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Question: Why do successful shows tinker with what is already working? Rules of Engagement has become "The Timmy Show," and The Big Bang Theory has become a show about Penny, Bernadette and Amy. What gives? — Kelly
Matt Roush: The easiest way to answer this question is to state a pretty obvious fact of TV life: If you don't tinker, you risk growing stale. In this case, tinkering means adding new characters along the way and expanding the world of a show, which is essential for most series, including sitcoms, especially when it's clear they're in it for the long run. You may be exaggerating where Rules is concerned — it's not a show I watch regularly — but it's not unusual for a breakout character to get more prominence as time goes on. Call it scene stealer-itis. But I do think you're misrepresenting the role of the girls' club within Big Bang. Penny has always been an essential element of the show, but adding Amy as a female foil for Sheldon and Bernadette as a love interest for Howard — and then having the three gals bond in a way that surprises themselves as well as the geek squad across the hall — has given the show many more comic avenues to explore. For me, this new blood enhances rather than diminishes the show. I find Amy hilarious, and the scenes where Bernadette channels Howard's mother, belying her meek demeanor, brings back fond memories for me of Georgia Engel on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The fact that the females might even get an "A" story once in a while only shows how much they've grown on the audience and on the writers. If Big Bang was only going to deal with the four science nerds, it would risk burning itself out a lot more quickly. Thankfully, that's not going to happen.
Question: How amazing were Sandra Oh and Kevin McKidd in that scrub room scene on Grey's Anatomy's fall finale? I'd be surprised if there's not an Emmy nomination for one or the other. — Maya (via Twitter)
Matt Roush: That was a very effective and moving scene. Watching her meltdown from the other side of the window just added to the emotion of the moment. I thought McKidd was equally strong conveying the pain as he talked Teddy through her surgery while she babbled on about her husband, not knowing he'd just died. Moments like these are welcome reminders that Grey's Anatomy, despite its flaws and excesses, hasn't run out of gas (unlike Desperate Housewives, which is limping to the finish line this year). But expecting Emmy nods is only going to set you up for disappointment, I fear. While it's possible Oh in particular could get nominated again — she has five nominations already, but not since 2009 (and she won a Golden Globe in 2006) — the show has pretty much fallen off the Emmy radar over the last few seasons. But then, Loretta Devine won a guest-acting Emmy last year, so you never know. Cable shows have tended to upstage network dramas in the awards races lately, with only CBS' The Good Wife being a major contender from the broadcast side. And once a show falls out of favor, the real surprise is for it to be welcomed back to the party. Which is a roundabout way of saying that if Oh or her co-stars were to be nominated again, I'd be surprised, but not unpleasantly.
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Question: Of course the Parents Television Council has gotten upset over the sex-centric Glee episode that aired last week. I'm not so concerned about that. What I do want to talk about is another area of the episode. I long ago realized that I should not expect Glee to adhere to any sort of realistic standard, and that's fine. But I do take issue with Artie's director's note to Rachel and Blaine, essentially saying that they can't play characters who have a sexual awakening because they haven't had one.
I wrote to you two years ago this month when Glee aired its "Wheels" episode, focused on Artie's challenges relative to using a wheelchair and praised the show for its sensitive depiction of the issue. "Disability advocates" were making news talking about how an actor who is not actually disabled should not play a character with a disability because (I'm paraphrasing here) the role should be offered to a chair user who has that firsthand experience. As both a wheelchair user and a theater student, I believe saying that actors have to have the same experiences as their characters cheapens the whole concept of acting. Of course actors should find some way to connect emotionally to the journey of the character, but that doesn't have to be because they've lived the same thing. Glee has never been a realistic show, but it stunned me to watch Glee use Artie to make the very argument that Kevin McHale's impressive performance on the show defeats. Do the writers really not understand that it is the same argument?
I know that the show had them go through with the West Side Story performance in spite of not having sex first, which proves they could do it, but still, this was a shockingly disappointing turn for a series I have always supported for its belief in the value of telling stories about anyone and by any means available. For the record, I have weathered the storm of Glee from the beginning and it's not always easy to come back to the show, but every time I think about giving it up, they have a lovely moment like the intercutting of "One Hand, One Heart" with the sexual material at the end of the episode or "Somewhere" reconceived as a mother-daughter duet a few episodes back. I just hate times like this when they destroy their own credibility because it makes it harder for me to trust that the show is going somewhere. — Jake
Matt Roush: Even in the better episodes of Glee, which I felt last week's very much was, there's bound to be something to aggravate you, and you make an excellent point that Artie of all characters was the wrong person to send that misguided and ultimately meaningless direction. (For me, one of the biggest question marks this season is why they put the school musical in the hands of non-musical supervisors in the first place, when Idina Menzel's character had just come on staff to oversee that absurd rival glee club and must have had time on her hands. Oh well.) I'm with you, though, on how the special moments of Glee tend to get me past all the inconsistencies and foolishness. There's still no other show quite like it, and for that I forgive it a lot. But as you're about to read, not everyone is so generous.
Question: I've finally gone and removed Glee from my DVR. The kicker was the Nov. 8 episode. When will audiences sit up and realize this show is an empty suit? It's barely progressive — when it isn't ramming stereotypes down our throats — and it gave up on any pretense to subversion with the second season. It's preachy and shrill. Characters are nonsensical, contradicting themselves from one episode to the next, and behave at the whim of the theme assigned to the episode. The development of story on this show is recycled at best, a joke at worst. On the sex episode, Mike Chang's plot was reduced to two scenes; one overwrought, one treacly, both painfully obvious. His story would be better served not featured at all until there's adequate time to address it. As produced, those scenes were shoehorned in and lacked any impact. This is typical of any story that does not directly involve Kurt or Rachel — and even those give me whiplash. About the only thing last week's episode got right was the insulated, dimly lit and sadness-tinged qualities common to so many of the small-town gay bars I've had occasion to visit over the years. I'm disappointed, as the show had heart and a ton of promise when it first debuted. But the smattering of great moments is not enough to keep me hanging on. Where are you on this, Matt? Am I out there on this limb by myself? — Chris
Matt Roush: As I noted earlier, I'm not ready to give up on Glee yet, though I am thinking twice about watching this week's Sue-centric episode, because ... well, Sue. But you're hardly alone. And we do agree on one thing, since I used the term "whiplash" in last Tuesday's review/overview to describe the experience of watching Glee this year. The ratings have cooled considerably, indicating last season's glaring flaws tested many fans' patience. And you're right that if those few moments in last week's episode were meant to be a payoff to Mike Chang's story, which began so memorably in the "Asian F" episode (the best of the season, along with "First Time"), it's too maudlin and not enough. (Though I imagine there will be more to come.) But when you complain that the show isn't "progressive" or "subversive" enough, I can't help thinking how far TV has come in the years I've been covering the beat. Back when I was writing about a cultural milestone like thirtysomething, and the industry went into convulsions over two men being shown in bed, if you'd told me someday two gay teens were going to have their first moment of (very discreet) intimacy played out against a "West Side Story" romantic classic, I'd have scoffed. Glee has pushed plenty of boundaries to do honor to its misfits and outcasts. It's far from a perfect show, but even if it never regains its initial mojo, it's still a significant one.
Question: I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the new show Person of Interest. If I recall correctly, this is a show you enjoyed because it was a different kind of CBS crime procedural. As a big fan of Lost, I checked out the show because I couldn't wait to see Michael Emerson again. However, I was disappointed after the first episode and haven't watched an episode since. Now, I am not (and probably never will be) a big fan of CBS-like procedural dramas; I'm much more into serialized dramas like Lost, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, etc. My question for you is this: Would it be worth my time to go back and catch up on Person of Interest? For me to truly enjoy a show, I need some sort of overarching storyline going on, even if it is sometimes overshadowed by case-of-the-week plotlines. I do enjoy shows like Chuck and Glee, that although there may be a new "mission" or "lesson" for each episode, there are certain things that must be caught up on in order to fully know what's going. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this. — Brandon
Matt Roush: If you're expecting Person of Interest to be the next Lost, or more to the point the next Alias (given its pedigree), you're bound to be disappointed. There are some arc-like threads to the show, including the detective's pursuit of Reese and the murky back stories of Finch and Reese. I get a sense that some characters, like Paige Turco's "fixer" from a few weeks ago, could recur and become part of the show's fabric. But by and large, it is a self-contained procedural, though what sets it apart for me is the sense of urgency and mystery in each week's episode that goes beyond a standard crime drama. And I really enjoy watching Emerson and Jim Caviezel. To give you some perspective on why I would single a show like this out of the fall roster, I need to be able to appreciate the good, bad and in-between in all genres, and being this dismissive of the better procedurals wouldn't make sense. So my specific advice to you is to check out the listings and promos and wait for an episode that sounds particularly intriguing and give it another chance. It's very likely it still won't satisfy you, because of the preferences you've so clearly defined. But you could do far worse.
Question: Like so many readers, I really enjoy your perspective on the ever-wacky world of television. I have a question — maybe more of a comment — about Terra Nova. I don't know that I had particularly high expectations for the show, but I did rather hope that it would make internal sense on some level. I can suspend disbelief as well as the next person, but I don't know how many more of those moments where I smack my head in frustration at the sheer stupidity I can endure. As an example: In last week's episode, Jim Shannon takes little Zoey to a super-secret private room containing all the knowledge of the universe (more or less). Okay, if these people had such an astonishing resource available to them, how come it's super secret? Wouldn't it be housed in some "museum of humanity" or "library of mankind" or something? Like little Zoey isn't going to go tell all her friends about the awesome day she spent with her dad in the secret room containing all knowledge? Also, if the super secret massive brain machine has its own separate power source such that the blackout of everything electronic in the compound wouldn't affect it, doesn't it make sense that the, I don't know, perimeter gate protecting the entire community might have a separate power source too so that everyone doesn't die from some random attack?
And why would settlers in a hostile, primitive environment rely so extensively on technology in the first place, especially given that technology was the original reason for the ruination of the modern world? It seems like they might keep a few old-fashioned guns of some kind lying around in case of emergency. Anyway, I'm sure you see what I'm getting at. I don't seek perfection in a program like this, but neither am I dull-witted enough that throwing a few semi-cool special effects at me will make me forget the sheer illogic of everything taking place on screen. I'm getting really close to giving up on this show, frankly; I had expected something more from the creative minds behind this program. What say you, Matt? — Andrew
Matt Roush: I say you're being a bit nitpicky, which is not the way to be watching Terra Nova, a show that pretty much demands you relax the critical part of the brain to sit back and enjoy a harmless hour of fantasy adventure. Although you make an excellent point about the colony being so tech-dependent, which is exactly the sort of observation someone should be making in this prehistoric world. (Which is why I think the Sixers may not entirely be the bad guys here.) Yes, I do wish Terra Nova were more sophisticated, less cartoonishly written and acted and way less pandering to the supposed adorability of the Shannon kids. But if I let myself dwell on things like the puzzle of that underground library for too long — and I may be wrong, but I didn't pick up on it being super-secret, just that Jim was introducing little Zoey to it for the first time — I probably would start to hate the show. Which I don't. It's fair to say that Terra Nova isn't yet living up to expectations, but it's far from a disaster, and I hope Fox gives it a second season in hopes of sharpening its act if not its brain.
Question: I'm anxiously awaiting the start of The Firm since I love Josh Lucas and lawyer shows. Do you have any idea when it will begin airing? Also, is it true that 22 episodes have already been ordered for the first season? That doesn't sound right for a midseason replacement. — Mary
Matt Roush: NBC originally announced The Firm would be part of the Sunday lineup (10/9c) after football season is over. But given how rocky NBC's fall has been, there's a chance (just speculating here) that we could see it airing on another night, such as Thursday, if/when they pull Prime Suspect. In any case, wherever it turns up, it won't be until January, and we won't have a specific airdate until NBC confirms its midseason plans. About the 22-episode order: That appears to be true, but wasn't really NBC's choice. From what I gather, the show was already pre-sold with a 22-episode commitment and foreign financing, designed by Sony to air on the company's international AXN service. So this brings down the cost of NBC's license fee, making it more attractive to the network regardless of how it performs. And it's hard to imagine The Firm doing any worse than what we've seen on the network so far this fall.
Question: I was wondering if you have any insight into the programmers at The CW. I thought for sure they would cancel H8R early on and was hoping they might move a better show into that timeslot. But instead they have been re-airing Ringer. Would a fresh Nikita or Supernatural not be a better option in a prime-time midweek timeslot? Ringer repeats could easily fill the Friday slots. I am hoping that the ratings will improve if they move Nikita and Supernatural to a new night. I'd hate for either of those shows to be canceled because they are on a terrible night against so much similar sci-fi/action competition. — Gerald
Matt Roush: This falls under the be-careful-what-you-wish-for heading. As we've often discussed in this column, expectations are mercifully low on Fridays, not that anyone expects much of anything on any night of the CW schedule. But moving Nikita to a midweek slot could prove even more damaging to the show if it were forced to face even stiffer competition on the big networks and be paired with something as incompatible as America's Next Top Model. Where Supernatural is concerned, it's one of those shows that just keeps chugging on, and at this point, I believe it will be up to the show's powers-that-be to decide when that ride is over. For The CW, the priority this fall is to get exposure for a new show like Ringer, which is why it was the most likely candidate to get a double-run in the H8R slot. I would like to see the network do more on behalf of Nikita, but I've always seen that show as meaning more to the parent company (Warner Bros.) than the network, and keeping it going so it can be sold to the international marketplace and eventually syndication/cable may be the reason it exists at all.
Question: I read your latest Ask Matt column, when someone wrote in to talk about AMC and The Killing. I remember the big uproar over how Fringe and The Killing ended their seasons. Two of my favorite shows, and the latter was such a refreshing new take on a police drama. I thought The Killing ended perfectly. I guess I missed where the producers promised us at one time that the story would be resolved at the end of the season. My response: "So what?" Has the TV audience forgot what a cliffhanger is? I mean seriously. The creators of the show do this on purpose to build the buzz between seasons and to make the viewer excited for the show to start back up. Like with Fringe, when Peter suddenly did not exist anymore, people went crazy assuming that Joshua Jackson would no longer be on the show and other bizarre rationales. It is a cliffhanger, people! Let the shows' creators follow their vision so we can all go on a fun ride. Don't panic. I don't get it. I'm not sure what ruined the TV viewing audience, as they now need everything spelled out for them. I for one like shows that intrigue me every week, make for good discussion and conversations, etc.
And I love the pacing of Homeland and The Walking Dead. I would love to have a conversation with someone who has thought Dead has been slow the last few episodes. Are they high? Some of the most gut-wrenching moments have happened and I'm blown away. Especially the episode with Shane and revealing how he survived. Also slowing the pace of the show gives the writers time to give us character development that I thought was badly lacking, as that was my major gripe last season. With Homeland, I love the pacing of that show. And if the characters spin themselves around a few times, I have faith that it is a part of their planned story line and "gulp" could give us a nice cliffhanger to end the season. I guess we are dumb enough that we should only watch shows where the season finales are mundane, no questions asked and/or all questions answered. See you next season for the same old boring shows. Say Hi to CBS for me. — Mark
Matt Roush: Regarding Homeland, was last night's episode a game changer or what? Even without the climactic reveal about the true identity of the sleeper agent, I can't get over how far they (meaning the writers) let Carrie and Brody carry on their beyond-inappropriate tryst. Wow. Addressing your larger issues: I don't know if the TV audience in general is more impatient and unforgiving when shows do things that throw them for a loop, but I do know they're a lot quicker about voicing their displeasure, frustration, confusion, etc., online. I agree that the weakest argument in the debate over The Killing's finale was that we were somehow promised something (but as previously noted, the producer did herself no favors by bragging about it afterward). But if shows are meant to inspire spirited debate, we need to let both sides be heard without mocking those with whom you disagree. Which is mostly why I find doing this column is such a highlight of any given week.
Question: I like the writing and the premise of the CBS show A Gifted Man. How well is the show doing in its time slot, and will it last the rest of the season? — Eric
Matt Roush: In its time slot, it's winning, but that isn't saying much, given how poorly nearly everything performs on Fridays. Of all the networks, CBS tends to do well on the night, and if A Gifted Man isn't exactly doing gangbusters (especially in the demos), it's also handicapped by having to be a self-starter at the beginning of the night. So while the show isn't generating much buzz, it might not need to, and CBS owns and produces the show, which means the network may be more patient. But in the first rounds of renewals, when Unforgettable and Person of Interest got full-season pickups, A Gifted Man was not mentioned at all. So I'd still consider it very much "on the bubble" for making it through the season and certainly for renewal. But one piece of good news: Margo Martindale finally gets a prominent storyline this Friday, and it's about time.
Question: I still think Ashton Kutcher would have been the perfect choice in replacing Charlie Sheen if the Two and a Half Men creators hadn't made his character of Walden into such a sad, pathetic lame brain. If it wasn't for Jon Cryer and the other hilarious co-stars, I doubt it would continue to be on my "must see" list any longer. Do you think Ashton will sign up for another year? The money is good, why not? Right? If so, I hope the writers give him a brain transplant, a hair cut and a clean shave. — Eva
Matt Roush: Of all the things you can count on for next season, few are as dead certain as Ashton Kutcher sticking around for a second year of Two and a Half Men. The money is great, and the work clearly isn't all that taxing. I'm actually OK with the writers not making Walden a Charlie Harper clone, although he is an awfully passive vehicle for generating laughs. Couldn't agree more, though, that cleaning up his look might make him more agreeable company.
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