Question: I was wondering if you've had a chance to preview the Outlander series, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. I'm a big fan of the books and I'm hoping that the series will be faithful to the story. Do you have any insight you could share? - Elizabeth
Matt Roush: I've seen the first month's worth or so of Outlander episodes and a few years ago read the first volume of the saga at my sister's and others' enthusiastic urging, and from what I can tell so far, fans of the books are likely to be very pleased by what seems a fairly faithful, well cast and gorgeously shot adaptation. I worry more about newcomers to the story, who might be initially put off by the slow start (it takes more than half of the first episode for the time-travel premise to kick in, but again, that's faithful to the way the book opens). It's a great idea for a lavish historical-romantic-fantasy, and makes for a great cover of TV Guide Magazine — keep an eye out for it later this week — and I hope this gamble pays off for Starz.
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Question: A few weeks ago in your column about this year's Emmy nominations, you said that Orange Is the New Black should've have entered their nominations in the drama categories instead of the comedy categories. I disagree with that, because even though OITNB is really a dramedy, the show has as many comedic moments as it does dramatic moments, and the show isn't that grim and too dark in tone to be considered a full-out drama series. I think that the show really deserved to be in the comedy categories rather than the drama categories. What makes you think that OITNB should've entered all of their nominations in the drama categories?
And what do you think about the new Lifetime sci-fi drama series The Lottery? Have you seen the show yet? What are your thoughts about a sci-fi show airing on a mostly female-oriented basic cable network like Lifetime? — Chris
Matt Roush: There are shows that blur the line between comedy and drama, but for me, Orange Is the New Black frequently crosses the line. It's not an all-girl OZ, that's for sure, but even the more amusing characters have a significant amount of tragedy in their damaged lives, and the savagely violent note on which the first season ended helped convince me as well that this series is a comedy in only the loosest, most let's-play-with-Emmy-rules definition of the genre. As for The Lottery, I watched the pilot episode and that was enough. I found it dreary and not very well executed, though not terribly off-brand. Lifetime has been embracing elements of fantasy and genre in its recent programming slate (the whimsy of Drop Dead Diva, the supernatural hokum of Witches of East End) and it was probably only a matter of time before they tried futuristic dystopia. Being that the focus is on fertility, that seems well within Lifetime's wheelhouse.
Question: While I'm wholeheartedly behind the "WTF" of the Emmys' non-nomination of Tatiana Maslany, I think the cross-pollination of the comedy/drama nominations bothers me more. It is clear that shows and actors are just nominating themselves in whatever category they want regardless of the actual fit (I'm looking at you, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, whose "people" likely thought only a drama series win would be prestigious enough for their guys and pushed for that category). Wouldn't it be better for shows to submit themselves and their actors to the Academy, and then the Academy picks what category they are eligible to compete in? That way an Orange Is The New Black doesn' end up as comedy, Edie Falco isn't confused by her continuing comedy nominations for Nurse Jackie, and the True Detective nominations would have been grouped in with other miniseries like American Horror Story and Fargo. An anonymous committee could make the category decisions.
I've also long thought that the Academy should institute a "three strikes and you're out" policy: an actor can only be nominated three times for the same role or a show only three times for Best Whatever. Hopefully, they win at least once, but if not, it's time to move on. Make room for fresh faces. And while I'm at it, it has long grieved me as well that every year the guest-star nominations are all actors of celebrity status, while those true knockout one- or two-episode performances by character actors don't even seem to be eligible (Sarah Baker as Vanessa on Louie immediately comes to mind). Enough ranting, though. I guess the real question I'm asking here is, does the Academy itself even think their nominating system is broken and in need of an overhaul? — Rebecca
Matt Roush: When representatives of the TV Academy met with the TV Critics Association earlier this summer at the annual press tour, there was talk that they would look into some of these aberrations after what has clearly been a watershed year in gaming the system. But whether any noticeable changes will result from this remains to be seen, and I wouldn't be surprised if we're griping about many of these same aggravations next year at this time. I'll disagree with one of your rants, though, in terms of imposing a cutoff for long-running shows and stars. As annoyed as I am that The Good Wife wasn't nominated for its exemplary fifth season, it reinforces to me the danger in disqualifying any show late in its run regardless of its quality, which would make the process even more flawed than it already is.
Question: Hope your summer is going well. Jumping off the board right into the pool re: Shonda Rhimes and her attempt to again have a wave of three shows on the air at once. In your opinion, did history prove that she stretched herself too far as evidenced by a slide in Private Practice once Scandal heated up in the first season, or was PP on life support and the plug got pulled mercifully? As an original Grey's Anatomy fan, I would be more than "dark and twisty" if it suffered while Ms. Rhimes was off trying to shepherd (pun intended) her two newest creations and ignoring the eldest child. Opine please, good sir. — BR
Matt Roush: It's been a good, but busy, TV summer, thanks for asking. But not as busy as Shonda Rhimes' fall is going to be. I was never a fan of Private Practice, so if Scandal helped hasten its decline, I'm at peace with that. Juggling three shows is a lot and you may be right that it could prove to be too much, although she has staffs and showrunners keeping the plates spinning on each series, so it's not like this is a one-woman operation. Still, given the insanity of Scandal (which burns so hot you wonder how long it can sustain) and the aging condition of a Sandra Oh-less Grey's, these are not shows that can afford to operate on autopilot while How to Get Away With Murder gets on its feet. There will be a lot of scrutiny on this all-Shonda Thursday lineup, no question, and I agree it would be a shame if the still-durable Grey's noticeably suffers from neglect.
Question: In response to a question about TNT's Murder in the First from a previous mailbag, I think this show suffers from not being a binge show. This one-case-only premise means that viewers have to wait 10 weeks to learn the conclusion from week one. Back in the day, this was fine, but shows like this really need to be on live streaming so that the frustration isn't built-up over 10 weeks, and I think the show might be greater appreciated.
And I've been meaning to ask, but what are your thoughts on the Hannibal producers' decision to mess up with the order of the books and even mix the stories together? I am a little torn as I was enjoying the fact we would eventually get into the actual fiction at some point, but am intrigued as the show has done a great job thus far. — Brandon
Matt Roush: Regarding Murder and its ilk: Despite the trendiness of Netflix-inspired binge viewing (which is by no means a universal experience, though Twitter might disagree), I still believe there's value in serialized first-run weekly television, with anticipation building episode to episode giving you a reason to tune in, which is critical for commercial outlets like TNT, for whom the binge model doesn't really benefit its bottom line. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Murder in the First is compelling enough as a series (it didn't grab me in the first four or so hours) to even work if consumed all at once.
And I've never expected or wanted Hannibal to be just a retread of the Thomas Harris originals, so however Bryan Fuller & Co. want to play with, or even ignore, the "canon" is OK by me. I have been enthralled throughout and am nervously excited to see what they come up with next.
Question: If I have enjoyed a show, traditionally I have usually been loyal enough to stick it out until the end. That may be changing. The first half of the last season of Mad Men was totally lackluster compared to its earlier days or to Masters of Sex. I haven't decided whether to bother watching the final True Blood episodes. I was totally turned off by the ridiculous use of Japanese gangsters and Pam's recent vile comment (yeah, you are all about tolerance). Why are final seasons more often a chore than a joy? — Greg
Matt Roush: Honestly, Pam's snarky outrageousness is one of the few things I'm enjoying about this final season of True Blood, which I'd only recommend to die-hard loyalists. All too often, by the time a show decides to throw in the towel, it's at least a year or two past its prime, making the final season seem less than anticlimactic — AMC splitting up the underwhelming final season of Mad Men only exacerbates that show's recent malaise — but then there are series like Breaking Bad, which goes out on a creative and popular high. So you never really know.
Question: I'm curious of your thoughts on Maya Rudolph's new NBC variety show. Can this type of format that was popular in the '70s (Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie) work with today's audience? And is it worth tuning in? — Kelly
Matt Roush: If NBC does proceed with more episodes of The Maya Rudolph Show, which seems possible, I know I'd tune in out of curiosity and a desire to see a classic musical-comedy-variety show like this work again. But it needs to be funnier and less slapdash than the tryout version that aired in May and often felt like a vanity project for Saturday Night Live veterans. I do think the format is worth reviving, if it can be made to feel relevant and fresh. Mock-retro is not a tone likely to resonate with any demographic, I fear.
Question: I'm absolutely enthralled with The Leftovers. I think the acting is incredible (especially by Justin Theroux), the directing impeccable and the story fascinating. I find myself more and more intrigued as every episode ends. Has there been any mention by HBO of a pickup for a second season? And is there any chance HBO will move it from its summer programming to either the spring or fall, where it could possibly gain some awards-mentioning? — Terri
Matt Roush: No word on renewal yet, but given HBO's track record with giving even more marginal players a second go-round, I'd be shocked if this isn't renewed. Given its bleak premise and rather mixed reception, though, I'm not sure this is ever going to be prime Emmy bait whenever it airs, although HBO has proved me wrong before. And I second the praise for Justin Theroux, who is making the most of a very difficult character.
Question: Was there any talk about Major Crimes' July 21 episode "Two Options" actually being a back-door pilot to yet another Closer spinoff? It seemed like with the introduction of Laurie Holden's Sgt. McGinnis and her SWAT team with all their cool toys, that was where the episode was going. And although I personally enjoy the show as the summer filler it is, I didn't think Major Crimes had the ratings to deserve a spinoff (of a spinoff, no less). On the other hand, if "Two Options" wasn't an attempt to launch a new series, what was the point of the episode? Of course, it could be that as a Supernatural fan who was horrified by the train wreck of that was "Bloodlines," I'm just paranoid about back-door pilots. — Jennifer
Matt Roush: I didn't see this episode — aired during the TCA press tour, for one thing (when, ironically enough, it's hard for a TV critic to find time to watch real-time TV) — but by all accounts, this likely was an attempt to float an SOB (Strategic Operations Bureau) spinoff, which would presumably feature Jon Tenney as well as Laurie Holden. But for now, it's just speculation, and awfully hubristic at that, giving the diminishing returns from The Closer to the current lesser version.
Question: Wow! The standout summer show for me has been Undateable! I'm so pleasantly surprised at how very good the writing and acting is. I loved Chris D'Elia in Whitney, so was game to see if this show was any good. It is so much better than many comedies on during the regular season. Is it getting any traction? It seems like so many of these shows are just throwaways, and the network never expects them to really do anything. I'm so hoping this is an exception and we can look forward to a Season 2. It really is smart and funny. - Melissa
Matt Roush: Finally, some good news! While I was away toward the end of last week on family business, NBC picked up Undateable for a 10-episode second season, and whether it will be used as a backup utility player during the regular season or return next summer isn't yet known. I was more keen on D'Elia's co-stars, but you're right, NBC did a lot worse last season (and with new shows like Bad Judge in the upcoming fall) than this show, so thumbs up for this summer sleeper to get a second shot. And another reminder that we shouldn't automatically write shows like these off as summer burn-offs.