Question: Love your column, here is my question: With the exit of Steve Carell (and the last two to three seasons of The Office being very uneven), do you really think that adding James Spader to the cast will improve it? I re-watched the series from the beginning over this summer and one of the things that I noticed missing from the last few seasons is how the show went from a comedy about the office place to a comedy about characters in and outside of the office. While I like the actors, many of the characters (looking at you, Meredith) are now just caricatures; with Steve Carell leaving, I thought it would give the show a last chance to reboot, but hearing that James Spader joined the cast, my excitement has waned. Do you think that James Spader can help this show rekindle its former glory? — Larry S
Matt Roush: Well, he certainly can't do it alone. I haven't seen any of the new season yet, so won't pre-judge except to say that I'm of the camp that wishes The Office had taken Michael Scott's exit as a cue for a natural and relatively graceful ending. But the show still anchors NBC's not-quite-hit-comedy lineup, so NBC can't afford to shed it just yet. I still get a kick out of many of the Dunder Mifflin folks — even Meredith, though as with most of them, a little goes a long way — and consider this an ensemble show at its best. So if James Spader's character shakes things up in a funny way — unlike how Will Ferrell's ill-conceived character soured the mix last season — it will be seen as a plus. I'm hopeful he'll bring a new and twisted comic energy to the workplace. But I'm more curious how the rest of the office dynamics will play out, because if I don't enjoy what's happening with the rest of them, Spader's eccentricities alone won't be enough.
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Question: Each year at about this time, I remove from the DVR schedule those shows that were canceled and start plugging in a couple of new ones that I might like. This year I can't find one worth adding. I've got ABC trying to mimic the success CBS had by rebooting a '70s show (Charlie's Angels), two shows that are trying to rip off Mad Men (The Playboy Club and Pan Am), two dramas in Prime Suspect — which NBC will cancel as soon as the suits realize that it isn't a reality show or singing contest — and Unforgettable, which looks ... well, forgettable; a show where the lead talks to a ghost (in case you were missing Medium and Ghost Whisperer) and a show that looks like Jurassic Park meets Avatar and my guess is will be canceled by Thanksgiving — giving us all reason for thanks. Then there are the comedies, which to me look quite tragic.
Of all the shows, I might be able to drum up some interest for Person of Interest because J.J. Abrams does some good things, and Last Man Standing because I'm a Tim Allen fan, but other than that I don't see a keeper in the bunch. At least last year I was interested in stuff like Chicago Code, Hawaii Five-0, No Ordinary Family and *&%$ My Dad Says (OK, I was really wrong on that last one). I think I would rather dedicate my DVR space to reruns of The Unit than this dreck. So I guess my question is: is it just me or is this season's new crop really stretching for any sort of ... what's the word I'm looking for here ... quality? Are the network suits so lazy as to just green-light filler shows with the feeling "eh, we just need something for a couple of weeks until we can slot in the hot new reality show 8 Fools Singing for Cash and Has-Been Actors Grasping for Press?" — Chip
Matt Roush: Whew. I understand the cynicism here, especially coming off a season as disappointing as last year's, but don't really ascribe to it. (For more information on the new network shows and my individual take on them, TV Guide Magazine's Fall Preview issue is out this week. Don't miss it.)
Back to the question: There's a big risk in judging shows by premise and promos alone. You might just be surprised this season, especially by the comedies (New Girl in particular, but ABC's Suburgatory and CBS' Two Broke Girls have their appeal). And by the time we get to midseason, where many of the more interesting risks and potential creative breakthroughs are lying in wait, things should get much more interesting. Even so, this fall is an improvement over a year ago, when it looked like almost no one was even trying. For instance, Person of Interest does attempt something new with the classic CBS procedural, and even A Gifted Man (the requisite CBS ghost show) is elevated by an incredible cast. I'm not entirely sold on the season's two fairy-tale inspired fantasies (ABC's Once Upon a Time and NBC's horror mystery Grimm), but I'm glad the effort is being made, and especially with Time, I'm curious to see where it's going. And TV hasn't seen a big-ticket big-budget broad-appeal item like Fox's time-travel family adventure-with-dinosaurs Terra Nova for some time, so while I wish the writing and acting on that one were on a higher level, I'm encouraged that it at least feels like an "event." And while there's no question the style of Mad Men inspired Pan Am and The Playboy Club, these are much broader (no pun intended) entertainments — they'd have to be to survive — and the escapism of Pan Am I find especially infectious. As is always the case, there are a number of "what are they thinking?" calamities, but to approach the new season as if it's all a wash before it even begins is both unfair and probably (hopefully) off base.
Question: I am seriously beginning to wonder if we are seeing the beginning of the end of broadcast TV as an entertainment medium. ABC is trying a new Charlie's Angels this fall, CBS is going to try and redo Bewitched in a year, and now comes word that NBC wants to give The Munsters yet another fresh spin. Have they officially run out of truly new ideas for TV shows after about 60 years of this medium's existence? It looks that way to me. Micky Dolenz of The Monkees (hmmm...will they try to redo THAT one next?) said back in 1971 that TV's future one day would be as a news-info medium only, and that entertainment will just be in cassette form (well, DVD anyway). Could his prophecy be finally coming true after 40 years? — David
Matt Roush: First: Micky Dolenz as media prophet of doom? Why not? Second: A news-only medium? Hardly. The real danger, I suppose, is that unscripted "reality" programming will push scripted shows further into the margins, but it's hardly a hopeless situation, even if TV, much like the movie business (which is even worse), keeps toying with remakes that are so easy and fun to mock. The new Charlie's Angels is unquestionably one of the fall's worst "new" shows, but never underestimate the audience's desire for formula served on a splashy, sexy platter. Network TV as a mass medium turns back to classic titles from time to time in hopes that familiarity will breed something other than contempt. Sadly, re-imagining (as in the case of Syfy's brilliant Battlestar Galactica redo) rarely occurs.
Question: I am sure you have noticed how illogical certain plot developments are in many series. For example, in the Rizzoli & Isles episode a few weeks ago when they were frantically looking for a fellow detectives' daughter who had been abducted, Jane and her partner charge out of the station when they have located the suspect's car only to pull up to the site with Jane sipping a cup of coffee. Are we to believe that they stopped in route? Also so many shows have visitors show up unannounced in squad rooms, lawyer's offices, etc. while today a pizza delivery guy cannot gain access anywhere. Or like in Franklin & Bash when the managing partner was arrested and both F&B were unaware the next day until they received a phone call. In this era of Blackberries, Google alerts, IMs, etc., it is ridiculous for them not to have known. It's not that these are continuity errors rather, just illogical plot devices. Is this a current phenomenon and have you commented on it? Thanks — I truly enjoy your observations. — Bruce
Matt Roush: I hope you enjoy this one. Because if you're going to hold the shows you watch to that kind of logical high standard — and the coffee moment does sound like a continuity problem (if she wasn't carrying coffee out of the precinct) — might I suggest you raise the bar in terms of the shows you watch? These particular TNT shows are more cartoon than drama, and while I suppose there's fun to be had in feeling superior to the ham-fisted type of storytelling they engage in, if it's going to frustrate you, look elsewhere (like FX and AMC). That said, clumsy plot devices are nothing new. Given the speed and volume at which TV is made, I'm usually surprised there isn't more of it. But you're hardly alone in noticing. Read on.
Question: I have watched Rizzoli & Isles until last month's "Brown Eyed Girl" episode. The ME examines the dead girl without protective clothing and with her own hair hanging down in the kid's face. Then the police team does a major raid on the suspect's home and no one is wearing a bulletproof vest. Could they at least make the effort to show a little reality like The Closer and all the other decent cop shows? This piece of fluff does not even deserve airtime in my opinion. — Joan
Matt Roush: Even by the loose standards of TV's many formula crime dramas, Rizzoli & Isles tends to get my eyes rolling at an alarmingly fast clip. The Closer isn't exactly subtle, but there's really no comparison between the shows when it comes to ensemble strength and especially in the writing. I can only explain Rizzoli's success by noting the inescapable star charisma and chemistry of its two leads.
Question: I know that you're not a huge fan, but I absolutely adore Showtime's The Big C. I am elated that it has been renewed for a third season, but confused why, after two 13-episode seasons, it only received an order for 10 episodes. Do you think this is a sign that the show is coming to an end? Obviously, for creative reasons, the show cannot go on forever. But since each TV season of the show takes place in the next (summer, fall, winter, etc) season, feasibly it could go on for more than three years. I think and hope that this show has a lot of life left in it. Before it ends up like Weeds, played out and overstaying its welcome. Should I be concerned that one of my favorite shows is ending? — Ryan
Matt Roush: My hunch (and that's all it is) is that since each season of The Big C is structured around a season of the year, Showtime will give the series four seasons to come full circle and then that will be it. But then, who'd have guessed Weeds would go on this long, so who knows? The reduced episode order is most likely an economic or business or scheduling decision (as opposed to creative), because shows get more expensive to produce by the season, and whatever show they're planning to pair Big C with next year may also get a 10-episode order. I suppose it's natural to wonder about the life expectancy of this show more than most, but I'm always puzzled when news of a renewal is greeted by more worries that it's actually the beginning of the end.
Question: Do you know the name of a show that is about to start? It is about a doctor who talks with a friend who is already dead. I am guessing that he will talk with ghosts in a hospital. I saw the promo for the show only once on TV. Where will it will be showing? — Ana
Matt Roush: I have a feeling you'll be seeing many more ads for CBS' A Gifted Man (the show you're asking about) before it premieres later this month, Fridays at 8/7c, starting Sept. 23. And to clarify the premise, this doctor is a brilliant surgeon (played by Patrick Wilson) who only sees one ghost — for now — that of his ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle), a former clinic doctor who tries to inspire him to use his gifts for the greater good, not just for his own self-interest. The cast, including Justified's Margo Martindale as the doc's right hand, is incredible. But I'm left for now still wondering how the show will balance the medical and the mystical.
Question: Honestly, could this Breaking Bad season be any better than it is now? Not since the last seasons of The Shield have I been so impatient waiting for next week to come to see the next episode and what will happen. Everything is spinning out of control this season and I absolutely love it as a fan. The twists and turns keep coming and coming, and now I am more afraid for Walt then I have ever been. Could Jesse turn to the "Dark Side" with Gus and Co. and kill Walt? Jesse looks like he has some dark demons inside him and does not know where to turn. Does Hank get to close to the "true" Heisenberg and Walt will need to take matters in his own hands? So many questions and once you think you believe what will happen, it goes in the complete opposite direction, phenomenal! —Mike
Matt Roush: Every so often, an unqualified rave is the perfect tonic — and given the skeptical tone of so much of this week's column, happy to share this one. And this came in before Sunday night's riveting "Hermanos" episode, which gave Giancarlo Esposito his best moments yet as the chilling "Gus," whose flashback to his violent first encounter with the Mexican cartel was beyond chilling. (And how unnerving was the scene of Hank and Walt in the restaurant's parking lot, as Mike silently parked alongside them, freaking Walt out — not that he could show it to his gung-ho brother-in-law). What an outstanding season — and on a completely different track, if you missed Sunday's "Mister Softee" episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, that was an absolute classic. TV didn't take Labor Day weekend off, so if you did, some catching up is in order.
Question: First I want to thank you so much for defending Fringe in last week's column with the following comment: "It's still alive because Fox sees the value in a buzz-worthy cult series, fabulously executed, that doesn't need to attract huge numbers to prove its worth on a very problematic night." While I wish Fox would have seen fit to renew Human Target as well, I am so glad they gave Fringe the opportunity for another season. I wouldn't be surprised if it were the final season, and I would be okay (but not happy) with that as long as they provide enough notice so that the show can come to a satisfactory ending for its fans. Fringe is one of the few shows, along with The Good Wife, that I view as appointment TV. I think it is nice that Fox recognizes that not all shows have to be the same and allows something for its more science-fiction oriented fans. I guess my question here is about Torchwood. The Miracle Day season is the only one I have seen, although I ordered season 1 on DVD. Assuming I like season 1, do you think it is more worthwhile to order season 2 or just go for Children of Earth? I was a little hesitant with that because of some things I read. Is it necessary to see everything in order (obviously I am not with Miracle Day) to understand what is going on, or will Children of Earth make sense without season 2? — Faye
Matt Roush: See how you feel after season 1, but I think you'll want to experience the whole series. Children of Earth can probably be enjoyed on its own, it's that good, but the nature of loss — a constant in the world of Torchwood, a theme that carries on into Miracle Day — becomes even more evident if you watch it all. I'm glad this latest season didn't sour you on the show. If this were my first taste of Torchwood, I'm not sure I'd be gearing up for more. I screened this Friday's finale over the Labor Day weekend, and all I'll say for now is "better luck next time," if there is a next time.
Question: Matt, I've drawn a blank! Who is "Wemma" on Glee??? — Larry
Matt Roush: Bless your heart. Because one of my personal and professional bugaboos is this kind of "fan-speak." For those like Larry who don't engage in this sort of fan "shipper" shorthand, this is how a part of the Glee fan base refers to the couple of Will and Emma. (Get it? Wemma.) And did I ever get abuse last week from members of the "Wemma" camp for scoffing at that — though I took the rest of the question (about Matthew Morrison's status on Glee) seriously. And despite my "whatever" last week (which if it offended I'm sorry), of course I root for these two. While I find the couple to be awfully precious at times, how can you not given the alternative. Will's ogre of an ex-wife is one of the least appealing characters this series has ever produced, and Emma's marriage to John Stamos was one of the least convincing or coherent subplots of last season. Since the subject has come up, I'd just like to note that in doing this column I strive neither to pander to fans nor to insult them. But while analyzing arcs of relationships on series like Glee and Grey's Anatomy and Bones and scores of other shows is fair game for critical discussion, it's hard for me to take it seriously when fans use words like "Wemma" or "Calzona" (for Callie and Arizona) or "Huddy" (for House and Cuddy) to feed their obsession. Just consider this a footnote in the "Ask Matt 101" handbook.
Question: Can you explain the rationale behind the DVD release dates for TV shows? Case in point, I was turned on to Modern Family by a friend this past summer. I bought the Season 1 DVDs, and very much enjoyed the show. I would like to watch the second season before the third season begins airing this fall, but I can't. That is because the second season will not be released on DVD until September 20, the DAY BEFORE the third season starts! Why wait so long to release it? Why not a month earlier for people like me who need to catch up before the next season starts? Is there an actual reason? It seems to alienate potential TV viewers this way. I can DVR the third season until I have time to watch the second, but I would prefer to watch the show the night it airs, and I can't see why the studio/network wouldn't want that too for the ratings. — Jason
Matt Roush: In this case, and is often the case, the Modern Family release date is timed for maximum promotional and marketing value to call attention to the immediate premiere of the third season. Your complaint makes sense to me that the impact would be just as valid if the street date were a few weeks ahead of the actual premiere. But honestly, Modern Family doesn't have to be enjoyed sequentially. Which is one of its pluses (though some critics who prefer all shows to be built around arcs of ongoing character development may disagree), and which is why the late release of this series on DVD is less problematic, even to late-blooming fans. My advice: Get the second season, and watch the episodes as you can, while enjoying the third. Shouldn't take that long to catch up, and just be glad you've finally discovered TV's finest current comedy.