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Ask Matt: Deaths on Homeland and Sons, the Globes, Nikita, Doctor Who

Question: [RETROACTIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE NOT KEEPING UP] I'm watching Homeland and Sons of Anarchy more out of habit than passion these days, after what I thought were disappointing seasons for both. But even so, I was startled when their seasons ended on such grim notes in December, with the violent deaths of major characters. Which surprised you more: Brody's execution as Carrie bore witness on Homeland or Tara's brutal murder at Gemma's hands on Sons? Or did you see each of these events as inevitable? On the same note, which show do you think is better positioned to bounce back from these game-changers, or did they maybe (and I know you hate the expression) jump the shark? — Cass

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

Question: [RETROACTIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE NOT KEEPING UP] I'm watching Homeland and Sons of Anarchy more out of habit than passion these days, after what I thought were disappointing seasons for both. But even so, I was startled when their seasons ended on such grim notes in December, with the violent deaths of major characters. Which surprised you more: Brody's execution as Carrie bore witness on Homeland or Tara's brutal murder at Gemma's hands on Sons? Or did you see each of these events as inevitable? On the same note, which show do you think is better positioned to bounce back from these game-changers, or did they maybe (and I know you hate the expression) jump the shark? — Cass

Matt Roush: For me, Tara's savage murder was the more literally shocking of these climactic twists, but I heard from a number of people who were surprised Homeland actually went there by offing one of its two original lead characters. Brody's death was probably the more dramatically effective as a capper to a very uneven season, because it plays directly into the show's themes of how far the CIA will go to cover its assets (in this case, their plant in the Iranian government) — but by then, I was awfully disenchanted with the Brody storyline, starting with his Rocky-like instant rehabilitation from junkie to fighting machine, then watching him take out the Iranian general as improbably as he killed the veep in an earlier season. His sacrifice seemed predestined, and if it was going to spare us future scenes with his beloved Dana, then it was worth it, no slight to Damian Lewis's powerful performance. For me, this season of Homeland belonged to Mandy Patinkin as Saul, and the most aggravating aspect of the entire storyline is that loose cannon Carrie seemed to skate free by the end.

With Tara, her die (death?) was cast from the moment they introduced that preposterous fake miscarriage storyline. (If there was any shark-jumping moment this season, that was it.) Someone had to pay for that, and it should have been the writers. But since they kept painting her into a corner, and once she rejected the feds' attempts to escort her and her kids to safety, she was doomed — but I'll admit I was as horrified as anyone watching that grisly death scene. Given that Sons has only one more season left to play out its endgame, I would think this tragedy could trigger a propulsive (and hopefully more compelling) final act. With Homeland, it's going to feel like an entirely new show when it returns, and that could be either a good or bad thing. We'll see next fall.

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Question: I know you'd probably say it would be a mistake to take the Golden Globes too seriously, but honestly, did the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association actually watch TV this year? The TV nominations are unusually spot-on. Sure, there are some snubs, and Downton Abbeydidn't deserve that slot in the Best Drama category (over Orange Is the New Black or Justified or Mad Men — or even Scandal), but it's hard not to be impressed by a list that favors Masters of Sex over Homeland, that gives The Good Wife the respect it deserves, that notices actors like Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany and Ray Donovan's Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight — all shamefully overlooked by the SAG Awards in their nominations. Thoughts? — Max

Matt Roush: No question that the Globes trumped the SAGs in their nominations this year (announced a day apart last month). The SAGs have been depressingly lazy in their selections recently. I know the show is a bit under the radar, but Tatiana Maslany's virtuoso range in Orphan Black is the sort of performance the SAGs should be falling over themselves to honor, not ignore. I was also gratified to see Parenthood's Monica Potter acknowledged in the Globes' weird grabbag of a supporting actress category. It really did seem as if the Globes voters paid attention to what was going on in this specific year of TV. And if it was going to take them this long to acknowledge the brilliance of Breaking Bad in its final season (if it does, indeed, win as expected), so be it.

Question: Re: your Golden Globes predictions in the magazine: I really tried to get into Michael J. Fox's new show but it is so bad. And to get an award because of his disability would be a travesty. — Jay

Matt Roush: It's really impossible to figure out the Globes process, and I'd be more than OK to be wrong (as I very well might be, given my track record) — but the reason I suggested Michael J. Fox would win (while noting that Jim Parsons should win, and that last year's winner, Don Cheadle, or Arrested Development's Jason Bateman could be spoilers) is the same reason I believe Scandal's Kerry Washington will beat some impressive competition in her dramatic actress category: because it's a good story, not because it's necessarily the best performance or the best show. For all of The Michael J. Fox Show's significant flaws, he's very appealing playing a heightened version of himself, and he is beloved in the industry. Personally, I'm just glad that the Globes, unlike the SAGs, moved on from 30 Rock this year.

Question: Happy 2014. First, I wanted to give kudos to the cast and crew of Nikita. The CW may have totally bailed on the show, but at least the series had a satisfying ending. I wonder, though, if it could have lasted longer if it had been on a different network: say USA, paired with Covert Affairs, for example.

Second, I wanted to ask what your thoughts were on the Christmas episode of Doctor Who where Matt Smith bid farewell as the 11th Doctor. I thought the episode was entertaining enough, though I think that the writers could have found a better way for the 11th Doctor to say goodbye to Clara. Having him hallucinate about seeing Amy Pond while Clara (who is supposedly so special to the Doctor) stood there seemed odd and out of place. I was also intrigued by some of the reviews from critics, one of which appeared to suggest that the show was creatively headed in the wrong direction. — Brian

Matt Roush: Regarding Nikita, I also enjoyed the way it ended, with Nikita delivering Amanda a fate worse than death. It was a tough, taut final season that deserved better than being buried in TV's holiday dead zone. Ironically, an earlier version of the series, La Femme Nikita, did air on USA Network in the late '90s, and lasted five seasons, so the answer is yes, it might have had a happier or at least longer fate elsewhere. But all things considered, The CW kept Nikita alive longer than other broadcast networks would have, and at least gave the show the opportunity to tell a final story, however truncated.

As for Matt Smith's Doctor Who swan song: I didn't read any reviews because I wasn't able to watch it until a number of days after Christmas, and because I enjoyed Smith's quirky portrayal so much, I had a mostly good time with his final adventure, and was even moved as I saw the Time Lord age. I had no problem with him imagining Amy Pond at the end, because their connection was even deeper than what he shared with Clara (and I can't imagine she'd disagree), and the fairy-tale nature of his relationship with Amy was such that his transformation wouldn't have felt complete without a callback to his version's origin. And it's way too soon to start griping about the direction Doctor Who will take with Peter Capaldi at the helm. One of the great things about this franchise is its adaptability. I suggest viewers try to meet the new guy halfway.

Question: Homeland's finale should have been the series finale, not the season. And I have checked Cinemax and can't find anything about Hunted coming back. — Sue

Matt Roush: Don't entirely disagree about Homeland. That would have been an excellent end point for the series, and I'm a bit queasy about the notion of Carrie carrying so much of the load of the story again, although as long as she has Saul along for balance, I'll give it a try. As for Hunted: It wasn't renewed, but that was more BBC's decision not to proceed than Showtime's, and there have been reports that the pay-cable network is seeking a way to keep Melissa George's character in business, perhaps through a spinoff, so stay tuned.

Question: Do you have any thoughts or impressions about the upcoming HBO series True Detective? I am not sure what to make of this show. Since HBO has been striking out with most of its programming, I have very low expectations for True Detective. HBO used to be a great network but their current programming is just disappointing. They have been crushed by Showtime, AMC and FX. — Elizabeth

Matt Roush: A review will be appearing soon (in the magazine and online), and while I understand the skepticism regarding HBO's recent spotty track record with series that aren't Game of Thrones, I'd advise checking out True Detective when it premieres Sunday. True to HBO fashion, it's less a conventional crime drama than a slow-burning character study, and it's not without its pretentious side — the banter here is decidedly existential — but the performances by Woody Harrelson and especially Matthew McConaughey as an odd couple of Louisiana detectives are fascinating. I also like the fact that the story is a self-contained eight-episode miniseries; if you don't like it this year, maybe you'll prefer next year's story and stars (if it's renewed, which knowing HBO it probably will be).

Question: Several weeks ago you stated: "Scandal long ago put the case-of-the-week format behind it, which is a very good thing." But that case of the week gave them clients who paid. Now that they are doing "pro-bono" work for Olivia, who is paying the bills? The salaries? The overhead for the office and the safe house? Or is this "making a living" often not a relevant fact on TV? We never knew how Seinfeld's Kramer could afford an apartment in New York, for example. — Hanna

Matt Roush: Or all of those Friends for that matter. Worrying about how Pope & Associates are paying their bills is about as germane to the appeal of Scandal as fretting about when they ever find time for a potty break amid the chaos. Realism is not in Scandal's playbook, and until they start making finances a plot point, I'd just assume that they have healthy reserves to fall back on from all the super-rich and powerful clients they've serviced in the past, or when we weren't looking.

Question: I am passionate enough about NBC's The Sing-Off to email you on Christmas day. Can you give me any hope that it might be renewed despite its lackluster numbers? NBC must have anticipated low viewership over the holidays, right? — Darren

Matt Roush: Hope you had a nice Christmas. And I'm hopefully optimistic that since NBC has brought it back before, they'll do it again. No one expects blockbuster numbers that close to the holiday, and The Sing-Off appears to be a cost-efficient, audience-pleasing, seasonally appropriate way to keep the lights on a little longer.

Question: I loved Mob City! Did not want it to end! Any news on renewal for Season 2? (They left it kind of open at the end for possibly another season?) — Mike

Matt Roush: No word yet that I'm aware — things are just starting to get back to normal after these disruptive holiday weeks, so it's a bit early — but the holiday scheduling didn't benefit this miniseries, so TNT may have to make a tough call on this one. Maybe Turner execs will shed some light when they hold court at the TCA press tour later this week.

Question: As Dallas gets ready to air its third season in February, do you think we should worry that TNT stuck with this Monday time slot or should we take it as a sign of confidence in the show? — Mike

Matt Roush: I wouldn't read much into it at this point, although I still contend that this show might do better as a summer series, as it was in its first season. This is likely a make-or-break season for the new Dallas, which for the first time must entirely stand on its own without the powerful presence and draw of Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing.

Question: Do you have any idea why year after year we're subjected to poorly animated and largely plotless Christmas "specials" like The Year Without Santa Claus when there have been a number of programs beautifully produced and acted and yet don't show up. I'm thinking of programs like The Homecoming: A Christmas Story with Patricia Neal, The House Without a Christmas Tree with Jason Robards and A Christmas Memory with Geraldine Fitzgerald. Is there some reason why programs of this quality, that surely the entire family would enjoy, don't make it back on our television screens? — Joanie

Matt Roush: Those are all top-notch programs, and Homecoming is especially notable as the origin of what would become the immortal The Waltons. I don't know for a fact whether any of these shows might have appeared somewhere on TV, although you'd think the various nostalgia channels would invest in some of these distinguished classics to carry them through the holiday weeks. The reason the major networks content themselves with showing the same animated specials repeatedly, with a few of newer vintage sprinkled in, no doubt boils down to the usual reason: Ratings. These are easier sells, and networks rarely run movies in prime time of any sort anymore, especially ones that might appear dated from their perspective (and they'd be wrong). I'd sure like it if Hallmark would invest a little more in reviving this kind of classic fare (which might actually live up to the Hallmark label) than churning out dozens of formulaic cornball movies every year.

Question: Yikes! The demise of SOAPnet sure took me by surprise this noon on New Year's Day! If FIOS issued any warnings about this, I missed them. I'll miss the chance to get complete versions of Days of Our Lives into my TiVo when my local NBC station fills the time with "breaking news" of the day. Can you tell me what led to the death of SOAPnet? Guess I can access Days via computer. Just not as comfy as watching on my television. — Judy

Matt Roush: The cable companies should have prepared you for this, because it was a long time coming. If I have the story straight (this sort of business transaction isn't my specialty), SOAPnet went missing in some markets back in 2012, when Disney-ABC announced plans to replace this service with Disney Junior, although many systems continued to carry both until ABC officially pulled the plug on SOAPnet on Jan. 1. Analysts tend to see this move on Disney's part as a reflection of the diminished state of the daytime soap (especially on ABC) and a reaction to the impact of increased time-shifting in the DVR era, making this service less essential to the soap addict. Although ironically, this is happening at a time when, as my colleague Steve Battaglio reported recently, ratings are up across the board for the four (count 'em, four) remaining soaps on the three networks still carrying them. Go figure.

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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