Ask Matt: Blacklist, Coven, Nashville, Parenthood and NBC's Thursday Comedies
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Question: I'm enjoying The Blacklist thus far and would watch it for James Spader's performance alone, but I'm also enjoying the stories as well. NBC is sticking to a formula that has worked before, albeit on a sister network. The intriguing loner, at odds with a government agency, solving the case of the week with the help of his associates, with a through story that's addressed for a few minutes at the start and end of each episode, just enough to keep the serial nature of the story going. Am I the only one who thinks that The Blacklist is Burn Notice with a network budget? If the show is successful, NBC will end up as an expensive version of USA Network. Not there's anything wrong with that. — Rick
I started watching Orphan Black when it first aired and never connected with it, but your reviews were so good I thought I'd give it another chance when BBCA reran it, and I'm glad I did. The plot got me this time, and Tatiana Maslany is incredible. One thing that drives me nuts, however, is where in the hell is the show supposed to be taking place? Sarah and Felix sound like they're right from the streets of London, Mrs. S is Irish and Alison the soccer mom is apparently Canadian — in the closed captions her dialogue is frequently prefaced with "Alison: (In Canadian accent)." The show is filmed in Toronto, but the police ranks are American (if they were in Canada, the Captain would be a DCI), and in one episode they were using NYPD mugs. So where are they supposed to be? — Rick
Matt Roush: I doubt Burn Notice ever got quite so grisly as last week's "Stewmaker" episode, and the Silence of the Lambs vibe between Red and Liz also sets it apart, along with the dynamic work by Spader, but otherwise you may be onto something. Blacklist is clearly operating within a construct that's just serialized enough to keep it interesting while delivering a complete and (most weeks) satisfying case/caper each episode, which is very much the USA trademark, and the disconnect between Red's louche underground world and that of the straight-arrow feds is a more sordid version of what we see in shows like Burn Notice and especially White Collar. So yeah, NBC could do much worse than aping the USA model. It already has. (At least USA is smart enough not to try to "improve" a classic like Ironside.)
As for Orphan Black: By all accounts, it's set in and around Toronto, but they've kept it pretty vague (I can't explain the NYPD mugs; continuity lapse?). This isn't the kind of thing I tend to notice, so it works for me as representative of any urban (and suburban) melting pot.
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Question: I was just wondering what your thoughts were about American Horror Story: Coven after the second episode. I know you haven't been a fan of the franchise, but this season they seem to have toned down some of the stuff you dislike. And I could watch Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates snarl at each other all day! — Ryan
Matt Roush: As I indicated in my Wednesday overview last week, I am enjoying the performances by the grown-ups quite a lot (and that includes Lily Rabe as well as the stars you singled out), and so far this is my favorite season of AHS to date. It's more focused, less dependent on shock value alone to drive the narrative, and the characters are more distinct, especially the mature witches, who blow the bland youngsters away (especially Taissa Farmiga and Emma Roberts, who simply can't keep up). I'm reserving judgment on the Frankenstein-like resurrection of Evan Peters' character, and it's still awfully early in the run to really know how I feel about a show that's only predictable in its lack of restraint. For me, it still pales next to the authentic terror and character-rich drama of The Walking Dead.
Question: What in the world have they done to Nashville? I loved Season 1 of this show and was so looking forward to this season. So far, I am so, so disappointed! Too many new and/or inconsequential characters. Get rid of Will (in or out of the closet); get rid of Scarlett's old friend; get rid of the lawyer who defended Deacon; get rid of the new teeny-bopper Juliette wanna-be. Just too much going on; very disjointed. Better to develop some of the interactions of last season: Rayna's father, Juliette's emergence as a still flawed but developing character, etc. Are there new writers or something? If it continues as is, I don't see a Season 3 in the cards. I, for one, am ready to move on. Too bad, too; this show had great potential. — Natalie
Matt Roush: There's a line Scarlett's friend said last week (and where did she come from all of a sudden?) that pretty much sums my feeling about Nashville these days — although it's not much different than the discontent I was feeling through much of the last half of the first season as well: "If you're not having fun, than you're doing something wrong." I've never spent so much time with so many mopey and joyless characters. I did enjoy the final scene of last week's episode, when Rayna's daughters were singing Deacon's song — but to get there, Maddie was such an impossible brat I would have bailed long before the end if it weren't my job to watch. The problem isn't the new characters. Shows like this grow static if they don't add new characters and arcs each season (Will's dilemma is at least fresh) — and the last thing Nashville needs is more focus on Rayna's family (and, ugh, ex-husband). The problem is that no one, with the possible exception of Juliette, is doing anything interesting or doing it with anything resembling energy.
Question: Parenthood is one of my favorite shows, great acting, storylines, etc. So far, we have not seen daughter Haddie or even heard her name mentioned this season. I know she's away at college and had less screen time last year, so maybe she has been written out of the show. Maddie's character had some great story lines and the young actress who played her was terrific — she is missed! With her name never mentioned, it's like she never existed — shame on the writers! And especially now with Kristina running for mayor, all the more reason to include their daughter in the whole process, at least by phone. Your thoughts? — Anne
Matt Roush: For the record, her name is Sarah Ramos, and she was terrific as Haddie — and you're right that Kristina and Adam should at least mention her once in a while, especially when life-changing events like Kristina's run for office are concerned. But one of the reasons you'll see her only sparingly if at all is budget, because few shows that have lived this long on the bubble have such a very large cast (which with the Ray Romano and Matt Lauria additions isn't getting any smaller). So something has to give, and this is one of the sacrifices the producers had to make. Still, I'm hoping Maddie will come home for the actual election night — or at least for the holidays.
Question: Do you think NBC will keep four comedies on Thursdays after the Olympics? I think at this point they should try a drama in the 9 pm/8c hour and limit comedies to the first hour of prime time. I know NBC has a few comedies waiting in the wings (About a Boy, Growing Up Fisher and Undateable), but they should keep the first two to air after The Voice on Tuesdays and the last as a filler after a comedy has finished its season mid-March or April. Why put them on Thursday when there is an 80 percent chance that nobody will watch them? Or plug Chicago PD in at 9/8c and hope that it can bring in viewers. I think out of all of the dramas NBC has in the wings, this is a show that can stand on its own and bring in its own viewers and won't need a good lead-in to do an OK rating. Plus, maybe it will bring more viewers to the amazing show Parenthood! Or (let me be a junior programmer one more time) move Parenthood to Sundays at 9/8c and The Blacklist to Thursday at 10/9c. This leaves room for The Voice to help launch another drama on Mondays. Let's face it, the only way NBC can get a hit show these days is to place it after The Voice and hope it sticks when/if they move it to a new night. — Sam
Matt Roush: The one thing I can almost guarantee is that NBC isn't going to mess with The Blacklist's success on Monday, at least not for the first full season. And while there's no contest anymore between CBS's and NBC's Thursday comedies for ratings supremacy, NBC at least attracts a small but loyal (and affluent) audience to these comedies, and when Community returns in the new year that could stop some of the bleeding, so even though the lineup is struggling, I doubt they'd change the comedy strategy. Yet. It's entirely possible NBC would do considerably worse by shifting the balance to drama on the night, unless they made the unlikely move of uprooting The Blacklist so soon —again, would be shocked if that were to happen. (After this came into my mailbag, NBC made it official that Chicago P.D. will be filling the void created by Ironside on Wednesdays, so that's a moot point.)
Question: In the past, shows like The Wire, The Shield and Oz weren't given serious Emmy consideration in any way (with the exception of Michael Chiklis winning in 2002), and I've heard that part of the reason for that is the stigma of these shows being darker and highlighting anti-heroes (a prejudice that doesn't seem to apply to shows/movies that popularize the Mafia). I'm hoping that in light of the Emmy win for Breaking Bad, some of these darker shows and their principals start getting more serious consideration. Specifically, the storytelling on Sons of Anarchy and the work done by Katey Sagal have been fantastic this season. In fact they've been fantastic for a while now and it seems to go unnoticed by those who make these decisions. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on Breaking Bad helping to break a glass ceiling for this type of show? — Chip
Matt Roush: It really depends on the show and if it's able to get on the Emmy radar. Darkness isn't always the issue. Some series simply fail to get noticed, no matter the critical hosannas, and it will be to the Emmys' eternal shame that it failed to recognize The Wire during its run — not so much because of its darkness but perhaps because of its denseness and grim quasi-documentary tone. It's hard to fathom why some shows break through and others don't (like FX's The Americans, most recently). Sons may just not be to Emmy voters' taste, although it should be hard to ignore its success. I'm more annoyed at how the voters appear to have turned their backs on Justified. But back to your question, it's not as if Breaking Bad is the first of its kind to be honored. The Sopranos was embraced wholly by the industry — and it always astounds me that in these conversations, NYPD Blue and its unforgettably self-destructive and sorrowful protagonist, Dennis Franz's Andy Sipowicz, rarely come up, as if somehow HBO had invented the modern "quality" drama. So while it's possible that Breaking Bad will open the door for other cutting-edge shows to get recognized, I don't really see it as an issue. Mad Men's characters are plenty flawed, same for Homeland, House of Cards and even Game of Thrones for that matter. I still hope there's room in the category for less violent works like the unfairly shut-out The Good Wife and Downton Abbey. I know I'll be rooting next year for Masters of Sex to make the cut, which refreshingly hasn't had a single murder occur to date.
Question: I am loving The Originals but do miss the Mikaelson clan on The Vampire Diaries. Any potential for a future crossover episode as it's been done with Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice? — Jess
Matt Roush: They both still exist in the same fictional universe, so there will always be crossover potential, especially if The CW sees a need to boost one or the others' ratings (most likely during a sweeps period). But right now both shows are trying to stake out (so to speak) their own ground and exist separately, so I wouldn't be surprised if they decide to wait a bit until the storylines merit such a stunt.
Question: I remember the CBS executives saying that they now see Friday nights as a viewers and not a demo night. Given that and assuming the shows' performances remain consistent (high viewers but low-to-average demo) throughout the season, does the Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods combo have a fairly strong shot for renewal? — Clarlee
Matt Roush: Yes. ABC has the night's breakout hit in Shark Tank, but CBS just put out a release crowing about the year-to-year growth for both of its Friday dramas, so you can count on them not to screw with this lineup anytime soon.
Question: I, along with pretty much everyone else, predicted the demise of Lucky 7, so I'm not surprised it was canceled. But if ABC has already created, let's say, seven or eight episodes of the show, why not just air them and then take the show off the air, instead of running reruns? I love Scandal, but is it really that much more profitable to run reruns that anyone can watch online whenever they want? — Laura
Matt Roush: I'm not sure how many episodes were in the can when Lucky 7 was pulled, but keeping it around would have been a case of throwing good money after bad, and ABC has its affiliates (and their local news lead-in) to think about. As it turns out, double-pumping Scandal didn't work either, which is why episodes of the infinitely more repeatedly Shark Tank will take its place starting this Tuesday. Still, it's just a band-aid for a poor programming decision. (Body of Proof should have been renewed as a back-up.)
Question: Although I am excited by the announcement that the last six episodes of Nikita begins Nov. 22, why has this quality show been forsaken by the public? This show has had good writing, acting and action, yet it has garnered low ratings and little regard. I think you are my last best hope for a cogent explanation. — Walter
Matt Roush: Is this cogent enough? It was too good for The CW. Poorly scheduled (especially once it was dumped onto Fridays) and indifferently promoted, but also out of sync with the relentlessly immature and insipid programming that airs through most of the network's schedule, Nikita returns with its final episodes thrown into the maw of the holiday season, where its series finale will air between Christmas and New Year's. Way to go, CW.
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