Question: I accidentally caught the opening scene of an episode of Two and a Half Men after The Big Bang Theory. There was poor Angus T. Jones telling Jon Cryer that he "had the clap" and was happy about it. I haven't watched the show in many years; I just got tired of it. But in light of the young actor's video declaring the show to be filth, I really had to agree with him. Am I the only one that doesn't want to see a child I've watched grown up in movies and TV talking about VD for a joke? Then I started thinking about the effect nine years of being immersed in nothing but sex jokes might have on your childhood and I started to feel really sad. It's not like I'm a prude, I thoroughly enjoyed an episode of BBT featuring bikini waxing and nude revenge.
But both Men and 2 Broke Girls leave me with the same feeling. I admire the casts of both shows and like the premise of 2 Broke Girls, but both of those shows me feeling like I've been in a nasty roadside restroom. No one as talented as Kat Dennings should have to be tossing off recycled Lisa Lampanelli vagina jokes. — Cynthia
Matt Roush: You had me with "accidentally." Let's not be shedding too many crocodile tears for young Angus as he bites the hand that feeds him so generously (especially generous, considering he's almost been written off the show this season). Fart and penis jokes have been very, very good to these people, if not to the culture at large. There has always been a healthy, or possibly unhealthy, appetite for low comedy on TV, but you're right that the lowbrow smut humor of Two and a Half Men, often exceeded in vulgarity and volume on 2 Broke Girls, is hardly a laughing matter.
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Question: It's hard to believe that they could dumb-down the humor on Two and a Half Men even further after Charlie Sheen left, but the show, while still funny from time to time, is almost a caricature of its old self. Alan has become pathetic, Walden is growing tiresome and Jake is rarely even around. Now even Angus T. Jones says the show is trash. Do you think that CBS will pull the plug after this season? Granted, the show never had much dignity, but it loses what little it has left with each new episode. — Carl
Matt Roush: If Men does end after this season, it will have nothing to do with the show having somehow lowered its standards, if that's even possible. It may be running on fumes creatively, but by virtue of airing after Big Bang and still pulling big numbers in syndication, there's still a sizable audience tuning in to this bawdy sideshow and more money to be made. The factors that will decide whether Men gets an 11th season will be almost purely (or impurely) financial. All of the contracts are up after this season, and CBS and the studio will have to figure out if the huge paydays involved in extending the show's life will be worth it in the short term (ratings, ad revenue) and syndication long-term. I'm afraid my math skills aren't that advanced for me to predict how this will go. From a critical point of view, it's definitely time to pull the curtain, but considering how much trouble CBS has had in finding a suitable Thursday companion for Big Bang, they may not have much of a choice.
Question: What do you think of the recently canceled AMC series The Killing being revived for a third season by AMC and Netflix? Even though I loved the show's first season, I was kinda let down by the first season finale when Rosie Larsen's killer wasn't revealed, and the second season was a big letdown for me, even though at least we got to find out who killed Rosie by the end. Now comes word that AMC and Netflix are reviving the show, with AMC showing the third season first, then presumably Netflix. Will the show be able to reboot itself, or do you think the show would've been better off being cancelled for good? - Chris
Matt Roush: As we wait to see how exactly how this deal will play out, I'd be lying if I said I was eager to see another go-round of The Killing, given how dreary that second season turned out to be. But I'll no doubt watch, in part because Joel Kinnaman's character is so unusual and compelling, but also to see if the show's creative team has learned anything. To wit: Stretching out a single mystery over an entire season may be risky, but over two seasons, it's pure folly. A less plodding pace, fewer annoying red herrings, no more "will she stay or will she go" nonsense involving Sarah Linden, who could use a parenting seminar — those are good starting points as the writers start figuring things out for the next season. Among the things The Killing has going for it: ambition, a haunting tone, a strong cast — good luck finding actors as powerful as Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton next time — and a network that has gone beyond the point of supportive to enabling. If the next story can achieve even a fraction of the emotional power Rosie's death provoked in those first chapters, that would be reason enough to give the show another look. But is there reason to be skeptical? You bet.
Question: I've read your column with pleasure for many years. Even when I haven't agreed with you, you definitely made me consider a different perspective (I loved last year's Prime Suspect). I have a theory about Nashville and its ratings challenges. While this is an "A-list" cast (who doesn't love these two amazing actresses?), just from the initial advertising it seemed like it was a tired "Women! Catfight! Cheap All About Eve" remake, which made a lot of the people I discuss TV shows with tune out. My opinion is that people, especially women, are kind of sick of these kind of stories. They want to see stories and characters that are a bit more realistic or aspirational, not so negative. Don't the networks still test in focus groups prior to final scheduling? How feasible is it for the networks to pre-vet these pilots on the web — is that a possibility with timing of upfronts and ad commitments? Wouldn't it be worth never having another Animal Practice make its way onto our screens? — Jane
Matt Roush: My colleague Michael Schneider recently wrote a terrific story about ABC's difficulties in marketing Nashville (including settling on a title), and now looking at this complaint, it seems they're damned no matter what they do. To be honest, though, the idea of a country-flavored All About Eve pitting two divas of different generations and musical styles against each other sounds exactly like the kind of juicy show I'd want to watch, especially when the actresses are this appealing. When Nashville focuses on the business of music, as it affects Rayna and Juliette, that's when the show is at its best. If ABC can't sell this as entertainment, stressing conflict and drama amid the tunes, they're doomed. And while focusing on the "realistic and aspirational" elements sounds noble on paper, how do you get people to watch? (Case in point: Friday Night Lights.) ABC's promos left a lot to be desired, in part because they were scared Nashville would be seen as a purely "country-music" show — although when you look at the ratings for shows like the CMA awards, why does that have to be a bad thing? — and it's clearly still a challenge. I'm just glad they get a full season to keep trying to figure it out. To your bigger question: The networks already do plenty of testing to try to figure out what pilots to green-light to series. (In fact, NBC touted at last year's upfront that the monkey in Animal Practice was their highest-testing character. Go figure.) At some point, you've got to let the programmers go with their gut, for better or worse.
Question: I read that Kimberly Williams-Paisley is set to become a regular if Nashville is renewed for a second season, and in the meantime will continue appearing in some of this year's back nine episodes. First, I want to say that I intend no offense or ill will to her as an actress, because she's been fine in the role so far. However, she has been exclusively connected to the Teddy political storyline, which is the single least interesting aspect of the show. I love Connie Britton from Friday Night Lights and have been enjoying elements of Nashville, but it's best when it's doing behind-the-music drama, and the political stuff is a real bore. I don't want to tell the writers how to tell their story, but no one I know who watches the show has responded to this storyline, and I have been hoping we could just put it behind us if Teddy loses the election. Williams-Paisley's promotion seems to suggest otherwise, though, which begs the question: How much do the creators of a show take into account what audiences are responding to and what they're not in terms of the continuing storylines? How much should they do this? As a writer myself, I am usually inclined to sit back and trust that the writers will take me on a fun ride, but it's becoming harder and harder to overlook the flaws in Nashville. What do you think? — Jake
Matt Roush: There are a lot of maybes in speculating about the future of a character on a show that's a long way from getting a second-season pick-up. And in this case, it depends on where they're taking Teddy's story, which for my taste should be taken right off the show as quickly as possible. So far, Williams-Paisley's character of Peggy has been one of the whiniest elements of the show's most aggravatingly dull subplot. It's hard to imagine, beyond the star's own ties to Nashville royalty, what would get the producers so jazzed about signing her full-time. And you have to think the writers are aware of the negative critical and fan reaction to the Teddy/political storylines. (I'd like to believe they knew they were in trouble in the editing room.) Sometimes there are clear-cut instances in which the producers respond to audience/fan negativity: Nikki/Paolo in Lost a classic example, most recently the horrible Nick-Kalinda storyline on The Good Wife. Given that Nashville is still going through its growing pains — we're only up to episode 8 — I'm trying to stay positive here. I really enjoyed last week's episode, which threw Juliette and Rayna back together (they're still not friends), and am hoping that's the direction the rest of the season will take.
Question: We have seen Booth and Brennan hook up on Bones, Castle and Beckett on Castle, and Tony and Ziva getting pretty close on NCIS in the past year or so. The one pairing that does not seem even hinted at is Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon on The Mentalist. Do you have any idea if the writers have anything planned for them? — Steve
Matt Roush: I can't say for sure, because this isn't a column for such spoilers, but from a critical perspective, I hope The Mentalist doesn't go that route. As you've pointed out, this is already a way-too-familiar go-to place for this sort of show, and I like to think of Jane and Lisbon as more of a sibling partnership: the wayward black-sheep brother who exasperates the grudgingly admiring by-the-books kid sister. If they ever start playing the "will they or won't they" card, it would likely drive me even crazier than the never-ending Red John saga.
Question: It seems that the Starz network doesn't really give any of its shows a chance before they cancel them. Yes, Boss had its flaws, but I thought Kelsey Grammer was phenomenal. It was good to finally see him expand his roles and not do comedy. I felt the show could have gotten better if they had simply given it a chance. The same could be said for Camelot, Head Case, Hollywood Residential, Party Down and Torchwood. Yes, Torchwood: Miracle Day had its flaws, especially in the last two episodes, but at least it had an actual storyline and didn't constantly fill each episode with countless sex scenes and nudity like Spartacus. How long will they continue to let viewers invest a lot of their time in shows before they ultimately cancel them? — Marques
Matt Roush: Did you mean to leave the misbegotten series version of Crash off this otherwise exhaustive list? (I admit I had to look up Hollywood Residential to remind myself that was even a thing.) Even Crash got two seasons to crash and burn (so to speak), and of the higher-profile shows you name, only Camelot was axed after a single season — the less said about the way they helped ruin Torchwood, the better — so I'm not sure I'd accuse Starz of a particularly itchy trigger-finger. This is still a business, after all. In fact, Boss and the still-ongoing (for now) Magic City had the luxury of being renewed for a second season before the first even premiered, a gesture of confidence (or possibly hubris) that is fairly rare in this industry, though less so in the world of premium cable, where they don't have to satisfy advertisers' ratings expectations.
Here's how I see what's happening at Starz: Dismissing earlier efforts from previous programming regimes, this is a brand still in search of that high-quality signature series — their Mad Men/Breaking Bad, their Shield/Justified/Sons of Anarchy, their Dexter/Homeland, their Sopranos/Game of Thrones — something that will put them on the map as something other than Cult Central (which is what the lurid Spartacus qualifies as at best). Boss was a noble if relentlessly downbeat effort, but in two seasons showed no potential for growth, despite Grammer's best efforts. I feel even less enthusiasm for a second season of Magic City, which looks great but hasn't much substance. It can take a while for an evolving network to achieve a breakthrough — just look at Showtime's long history — but Starz will likely get there eventually. The process just isn't always pretty.
Question: Would HBO and the creators of Boardwalk Empire consider doing a spin-off with Al Capone in Chicago? I always thought that an HBO show about Capone and the Chicago mob would make a good series. — James
Matt Roush: I'd probably be more inclined to watch such a show than a fourth season of Boardwalk Empire, as I indicated in my preview of Sunday's season finale, which could almost have worked as a series finale, but no such luck. Can't speak for the network or the producers, but I wouldn't count on a spin-off. That isn't HBO's style, and Boardwalk is their way of doing a classic period gangster drama on fresher, less familiar turf. Bringing legendary figures like Capone and Lucky Luciano into Nucky's world gives context and scope to Boardwalk, but giving Al his own series would, from HBO's point of view, probably feel like repeating themselves.
Question: In the recent "Godparent Trap" episode of The New Normal, viewers were introduced to a lesbian couple who are friends of David and Bryan, named Tiffany (Constance Zimmer) and Victoria (Leisha Hailey). I'm curious if there are potential talks of possibly doing a spin-off series centering around the two friends? — Alex
Matt Roush: That would be even more of a shock than a Boardwalk spin-off. The New Normal isn't exactly burning up the ratings — though I hope NBC sticks with it; it has grown into one of my favorites — and I can't imagine they're looking at this as a source for future development. New Normal is plenty risky already. The best we should hope for is to see characters like these reappear in David and Bryan's world as the show expands its universe of characters. (I'm still waiting for an encore by the straight African-American parents they met at Shania's school, who were looking to meet gay friends the way David and Bryan were seeking to diversify their circle of acquaintances.)
Question: Any chance of Jerry Bruckheimer bringing back the CSI: Miami franchise, either as a limited-run series, or a "Movie of the Week?" It is truly missed. Made in Jersey was a stupid substitute. — Steven
Matt Roush: Well, to be fair about how the programming dominoes work, Jersey wasn't exactly Miami's replacement. (Jersey took over the time period held last year by A Gifted Man.) Miami was displaced by the move of The Mentalist from Thursday, which was moved to make room for Elementary, which in my book is a trade up. But regarding any future for CSI: Miami: Never say never, but it's a long shot. CBS has pretty much abandoned the TV-movie format, even dumping the Jesse Stone series of movies. And all involved in Miami have moved on. But should the time come (fairly soon, I'd bet) that the original CSI is the last one still standing, it might make sense to do special "events" bringing back cast members from the spin-offs, maybe in multi-episode arcs. The fans would like it, I'm sure, and I imagine most of the actors would be willing. But actually reviving the series? Seems a stretch.
Question: What was the deal with replacing the "original" eldest daughter on Last Man Standing? Yeah, I read "creative differences." What's that mean? Not only was the Season 1 girl a better actress, more likable, but the whole chemistry between her and the other girls and between her and Tim Allen was better. Please don't tell me she was canned for being too good or being too popular. — Bill
Matt Roush: If you don't like the new girl, no explanation is likely to satisfy, but "creative differences" is the most accurate way to describe this particular recasting. The show got a new executive producer for the second season who, along with Allen, wanted to give the show a bit more topical bite, which included turning Kristin and her baby's daddy into sparring partners for Allen's character. Not everyone is on board with these changes, clearly, but that's why it happened.