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Ask Matt: How Scandal-ous, Smash's Crash, PBS Is Hot, Middle Graduation, More

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: [SPOILER ALERT for anyone who's fallen behind on Scandal] I'm a loyal reader of your column, and always enjoy hearing your well-thought-out and articulate opinions on TV's hottest topics. I'm writing to you for the first time now because I wanted to know your take on the latest installments of Scandal. I saw in your last column the tag line "Scandal is the new Revenge," and I agree Scandal has been far more gripping lately than Revenge.

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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

Question: [SPOILER ALERT for anyone who's fallen behind on Scandal] I'm a loyal reader of your column, and always enjoy hearing your well-thought-out and articulate opinions on TV's hottest topics. I'm writing to you for the first time now because I wanted to know your take on the latest installments of Scandal. I saw in your last column the tag line "Scandal is the new Revenge," and I agree Scandal has been far more gripping lately than Revenge. But I've also had an icky feeling watching the gladiators knowingly help Olivia cover up the election rigging. I realize that, this being the main scandal of the show, the writers don't want to wrap it up too quickly or neatly. And if the scandal did break, they would have to come up with some way to keep Olivia out of jail. But I can't help feeling as if the show is too forgiving toward her. This is a universe where there is constant banter about white hats and sheriffs in town. The procedural structure of the show lends itself to defining the good guys from the bad guys. And we the viewers are apparently still supposed to think Olivia is a good guy because ... she really believed Fitz deserved to be president? Or perhaps because she feels the most guilt out of all the "Illuminati?" It seems pretty transparent that her rationalization (that the truth breaking would cause the nation to crumble) is no more than self-defense posturing. Perhaps I'm just a young, old stick in the mud, but I can't get past this most treacherous crime the way the show wants me to. Do you think that I'm being too hard on Olivia, or that the show isn't being that forgiving of her after all? — Milo

Matt Roush: These are all fair questions, because if you're not regularly asking yourself who's a good or bad guy on Scandal, you're not paying attention. That's one of the most fascinating aspects of this seriously crazy show. My take on what's been going on lately with Olivia is that we're obviously not meant to admire what she's done, but we should be able to empathize with her as she sinks further into the moral quicksand. Seems to me that Olivia isn't being given a pass or forgiven by the storytellers, except maybe in the legal sense that they're all getting away with it for now. In recent weeks, she's been punishing herself (slipping for a bit into one of those only-on-TV glamorous depressions), pushing away the strapping and powerful Edison because she doesn't feel deserving of a happy ending, and now she's actually being punished by Fitz, who's feeling betrayed after learning the truth. But this discussion seems to bury the lead: The freaking president just murdered a Supreme Court justice! (Yes, she was already dying, but still.) And his chief of staff came moments away from having his own husband murdered! While said husband (a former journalist) just perjured himself to the Grand Jury! Nearly everyone in Scandal is tarnished and tainted by this scandal, and no one (except maybe poor David) is coming off like an actual hero, which makes it even more fun to imagine how and whether they'll be able to keep topping themselves.

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Question: I don't know if you've seen the ratings for the season two premiere of Smash, but it pretty much bombed. It hit a series low! And it was the premiere episode! Why do you think the show dropped so much in ratings? Do you think the cast mix-up had anything to do with it? NBC promoted the show everywhere, but people didn't tune in. What are your thoughts? — Ashley

Matt Roush: I'm pretty sure everyone in this industry is aware of Smash's less-than-smashing return, and while there was considerable gloating among the so-called hate watchers, it was one of the more depressing moments to me in another rough week for NBC (and, in the bigger picture, for network TV itself). There are plenty of factors that could account for why this happened, the most obvious being that Smash is in many respects a niche concept on a struggling network, with last season's initially robust ratings helped by Super Bowl hype and a powerful Voice lead-in. The show's creative problems, magnified by Twitter snark, eroded viewership through the first season, and publicity about its overhaul between seasons may have contributed to a general skepticism. But even if there had been momentum, the long break between seasons and the move to a night without a significant lead-in meant Smash had to be a self-starter this time. Which may have been too much to ask. Didn't help that ABC counter-programmed the two-hour opener with a special episode of The Bachelor instead of its usual low-rated comedies. I'll leave it to you to make conclusions about what it says about an audience that would rather watch that idiocy than give another shot to an ambitious musical drama, however imperfect.

Question: Have you seen the new show Zero Hour yet? If so, what are your thoughts? I feel like everything that ABC schedules for Thursdays at 8/7c gets canceled. So I'm a little hesitant to get into this show, even though it looks kind of interesting, because I fear just like Last Resort, that no one's gonna watch and I'm gonna be disappointed once it gets canceled. And seriously, when was the last time there was a show on ABC that aired on Thursdays at 8/7c that lasted longer than one season? — Robert

Matt Roush: To answer your second question, Ugly Betty was the last scripted ABC show in that time period to make much of an impression, and it stayed on Thursdays for three delightful seasons starting in 2006 before it ran out of steam or otherwise lost favor, moving to Fridays and leaving a void that has yet to be filled. And speaking of voids, Zero Hour is for me the worst show yet in a season full of duds, a hokey-beyond-belief Da Vinci Code rip-off. My opinion aside (which I'll share in more detail later this week), I've always encouraged viewers to check out new shows they're intrigued by, no matter if it looks like they're doomed from the start. This is historically a tough time period for ABC, and I'll be shocked (and, truthfully, dismayed) if Zero Hour reverses that trend. But stranger things have happened.

Question: PBS is really on a roll these days. I have been trying to jettison some of the network and cable shows on my viewing schedule due to lack of time and am not helped by PBS showing some really great must-see shows. First and foremost, there is Downton Abbey, a well-acted and well-written treat. The characters are so established by now, one wouldn't think the actors could do any more with them than they already have, but each week there is a gesture or look or expression that just delights me. Maggie Smith gets most of the attention in this regard, but Penelope Wilton as Cousin Isobel is nearly her equal. When Ethel brings Isobel some dreadful culinary concoction to try, the expression on Wilton's face is priceless as she tries so hard to suppress her revulsion, all the while giving Ethel encouragement to do better next time. I have also enjoyed the recent American Experience documentaries on the abolitionists and Henry Ford, the Pioneers of Television series, and several interesting Nova episodes. The new PBS Arts series Shakespeare Uncovered is the best I have ever seen on the Bard, exploring in depth one or two plays in each episode with archival footage from productions of the plays through the years. Do you get to watch much PBS programming other than Downton? I appreciate your mentioning these shows in your Playlist columns, but sometimes it's difficult to find them when airdates and times vary from station to station. It's usually worth it, though. — Frank

Matt Roush: PBS is its own worst enemy when it comes to scheduling, since every member station has the right to call its own shots — though most of the major programs tend to be run in pattern in many markets — but yes, it is worth seeking these shows out. I try to watch as much as I can, but sometimes in the Playlist, if you see me giving an installment of a show like American Experience or Nova a mere mention instead of an actual mini-review, I'm taking it on faith that the subject matter and the franchise itself will be of interest. I had only watched the first week's episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered when I first recommended it, but I kept with it and found that to be especially rewarding. And can you believe Downton Abbey will be over this Sunday for another year? I'm in denial.

Question: One of my favorite comedies on TV right now is The Middle. However in the most recent episode, Axl was accepted to college. Will he still be in every episode of the show once he goes off to college? Or will he stay at home? The last thing I and a lot of fans would want is for such a great character to go away or not be in as many episodes. I keep thinking of Haley in Modern Family who went off to college, wasn't in a few episodes, and then came back. Also Haddie from Parenthood, who went off to college only to be seen in one or two episodes this past season. These are all characters that I really like. So can you give fans any insight? — Cyrus

Matt Roush: I'm not sure if it has been decided yet how to deal with a post-graduation Axl, but unlike Haddie going across country to school — something the Hecks would never be able to consider (and for Parenthood, it's one way to shrink an enormous cast, though they use Haddie well when the story calls for it) — Axl may not be as out-of-sight, out-of-mind as you'd think. After all, he is staying in state at an Indiana college; reminds me of my own Hoosier Scholarship many moons ago, another reason The Middle hits so close to home for me. There's plenty of comedy and story potential in a kid like Axl adjusting to life without the family and vice versa. What I'd hate to see happen is another version of the Haley situation and have him return home under a cloud. Long-running family comedies need to evolve along with the kids as they start growing up, but there's no reason to think Charley McDermott wouldn't be a regular cast member next season, even if he becomes more peripheral to the main action some weeks.

Question: I'm really liking The Americans and am surprised it's not getting more buzz. It's much better than I expected, and I find myself surprised that I'm actually rooting for KGB agents. I'm guessing maybe less so as the season continues? Yes, the FBI neighbor is a cliché, but it could really happen. — Angela

Matt Roush: I was disappointed that the numbers for The Americans went down in the second week, but the mail I've been getting lately about the show has been very positive, so I'm hopeful the buzz will keep building. Like many FX dramas, it takes such an offbeat approach to genre — combination spy thriller/domestic drama — that it doesn't surprise me if it takes a while for the audience to fully embrace it. This Wednesday's episode, which introduces Margo Martindale as the couple's new and kinda scary handler, is a very strong story testing Elizabeth and Philip's marriage, forcing them to examine what if anything is real in a relationship and family built on lies.

Question: According to the ratings, Vegas always rates much higher then Raising Hope. Then why is Vegas in danger of being canceled while Raising Hope will probably be renewed? — Jim

Matt Roush: A classic apples-and-oranges situation here. Different networks (with wildly differing definitions of success), different genres, different demographics, different time periods: Raising Hope opens a tricky night for Fox (opposite the NCIS powerhouse, I might add), while Vegas closes one of CBS' most otherwise successful nights. It doesn't really bear comparison. Vegas inherited one of CBS' trickiest time periods — 10/9c time slots being tough to begin with across the board, with all the cable and time-shifting competition — and the network is still hoping to find that magic show that can hold on to enough of the NCIS franchise's following. On paper, Vegas is drawing a decent sized audience, but it skews old, and many weeks during the first half of the season, it was losing to NBC's Parenthood in the younger demos. Vegas is a "bubble" show that even if it is renewed isn't likely to stay on Tuesdays. (Would CBS put its upcoming NCIS: LA spin-off there, making it a full night of NCIS? Seems like overkill to me, but I'll be watching Parenthood anyway, if NBC brings it back, which seems a sure bet.) With Raising Hope, it's not exactly a hit, but it's consistent, it's very funny, it fits the brand and by now it is at least a known commodity and thus is likely to return as Fox keeps trying to build a full night of sitcoms on Tuesdays.


Question: I am a fan of HBO's Girls, and I was wondering what do you think of the new season so far? Also about the show: Am I the only one who notices Jessa's pregnancy every time she is on screen? I remember a few months ago when she announced her pregnancy. However, I had totally forgot about it when the show premiered. Now all I ever notice is the show shooting her from the waist up and her wearing big dresses. Even in the bathtub scene in the last episode it was funny to watch the cameraman trying to skirt around her baby bump. I remember back on The Cosby Show all the tricks they used to hide Claire's pregnancy. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with her being pregnant, but I just wanted to know if you've ever been distracted from her storyline in particular because of how they are trying (very badly, I might add) to hide her pregnancy. — Debra


Matt Roush: Thanks, now I won't be able to watch without thinking of this. I'm often the last to notice things like hair and baby bumps, maybe because if I'm into a show the way I'm into Girls — and this Sunday's two-hander with Patrick Wilson and Lena Dunham was one of my favorite episodes yet — I get so lost in the story and characters I try not to think of those external complications if I can help it. That said, it's hard to ignore these situations when sitcom characters (whether Claire on Cosby Show or Elaine on Seinfeld) suddenly start hiding their body behind packages and groceries. I was aware of Jemima Kirke's pregnancy, but Girls is doing as artful a job as possible at ignoring it. I was completely in the moment as Jessa's misbegotten marriage fell apart, and when she got in the bathtub with Hannah, the rawness and intimacy of the scene kept me from dwelling on what she was hiding, because what she was revealing was so compelling.


Question: I watched the first three episodes of The Following. For those who enjoy this, more power to them. For me, this show officially turned stupid, and I'm done. How many clichés can they pack into one episode? Also, I don't expect this to be realistic, but at least it should be believable. A woman stabbed in the stomach vanishes in an instant like a ghost? A man shot in the chest is not even slowed down when he attacks the man who shot him? A "master" criminal who doesn't strike me as particularly smart but is certainly stereotypical? A text message at ... precisely ... the right moment so an agent can be stabbed before he is warned? Two guys pretending to be gay really ... want ... to be? On and on. Dour characters. Worse, uninteresting and unbelievable character. Gimme a break. Gimme a bunch of breaks. In the first episode when Kevin Bacon's character had the serial killer in his sights after murdering a woman, he should have (and probably would have if his character were not so one-dimensional) just shot him; no one else was around, the killer was still armed. This kind of contrivance applies to the whole series. The feds can't catch these guys or the series is over, hence their astounding incompetence. Plus, we're to believe this serial killer genius has so many followers that it doesn't matter that the followers keep dying (two in the last episode alone) with no diminishment in his power? Plus, Natalie Zea is wasted here as a whimpering, crying, reactive nonentity. What a come down from Justified. Oy. — Russell


Matt Roush: Somehow I don't think you're being genuine when you wished "more power" to the show's fans. Many of your points make sense, even if they come down on the side of accentuating the negative in any situation, because while credibility may not be The Following's strength, a certain suspension of disbelief is critical to enjoying any over-the-top thriller, which is all this show is aiming to be. (The critics who've slammed it for not being as sophisticated as cable favorites like Breaking Bad are also missing the point.) There are clichés built into this genre, for sure: the damaged agent, the preternaturally cunning adversary, and so on. But I'll argue that the twist involving the non-gay "gay guys" was diabolical and pretty brilliant, and the evolving relationship among the three kidnappers is something I've never encountered in this kind of show before. (Their story takes an especially intriguing twist this week.) I'm into The Following as a fan of the macabre, giving it a long leash when it comes to they improbability factor, and I like what Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy are doing here, and in the first weeks of a show like this, I can accept the fact that the good guys aren't winning many rounds, because if they were, this would be just another procedural. So just as I respectfully disagree with the critics who didn't get with this program, I think your best bet is to just walk away if you can't appreciate The Following for what it is: an unpretentious, nasty and purposefully incredible suspense drama.


Question: There has been a lot of talk online recently about the lack of commitment the Castlewriters seem to have in the Castle and Beckett relationship this season. Yes, they're together, but they're written as though they don't interact outside of work and any contact between them is incredibly chaste and brief. This is especially true in the last few episodes. The show seems to have shifted focus to periphery characters more and is giving more attention to the cases rather than the personal lives of both Castle and Beckett than ever before. Do you think this is reflecting Andrew Marlowe's fear of losing viewers? ABC's? Is there a reason for this? And now spoilers released for upcoming episodes continue to focus on Alexis and story lines that don't involve Castle and Beckett as a couple, or when they do involve them as a couple it's only in regard to a problem their relationship has. There has been no honeymoon phase to their relationship, if anything it feels like the relationship went from new to old married couple really quickly. Any thoughts on why this might be? More people each week are growing uninterested with the way the show is going, and though I'm a huge fan, I can't help but share that disappointment. Thanks. — Kate

Matt Roush: There's no way to answer this kind of question in a way to satisfy the hardcore fan, because what I see, as a casual but hardly obsessive viewer of the show, is the latest example of how there's simply no way to please everybody. The writers not committed to Castle and Beckett? Castle finally put its main two characters together romantically, which was a big win for the fans, and early on this season it leaned heavily on relationship stories and twists to capitalize on that, but now it seems the show hasn't changed enough to satisfy the most ardent "shippers" (and online griping only tends to fan those flames). It's back to a more traditional, quirky case-of-the-week format, which entails being a mystery series with a relationship at its core, rather than being a relationship series that solves mysteries on the side. Because of the need to fill a long 24-episode season, and occasionally give some of the rest of the underused ensemble something to do, it's inevitable that some episodes would veer from the personal stuff, even at the risk of being called out as ordinary or frustrating to those who'd rather this now be exclusively a Nick-and-Nora kind of show. I imagine there are more milestones ahead for this couple, and when that happens, those episodes should feel special. Which might be more difficult if every week dwelled at length on this aspect of the show. But this criticism, which I don't really disagree with, doesn't surprise me. And I bet the producers saw it coming as well.

Question: A few questions: I have heard that CSI: NY will be ending this month, but I had not read that CBS had canceled the show. Is this true? I read that the new Canadian show, Primeval: New World has been picked up by Syfy, but there is no word of that on their website. When will it air in the U.S.? I heard that Manu Bennett of Spartacus will be appearing on Arrow soon. Does this mean his character is biting the dust soon on Spartacus in that he is taking on new projects? It has been years since NYPD Blue ended. Has Dennis Franz retired from acting? Right now, a number of actors from Doctor Who are now on American TV shows: John Barrowman, Alex Kingston, Catherine Tate, Freema Agyeman. Are casting directors realizing the talent pool from Who for a particular reason? — Dean

Matt Roush: CSI: NY will end its ninth season early, on Feb. 22, but its fate hasn't yet been determined. It barely made the cut last year, so its cancellation wouldn't be a shock. Syfy hasn't announced an airdate yet for the Primeval spin-off, but the earliest we're likely to see it is summer, because it looks like the spring schedule is being focused around the new Defiance. Manu Bennett appears on Arrow this Wednesday, and I hate to break it to you, but this is the final season for Spartacus, which has already finished filming. So regardless of what happens to Crixus, the actor is on the market. Dennis Franz appears to be enjoying a well-earned retirement, but I'm sure he'd be welcomed back to TV if he so chose. And the Who actors you name all have thriving careers outside of this show. It may have boosted their profile in some circles, but the fact that they're in demand is more of a sign that the Who producers have a good eye for talent.

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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