Ask Matt: Is The Shield TV's Best Drama? Can Heroes Catch a Break? And More!
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: Since Mad Men has recently wrapped up its second season, do you think the final season of The Shield is the best drama on television right now? I agree with you that the initial episodes involving the Mexican and Armenian gang war was convoluted and a bit illogical at times, yet these last few episodes have been some of the best television I've seen in a long time. The scene where Vic almost shot Shane and Mara had to be one of the most suspenseful moments on any show. Other scenes, like when Vic finally turned in his badge and gun and called it quits or when Shane hinted at the idea of having to leave his family, were great as well. I would go as far as to say that this season has surpassed the final seasons of other great shows like The Sopranos or The Wire. Apart from a few selected shows like Dexter or Brotherhood, The Shield is definitely the best drama on TV right now. — Grant
Matt Roush: With only two episodes remaining — look for my review of the show's Nov. 25 finale (no spoilers, don't worry) later this week — what better time to salute The Shield, which I've always considered one of TV's best dramas and which is going out with a literal bang. Can't really think of a network drama that matches it for intensity and audacity these days. (CBS contents itself with professionally made procedurals, while Fox offers slop like Prison Break and NBC foolishness like the newly defunct My Own Worst Enemy and the insipid Knight Rider.) Ranking the show with Sopranos or The Wire is a bit risky, and some would say sacrilege, because The Shield, despite its moral ambiguity and depravity, has never had pretensions beyond being a rip-snorting, throat-throttling melodrama. On those terms, I feel the show succeeds magnificently, never more so than in these last episodes, especially once Shane was exposed for trying to kill his fellow Strike Team buddies (having already succeeded with Lem a while back) and then went on the run as fugitives with his poor, hapless family. The show is now almost breathtakingly intense, and these final two episodes include some wild twists that should more than satisfy the loyal fan. If you have the stomach for it, The Shield is not to be missed.
Question: I'm getting a little tired of the Heroes backlash. To me, it is a prime example of every critic, media outlet and blogger jumping on the band wagon and creating the news that the show is a hot mess. I'm not saying that some people haven't made some good points. I watch the show every week and I still like it, and I still think it has so much potential to be great fun. I agree with a lot of the "suggestions" to make it better, but it's far from the worst show on TV. It's like every season many people have to find one show to kick the crap out of ad nauseum: Desperate Housewives Season 2, Lost Season 3, and so forth. Then next year, it'll be just fine and everyone will move on to another former darling to bash. It's not like Heroes is that huge, so why do you think there is such a pile-on? — Larry B.
Matt Roush: You've done a nice job of spotlighting the media phenomenon I like to call "hype 'em and hate 'em," in which we tend to build up a show only to seemingly take glee in knocking it down. Heroes is without doubt this season's most battered punching bag, but I'm not a cynic about this. I'd be much happier, and I think others in the critical media would be as well, if the show were doing better and weren't such a, in your words, "hot mess." Actually, despite all the firestarter hero/villains on display lately, it's more of a cold mess to me these days, because I find myself not caring about anyone or anything going on right now. It's way too convoluted, overstuffed, disjointed, unfocused, you name it — I pretty much despised last week's origins episode for all these reasons — but is the show a lost cause? Of course not. And if the show's next arc ties the characters together better and delivers a more compelling story, then I hope we'll all step up and say so. If we're still watching. But to address your question about why everyone's piling on, I'd argue that it's the inevitable overreaction to a show that was overhyped and overpraised from the start. And because it's a signature series for NBC, whose failing fortunes in prime time is a hot topic already, the turmoil on screen and behind the scenes is natural fodder. Why would you expect the same media that trumpeted its success to ignore its failure?
Question: I read your column all the time and have not seen The Mentalist mentioned lately. Do you still like the show and where it's going creatively? I really enjoy it but vow not to use the "L" word in relation to it until at least Season 2. Simon Baker's portrayal of Patrick Jane is amazing in the way he is able to keep an impassive look on his face while convincing someone to do something. The character is written with flaws, but he is witty and likable as well. Robin Tunney does a good job making Agent Lisbon seem like a real person, too. I look forward to seeing where this show progresses and hope we get to see Jane finally catch his wife and daughter's killer a couple of years from now. — Susan
Matt Roush: The Mentalist is a keeper, and I look forward to seeing it every Tuesday. It's good escapist fun, and Simon Baker is a mischievous joy. I've gotten some negative mail about Robin Tunney, but I don't mind her (especially when you compare how annoying she was on Prison Break before getting killed). It's pretty much all about Patrick Jane at this point, anyway. If we don't make a constant fuss about this show, which will soon be featured on the TV Guide cover, it's probably because it tends to get lumped into CBS's glut of crime-drama procedurals, and while I enjoy the show, it is rather formulaic, though clever about it. All told, it deserves to be a hit.
Question: In watching the season premiere of Law & Order, it got me wondering if any other show has ever survived so long with so many cast changes. Law & Order has been going on for how long now and not a single person from the first season is still on the show. It is pretty amazing. While ratings may be down and the quality may vary, it is still a solid show in my opinion. — Sam C.
Matt Roush: Few shows have lasted as long as Law & Order, and none that I can think that has so completely rotated the cast. Dick Wolf has said many times his hope is to exceed the 20-season record of Gunsmoke, and Law & Order is now in its 19th season, so I wouldn't bet against him. Though the ratings for the show's return were wobbly, it was rushed back on the air with very little notice, so I'm hoping it will pick up, because some of the next episodes (guest-starring Ned Beatty and Jena Malone) are very strong. What really knocks me out about the Law & Order mothership is how refreshed it feels this year with so much cast turnover, especially regarding the Jeremy Sisto (detective) and Linus Roache (prosecutor) characters. It doesn't feel like a 19-year-old show most weeks. But back to the record-setting thing. Even if Law & Order does break Gunsmoke's longevity record, it will probably never touch its overall output. Hit TV shows produced many more episodes per season in Gunsmoke's heyday, and while Law & Order will have clocked somewhere around 455 episodes if it makes it to the end of year 20, Gunsmoke had produced a whopping 635 hours by the time Matt Dillon retired his holster.
Question: First, why hasn't ABC tried moving Pushing Daisies back to Tuesday? Might it not work following Dancing with the Stars? I mean the theme is a little related: The two shows are built on playful dancing between the main characters, though one is literal and the other figurative. Also, that is where it found its initial success! I never get how networks move a blossoming show to another time slot and then sit there scratching their heads wondering what changed. Maybe the time slot!?!? Second, is there any chance of Daisies being picked up by another network? I would think that perhaps Fridays following Ghost Whisperer would make for a good 1-2 punch, followed by a solid episode of Numbers? I think all three shows are good shows with oddities that leave them with untapped potential, but the three together would be greater than the sum of their parts. If not CBS, what about USA Network? Daisies seems right up their programming alley. Help! Daisies can't die! It reminds me so much of 3rd Rock From the Sun: cute and quirky, but with excellent overall production values, only to ripped apart by the flights of fancies from the net execs. — Robert T.
Matt Roush: To clarify: Pushing Daisies never aired on Tuesdays. It has always been a Wednesday show, and that was part of the strategy this season, to keep the night intact from last year after all three Wednesday shows were derailed by the writers' strike. An honorable idea, but it was risky enough last year to build a night with all-new shows. To bring them all back after such a long hiatus turned out to be a recipe for ratings disaster. And much as we might like to see ABC go the extra mile to boost Daisies' fortunes by moving it behind a hit like Dancing with the Stars, this is not the kind of season or business environment where you're likely to see a network take such a risk. As for someone else picking it up, this is where I would normally say fat chance, and honestly, I can't imagine it happening. (But given the miracle of DirecTV's rescue of Friday Night Lights this season, you never know.) The show is not cheap — definitely out of USA Network's league — and it's certainly not ordinary, and CBS would be the last place to go so off-brand, given what happened when it tried last season to get its audience to sample offbeat shows like Viva Laughlin (which was dreadful, but you get the point). So prepare to deal with the probability that Pushing Daisies may not continue beyond the current 13-episode order (which I hope we get to see in its entirety). I'm very disappointed, obviously. It's a show that brings me great delight. But I'm not going to demonize ABC, which I believe also treasures the show but wishes it could open the night on a stronger note. I get plenty of mail from fans angry that ABC hasn't promoted it more, which is probably a fair point, but I only wish it would have the fate of 3rd Rock, which lasted six seasons before it faded.
Question: It has taken some time, but I finally have gotten up the cojones to write in and ask you my own question. Essentially, with the major slump in Heroes, maybe we should be considering the mediocre, yet stable, ratings for my favorite TV show, Chuck, as a positive thing. Without a lead-in (as it kicks off the night on Monday), a weakening lead-out (Heroes viewership has decreased each week) and a very tough evening (Monday Night Football for the men, Dancing with the Stars for the ladies), the fact that Chuck continues to put up solid (albeit uninspiring) ratings is actually quite impressive. While the show is not the blockbuster hit that it should be, maybe it will be a show in a similar vein to Scrubs, that is loved by many but just never seems to get the huge ratings (and stays on the air for 8 years). Thoughts? — Matt
Matt Roush: Now here's the other, more upbeat, take to the Pushing Daisies situation. I keep wondering when the networks will lower their expectations, and by how much, when it comes to keeping shows they they admire around even when it's clear they're never going to be a breakout hit. Chuck could be a terrific test case. NBC loves it, going so far as to give it a full-season pickup without regards to its ratings. (NBC more recently did the same for Life, which isn't exactly burning up the Wednesday ratings.) Not every show can win every time period, but if the networks can figure out a formula by which the occasional terrific sleeper can earn its keep, then we'll all be richer for it.
Question: Usually, when Fox announces its midseason lineup, most people write to you about the threat of moving Bones (which at least this year doesn't conflict with my Thursday 8 pm/ET viewing). But with House moving to Mondays at 8, I want to scream! I didn't think Mondays could get any worse for me, but now it has! We're already "watching" shows on four of the networks. Now House will make it five we need to try to keep up with on Monday night. We DVR Big Bang Theory and Chuck, and I'm forced to watch Dancing wth the Stars live on a TV in another room. Because of this, I haven't seen an episode of Gossip Girl since DWTS came on, although I do still intend to catch up online eventually. Now I'll have to do the same with House. The 9 o'clock hour's almost as bad (more DWTS, Heroes, Two and a Half Men, Samantha Who?). I understand that networks want to counter-program against each other, but the overcrowding on this night is killing us viewers. Thankfully we're in a day and age where we can keep up with our favorite programs many different ways, but they're certainly not doing us any favors by making us work so hard to do so. And as a result, my TV viewing on other nights is practically wide open, which just doesn't make sense. — Michelle H.
Matt Roush: The good news in all of this is that there are actually so many shows we want to see some nights that there's a surplus. Which could be why shows on less crowded nights may be suffering, because we're so busy playing back shows from other nights and time periods. But yes, it is an embarrassment of riches on Monday, and with House joining the mix, it's even more noticeable. (At least Dancing with the Stars will be taking a break for the first weeks of 2009, but once it's back, all bets are off.) A logjam like this requires some homework to figure out which shows are available free online and which you need to record or you'll miss for good. And so forth. Mondays and Thursdays are particularly jam-packed, because no one's willing to give up ground and play dead in this competitive environment, forcing us to make tough choices.
Question: Looking at your review of My Own Worst Enemy, it appears that you are trying to compare it to "reality." In this day of very unpleasant "reality," it is fun to watch a program with so much imagination! Besides, it is fun to watch Henry's face when he becomes Edward and vice versa, you know exactly what is going on. It's a great escape. — Shad
Matt Roush: Sadly for the show's small (but judging from my mail, loyal) fan base, this is all moot, since the show was abruptly canceled last week as it was wrapping its ninth episode. But because I again want to make the case that we're not all cynics on this critical bus, let me be perfectly clear that reality, or realism, was the last thing I went in to Enemy expecting or desiring. I'm a fan of Bourne Identity-style spy adventures, and I'm always happy to suspend my disbelief willingly and thankfully whenever the situation calls for it. Case in point: Alias, which was convoluted and often bizarre but also thrilling and engaging. And it's that last word that really matters. I cared about Sydney Bristow and her relationship with her co-workers, her clueless friends, her handler, her initially distant father and so on. There was an emotional urgency to the frenetic fancy that got me past the improbability of the premise about an undercover agent inside a rogue agency, a set-up that was almost impossible to explain to outsiders. But Alias worked, at least for a while. Enemy, however, struck me from the start as too silly for words. I had to call this one as I saw it, and I'm not surprised it did so poorly, despite all that hype during the Olympics — how many times did we see Christian Slater walk away from that explosion? The idea that an agency would go to the trouble of creating an elaborate false life for its agents, including surrounding the fake person with actual families, was too preposterous for me to look past. And why they would keep Edward/Henry active when the wall between his identities falls apart was beyond me. The sheer lunacy of the premise kept me from engaging with the series, and nothing about the writing or performances forced me to care about the characters, even poor Henry (who wasn't even real). The issue isn't whether I took a show like this too seriously for its or my own good, because I never even considered that a possibility. But every time I saw Henry or Edward yelling at or baiting his alter ego through the cell phone, I would just shake my head. What were they thinking? After this debacle, I bet NBC won't rush so quickly into ordering up shows without pilots.
Question: I've been wondering this for a while, and reading the recent question about Dancing with the Stars got me wondering again. Instead of having viewers vote for who they want to keep on, why not change the voting so we can choose who we want gone? I would have really enjoyed voting Cloris and Susan off the show. And that goes for a lot of former American Idol contestants, too. Who wouldn't have voted to give Sanjaya the boot? — Gwen
Matt Roush: This question tends to come up regularly during American Idol season, especially any time we get frustrated by the staying power of anyone who we think doesn't deserve it. The standard answer here is that shows like this, and Dancing in particular, are intended as upbeat and fun diversions. The shows are more about cheering on your favorites than rooting against the ones you don't like. The producers want the voting to be a positive act, not a negative act. This isn't The Gong Show — well, maybe except during the soul-numbing Idol audition episodes, when it's more about humiliation than triumph.
Question: After watching last week's Eli Stone episode, I was wondering your take on the future storylines. Will it still involve characters from both firms or just Eli's? Also what do you anticipate in the relationship of Eli/Maggie and Taylor/Matt? Regarding Eli/Maggie, I am confused as to his vision of last year (Maggie and Baby) and to what transpired last night. What is your take on this "wonderful little gem" of a show that should be praised and not cancelled. — JB
Matt Roush: I just hope we get a chance to have some of your questions answered and that, like Jordan splitting off the old firm to focus on doing good works, ABC will be generous and patient with this charming, uplifting and entertaining show. Given the new set-up, you have to imagine that Jordan/Eli/Taylor will continue to be involved with the major characters like Matt and Maggie who chose (for various reasons) to go with the opposition, and that there will be plenty of story opportunities for their paths to cross. No way does Maggie (a character I have come to enjoy much more than in the early episodes) leaving Eli's firm mean she's out of Eli's life. The vision last season made that clear, although it's also apparently true (and here I tread into murky waters) that Eli has the ability to change what his visions show him. My own dream is that Eli Stone gets as long a life as the show that previously held down this time period, Boston Legal. But it won't be easy.