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Ask Matt: Is Modern Family the Best? Plus: Killing, Fringe and More!

Send questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!Question: I have long been aware of your fondness for ABC's Modern Family, but in one of your recent "Matt's Picks" columns, you heralded it as "TV's best comedy," which honestly caught me by surprise. I rather enjoyed season 1, but as with many viewers, I feel like season 2 was a letdown. Perhaps last year the show could have been in the running for Best Comedy, but after an increasingly dull sophomore year, I'm surprised at your continued admiration for the show. Where Modern Family shifted toward more gimmicky humor, lame ...

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

Send questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!
Question: I have long been aware of your fondness for ABC's Modern Family, but in one of your recent "Matt's Picks" columns, you heralded it as "TV's best comedy," which honestly caught me by surprise. I rather enjoyed season 1, but as with many viewers, I feel like season 2 was a letdown. Perhaps last year the show could have been in the running for Best Comedy, but after an increasingly dull sophomore year, I'm surprised at your continued admiration for the show. Where Modern Family shifted toward more gimmicky humor, lame pratfalls and redundancy, NBC's little-show-that-could, Community, upped its game in its second season, taking risks and playing with genre and structure in the most hilarious of ways. When stacked up one against the other, it's really no contest in my eyes. Community is TV's Best Comedy, hands down.
I honestly hadn't noticed just how differently I viewed each show until the last several episodes of each. I still find Modern Family amusing enough to keep up with it, but I happened to watch an episode back to back with an episode of Community and the difference was startling. Maybe it's just me, but after barely cracking a smile during Modern Family, Community had me rolling in the aisles. Modern Family used to be a true delight, but now, I find that I'm just plain bored most of the time and see the gags coming from a mile away. It's strange, really. I can still appreciate Modern Family on certain levels, but as far as my top comedy criterion is concerned, it falls short: I simply don't laugh all that much anymore. I know you're a fan of Community as well (and have been a dogged champion for the show for a long time), so I'm curious: What is it about Modern Family that puts it on top for you (especially over Community)? Have you enjoyed season 2 as much as season 1? What are your criteria for a great comedy? As always, thank you for your consideration. I adore your column and would love to hear your thoughts (even if, for once, we seem to disagree). — Lacy
Matt Roush: You know the old saying "to each their own?" It applies here. I prefer not to play one great show off against the other, because I admire Community tremendously and agree it had a splendid and audacious second season and hope (though am not expecting) the Emmy voters will give it a bushel of nominations. But I'm not buying the argument that Modern Family, by being a more accessible and far less ironic comedy, is somehow inferior. (Both shows excel in elaborate physical comedy, so I'm not buying that criticism either.) I've often said over the last two seasons that I prefer the best of ABC's current comedy lineup to NBC's (and Community is easily my favorite NBC comedy, by the way), because ABC's are generally less smart-alecky, smug and (once again) ironic. Modern Family feels to me like a modern yet timeless classic, the best and most reliably hilarious of its type since Everybody Loves Raymond went off the air. Family and the seriously underrated The Middle are unashamedly broad but also unmistakably real in their multi-generational approach to relatable, universal family comedy. And yes, they make me laugh. Frequently. And they also work on me on an emotional level, which matters quite a lot. Community also makes me laugh more often than not, but it gets the rap on occasion (not always deserved, but not always off the mark, either) that it's so keen on pushing the envelope with surreal flights of fancy that it can lose sight of the humanity of its characters (most notably Pierce).  But again, I don't want it to come off like I'm praising Modern Family at the expense of Community. Comedy is the most subjective of genres, but I adamantly dismiss any talk of a Family backlash. Just because it's popular doesn't make it any less special or brilliant than NBC's quirky cult comedies.
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: While I appreciate the need for patience while watching a show like The Killing (and I was an avid Lost-ie, so I know the meaning of patience), it seems that what frustrates viewers the most isn't the pace, but the fact that every three episodes or so, we feel as if the previous episodes were a complete waste of time, because the clues and evidence end up having nothing to do with Rosie's murder. With some of the best mystery shows, there were clues from the beginnings that managed to tie their way into the satisfying conclusion, whereas with The Killing, I have a feeling the case will be solved on clues that have not been shown to us and will appear later (most recent example, the name and time notched in Rosie's textbook.) The whole point of following the clues is to try and come up with our own theories, but we keep getting thrown back to square one every few episodes, and so it is impossible to really "participate" in this show the way we did with Twin Peaks or Lost. And unless something major happens with the campaign storyline, I will continue to dislike it and see it as an annoying distraction. I feel as if my patience is being tried for a conclusion that will essentially feel like we've been-there-done-that. — Jackie
Matt Roush: I also hope when we get to the end, we won't feel cheated by the denouement coming too out of left field, but it still seems premature to me to be bashing The Killing for its various red herrings and reversals, which are the stuff of mysteries, especially those that don't wrap things up within an hour or a chapter. I get the eye-rolling with several of the twists (the coincidence of a second Grand Canyon T-shirt, Bennet hiding a different girl the night Rosie went missing), and for now the campaign subplots still feel way too tangential — how great, by the way, was this Sunday's more focused episode, with only Linden and Holder at center stage? As we discussed a while ago in this column, AMC may have done the show a disservice with its "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" promo campaign, because it's turning out to be anything but a play-along simplistic whodunit. The Killing works for me best as a multi-faceted character study played out against a murder investigation and the subsequent emotional fallout (the show's strongest suit), but it's true that if the mystery aspect doesn't ultimately satisfy, neither will the series as a whole.
Question: I don't always watch the Jesse Stone TV movies, and I think it's because the whole look and feel of them is so gloomy and depressing. I watched a good part of the most recent one (Innocents Lost), but was very forcibly put in mind of the superb Wallender mystery series on PBS. Location featuring wild landscapes near the sea? Check. Main character is an aging detective/lawman? Check. Said lawman has either depression or substance abuse issue, or both? Check. Even the landscape scenes and establishing shots were similar in tone to the Wallender movies; the weather and physical locations seem to be as much a character in the story as the people do. And yet I had no problem paying full attention to Kenneth Branagh's Wallender, while I zapped in and out of the Jesse Stone movie. (And I love Tom Selleck; loved Magnum, and I think he's the heart and soul of the excellent Blue Bloods.) Was I the only one to notice the similarity (both in tone and in the visuals) between Jesse Stone and Wallender? — Jean
Matt Roush: You're the first to call this to my attention, but you have a point. I'll admit, the last Jesse Stone movie was so mannered in its sedate, measured moodiness it makes The Killing look like 24. Can't really accuse it of being a rip-off, though, because the movies predate PBS' Wallander imports (if not the books they're based on), which I agree are more electrifying as entertainment. They are without doubt tonal cousins of that sub-genre of bleak character-driven noir, more European (Scandanavian, if you will) in feel than traditional American. The brooding melancholy quietness of the Jesse Stone movies is what initially intrigued me, but it's threatening to become self-parody.
Question: First Ellen Pompeo hints this could be her last season on Grey's Anatomy, then Patrick Dempsey says it is his. If this is the case, can we dare to hope that Shonda Rhimes and ABC will just let this show go out gracefully? This show has a chance to end on some high notes, which it deserves. — Brian K
Matt Roush: We'll have to see how all of this plays out and whether the actors (most recently Dempsey) might not just be negotiating through the press, which is hardly uncommon. At the moment, no one is saying anything about this being Grey's final season, but if they lose McDreamy and/or Meredith from the regular cast, I surely hope they don't try to pull a post-Michael Scott Office and let this show limp along like the last few dreary seasons of ER. Meredith is the voice of the show, and Derek an essential part of its backbone and heart. Many would feel Grey's has already lost the chance to go out on a high — I still find much to enjoy here, so will not be piling on — but if they can't sign their most essential players beyond this season, then it will be time to lay the groundwork for a true and (one hopes) satisfying finale.
Question: I loved the Fringe finale, but I doubt it will get a second reprieve in May 2012. The Fringe mythology is so complex, it will never build significantly in ratings. What I'd really like Fox and the Fringe powers-that-be to do is admit this and give the audience a no-holds-barred Season 4 that ends in a series finale. Give us everything you've got and go out in a blaze of glory! What are your thoughts, Matt? — Peta
Matt Roush: I'm pretty sure everyone involved at Fox and on Fringe realize that a ratings resurgence isn't in the cards. This is pure cult TV, for better or worse, and it's really a question of Fox's needs and expectations that will decide how long Fringe stays on the air. They seem to have a pretty healthy respect for each other (network and show), so I'm trusting both the writer/producers and the Fox execs to stay honest with each other and give the show the time it needs to tell this crazy story. If next season is the final year, someone needs to make that call at the appropriate time — and I hope it's the creative forces in that driver's seat. Having come this far, it would be beyond frustrating not to have the show end on its own terms.
Question: Here's something I haven't seen brought up yet and that I'm really concerned about for Fringe S4. Now that Peter doesn't exist, doesn't that diminish the inevitable confrontations between Walter and Walternate, Olivia and Faux Olivia? The conflict between worlds was primarily motivated by Walternate's personal vendetta against Walter for kidnapping his son. Our Olivia was impersonated and her doppelganger slept with the man she was in love with. Take Peter out of the equation (or their memories), and as viewers we are cheated out of some meaty dramatic conflict. Will we ever see Walternate confront Walter over kidnapping his boy? It appears now all we will see is Walternate blaming Walter for the holes in his world. It just doesn't hold the same punch. One is personal, the other is global. I trust the writers, they are phenomenal, and the twist was awesome, but I can't help but feel that it will cheat us out of two enormous conflicts that we as viewers have been waiting to see play out for over a season now. — Roger
Matt Roush: All legitimate questions, but we really don't know what it means yet that Peter never existed, and how that impacts all that has come before. Until that is explained for us, one hopes in the season opener, it's kind of hard to judge what will come next. I have to believe that the conflicts between the dual Walters and Olivias — and the two worlds, for that matter — will remain deeply personal, because that's what distinguishes Fringe from just another exercise in cosmic gobbledygook. And whatever that twist implies, Joshua Jackson is still going to be a part of Fringe, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Question: With the news that Christopher Meloni is leaving SVU (or rather has left SVU), I was wondering why he never seemed to get as much praise as his co-star Mariska Hargitay did? I always found the way Meloni balanced Stabler's demons with his work to be compelling - and then, when you realize that while playing Stabler in the early seasons, Meloni was playing the character of Chris Keller on OZ that was the complete opposite of Stabler, you almost have to appreciate him even more. I find it fitting that an actor I found to be especially underrated will leave the show with no fanfare or closure for his character. — Chip
Matt Roush: While it's true that Mariska Hargitay has an Emmy and Christopher Meloni doesn't — he was nominated in 2006, which is more than most lead actors in procedurals can say — I'm not sure he didn't get just as much credit over the years for the show's long success. Both got meaty storylines along the way, Stabler's rage and family issues in particular giving Meloni plenty to play with. I wouldn't doubt, though, that Mariska Hargitay is seen as a bigger celebrity and has landed more magazine covers. Beauty over brawn, after all —  not that Meloni doesn't have plenty of admirers on that count (especially after letting it all hang out on OZ). Also figure that when SVU started, there weren't that many female detectives in the lead role of a franchise procedural. (CSI has yet to promote a woman to the lead position.) With Meloni gone and Hargitay scaling back her duties by mid-season (and long-time show-runner Neal Baer decamping to CBS and A Gifted Man), it's going to be a very different SVU next season, that's for sure.
For Brian T, who asks: "Is there any chance that Law & Order: SVU would have an interest in picking up Alana de la Garza as a permanent ADA or DA now that she is no longer needed on LOLA? She would really add some nice fire to the mix," I can't say I disagree. I've heard nothing to suggest this will happen, but it sounds like the kind of crossover this franchise is known for, and Connie Rubirosa is welcome back in the TV courtroom anytime, as far as I'm concerned.
Question: Love your column and insight into our favorite shows. One thing that bothered me as Bones' season ended is the dynamic that children will play in the coming season. One thing I enjoyed about the show was that it dealt mostly with the storyline and only gave glimpses each week into character backgrounds, and only when they pertained to the storyline. I'm afraid with the introduction of two babies, it will turn into half soap opera, half procedural. Hodgins was already trying my patience as an insecure, psychotic father to be. He would have been better left as the rich, clever scientist dedicated to his work. No way I see Bones dedicated to her work while she cares for a baby. I know you hate the jump-the-shark term, but this bothers me because I really like the original premise of the show. — John
Matt Roush: Some would probably argue Bones crossed the line into being half-a-soap (if not more) a long time ago. The tone of many of the comments and questions I've been fielding since the reveal of Bones' pregnancy certainly feels that way. Your concern is a fair one, because who wants to tune in to a forensics version of Parenthood? But I imagine they'll soon enough install a nursery adjacent to the Jeffersonian lab, and everyone can get back to business — although it seems like it's been a while since the weekly mystery was the primary focus of this show. Case in point: The next question.
Question: Doesn't everyone realize that Bones did the same thing that The X-Files did many years ago? The main characters hook up off-screen and the result is that the woman (Bones in this case) becomes pregnant. I'm sick of reading stories from the producers about how this was an "original" way to get the characters together. I'm insulted as a fan. I wanted to see that moment between Bones and Booth and now I never will. Even if they do it in a flashback, it won't be the same. What are your thoughts on this? — Rebecca
Matt Roush: I'm afraid I'm of the old school that thinks some things should be left to the imagination, but I'm clearly in the minority on this subject. Carol wrote in wanting someone to explain "how Temperance can be pregnant with Booth's child when we, the audience, were never privy to a sexual relationship between them. I love the idea, but I'm wondering if I missed something." In this case, I think it's implied, because nothing about Bones is immaculate. Others called back to the storyline a while ago about Booth donating sperm to inseminate Bones' eggs, although it seems pretty clear this baby came from their recent snuggle. Anne S, who agrees "there was no doubt in my mind that they were indeed sleeping together," is among those who, like Rebecca, is pleading with Hart Henson to "please give us some bed time that will knock our socks off!!!!" (And we all know Booth is all about the socks.)" Honestly, folks. Isn't this what fan fiction is for? (Or so I hear.)
Question: While talk of the season finales of yestermonth is getting stale, I still wanted to get your thoughts on the Chuck finale, which I don't recall you saying much about. I would be quick to agree that season 4 was easily the least enjoyable, but still more enjoyable than most shows and I will nevertheless remain an extremely loyal viewer for its final season. I think the biggest problem with season 4 was how underwritten the character of Mary Elizabeth Bartowski was. She needed to be an enigma we knew little about, but the writers never really expanded her character over time and Linda Hamilton was never given any real meat for the role, not even a Frost-centric episode to mirror a satisfying revelation-filled character arc like that of HRG in season 1 of Heroes. She was just this character with minimal presence and was only onscreen to move the plot forward and the story suffered for it. Jeffster! is also a minor complaint, and much of that, I believe, has to do with having to give regulars X amount of lines to get a full paycheck. I surprisingly enjoyed the bits where Jeff seemed to be more than meets the eye, showcasing not only psychic phenomena, but also a humanizing moment for the Chuck and Sarah wedding video, letting us know that he might be a little strange, but not just an annoying weirdo like Lester.
The conspiracy bit of the season finale, where everything that built up to that point was just pawn play by some hidden, powerful people seemed a bit clichéd and far-fetched, but not completely unbelievable in this world. I think Morgan absorbing the intersect (despite Chuck previously being a unique individual "special" enough to contain it) promises to re-energize the show. I don't know how they can keep Chuck the hero without putting an intersect back into him for the tenth time, but I'm willing to ride along, hoping for the best. As expected, there's many a knee-jerk reaction on the Internet about Morgan getting the intersect, having no faith in Morgan being any kind of action hero, but they seem to forget Chuck kicking ass for the first time in the season 2 finale, with their eyes wide and their mouth agape. What do you say, Matt, faith or skepticism? — Gene
Matt Roush: Ah, Chuck. I let the finale go by without much comment out of consideration of that "if you don't have anything nice to say" rule my mother instilled in me when it comes to underdogs. The show is harmless enough, and while I'm glad Chuck and Sarah are finally together forever, the premise feels awfully played out to me, and the only things I remember truly enjoying about last season was Timothy Dalton's hammy work as Volkoff and the Casey-Morgan dynamic as mismatched spy mates. Surely you don't expect me to defend Jeffster! or anything regarding the BuyMore. Such aggravating and desperately unfunny filler. I agree Linda Hamilton didn't do much with the role of Mama Bartowski. I'm not sure if it was her or the writers' fault, but I grew weary of all the back-and-forth and never felt it was grounded in any sort of emotional reality. (Much preferred Scott Bakula's work as the dad.) The less said the better about Ellie and Awesome turning into idiots as new parents (which does make me worry again about the baby drama on Bones, I guess). As for Morgan as the new intersect: Let's see how long that lasts before we condemn it. Seems a rather desperate twist, but I tend to enjoy Morgan's antics, and as long as the show ends up ultimately being Chuck's story again, I'll cut it some slack. But do I feel this show earned another season the way Fringe did at Fox? Not really, but I won't be surprised if NBC moves it back to Monday (or some other weeknight) before it's all over to fill one of its holes.
Question: After the producers of Lost finally realized the key to success was to debut in January and run the season's episodes weekly without any repeats, how is it possible that NBC didn't take the same approach with The Event? The last half-dozen episodes of The Event were terrific, but it was too late to recapture the audience that moved on during its long break. Now it's been cancelled! Arrrggghhh!!!! Given that the Season 1 finale ended with so many open questions and intriguing possibilities, is there any hope that The Event will show up on Syfy or some other cable network? It's going to bug me not to see what happens next. Sigh. — Sandee
Matt Roush: There were reports last week that Syfy was considering wrapping up the story of The Event with a miniseries (though an insider tweeted that no such deal was in place) — but that would be the only place (because of corporate synergy) that would bother reviving such a flop, even for a short run, and even that is unlikely. NBC's scheduling wasn't ideal, I'll agree — though that was hardly The Event's biggest problem — but the network had high hopes for it, which is why they led with it in the fall instead of holding it to midseason, as they might have done in later seasons had the show been a hit. The Event had no momentum in the first half of the season, but the long shutdown didn't help — and the relaunch was a dismal failure.
In the fall season to come, quite a few of the more challenging, risky and intriguing new shows are being held to midseason (NBC's Awake and Smash, ABC's The River and Good Christian Belles, to name a compelling few), and I wonder if part of that strategy is to give these shows bigger individual launches while also guaranteeing an uninterrupted run to strengthen the narrative flow. I hope it works, but it's making it harder to pick fall favorites when I'm more excited about the replacements.
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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