Nickolaj Coster-Waldau Nickolaj Coster-Waldau

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Question: I was wondering if you've seen the new Game of Thrones trailer that aired before Boardwalk Empire. It looks like HBO is putting a lot of promotion into the series, but I'm wondering if TV audiences will give a fantasy show, even on HBO, a chance. The series isn't fantasy in the Lord of the Rings style of high magic, magical races and so on, so I'm hopeful that many people who are turned off by classic fantasy tropes may give it a try. It seems like many people dismiss fantasy as a genre out of hand, which puzzles me, because isn't True Blood a fantasy series? Vampires, werewolves and fairies aren't exactly reality. Game of Thrones is a character-driven series with captivating characters, compelling story arcs with many twists and turns, and some fantastic acting talent including Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and more. Do you think audiences will give it a chance? — Rob

Matt Roush: If the series is anywhere near as good as the books, I hope and trust the HBO faithful will check this out. Game of Thrones (and here I'm only talking about the source material, having seen nothing but the alluring trailers at this point) is no more a typical fantasy epic than Deadwood was a standard Western or Rome an everyday costume drama — or Sopranos, to bring up another story of families under siege, a clichéd mob drama. Even True Blood veers from many of the usual vampire cliches with its sexy Southern Gothic excesses and anything-goes supernatural framework. The HBO audience has been conditioned to expect something different, something more, in the channel's various detours into classic genres, and I would doubt that a predisposition against fantasy would keep them from at least sampling it. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises appeal to all kinds of people, and if executed properly, this very adult saga should do the same. I know I can't wait to see it.

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Question:
I know you were among the chorus of critics praising Boardwalk Empire when it premiered. How do you feel about it now that the season is winding up? I tuned in because of the people involved and I have stuck with it all season. The production design and the photography are excellent, the cast is talented, but mostly I've found it tedious. Even the graphic sex and violence got tiresome, not startling or shocking. I just don't feel there's any reason to care about what's going on or about the characters. I guess I'm pretty much in the minority, and this show is probably going to clean up at the Emmys next year.  But I doubt I'll be interested in the second season. I would like to know your thoughts. — Miles

Matt Roush: All season, I've found Boardwalk Empire to be mostly fascinating and compelling, a very rich and tangled drama, one of the few new fall shows (besides FX's Terriers) where I looked forward to devouring the next chapter. But I get why anyone might feel emotionally detached from it. Like many HBO dramas, this is not always seen to its best advantage in weekly hour increments. When you can sit down to watch three or four in a row (whether On Demand or, in a critic's case, when a new batch of screeners arrives), it can be a very immersive if at times peculiar experience. But I'd be lying if I said the show haunts me in between viewings. There is a cumulative power to the story, but the period atmosphere, while spectacular, might also keep some viewers at a remove.

Besides the character of Margaret Schroeder, who as played by Kelly Macdonald became to me the heart and soul of the series, and to a smaller but no less vivid degree the young Al Capone (well and naturally played by Stephen Graham), many of the other major players are so eccentric and mannered they themselves feel a bit detached. The power-wielding yet constantly frustrated Nucky, his intensely warped and rigid nemesis Agent Van Alden, the sulking and tormented Jimmy Darmody, the coolly lethal Arnold Rothstein, the ruthless and calculating black underground leader Chalky White, even the pouty sexpot Lucy: I'm glad I've kept their company, but I can't say I always felt I really knew many of them, even after a full season. (Although the finale did give Nucky and Jimmy a chance to open up to good effect.) When the show premiered, because of its organized-crime element, many may have expected the second coming of The Sopranos, but this lacks that show's grounding in a realistic milieu. This is much more heightened, and I think of Boardwalk more as a successor to Deadwood and Rome or even Carnivale, in the way it spins peculiar and baroque twists on a period genre. I wouldn't expect everyone to love it, but I've never seen anything quite like it. And that counts for something, especially in a fall season this drab. Given the way they left this season, I'm eagerly awaiting a second helping.

Question: In reference to the recent passing of Stephen J. Cannell, who do you think should be the newest member of the writers-only poker game on Castle? My vote? Stephen King, of whom I am a HUGE fan, with Dean Koontz coming in a close second. With Castle and his Nikki Heat books, King and/or Koontz (BOTH!! Eeek!) would be perfect fits for the group! — Shelley

Matt Roush: I forwarded the gist of this question to ABC, and executive producer Andrew Marlowe responds: "We do plan to have another poker game after an appropriate amount of time has passed. We are aiming toward the end of season. No word yet on who else will be joining us. Would love to hear the fans' suggestions." So consider yourself heard. Personally, I'd like to see some action at the table from some of the great female crime writers: Laura Lippman, maybe, or Patricia Cornwell. But whenever they bring back the poker game, I'm sure they'll pay due respect to the empty seat once held by one of TV's great crime-drama visionaries. On another Castle note: To the person who asked if the 12th precinct is a nod to Barney Miller (sorry, I lost the original question), the answer is yes.

Question: I've found myself enjoying Raising Hope recently. However, when I initially read a description about a comedy about a slacker raising his baby with his wacky family after the mother, a serial killer, is put to death, my thought was "What were they thinking?" But I've really been enjoying the show. Are there any shows that you thought you would never like after reading the descriptions only to find the opposite? — Abby

Matt Roush: Too many to name, I'm sure. Which is why you should never judge a show by its premise. Until you get a sense of the show itself — the cast and the chemistry of its various characters, how the tone is established through writing and production — you never know if the show will transcend genre or just be more of the same. Can't tell you how often people (and not just in our office) roll their eyes when they hear about shows in development, from pilot season through the upfronts, because so few things sound original or truly promising on paper. You'd never guess from hearing the simple description of a show about people who crash-land on a mysterious island how the Lost pilot would rock our world. Or how visceral and exciting a real-time spy thriller could look and feel until you got a taste of 24. Or take a sitcom about two science geeks and the blonde across the hall. Until you met Sheldon, Penny and Leonard, how would you know how special The Big Bang Theory could be? The list goes on. With Raising Hope, the premise was just a pretext to get to a show about a kid raising a baby who himself was raised by kids too young to have a baby. It's as relatable as it is outrageous, but you'd never have guessed that from just hearing the pitch. The hope of being surprised is what keeps many of us going.

Question: My husband and I love Dexter, but why must Debra use such a foul mouth? To our way of thinking, when you have to use the "F"-word constantly both on TV and in the movies, it means that the program isn't good enough to stand alone. But this program is good enough. Hopefully when the program resumes next year, the writers can find another way of Debra expressing herself. — Judy

Matt Roush: I wouldn't count on it. Have you met Debra? She's been this way from the start. In last night's episode, Quinn even notes that he admires her because she's "more like a guy. You don't play games. ... You just say it, and usually with a lot of really filthy words that I've never heard before." It's in her DNA to talk this tough, a defense mechanism from growing up around cops and fighting her way into the detective squad. I agree with you that it gets tiresome and is no longer fresh, if it ever was. But that's Debra. And she's not going to bleeping apologize for it. Or, I would imagine, change her profane stripes.

Question: Where do you stand on Dexter this year? Although John Lithgow's Trinity will probably always be the gold standard among Dexter's Big Bads, the current season is shaping up to be my favorite so far, and I never would have thought I'd have said that six or seven weeks ago. Why? One-word answer: Lumen. I was afraid the ongoing story would descend into some twisted domestic drama, and although that's kind of what it's done, I'm now good with it. Having someone with whom Dexter can share who he truly is and who accepts and doesn't judge him has provided the growth he needed to get a lot closer to being "human," even to the point that he realizes maybe Harry developed "the Code" for him when he maybe should have given it more time. He's able to tell his son and even his bratty stepdaughter he loves them and feel the feelings that go with the words.

At the same time, Deb feeling no remorse for killing the soulless monster in the nightclub as well as feeling a kinship with and approval of the theoretical escaped 13th victim/avenger is hopefully setting her up for acceptance of her brother's activities if and when she ever finds out about them. Throw in a de-emphasis of the LaGuerta/Batista storyline in recent weeks, and a sleazy ex-cop using surveillance equipment to watch as Dexter gives Lumen lessons in execution and disposal (Peter Weller may be my favorite villain this season), and the conclusion I get is that this has been Dexter's best season and is one of the best shows of the year. And it's good to know that there are some acts of depravity that even Masuka doesn't want to watch. — Mike

Matt Roush: You make some convincing points. And the last few Dexter episodes have been terrific, as often happens late in a season's run, and I'm with you on Peter Weller being a delightfully despicable villain. (SPOILER ALERT if you didn't watch last night: I'm really sorry he's gone now, but the scene in the van when Dexter and Liddy were in the death grip as Quinn approached the vehicle was Breaking Bad-level intense. The blood dripping on Quinn's shoe, yikes!) That said, this season has been just too uneven for me to rank it ahead of the year of Trinity. I enjoyed the start of the season, when Dexter was so numb he'd lost his murderer's mojo, and I loved the shock of Lumen's entrance into the story, and when she was feral, she was fascinating. Then it stalled a bit until lately, but they have ratcheted up the suspense, and Julia Stiles' shaky performance has become stronger as well. But ouch for anything that doesn't directly involve Dexter. This is a show that some weeks suffers for having to fill time with unnecessary subplots because pay-cable episodes run longer, and the central Dexter-Lumen story may not have needed 12 episodes to play out. But I have to say: Next Sunday's finale? I am so there.

Question: I know I'm behind, but I recently finished watching season 1 of Justified and I'm a little bit sorry because I LOVED it! Wonderfully complex and flawed but likable characters, intriguing story lines, and excellent acting all around: It's the best show I've seen on TV in ages. While desperately searching for some info on season 2, I discovered that it won't air again until March 2011 with 13 episodes ordered. Why so long a wait and so few episodes? Don't these long breaks between seasons make it more likely that people will forget about the show or miss it altogether? Oh, and how is it that I only just realized what an exceptionally talented actor Timothy Olyphant is? I vaguely recall seeing Hitman several years ago, but I don't remember being impressed. The scenes between Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) in particular are simply amazing. Have I been living under a rock? — Mary

Matt Roush: Isn't Justified great? Probably my fave FX show of the moment (that and Terriers, for which I'm still sending positive vibes in hopes of renewal). I don't think I started taking notice of Timothy Olyphant as a rising talent until Deadwood. If you've never seen that HBO masterpiece, get your hands on that to while away the time until the new season of Justified. As for the long break between seasons, and the limited episode order: That's the way it works on many cable shows. These networks can't typically support the 20-plus episode orders the broadcast networks give their shows — these boutique channels like FX and AMC (and the pay giants, for that matter) are more like their British brethren that way. And it becomes their challenge to relaunch the show each season, marketing it like the events they often are. (Imagine the fuss when The Walking Dead returns next October.) FX does a fairly good job of promoting each new season of its small bench of standout shows, so I think this one will be OK. I'm hoping many more people discovered the show between seasons the way you did. It's a winner, and a keeper.

Question: I think that The Defenders and Blue Bloods are the two best new shows to air this season. On The Defenders I think Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell have great chemistry together. While on Blue Bloods I believe Tom Selleck has once again proven what a really great actor he is and I hope he gets an Emmy nomination for his performance on the show. So do you think both shows will have a long successful run on CBS? — Allan

Matt Roush: CBS really knows its audience, and the network is committed to maintaining a stable lineup, so I think both shows are safe for the long haul, especially Blue Bloods, which feels like a CBS classic. I appreciate The Defenders' light touch and am especially impressed by Belushi, but that show may be more vulnerable in the long run to being moved around if CBS thinks it can take more advantage of the Criminal Minds lead-in and own that Wednesday 10/9c time period with something else. Not that I think that will happen soon (although we don't yet know when or where the Criminal Minds spin-off will land), but I wouldn't worry about each show anytime soon.

Question: I have loved your column for years — thanks for the great critiquing of our real "national pastime." I was fortunate to buy a season pass to Luther, and my gosh, it did not disappoint. I read the criticism from across the pond that it had a bit of a "deus ex machina" quality to it or that it was silly and not realistic. I get that — it's that critic's opinion. But wasn't Ruth Wilson amazing in one of the most chilling, most, dare I say, flirty roles written for a female psychopath? When she uttered "There is love in the world," I gasped. It was just amazing work from a mesmerizing actress. Is there a chance she could be nominated for an Emmy or is the award just for American television? — John

Matt Roush: Thanks for those kind words. And for the opportunity to plug Luther one last time. Yes, the show was extreme in its plotting and twists, but Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson were mesmerizing, and I can't wait to see how they continue the story next year. As for American-based awards, British actors and shows are eligible, if submitted, and since BBC America is already targeting the trades with "for your consideration" ads regarding Luther and its stars, you may just get your wish. The show may not be on many Emmy voters' radar, though, so it could be a tough sell. (The Globes, being an international group, tend to be a little more welcoming to foreign product.)

Question: I wish everyone would stop wishing for (expecting) Benson and Stabler to get together on Law & Order: SVU. Stabler is a married man with 5 children. Also, it would ruin the show. Doesn't anyone have morals any more? I would also like to comment on The Good Wife. That is another show people want to see ruined. It is called The Good Wife. I would have understood if she divorced her husband after his infidelity, but she didn't. How could she be called the good wife if she stooped to his level and had an affair? — Deb

Matt Roush: I'm with you on the SVU duo. These partners have chemistry, but also baggage. Of all the shows that "shippers" keep hounding to see the leads pair off, this is the least escapist in tone (which is not the same as being realistic) and turning it into a workplace romance probably wouldn't sit very well with me, either. Regarding The Good Wife: That title has always been meant as ironic. Alicia resists being pigeonholed by the tabloid circumstances of the life her philandering husband led her into, but she has a family to consider and a resurgent career to maintain. Her relationship with Will at work is complicated, and now that she's aware of his voice mail she never got to hear (courtesy of Eli), I am curious how she'll look at him again as a potential love interest. (A situation upended now by the fact that Will is currently involved, albeit with someone who acts like she doesn't want to get serious.) There's plenty of juice left in this Alicia-Peter-Will triangle, and the show is wise to continue milking it. I agree with you that Alicia would have a tough time justifying infidelity if she were to start seeing Will on the sly, but if she ever makes a decision to leave Peter, even though they have sort of reconciled for the time being, that wouldn't invalidate the show's premise or integrity.

Question: Is it too early to ask what the buzz is on the upcoming FX show Lights Out? Since it's an FX drama, it has to be worth watching, right? — Will

Matt Roush: A dark drama set in the world of boxing seems like a natural for the rough-and-tumble world of FX, doesn't it? And so it is, because as usual, the network isn't taking the easy (i.e., Rocky lite) approach. I've only seen the pilot episode, and it's not easy to watch, though it's (typically for FX) very well done. It may be a challenge to attract a large enough audience to keep the lights on for this downbeat story about a broken-down ex-boxer who's having a rough time economically, psychologically, morally and physically. But Holt McCallany is forcefully impressive in the lead role, and I imagine Lights Out will have plenty of champions in the media. A risky show for a risk-taking network, and I hope people will give it a chance.

That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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