The Walking Dead

Question: I am currently enjoying The Walking Dead and Homeland, both cable shows and therefore both with shorter seasons. However, after a couple of fast-moving episodes at the start, they've both come to a bit of a standstill. The Walking Dead has basically been stuck at the same place for the last couple of episodes, and Homeland now feels like they don't know what to do between the start of the story and the eventual reveal of Brody's intentions. So what I don't understand is, given that they're more limited in the number of episodes they have per season, why are they trying to drag out the storylines? Moreover, if The Walking Dead continues to go at this pace, how are they going to explain the impending puberty/growth spurt of Chandler Riggs (like Malcolm David Kelley's Walt on Lost)? — Joe

Matt Roush: I've heard a few complaints on the lines of "nothing much is happening" on Walking Dead — though this is the first such gripe I've heard about Homeland (so far) — and in both cases, I just don't see it. (And this came in before Sunday's episode of Homeland, where the relationship of Carrie and Brody took a major twist, so bear in mind that when showing impatience toward a series, you never know when it will take off again.) Even with the abbreviated number of episodes per season typical of a cable series, I am OK with narratives unfolding at their own pace, as long as the show can sustain tension (or at least our interest) through character, and I find both Dead and Homeland excel at that. While it's true the Dead survivors have hit a major speed bump with little Carl's injury and little Sophia's disappearance, that to me is the opposite of a "standstill." We've met new characters at Hershel's farm, and Shane had his harrowing misadventure at the high school. I have been riveted throughout. Ditto for Homeland, which for me is as much about the psychopathology of Carrie and how that will affect the investigation as it is about eventually getting to the truth of Brody. Plus, we're only halfway through the season. How quickly do you need the reveals to come when the characters and the situation are this compelling? If the individual episodes weren't satisfying me, then maybe I would share your concern. But for me, these are two of the very best shows operating right now, and I'm not in the least frustrated in the ways the stories are playing out. Regarding Chandler Riggs: I'll worry about his growth spurt when it happens.

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Question
: I always love reading each week about your thoughts on TV viewing. I know you have had lukewarm thoughts about it, but I am finding myself really surprised at how much I love Revenge each week. Similarly, I am surprised at how disappointed I have been with Up All Night, Pan Am and Terra Nova, which I had thought would become new weekly favorites. So it got me wondering what has surprised and disappointed you this season so far from what you had expected at the beginning of the season? — Rob

Matt Roush: I think it's fair to say I wasn't expecting Revenge to become such a satisfying guilty pleasure. It has begun to mix things up a bit more lately, with some intriguing new characters and threats, and Emily/Amanda isn't quite as infallible as she seemed at the start — though why in the world a prison warden is in on her scheme just reminds us that credibility is not one of the show's assets. Conversely, I'm struggling to stay involved with the CW's glossy but plodding Ringer, which I thought would be a juicier mystery soap. I haven't changed my initial opinions on most of the fall shows — 2 Broke Girls sometimes still makes me laugh despite myself, but its crudeness makes me regret I broke it out in our "shows to watch" feature — but I would single out Pan Am as my greatest disappointment. I love the look of the show, but expected more fun and excitement from its jet-setting, which has turned out to be rather bland and generic (the cast in particular). I'm enjoying Terra Nova for what it is: a square, rather corny sci-fi family adventure with incredible production values. And I'll give Up All Night more time to figure out the balance between its domestic comedy (which I enjoy) and the workplace humor (which I mostly don't). I like the characters, but it's always going to take a back seat on Wednesdays to ABC's comedies, which have been on fire this season, especially The Middle. And the pilot in which I saw the most room for improvement, NBC's Prime Suspect, has lived up to its promise in every way but the ratings.

Question: Having read and enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, I was naturally concerned that the movie made from it would not live up to expectations, as is usually the case with adaptations of novels. I was more than pleasantly surprised, then, at how good it and its sequels were [on Masterpiece Mystery!]. In particular, Jason Isaacs made Jackson Brodie come alive for me more than he ever did on the printed page. Since I remember him primarily as the gangster brother on Brotherhood and Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, his characterization of Brodie came as a complete (and welcome) surprise. Please tell me they have plans to continue this series with Atkinson's most recent Jackson Brodie novel. — Rick

Matt Roush: There have been reports of a second series, but much will depend on how Jason Isaacs' risky new midseason drama Awake performs for NBC. He's as terrific in this as he is as Brodie, and if NBC can defy the odds and make a success of Awake, that would make the timing of any future Brodie movies problematic. But should Awake not go past the first season, then getting more of these Case Histories would be a most agreeable consolation prize. In the meantime, if you missed these three films on PBS, Acorn Media is releasing them on DVD on Tuesday.

Question: In the October 31 episode of Castle, a reference was made to an address on Cascadilla Street in Ithaca, NY. I was born on Cascadilla Street in Ithaca! Would you be able to find out why this reference was made? Our local paper has asked if anyone knows why! Thank you. — Gay

Matt Roush: Sometimes an address is just an address, but in this case there's a cute back story, courtesy of the show's executive producer, Andrew Marlowe, who generously offers this explanation: "The episode's writer, Terence Paul Winter, picked the Ithaca address as a silly valentine to our 'shipper' fans. It's a play on the 'Caskett' portmanteau [as in Castle-Beckett for non-shippers]. Father McCaskey gives Castle and Beckett the address on Cascadilla Street. As wonderful of a city as Ithaca is, Terence chose it for its driving distance from New York City and for the Casketty name of one of its streets."

Question: Ever since Chicago Hope and ER debuted at the same time, I've been wondering this question: Why do similar shows debut at the same time? This year we have had '60s-era Pan Am and The Playboy Club. Also, Grimm and Once Upon a Time. I remember that 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip also premiered the same season. It just seems like such a bad strategy from the networks. If the executives know that a similar show is slated for another network, why would they want to compete? Wouldn't they want something original and thereby having no fear that their audience will be split? Thanks, and I read you all the time! — Aphrodite

Matt Roush: This is just the way TV development works. Projects percolate on separate tracks, and sometimes there's just something in the gestalt that results in period pieces being hot one season, or shows about TV, or medical shows (which tend to come around nearly every year). I'm not that surprised about the simultaneous arrival of multiple shows set in the '60s, given that Mad Men generated so much cultural buzz (regardless of its actual ratings). And the fairy-tale projects couldn't be more different, which unlike the '60s dramas, seem to have struck a chord in an audience seeking escapism. But speaking practically, even when a network becomes aware of similar shows in competitors' pipelines, who's to say that all of them will make it to air, and even if there are multiples, success depends more on execution than premise, and you never know when one will be an ER-style breakthrough. What was really crazy about the ER-Chicago Hope situation was that they were initially scheduled opposite each other in the same Thursday time period (didn't take long for CBS to blink on that one). And with 30 Rock-Studio 60, it was peculiar to have both shows airing on the same network, though their approaches were not at all similar (and we know which one lasted).

Question: What are your thoughts on Hell on Wheels? I know it's kind of silly to hold something against a show because of the network carrying it. Last year, I would have checked it out simply because AMC airs so much other great programming. But this year, given the very public creative and contractual issues with the show-runners of their three biggest hit shows, and even the split with the creator of Rubicon, I'm not sure if I want to commit to another show that, in success, will likely be screwed around with by its incompetent network. The only hit AMC has on its hands that it has not had public disputes with is The Killing, and I am still so utterly offended by the finale, and Veena Sud and AMC's total lack of regard for why the finale annoyed so many people, that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's not so much the actual finale itself, which I am more or less resigned to, but the fact that Sud's response to those who didn't like it was basically "We were trying to be different; the show is not for everyone," instead of acknowledging the issues it had and moving on. The network's half-apology-but-not-really of managing expectations incorrectly was annoying, too. Any one of these issues would have been easy to overlook, but together, they're making me doubt the "Story Matters Here" mantra, and I'm not sure why I should get attached to another show the network is just going to send down the tubes. Talk about brand dilution. — Jake

Matt Roush: There's a real danger in approaching any show critically on anything but its own merits. In that regard, I find Hell on Wheels lacking for a number of reasons I articulated last week, none of which had to do with AMC itself. Context is important, and we might be more inclined to give shows on certain networks the benefit of the doubt (or not) depending on their track record and our individual tastes, but when watching the five episodes of Wheels made available before premiere, I gave no thought at all to the various public-relations messes the network has experienced this year. But then, I found the brouhaha over The Killing finale in particular way overblown (although I agree Veena Sud did herself no favor in her media interviews; just letting the work speak for itself might have been the best road). This year, AMC at times has felt like a victim of its own success, but when you consider the ongoing quality of shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, I'm still waiting for any of these messy business issues to bleed into the creative. And I can forgive them the occasional clunker like Rubicon and Hell on Wheels (which for all I know will do well, despite many critics' reservations). No network is perfect, and if you can't keep an open mind about such things, you could miss the next gem like this summer's Awkward (easily the best thing to emerge from MTV in ages).

Question: I'm a Fringe fan. My question is twofold: Is this year really going to be about Peter? (Seems like it's still about Olivia.) Will we ever see any Nina, Astrid and Broyles-centric full episodes? I love Anna Torv, but Fringe hasn't yet given meaty stories to their amazing supporting cast. I think Anna Torv is being stretched pretty thin and I would love the EP's to spread the storytelling load on all their actors and not just Anna Torv. I can see why she wants the show to end after five years. They seem to have drifted away from the wonderful dynamic of Olivia + Peter + Walter to just Olivia. — SA

Matt Roush: This question came in before last Friday's episode, but wasn't it obvious that until Peter came back into the world, Olivia (and to a lesser extent, a less-than-whole Walter) would be the focus of the early episodes? And now that he is, it's pretty clear to me that the Olivia-Peter-Walter axis is still the core of the show. Fringe boldly changes things up season to season, which is one of the many things I love about it. And while I don't know if there will be episodes with a particular focus on Nina or Astrid or Broyles (or Lincoln Lee, for that matter) — of all shows, this is one I keep blinders on regarding future events — I can't say I'm pining for that unless there's a good reason. (Even Skinner got his occasional big episodes on The X-Files, so anything is possible.) There is plenty of mystery to explore on this show, and plenty of characters to service along the way. But Olivia is and always will be the centerpiece, with the Bishops adding such anguished heart.

Question: I was wondering if you could tell me if American Dad! is going on hiatus starting mid-season 2012, or if it will stay on the Fox schedule at 9:30 on Sundays. There are two different versions of the mid-season schedule on the Fox site. The one schedule that came out at the upfronts doesn't have American Dad! listed at all, but on a different section of the site, there is a schedule that was posted at a later date that has American Dad! listed at 9:30. I emailed Fox to ask them this same question, but I never received a reply, so I was curious if you knew the answer. American Dad! is my absolute favorite of any show on broadcast and cable, and I would love it if new episodes continued to air in January/February of 2012. — Jen

Matt Roush: Nothing has been officially announced yet, but to avoid confusion in future, here's a rule of thumb: Don't put much stock in any of Fox's announcements about midseason that are made during the May upfronts; those are always wildly subject to change. The more recent schedule is the most likely, with Napoleon Dynamite and Bob's Burgers sharing the 8:30/7:30 time period at different points of the midseason, leaving American Dad! at 9:30/8:30c, at least for now. But again, until the actual premiere dates are set and officially announced, none of this is set in stone.

Question: I am surprised how much I am liking Law & Order: SVU this season. I think the two new characters add fresh appeal, and the fact that Olivia is working through being without her partner of so long makes it really good. I am not sure how long, or if Mariska Hargitay is sticking around, but I am enjoying it while the cast is like it is. Not that I would not have liked Christopher Meloni to be around had it worked out with his contract. I have given them over a decade of viewing, so I am not going to stop because one guy left. I gave ER all 15. Guess I am a low-maintenance viewer! — Amy

Matt Roush: And also very loyal — which is very refreshing (although I'll admit I bailed on ER long before season 15). As is the case with most shows of this sort, I run hot and cold on SVU, but I thought the episodes with T.R. Knight and most recently with Andre Braugher were very strong — and while the characters played by Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino combined don't really make up for the loss of Stabler, they're certainly pulling their weight this season.

Question: Don't you think Halloween was a bad night to premiere a new show like Rock Center With Brian Williams? Then again, maybe NBC wanted an excuse if ratings were low. — Island Snoopy [from Twitter]

Matt Roush: It wasn't optimum, to be sure, but in this case, given the rather hasty turnaround to get the show ready to fill Playboy Club's Monday slot, keeping expectations low was no doubt the right move. It was a modest (being generous) start to a modest opener, which really could have used a blockbuster "get" out of the gate, but NBC and Comcast is taking the long view when it comes to Rock Center's ratings. Now the show just needs to start making the kind of noise with its stories to make it look like something other than an extension of the evening news.

That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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