Ask Matt: The Glee Project, Southland, Spartacus, Americans, Hannibal, Banshee
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I was heartbroken to learn that there probably won't be a new season of The Glee Project this summer. Over the last two seasons, it has quickly become my absolute favorite guilty pleasure, and I've loved seeing last season's winner Blake Jenner (Ryder Lynn) become a star on Glee. I've heard the reason behind The Glee Project not filming this year is because Glee has not been renewed yet for Season 5! Should I be worried at this point? Do you think Glee will be really be canceled? — Amy
Matt Roush: I seriously doubt Glee is in any danger of flipping its final graduation tassel. Some renewal deals take longer than others, and given that this show more than most is in a constant state of reinvention, I'm not surprised they're still working things out. This is pure speculation on my part, but regarding putting The Glee Project on hold — and yes, I'm disappointed, too — I wonder if that isn't partially a result of the show's creative team still figuring out where the fifth season is headed and what their needs may be. (Doing a casting search for another New Directions club member may not be a particularly high priority, just saying.)
Question: Have you ever seen a show rise and fall as quickly as Glee? For the first couple of seasons, Glee seemed to be the biggest, buzziest show on the air. Two comedy series wins at the Golden Globes. Tons of Emmy nominations, including wins for Jane Lynch and Ryan Murphy. A big-screen concert movie. Record soundtrack sales. Now, as season four comes to an end, I can't help but feel that the show is a thing of the past. In a little under four years, Glee went from the biggest thing on TV to a forgotten gem. What happened? — Marcus
Matt Roush: It might require writing an entire book on the subject to answer this question satisfactorily. It's no doubt a combination of factors, but to simplify matters, what happened to Glee is: TV happened. The show exploded on the scene, burning so bright a fadeout was inevitable, but was likely accelerated by the exponentially fragmented nature of the modern TV universe and the fickle demographic that is Glee's primary target. Add in the reality that the show even at its best is uneven and polarizing, with growing pains exaggerated by Internet and Twitter snark. And then Glee took the rather bold and risky move of graduating many of its most popular core characters and folding what could have been a New York spin-off into the main show, again dividing the audience. I'm still encouraged and sometimes impressed by Glee's ambition, most recently in last week's unusually intense, emotional and timely "Shooting Stars" episode. Finally, while you may be overstating how big Glee was at its height, you may also be overemphasizing how far it has fallen. If my mailbag this season is any indication, the show is still striking a chord and making noise, just not on the scale it used to. But honestly, when even American Idol has come down to earth, this is hardly a surprise.
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Question: Was last week's "Chaos" episode of Southland the best hour of television that you have seen lately? It truly was unbelievable. — Joseph
Matt Roush: Fire up the accolades: unforgettable, grueling and absolutely riveting to boot. This was a high-water mark for TNT's underappreciated cop drama, whose fifth season has been quite remarkable. I didn't think the show could top the recent episodes featuring Gerald McRaney as Officer Cooper's unhappily retired, suicidal mentor. Those scenes were as emotionally harrowing as anything you'd ever expect to find on TV, but nothing could have prepared us for the ordeal last week facing Cooper (the superb Michael Cudlitz) and his partner Lucero (Anthony Ruivivar) when the tables turned during what should have been a routine roust of two unhinged tweakers, leaving the cops stripped of their uniforms, weapons and dignity as their hair-trigger captors tormented and threatened them in a scenario of increasingly horrific and ultimately murderous intensity. There was no way not to be shaken by that episode, written by Zack Whedon and directed masterfully by executive producer Christopher Chulack.
Question: I just finished watching the latest unbelievably wrenching episode of Southland — it almost made me physically ill, it was so real — and I was surprised at the lack of publicity, which does not bode well for the show, and yet I am prepared. If they have to go, they're going out with no holds barred and with excellence. I have been a fan of Michael Cudlitz ever since Band Of Brothers — what a phenomenal actor. I sure wish someone would notice him and give him an Emmy. The entire cast is superb, and the writing and production the same. I will enjoy this week's season finale (Wednesday, 10/9c) and hope it is not the last, but if it is, kudos and thanks to all (including TNT) who have brought this gem to us.
By the way, thank you for featuring Top of the Lake in your last column. Strictly on your recommendation, I watched all the episodes to date in one weekend and really loved it. Please keep writing so that we can keep up with these great shows — they are hard to find sometimes! — Susan
Matt Roush: That's our mission, to put shows like these on the radar so they don't get lost in TV's increasingly overwhelming clutter. Let me just say that Monday's two-hour finale of Top of the Lake is an emotional whopper, and Elisabeth Moss again rises to the occasion with a performance that never once reminds you of her equally impressive work in Mad Men. Regarding Southland's fate: Totally agree about Cudlitz deserving special attention for this final season (and last week's performance, which on a higher-profile or showier series would be sure-fire Emmy bait). McRaney should get a guest Emmy nomination, and this has been a solid year for Regina King, Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy as well. And while I wish TNT had done more to promote the series — not to mention last week's standout episode — I'm so grateful that Southland got a second chance to continue for however long a duration on cable after being dumped by NBC. In that regard, it ranks second only to Friday Night Lights in terms of well-deserved resurrections on cable/satellite.
Question: Spartacus on Starz was a show that first started out as a guilty pleasure on a Friday night: all the blood, sex and action any person could ever want or need. Then it started to change and gain real substance and tackled issues of power, identity, self-determination and civil rights in sometimes ludicrous but moving moments. Now that the show is over, what do you think its ultimate legacy will be? — Geoff
Matt Roush: I often jokingly referred to this series as Spurt-acus because of its blood-in-your-eye approach to extreme gore (among spillings of other bodily fluids). At first Spartacus seemed like little more than a lurid knockoff of the movie 300, but as the first season progressed, and certainly beyond, there was actual meat on these flayed bones: cunningly twisty plotting; unexpectedly strong characterizations of the gladiators and their masters; compelling love stories of all sorts — who would have guessed that the two male lovers would be the survivors of this epic conflict? — and a thrillingly passionate overarcing story in the slave army's crusade for freedom. (What a letdown for the series finale to be followed by the inane shenanigans of the new Da Vinci's Demons. Although who knows, maybe that will improve as well.) Spartacus as a series put Starz on the map, and having just finished the book on which the channel's upcoming historical drama The White Queen is based, I know I'm looking forward to that. Final Spartacus note: How moving was it to see that image of the late Andy Whitfield at the end of those magnificent final credits?
Question: What happened to The Americans? I loved this show, but now I'm hanging on by a thin thread. The last three to four episodes were crazy! And I don't mean "crazy good." I thought I'd be going back and forth on whom to root for, the Americans (FBI) or the Russians. But no, it's a slam-dunk, I root for the KGB every time! How can you root for such stupid FBI agents?! I already had a tough time with Stan, but really? He has no personality whatsoever! No girl would want to be with him! And he has two? Pretty girls at that! And why, why is he cheating on his wife? She is not a nagging bitch, she's very supportive and loving! At least be somewhat of a man and let your wife go! And now they've made Stan a cold-blooded murderer! And it seems all the agents are just fine with that? Oh, and his poor partner was killed, and they do all the memory flashbacks as if they were BFFs? Stan just got there! They just met recently! These flashbacks primarily consist of his partner degrading women. Am I supposed to care that he died? I didn't! If they wanted us to hate Stan, they're doing a great job! I cringe every time he's on the screen, which seems to be way too much now. Kill him already! And would they just get Philip and Elizabeth back together? Do you know if they changed the writers? For my daughter and me this show went from a 10 to barely a 4 in just a few weeks. — Connie
Matt Roush: I agree with maybe one point in your rant: that The Americans doesn't make its characters easy to love. Why should it? This is an FX series, on a network known for pushing the limits of anti-heroics (from The Shield onward). Otherwise, it's like we're watching two entirely different shows. This is not a blue-sky USA Network-style caper series. It's a dark, uncompromising and complicated (emotionally and otherwise) study of people on both sides of the Cold War, damaged by living lives built on a foundation of deception. The troubles in Philip and Elizabeth's marriage-in-name-only are epic, not the sort to be tidily reconciled in even a single season. And you are not giving near enough credit to Noah Emmerich's subtle but soulful work as Stan, a flawed hero whose dedication to work and country has soured his marriage. And while he may not be leading-man handsome, Emmerich is doing a fine job of conveying Stan's unhappiness and ambivalence as he reluctantly succumbs to the darkest impulses the spy game. There's an authority and gravity to his demeanor, and an innate decency (up to a point), that might explain why someone would have fallen for him. (The power of his position is the main reason his mole within the KGB, Nina, is sleeping with him.) It's a fair criticism that we didn't know Stan's partner well enough to truly mourn him, but the circumstances of his death were shocking and dramatic, and it's hardly a stretch that the agency would be rocked by it. And while the FBI has made its share of errors, it's nowhere near as ridiculous as on The Following, and the KGB is just as culpable in screwing things up and letting things get out of hand. Philip and Elizabeth are always beating themselves up, when they're not getting beaten.
My only real bone to pick with The Americans, which I consider one of the midseason's few standout series: Given how sexually adventurous he has been getting with Martha, his unwitting and smitten FBI mole, how in the world does Philip keep his wig on during their trysts?
Question: The length for episodes of FX's The Americans varies from 60 to 65 minutes. I've never seen this before in a broadcast or basic-cable show. Does FX assume that all or even most of their viewers have TiVo-like devices that will record each episode in its entirety without knowing exactly when it will end? Or do they assume that their viewers will check — every week — some online TV schedule to determine how long that week's episode will be? Why is FX making this hard for the viewers of this good show? — Howard
Matt Roush: One of the reasons networks like FX and AMC are seen as writers' heaven is because they give the producers unusual leeway in telling their stories, and if it means going beyond an hour some weeks, they tend to comply — The Americans is hardly alone in this, although recently there was an infamous glitch when the network provided faulty information to the DVR guides, cutting off the last few minutes of a particularly pivotal episode for those who recorded it. I can see how this lack of consistency would be a challenge for those still recording the old-fashioned way (on VCRs or without on-screen program guides), but sometimes if you love TV, you have to do your homework.
Question: I watched the first episode of Hannibal and was really intrigued by Hugh Dancy'scharacter. As for Hannibal Lecter, though, he didn't do much for me. His outfits (especially the ties) made me wonder if this takes place in the '70s, and his accent was difficult for me to understand. What are your thoughts? I'll give it another week or two, though, to see how it evolves.
My second question is about Banshee on Cinemax. I just caught up on the entire season On Demand and really liked it. Did you watch? Two questions [and spoiler alerts!]: Did they really kill off the mayor? He didn't have much of a plot, but he was pretty. And is it just me, or was there a creepy sexual undertone at the end between Kai and his niece Rebecca? Because...ew. — Don
Matt Roush: I am fascinated by the fact that Hannibal's breakout character is actually Will Graham (the terrific Dancy), with mad Dr. Lecter used more as a ghoulish and exotic accent. Speaking of accents, I wrote in my initial review that Mads Mikkelsen, while intriguing, was often unintelligible. I've seen five episodes and almost always found myself wishing his scenes came with subtitles, but it doesn't impede my enjoyment of this weirdly hypnotic show. Kudos as well to Laurence Fishburne as Graham's boss, whose character takes on new shades of interest when his wife (played by real-life spouse Gina Torres) becomes an integral part of the story. As for Hannibal's look and demeanor, it's meant to be strange and "other," and I like the new twists on an iconic character (although you can't beat what Anthony Hopkins did with the role).
Regarding Banshee: Yes, I watched. Yes, I was hooked. It's probably my favorite of Cinemax's graphic pulp fictions. Yes, we're meant to think the mayor died in that final explosion. In the big picture, he was rather expendable, but it was still a surprise. And absolutely yes, the intention is to creep us out with the unusually close and seemingly sensual bond between Kai and Rebecca. Ew, indeed.
Question: What has happened to Person of Interest? It now has so many stories going on in one episode, along with flashbacks, I can barely understand what is going on. This is a shame. I used to love this program. — Annie
Matt Roush: Makes me love it more. Next to The Good Wife, POI is hands-down my favorite CBS drama, precisely because it immerses us in a complex and murky world of corruption and deceptions indicated in the initial premise that Reese and Finch are rarely sure when they start following the numbers whether their target is a good or bad guy. Their own cloudy pasts inform their present-day missions, and while I also don't always understand what's going on (especially when they start talking about "The Machine"), I don't mind. It's a show about intrigue that forces you to pay attention. I don't see the problem. Unless you're only in it for the escapism, in which case CBS has plenty of hours of more relaxing programming to fill that need.
Question: I know that there are only so many episodes of a show produced each season, but am I the only one who sees (for example) that NCIS and NCIS: LA are reruns, so I will watch Splash and then I just never get back to CBS for Golden Boy. Just putting one new show on that I wanted to watch behind two reruns has caused me to not watch TV that night, never turned it on. And the new show, I go to their website and watch it at my leisure. Don't the networks realize that if I lose interest in a show by two weeks of reruns or being replaced by a special that I find something new to watch? And they wonder why their ratings are down. BTW: NCIS: Red? DOA, unless serious reworking is done. Also it may be due to the proliferation of the same type of shows, but putting Golden Boy opposite Body of Proof as an example seems like a good way to kill both of them. What were Ringer and Reaper opposite? Is this what happened to them, bad placement? — Steve
Matt Roush: First off, let's establish that there's never a good excuse for watching Splash. Even reruns are preferable. But to your real gripe: It's a challenge in scheduling midseason shows to give them a proper launch at the same time the networks are resting some of their tent-pole franchises so there will be new episodes to air in May. Generally, a new series will premiere alongside new episodes of old favorites to ensure the best possible tune-in, in the best case for at least the first few episodes, and that's what happened with Golden Boy, but there will be weeks when they'll need to be self-starters in a sea of repeats. There's not much the networks can do about that, even CBS, which has the best track record for scheduling new shows amid hits. The real problem is that almost nothing can hold the gigantic NCIS combo's lead-in at 10/9c, in part because the audience is either turning off the TV or playing back programming from earlier in the night (or possibly migrating to cable, which picks up steam later in the evening). And yes, the procedural glut is at such a high pitch it's almost impossible for similar shows not to air against each other. As for Ringer and Reaper: They were on The CW. On Tuesdays. It almost doesn't matter what the competition is.
Question: I love the U.S. version of Being Human, and I am thrilled it has been renewed. It has become its own show this past season by venturing off from the U.K. version. You weren't a big fan at the beginning, but I was wondering if you think changing up the story lines was a good idea and if you've now found the love for the show. — Rob
Matt Roush: Venturing away from being a carbon copy of the original series is almost always a good idea — remember how much NBC's The Office improved when it found its own voice (until it lost its core when Steve Carell left) — and those I know who've kept up with Syfy's version of Being Human seem to agree with you about this season. I was not among them, not by choice but because my plate is too full.
Question: Please tell me that the twits that run ABC Family will renew the wonderful Bunheads? If they can run shows about liars, knocked-up teens, Switched at Birth and the rest of the original programming, please tell me there is someone there who recognizes the quality of Bunheads. Great story lines, open and honest to a fault, compelling dialogue, how can this not be renewed? Given the acting talent and the dance abilities of the cast, this is far better entertainment then is found on most of the NBC lineup and half of the ABC line up. Remember back to the time shows were given chances to grow an audience: Fame, Hill Street Blues, yes, they were NBC shows, and had smarter people running the networks. But with the dreck that is being passed as quality TV these days, how can a show such as Bunheads not prevail? — Mark
Matt Roush: What do you have against Switched at Birth? I'm assuming the title puts you off, but that for me is ABC Family's finest hour. Won't argue with you about the channel's other shows — I'm hardly the target audience — but with cable outlets like this, it's not always easy to predict where the bar (no pun intended) for success or failure falls. Bunheads has a devoted and from what I can tell vocal following, and while I don't hold it in nearly as high regard as I did its creator's earlier breakthrough show Gilmore Girls, it's refreshingly different from the typical ABCF potboiler. Which is probably why it has struggled to build an audience. Fingers and toe shoes crossed.
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