Ask Matt: Applauding Office's Pam-Jim Coupling, Settling the Grey's Debate and More!
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski
Question: I wanted to write to applaud the writers of The Office for taking the road less traveled. They have managed, it seems, to do something that most other shows have been too afraid to try: keeping their main romantic couple together and have their relationship be both happy and entertaining. Years upon years of TV watching have kept me waiting for the other shoe to drop for Jim and Pam, but The Office has handled their coupling with perfect care. What was once the sweetest unrequited love on TV has turned into one of its most engaging pairs. Jim's proposal at the rest stop in the season premiere was perfection and so in keeping with the characters. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer continue to play their roles subtly and beautifully, and with the recent Emmys, it makes me wonder how these two (outside of Fischer's one nod) continue to be so ignored. It's refreshing to know that putting together a couple on TV doesn't automatically equal disaster. What are your thoughts on Jim and Pam? And do you think that more shows will be willing to take this risk in the future? — Allyson
Matt Roush: Cue those who may think they're boring now that they're together, but I agree with you. I loved the proposal scene, especially in contrast to how miserable Angela is making Andy after his own ill-timed (and surely ill-fated) popping of the question. The Pam-Jim relationship is possibly even more charming now that it's out in the open, and is certainly more realistic than what you usually see happen in TV comedy. It seemed very believable that he would take this romantic leap in response to her having put physical distance between them by enrolling in a New York design class for several months (where her classmates include Mad Men's Rich Sommer). None of this means there won't be some complications ahead during their engagement period, but the way The Office has developed the Jim-Pam story is a refreshing change to the usual roller-coaster most long-running shows subject us to. Which is a way of answering your final question in the negative. Most shows still seem to prefer playing out the romantic tension of these Ross-Rachel, Carrie-Big love matches as long and arduously as possible.
Question: I've watched a lot of TV in my life, but I don't know that I've ever experienced a night as full of great TV as I did last Sunday. I'm not arguing it was the best TV I've ever seen, or even that any one series had its best episode ever, but as a combined lineup, I don't know that I've ever been more satisfied. I started with the return of The Amazing Race. The teams seem like they'll be a whole lot of fun this year, and they even seemed diverse enough that a half hour in I was still able to remember who was who. Then it was time to switch over to ABC's Desperate Housewives/Brothers & Sisters combo. This time jump really seems to have freshened things up on Housewives, and I hope the mystery surrounding Edie's creepy husband is worth our time. Brothers & Sisters had a strong start, and I found myself not really begrudging them the questionable plot twists the show took at the end of last season. Then I caught the replay of Mad Men. I believe they've raised the bar even higher this season. I loved the night out with Don, Roger and the sad Freddy. I'd never taken much notice of this peripheral character before, so I was especially impressed how touching a character they made him in just a few scenes. Perhaps my favorite moment of the episode was when Don ran into Jimmy and punched him in the face. Then, of course, the final bombshell of Roger's affair with Don's secretary and the end of his marriage had my jaw on the floor. Then I was able to see the premiere of Dexter. I expected it to be a bit of a letdown after such an amazing episode of Mad Men (and it was, a bit), but it was still a really enjoyable way to cap off the night. I totally did not see the final reveal of a pregnant Rita. So what do you think, Matt? Was this one of the best TV lineups in memory, or what? And thanks to cable's replay strategy, I didn't even have to bother taping anything. I know it'll only last a few weeks, as Mad Men only has four episodes left, but for now at least, this crazy good Sunday night line-up is certainly a huge exclamation point at the end of my weekend. — Joe S.
Matt Roush: Do I love an enthusiastic TV watcher? You bet I do. Joe went on at much greater length with his thoughts on many of these shows — it was great reading — but I thought this conveyed quite well the exhilaration and exhaustion one experiences after a full night's smorgasbord of great TV. This just skims the surface of the bounties available on Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays as well). I agree with just about everything Joe said, except perhaps for Brothers & Sisters, which aggravated me with all the cutesy over-the-top bickering. Not that I'm giving up on that one anytime soon. Housewives in particular felt refreshed by the time-jump gimmick, and both Neal McDonough (as Edie's silkily sinister new hubby) and Gale Harold (in his most appealing role in ages as Susan's lovesick swain) are terrific additions. Mad Men was inspired, Dexter was thrilling, and we didn't even mention True Blood, Entourage and the hilarious new Little Britain USA. What a night.
Question: Last week's Grey's Anatomy premiere reminded me why I love television. For anyone reading between the lines, you could hear the writers responding directly to all of the viewer's criticisms over the last two seasons: "Look, we hear what you viewers have been saying. We aren't your favorite show anymore. This season we are going to make you remember why this show was No. 1." A couple of shows made commentaries like this post-writer's strike as well (House's nurses' strike being one that comes to mind). Obviously, this is intentional on behalf of the writers, but I always wonder if other viewers are picking up on these same messages. I don't mean to sell the masses short or imply anything about anyone not getting it, but I know for one my wife didn't get that message at all. Based on all the e-mail you get, can you tell when these kinds of messages work and are picked up on by the viewers, and when they don't? — Dan
Matt Roush: Since my readers tend to be a bit on the obsessive side, in-jokes like these do tend to get noticed, especially when they're as obvious as the ones on the Grey's opener. In the best of all worlds, these metaphors enhance but don't impede one's enjoyment of the actual episode. In the case of Grey's, I appreciated the nod to the show's rocky recent past, but could I suggest maybe giving Meredith laryngitis for an entire episode soon? And now, back to the subject of Monday's Grey's kurfuffle.
Question: I don't think you get it. Shonda Rhimes went to many media outlets (including TV Guide) and announced over and over again what the whole "for good" meant. She went into detail about how the strike made her come to this choice to end the on/off and how she sat both Dempsey and Pompeo down to talk about this and how happy they were with the story. It's even on the season 4 DVD, with Betsy Beers stating they were together for good. It was more than some flip comment from Rhimes, and I think fans are right for feeling betrayed by her going back on it now. She has just abused Meredith over and over and overplayed make-ups and breakups for no reason. What was the reason and purpose for Rose's dozen episodes? Fans (and the media) were and are at the limit with these two, hence her going public with her very clear comments prior to the Season 4 finale. It puts this particular instance in a different light than had she never went to such great lengths to let fans know her intentions for Mer-Der for the rest of the show. Now she's backtracking on it, and it makes her look untrustworthy and a liar. Nobody told Shonda to make the promises she did. She started it and made promises to the fans and the fans have a right to feel lied to now that she's going back on it. If she had no intention of standing by her word, she never should have made the statements to begin with, especially so publicly to everyone who'd listen and write about it. If anyone should look silly, it's Shonda — silly for using and lying to the people who watch her show. — Brenda M.
Matt Roush: Believe me, I get it. I'm just not buying it. I agree that Shonda Rhimes comes off as silly in her statements in the USA Today interview that got everyone so riled. But this extreme fan overreaction strikes me as just as silly, if not in all of the name-calling borderline offensive. Like this from Karen S., whose rant included this: "How exactly are you supposed to want to spend an hour of your week watching things from a proven liar, an exec producer that fans can't stand and do not believe a word from." Maybe it's because I feel the need to be professional in my TV commentary, but this kind of personal attack just feels so unnecessary. Let's look at just what Rhimes said that started this mess (and oh, how I wish she hadn't). The USA Today reporter (a real pro, by the way) starts off by noting that "'for good' doesn't necessarily go past this season, Rhimes says. 'But they're definitely together for good for now. I'm with them. They believe they are together for good. I believe they are together for good.'" She isn't saying they won't stay together for the long haul. She's just not ruling out the possibility that down the line, once they see how a Meredith-Derek long-term cohabitation plays out, the romantic melodrama that has been part of the Grey's Anatomy package from Day 1 could complicate matters. Patrick Dempsey is quoted in the same article as saying the couple are "always going to have conflict. They're always going to be working on issues." Did anyone jump down his throat? He's just accepting the reality of these two flawed characters. I understand the passion people bring to their favorite shows, but there's a point at which fans should just back off and see how the show progresses before attacking it or the producers, especially at the start of a pivotal season. To do otherwise risks being called silly. I stand by my earlier opinion (while also acknowledging that sometimes Grey's Anatomy is too silly for its own good).
Question: After reading Alex's Fringe rant, I felt compelled to write in. It's been three episodes! Are they really supposed to have everything figured out already? Granted, some shows get it right from the start, but those shows are more the exception than the rule. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it a lot more common for a show to take some time to find its way? Also, I don't see how constantly comparing the show to others can lead to anything but disappointment. No, I suppose you can't put Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson in the same league as Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, but I doubt anyone was calling even their chemistry legendary after only three episodes. Now, I'll admit that Olivia Dunham isn't the most sympathetic of characters, and if that doesn't change soon there's going to be a problem, but she just found out the guy she loved was not who she thought he was. It makes sense for her to be closed off. Likewise, if Joshua Jackson comes off a bit childish, maybe that's because his character is forced to play guardian to a father he resents. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some Joshua Jackson fanatic who'll defend him to the death, but the way people keep writing him off seems unfair. From what I've seen, he's been pretty adept at handling a character that, if done improperly, could be kind of annoying. Lastly, for a fan of The X-Files, Alias and Lost to say that Fringe has a "confusing central mystery" has got to be some kind of joke. Those shows have arguably some of the most confusing/convoluted mysteries in the history of television. And besides, isn't that pretty much par for the course in a J.J. Abrams series? — Amy J.
Matt Roush: All good points, and what's saving Fringe for me right now has less to do with anything the wan Olivia does than with the chemistry between Peter and his endearingly crazy father — look what the amazing John Noble can do with an obsession with root-beer floats. I'm finding myself more and more on the fence about this show each week, which surprises and unsettles me greatly. I'm still intrigued, but less and less sold. Even though this is my kind of show when done right, the last two episodes' mysteries did the opposite of knocking me out. I hate the reliance on torture scenes to generate suspense, and I thought (from the advance publicity) that this show wasn't going to get murkier by the week. That said, welcome back, Mark Valley, and I'm a fan of Michael Cerveris, so am eager to see more of this new "Observer" character. But honestly, in a reversal of earlier opinion, if I were to be asked to recommend a new series in the Tuesday 9/8c time period, I'd probably go with CBS's likably quirky The Mentalist. This week's second episode was even better than the pilot in the way it revealed new facets of Simon Baker's playful yet soulfully intuitive (and manipulative) crime-solver. We learned he's unbeatable at rock-paper-scissors, and that he's not above using hypnotic suggestion to get a witness to spill. At the end of that hour, I felt satisfied and entertained, which is more than I can say about an hour devoted to some nebulous underground cylinder.
Question: I was interested to know how you felt about the Dexter premiere. I liked it, and there was nothing inherently wrong with it, but does it seem to you that the show's premiere has lost some vibrance since last season? I don't know, it's just a gut feeling. They might have overstretched themselves last year with such a monumental, high-stakes plot, that it might have been difficult to top this year, since they obviously can't repeat the Dexter being sought-by-police plot for a second consecutive season. But anyway, it's just a minor concern. I loved many aspects of it still, such as Jimmy Smits. Quinn looks to be an interesting character, too. — Yong
Matt Roush: I liked Dexter's third season opener, and this Sunday's episode is even more thrilling, especially as it advances the unusual bond between Dexter and DA Smits. But does it pale next to what the show accomplished last season? Probably. There's no topping that storyline, and once you stop expecting them to, I think it will be easy to settle in and enjoy the twists, both on the job and at home, where Dexter's incredibly interesting psyche is concerned. The main reason I gave the show a "9 out of 10" ranking in my recent review roundup, instead of a perfect "10," is that I'm much less interested in the subplots involving Dexter's co-workers, which seem more than ever like a distraction to pad out the episodes. Not that any of this gets in the way of enjoying the series. It's still a winner.
Question: I'm so encouraged about the next couple of seasons of Lost and Desperate Housewives, since the producers have established arcs for the shows and know which seasons will be their last. I really enjoyed the season premiere of Housewives Sunday night and can't wait for Lost to come back. On the other end of the spectrum, I really used to like ER and looked forward to it the same way. Two seasons ago, I started deleting every third episode or so from TiVo without watching it. Last season, I think I watched two or three episodes before giving up on it altogether, not even tuning back in for the season finale. I just couldn't get excited about this season's opener, and looking at the ratings, apparently a lot of other people felt the same way. Is the phenomenon of shows wearing out their welcome a new thing, or has it been that way since TV was created? Lately I've been thinking about 1) terrific shows that were canceled way too early (My So-called Life, Freaks & Geeks, Veronica Mars, Arrested Development, Once & Again and Everwood), 2) terrific shows that overstayed their welcome (ER, Alias, Gilmore Girls) and 3) terrific shows that did it right and went out leaving us wanting more (Sex and the City, The Sopranos). What shows fit these three categories in your opinion? And why can't I remember which categories some of my favorites of all time fall into: Thirtysomething, The Cosby Show, Friends, Cheers, Boston Common (just kidding). — Katherine
Matt Roush: I'll duck the historical question — this time of year, I pretty much have to live in the here-and-now — except to say that The Mary Tyler Moore Show is probably the perfect example of a show that bowed out gracefully, giving us bittersweet closure very much on its own terms. Looking back, it's hard to imagine it only lasted seven seasons. But ER is a pretty classic example of a show that way overstayed its welcome. Its influence on prime-time storytelling is unquestionable, and there was a time you wouldn't dream of missing it, but in recent years I had the same experience as you. I'd go into each season trying to get back into the groove, but I'd quickly lose interest as the characters and situations grew more miserable and morose by the week. Even when they'd bring in interesting new actors, they'd quickly leech them of energy and turn them into depressive mopes. With Lost and Housewives, it probably is the smartest strategy to announce a limited number of seasons, to help focus the storytelling. It certainly worked for Lost last season, and the time jump for Housewives has been very promising so far. It's not that Housewives is all of a sudden a brand-new show, just a refreshed one, and it's rare to be able to say that about any series going into its fifth season.
Question: Somewhere along the way, I was sure I heard that ER would wrap things up in February. I thought that sounded early, but then I considered that maybe instead of having reruns on or plugging another show in for a while they would just run the episodes all the way through and end in a sweeps month (February). I then read in a recent issue of TV Guide that the two-hour finale is in May, which would make sense. Was I totally wrong about February or did I just misunderstand something? Hope you can clear things up. — JK
Matt Roush: I recently checked with NBC, having some confusion on the scheduling issue myself, and all that was confirmed for me is that ER's final season will consist of 19 episodes, which will not take us to May unless the show goes into repeats or goes on hiatus at some point. Given the show's iconic status, I'm thinking NBC could stunt for a while with a greatest-hits-of-ER countdown, but that's just a guess. Regardless, it makes most sense to me that NBC would try to maximize the sentiment of this landmark departure and attempt to give ER a big farewell splash at the end of the season in May. I guess we'll see.
And to be fair, given the bashing above, Anthony B. wrote in to lament: "I get upset every time I see a commercial flaunting the fact it is ER's last year. Why is it ER's last year? They have come back with some great stories and new blood. I think they still have a lot to tell. Who do I contact to tell them this doesn't have to be ER's last year?"
Well, you can write to NBC and Warner Bros. studio, but it probably won't do any good. This is as good a time as any to point out that no TV show is meant to last forever — maybe not even The Simpsons and Law & Order — and ER in particular is so far from being the phenom it used to be that it no longer makes financial or ratings sense to keep it on life support it has been clinging to the last few years. When I learned Maura Tierney was leaving, that was all I needed to hear. She was the only reason I could still bear to watch.
Question: So Zach was improbably back on Bones last week. I can almost forgive the ridiculous leaps of logic it will require to have Zach restored entirely to his old position by the end of this season, just to undo the mistake of "psycho killer"-ing him off in the first place during last year's season finale. Contrary to that goof, I join the half of your audience that thinks killing Amber on House last season was worth it just for the power finale. Still, I see an intriguing possibility that I hope David Shore is pursuing: Amber as a new powerful House inner-voice foil. House already had a near-death experience with Amber front and center, which House no doubt 99 percent believed was a hallucination. I'd love it if she now sometimes starts showing up in his dreams or super-stressful times, giving him not-exactly-Wilsonesque perspectives and advice. (By the way, loved the new Private Investigator character.) And talk about the unfortunate season-finale-resolution disappointment — we knew it was inevitable, but why couldn't Horatio have had a real death on CSI: Miami? All I can think is that William Petersen, who was so protective of the franchise and not pleased that CSI: Miami appeared in the first place, must be rolling over in his grave about the silliness of this show. (Or at least he would if he wasn't still alive.) — Marla
Matt Roush: Interesting observations, but I think the ship has sailed on Zach rejoing the squints on anything but a guest-star basis (which is probably stretching things enough). Haven't heard anything about psychic-ghost Amber making any appearances on House either, but what a fun idea. I'm really enjoying the new PI as well, even more the second week than the first. Nuff said on the Horatio/Miami front, but let me use this as an opportunity to recommend with enthusiasm next Thursday's CSI opener, which features some of William Petersen's strongest work to date.
Question: Do you know what Fox is planning on doing with Prison Break and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles come January? Seems like Prison Break always takes a hiatus around Thanksgiving and comes back in January. Are they planning on doing this again this year? Are both PB and T:SCC confirmed to be full seasons? — Bill
Matt Roush: My understanding is that Terminator got a 13-episode pickup, while Prison Break (a more established series) was renewed for a full 22-episode season. I know I was erring toward optimism the last time I was asked about this, but with the numbers continuing to drop as the competition continues to build on Mondays, I think there's cause to be concerned where both shows are concerned. Can't say yet where either of these shows will land in the new year, because the initial Fox schedule announced in May didn't include either of them in the winter plans (which, this being Fox, are always subject to change). The initial Monday lineup announced for January included Dollhouse at 8/7c, followed by 24, with no mention of the scheduling of a back-half of a season for either of the current occupants. You should assume 24 is a given for Mondays, but beyond that, who knows.