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Ask Matt: Big Bang, Homeland, Utopia, Mysteries of Laura, Midseason TV, Sons of Anarchy, and More

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: Let me preface this by saying The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows, and I have been with them since Day 1, but after watching the premiere episodes on the first Monday of the season, I see a very disturbing trend. Sheldon is rapidly becoming the next Fonzie/Urkel. In the early days of the show, Sheldon was odd but likeable, and you always rooted for him. Now as he is being written, he is becoming more and more obnoxious, as evidenced in the way he treated Amy and the others in the two episodes last week. When shows have a breakout star like Jim Parsons, that person becomes the go-to guy in almost every episode, at the expense of the remaining cast members. Am I wrong in my assessment, or do you think a little less Sheldon and maybe a little nicer Sheldon would be better for the show and the audience? — Terry

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!

Question: Let me preface this by saying The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows, and I have been with them since Day 1, but after watching the premiere episodes on the first Monday of the season, I see a very disturbing trend. Sheldon is rapidly becoming the next Fonzie/Urkel. In the early days of the show, Sheldon was odd but likeable, and you always rooted for him. Now as he is being written, he is becoming more and more obnoxious, as evidenced in the way he treated Amy and the others in the two episodes last week. When shows have a breakout star like Jim Parsons, that person becomes the go-to guy in almost every episode, at the expense of the remaining cast members. Am I wrong in my assessment, or do you think a little less Sheldon and maybe a little nicer Sheldon would be better for the show and the audience? — Terry

Matt Roush: It's an interesting question, and you're not far off the mark — although if you've kept watching this season, the show has spread the wealth a bit, with an "A" story devoted to Howard last week, and the ongoing subplot of Penny working for Bernadette creating an interesting dynamic among the female characters. (And I'm looking forward to this week's episode involving the whole gang and the future of Stuart's comic-book store.) But in the bigger picture, there's no denying that Sheldon/Jim Parsons is first among equals when it comes to carrying the comic weight of the show, and that belief is reinforced by the Emmy-bestowing TV industry and clearly holds sway in the writers' room as well. When you've got comic gold like this, how can you not flaunt it? And it only made sense, given where last season ended, that Sheldon would be the focus of the first episodes.

I'll also take issue in describing Sheldon as having become worse over the arc of the series. In the early going, it was as if he were an alien when it came to understanding or even acknowledging human interaction. He's still an impossible handful of a character, but his interactions with Penny, and most especially Amy, have humanized him by baby steps, although in typical sitcom fashion he often seems to forget whatever life lessons he's learned and reverts back to type. There is a danger here in letting this character overshadow the ensemble even more than he already does, but Big Bang has flourished by adding characters like Amy and Bernadette — and lately Stuart — as a more regular presence, so it's not like this is a one-man show. Nor should it be.

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Question: I really enjoy your column and reading about all my favorite shows. I was wondering about Homeland. Do you think that the writers/producers/powers that be learned from their mistakes of last season? Homeland was one of my must-see shows and then they just totally blew it. It went from being an Emmy-winning show to a joke. Do you think this season is even worth tuning in for? I was so irritated at last season's mess that I vowed to tune out. But it's time for the new season to start. What do you think? Watch or pass? Thank you for your wonderful column! — Veronica

Matt Roush: Reading some of the current interviews with the show's creators, you might worry that they can't see where they went wrong last year. But I prefer to judge a show by its execution and not its hype, so as I wrote in advance of Sunday's premiere, I do think Homeland is worth checking out again. The new set-up for the post-Brody reboot is far stronger and more current, the show is more focused on the political and international consequences of Carrie's actions in her new post in the Middle East, and even the personal stuff (with Quinn and, more problematic, with Baby Brody) isn't as exasperating as it became in the last season or so. Homeland may never duplicate the thrill of those first episodes of suspenseful ambiguity, but it's a better show than it was, at least for now, and if you approach it with an open mind, it might suck you in again. But I do understand the skepticism, so it's really up to Homeland to win you back.

Question: Ignoring the normal criticisms of reality TV, I have a major issue with Fox's adaptation of the reality show Utopia. There has been a litany of explanations as to why the show has been a failure to date, but most have been ignoring the show's inability to live up to its basic premise: utopia. Beyond major casting flaws, no one has identified the biggest issue: that apparently none of the show's participants know what utopia actually means. Even knowing that perfection is an ideal, the individuals have yet to give any voice or action towards the goal of reaching 100 percent consensus (i.e. perfection). Having to deal with angry, vengeful or disenfranchised participants should be Sign No. 1 that whatever "government of the week" you have set up isn't reaching that ideal. With that basic failure in mind, I fear that the network has dug itself into a pre-production, over-marketing hole that will result in something that will end up as a rural version of Paradise Hotel. I get frustrated when good concepts become failures. How have we failed in making some of TV's international success stories failures here in the States? — Longtime reader, Jeremy

Matt Roush: I never saw or studied up on the European version so am not sure why this format would be successful anywhere, but from the moment Fox announced it, I figured "utopia" wasn't the ultimate goal here, because who would watch that on a network like Fox? I also see it more in the vein of an outdoors Big Brother (especially now that they're voting people in and out of the encampment), with all of the 24/7 surveillance, than as a new twist on Paradise Hotel or Temptation Island or whatever Fox reality trash I've banished from memory. To answer your big-picture question, Fox and others have been able to adapt some reality formats quite successfully from other countries, usually when there's a more overt or competition-driven gimmick or hook, but ours is a much bigger tent than most to satisfy, and some things may just get lost in translation. I'm assuming whatever the appeal of European Utopia might be to its host country, it was botched irreversibly in Fox's horrific casting and cynical promotion.

Question: Just wanted you to know that not everyone hated NBC's The Mysteries of Laura. It was light-hearted and funnier then most if not all current comedies. My husband and I will continue to watch it if it stays so funny. Love Debra Messing on this show. - Ajojo

Matt Roush: I like Debra Messing, too, but not in this show and not as this cloying, unconvincing character. But this is one of those situations where critics and fans will have to agree to disagree, because you're obviously not alone. (And neither am I in my critical disdain.) Laura has been attracting a sizable audience, even when it moved to the start-off position on Wednesday nights, so I have little doubt that it will get a full-season pickup. Although, from what I gather from the ratings reports, it skews considerably old, and because it's from Warner Bros., not an NBC production, that could work against its long-term future, but way too early to worry about that just yet.

My biggest issue, though, is that if people want to laugh at a funny family in this time period, why they wouldn't be watching ABC's gem The Middle, where you don't necessarily want to lock up the kids. Which, from my mail, appears to be the biggest issue with Laura.

As in this salvo from CS, who writes: "I was so disgusted with the children shown on The Mysteries of Laura that I took it out of my DVR recording list. To have two boys behaving so badly with all the violence with children this past summer has seen is so not smart. The segment where the two kids are urinating on each other was absolutely appalling. What kind of behavior does this network want to project to their audience? This isn't funny! I enjoyed Messing's characters in the past, but to be a bad role model as a mom is not acceptable. Whoever came up with this concept as entertainment needs to find another job where they have no influence on people. I hope it is canceled soon." Sorry, CS, I don't see that happening, at least not this season.

Question: Is midseason still reserved for the shows in which the networks have less confidence? This season (and progressively over the last few years), it seems like more often than not, networks are holding some bigger (and tie-in) shows for midseason, like Agent Carter and iZombie, for example. I know that for those two, recasting and wanting to fill the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. winter hiatus probably came into play with the decision-making, but has the idea of what should be held for midseason evolved since the popularity of shorter seasons has risen? How do networks view midseason shows as compared to fall debuts these days? — Tara G

Matt Roush: Great question, and it depends on the show and the network. But it has been the case for some time now that networks hold on to some of their more sensitive and unusual properties — example: NBC's Hannibal — so they don't get swallowed up in the fall glut, in hopes they can benefit from more targeted promotion during a less busy period (if such a thing even exists anymore). This season, ABC in particular is keeping back some very distinctive shows: John Ridley's bleak American Crime, the creepy The Whispers, the Asian-American family comedy Fresh Off the Boat, and the musical spoof Galavant. CBS has the very promising Battle Creek (from Vince Gilligan and David Shore), and Fox's Empire looks pretty hot. Not all of them will succeed, I'm sure, but they might get more buzz and a better opportunity to pop when presented at midseason. After this summer, even shows premiering in what we used to think of as the "off season" shouldn't necessarily all be seen as instant losers. TV, even broadcast network TV, is moving more toward a year-round model, and that could be good news to shows that wouldn't have a chance at succeeding amid the madness of fall.

Question: I am wrapped up in this final season of Sons of Anarchy and am waiting to see how Kurt Sutter manages to wrap up the loose ends before driving the club off the cliff. One of many threads I am still waiting for resolution on is the conspiracy between Gemma, Unser and the late Clay in the death of JT and the subsequent lack of investigation. Jax finding out that his mother is evil incarnate and not only killed his wife, but is also responsible for the death of his father (although perhaps he knows from reading the letters JT sent to Maureen Ashby) may be only in that last nano-second of the show before he (presumably) dies, but he has to know! I am certain that after the very last episode airs, there will be couch jockeys such as myself who will clamor about how they could have done better, but then it's not Sutter's work of art then, is it? So to them, for now, shut up and let the man do his thing! I hope that he just hasn't spun so many webs that some get lost or swept away in a deluge of wrap-up frenzy. — BR

Matt Roush: It does seem that Tara's murder, Gemma's despicable lie implicating the Chinese and the ridiculously high-body-count fallout in the revenge war that ensued has superseded, for now, the series' big-picture story of Jax struggling with JT's legacy and the circumstances of his father's death. There may be further reckoning with the past to come, but I wouldn't count on everything being tied up in a bloody bow, given how messy the present currently is. Still, there's more than half of the final season to go, with each super-sized episode packing in a lot of content — this week's episode, in the wake of the (thankfully off-camera) slaughter at the Worst Little Whorehouse in Charming, is full of more reversals and ends on a fairly big cliffhanger. I'm not sure at this point I care who if anyone is left standing by the end, but I do look forward to the day when Jax (and everyone else) realizes the extent of his dragon mama's depravity.

Question: Six months ago, I, along with a ton of other viewers, wrote to complain about the ending of How I Met Your Mother. I even included a link to a YouTube ending that was far superior before it was quickly taken down for copyright infringement. Anyway, I just watched the alternate ending on the ninth season DVD and though I thought the YouTube version was a little stronger, I definitely thought that this ending was a million times better than the "original" and all they did was a little editing and voice-over which I have no doubt they did after all the negative remarks came in. On top of that, you don't even have to watch the "original" ending, as the alternate is an option for the final episode. So with that said, have you seen the alternate ending? Did you like it? Did you think it was wise to create it in light of the publicity, or should Thomas and Bays have stuck to their guns and said screw you to all your fans and that we don't answer to you? I think it was a brilliant move and think more shows should be open to the idea if it's doable as it might actually satisfy more people. So what do you think? — Brandon

Matt Roush: I have not seen the new ending — I've been kind of busy with a new TV season — but I am aware of it, and I'm glad it's there for fans to enjoy, I suppose. I know I'd prefer it to how the series actually ended, which is all that really matters in this critic's notebook. The show left such a bitter aftertaste — not just the killing of the mother and the kids' nonchalant response, but the entire strained wedding-weekend final season (culminating in Robin and Barney's divorce?) — that this bit of post-season amelioration doesn't really change things for better or for worse (keeping with the wedding theme). But for completists, as opposed to those of us who've moved on forever, it is interesting that the show's creators at least considered this alternate ending, so why not include such a thing in a collector's edition? I see no harm. But I don't think it's necessary for producers who've created a controversial ending to come up with a palliative for the disgruntled. (Whatever I think of the way David Chase ended, or didn't end, The Sopranos, I'm OK with the way he has stood by his vision.)

Question: Thank you for being "overjoyed" that Forever has allowed my fellow Welsh boyo (Ioan Gruffudd) to keep his own accent. It's a very rare, but welcome and refreshing, change to hear our lilting, musical tones to my ears! Had to tell you that. Other, more critical comments aside, I think given half a chance, this show will grow, the characters develop. It's got something to work with. All you need is imagination. — Lynne

Matt Roush: Agreed. And while I'll probably tweet something to this effect later this week, I'll be moderating a Forever panel at New York Comic Con this Sunday afternoon, so even if you can't be there, feel free to send any questions you might have about the show or its stars to this mailbag or to me on Twitter: @TVGMMattRoush.

Question: I enjoyed New Amsterdam, and am willing to give Forever a chance (if only for Ioan Gruffudd and Judd Hirsch). But to me, the comparison between the two shows is only on the surface. John Amsterdam (the character on New Amsterdam) always seemed more like MacLeod from Highlander in the way he lives through time and the darkness of his attitude. I agree with last week's question that suggested if every episode is solved by Dr. Morgan dying in a different way, this will get old fast. But if they use that aspect sparingly, then Dr. Henry Morgan on Forever reminds me more of Captain Jack from Torchwood in the cavalier way he treats his immortality, this "OK, I was shot to death. What's for dinner?" attitude. Maybe it's just because Ioan Gruffudd and Torchwood are both from Cardiff, but I'm enjoying Forever just because they don't take the immortality so damn seriously. — Rick

Matt Roush: Oh, Captain Jack. What a great comparison. If only his and Morgan's path would cross (or crossed in flashback), that's something I'd remember forever.

Question: Although I really like Scott Bakula, the only character that seems to fit into the NCIS: New Orleans milieu like a hand in a glove is CCH Pounder, who is fantastic! In a city that is around 60 percent black, the predominantly white cast seems offensive. Lucas Black and Zoe McLellan's characters seem like caricatures and neither is very simpatico. I think you could replace both of them with no loss to the show. Nothing in the two-part intro last season, and certainly nothing in the writing, make this a must-watch on my list.

And while this is not a question as much as it is a comment. I believe that certain shows have run their course and are limping along, trying to inject life into the story by adding conspiracy theories or the shadowy big bad guy. Some of us continue to watch because we like the actors and love to watch them exercise their craft, but even that is becoming difficult. In that category, I would place The Mentalist, Bones, Castle, CSI and NCIS: LA, to name a few. As a family, we long ago stopped watching The Mentalist over Red John. The Bones and Castleseason finales were gag-inspiring, and although some in my family will continue to watch because they enjoy sharing time with familiar characters, I will not. Enough already. Move them to a different city, close the case and end the show. This need to have an ominous conspiracy theory is trite, annoying and as far as I am concerned, unnecessary. When a story can no longer move forward without one, it's time to put it to bed, and waiting until the fans desert the show is sad. In the meantime, I am filling my DVR with National Geographic, NPR and BBC nature programs for some real excitement. — Teri

Matt Roush: These are all worthy alternatives to a steady diet of procedurals, which sounds as if they've soured on you anyway. Regarding NCIS: New Orleans, you make an especially good point about the racial mix of the team, although I do think Lucas Black is well cast as a good-old-boy. CCH Pounder can do no wrong in my book, even if she's underutilized here. My real surprise in your reaction is that you would be surprised at the generic quality of this spinoff. It's all about comfort level, not innovation of the form. Same goes for your astute observation that when long-running crime dramas add conspiracy arcs in an attempt to keep things interesting, it often feels desperate (Castle's wedding-day disappearing act most particularly, although the ratings for its season opener were impressive). Does it help, though, knowing that it only took Bones one episode to clear up the FBI conspiracy that cost Sweets his life? Probably not.

Question: OK, so I've been thinking about this all summer, and I hope you can answer this for me! In the Season 2 finale of Arrow, did Felicity know what the plan was when she walked into the mansion? I don't think she did, but it sounds like I'm in the minority on this. What's the deal with that? — Wendy

Matt Roush: I haven't been thinking about this all summer, but when I consulted with my in-house Arrow expert, I was reminded of just what it was you're talking about, and I agree with the majority that Felicity was in on the plan. Which doesn't make what Oliver/Arrow said or maybe even meant any less significant.

Question: After all the football on Sunday, I am ready to settle down and watch The Amazing Race, a very favorite show. I don't think CBS realizes what they have done. The original lineup with 60 Minutes, The Amazing Race and The Good Wife was great. I do hope CBS reconsiders. — Rita

Matt Roush: Change is tough, especially when you've established a habit such as this for the last few years. CBS probably figured that Race's fan base would follow it anywhere, even to Fridays (where it's holding its own, albeit with predictably lower numbers). And hammocking Madam Secretary between 60 Minutes and The Good Wife was probably its best shot at getting that series an audience, so the strategy here was more about establishing something new, which even a successful network like CBS continues to need to do, even at the expense of long-time favorites (which is why veteran franchises like The Mentalist and CSI eventually find their way to the unenviable time period of Sundays at 10/9c, to make room for the new).

Question: In your Sept. 29 column, you were asked specifically about Nathan Fillion and whether he will renew his contract on Castle. I'm curious as to why it hasn't been addressed that Stana Katic's contract is about to expire as well. Katic is definitely a lead on Castle, and is imperative for the show's future. It seems as though most news reports are focusing only on Fillion's contract, but I would argue that without both Castle and Beckett, there is no way Castle would survive. What are your thoughts on this? Is there industry information that fans just haven't been made aware of, like that Katic has already signed on for more seasons? It seems obvious to me that ABC would try to snag Fillion first, but I would think it doesn't make much sense to ignore the other half of that duo. — Kate

Matt Roush: Here's a secret: As a critic, I don't report on contract negotiations, and generally, I don't care about them until it actually affects the life of a show, because I tend to work under the assumption that most lead actors will eventually make a deal, choosing not to walk away from the show that helped make them a star. Of course, if they do, then it's news. (See our archive on Cote de Pablo if you doubt it.) Until then, it's pure speculation that I'd just as soon stay out of. Last week's question was directly aimed at Nathan Fillion, who gave TV Guide Magazine a direct quote on this subject in our Returning Favorites issue. It didn't occur to me then to wonder about his co-star, although you're absolutely right that Castle without Beckett would be just as untenable as Castle without Castle. Rightly or wrongly, there may be an assumption that Stana Katic would be less likely to bolt than Fillion, who had a higher profile before this show came along. Frankly, I'll be surprised if they're not all back in place next year and for several seasons to come, unless and until the day comes when the producers, stars and network mutually agree that it's time to hang it up. Given the season opener's ratings, I'd imagine it could still be a while.

That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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