Question: Are you as I stumped as I am about what makes the NCIS Red Team unique? In last week's episode of NCIS: LA, there was a moment when they were trying to tell a Mexican gunman to put his weapon down and none of them could speak Spanish. Which is odd given they are suppose to be a very mobile unit that goes anywhere, you would think they would be well versed in multiple languages. I was under the impression they were going to be NCIS' version of Seal Team Six. As for casting, the only one of the team that made an impression on me was the Aussie agent Claire Keats (Gillian Alexy). I still think Kelli Giddish would have been a better choice for the lead. Just my thoughts. — Leon
Matt Roush: I'm not sure "unique" is the point. Third-generation spin-offs rarely are. The idea in that two-parter was to establish a comfort level so NCIS and NCIS: LA fans would know that they're not rewriting the playbook (as if they would) with this team, whose main gimmick and distinguishing feature is their nomadic nature, although surely those two gigantic trailers they use as their operational HQ and living quarters means they'll never exactly be able to sneak into their next location. Where do they park those things if they don't have a convenient field or bluff to occupy? That said, the moment where the comic-relief Scott Grimes character couldn't communicate in Spanish was particularly clumsy. Kensi's exposition in part one established the Red team as being able to deploy anywhere anytime including overseas. You'd think Spanish would be a prerequisite for any and all of them. Regarding casting: Kelli Giddish wouldn't have been available even if they'd wanted her, but I agree at some point she'll headline a show of her own again. What is encouraging about this potential Red spin-off is that, unlike any of the CSI spin-offs or recastings, they've finally put a female in charge of the team (although the dynamic with the John Corbett character initially raised questions of leadership).
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Question: I had to write on behalf of Top of the Lake, the Sundance miniseries starring Elisabeth Moss. I hope viewers are finding this engrossing drama and watching it! Elisabeth Moss is absolutely breathtaking, and as someone who is not an avid Mad Men watcher, what an incredible vehicle for her to find new fans and show everyone what she's made of! This is definitely the most exciting programming I have seen in a while; I am already foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the next episode. The entire cast is remarkable, and the mood and pacing of the show is so intense and gripping, it's hard to believe an hour has gone by at the end of each episode. Bravo to the creators for casting Elisabeth Moss (thankfully, Anna Paquin was pregnant and unavailable for the part, which would have reunited her with Holly Hunter and Jane Campion from the movie The Piano). I hope Moss finds more opportunities like this to showcase her remarkable talent, I'm already mourning the end of this remarkable miniseries! — Gary
Matt Roush: While I'm not sure I'd go so far as to foam at the mouth — I'm not sure that's ever healthy — I agree that Top of the Lake is by far the best long-form TV (movie or miniseries) I've seen yet this year, and Elisabeth Moss is absolutely Emmy-worthy. Especially in light of Mad Men returning this Sunday, and seeing how far she has taken the role of Peggy Olson, this is still something of a revelation. She has some moments in this week's episode (Monday at 10/9c) that are among her most electrifying and unsettling yet. The miniseries is so spectacular visually as well, with those haunting New Zealand landscapes. It's definitely worth catching up on and following to its conclusion on April 15.
Question: In response to last week's discussion about same-sex intimacy on prime time, I agree that there's still an obvious double standard at work, both on network and cable shows (with the late Queer as Folk and The L Word being obvious exceptions). But I just wanted to note how impressed I've been with Days of Our Lives and the equal footing they've given Will and Sonny's romance. I'm sure opinions vary wildly on the actual storyline, but as far as on-screen intimacy goes, Will and Sonny have had multiple scenes featuring kisses, sex, cuddling in bed, etc. Even a gratuitous shower scene! I'd be surprised to see some of their intimate moments in prime time, let alone during the afternoon. Daytime soaps are obviously a dying breed, and while some things in Salem never change (I think Stefano DiMera will outlive us all!), I applaud Days for moving firmly into the 21st century and giving gay characters equal treatment. I also see your point about some things being left to the imagination.
On that note, FX seems to delight in pushing the envelope on The Americans! I'm loving the show and it doesn't bother me, but in recent episodes my eyebrows shot up more than once. As a Canadian, I'm not sure what the difference is between U.S. basic and premium cable show standards, but if there was previously a line in the sand, it seems like it's being washed away. — Keira
Matt Roush: I don't keep up with much daytime TV — thankfully, we have the excellent Michael Logan covering that side of things — but I'm aware of this Days storyline, and agree with the points you make. That steamy shower scene was enough to make those oversexed Grey's Anatomy docs blush. Regarding The Americans (which I'm very high on), maybe I'm just getting desensitized, but while I see where you're coming from, FX has pushed the boundaries of sexuality, language and violence so far so often that this doesn't seem all that exceptional to me. It never feels gratuitous the way it did on latter-day Nip/Tuck or on American Horror Story, but any FX drama arrives with expectations that it will be bold and uncompromising, and so far, The Americans lives up to those standards.
Question: Based on last week's episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted is truly going to meet the mother in 45 days — presumably on the season finale, giving us the final season to actually get to know the mother. I would assume that while Ted meets her at the end of the season, we don't actually see her until the season premiere (giving them more time to cast someone who has the needed chemistry with Ted and the rest of the gang and provide a bit of a cliffhanger). My question is, even with the summer to cast her, have they waited too long and, after all this time, can the mother possibly live up to the eight-year build-up? Most people think the show has gone a few years too long as it is, but would they have been better off having us meet her after, say, four seasons, and then spend the next two or three with her in the cast until the show ended (I know, the show's not called, "How I Got To Know Your Mother", but still ...)? — Scott
Matt Roush: Is there even a question that How I Met Your Mother dragged out this reveal too long? So many teases and false starts, so many red herrings, that I lost interest a while back — including with the Robin-Barney back-and-forth — and as the show spins its wheels more desperately and less amusingly, I found this season to be pretty much unbearable (not Office-level unwatchable, but close). Still, I got enough mail about last week's episode — see the next question — that I dipped my toe back in, and while the gimmicky first half reinforced my decision to steer clear, the last act with Ted confronting his loneliness and anticipating his long-awaited meeting of the mother reminded me why I once enjoyed the show. Which is a roundabout way of saying that if they cast the role smartly, and give us time to enjoy the arc of Ted falling in love and integrating the mother into the group, the final season could possibly be a comeback season, and while it definitely took too long to get there, it might not be too late for the show to redeem itself.
Question: I just watched the "Time Travelers" episode of How I Met Your Mother and I can't help but think the ending was that of a man who would do anything to see his dead wife again: "I want those 45 extra days" and "I'll love you till the end of my days and beyond." Beautiful, desperate, haunting. But are they seriously thinking of killing off the Mother before we've even met her?! And also, we learned that Marvin Waitforit Eriksen is 6' 7"! — Annie
Matt Roush: I didn't read it that way, although I'm aware there is a part of the fan base that did, and perhaps has long believed that Future Ted is narrating this entire series as something of a eulogy. For me, his moving speech was more a reflection about all of the time Ted has wasted getting to this point, and even the thought of another 45 days without her is an eternity. If it turns out that Future Ted has been a widower all this time, forget what I said in the last question about the show redeeming itself. That would be just morbid, hopeless and wrong.
Question: If Southland gets canceled by TNT, could you see FX taking a chance on the show? FX just launched a bunch of new networks and is going to need more original programming, and I think Southland would thrive on the network. After all, the show is similar to others on FX, and I think the fan base has a lot of crossover. This season has been so good, and with the cast lining up new projects, renewal looks bleak and it is making me nervous. I am grateful for every episode we get considering how much the show has already been through, but I would still really like more. — Kelsey
Matt Roush: Tonally, Southland would be a good fit, better than most such suggestions. But corporately, FX isn't in the business of picking up castoffs, and this would be a better fit with the main brand — which is already full up with new and returning shows and major projects in development — rather than the younger-skewing/pandering FXX. (I hope they'll never feel compelled to launch a triple-XXX channel, just saying.) I do understand where you're coming from, because nothing about this current season of Southland feels like a show that's winding down creatively. We may just have to comfort ourselves by acknowledging that if this is the end, and I'd be thrilled if it weren't, at least the show is going out on a high.
Question: Just my opinion, of course, but do you or anyone else feel The Big Bang Theory has lost its snappy dialogue and endearing "geek" story lines? The last few seasons have really not stood up to the story quality we've enjoyed. To me, what's made TBBT unique is its characters are engaging in the ensemble manner, but also that its story lines had also been worth watching. — Dan
Matt Roush: Can't speak for anyone else, but I certainly don't feel a backlash brewing. And given that Big Bang's popularity continues to grow, in first-run and in cable/syndication, it does seem a minority view that's it's anything less than satisfying most weeks. I particularly disagree about the dialogue and jokes, which are as sharp and funny as ever — especially any time Sheldon and Penny share the stage — and while story lines can be uneven (hardly a unique condition for any long-running show, especially one this broad), my argument over these last few seasons has been that the show has grown even stronger in both ensemble and story by adding characters like Bernadette and Amy, and even developing the character of Stuart as a more forlorn sidekick for Raj, giving the core characters more avenues to play with, so it isn't hitting the same four-geeks-and-a-girl beat from the early year.
Question: With the recent announcement that they're moving Smash to Saturday nights, the presumption is that this show is dead for NBC. The same is being said of CBS' Vegas, also banished to the other weekend dead zone of Fridays as of this week, and it wasn't mentioned among the networks' long list of renewals announced last week. What I feel like these two shows have in common is that I'm betting that they're both extremely expensive projects. Do you think that fact, as much or more so than their respective ratings, is why they are both as good as axed?
I'm not sure I totally understand all the hate leveled against Smash. I agree it is not anywhere near a great show, but I found it much better than Glee, which started so strong, but was dropped from our viewing rotation early this season, as we'd completely lost interest in the characters and even the production numbers. Yes, some of the plot points and even a few of the characters on Smash were less than compelling, but at least the music, all of which I believe was original to the show, was engaging and beautifully performed. And when they focused on the songs and the making of the musical — or in this season, musicals — Smash was actually quite entertaining. And unlike some others, I actually think the changes they made improved Smash, in that they made it a more cohesive but less bonkers show. At least enough to keep me tuning in. Given the network it was on, its numbers were far from miserable, so I have to wonder if it was the cost of such a big-budget vehicle that was the ultimate death knell for this one?
I feel the same way about Vegas. The show got similar or often even better ratings than the show that replaced it, from what I understand, but I'm guessing Vegas, whose three leads are all well-known names, particularly star-producers Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis, is a far more expensive show to produce. Of course, unlike Smash, which might have been better had they stuck with actual lesser-known Broadway stars and done without the stars, on Vegas it was the leads' charisma and charm that kept me tuning in, even when the overly predictable murder-of-the-week plotlines, a seeming requirement for a CBS show, were overly predictable. As with Smash, Vegas always felt to me like there was a better show in there, struggling to get out. With Smash, it was the extraneous plots that seemed to kill its momentum, because when the focus was on "Bombshell," it was a good show. With Vegas, it was almost the opposite, because that show shined most when the characters were allowed a little personal development, outside CBS' strict procedural format. Of course, the irony is if Vegas had been on NBC, wouldn't it be among that network's biggest hits?
In the end, maybe both shows' real problem is that even people like me that are still watching, and yes I'm in that coveted demographic, aren't heartbroken by the idea that neither will be back next year. I liked both shows well enough, but I didn't love them, either. Unlike, say, Bunheads, which I'm waiting with baited breath for ABC Family to renew, since I feel it's among the best shows on TV, and only improved episode by episode. Do you think that the recent outpouring of critical acclaim for the Amy Sherman-Palladino project will convince ABC Family to continue this charming, captivating and utterly unique show (fingers crossed)? — Susan
Matt Roush: Smash certainly wasn't cheap, not with that level of musical production, and neither is Vegas, I'm sure — just recreating the Strip to reflect the period had to cost a bundle — but cost wouldn't matter so much if there were signs of growth, which in the case of Smash (lacking that Voice lead-in this year) was definitely lacking. With Vegas, there won't be a final call made until the network sees how it does on Fridays, a night that has kept a number of marginal CBS shows thriving. And it's not so much a numbers game with Vegas as it is that it skews old, which would make it even less likely to thrive on NBC, regardless of that network's situation. Your many points on the shows' relative creative strengths and weaknesses are on point. Smash is still very enjoyable when it's putting on a show, but even now, watching Derek clash with the aggravating Jimmy or Tom overreach as a first-time director, the storytelling leaves much to be desired. And whenever Vegas looks beyond the procedural to the bigger story of the Lamb family and the evolution of Sin City, it's a more promising show. Essentially, though, if your final conclusion after all of this is that neither represents appointment TV, that's the problem with network TV right now. They all need to step up their game. As for Bunheads: Hard to say, but reviews alone won't likely sway the decision.
Question: I am a big fan of Smash, despite its flaws, and I will see it through to the end. My question actually relates to the move to Saturdays. I understand that NBC is "burning off" episodes. But that brings up a continuing question I have: Why do the networks continue to ignore Saturdays, particularly given the fact that between online options and DVRs, so much of the TV audience now watches shows outside of "real time." The first thing I thought when I heard that Smash was moving to Saturdays was, "Great! No competition! Maybe someone actually will watch." I harbor no illusions about the show's future. But what with NBC's ratings struggles in particular, I'm surprised no one at NBC has said, "Hey, I have an idea! Let's put some really great programming on Saturday nights and promote the heck out of it!" It always has seemed to me, as a mid-30s woman with a husband and three small children, that Saturdays would be a great night to program family-oriented shows, something like America's Got Talent. I believe Britain's Got Talent airs Saturday nights and is very popular. You'd get the real-time eyeballs of families, plus if you promote the shows elsewhere, some pick-ups from DVRs and online. Am I missing something? — Kirsten
Matt Roush: This issue comes up every so often, and I always reflect on the fact that I grew up in an era when the biggest and often best shows aired on Saturdays (the classic CBS lineup of the '70s including All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show), and even as late as The Golden Girls in the '80s, Saturday night could still produce a hit. But to put things as simply as possible, Saturday was the first night to fall victim to technology and a tectonic shift in viewing habits, as VCRs, DVDs, DVRs and an explosion of entertainment options changed the way we programmed our leisure time. The available audience shrank and never came back, and the networks made it a self-fulfilling prophecy by not even trying to program significant shows on the night — this is an example where cost really did matter, as expensive series flopped, even on traditional CBS, the last network to essentially give up (as they will likely be on Fridays as well). Economics are such that it's very unlikely Saturday programming will ever go back to the way it was — the networks are having a hard enough time filling the other nights of the week — and besides, networks are beginning to act more like cable, including using Saturday as an opportunity to give some series a second window, or in the case of Smash, a final lifeline to run out the end of its season. There's clearly an audience being underserved by the dearth of programming on Saturdays, but there's no sign that it's ever going to change.
Question: I'm thrilled that Scandal is back and especially with such a brilliant episode like the March 21 "Top Of The Hour." I was surprised to find myself appreciating the case of the week so much. It resonated so conveniently with Olivia and Fitz. I felt Liv really made a good use of this quick "friendship" with her client, which allowed us to know a little bit more about her state of mind, considering how guarded she often is. I found the heart-to-heart scene between Olivia Pope and Sarah Stanner outstanding. Both Kerry Washington and Lisa Edelstein delivered. I was really blown away by Edelstein's acting, as this part let her showcase new layers. These ladies were poignant, nuanced, vulnerable, intelligent and deep. How did you enjoy this rare bonding moment between two females, seemingly usually strong, who turned the professional to the personal when going through a similar crisis in their lives? It's so refreshing to see such talent and emotions used for something other than competition or to please a male-targeted audience. Shonda Rhimes really knows how to write for women. It must have been a real departure from House for Edelstein. What's your take, considering most of the viewers responded incredibly well to her presence on the show? — Laura
Matt Roush: I was excited to learn Lisa Edelstein was doing a guest appearance, and I wasn't disappointed. Sometimes the shows from Shondaland (Grey's Anatomy in particular) can be a bit too on-the-nose in using the weekly cases to reflect on what the main characters are going through and feeling, and that was the case here for sure, but if played as well as it was here, it's an entertaining device. And Scandal is nothing if not entertaining.
Question: The first episode of Bates Motel was brilliant. The show was full of suspense and didn't leave me bored for even a second. Why aren't more people talking about this show? Why isn't there a massive marketing campaign set up for this show? All I ever hear about is Mad Men and The Walking Dead. Maybe with your help, we can get Bates Motel the recognition it deserves. — Liz
Matt Roush: A&E launched this show pretty successfully, and maybe because I live in a place where I see advertising on billboards and kiosks and buses all the time, I found it hard to ignore the fact that Bates Motel was coming. It got a fairly big push as these things go. I reviewed it positively, especially where the lead performances are concerned, and I've plugged it each week and discussed it on radio and elsewhere as part of a trend that includes the upcoming, and even more riveting, Hannibal. If it isn't dominating the watercooler, that may have something to do with how busy and cluttered this midseason has been the last few weeks (and it isn't slowing down any time soon). But to expect this to get the media attention of an Emmy-winning critical powerhouse like Mad Men or a breakout sensation like The Walking Dead may be too much to ask. For now, Bates Motel doesn't appear to be in any trouble, so keep spreading the news, because word of mouth can't hurt.