve a significant send-off. That only makes sense. Whether that will happen, who can say at this point?
Question: First of all, I've really enjoyed two new sitcoms this season: NBC's Up All Night and CBS's 2 Broke Girls. I think that both are so funny and the characters are awesome. What do you think about them and do you think that they have good chances to get renewed? How about other new series and what are your favorite new series? — Hermanni
Matt Roush: A renewal for 2 Broke Girls is a virtual no-brainer, and Up All Night has a good shot at a second season, especially if it performs decently when it moves to Thursdays next month (where it should have been airing all along). I like both shows well enough — though I often wish 2 Broke Girls didn't stoop so low for its crude laughs, and Up All Night is still trying to find a balance between the domestic comedy (which I like) and the workplace stuff (very uneven). But the new comedy I'm still craziest about is Fox's New Girl, with ABC's Suburgatory not far behind. Among dramas, my biggest letdown was ABC's Pan Am (which I expected much more from), and the nicest surprises have also been from ABC: Revenge and Once Upon a Time. CBS's Person of Interest is also just unusual enough to keep me interested, and I find the two leads fascinating.
Question: I am just amazed at how much better Law & Order: SVU is this season. When I first watched this season, I thought I wouldn't like it with Christopher Meloni gone. Turns out I was wrong! In my opinion, Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish bring something to the show that it never had before, and new show runner Warren Leight has turned the show around for the better! But my question: Is Dick Wolf working on another new Law & Order series? I remember Bob Greenblatt stating that he'd like to see the Law & Order franchise continue on NBC. Is it possible that there I a Law & Order: Chicago in the works? Do you know, Matt? — JamHend
Matt Roush: I've heard nothing (and neither has my most reliable L.A. mole) on that front, but given what a colossal dud Law & Order: Los Angeles was, it's hard to imagine NBC wading into that arena again anytime soon. I expect Dick Wolf will never stop coming up with new twists on the Law & Order formula, but I'd be surprised if they go back to trying to recapture the mothership's magic in a different city. That ship has sailed, and sunk. For the moment, I expect NBC will just stand behind SVU for as long as it's feasible. By the way, while we're saving our pennies in hopes of eventually being able to afford the new DVD boxed set of the complete Law & Order, I hope NBC never stops regretting the way they shut down the original series.
Question: Will Pan Am make it for a complete season? Or will it disappear one of these days? I love the show! — Gabriela
Matt Roush: Sorry to say it's not looking good. ABC only picked up one episode beyond the original 13 that were ordered, way short of a "back nine," which means after the remaining episodes air in early 2012, the crew is likely to be grounded for good. ABC insists it isn't canceling the show yet, which reportedly has sold well in overseas markets (though Sony, not ABC's Disney, is the distributor), but if ABC's replacement show GCB performs more strongly than Pan Am, which most expect will happen, we're talking a serious case of clipped wings. I liked the pilot episode and the idea and escapist look of the show, but the characters have never really ignited for me, which is a real shame.
Question: I am thrilled to see that TNT is attempting a movie-of-the-week franchise this winter, with some very good actors making adaptations of books by popular writers. There are so many crappy movies all over cable, and I miss the higher quality movies that used to be on the networks (and I don't just mean high quality movies like Sarah Plain and Tall but fun stuff like Lace). Even USA used to do a good job at weekly movies back in the day. Have you looked at any of these and can you recommend some particular entries in the series? I'm particularly looking forward to the one with Carla Gugino. In a month of program drought when it is cold and everyone is home, I'm happy that TNT is one of the networks doing original programming and we have more options than Netflix and all of these insipid Christmas movies. (And I used to like Christmas movies, but how many Santa needs a bride, cold-hearted career woman discovers the value of family and Christmas movies can you watch?) — Rebecca
Matt Roush: No argument on the increased sappiness of what has become of the Christmas TV-movie, and TNT's "Mystery Movie Night" is a refreshing change as well as a good idea, though so far it's decidedly a mixed bag. I reviewed the first two movies last week in my daily "Guide" columns: Innocent was pretty good, and Ricochet pretty awful. Like you, I'm so happy to have Carla Gugino back on TV I couldn't resist watching this Tuesday's entry, Hide (9/8c), which is no great shakes as a mystery (it's ridiculously convoluted) or as a character study (Gugino plays yet another career cop who sacrifices her personal life for the job), but it's a serviceable enough B-movie, which is about as high as TNT's ambitions seem to be toward this project.
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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