Ask Matt: TV Musicals, Revenge, Homeland, Once Upon a Time, Parenthood, More
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Question: After the embarrassing debacle of Viva Laughlin, I figured network TV wouldn't ever touch musical dramas ever again. Then Ryan Murphy surprised the naysayers with the out-of-the-box success of Glee. Then came along my personal favorite Smash last winter, and the also-great Nashville this fall. Now I read a couple months ago that Fox was trying to revise Fame. My question is this: Have you ever known of a time when so many music-based shows have been on TV? Is it because of the success of American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor? And do you think there is room on TV for possibly four musicals, or will they cannibalize each other for viewers? I've noticed Glee has been down in the ratings, and for a year-four show targeted at the fickle teen market, is this expected? Have you heard any buzz on Smash? I thought Season 1 was great, but I did notice the weak links too, which seem to have been corrected. I hope Season 2 really gets grittier and goes more behind-the-scenes a la West Wing instead of the soapy melodrama of S1. Thoughts? — Sean
Matt Roush: Music has always been a big part of TV, from the old-school variety shows to the current deluge of musical competition series. (And remember when MTV used to be about music? Those were the days.) The weekly TV musical drama is a more recent trend, with a pretty rocky history (excepting the Fame movie spin-off of the '80s) until Glee came along, and whatever the flaws of Glee and Smash, these shows are incredibly ambitious — same goes for Nashville, which tends to thread its music into the story much more realistically — so I'm rooting for all of them. The decline of Glee is hardly unexpected, given how bright the show burned early on, and now it's on a much tougher night and still holding its own — plus the quality is up, so that helps. I haven't seen anything of the new season of Smash yet, but am very hopeful given some of the new casting (Broadway rising star Jeremy Jordan, Jennifer Hudson, and so on) and the acknowledgement that certain stories and characters were a bust: anything involving Ellis or Debra Messing's family. I'll still be OK if Smash is a backstage musical soap, as long as the stories focus more exclusively and entertainingly on the world of theater, as you said the grittier and gossipier the better.
Question: I've never been a fan of soaps or soapy shows in the past, but Revenge sucked me in during its first season. What worked for me was the balance maintained between the mythology of the characters and the almost weekly catharsis of Amanda checking one more conspirator off her list of people that betrayed her family. I don't know if I'm alone, but I've been unhappy with the turn this season has taken. The show now seems to consist entirely of endless rambling plot threads, many of which seem unrelated to anything. Is there a reason the show runners have chosen to abandon the original format? I can't help but be disappointed that five episodes in to season two, the show has consisted of just about everything except revenge. — Martin
Matt Roush: Well said. The least we should expect of our guilty pleasures is to keep giving us pleasure, and so far this season, Revenge has been lacking for me and many others I've heard from. (It's still doing well, which says a lot for ABC's canny scheduling and marketing and the goodwill generated by the addictive first season.) Given where it airs on Sunday, I've been reflecting lately on how Alias raised its game in the second season when they introduced Sydney's mother, whereas the impact of focusing so heavily on Amanda/Emily's damaged mom Kara has made the Hamptons a duller and less satisfying place of late. (I will say that when Mason Treadwell started poking his nose around Fauxmanda this week, things started to perk up.) I understand the need for a show to expand its universe in successive seasons, but very few of the new characters are popping: Is anyone grooving on Aidan the way they did on Daniel last year? And the subplot involving Jack's bar (mainly because it involves Declan) is a snooze. What this season really needs is a new Tyler (who they killed off way too soon) to stir things up, and maybe that will happen. But the real problem, as Martin noted, is that the main thread of Emily vs. the Graysons has been lost or muted in the second season. The best thing Aidan has done since he arrived was to try to refocus Emily this week. Hope it works.
Question: [SPOILER ALERT if you're not keeping current with Homeland] This past episode of Homeland I was not expecting that Brody would be walked away in handcuffs! This season by far already tops the first season and it is not even halfway through! With that being said, looks like Brody is caught somewhat (I know it will not be that easy). Please tell me that somehow the creators plan to extend the show for at least another season? - Mike
Matt Roush: This question obviously refers to the episode before this Sunday's, at which point the premise took another leap forward after Carrie had her time alone in the interrogation room with Brody (a scene that should secure Claire Danes and especially Damian Lewis with their Emmy reels for next year). The arrest a week earlier of Brody was another game-changer to be sure, and what is so exhilarating about Homeland in its second season is its fearless pacing in moving the story along with bold twists every single week, and now with episode 5 moving Homeland into an entirely new arena, as Brody now has new masters to satisfy and an even trickier cover identity to maintain. I cannot wait to see what happens next, and the most excellent news of all is that Showtime has already given the green light to a third season. What that will look like is anyone's guess.
Question: As an avid reader of your column, your opinion on things, even shows I don't watch, I find useful and interesting. I'm curious to know if you think Once Upon a Time is treading dangerous waters in terms of over-casting this year. Last season you wouldn't be able to find an episode without Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin or even Lana Parrilla. This season all were missing from one and only appeared during the last minute in another. While I still find the show enjoyable, it still seems odd to not have those actors appear at all. Do you think too many characters are appearing in Storybrooke and can it hurt the show if core actors continue to be MIA? —Jeffrey
Matt Roush: I'm not sure the problem is too many characters as much as an overly fragmented narrative, with some episodes split between what's happening in Storybrooke, the back story of characters in Fairy Tale Land, and the current exploits of Snow, Emma and whoever in the post-curse fantasy land. Jumping around so much within an hour can leave even a fan unsatisfied, which is why the recent episode that focused entirely on Rumplestiltskin's encounter with the soon-to-be Captain Hook was one of my favorites — in part because it didn't keep shuffling as much between the worlds (ignoring Snow and Emma altogether for a week) and because Hook is so far the best and most vividly played new character of the season. (The less we see of the vapid Princess Aurora, and even the surprisingly wan Mulan, the better.) As mentioned in the discussion about Revenge, I'm all for a show expanding its world from season to season, and Once Upon a Time is especially well suited for that, with a wondrous gallery of fictional legends to choose from. I liked this week's riff on Dr. Frankenstein more than I expected, including the homage to James Whale (who directed the classic Universal Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein movies) in the naming of the Storybrooke doctor. But getting back to your question, I agree it's a risk if they separate some of these core characters from the meat of the rest of the show for too long a time.
Question: How wonderful has Parenthood been this season!? I love the addition of Matt Lauria as a love interest for Amber. What can I say, he got robbed by the cancellation of The Chicago Code, and I am happy to see him working (P.S. The Vampire Diaries also continues to be great, and wish Grey's Anatomy would get its mojo back.) — Alan
Matt Roush: This has been my favorite season of Parenthood by a mile, and I've been warming up to it more and more each year. This season, I've gone beyond "warmed up" to full-out blubbering. If you like a good cry, this is your show. The handling of Kristina's illness has been a revelation for all in that branch of the family, with Monica Potter's pain and anxiety reflected beautifully in the controlled work of Peter Krause as her husband Adam and especially Sarah Ramos as Haddie. The scene where she quietly made a sandwich for her rattled mom pretty much destroyed me. And totally agree that Matt Lauria, who has worked pretty steadily since he broke through in Friday Night Lights, is a great fit, whether deflecting Zeek's attentions or falling for Amber (as who wouldn't). This new couple embodies the show's deft, gentle empathy and humor toward its characters.
Re your P.S. Vampire Diaries has been great fun this year, as everyone deals with the new Elena and the new hunter in town, and I'll give Grey's a long leash as they deal with the aftershocks of the latest calamities and fatalities, but can understand why fans would be impatient for things to get back to abnormal. (If I didn't break up with Grey's during the "Denny's Ghost" period, I figure I'll stick with it to the end, whenever that should be. I didn't break up with ER until roughly the 12th season.)
Question: How should fans feel when a great actor is in a good (and buzzed about) role on a terrible show? I'm thinking about Giancarlo Esposito and how much I miss seeing him on a show worthy of his talents. On the one hand, I'm happy that he's getting significantly more public recognition through Revolution. On the other hand, Revolution sure ain't Breaking Bad. There's a good part of me that can't wait until Revolution is canceled, so that Esposito can get cast on a better show. At the same time, I am glad that he's on my TV weekly, but I sure wish I didn't have to sit through Uncle Ninja and his idiot niece to enjoy Esposito's work. — Chris
Matt Roush: On one level, just be as glad as I'm sure he is that he has steady work on a popular show. (Your wait for Revolution to be over is likely to be a long one, by the way; this is one of the fall's few actual hits.) Giancarlo Esposito has enjoyed a long and diverse TV career, and would be the first to tell you that gifts like the role of Breaking Bad's Gus Fring don't come along very often. On the plus side, this is a meatier gig than last year's Talking Mirror on Once Upon a Time, no? And I liked the fact that on Revolution, we got to see Esposito's range in Neville's back story a few weeks ago, seeing the inner warrior emerge from the meek shell of the pre-blackout insurance guy. Finally, and selfishly: I'm loving that "Uncle Ninja" seems to be catching on!
Question: Just wondering if you think that Last Resort will at least make it through this whole TV season. I watch 25-30 hours of prime-time TV every week (I'd love to have your job!), and without a doubt Last Resort is my favorite new show of the season. (Probably my 3rd-favorite overall, right behind Grimm and Person of Interest.) Andre Braugher is fantastic. I've read nothing but bad things so far concerning the show's fate. Please tell me some good news regarding its chances of hanging around all season. (And hopefully longer — if they can stretch Prison Break out for three years, they can do it for any show!) — Tom
Matt Roush: I get a lot of desperate mail on this subject, but I'm fairly confident ABC will give this a full season to figure itself out with hopes of building its audience. I certainly hope so, and in this case, male demographics and delayed DVR numbers may also shift the needle in its favor. Last Resort is such a wildly original show — not perfect, mind you (especially the annoyingly perky Kylie character back in D.C.), and at times dangerously, wondrously preposterous — but Braugher couldn't be better or Scott Speedman more appealing, and I'm waiting for the NCIS crowd to wake up to the fact that there's an actual Tom Clancy-like military thriller happening on another network. This show and Nashville really ought to be hits, and with patience, maybe they will be.
Question: A lot of viewers are upset about Kurt and Blaine's break-up on Glee. I'm holding out hope it is because 1) Long-distance relationships don't play well on TV; and 2) The intent is to recharge "Klaine" and bring them back together later in the season. It has also given Darren Criss a chance to shine (his meltdown during "Teenage Dream" was heartbreaking and it sets up some great material for him in upcoming eps). Kurt and Blaine were happy in Season 3 and as a result were back-burnered for a majority of episodes. "Klaine" is probably the closest the gay community has ever come to having a "super couple." They are loved by the media & have a huge straight female following. Surely Ryan Murphy wouldn't just throw away something so groundbreaking. A strong positive portrayal of a gay relationship is needed now more than ever. I'm on board with the break-up as long as it brings excitement and many swoon-worthy moments on the path toward a reconciliation. What do you think? — Matt
Matt Roush: Looking past my disdain for cutesy handles like "Klaine," my feeling on this storyline is that it was not only a natural progression for these characters (given the long-distance post-grad evolution of the show) but essential for both to continue to grow. The fact that you responded so strongly to Blaine's angst in the "Teenage Dream" sequence reinforces the dramatic justification for Glee to go there, even at the risk of upsetting some of the show's fan base. I don't know (but would suspect) that they're heading for an eventual make-up, but it would have less impact if the break-up itself hadn't been so powerful.
Question: I was wondering if you could help me understand the recent programming debacle that occurred on Fox regarding The X Factor Judges' House #3 episode. As a recent transplant to the West Coast, I was confused when I turned on The X Factor on Oct. 17 and found a repeat episode. It wasn't until the next day that I saw that due to baseball, only half the episode ran on the East Coast, and that the episode would replay on Oct. 23. My question is: Why wouldn't Fox just run the entire episode on the West Coast since the baseball game had already ended? Or at least the same amount that had run on the East Coast. Since half the episode already ran in the East Coast, the spoilers were out there for almost a week and I had to avoid them. Then Oct. 23 came and I thought I would get to see the full episode, but instead they did a quick recap of what the East Coast saw and played the second half of the episode. Those of us on the West Coast missed about an hour of the show that others got to see when we didn't even have the baseball game during primetime. I feel somewhat cheated as a West Coast viewer and was curious on your thoughts if there is a bias towards East Coast viewers.
On another note of curiosity, I was shocked to learn that the UK X Factor performance show airs on Saturday nights. Are U.S. and UK viewing habits that much different? In the U.S., original programming by the major networks on a Saturday night is non-existent, so I find it fascinating that in the UK, some of the most popular shows air on that night. Having only been to London a few times, I didn't see any major differences in the lifestyle that would make me think more people are at home on a Saturday night watching TV in the UK. Thoughts? — Louie
Matt Roush: Don't read anything into that X Factor mess except that everything that could go wrong went wrong in Fox's decision-making process that night. If they'd just aired the episode (instead of sitcom repeats) until the game delay was over, then resumed the show after the game ended, the confusion could have been averted for both coasts. But to be bluntly honest, the network only has itself to blame for these horribly bloated reveal episodes. The entire thing could have been done in one hour instead of two, but these shows love milking everything — and in this case, it backfired, and I can't pretend to be that upset about it. Regarding Saturday viewing habits: Can't speak for the British, but it would seem programming to a much smaller viewing audience than the sprawl of the U.S. market lessens the risk factor of airing shows on Saturdays. For us, that ship sailed long ago.
Question: My grandmother rarely watches television. But once she heard Dana Delany has had a show on air for a couple of years, she decided she wanted to watch Body of Proof. I looked it up and cannot afford to buy the last two seasons on DVD for her. So I was wondering when will the show be back on ABC? And does it seem like procedurals seem to flourish only on CBS while they flounder on other networks? — Amber
Matt Roush: Body of Proof will start its third season in midseason at some point in 2013, date and time period to be determined. (With Private Practice now confirmed to be finished after the current 13 episodes, returning the show to Tuesdays would be the most logical guess.) Regarding procedurals: CBS certainly has the best track record, and NBC currently the worst, but ABC and Fox have done well by Castle and Bones, which take a generally lighter tone than the CBS norm, and there are plenty of successful procedurals on cable networks like TNT and USA, so it's really a case of trying to fit the format to the network brand. And in the realm of medical procedurals, a genre even CBS can't seem to conquer, nothing has been able to touch ABC's Grey's Anatomy in recent years.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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