Question: OMG! The Halloween episode of Black-ish was the funniest yet! Between all the pranks at home and his office (Josh getting hit was the best — twice!), the daughter deciding not to prank anymore, and the kids not going trick-or-treating because they didn't want to get diabetes, I couldn't decide what was funnier; well, maybe Josh getting hit twice in the nose was the best! However, I think the best thing of the whole episode was the ending when they came out dressed like the Jackson 5; brought back so many awesome childhood memories for me! This is the best sitcom of the 2014 season! I hope they renew it as I look forward to watching it every week! — Amy, Galloway, OH
Matt Roush: Rest assured that you can continue to look forward to watching this for a good long while. Black-ish was among the first full-season pick-ups of the new season, and it's beginning what I'm sure will be a healthy run — and here's hoping ABC keeps it comfortably ensconced behind Modern Family and continues to nurture it. For me, the episode in which the parents worked themselves up into guilt pretzels over whether to spank their kids was the best to date, but the gags in the Halloween episode were good fun, even if you could see a few of them coming. And agreed on the Jackson 5 finish. There's a buoyancy to Black-ish and a happy chemistry within this family ensemble that I'm enjoying greatly — Laurence Fishburne being a special treat — and its success is one of the happier surprises of the fall season. (Black-ish and The CW's Jane the Virgin and The Flash are easily my favorite new shows of this fall crop.)
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Question: You frequently, and justifiably, praise Eden Sher for her portrayal of Sue Heck on The Middle. I don't really have a question, except maybe can we get some praise for Charlie McDermott as Axl? Many times he seems to be there just to annoy the rest of the family, but I think he really stood out in last week's episode when he was worried about his future. His scenes while he was locked in the library were outstanding, and his "Suck it, future!" line at the end was perfect. — Tom
Matt Roush: Happy to comply. There's really not a weak link in the Heck family, and Axl's character has deepened considerably as he wanders, ever so tentatively, from the family fold. Just admitting, to a statue of William "LeBron" Shakespeare, that, "I'm not sure my awesomeness is going to translate into the real world," is pretty awesome, and Charlie McDermott is terrific at letting us see, even fleetingly, the insecurity beneath the bravado. But let's take a bet on how long before he switches majors.
Question: Sons of Anarchy continues to be (to me, at least) the most fascinating show currently broadcasting new episodes. (Yes, The Good Wife is a close second!) The widening repercussions of Tara's murder and Gemma's lies have become a morality tale that reaches heights reminiscent of The Shield a few years ago. While I agree it is time to bring the story to a close, I will miss it when it is gone. My question: Who performed the phenomenal version of Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower that played through the first several minutes of this episode? I'm afraid I won't be able to erase the episode until I can find a way to buy a copy of that performance! Thanks, and continue the great work! — Jay
Matt Roush: First, the music. Credit goes to music supervisor Bob Thiele, the show's house band the Forest Rangers, and vocalist Billy Valentine. And it looks (via the Rangers' Facebook page) as if a version will be available for download on iTunes as early as Tuesday. Liked the song, but not sure how I felt about the episode, which was even more ponderous than usual, and I guess I'm still having trouble with the season's ridiculously high body count, especially in the wake of the slaughter at the brothel. In a real world, a bloody event like that would have the attention of the national media, and this Game of Thrones-on-Choppers wouldn't be playing out with such ineffectual law enforcement, even by Charming's sorry standards. But I will keep watching to see who, if anyone, is left standing, once all the lies (mostly Gemma's) are finally revealed.
Question: What do The Voice producers have against suspense? It is weird to me that every promo is, "Up next! A singer who gets all four judges to turn their chairs!" or "Still to come! A knockout round that ends in a surprise steal!" Every episode starts with a pretty good singer and ends with a performance that "wows the judges!" I still enjoy the show because I watch to hear the performances and to listen to the judges' banter. (Side note: Taylor Swift was phenomenal last week. I wish the regular judges would be half as insightful and helpful with their commentary as she was in her guest stint.) Anyway, do you have any thoughts on the producers' decision to constantly spoil what's coming up in the pre-commercial teasers? Is it just laziness? Can they simply not come up with something better to promote, or do they just not care? — Kirsten
Matt Roush: Annoying teases and constant repetition are part of the formula, even on the reality shows I enjoy, and I suppose this sort of padding is a way to reorient viewers who aren't paying so close attention while adding to the overall tone of breathless hype. Since I refuse to watch shows like this in real time, it's always an invitation for me to fast-forward, and even if you aren't watching on delayed playback, surely you have a mute button on your remote. Which honestly is the only way to keep shrieking bumpers like these from driving you mad.
Question: I was on the fence about watching the series The Knick. But based on your review and others I read, I decided to give it a chance and am so glad I did. What a wonderful drama that so perfectly evokes another age. And it has an amazing ensemble cast. I loved each episode, but thought the race riot was as close to a perfect TV episode as I've ever seen. Each actor gave a great performance, the various story lines were compelling and tied together nicely. Now that the first season is done, I'm curious as to your opinion on the series overall. — Robin, Brooklyn
Matt Roush: I was riveted to The Knick from the start and felt it just kept getting stronger, darker, more disturbing (Clive Owen's performance in particular) along the way, and there's no question that the thrilling set piece of the race riot and the siege on the Knickerbocker Hospital was the season's high point. I'll spend the hiatus between seasons wondering how heroin (as peddled by Bayer) will help cure Dr. Thackery's cocaine addiction. These are issues that don't tend to come up during an average episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Question: I agree with your assertion last week that the ABC musical drama series Nashville is a great guilty pleasure show, but I have one problem. One of my favorite characters is Will Lexington (Chris Carmack), whose gay storyline was one of my favorites — until Will married Layla and started doing this stupid reality show, and dropped Derek Krantz's character of Brent McKinney, who was Will's ex-boyfriend and Layla's manager! I hated that they dropped Brent from the show without explanation, and that he isn't on the show when he's managing Layla's career (we should know his input about what he thinks about Will marrying Layla and their reality show), plus he had a relationship with Will (they both have unresolved feelings for each other). Why would Callie Khouri and her writers drop Brent from the show, and take such a dumb turn with this reality show storyline with Will and Layla? I understand that Will is still a closeted homosexual and is a rising country music star, but Will marrying Layla and being forced to stay married to her because the producers of the reality show want them to still be married is ridiculous! Why can't the writers have Will deal with his sexuality head-on and divorce Layla, and quit the stupid reality show, which is the weakest part of Nashville for me right now!
I also agree with you about your enjoyment of the new NBC superhero drama series Constantine. Matt Ryan is perfectly cast in the title role and is doing an excellent job. What I'm worried about is the that the ratings have been kind of low for a show that airs on Friday nights, with the premiere episode only attracting 4.28 million viewers, and the second episode dropping down to 3.12 million viewers (though the second episode aired on Halloween night). I just hope the ratings for Constantine improves so it won't be canceled by NBC (the show is owned by Warner Bros. and not by the network). I know it airs on Fridays where expectations are set lower, but the premiere episode of Dracula last year had higher ratings than Constantine's premiere, and the ratings for Dracula dropped in its second week just like the second-week ratings for Constantine. Why did NBC choose to premiere Constantine towards the end of October? Was it to benefit from the Halloween holiday season because of the show's supernatural theme? And would the ratings for Constantine have been better if the show aired earlier in the fall TV season? I hope NBC gives Constantine a chance for a longer shelf life to grow its audience! — Chris
Matt Roush: Oh, Nashville. While I still enjoy much of the melodrama and the music, and anything involving Drayna — Ruke, who are they kidding? — there are several subplots fighting for most cringe-inducing these days: mopey Maddie vs. deadly dull Daddy-the-Mayor (yeah, right) Teddy, Scarlett fretting over the homeless blues musician, Gunnar fretting over his surprise son, which he now gets to explain to the perpetually put-out Zoey. But the Will storyline takes the never-should-have-had-a-wedding cake. The most preposterous moment, of many, was when the reality-show producers told Will they weren't interested in doing a show about a closeted gay country star faking a marriage. What reality producer wouldn't kill to make that show? (I'll believe it when I see them not air any of that footage.) Chris Carmack is doing the most with a bad hand, and I also hope that if/when the show moves past this Layla detour, Will can find a way to enjoy his life as both a country artist and a gay man. That's a story that TV hasn't told yet.
With Constantine, it's a little early to get too worried. It's off to a slow start for sure, and had the misfortune of airing the second episode on Halloween night (when viewership is always depressed, especially when it falls on a weekend). The late premiere, along with Grimm's, was obviously meant to tie in thematically to all the Halloween/occult entertainment in late October, but I'm not sure the results would have been any more promising if it had launched earlier with all the other fall shows. Having now seen the second episode, I'm more impressed with Matt Ryan than by the show itself — was underwhelmed by the portrayal of Zed, though it's still early — but Constantine still seems a good fit with Grimm, miles better than last year's misbegotten Dracula reboot, but the real story on Constantine's appeal will likely not be told in its same-night ratings.
Question: I see that Ryan Murphy is launching an American Crime Story anthology series on FX. But this announcement reminded me of ABC's own announcement that a show called American Crime will be on its midseason schedule. Obviously, Murphy's version is titled as such to recall the American Horror Story franchise, so FX probably won't want to change that. However, it seems like having two shows on the air with such similar titles is bound to cause confusion. Do you think ABC is likely to change their show's name? It seems like ABC will get theirs to the air first, since the announcement from FX did not include anything about when the show is set to premiere. I suppose the point could be moot if ABC's version is one of their swiftly canceled duds, but saying either way at this point is pretty tough. Your thoughts? — Jake
Matt Roush: What's in a name? In this case, not enough to get worked up about. The two projects are so dissimilar that I can't imagine anyone being confused once they're both up and running. And you're right that ABC's American Crime, from John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), will be seen first, most likely in winter 2015 or spring, as Ryan Murphy's true-crime anthology (first season devoted to the O.J. Simpson case) is still in development, with no projected premiere timetable. Judging from the pilot, ABC's American Crime, an emotionally and racially charged study of the legal system through the perspective of several grieving families — the cast includes Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman — could be among the most critically discussed shows of the midseason. However Murphy's high-concept docudrama series turns out, it will likely be thought of, initially, as the "O.J. Show" and will never be mistaken for ABC's drama, which even if unsuccessful in the ratings will be appreciated for its ambitions to bring a cable-level intensity and purpose back to prime time.
Question: Is Sleepy Hollow getting a full season, unlike last year's half season? I think if Fox doesn't give Sleepy Hollow a full episode run this year and in the future, there might not be fans left if a short-run season for Sleepy Hollow continues. And any news on Longmire? I am so ticked off that A&E stupidly canceled the show. No resolution for us viewers, and the lame excuse that the older demographic was the reason for the cancellation isn't cutting it. — Lori
Matt Roush: I'm generally OK with certain network series getting shorter orders — less can be more, when it comes to dramatic (or in this case, melodramatic) focus — but the happy news is that Sleepy Hollow has expanded from 13 to 18 episodes in its second year. Still a bit short of a full season, and I'm sure the aim here is to run straight through with as few interruptions and repeats as possible, and sign off well before May, but this should keep Ichabod and Abbie on the screen for a while longer than last year. With Longmire, no real movement on that front that I'm aware of, which doesn't mean it's a lost cause, I suppose, but also no cause yet for false hope. This remains one of the most aggravating cancellations in a long while, but I also see no reason to doubt that from the network's perspective, as painful as this is to the show's fans, it was purely a business, not a creative, decision.
Question: Being a fan of the Western genre, I long for the days of the '60s when there was some sort of Western on every night. I don't think current TV executives take into account how many of us fans are out there. I am glad we had Longmire for three years and was surprised at its cancellation, which you have discussed at length here. I think the movie companies are missing out on the genre also. Wouldn't you love to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid remade with George Clooney and Brad Pitt? But I digress, as my question and comments are about Hell On Wheels on AMC. I applaud AMC for trying shows like this and Turn, and I hope more people will watch them. Hell On Wheels' story of building a railroad and race relations after the Civil War is really entertaining. The relationship between Anson Mount's Bohannon and Common's Elam was particularly interesting, because Bohannon being a former rebel soldier and slave owner had become close friends with Elam. Anson Mount is a good adventure series actor and would be great as an Indiana Jones type. Do you think we might see more Westerns on the TV horizon? — Terry
Matt Roush: The glut of Westerns in the '60s was the equivalent of what's happening with crime procedurals in today's landscape, and while analysts will tell you that such things are cyclical, I doubt you'll see a time when Westerns return with such prominence. A few development cycles ago, multiple networks were toying with Western projects, but not a single one made it onto the schedule, which is either an example of network timidity or an illustration of how hard it is to pull off this sort of period adventure-drama in a way that seems relevant and marketable in today's fractured TV environment. Period pieces will never be entirely out of vogue, and Westerns (contemporary or otherwise) will continue to be pursued, especially if producers keep mining the classics for potential reboots. But a good TV Western is overdue, and should one actually take off, that's when you might see it become trendy again.
Question: Why do you think there are so many people downing Gracepoint? I happen to really enjoy it, as does everyone I work with that is watching it. I think that doing 10-part series like this is really a great idea, as plots and characters won't get stale. Also, I have enjoyed Stalker pretty well, although the first episode was hard to take! Do you think that it will be renewed? — Mary
Matt Roush: As someone who sorely misses the days of the epic TV miniseries, I am a keen proponent of the idea of these limited-run series, whether on network or cable (see: Fargo), but the main problem, critically speaking, with Gracepoint is that a much better version of the story is already out there: its predecessor (which aired on BBC America), Broadchurch. For those who never saw or refuse to seek out the original, the remake is still a fairly gripping mystery story, and I hope the networks aren't so dissuaded by the weak numbers for Gracepoint that they'll use that as an excuse to abandon this new format. I don't share your enthusiasm for Stalker, but I never doubted it would work on CBS as a companion piece for Criminal Minds (also, not a fan). The full-season pickup was a no-brainer, and I would be surprised if it doesn't return next season.
Question: I am wondering, do you know if they will ever bring back Ziva on NCIS? I am 11 and she was my idol. — Heather
Matt Roush: It's never too early to have TV role models or, consequently, to learn to roll with the punches when they're taken from you — when I was your age, I was probably mourning the recent demise of such faves as The Wild Wild West, Batman and Land of the Giants (the first two of which would at least live long in syndication, much as repeats of Ziva-era NCIS will never go away), and I had to be talked off the ledge when Bewitched switched Darrens midstream. Change is hard, but in long-running shows, inevitable. The short answer is that she won't be back, or at least not anytime soon (the actress is currently filming a CBS miniseries), but given that Ziva is still alive and well in the show's universe, just not part of the team anymore, means that the possibility of her returning for a special occasion — which would be hugely promotable for the show, and not bad business for Cote de Pablo as well, I'm sure — will never be out of the question. Just not imminently. So keep the faith, and be patient.