Ask Matt: Good Wife vs. Body of Proof, ABC Soaps, Upstairs Downstairs More!
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Question: I would like to know your opinion about the Kalinda/Peter reveal on The Good Wife. My initial reaction was concern for Kalinda's and Alicia's friendship. However, in the past week, I have become intrigued by the potential fallout. Not only will this revelation shake the Florrick family, but after two years into the series, it could impact characters like Kalinda, Will, Cary and Eli in a way that the original scandal never did. Also, while overall viewership remains strong, Wife's 18-49 demo has been rather low this season. New competition from Body of Proof will probably not help the situation. Should fans of The Good Wife be concerned about potential cancellation or at least be prepared for a scheduling change for season three? — Rose
Matt Roush: This twist is what we like to call a bona fide bombshell. Couldn't come at a more advantageous time for the show, which thrives on personal and workplace conflict. I can't even begin to gauge the potential impact on many of the characters and their core relationships, personally and professionally, if/once the news gets out. Alicia was only joking when she laughed about the feeling that something bad was about to happen, but this is no laughing matter. And the show has presented this situation expertly, putting us in the position of knowing more than our hero and keeping us in a state of deliciously suspended suspense. Well done. Regarding the show's future, I doubt we need to worry about cancellation this year. The acclaim, including last week's well-deserved Peabody Award, and the overall numbers should help mitigate the weak young-adult demographics (which plague many shows airing at 10/9c), but if Body of Proof's numbers hold up, which I imagine they will, it could create an impetus for CBS to find a more advantageous, or less problematic, time period for the show next season. This Tuesday time period has been a trouble spot for CBS for quite a while, and The Good Wife appeared to have fixed the problem. It's still far from a dud, though, and CBS should be able to afford to have at least one loss leader on its schedule that gets this kind of critical, media and awards attention.
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Question: Why would ABC set Body of Proof against The Good Wife? Wouldn't both shows appeal to the same audience? — Hanna
Matt Roush: Yes, they probably do. For starters, both shows are anchored by major female TV stars in roles that fit them like a glove. But ABC saw an opportunity here, because of Good Wife's soft ratings and the seemingly bottomless appetite for formula crime-drama procedurals, to take full advantage of the Dancing With the Stars lead-in to make some noise in the time period. (This after keeping Proof on the shelf for nearly a full season; it had once been scheduled to air on Fridays, but wiser heads prevailed.) As I noted in my review last week, Proof is just mainstream enough to click with the masses in a way that, sadly, the more textured and distinctive — and less star-driven — Detroit 1-8-7 was never able to do. It may seem like ABC is cannibalizing the audience by putting Body against Wife, but the programmers' job isn't to make life easy for the viewer. They're forcing you to make the tough choice (which for many will require recording one while watching the other, though as my mailbag frequently reminds me, not everyone has that option). I have two hopes: that Body of Proof will continue to improve (I liked the second episode I saw more than the pilot) and that The Good Wife will somehow continue to thrive, because it's much the better show.
Question: I'm looking forward to watching the reboot of Upstairs Downstairs on Masterpiece Classic. I hope it will help with the Downton Abbey withdrawal I'm going through. But I have never seen the original series (I have already added it to my Netflix queue) and I'm wondering if I will be lost or confused in the new story, or worse, be spoiled for when I finally get around to seeing the first series. Is it necessary to watch the original series first? — Lauren
Matt Roush: You won't be disadvantaged in the least by being an Upstairs Downstairs novice, though I applaud your desire to acquaint yourself with the classic original — a DVD set of the complete '70s series was released last week by Acorn Media, and it's a keeper. The new three-part Upstairs Downstairs miniseries is an entirely new story, with new masters of the household taking over 165 Eaton Place years after the Bellamys departed, with only one major character from the original — parlor maid Rose (Jean Marsh, who co-created the series), now housekeeper — to provide a link to the past. There are echoes of long-departed characters that will set off some nostalgic chimes for long-time fans, but my hope is that the new series will rekindle interest in the old one, which set the template for wonderful entertainments like Downton Abbey (whose writer was also responsible for the movie Gosford Park, which I also recommend to fans of the genre). Masterpiece Classic's new version of Upstairs begins airing this Sunday, and I'll be posting a version of my magazine review later this week.
Question: Is the ABC soap All My Children getting canceled? — Vee
Matt Roush: On this subject, I defer to our expert, Michael Logan, who filed this disturbing report last week. While nothing has been announced yet, it sure sounds like ABC is heading toward a paradigm shift in daytime, continuing the trend of putting daytime dramas further on the endangered species list. It's a collision of changing viewing habits and economics, and while we've lost many iconic titles over the years, the thought of ABC shedding the revolutionary soap that put Erica Kane (and Susan Lucci) on the map is going to be among the toughest to swallow, I imagine.
Question: So we are at that time of the spring where everyone is rattled about what shows are going to be renewed and which ones are going to be canceled. So I have a question about Chuck. I have really enjoyed Chuck. I like the chemistry; I like Awesome and Ellie; I like the pop-culture references; I like the guest stars; I like the theme song. So I guess I am probably the only Chuck fan that would like to see Chuck conclude this season. Chuck has lasted far longer than I think anyone anticipated, and it has been enjoyable, if rather forgettable, entertainment. I despise it when shows I enjoy last longer than they should and run on fumes. I'd rather them leave me wanting more in fewer episodes than to leave a bad taste in my mouth with too many episodes. And Chuck may have already missed its ideal opt-out point: Chuck's proposal to Sarah. What do you think about Chuck, and am I a bad "fan?" — Erin
Matt Roush: You're not a bad fan, merely a thoughtful one. And understandably worried that a fifth season will lessen your overall regard for the show, because from where I sit, I'm finding much of the fourth season a chore. Beyond my usual irritations (most anything at Buy More, exacerbated by the "Greta" gimmick), I've grown rather exasperated by Awesome and Ellie turning into blithering idiots now that they're parents (they're doctors, for crying out loud), and I grew weary of Mama Bartowski coming and going, though mostly got a kick out of Timothy Dalton's mugging villainy as Volkoff. If it weren't for the Morgan-Casey buddy dynamic, and some elements of the long-running Chuck-Sarah romance, I'd be running out of reasons to tune in. From a business point of view, though, Chuck is angling for that fifth season because that's generally seen as a threshold for syndication viability. And given that almost nobody predicted Chuck would survive this long, it would be kind of a shame for the rug finally to be pulled at this point. But who knows what NBC is going to do this fall under new management. The network may still need to hold on to a couple of fan-friendly franchises such as this as it rebuilds once again basically from scratch. Or they could decide to do a thorough housecleaning. My crystal ball, as they like to say, is cloudy.
Question: I think that occasionally a show becomes a punching bag for critics, and then the viewers just seem to jump on the bandwagon until it becomes like mass hypnosis or a hive mind. Examples: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and (this goes back a ways) Tattingers (the original hour-long drama, NOT the ridiculously reworked sitcom that followed). It's like these shows were labeled horrible and everybody gathers in the town square with their torches and pitchforks. The current example of the show everyone loves to malign would be Mr. Sunshine, another Matthew Perry show. (Does he have a target painted on his back?) While not of the same quality as the shows previously mentioned, I find it has an interesting premise with well-defined characters and it makes me laugh more than certain CBS comedies whose popularity stymies me. Other Friends alum have had success since that show ended, why not Perry, who I consider the funniest of the lot? Whether you agree with my assessment of Mr. Sunshine or not, have you ever noticed this bandwagon phenomenon? — Gary
Matt Roush: Wow, Tattingers? That's a long grudge to hold. And Studio 60's failure was attributed more to Aaron Sorkin's sense of self-importance on the project — at times you felt they thought they were trying to save TV, not just put on a comedy show (in that regard, 30 Rock got it right) — whereas the cast, especially Matthew Perry, came off rather well. Mr. Sunshine is much more personal a project for him, that's true, but I haven't noticed a bandwagon phenom on this show, though I suppose it might look that way. (I don't really subscribe to the bandwagon theory. We like what we like, and vice versa, and even when critics do seem to use a show as a punching bag, it's hardly a guarantee of a show's failure. Look at Harry's Law.) If there's a bandwagon of any sort this year, it's for the network season in general, which has failed to generate excitement across the board in either comedy or drama. Mr. Sunshine has some champions in the media (I'm not among them), so I don't think this was a case of piling on as much as it was viewed by many as just another in a long line of disappointments in the current broadcast season. For the record, most of my mail on this show has been in the tone of the following question.
Question: After viewing several episodes of the new TV show Mr. Sunshine, I just might have to stop watching it any more. I know that most programs of this type have a "goofy" neighbor, co-worker, etc. However, the character of Roman played by Nate Torrence needs to go. I do like the show and its premise, and even some of the other "wacky" characters, but Roman has to go. He is just way too annoying. Maybe his mother can send him back to boarding/military school or even better, he can leave the arena and go to "clown school." — Leonard
Matt Roush: That tends to be the risk with an over-the-top character who basically has one note to play. Either you find the note amusing or it drives you up the wall. I'm not sure the Roman character is the show's biggest problem, but the fact that so many in the ensemble (including the possibly homicidal assistant Roman has a crush on) bear so little resemblance to actual human beings could be a bigger issue.
Question: I can't remember whether you have commented on Breakout Kings. I just finished watching Robert Knepper reprise his Prison Break character of T-Bag on the show. I had forgotten how great he was in that role. Of course, the creators of this show did Prison Break. It was still fun to see the characters in this show talking about the Fox River 8. I am enjoying this show, even if the premise is not realistic. But I watch TV for the escape. What do you think of Breakout Kings? — Foster
Matt Roush: As an escape, I can see the show's appeal, although I find A&E's summer show The Glades even more appealing. I haven't written much about Breakout Kings — although I did tout the T-Bag episode, which was a high point — and I gave the show a mostly positive review in the magazine, in part because I find it a good fit for A&E in its ongoing efforts to re-enter the scripted game. It's a bit too formulaic for me to fuss over or tout as appointment TV, but I do enjoy certain elements of it, most especially Jimmi Simpson as the neurotic Lloyd.
Question: You recently mentioned True Blood as being a show that brings a new audience to the books, but I would include The Vampire Diaries in that list. I was not going to read the books until after the series was over, but in the season 1 bonus material on the DVD they had the audio book of the first Vampire Diaries book. Well guess what, it was NOTHING like the TV series other than using some of the names. I have since bought all of the books and have enjoyed them. Have to add, though, that I am glad the TV series is NOT following the books that closely. The show is much better. — Elaine
Matt Roush: Duly noted. In most cases, it makes sense for a TV version of an episodic book series to diverge and find its own voice. But having now seen the first six episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones (which fueled this books-to-TV discussion in the first place), there's also an argument to be made for adapting source material with robustly imaginative fidelity. I read George R. R. Martin's books several years ago, long enough for me to have forgotten many of the details, but this adaptation plays more like an expansive miniseries and seems very true to its source. I can't wait for people to see it, and I hope it will turn even more people into fans of the books, which are magnificent.
Question: Showtime's drama Shameless started off a little shaky and uneven in my opinion, but as the show found its footing, it really turned into a fine ensemble drama. As season 1 came to a close, the overall quality, narrative drive and character dynamics drew me in in ways I hadn't expected. That said, I was a little disappointed with the season finale. Where episodes like "But at Last Came a Knock" and "Nana Gallagher Had an Affair" had me chomping at the bit (and my fingernails), the finale seemed a little anticlimactic. I guess after the season they've had, I expected the stakes to be a lot higher in the end. There really were some lovely and interesting moments, but overall, it just didn't seem to pack the narrative punch of previous episodes.
In the plus column, Emmy Rossum (Fiona) has proven to be a surprise power-player, outshining the likes of William H. Macy. I was also quite impressed by scene-stealers Cameron Monaghan (Ian) and Jeremy Allen White (Lip), whose individual storylines were second only to their joint storylines. Most surprising of all would have to be Emma Kenney's turn as Debbie. I'm generally not too fond of child actors, but pound for pound, the pint-sized 10-year-old had more classic one-liners than anyone else on the show. The finale didn't strike a chord the way I had expected (as the camera panned away from Fiona, I honestly thought it would reveal someone or something surprising on the street — it just didn't sit right for the episode to be ending), but overall, I think Shameless turned into one of my favorite programs. Anyway, I haven't heard much about the show in your column in quite a while and I'm wondering if you stuck with it past the iffy early episodes and what you thought of its freshman season if you did. — Lacy
Matt Roush: I haven't made it yet to the end of what seemed to be a very uneven freshman season for Shameless — though since it was renewed, I will probably catch up with some of the episodes (perhaps the ones you singled out) before its return — but I agree with you 100% that the remarkable Emmy Rossum and her scruffy siblings were the best reason to watch.
Question: What exactly is the mission of BBC America nowadays? I ask specifically because of their continued non-showing of the extraordinary third season of Ashes to Ashes. We always complain that too many good shows get canceled before they can reach their own conclusions, but Ashes to Ashes DID wrap up its five-year run brilliantly (I'm including the two seasons of Life on Mars, since this really was a single 5-year series, with two main arcs; I admit I couldn't wait and downloaded the series from the Internet, probably illegally). How does Star Trek: TNG fit on BBC America when a brilliant BBC original remains unaired? Should I worry we won't see the second season of Luther?
Which leads to my second question: We are constantly reminded we live in a global economy. Why can't a service like DirecTV show the BBC networks on a pay tier? I realize there would be licensing issues (Masterpiece and Doctor Who would lose some of their value for sale to their current networks), but that's what lawyers and negotiations are for. If we truly are global, this should have happened by now. So why hasn't it? — Rick
Matt Roush: The answer to most of your questions is fairly simple. It's a business. Ashes to Ashes did terribly for BBC America. Took them forever to air the second season, which they basically buried, and I'm not sure they'll ever get around to the third season. But don't worry about Luther. BBC America is co-producing the sequel to last season's riveting masterpiece, and that will air with what I would expect to be heavy promotion. I agree it's hard to justify an American-produced show like Star Trek: TNG taking up real estate on the BBCA lineup, but mainstream sci-fi must do well for them or they wouldn't air it. Regarding why the actual BBC entertainment networks aren't available here: Because BBC America is?
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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