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Question: What on earth were the writers thinking when they wrote the January 11 episode of The Good Wife? All the lawyers and investigators acted in a disgusting and sleazy manner, and the gratuitous violence against women done by the male investigator was unforgivable. One more repugnant episode like this one and I won't be watching the show. — Ruth
Matt Roush: I'm betting your reaction is exactly what the show's writers were hoping to evoke (that week, the script was credited to show creators/executive producers Robert and Michelle King). Maybe not the "I'm quitting you" thing, but revulsion for sure. The entire purpose of the episode was to show our quasi-heroes in a negative light. These are not saints, not even Alicia. And I'm glad the show allows us to see that her moral quandaries don't stop with her husband but often extend to her work. Even good lawyers and good wives play dirty, and The Good Wife expects the viewer to be able to handle that. It's refreshing to see a mainstream network drama go a little dark once in a while. That's why they call it drama. And while I agree that investigator Blake's rough handling of the woman witness (or whoever she was) is inexcusable, there has always been a sinister side to his character — and a ruthlessness to the firm's dealings in general. A good drama needs conflict and the nerve to make its audience a bit uncomfortable at times. That's why The Good Wife is the only CBS drama that gets taken seriously by the various awards groups, and also (along with its later time period) probably why its ratings aren't as robust as the hits that don't take these kinds of chances.
Question: If it wasn't for your mention of Downton Abbey in your recent TV Guide column, I would have missed it completely. I watched the first episode and am completely hooked, one of the most interesting and beautifully photographed shows in a long time. Thank you for bringing it to everyone's attention! When I first was able to receive the cable channel BBC America, I was so excited because I thought it would be 24 hours of things like Downton Abbey, but instead it is 24 hours of Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, Top Gear, etc. What a disappointment. Again, thanks for mentioning this really wonderful Masterpiece Classic production. — Audrey
Matt Roush: No question, Downton Abbey is the standout for me so far in this young TV calendar year. It's everything I want from a smart, classy, wonderfully produced, acted and written entertainment. It stays entertaining through the end, which comes much too soon (the finale is Jan. 30). Which is why I'm thrilled there will be another series of episodes, presumably to air roughly a year from now. And I get what you're saying about BBC America, but that's the difference between an operation that's a slave to ratings and public TV, which isn't. Reality shows (many of which began overseas and then invaded our shores; e.g., American Idol) drive bigger numbers, clearly, and a franchise like Top Gear no doubt has better, younger (and male) demos to boot. I too initially thought more of BBCA's schedule would be devoted to classic and contemporary drama and mystery, but the audience didn't show up for those programs the way they do for the reality fare—and, thankfully, for sci-fi/supernatural shows like Doctor Who, the current Primeval and the soon-to-return (but not soon enough) original Being Human.
Question: I really want to be a Fringe fan. I gave it 13 episodes during its first season, and just found myself bored with the storylines and uninspired by the characters. Due to the overwhelming love from many I respect and admire, I decided to go back and watch from the second season on, and the majority of my complaints have been completely erased! I'm not sure if I was wrong the first time around, or if things have gotten better, but I am really enjoying it. I'm completely engaged in the mythology and relationships. Initially, I couldn't stand Walter; I just found his ramblings annoying and cliched. But he has completely endeared himself to me.
There's only one thing keeping me from loving this series: the case-of-the-week storyline. I still find these mostly uninteresting. It's not that they aren't well done; I'm just not a fan of procedurals. I'm a huge fan of shows like Deadwood, The Wire and Breaking Bad: dense shows that become baffling if you miss a single episode (I know, I'm in the minority there). Fringe is very episodic and follows many of the procedural conventions when it is not focused on the overall mythology, but when it is...wow! I just wish it could find a better balance between the overarching story and the individual cases. For me, a great example of a series that balanced this well was the first season of Veronica Mars; each episode devoted some time (however small) to advancing the overall plot. Another good example would be season 3 of Buffy. I'm about halfway through the second season of Fringe; can I look forward to more mythology? Otherwise, despite my great enjoyment of the mythology based episodes, I may not have it in me to stick with it.
(Addendum in separate e-mail: I've just seen the "Jacksonville" episode and I've changed my mind. I'll sit through as many case-of-the-weeks as I have to for TV this entertaining. I'm no longer considering dropping Fringe.) — Katelyn
Matt Roush: All I can say is you're in for a treat when you finally catch up to season 3 — which, by the way, continues with new episodes starting this Friday at 9/8c. BE THERE! This season has been so dense with mythology it almost killed the show (in the ratings, anyway). You seem to be savvy enough about the business to know that the HBO/AMC shows you revere — as do I — would die instantly on network TV if they pulled the puny numbers they do on cable. These are boutique shows, and a player like Fringe does not have that luxury. It needs to be able to tell self-contained suspense stories to appeal to the more casual viewer while rewarding the obsessed fan with developments in the bigger arcs surrounding the characters. That arc, of the warring parallel universes, took over the first half of Fringe's third season, and while I was thrilled, it may have alienated others. And while any episodic series has its ups and downs, I will say Fringe improved greatly after the first season. I was always on board with John Noble as Walter, but Anna Torv in particular has stepped it up the deeper we got into Olivia's back story. And when doing double duty as Olivia and Faux-livia, she has never been better.
Question: I heard that Roger Ebert was going to resume the At the Movies series on PBS in January, and yet cannot find anything listed. Do you have any info on this? PS: LOVE your column and your e-mail weekly updates! — Linda
Matt Roush: Thanks! And here's the news on the very welcome new incarnation of the classic movie-review show, now titled Ebert Presents At the Movies, scheduled to launch this weekend on public TV stations in most of the top markets. (Check tvguide.com listings in your market for details.) The new co-host/critics are the AP's Christy Lemire and Mubi.com's Igniatiy Vishnevetsky, with special segments featuring Roger Ebert and other contributors. So glad there's still life in this franchise.
Question: Why do you think CBS has decided to murder The Defenders? First they give them an extension, then they dump the extension and claim they're moving them into Blue Bloods' spot, but now they're playing Mentalist and CSI: NY reruns on Friday. The only Defenders scheduled is a rerun on Saturday night. Aren't they even going to burn off the old episodes? This was an enjoyable show that my entire family watched. I have no desire to watch a Criminal Minds sequel. It was bad enough they cancelled Numbers, why this, why now, and if it's dead, how can we get cable to pick it up? — Ronda
Matt Roush: The Defenders is heading to Fridays, but not with new episodes until Feb. 4. You're right that this isn't a very positive sign for its future, unless it does unexpectedly well on Fridays, which given its mainstream nature and appealing Las Vegas setting isn't out of the question. (Of all networks, CBS can still draw a crowd on Friday.) But The Defenders is a victim of being on such a successful network. It didn't really flop on Wednesdays, and would probably look like a modest hit on ABC or NBC. But it also didn't dominate the time period as so many CBS shows tend to do, despite powerful lead-ins with Survivor and Criminal Minds. (And while I share your lack of enthusiasm for a Criminal Minds spin-off, I have to concede it makes perfect business sense for CBS to try it.) The real story here, though, is how Blue Bloods fares on a weeknight in Defenders' former time slot. If it takes off on Wednesday the way CSI did when it was moved off of Fridays a decade ago, then all bets are off on what happens next.
Question: The two main things that made me not leave NBC altogether after the Conan incident were Chuck and Community. The only problem I have is that they are bubble shows, which always means I am holding my breath until the end to see if they are renewed. Now with the NBC transition, I have no idea about their chances. Chuck is as solid for me as it was in the beginning. With Community, it keeps getting better and better (especially after seeing this week's previews). The problem is that it is now up against The Big Bang Theory and American Idol. Will NBC take that into consideration, or should I just start making plans to stop watching the network next year? — Becca
Matt Roush: Let's start with Community, a newer, fresher and, this season anyway, a better show. NBC knows the challenge it faces going up against Idol on Thursdays. Community already withstood the attack this fall from The Big Bang Theory and held onto enough of its core audience to survive. (It was never expected to win.) NBC has so many problems and holes on its schedule that Community is probably going to get a long leash, and a fairly long life, to keep doing its brilliant thing. When the new management comes in, and providing that Bob Greenblatt (formerly of Showtime) takes over as expected, he has enough taste and sense to know what a little gem NBC has in this one. I'm sure it will be OK, although it's likely to live its entire existence on a season-to-season bubble. Much like Chuck in that respect. Which is also a very lucky show to be airing on such a hard-luck network. Chuck's loyal and loud, if limited, fan base has kept it alive for four seasons against the odds, and while this hasn't been my favorite season by a long shot, I won't be surprised given the circumstances if this little-show-that-could gets to chug along for at least one more (and critical for syndication) fifth year. After that, though, I think a reality check is in order and it will probably be time to let it go. Especially if NBC itself starts to show signs of life again. Which even with someone as accomplished as Greenblatt at the helm is no guarantee.
Question: On the Jan. 9 Brothers & Sisters, it seemed like it was a goodbye episode for Holly. Did Patricia Wettig leave the show? I did not see anything about her being fired or quitting the show, but it seems as if she was written off. Is it goodbye for good or will Holly be back? — Nicholas
Matt Roush: By all accounts, although she is still in the credits for the time being, Patricia Wettig will no longer appear on the show on a regular basis, although as is usual for this sort of show, she could return if the story calls for it, the way Balthazar Getty keeps turning up. Wettig's husband, Ken Olin, is still an executive producer, so the show is still something of a family affair, so I wouldn't be surprised if the occasion calls for Rebecca and/or Holly and David to someday pay a visit from New York, or some of the Walkers to go to New York and run into them, or some such thing. But really, can this be much of a shock for anyone? The minute Holly got amnesia and Rebecca flew the coop, the (bad) writing was on the wall. And given the state of the show these days, straining to be amusing and with the exception of the occasional Kevin and Scotty story failing ever to be relevant, maybe Holly's the lucky one.
Question: I realize that CSI: Miami is fictional, but I can't believe the way the writers have written Horatio Caine's character. In the Jan. 16 episode, he accused a guy of beating his girlfriend. He never gave any proof of this. At the end of the episode, he shuts the blinds, leaving the impression he is going to beat the guy. A few seasons ago he went to Brazil and hunted down and killed people involved in his wife's death. They got no trial, but he killed them. However, he tells people that he catches that you can't take the law into your own hands. They have this guy written where I can have no sympathy for him. — Foster
Matt Roush: This show became too ludicrous for me quite a while ago, around the time it became clear that Miami was just going to be a showcase for Super Horatio to strut his stuff like a cartoon action figure. (I'm now picturing David Caruso watching The Cape and wondering why he never thought of accessorizing his trademark shades.) Thanks for confirming my decision to steer clear. I was watching the Golden Globes this Sunday anyway, but I have to be pretty hard up for something to watch on a Sunday night to waste an hour on this ridiculous claptrap anymore. Even in its diminished state, give me the original CSI anytime.
Question: Are the writers of Royal Pains aware that chronologically it's still the summer of 2009 on the show? I was just curious. Since it seems to be the longest summer I have ever witnessed. Will they ever reach the fall of 2009? And will they then skip ahead to reach the summer of 2011? — David
Matt Roush: Ha. Good point. Can't really project about its future, but you're right that the show could just as easily be called Endless Summer. It's pure escapism, and trying to project a frame of reality (or even a sense of passing time) around a show that pretends there's never a winter in the Hamptons seems like a futile pursuit. Better just to sit back and enjoy the scenery, especially this time of year when the beach looks especially tempting. Royal Pains, by the way, returns with new episodes this Thursday, helping to launch the new Fairly Legal.
Question: Thank you so much for recommending Lights Out. I'm not a boxing fan at all, and coupled with the fact that we don't get FX in my college dorm, the show would have totally escaped me if you hadn't suggested it. But I downloaded the pilot from iTunes after reading your review and found it utterly engaging and emotionally real in that Friday Night Lights sort of way, transcending its sports theme with its strong relatable characters and great performances.
It doesn't seem as flashy or action-oriented as some of FX's other programming, and in that way it seems more like something that would succeed on AMC alongside Mad Men where the slow pace is more normal. If the show's quality continues beyond its pilot, I really hope its numbers improve enough so FX has incentive to stick with it. And it occurs to me that if Damages had been renewed by FX instead of DirecTV, we'd probably be seeing new episodes by now, and I hope this show doesn't have to be rescued too. Perhaps promoting it during the next cycle of Justified will increase its exposure as its season progresses. I understand that FX can't use their existing dramas as lead-ins for their new ones since they are all at 10/9c, but I wonder if debuting the established Justified first, followed by Lights Out a month later, might have been a better strategy, although the differences between the shows make that questionable. In any case, thank you for this latest addition to the long list of great shows you've turned me onto in the years that I've been reading you. However long it lasts, I'm looking forward to the ride. — Jake
Matt Roush: I've seen about half the season so far and can assure you it keeps up the quality, so keep watching. You make a good point that Lights Out is hampered by having to be a self-starter and might have benefited by riding Justified's promotional coat tails and premiering a few weeks later. I know I had trouble getting the word out in the various radio and TV media where I do occasional dispatches because it was premiering alongside so many other shows on network and cable with higher profiles. This is the busiest January for new TV that I can remember, and some things are going to get lost in the hubbub. Hope this isn't one of the casualties. It's too good, and its lead actor Holt McCallany deserves to become a star from this.
Question: I'm a big fan of William H. Macy, and looked forward to Shameless, even though it looked like an odd premise. At 18 minutes into the episode, I turned the channel. As each character was introduced (never saw Macy, though), I got more turned off, and finally gave up. I usually give new shows a chance, but this one was SO awful right off the block, that I shut it down. Did you watch, or did you pass? — Ellen
Matt Roush: I don't have the luxury to pass where shows like this are concerned, but while I'm not a huge fan of Shameless either, I would give it another shot if you're a Macy fan. His flamboyant, scenery-chewing role becomes considerably larger in the weeks after the pilot, where he pretty much registers only as a drunken doorstop. I've seen three episodes so far, and he has much more to do. Though given how unpleasant his character is when he's awake (albeit rarely sober), I'm not sure this is actually a recommendation. Again, as in the earlier Good Wife question, this isn't a show that asks you to admire and love all the characters. In fact, the goal of Shameless quite often is to live up to its title and rub your nose in the squalor and shock factor, which at times feels gratituous. But there is something compelling about watching this scrappy family do what it takes to survive, and Emmy Rossum as the eldest daughter Fiona is electrifying and almost reason enough to watch.
That's all for now. Keep sending in those questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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Ask Matt: Good Wife, Fringe, Downton Abbey, Community Roger Ebert & More
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter!