Zachary Quinto, Heroes

TV Guide's Senior Critic Matt Roush takes your TV questions. Have a rant, rave or burning question about your favorite show you'd like addressed? E-mail him here.

Question: What shall we do with Heroes? NBC must be asking itself the same question. Its first season, the show was a breakthrough hit, and then its season finale disappointed many. The abbreviated second season disappointed many more. Its producer publicly apologized for mistakes in that season. Then it comes back, supposedly rejuvenated and better than ever. NBC promotes the hell out of it and, almost unbelievably, viewership is down. The episodes that have aired so far have certainly been pretty good and even promising. I have to wonder if NBC made a blunder by airing the premiere against the Dancing with the Stars premiere. Maybe they should have come back a week earlier. Regardless, we need some explanation as to why the show can't get back on track to where it was in its best first season moments. My conclusion is that there was one colossal blunder made by the show's producers that has caused most of the problems, and that decision was to keep Sylar around after the first season. I suppose they learned nothing from the Buffy model, where you have one big bad per season and then a new one shows up the next. In the second season, they had a pretty good villain in Adam Monroe/Kensei, and Sylar was wrapped up in a negligible storyline. This season, he is front and center again, and it's all Sylar all the time. There is no doubt that Zachary Quinto is an excellent actor, but the character carries so much baggage that he is a drag on the show. His very presence negates the entire first-season arc. The fact that he was able to steal Claire's ability without killing her also negates the show's most famous catchphrase. Now they've gone and made their villain invincible. That's an albatross if ever there was one. Apparently, Sylar was kept alive and around because the producers liked Quinto. But an actor's skills should never affect storylines to a show's detriment.There are smaller things as well. After killing (sadly, non-permanently) Sylar, seeing how his father died, and giving his childhood hero an Arvin Sloane-like fate, Hiro Nakamura should have just a little more gravitas (like the future version we've seen), but he's back to comic relief in scenes that have clearly been this season's weakest. Dangling plot threads from Season 2, like the fate of Peter's Irish girlfriend who is now stranded in a nonexistent future, are bothersome, but I'm actually calling for network intervention here. NBC was counting on this to be their anchor show, and the ratings are disappointing to say the least. If they want the ratings — and the show itself — to improve, they need to get rid of Sylar — for good — and move on to other big bads. Quinto's scenes with Jack Coleman have been entertaining, but that does not make up for the issues caused by the continuation of the character. And we haven't even mentioned the disturbing "mother" twist. This is clearly a case of the producers' misbegotten attachment to one character causing the decline of their show. — Kelly H.

Matt Roush: I'm not sure Sylar is the big problem here. In a season arc subtitled "Villains," focusing on the show's uber-villain seems like an OK idea. If only there was a focus to this show. I think Kelly wrote this essay before last week's episode, which jumped around between characters and back and forth in time so often my head was spinning, trying to keep track of which version of which character was a hero or villain in a particular scene. Is it really Heroes' goal to make us work this hard for such uncertain payoffs? No wonder the ratings are falling. To me, Sylar is a very compelling character, and presenting him last week as a good-guy house-dad with a son named Noah (homage to HRG) who somehow had learned to resist his hunger, until he's spurred by tragedy into going all nuclear, was an interesting if thoroughly baffling twist. The decline of Heroes, not unlike that of the far superior Lost over the seasons, may have less to do with any individual aspect than with the reality that it's a cult show whose first-season popularity was something of a fluke.

Question: Since Heroes began its third season a couple of weeks ago, I keep hearing about how the ratings have gone down quite a bit from last season. Is it time to start worrying about this show's future, or do you think we will have this show around for a while? — Matthew

Matt Roush: No worries yet, I'd think. NBC has far more serious problems all over its schedule, and while Heroes is down, it's far from out. At least it's a show we're talking about and which bears thinking about. Which is more than I can say about any of the network's new shows this season.

Question: I've watched the first episodes of The Mentalist, and I definitely enjoyed it. I can't help but think, though, that it could be a little better if it was funnier. Maybe if they added a few new characters, such as the main character's African-American best friend, who he could trade barbs with. Or perhaps his Dad was a former cop who is constantly exasperated by him, but comes through in the end. I mostly kid, because I do enjoy the show, but in a season where it feels like I'm constantly hearing that my favorite new show is a rip-off of a Ben Stiller movie, how have I not heard anyone point out the obvious similarities between The Mentalist and Psych? — Mike O.

Matt Roush: Where have you been? From the moment this show was announced back during the upfront presentations in May, there have been snarky questions speculating that CBS has somehow bought into a Psych rip-off. And while there are undoubtedly plenty of similarities in Patrick Jane's methods on The Mentalist and Shawn Spencer's on Psych, the tone and approach is quite different, and since the premiere, this is the first peep I've heard that the two could be confused. (Though I get you were being ironic.) Psych is primarily a comedy of deception, while The Mentalist aims to be a more dramatic — though hardly without humor — mystery series in which Jane's abilities are seen and more or less openly respected for what they truly are. The playfulness of his mind games makes the show more interesting than the average CBS crime drama, but it's far from the romp of Psych.

Question: Do you know anything about Diane Ruggiero's exit from The Ex List? I just watched the pilot and enjoyed it (I loved Veronica Mars, too), and I was shocked when I got online and read she'd stepped down a few weeks ago. It seems unpromising, and there must be something behind it. — Cindy

Matt Roush: Diane's exit was made public in mid-September, after the first six episodes had been shot. All I know is what I gleaned from the trades, which boiled down to the usual "creative differences" between show runner and network. Not a good sign for a show that already has several strikes against it: 1) It's not a typical CBS show, and that can be a hard sell; 2) It opened to soft numbers (below those of the Moonlight premiere, which no doubt launched a zillion I-told-you-so's); 3) It's a romantic comedy airing on Friday night, and NBC's short-lived Miss Match can tell you how easy a road that can be. At the moment, The Ex List can be considered a "troubled production" with an uphill climb ahead of it. But until and unless we get to see episodes made under the post-Diane regime, I'll hold off making quality judgments.

Question: Is there any news concerning the return of The Riches, possibly the most underwatched, underrated, and underappreciated show (obviously a personal favorite) on the air? What's your take, by the way? — Sue

Matt Roush: This recurring question was finally put to rest last week when FX made it official that The Riches was not being renewed, after months in limbo. My take is that I'm not surprised or, personally, disappointed. Even if the writers' strike hadn't cut short its second season, it was decidedly a show on the fence. I'll give the show its due for providing a showcase for terrific talents like Eddie Izzard and especially Minnie Driver, but almost from the pilot episode, I didn't find the world they were living in particularly inviting or authentic. The lies this family were living were too flimsy and obvious to sustain over the long haul, and I couldn't blame anyone for not caring. Which isn't to say The Riches didn't have a loyal and passionate cult following. It just wasn't big enough for FX to justify keeping the show on its schedule. On the other hand, read on for happier FX news.

Question: I find it disappointing that the press is paying very little attention to Sons of Anarchy, which in my opinion is one of the best new shows to come along in years. It has a wonderful mix of seasoned performers and newcomers, strong, well-written story lines and great production values. Yet, it remains virtually invisible. Do you think it's because the media are uncomfortable with the show's focus on outlaw biker gangs? Please tell me that its numbers are strong enough so that I know it will be around for a while. — Patricia M.

Matt Roush: FX also announced last week that Sons of Anarchy has already been picked up for a second season, so you can relax about its immediate future. If it hasn't been written about much, that may have something to do with FX's decision to launch it into the teeth of a brand-new network fall season, and where the network itself is concerned, more is being made right now, justifiably, about the final season of The Shield. From FX's perspective, Sons is doing what they hoped: delivering a solid number, especially when you combine the cumulative ratings of the multiple airings through the week. It presumably attracts some of the same audience for high-octane drama that helped put The Shield on the map. Personally, while I gave Sons a 6-out-of-10 rating in a recent Review roundup, I felt I was being a bit generous. I figured those with an appetite for this sort of show would find much to like, and Katey Sagal in particular knocked me out with her ferocity, but much of Sons of Anarchy felt to me like a bunch of guys play-acting a rather uninspired Sopranos version of a motorcycle gang. Kind of like with The Riches, this presents a world I'm not particularly interested in returning to each week, and nothing about the story or most of the performances I sampled in the first three episodes compelled me to return. But compared to what else has come through FX's pipeline lately — the execrable Dirt, the (to me) overrated The Riches, and most recently, the appallingly unfunny and unpleasant Testees, which premiered last week — Sons at last suits FX's adventurous brand.

Question: Interesting point recently about the anti-hero characters popping up more and more. In addition to your points, the anti-hero is a device for the viewers to relate to not-so-pleasant personality flaws and struggles that they share with the character. We might not be mob bosses like Tony Soprano, but we commiserate with his pain about family issues. We don't get in regular brawls like Tommy in Rescue Me, but we understand the tragic losses he's had in his life. And we don't take on identities of dead soldiers and philander to the degree of Mad Men's Don Draper, but we pity his inability to make true connections to those who care about him. Also, what was up with the vitriol about Marg Helgenberger and her wardrobe from Victoria L.? You missed pointing out the minor fact that actors do not usually select their character's wardrobe! Marg might have some minor input, but she's not going to change the flavor of the character's overall "look," which is former showgirl flash and occasionally trash. Historically, the other women on the show were much more low key and professional — for Las Vegas — so it was not a show objective to tart them all up. Yes, her dress is fantastically absurd for the work she does, but geez, it's TV! I'd rather have a smart woman character in silly clothes that a silly woman character in smart clothes. — Jennifer C.

Matt Roush: To your first point: Yes, that's an important element of what makes great drama so important: the ability to reflect the darker sides of the human condition in such a way that we see parts of ourselves in the struggles of these very flawed and sometimes even despicable characters. While it's not unusual to hear people complain that a show like Mad Men is somehow too downbeat and depressing, I find the show inspiring, illuminating and relentlessly fascinating. Not everything should be easy to watch. As for the Marg rant: Victoria wrote in a second time (!) to further elucidate her points, and here's an excerpt: "It's the fact that Catherine is supposed to be in a position of authority and complains that she never gets her dues that makes me cringe. What Sheriff wants the head of a government lab on TV in lace-up corsette tops and low-rider jeans talking about this week's murder? … I guess my real complaint comes from the combination of Catherine's age, seniority and her desire to get promoted. The three combined do make her unique from the other examples, and make her character all the more ludicrous." I think I'm more comfortable with analyzing the character than slamming the actress, so I'll let this subject rest for now. But yes, this is TV, after all, and no one's really expecting or probably even desiring realism in a show like this.

Question: I was wondering what your opinion was on Starz's new series Crash. I am a fan of the original movie, but I hated the pilot. The characters were so relentlessly miserable, it was hard to care about any of them, and the whole thing felt inauthentic. Have you seen more than the pilot? Does it get any better? — Dan

Matt Roush:
After filing my review, which will be out later this week, I was able to see the second hour (the two-hour opener is this Friday), and it didn't really change my own ambivalent opinion. I didn't exactly hate the series version, but I'm not convinced this Robert Altman-esque approach of subtly overlapping storylines works on a weekly series basis. I agree that most of the characters are decidedly unpleasant, but I can live with that if the narrative is compelling, which so far I'm not sure it is. Of greater concern is that so few of the characters are even remotely interesting. (I get that the cash-strapped suburban couple is meant to reflect the current economic crisis, but renovating an old man's bathroom is hardly a riveting storyline.) Only one storyline (the Korean EMT who runs afoul of a murderous detective) jumped out at me, and as I note in the review, the marquee casting of Dennis Hopper (as a pill-popping, philosophy-spouting music mogul) backfires because the character is so pretentiously written and overplayed. I'm willing to ride along with this for a few weeks to see if the mosaic of stories coalesces into something that adds up, but I would imagine curious bystanders would grow weary pretty quickly of the show's glacial pace (a few shocking moments notwithstanding). An ambitious effort, but I doubt Crash is going to be the Starz equivalent to Mad Men or Dexter.

Question: Will CBS have a second season of Flashpoint in midseason? I only watched it because there was nothing else on but summer reruns, but then I got hooked. It's got character and heart. I hope CBS knows they've got a great show that deserves another (if not more) seasons. Please tell me it'll be back. — Hannah

Matt Roush:
There will be a second season for Flashpoint, but I can't tell you when. CBS is having a pretty solid season to date, with few hourlong holes on the current schedule, but there's no doubt this one's lying in wait for an appropriate opportunity. By my reckoning, CBS only aired nine of the original 13-episode order before the fall season kicked in, so the leftovers combined with the 13 ordered in the renewal means there will be plenty of Flashpoint when the time comes. Whether CBS will wait for summer to revive the show remains to be seen.

Question: I love your reviews and always feel they're dead on. I thought maybe if you commented on this subject, the networks could open their eyes and see clearer. I notice that almost all the major networks have these stupid CSI-type shows and have gotten away from sitcoms which have always done well. If you only put on crime drama, of course that's what's going to be watched. But given variety, the sitcoms do well. Contrary to anybody's belief, the majority of people watching TV have children and want to watch TV with them. There's nothing for us and other families to watch that's not littered with murder and sex. Give us shows that make us laugh like George Lopez, Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens instead of having us watch these shows only in reruns. I hate TV now, and I hate how I have to monitor the TV like a drug trafficker. How sickening is it that kids watch football and the networks are pushing Viagra at that time. There's just nothing good to watch anymore. — Midge

Matt Roush:
If there's any endangered species on network TV right now, it's the sitcom, and even more so, the family sitcom, which is just about extinct. Even the comedies that do have a family element tend to focus more on the adults and their neuroses. I get a kick out of The New Adventures of Old Christine, which has a grade-school boy in the cast, but I'd hardly want to watch it in a family setting. (Ditto to the max where the raunchy Two and a Half Men is concerned.) This situation has been developing steadily over the years, but now it seems the door has slammed shut on family-friendly fare of any discernible quality. (I almost felt bad trashing NBC's Crusoe in an upcoming review column, but honestly, just being wholesome isn't enough when the show is a laughable mess.) I recently talked to a reporter who was trying to compile a top-10 list of shows appropriate for family viewing, and the only network shows I could think of were in the reality genre: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, American Idol and game shows like Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Then I pretty much had to turn to the cable staples on the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, The N, etc., to find anything that qualified. It is a shame there isn't a wider range of network programming, especially in the early prime-time hours, but sitcoms are probably the greatest victim of the rise of reality TV, not to mention the added consequence of so much technology (DVRs, DVDs, video games, computers) distracting and diminishing the younger TV audience.