Ask Matt: Breaking Bad, Remakes, Work of Art, Fall Preview, Doctor Who, More
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Question: I've seen a lot of debate in the last week since Breaking Bad aired its midpoint finale of this terrific split final season. Much of it focusing on whether Walter White would be obtuse enough to leave Gale's signed copy of Leaves of Grass lying around for anyone to see — not to mention his own brother-in-law from the DEA, Hank. Did that work for you as a cliffhanger, given how much time is going to pass before we finally get to see the end of the story next summer? I for one can't wait! — Victor
Matt Roush: Even just from the discussions in our office afterward, I sense fans were expecting something to go down that would have the visceral impact of the train-heist episode (this summer's high point for me) and the subsequent killing of Mike (a close second). I was very much on edge throughout the finale, and was rewarded with great moments like Walt and Jesse's trip down memory lane (with so much sinister context regarding the state of their current relationship), Skyler revealing the money stash, Walt declaring "I'm out" of the game — Will they let him? Is his health behind this? — and then the final twist. Funny how moments of peace like the family gathering on this show tend to get me the most agitated, because I know they won't last. And yes, I gasped when I realized that Hank was about to connect the lethal dots regarding Walt-as-Heisenberg. To your specific question: It's sometimes worth remembering that while Walt is "Scarface" in his own mind, he's still sometimes an amateur criminal. But more to the point, it's perhaps more a reflection of his arrogance than his incompetence that he would not have disposed of that book, a gift that appeals to his ego. Was it an awfully convenient device to take the story to the next level? Maybe, but it worked for me. On a pure fan level, I wish AMC had just delivered the full final season in one blow instead of splitting it over two summers. But the strategy is paying off in the ratings (as it did for The Closer earlier this summer, which took much the same approach in milking its final season), so as long as we get a suitable payoff, I'll live with it.
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Question: I read the question and your answer in last week's Q&A about the U.S. remake of The Inbetweeners (and Skins) and wondered why the U.S. networks remake successful British shows instead of just securing the rights to air those shows in the U.S.? Shows like Downton Abbey and Sherlock show that U.S. audiences will watch British shows. — Suzanne
Matt Roush: There already are outlets for many of these shows to be seen on American TV: PBS, BBC America, assorted other cable outlets. Broadcast networks, and in this case MTV, seem to feel that the "foreign" nature of the original versions (read: an aversion to accents) would be a turnoff to reaching the mass audience they're aiming for. Also in most instances, the U.S. networks tend to want to make more episodes per season than is the British or European norm, so "making it their own" is a business as well as creative strategy. At least we can rest assured that no one's likely to try to Americanize Downton Abbey — although my memory goes back to the days when CBS tried to rip off the beloved Upstairs Downstairs in the '70s with the Boston-based Beacon Hill, which didn't even last a full season.
Question: Reading about Syfy's Face Off in your last Q & A reminded me of another artistic reality show I loved. Bravo's Work of Art: The Next Great Artist has had two amazing seasons. As an artist myself, I do enjoy Face Off, but Bravo's show I found much more inspiring, creative and fascinating. A couple of months ago, I visited Bravo's site and found no plans for a third season. I would hate to see this show not return. Do you have any news? — Chris
Matt Roush: Only that Work of Art turned out to be, dare I say, too good for Bravo (or possibly too niche for a channel that's now almost single-handedly devoted to cloning its Housewives brand of upscale junk). It won't be back on Bravo, but there have been reports that the producers were shopping this around elsewhere; Ovation would be a good home, given that its cultural mission reflects what Bravo used to strive for, but can they afford it? I'd love to see it return somewhere. But for now, I'm just glad Face Off is a significant hit for Syfy.
Question: Every year I very much look forward to your thoughts on the new shows premiering in the fall. I am retired and have the time to watch a lot of TV, but I can't watch everything. Your opinions help me choose what to watch and what to pass on. When will this information be coming out, or have I missed it? — (A loyal fan) Barbara
Matt Roush: You haven't missed it. Thanks first for your loyalty, but also for giving me the opportunity to plug the annual Fall Preview issue, which will be on stands and in subscribers' homes this week. I wish I could say the networks had really stepped up this fall, but there are a handful of shows I'm excited about and hope live up to their promise and get long runs. My first impressions of the new shows will run in this issue, with more in-depth reviews posting online pegged to their premieres, and for those that make it, for better or worse, I'll be covering them in the weeks to come.
Question: I have been reading and following you for years, long before there was an Internet. I appreciate your insight and commitment to television. I have a question: There is a lot of buzz about new shows either being really good or likely to get the ax, and yet I have heard nothing about Partners. Does this mean the show is mediocre? Is it because it is on CBS, which doesn't tend to generate much buzz for its sitcoms? What is your take? — Brian
Matt Roush: It's not quite true that CBS never generates buzz with its sitcoms, given the instant breakthrough of 2 Broke Girls last season (great pilot, shaky first season, but the two leads are the real deal). And while The Big Bang Theory was a sleeper at the start, it's now one of the most justifiably popular comedies on TV. Which is a way of dancing around the fact that Partners may not be generating buzz for a couple of reasons. One: Of sitcoms with gay themes and characters, NBC's The New Normal is much buzzier and fresher, if far from perfect. (Look for my initial review in my Monday roundup.) Partners, which premieres in two weeks, is a bit of a dud by comparison, feeling awfully retro and stale as it tries to mine humor from the not-so-novel situation of a straight-gay buddy friendship. The main reason to watch is for Michael Urie's delightful performance as the gay half of the equation, though he doesn't have much chemistry with David Krumholtz (think Will & Grace if Will was dull and straight and Grace was a gay man — which wasn't far from the truth) or with Brandon Routh, who seems terribly miscast as Urie's guileless but bland boyfriend. At first glance, this uninspired show seems an awful disappointment. But hammocked between hits on CBS' Monday lineup, it will very likely get a fair amount of time to improve. Or not.
Question: I saw the sneak preview for Go On and think it will be one I'll continue to watch. What are your thoughts? Will Matthew Perry finally get a show that people watch and love? — KL
Matt Roush: We may know the answer to this as early as Tuesday night, when the second episode of Go On airs (9/8c), paired with a second episode of The New Normal, which is now airing its pilot episode tonight (10/9c) to take advantage of the two-hour premiere of The Voice. NBC gave Go On a huge platform with the sneak peek during the Olympics, and we'll see if it pays off this week. My initial take on Go On can be found here, but can be summed up simply: Terrific cast, risky premise. Do we want to see Perry playing another more miserable version of Chandler, and will the misfits in his support group be distinctive enough to grow on us? I'll be surprised if it doesn't do pretty well this week, but soon there will be new episodes of comedies airing against it on Fox and ABC, so as usual for NBC newbies, it has its work cut out for it.
Question: Looking forward to your comments about the new fall season. Meanwhile, I just finished watching NY Med, which I enjoyed as much as the previous hospital reality series (Hopkins, Boston Med). Despite my squeamishness about the actual medical stuff, the people — patients as well as doctors — and the cases are fascinating, sometimes funny, and often very emotional. This series gets to me much more than the contrived plots on some of the scripted medical shows. Anyway, I was wondering if you knew if there were more of these planned. — Lenore
Matt Roush: I'd be very surprised if there weren't more of these to come, but you might have to wait a bit. ABC News has aired these first-rate limited docu-series every other summer starting in 2008, suggesting that they can't just be cranked out, which is probably a good thing. I haven't seen any news yet that these producers have their sights set on another urban hospital, but given that NY Med was a success, critically and otherwise (and I'm still getting mail about it just about every week), I'm betting there are doctors and nurses out there already preparing for their close-up.
Question: My family found this season's Doctor Who premiere "eggs, eggs, eggs-cellent" and thoroughly enjoyed the dinos this week. Do you have any scoop that you can share pertaining to the exit of the Ponds? Should we start stocking up on Kleenex now? — LuAnn
Matt Roush: If you have to ask that question, you already know the answer. From all accounts, the farewell of the Ponds later this month is going to be very emotional. How can it not be? I'll leave it at that, because this is absolutely the sort of show I don't want to spoil for myself or others. Suffice it to say that I even got choked up this week when Amy and the Doctor had that discussion, amid all the whimsical chaos of the dinosaurs and missiles and cranky robots, about whether he's weaning himself from the Ponds. When he said "You'll be there till the end of me," and she piped up, "Or vice versa," I was reading so much into their significant eye contact. I don't think I've ever been this distressed anticipating the transition of the Doctor's "companions."
Question: Why do the Emmys include the guest-acting awards in the technical Creative Arts ceremony and then (sometimes) trot out the winners for a hand at the "real" ceremony? Those winners are just as interesting (if not more) to me than most of the other awardees. — Jen D
Matt Roush: One of the main problems with the Emmys as a TV show is the sheer volume of awards that must be handed out — and placating the various guilds regarding who gets airtime on the main broadcast is no easy task. To fit in the guest actors (always keeping in mind you're dealing with separate drama and comedy categories) would mean four more wins, four more speeches, and potentially less time for those who write and direct these shows — which may not mean as much to you, but trust me, it does to the industry. I've found it a fair compromise that the winners generally get to be presenters during the network telecast, but I wouldn't object if the producers did a better job of reminding us who and what these scene-stealing nominees and winners did to get noticed in the first place.
Question: I love your Ask Matt column. In your Sept. 4 column covering Covert Affairs news, you stated last week's and this week's episodes "are especially pivotal and dramatic, and especially strong showcases for Piper Perabo, Richard Coyle as her spy target/love interest Simon and the essential [Christopher] Gorham as the ever-loyal Auggie." I was briefly familiar with Richard Coyle prior to his turn as master spy Simon. I now am obsessed with the actor, and the fans are blowing up the boards raving over Coyle's credibility and chemistry with Piper. What is the likelihood he will return in future episodes as a recurring character? — Denise
Matt Roush: [Retroactive Spoiler Alert for those who haven't seen last week's episode]: It's pretty clear from the shocking way things ended last week that Simon isn't going to be romancing Annie any longer. This question obviously came in before said plot twist occurred, but I decided to go ahead and address it, because it's at moments like these I often get letters bemoaning the writing-out of a favorite character. And with no disrespect to the actor's fans— I thought he was a very appealing foil/lover for Annie this season as well — I respect Covert Affairs for raising the dramatic stakes this season with some unexpected but dramatically earned deaths. The fallout this Tuesday night is very much worth watching as well.
Question: I watched the whole season of The Newsroom, and the first of my two major problems with it are that the writing too closely mimics The West Wing. It can be distracting to a certain degree. Early on, I spent too much time figuring out who each character was supposed to be (Sloan is CJ, right, or is it Mac?). Second, it fails at the premise that they are supposed to be doing fact-based unbiased journalism, but there is only one side being portrayed. Aaron Sorkin should have never set up the show as unbiased and then throw on top of it that Will is supposed to be a Republican. Where was the scene that set up what he believed in? It was never put on air. I can totally believe he is at odds with a section of his party, but there should have been at least some time spent on the fact that his beliefs must differ from Democrats. It seems to be he is a Republican just so Sorkin can use that fact to say he is representing both sides. I really liked West Wing and absolutely loved Sports Night, so I wanted to like this show. I don't know that I'll be a returning viewer. I would definitely watch if Maggie was thrown off a cliff (badly written character and an actress not good enough to save it). Tell me your thoughts. — Brian L
Matt Roush: First: an Aaron Sorkin show has an undeniably distinctive sound and rhythm to it, and while it can be distracting to hear echoes of past shows and characters, many probably find that a comfort, because of the unmistakable passion he brings to what he does. Second: There's no question this series, or at least this season, had an obvious agenda, and it was to decry repeatedly the impact and effect of the Tea Party on the political process and (more important) national discourse, which Sorkin depicts with despair from both the Democratic and (traditional) Republican point of view. The fact that Will is an old-school Republican — presumably for fiscal rather than social reasons — is meant to be a response to the old media-bias argument regarding conservative issues, but the way the arguments were framed left little doubt as to where the show's auteur felt about these issues. Preaching to the choir? As a less fictional news entity is known to say: You decide. And finally: I've seen Alison Pill (Maggie) hit it out of the park many times, on stage and film, and can attest she's much better than the material she's been given here.
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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