Ask Matt: Fringe, Terriers, House, Bones, Fall Malaise and More!
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Question: I know that you and many others are loving this season of Fringe with the alt-world, Doublivia high jinks but I am a bit more, shall we say, off-put. One of my problems is that I'm getting a very Charmed vibe about the whole thing. Allow me to explain. I was a devoted Charmed fan (until the unfortunate last season), but one of the staples of that show which always bothered me were the possession/body-swap type episodes. One of the sisters would be overtaken or possessed or swapped out or what have you and the other sisters would take forever and a day to noodle it out. No matter how strangely or out of character they acted, they would sense nothing was amiss until the whole thing blew up in their faces. With Fauxlivia in the mix on our side, I'm getting that familiar feeling of "Really? Come on!" when it comes to the continued obliviousness of the rest of the cast. When she didn't call Peter before going to search the apartment bit would be one example. At least with Charmed, it would resolve itself within the hour, not so in this case as they will be ping-ponging back and forth, from what I understand, all season. Charmed, obviously, is a very different animal and the comparison is limited.
But I don't particularly like this whole back and forth business in general. I find the other universe more entertaining in small doses, and the fact that the audience knows information that the so-called geniuses on the show don't (but should be able to deduce) creates a disingenuous tone to me. I know I may be in the minority on this, and I will continue to watch as long as Fringe is on the air, but I am not loving this season as much as the previous ones. Just wondering if you can see my perspective. — Jill
Matt Roush: The difference to me — and I can't comment on Charmed, as I didn't go on that ride — is that this dual-world doppelganger-Olivia storyline is not a stunt, it's an arc. And it's an arc that Fringe spent two seasons building toward and is now showing the consequences of ripping the fabric between universes, trapping our heroine on one side with her lookalike covert agent on the other. It may not be the story you wish they were telling, but it's clearly the story they've laid the groundwork for, and if they were to cut it short, they'd get hammered by the "mythology" fans who live for this kind of thing. I'll also take issue with your calling "disingenuous" the device of making the audience aware of things our heroes, as of now, can't see. That is a classic form of suspense storytelling, dating back to vintage Hitchcock and beyond, and it's giving Anna Torv the best material she's had to date on the show, allowing her to raise her game in a way I didn't think possible. So while I'm with you that I don't want this storyline to take over the entire season — and the trailer at the end of next week's episode made it sound like things might change in the near future — I'm OK with it for now. Plus, watching John Noble play two versions of Walter is a bonus. Way too early for backlash on this front.
Question: In a near-accidental turn of events, I started watching FX's new series Terriers amid the glut of fall premieres, and much to my surprise, the show grabbed me almost instantly. The pilot was sharp and witty and smoothly plays against all the TV clichés I've grown to hate over the years. I watch a lot of TV, so when I come across a show that surprises me, I sit up and take notice. I expected a typical crime procedural, but instead was met with a solid, engaging and hilarious serialized character piece. Not since I just happened to catch Nurse Jackie and stumbled onto Justified have I been so delighted by an accidental find. The suspense and mystery are brilliantly underlined by a dark humor that really appeals to.
That said, I'm concerned for the future of Terriers. I've recently seen Terriers listed alongside various shows with anemic ratings (mostly of the "Vote to Save a Show" variety) and have become concerned. How has Terriers been doing? Do you think it will survive? I'm also curious as to what you think of "Save a Show" style polls. Do they ever have any real effect? I seriously doubt it, but I find myself voting regardless. In a fall pilot season that left me largely unimpressed, I'd hate to see Terriers go the way of Lone Star (the best broadcast pilot of the year and sadly the first to get the axe). I'm sure that Terriers has a better chance given its network, but even FX must have a ratings threshold to maintain — Lacy
Matt Roush: I don't know the exact numbers, but I do know they're below what FX would like them to be, and it's disappointing to the network and the studio. The show is so offbeat in tone and texture, and is done no favor by its too-quirky title, that it probably would have been a slow build even if it hadn't been scheduled against the fall network onslaught. But the reviews have mostly been rapturous, and the show has just gotten better as it goes. I love the fact that no two episodes are quite alike, and the blend of mystery and comedy and palpable emotion is unlike anything else currently on TV. But as we've seen (and as you noted with the Lone Star debacle), being too different and resistant to pigeonholing can work against a show's commercial prospects. I hope FX sticks with this, but you're probably right to be concerned. As for save-the-show polls, it can't hurt to participate and make your voice heard. But such efforts rarely budge the numbers the programmers are looking at to determine a show's future.
Question: This past year was arguably the finest collection of lead male dramatic acting we've ever seen. Now that Bryan Cranston won't be up for it next year (nice job, AMC), is it a given that Steve Buscemi will take his place in the category or will a fresh face join the party (see James Badge Dale)? — Shane
Matt Roush: For those not in the loop, the reason Bryan Cranston is unlikely to be eligible for his fourth consecutive Emmy for Breaking Bad is that AMC isn't expected to premiere the next season until next summer, making him ineligible. This opens the door for several actors who've been also-rans the last few years, including Jon Hamm (who has been exceptional this season on Mad Men), Hugh Laurie (incredible he wasn't won an Emmy yet) and Michael C. Hall (ditto). But who will get the slot opened up by Cranston's absence? I'd put my money on Steve Buscemi, because Boardwalk Empire is bound to make an impressive showing at next year's Emmys. While I like James Badge Dale's underplaying on Rubicon, it doesn't seem like a showy enough role, or a showy enough show, to be well remembered at Emmy time. (I could be wrong on that. But I haven't been much of a champion of this show.) If Rubicon has any Emmy juice, I'd think it would be with supporting players like Arliss Howard and Michael Cristofer. But even then, a long shot. I'm just excited to think that the lead actor in a drama category will be a bit more in play next year.
Question: Do you have any idea why House's ratings are falling? I know there are always the odd ducks who jump on the bandwagon of "I hate the relationship between so-and-so that the show has very obviously been leading us to for 6 or 7 years; I'm not watching anymore!" but could that really account for such a drop? I'm thinking that given its age, it just can't stand up to all the competition on Monday nights. I personally am loving the House/Cuddy relationship. It brings humor, drama and momentum to the show and I really want to see House make this attempt at being a happy person. Plus I just know it's going to be both hilarious and touching to see House try to bond with Cuddy's daughter. House is my must-see show of the week and I feel bad people are bailing on it. I always seem to discover shows just a little too late: 24, Battlestar, etc. — Lauren
Matt Roush: I tend not to obsess on ratings unless they're perilously bad, and House's really aren't, though it has noticeably slipped from mega-hit status lately. That is only to be expected in a show in its seventh season. It's a rare show (i.e., NCIS) that actually sees its popularity grow with longevity. There is probably a fatigue factor where House is concerned, and I'll admit I would have drifted away as a regular viewer myself if I had the option, once the show began to mess with its core ensemble way too early in its run. But not so much this season. Like you, I'm a fan of the House-Cuddy relationship and enjoy seeing the impact it's having on the characters and the workplace. It's just what the show needed to shake things up a bit. But it's quite possible that because the first episodes of the season dwelled on it so heavily, it may have been a turnoff to some fans. In the bigger picture, given how competitive Mondays are, House is still a valuable asset for Fox, so I wouldn't get too worked up over any of this.
Question: Despite somewhat low ratings and not-so-great reviews by some critics, I like Detroit 1-8-7. Do you think ABC will give it some time to find an audience? I was happy to see Rochelle Aytes back on TV after The Forgotten was cancelled. I also enjoyed seeing Tessa Thompson as Det. Washington's wife. I think she is very talented. She absolutely blew me away in her guest spot on Cold Case and I liked her work on Veronica Mars and Hidden Palms as well. Are Rochelle Aytes and Tessa Thompson appearing in future episodes? — Dee
Matt Roush: I'd be surprised if ABC doesn't give Detroit at least a full season to find itself. ABC has far more glaring problems on the schedule (Wednesday at 10/9c, for instance), and while the reviews were mixed, it seems to me that Detroit is being given the benefit of the doubt as a solid, if not exactly groundbreaking, urban police procedural with a terrifically diverse cast, all enhanced by authentic location filming. So I'm hoping they'll be patient with it, although it's clearly not going to be a breakout sensation the way NYPD Blue was back in the day. (For a procedural to get that kind of juice, it pretty much needs to be on CBS nowadays.) Regarding the actresses you asked about, Aytes is a recurring player and Thompson a guest star who may recur at some point — she's the wife and mother of the young detective's child, after all — although when I last checked with ABC, she hadn't been scheduled for another appearance yet.
Question: Is it time for us Bones fans to give up on Eric Milligan making a return as our favorite serial killer's apprentice? I'm still holding a grudge against the show for treating him and us so thoughtlessly with that outrageous story line. Can't say I'm thrilled with Booth's new lover, either. If she must stay around, it seems only fair to bring back Sully for Bones. — PL
Matt Roush: Not sure if a Sully comeback is in the cards, since that actor is currently occupied guarding the secrets of Warehouse 13. And how much am I not surprised to get annoyed mail about Booth's new squeeze. Talk about a thankless task. Regarding Eric Milligan and Zack, it really is time to let that one go, isn't it?. I wasn't crazy about how all of that was handled, either, but I have become kind of attached to some of the assistant squints on the rotation (much as I enjoyed the parade of secretaries on Murphy Brown back in the day), so I can now see the wisdom in shaking up that part of the show. Still, it seems to me that if the writers come up with another story that allows them to bring Zack back in for a guest spot, they'd do it, but sparingly.
Question: As an avid TV watcher, fall premiere season is one of my favorite times of year. But this year seems to have pretty much failed. Where are the huge hits, like Glee and Modern Family were last year? There are already three cancellation casualties, each from a different network. I tried watching Lone Star, My Generation, Undercovers, No Ordinary Family, Better With You, Raising Hope and The Event. Out of all of those, the only ones that I'm sticking with are Raising Hope and No Ordinary Family, neither of which are my new favorite show. So really, what gives? Are people just watching less TV? Are the networks not smart enough to order shows that people are actually going to watch? Or is it that the many of the shows that are several seasons in are so good that people don't want to make time for new shows?
So here's the second part of my question: Do shows fail or succeed depending mostly on what network they air on? Obviously the CW has a fraction of the viewers of other networks, but pretty much everything CBS has launched this fall is considered a moderate success, and everything ABC has launched (with the exception of No Ordinary Family) has pretty much been a failure. CBS even seems to have conquered Friday nights, with more than 10 million people watching Blue Bloods. Let's say, if Lone Star had aired on CBS, would it have been less of a failure? CBS confuses me, because they're the least innovative of the networks and seem to cut most of their shows out of the same mold, but apparently that's what the viewers want. Is CBS just smarter to stick with what they know will succeed, or are the other networks less intelligent to try more unconventional new shows and watch them crash and burn? I'm holding out hope that some of the new mid-season shows are better than the new fall shows. — Alex
Matt Roush: I'll tackle the first half of your question by saying quite simply that this fall's new product was pretty much an across-the-board disappointment, and most critics have acknowledged that. Most of the networks played it so safe that even the successful shows are middling at best, none of them creative or cultural breakthroughs like we saw last season. And when they did try something different, either the subject matter (Lone Star) or execution (My Generation) left a lot to be desired from the audience's point of view.
Your second blast of questions brings up some interesting issues. There are shows that do seem better suited for some networks than others, and CBS in particular knows the kind of show its audience prefers and programs almost single-mindedly toward that. I have written in the past about the conundrum of failed series that might have had better luck on another network. Recent case in point: ABC's Better Off Ted, whose quirky sensibility might have been a better fit on NBC or Fox — or cable. But your Lone Star example doesn't really fly, because in the first place CBS would never greenlight a show with such a risky premise. The last few times that network tried to go too far outside the box (most notoriously with Viva Laughlin), the results were ugly. But to say a network is "less intelligent" because it takes a risk and fails isn't really fair. We have to hope the networks will continue trying new things and giving fresh voices a chance, or we risk not getting the next Glee. Which I have to believe is somewhere out there.
Question: First of all, I was REALLY excited to see you put Smallville's 200th episode in your weekend picks. I for one feel the show has really surged creatively since season 8 (with the notable exception of the season 8 finale). I know you've preferred the earlier seasons to the later ones, but I just can't help but feel the more they dive into the Superman and DC mythology, the better it gets. After all, the DC universe has existed since the '30s, and there are tons of quality stories that they can put their own spin on. I am curious if you're planning on watching all of this, its final season, if only to see how they end it (much like some did with Lost).
Now onto something I've been meaning to ask you about for a while. I caught up on Parenthood's first season on DVD and was looking forward to the second season. I'm enjoying it so far, but I noticed that the opening credits music is different on air than it is for the DVD! It's "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan when it airs, and for DVD, Hulu, and iTunes release (as well as international from what I can tell) it's "When We Were Young" by Lucy Schwartz. My question is: Why use a theme song for when it airs if they can't use it for international, online or DVD release? It's one thing for a show like Roswell, upon releasing the DVDs, to have the music changed, since when that show was on, DVD and online viewing wasn't a big thing, but in this day and age with DVD sales, iTunes downloads, and Hulu viewings as huge as they are, there's no excuse for using music for the broadcast that can't be used for DVDs or online streaming. If they can't use it for all, better not to use it at all. That's what I think. — Joel
Matt Roush: Regarding Smallville, even an inconstant viewer can appreciate a milestone episode when it occurs. I checked out of this series long ago (even before it became more Metropolis than Smallville), so I'm not sure how much of the final season I'll be watching, but I'll try to check in now and then. In the meantime, I highly recommend keeping up with Damian Holbrook's coverage of the show in the magazine and online.
On the Parenthood front, while I don't know anything about this specific situation, these things usually boil down to rights fees paid for music. The theme being used during the live-on-air broadcast would seem to me to be the one the producers feel represents the show best. But if the rights were prohibitive to use the song on other platforms, including on DVD, that's hardly a unique predicament. Don't see how it really affects one's enjoyment of the show, but then, this isn't one of my must-sees.
Question: I realize the Lone Star cancellation is "old news," but I have two questions about it. Given that critics (yourself included) loved it, why didn't Fox just move it to FX when a slot became available? What is the benefit of showing reruns of shows such as Grey's Anatomy and House when slots become available as a result of cancellations of new shows? Why not just air the episodes that have already been produced rather than showing a rerun? Example, Grey's Anatomy reruns are airing in place of the canceled My Generation. Were the ratings for My Generation so poor that a Grey's Anatomy rerun would be better? People aren't expecting to see reruns this early in the season except for those shown on Saturdays. — Faye
Matt Roush: The Fox network and FX are divisions of the same overall company, but they are separate businesses with distinct visions and priorities. FX has a robust and diverse slate of its own original programming and would be the first to tell you they're not likely to pick up anyone's castoffs, including from Fox. Regarding replacing failed series with repeats of successful shows, this again is pure business. It isn't about ratings anymore when a show crashes and burns as badly as Lone Star and My Generation did. It's about selling, and it's easier to sell advertisers on the umpteenth run of a show viewers like than burning off new episodes of a show that has been met with a decidedly cold shoulder.
Question: My question for you is on the new show Outsourced. If I remember correctly, you weren't that thrilled with it. I tried it out On Demand and I was pleasantly surprised. I actually laughed out loud. Well, OK, I chuckled. But, not many shows give me even that. No, it's no Modern Family (love it!). Just wondering whether you've had a change of heart. — Leslie
Matt Roush: I've upgraded this show from offensively annoying to forgettably mediocre, and I doubt I'll be keeping up with it. I still find the lead character (the traditional fish out of water) awfully bland, and while some of the Indian characters are well played, most are gratingly stereotypical and their responses to the various situations already way too predictable. But compared to something as truly vile as $#*! My Dad Says, it's harmless enough.
Question: Why isn't The Amazing Race in HD yet? Survivor is. Why not Race? — Karl
Matt Roush: I am so not a tech guy, but what I understand from when I've seen this question addressed before has to do with the way The Amazing Race is filmed — on the fly, hopping from exotic country to country, where local crews may not always have the required HD equipment at hand, unlike Survivor, which sets up shop in one location, making it easier to use the HD technology. I'm sure I have vastly oversimplified the situation, but one of the reasons Amazing Race has won so many more Emmys than any other reality show even without HD is because of the complexity and scale of its operation, which apparently inhibits the use of HD cameras. (Again, not claiming to be an expert here.) I'm sure everyone involved with the show would love to see it broadcast in high-def as well. I know I would.
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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