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Question: I'm really surprised by the lack of comment (here and elsewhere) on this season of Justified. It had a lot to live up to after that near-perfect second season and (in my opinion) has been maintaining the standard extremely well. I haven't enjoyed TV-show dialogue this much since The West Wing went off the air. Add to that the insane wealth of character-actor talent that passes through (Neal McDonough is every bit as deserving of an Emmy as Margo Martindale was last year), and for me this has become the one show I can't wait to watch every week. Is it just being taken for granted? — Dan
Matt Roush: I'm not noticing any less love for this terrific series from myself, TV Guide (Magazine and online), or other critics in general. I guess if the mailbag has been lacking — to which I assume you're referring, because I've been praising this season of Justified any chance I get, in Week in Review columns, previews and elsewhere — it may be because last year was the true breakthrough for the show, and this season, while still delightfully gripping and witty entertainment, may not seem as remarkable. Though really, it is. It's also been fighting for attention this year in a very cluttered time period with other cable headliners including TNT's Southland and USA's White Collar. (For the next few Tuesdays, though, it has an open playing field, so you have no excuse not to watch.)
I agree that while there's no topping what Margo Martindale did as Mags Bennett last year, Neal McDonough's psycho Quarles and Mykelti Williamson's more quietly menacing Limehouse are more than filling the void, especially in recent weeks as the stories have converged with suspenseful (but always cleverly laugh-out-loud) brio. Add the continued great work by Timothy Olyphant as the coolest marshal in all of Kentucky, plus Walton Goggins and Joelle Carter as the unrepentantly criminal Crowders, and all the other colorful characters, and you're talking a sort of greatness that doesn't always call attention to itself, but deserves to be in Emmy's top tier for sure. (May I also take this opportunity to recommend reading Elmore Leonard's Raylan, which is just different enough from the series to be its own surprising and compulsively enjoyable experience.) And finally, some advance praise for this Tuesday's episode (10/9c), a humdinger in which just about everyone, from Raylan to Boyd to a couple of Detroit thugs, are on the hunt for the increasingly out-of-control Quarles. Great stuff.
Question: Having just returned from watching The Hunger Games at my local theater, I found myself wishing that the movie could have been at least twice as long in order to fit in more of the nuance and details of the book. It was still a fantastic film, but I wonder if it might not have made an even better cable series, much like the success of Game of Thrones. What format do you think makes for a better book adaptation? — Barb
Matt Roush: What an excellent question. My answer, though, is the usual equivocation: Really depends on the book and who's doing the adapting. (An example: What HBO did in dragging out its version of Mildred Pierce beyond endurance in a letter-perfect translation made me pine for the pulpy Joan Crawford version instead.) Let me preface this discussion by saying I haven't seen the Hunger Games movie yet (too busy with midseason screening, coupled with an aversion to opening-weekend crowds), but I did recently devour all three books. And while it might be interesting to see a TV series built around a made-for-TV spectacle like these horrific Games, the books are so taut the whole experience felt to me like something better suited for the movies. With Game of Thrones (which I've watched the first four episodes of the second season, and they're incredible), the canvas and cast of characters are so sprawling only TV, and an uncompromising partner like HBO, could do them justice. (Even the approach Peter Jackson took in the majestic Lord of the Rings movies would be hard pressed to handle the scope of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.) And while there's much brutality in Thrones' land of Westeros, it's still probably a more inviting place to return on a weekly basis than the dystopia of Panem described in The Hunger Games. When I get to the movie — hopefully later this week — if my mind changes on any of this, I'll post it in the Week in Review or possibly as an addendum to next week's Ask Matt. You've sure whetted my appetite.
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Question: Am I the only viewer who enjoyed the first season finale of The Killing? I watched it for the writing, acting and direction and find it odd that so many (mostly online TV critics, actually) whine so much about the lack of revelation. Did Veena Sud actually state at the start of the show "The killer will be revealed in the season finale" and then not follow through, or is there some sort of mass assumption that would be the case, and now a bunch of entitled guys with blogs have decided to focus every ounce of energy on their unexpected blue balls rather than the outstanding quality of the series? — Brian
Matt Roush: Zing! Kudos. And yes, you're right — and I should have pointed it out after printing last week's Killing rant — that the show's creator/executive producer never promised the reveal at the end of the first season, and even the original Danish series took more than 13 episodes to name the killer. So the extreme overreaction to the series finale in some corners felt to many (including myself) like mass hysteria. By no means was the reaction to The Killing's finale universal contempt — though even the show's champions may have felt deflated, if not betrayed (whatever that means), by the utter lack of resolution to any aspect of the story within the first season.
Simone wrote in on the same topic, and makes this cogent observation (which many a blogger and commenter should keep in mind): "To me, the backlash doesn't make much sense. Though in all fairness, it's most likely because I'm a writer, and I would not respond well to being dictated to by viewers. My perception is that viewers seem as though they feel entitled to the storylines they want, then lash out when they don't receive them. The Killing isn't alone in that, I think. What happened to simply enjoying the ride, wherever it may lead?" Simone goes on to point out: "The Killing isn't without flaws, of course — I never really connected with the mayoral race storyline — but I found it very intriguing, compelling, and well acted; Michelle Forbes delivered one of the best performances on television. And, as I assumed we would, we'll learn the identity of the killer this season anyway. So why all the hoopla?"
Matt again: My final thoughts on this, or at least until I review the two-hour second-season opener this weekend: Critics and viewers had every right to complain about the way the finale turned out — I see their point, and agree with some of it — but the outrage and the continued derision, especially in the often inane echo chamber that Twitter can be, ignores much of what is good about the show: the character studies of Rosie's parents and the dogged detectives, the sustained depiction of the kind of grief no one ever recovers from (almost unheard of in a TV procedural), the moody atmosphere. It didn't always sustain the promise of those first few episodes, but The Killing is far from a lost cause.
Question: I'm glad to see that NBC has renewed Smash. I'm a huge fan of Broadway musicals and I absolutely agree with you that I'll take a flawed Smash instead of yet another cookie-cutter police procedural. I just wish this show wasn't so cookie-cutter itself in some aspects. It's not that I object to soapy storytelling — in fact, I've adored soaps since childhood when I secretly programmed my family's VCR to tape Knots Landing after my bedtime. But I'm finding some of the storytelling on Smash so clumsy, predictable and rushed. When Julia and Michael stupidly kissed on the sidewalk in front of her house, I said to the TV, "Pan up to the son watching from his window." And sure enough. (Also, color me completely unsympathetic to these cheaters who barely seem to give their families a second thought! Ugh.)
I like Katharine McPhee, but Karen's rather too perfect. Of course she gets spotted by a record agent at the bar mitzvah. They want us to believe she's so incredibly talented, and while I think she's good, give me Megan Hilty's Ivy any day. Her voice is a knockout. I also have to agree with Shelley (who wrote you last week) that the Iowa stuff is ridiculous. For example, Karen's jaw dropping at her $300 credit card bill. Do they not buy things in Iowa? Or do they simply barter with ears of corn? All that said, I'm delighted the show was renewed and hope that it can live up to its great potential. Tangentially, I've heard a new reality pilot is being filmed going behind the scenes of the Broadway Dreams Foundation, where young performers struggle to make it to the Great White Way. Sounds fantastic! That would definitely be must-see TV for me. — Keira
Matt Roush: Knots Landing! You and I are TV soulmates. And if you like the Broadway Dreams idea (which I'm not sure has found a network partner yet), I hope you caught The Glee Project last summer, which I enjoyed much more than I expected. It's true that Smash's storytelling has given us ample reason to roll our eyes, but as I noted after last week's episode, I like to think of this first season as a workshop, and whoever becomes the new show-runner next season can (as show doctors do) learn from past mistakes to make Smash the show it should be: a juicy, gossipy backstage road-to-Broadway drama. Scrap what doesn't work (Ellis, for one) and find a way to balance the suds with the show biz, and Smash can prove itself worthy of this second chance. I'm glad it's getting one.
Question: Thanks for bringing up the Smash/"Smush" issue in your Week in Review columns. I don't have a problem with a sudser as long as it is done well. My biggest problem with Smash is just how weak the women are portrayed. Of the four main women, the most tolerable soap line is probably Ivy's, simply because she gets to share screen with Derek, who is deliciously blunt/sane/pragmatic. But even then, she's the star of the show sleeping with the director. Eileen, who should be the most powerful woman, has to be lifted up by annoying twentysomething minions, and Karen is constantly giving "Who? Me?" deer-in-the-headlight stares whenever her name is spoken. But the most blah storyline had to involve Julia and Michael's affair. Julia is also supposed to be a powerful woman, yet she was manipulated by the star of her show? Gimme a break. This plot line would have worked better if, one, Julia and Michael had any chemistry, and, two, if the writers had been bold and written Julia as the aggressor. To have Julia be the one pursuing the affair and Michael weighing his marital obligations to his wife against the potential financial obligations to his family might have been something kinda interesting. At least Bernadette Peters was entertaining. — Erin
Matt Roush: All good points, though I think Eileen's financial struggles as she fights her way through a messy divorce has a ring of truth — minus the Manhattan face-baths and, of course, the bonding with the odious Ellis. I'm just hoping the firing of Michael puts that particular story to rest.
Question: I hated to see the character of Pamela leave Army Wives this season. Is Pamela coming back, and if not, did the actress not want to continue or did the writers just decide they needed one less army wife? If it was the writers, I think they made a huge mistake. — Kim
Question: Do you know why Laz Alonso was written out of Breakout Kings? I have not been able to find any word on the Internet. Was it story related or did the actor want to go on to do other things? — Mark
Matt Roush: I put these two questions together to illustrate a point: that most often, when a main character is written off or killed, it is for creative and story reasons, which is what I'm told is the case in both of these situations. For a long-running show like Army Wives (which once tried to spin off the Pamela character into her own series), shaking up the ensemble — adding Kelli Williams this season as Brigid Brannagh departs — is a way to keep things fresh, even if some fans naturally object. With a relatively new series like Breakout Kings, killing off a major character to launch the second season of an action caper thriller is an attempt to change the dynamic, alert the audience that no one is safe, but also to call attention to itself. Which, judging from my mailbag, appears to have worked.
Question: I thought that this was the last season for Army Wives, but with the hurricane and the other base being closed, I am wondering if there is a chance it will continue. I love this show, and the stories of these wives are so contemporary. Please say that it has life again! — Carol
Matt Roush: It certainly has life for now. Army Wives tends to be renewed on a year-by-year basis, and no decision has been made regarding a seventh season yet. It may take a while, because Lifetime has ordered an additional 10 episodes to Season 6, totaling 23, which is expected to be split into two (a common cable practice). This has fueled speculation that this could be the final curtain, but that's not a done deal yet.
Question: Is it safe to assume that Harry's Law is a goner with Kathy Bates doing a guest spot on a different network? I cannot recall anytime when someone has done something like that in the past? On a side note, Kathy Bates as a ghost of Charlie on Two and a Half Men: Can you say Jump the Shark? — Paul
Matt Roush: If you know me at all, you know I never use the "shark" phrase — especially regarding something that hasn't aired yet. And I've heard far worse ideas for that show — like, say, Holland Taylor and Georgia Engel (as Alan and Lyndsey's moms) spending the night together. Regarding the Bates stunt casting: While Harry's and Men may air on different networks, both are produced by the Warner Bros. studio, so in a way it's all in the family. Actually, Harry's uncertain fate can only be helped by this kind of high-profile gig.
Question: I was hoping you can get some info on what happened to Celebrity Jeopardy! I love it but they haven't had one since the tournament in May 2010. Will they ever return? — Jen
Matt Roush: The word from Jeopardy! is that the Celebrity edition isn't considered an annual tournament, but this year, there will be a "Jeopardy! Power Players" showcase, featuring influential political and media figures, so maybe that will satisfy your craving for famous (or possibly infamous) contestants.
Question: Is it just me, or could GCB use some help from, say, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason? Despite the presence of the great Annie Potts, along with Kristin Chenoweth and other fine cast members, I just don't feel the show's writing is nearly as sharp as it should be. But perhaps, as a former devoted Viewers for Quality Television member, I still just ask too much. Thoughts? — Strachan
Matt Roush: Viewers for Quality Television! Linda Bloodworth-Thomason! You guys are really taking me back to the glory days this week. There is a sense that GCB is at heart a collision of Desperate Housewives with a Designing Women sensibility, and while the cast is game, the gamy writing is often so crude and vulgar that you do wish for a more distinctive, classy voice like Linda's. It wouldn't hurt if they developed a stronger sense of story while they're at it.
Question: I don't get it. NBC's Bent seems like the type of show a network should be proud of. It's smart, funny, charming and grown-up. It has a likable and talented cast. Reviews of it have been pretty positive. So why is NBC burning it off instead of giving it a proper chance to shine? It seems like it had such potential to be a hit if it had been properly promoted and given a decent time slot instead of hidden away like it was something to be ashamed of. I can't understand how they could have watched the pilot, commissioned more episodes and then decided it wasn't worth a real shot, especially if the remaining episodes are as funny and charming as the first two? — Niamh
Matt Roush: Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecies. NBC schedules Bent's six-episode run over three weeks of back-to-back episodes — sandwiched between the unwatchable Are You There, Chelsea? and the little-watched Rock Center — as if they couldn't wait to get rid of it. (I likened it to sitcom speed-dating.) And it collapses, to hardly anyone's surprise. This is the sort of low-key rom-com charmer that needed to be nurtured, a pretty tall order on a network like NBC, which struggles to launch any show nowadays. (Smash has the great fortune to be yoked to The Voice.) Networks with more powerful comedy lineups would probably have needed patience for something as quiet as Bent to catch on, but it certainly deserved better than this.
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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Ask Matt: Justified, The Killing, Hunger Games (on TV?), Smash, and More
Send questions to email@example.com and follow me on Twitter!