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Ask Matt: Blacklist vs. Hostages, Mad Men's Split Season, Under the Dome

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: I think the last time I wrote to you was trying to decide whether to watch Lone Star or The Event in a time-slot match-up. You rightly pointed me in the direction of Lone Star in terms of quality, with clearly a star in the making in James Wolk, but sadly, it was a victim of the wrong network (Fox) for a show that probably was meant for cable, so it died an early death. Not that it matters in the long run, considering The Event also wilted. Now we have another Monday night time-slot match-up...

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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

Question: I think the last time I wrote to you was trying to decide whether to watch Lone Star or The Event in a time-slot match-up. You rightly pointed me in the direction of Lone Star in terms of quality, with clearly a star in the making in James Wolk, but sadly, it was a victim of the wrong network (Fox) for a show that probably was meant for cable, so it died an early death. Not that it matters in the long run, considering The Event also wilted. Now we have another Monday night time-slot match-up, between NBC's The Blacklist and CBS's Hostages. I generally try to only choose a handful of new shows each season, so which of the two do you recommend, if either? I'm leaning towards Hostages, because Toni Collette is a great actress and I still have fondness for Dylan McDermott from the early Practice days. Blacklist doesn't seem very original, however it seems to be getting more buzz around it. Not sure if that's because of the shallow NBC pool or if it's the better show? Help me and my DVR dilemma! #firstworldproblems — CK

Matt Roush: Ah, Lone Star. Took the world a while to catch up with James Wolk (who's having a good year), but we were there first, right? I'll be reviewing the new shows individually online as the fall rollout continues (expanding on my first-impression "takes" from the Fall Preview issue), but this is one of the most interesting face-offs because both are high-profile thrillers with "name" casts and they're among the most entertaining of a middling batch of new fall series. If I had to choose (luckily I don't, thanks to DVRs and On Demand, etc.), I'd probably go with Blacklist, which despite some obvious visual and thematic echoes of Silence of the Lambs (in the relationship between James Spader's master criminal and the rookie FBI profiler played by Megan Boone) has a fresher and more original mystery at its core, and isn't quite so loaded with melodramatic subplots as Hostages, in which everyone from the hostage-takers to the family of the president's embattled surgeon (Collette) harbors secrets, several of which erupt on the day of the crisis (Crisis, by the way, being the name of a midseason NBC drama that is basically Hostages with a different set-up, which only reinforces the derivative nature of the premise). I will say that both pilots made me want to keep watching, which is more than I can say for much of what's to come.

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Question: I've seen Gone (2011), with Molly Parker in a situation essentially identical to Toni Collette's in this new series Hostages. Why should I watch an expanded version drawn out over 15 weeks? I ask this after watching The Following on summer reruns, another 15-week series so beyond any normal experience that I could never understand how one guy, however charismatic, could amass such a large following of psychopathic killers. Along these same lines, I think Netflix has the right idea releasing all episodes at once, as I'm having a tough time carrying the mood of Broadchurch over from one week until the next. - Hal

Matt Roush: With shows like these, you either buy into the heightened premise or you don't. (The problem with The Following was more about execution, and making the feds look so stupid. The "following" themselves were often the most fascinating part of the show.) But with Hostages, comparing a densely sub-plotted (possibly over-plotted) miniseries-plus — or whatever these new limited-run series are being called — to a relatively generic woman-in-jeopardy Lifetime movie is a bit too easy, even if they do share DNA in the hardly original set-up of forcing a hero to commit a crime by holding loves ones hostage. There's a lot more story in Hostages, and whether it holds up remains to be seen. Regarding the all-at-once model: a nice luxury if you can afford it, and it works for some shows (Orange Is the New Black) better than others (Arrested Development, whose flaws were amplified by the format), but I'm still a believer in the anticipatory thrill of weekly serial TV. Would Breaking Bad be generating this sort of excitement if it had all been available at once? Doubtful.

Question: With all the cable and non-cable shows out there, I rely on your opinion quite a bit in choosing what to try and what to skip. Wow, am I glad I listened to you about BBC America's Broadchurch. Magnificent! I'm sorry to see the last episode approaching. I read that BBC has renewed Broadchurch. Do you expect BBC America to air Season 2 as well? I don't know if it has met network expectations in ratings or not. Also, there is that Fox edition of Broadchurch coming. — Victoria

Matt Roush: Haven't been following the ratings, but BBC America has reaped so much critical buzz this summer from Broadchurch that you can count on the second series airing there when the time comes. As much as I loved this series (a definite top 10 contender for 2013), I can't say I'm itching for a sequel, or whatever Broadchurch 2 turns out to be. The story had so much impact because this tragedy was unique in such a peaceful town, where this sort of thing never happens — and shouldn't happen again. At least not with these principal characters, whose stories have such a complete and shattering arc that I fear any continuation cheapening things. Of course I'd watch, though. As for Fox's planned remake: I'm rarely one to prejudge, but ... why?

Question: Please explain this trend to split (read shorten) final seasons a la Breaking Bad and now Mad Men. Is this a way for the network not to have to fork over more money and still try to over-hype the shows' demise while falsely manipulating the ratings, or is it more of some new affectation by the creators to make their show's ending the greatest yet? And here I was still stewing about all these 13 episodes per season shows. Better shut up before I get knocked down to one episode per season and I'll have to live at least 15 more years just to get through the first actual season. In the rush to be the next avant-garde thing of endings, some of these shows will just poop all over the efforts that got them there. As the man once said, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" — BR

Matt Roush: So funny you reacted this way, because my favorite Tweet in the wake of this most unfortunate Mad Men announcement came from my colleague Joe Flint from the Los Angeles Times, who snarked: "How about just airing one episode of Mad Men a year for the next 14 years?" This is a pure desperation move on the part of AMC as it faces the loss of its most acclaimed tentpoles. Creativity has nothing to do with it. This was not Matthew Weiner's idea, just as it wasn't Vince Gilligan's original game plan to split Breaking Bad's final chapter into two parts. The fact that he was able to contrive such a terrific cliffhanger last year, and then deliver this electrifying run of final episodes feels almost miraculous. And while it's possible that Weiner will work similar magic with Mad Men's final run, it's not the same sort of show and it's hard to imagine the impact of the final season not being somehow diminished by having two small batches of episodes separated by an entire year. Many of AMC's recent programming decisions have felt driven by the opposite of inspiration: the Saul Goodman spin-off (a character best experienced in small doses; shades here of The Lone Gunmen, a debacle Gilligan hopes to avoid repeating, although we'd be foolish at this point to underestimate him) and the Walking Dead"companion piece" (a nice word for clone).

Question: Like many people, I was very disappointed that Under the Dome ended on a cliffhanger rather than with a resolution. I know I should have seen it coming when CBS decided to bring it back for another season, but I was hopeful we might get lucky. I think CBS has seriously erred on this decision, which was based on the early good ratings for the show. But they didn't understand that, based on what I've seen posted online by others, a lot of people, including myself, only watched because they were expecting a fully contained miniseries. Had we known up front that it was going to be a multi-season show, a lot of us wouldn't have watched to begin with. I think CBS is going to be very disappointed when it gets low ratings next season. — Dennis

Matt Roush: As they say in the network game, nothing succeeds like excess. Look, we all know how this business works, and CBS didn't exactly hide its intent to spin the story out into multiple seasons, even if logic dictates this should have been a close-ended miniseries. It probably wouldn't be such an issue if the cliffhanger had made any sense or if Dome hadn't fallen apart so dreadfully by the end — the decline happening around the time those annoying kids started talking to the "mini-dome." And the joke's on any of us who thought the show would improve once Angie escaped from her confinement in the fallout shelter. How anticlimactic a what-the-hell shrug was that "monarch" reveal, by the way? What any of it means is beyond me, in part because I stopped caring. But the numbers held up pretty well throughout, so I wouldn't be surprised if the tune-in next summer is still robust, at least at the beginning, to see if they can pull themselves out of this mess. Look at it as a particularly nonsensical televised beach read, and try not to take it (or the dome) too seriously.

Question: Signing Clancy Brown to appear in the opening scene of Sleepy Hollow just to be beheaded by the Headless Horseman had to be intentional stunt casting, right? Is the Horseman played by Christopher Lambert? — Jason

Matt Roush: Dream on. But yes, that was one of the better surprises and shocks in the first hour, casting a well-known veteran in a role of authority, only to take him out so graphically so quickly. A classic method of putting us on alert that no one's safe in Sleepy Hollow. Except for Ichabod, of course, because there's no show without him. (And what a find in Tom Mison, right?) Bonus points as well for bringing on John Noble in a recurring role. No beheading this guy in the opening reel!

Question: I have a question regarding Ziva's replacement on NCIS, Bishop. About a month ago there was a spoiler stating that Bishop would be introduced sometime in January. But the latest spoiler states that Ziva's replacement, Bishop, would be introduced in November. I was wondering why the sudden shift? Why did the writers and Gary Glasberg choose to introduce her sooner? Are the writers seeking to quickly move on, instead of the characters taking their time to move on and adapt to life without Ziva? I do not mind very much that we are getting Bishop earlier than expected, but I am curious as to wanting to bring in Bishop earlier. — Joyce

Matt Roush: Let this be a lesson in putting too much stock in spoilers. (And mightn't this world be a better place if you could just experience the upcoming season without having all the beats telegraphed for you in advance? But that's another story.) Even a show as long-running and successful as NCIS is a work in progress, especially where transitions like these are concerned, and while the original game plan may have been to tease the viewer for half a season with a succession of agents before the arrival of the official newbie, they have every right to change their mind, and it makes perfect sense to me that they would accelerate the succession and make it an event of the November sweeps month. (Keep in mind that February sweeps will be dominated by the Winter Olympics, which could even impact a show this popular.)

Question: I don't see Mike & Molly on the fall schedule. What happened? — Alexis

Matt Roush: A rather inexplicable decision on CBS's part to bench the show for fall and hold it in reserve as a mid-season — or sooner — replacement, should one of the network's new shows not work out. (My money's on the woeful We Are Men.) Wouldn't be surprised if it's back on Mondays by November.

Question: I wanted to ask your opinion on the new shows premiering in the next couple of weeks. I'm a fan of Grey's Anatomy, The Mentalist, The Big Bang Theory, Once Upon a Time, The Middle, Homeland, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother etc., but I'm a bit unsure of which new shows to follow this fall. Basically what I want to know is, which ones show promise and worth watching? I already feel burnt by Fox's The Following, which was simply amazing in the initial episodes but quickly petered into ridiculous storylines towards the end. It honestly feels like there are already way too many shows to faithfully and loyally watch each week. What new shows are you looking forward to viewing (and those that hopefully last towards the end of next summer)? — Sonal

Matt Roush: Assuming you missed the Fall Preview issue, where the magazine staff's and my picks were on display. Keeping in mind that we've still mostly seen only pilots at this point, and many could fall off the rails the way The Following did — and some could also improve beyond the pilot, once they establish a rhythm (see Scandal) — my shortlist of new shows I'm most intrigued by include the aforementioned Blacklist and Hostages, plus (in drama) the fantasy-action series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC and, on Fox, Sleepy Hollow and the upcoming Almost Human; in comedy, Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine and CBS's Momtop the list, followed by NBC's The Michael J. Fox Show and ABC's Tuesday block of The Goldbergsand Trophy Wife. Even so, I'm ambivalent about several of these, and the proof will be in the first few weeks of episodes, whether they prove endearing and/or enduring. The fall show I'm most keen on, though, is Showtime's provocative Masters of Sex. I've seen six episodes so far and am wowed.

Question: I caught the tail end of the Community marathon on Comedy Central (thanks for the heads up), a show I had heard about before but never seemed to get around to actually watching. I got to wondering: It took a while for The Big Bang Theory to explode into the hit it has become. What was different about Community (which from the few episodes I saw seems to be just as cleverly written) that it never became the ratings success Big Bang eventually became? — Brian

Matt Roush: There's no questioning the cleverness of Community. In fact, it may be too clever by half, at least when it comes to mass consumption. The Big Bang Theory is designed to be a very broad comedy, in its multi-camera format and jokey snappy rhythms, and it succeeds wonderfully at that, its big-tent appeal effectively crushing Community when they went head to head on Thursdays. But Community by design, especially as its design becomes apparent the more we watch, is more of a cult experience and acquired taste, feeding on its own in-jokes and escalating absurdism and surreal quirkiness. In the best of all worlds, there would be room for both kinds of comedy, and thankfully there are many who respect each of these when they're at the top of their game. I'll be curious if the increased exposure for Community helps build its audience when it returns to NBC's schedule. That would be delicious, and so well deserved.

Question: This comment is in response to Denise, who in your Sept. 16 column vented over the issue of too many shows featuring lead characters with social quirks, or God forbid, disabilities even. I would appreciate some space in your column to respond. First, it is pretty rude, not to mention dehumanizing, to refer to someone as "autistic" or "Asperger's". There is a concept, called people-first language, which is a movement among the special education community to not identify a person by their disability first. How difficult is it to say "a person with autism"? Second, while I understand her point, and don't believe it to be malicious, I think everyone would find it pretty offensive if you responded to a question titled "Why are there so many shows about African-Americans?" I felt that the question was pretty tasteless and not really worth responding to in such a public venue. As a father of a child with autism, I appreciate that there are shows that are drawing attention to what they can do, and not only what they can not do. — Marc

Matt Roush: All fair points and thanks for making them, and I'm sorry if anyone took offense to last week's exchange. There's no question it was couched in a politically incorrect manner, but given what a cliché the "gifted/afflicted" detective has become, and how badly it has been handled on FX's The Bridge (sort of a flashpoint for the topic), it seemed apropos to be mocked, even at the expense of more delicate sensibilities. Now should anyone go after Parenthood and the portrayal of Max — who by the way probably won't grow up to solve crimes or consult for the feds — that's another story, and those would be fighting words.

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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