Brooke Smith, Grey's Anatomy
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: So let me get this straight. Marissa on The O.C. has a lesbian storyline even though she's not "gay." Same with Callie on Grey's Anatomy, Thirteen on House, Angela on Bones, Julia on Nip/Tuck and probably a few others I'm forgetting. But there is a full-fledged "I see the leaves now" gay woman on a show, and the storyline gets shut down and the actress fired? What is going on here? Why are we okay with sexually curious women, but seemingly not okay with a woman who fully understands herself to be a lesbian? And when is the last time a man was "sexually curious" on a TV show without knowing he was gay? — Stephanie S.
Matt Roush: It does seem like a double standard, doesn't it, that major female TV characters can go gay so long as it's merely a phase? I addressed the latest Grey's Anatomy debacle earlier this week, but to me it boils down to an unfortunate case of a good actor (Brooke Smith) being punished for bad writing, and ABC's abrupt whisking away of the character is just as clumsy and regrettable a response. To be fair, though, Shonda Rhimes' statements on the subject indicate that Callie will remain on the show and is now being considered a lesbian, not merely an experimental one. And while Hahn's "leaves" monologue (which I enjoyed, even though it was as overdone as the rest of this awkward storyline) was a memorable statement of self-awareness and self-acceptance, it was made clear that Hahn herself was a novice to this same-sex thing. As for ambiguously gay male characters on TV, I'm sure there are many good examples, but the main point here is that network prime-time TV still has a way to go in depicting homosexuality, male or female, with the sort of matter-of-factness and variety that straight couples enjoy. (Liked that "let me get this straight" opening line, by the way.)
And for the record, before news broke this week about the ousting of Hahn, I opened this rather prescient e-mail from Raveen: "I have loved Grey's Anatomy up until recently. What is up with the Callie and Erica Hahn coupling? I have nothing against gay relationships in TV shows when they are done right, but this one feels forced. I never really warmed up to Callie or Dr. Hahn anyway. But when veteran shows bring up surprises like this out of nowhere, it just seems like a stunt that won't contribute anything to the overall feel of the show. They wonder why the ratings are tanking this season. What is happening to my beloved Grey's Anatomy?"
I disagree that taking Callie and Hahn into this direction was a stunt — the intention was something much deeper than that — but the show bungled it by playing Callie's sexual panic for smarmy laughs (the various Sloan beddings), and the result was undeniably off-putting.
Question: Is there a reason why Brothers & Sisters is shoving the Justin/Rebecca debacle, er relationship, down our throats while ignoring Scotty and Kevin? I know there recently was an episode that involved Scotty's parents, but even then, Scotty and Kevin were hardly in a room together. Why, instead of focusing on a relationship viewers had been invested in since the first season, are the producers focusing on a relationship that quite frankly squicks a lot of people? — Maddy
Matt Roush: Squicks? Is that a typo? Kinda works for me, though, especially the "ick" part. But really, I wouldn't beat up on Brothers & Sisters for not depicting the Kevin-Scotty relationship (which last season involved a public commitment ceremony) as graphically as the contrived canoodling of Justin and Rebecca. I'm rather a fan of restraint, and I disagree that this couple (arguably the most stable on the show this season) has been ignored. Kevin's career crisis over denying Scotty's existence to be made partner was very well played, and the return of Scotty's parents also helped deepen their bond, and that's something I don't remember seeing on a prime-time family drama before. Which doesn't excuse the bad soap opera of the Justin-Rebecca storyline, a part of the show I find myself ignoring as best I can to get to the stuff I like (in shorter supply this season, I've got to admit).
Question: In a recent "Ask Matt," you wrote that you thought some of the many CBS procedurals were "terrific." I was surprised, though not because I disagree. I admit there aren't many traditional procedurals on my viewing list, but I recognize the skill needed to keep these shows fresh and relevant to their audiences, and I've even fallen pretty hard for The Mentalist this fall (probably my favorite new show of the fall along with Easy Money, neither of which I planned on watching before they premiered). But I was trying to think back to your comments about specific CBS procedurals to figure out which ones you find terrific. I know you loved the CSI premiere, and generally seem to have respect for the show — if not the franchise — and that you find Criminal Minds revolting. Other than that, I remember moderate praise for The Unit and NCIS, but have no idea how you feel about the other CBS procedurals. Sorry if it sounds like I'm trying to trap you in your words — I'm not. I ask from a genuine curiosity about which shows you were thinking of when you wrote that. — Brendan
Matt Roush: It's a fair question. I've never waned in my appreciation for the original CSI, but have no use for either mediocre spin-off. I'm enjoying The Mentalist quite a bit, and find it a perfect fit with NCIS, whose appeal I totally get, even if I don't feel compelled to watch every single week. I was an early supporter of Without a Trace, and even if I feel it has gotten a bit stale, I find it well done. Ditto with Cold Case and Numbers (which I'd watch more if it weren't on Fridays; it's one of those shows I seem to never get around to clearing off the DVR), and I'm still making up my mind about Eleventh Hour (interesting premise, but the chemistry between the leads is lacking). For me, The Unit falls outside the typical procedural framework, which may be one reason it's struggling more than most (the CBS audience tends to like their shows as formulaic as possible). I'm eager to see The Unit's two-parter starting this weekend. The only CBS procedural I actively detest, for its wretched acting and lurid storylines, is Criminal Minds. In the bigger picture, though, just running through this list of mostly formula crime dramas leads to inevitable talk of burn-out. The audience can't seem to get enough of this sort of show, but I've just about reached my limit.
Question: I think Life on Mars is a great show. Detective Sam Tyler gets to do what I (and probably many others) would love to be able to do: go back in time. There is much more to this show than "just another cop drama." Life was much simpler in the '70s. The music was good. Crime was not as rampant. The economy was far better than today. Most everyone had jobs. I think people in general cared more about each other. All new TV shows run the risk of not being accepted by the viewers for various reasons, but I feel that Life on Mars has great potential. I really enjoyed the episode where Sam was trying to help his mother. I only hope there are enough other people who watch and enjoy this show as much as I do. What is your opinion? Do you feel that Life on Mars has a good chance of making it? How many episodes have been made to date? I wonder if Sam will ever wake up in 2008. Perhaps that will be the final episode if the show does not succeed? — Karen A.
Matt Roush: I get the sense that ABC is going to be a bit patient with this one. I agree it's a keeper, and what really makes it stand out for me is Sam's emotional response to being confronted with a personal past that in most cases hasn't even occurred yet — as in this week's episode where he encountered the detective who would eventually be his mentor. I like the fact that the nostalgia isn't sugar-coated — New York in the '70s was not a pretty place, including economically — and that the social attitudes of the time, reflected in the brutal crime-solving methods of Sam's co-workers, still register as shockingly archaic. Life on Mars is still filming its initial 13-episode order and as of this writing hasn't been given a full-season pickup, but I'm cautiously optimistic. At the same time I'm nervous about how the producers intend to play out the mystery of Sam's time-travel paradox over the long haul, should it be so lucky. And I'm trying not to think about what will happen should the network pull the plug before an actual finale explaining or resolving Sam's situation can be made.
Question: I love Susanna Thompson on NCIS as Lt. Col. Hollis Mann and the final episode she was in, "The Ex-File," was ambiguous. I was wondering if she was coming back this season or if we have seen the last of her? — Tracy S.
Matt Roush: A return isn't out of the question, but it's not likely to happen anytime soon. Susanna Thompson, a favorite of mine since Once and Again (and the too-short-lived Book of Daniel), has been working on NBC's new midseason drama Kings, which films in New York (the opposite coast from NCIS production), so it's hard to see when she'd even be available.
Question: Your review of Legend of the Seeker made me decide to watch it. I am all up for fantasy stories, even if they sometimes get repetitive like many of the modern ones do. However, when I sat down to watch this, the story line and character names seemed very familiar. So I looked it up online. Sure enough, it is based on an excellent book series: The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. After watching it, I would have to disagree with many of your comments about the show. Sure, some of the actors are sub-par, but it is a fairly low-budget series, so you can't expect too much. The books originally came out in the mid '90s, and as with most book-to-TV/movies adaptations, they don't quite line up. But I think they did an excellent job portraying the books (at least as much as you can fit in an hourlong show), and since it was an adaptation, it wasn't necessarily meant to have an original thought. At the time the books came out, there weren't many other well-known fantasy epics (basically just Lord of the Rings and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and maybe a few others), and the epic fantasy epidemic was still in its infancy. If you are going to critique a series based on a book, then I think you should at least let your readers know that it is based on a book and not just a plotline someone came up with. I can't wait to see how the rest of it turns out. These were my favorite books in high school, and they remain so to this day. I am glad that someone finally got the great idea to make them into a movie/mini-series. — Kris
Matt Roush: I left out the show's literary source information from the review (written for the magazine) for space reasons, not to mislead anyone. But regardless of where the show came from, my role as critic is to judge it on execution and how it plays in the current culture. And on those counts, Seeker seems to me like a dinner-theater version of Lord of the Rings, with some gorgeous scenery and acceptable special effects, but the storyline as presented in the two-hour pilot is almost laughably derivative and ineptly acted. It's always a risk to criticize anything in the fantasy/sci-fi genres, because the fandom is so protective. But given that Seeker is meant to compete with the memories of syndicated hits like Hercules and Xena (from the same producers), I find very little to recommend in this one. At least not yet.
Question: I know you were a fan of Californication's first season, so I just wanted to ask how you feel about it this year. Personally, I think it's gone completely off the rails. I don't know if it's just because Hank isn't as charmingly roguish as he once was, but the show became completely unwatchable for me. Literally, halfway through the fourth episode, during the dinner party, I had to turn it off. Speaking of the dinner party: What sort of world do these characters live in, that they consider all of these people friends, even as they continue to insult and offend each other? Why in God's name would Hank ever become friends with Sophia? I know it was never believable that Hank could sleep with as many girls as he did, but the entire show seems to have gone completely crazy. There is not a modicum of believability left in this series. Becca is the most ridiculously knowledgeable 12-year-old ever. Why is Mia still around while Bill isn't? The Charlie Runkle storyline was always the worst part of the show, but I almost wanted to puke in the third episode when he was riding in the van where they were shooting the porno. The humor is off and the heart is gone. I'm sorry if I don't care that Hank and Karen are getting married. Perhaps it should have been a miniseries and ended with Karen getting in the car. — Alan
Matt Roush: What I like about this season is that the "happily ever after" ending of last year, when Karen fled her wedding to run off with Hank, has been challenged over and over by Hank's past refusing to let sleeping dogs (so to speak) lie. Their bittersweet relationship is the core of Californication and tends to get me past the show's more glaring problems: namely, anything to do with the repulsive Charlie. Mia the vixen acts as a constant reminder of one of Hank's worst (if unwitting) indiscretions, and her emotional blackmail (and audacious theft of Hank's intellectual property) gives the show a villain, whereas Becca is more a matter of taste, I guess. (I like her, even when her precocity is overdone, in part because she really doesn't know it all where matters of the heart are concerned.) I get that Californication is a pretty unpleasant show about some wildly flawed characters, and it doesn't surprise me that some would find it unwatchable. But that's hardly out of keeping with Showtime's edgy brand. I just got screeners of the remainder of the season, and the fact that I'm actually eager to clear some time to watch them tells me that I'm still kind of into the show.
Question: I noticed that 'Til Death is not scheduled to air in the next 14 days after it was listed earlier to have two episodes on November 5. Do you know if it has been canceled? — Debbie B.
Matt Roush: The show hasn't officially been canceled, but it has been pulled for the November sweeps, replaced by House repeats, which Fox clearly thinks will pull a bigger number (and the network is probably right). This is not a good sign for 'Til Death's long-term future, but the fact this show is still alive at all (having pretty much reinvented itself in its third season as a buddy comedy) strikes me as something of a surprise.
Question: I adore Jon Hamm as much as the next person, but the second season of Mad Men really felt to me like it belonged to Peggy. From her sheltering Bobbie in her apartment after the car accident, to her uneasy moments with the priest and her passive-aggressive sister (love her, by the way), from her newfound assertiveness at the office to her bombshell confession to Pete, Elisabeth Moss just shone, over and over, in a role that's decidedly not flashy. What do you think of her chances of being nominated for, or winning, an Emmy? — Eric
Matt Roush: A nomination, I would think, is a lock. I can't imagine the Emmy voters ignoring the women of Mad Men two seasons in a row, especially given the show's success at the awards this year. I agree Elisabeth Moss came into her own this season, playing a very tricky character; I'm still haunted by the flashback when Don visited her in the hospital when she was at the depth of her depression. But her chances of winning will depend on the competition (I'll probably find myself rooting for Chandra Wilson again), and her biggest handicap is that the role is so subtly played, even in big fireworks moments like her confession to Pete. Side note: I just caught her on Broadway in Speed-the-Plow in another tricky role, as a deceptively naïve secretary — Mamet does Peggy! — and I admired that she can hold her own against scene-stealers like Raul Esparza and Jeremy Piven, who have much showier parts.
Question: Besides the obvious reason (that it's not really a network), why didn't the CW devote any time to Election Night or any of the presidential debates? I thought this kind of thing was a requirement, but without fail, CW still aired 90210 as planned. What gives? — Marcus
Matt Roush: You answered your own question: The CW isn't a full-service network and doesn't have a national news operation (although many of its affiliates have a local news presence). For the CW, election night was a rare opportunity to be the only alternative to news among the so-called "major" networks, and they went for it, targeting whatever nitwits might choose to ignore one of the most memorable nights of political and world history in our lifetime as it unfolded live on TV. I'm happy to say I know no one who took the CW up on its offer (or at least who admits to it).