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Ask Matt: Sherlock, Killing, Fringe, Revenge, Ringer, NCIS

Send your questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: Thanks for your intelligent and frankly hilarious reviews! I especially love that you highlight lesser known but completely fantastic gems on networks like PBS! I'm thrilled the days of sub-par, toast-dry programming on PBS seem to be slowly going the way of the Titanic. Query: Are my Brit-Geek friends and I the only ones this side of the pond absolutely chomping at the bit for the month of May and the return of BBC's Sherlock on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery? Obviously, I'm biased, but ...

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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

Question: Thanks for your intelligent and frankly hilarious reviews! I especially love that you highlight lesser known but completely fantastic gems on networks like PBS! I'm thrilled the days of sub-par, toast-dry programming on PBS seem to be slowly going the way of the Titanic. Query: Are my Brit-Geek friends and I the only ones this side of the pond absolutely chomping at the bit for the month of May and the return of BBC's Sherlock on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery? Obviously, I'm biased, but the writing by class acts Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, exceptional production value and stellar supporting cast are reason enough to tune in. And it goes without saying that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are two of the most exceptional British actors of my generation to recently come into the American limelight. Their onscreen chemistry as affectionately antagonistic flatmates is what really makes the show. It's obvious they are not only talented but versatile, with resumes logging time in theater and radio as well as TV and film. I've loved both actors' early work and am thrilled the rest of the industry has seen fit to cast both Freeman and Cumberbatch in stellar projects in the last couple of years. Downton Abbey rightly so gets plenty of great press as the jewel of the Masterpiece collection, but I'd say Sherlock, although a different flavor, deserves just as much praise! — Sarah

Matt Roush: Can't speak for everyone else, but I'm thrilled the next batch of three Sherlock movies is about to start here (May 6, 13 and 20), and so should everyone else be. I've only had time to screen the first of the three so far, and it's a gas: inspired by A Scandal in Belgravia, and trust me, you've never seen Irene Adler quite like this. If they haven't already, they should be marketing new Sherlock T-shirts with the catchphrase (thanks, Irene) "Brainy's the new sexy." And so it is. This reboot is as visually inventive as it is stimulating, and so much fun. And while we're on the subject of Masterpiece, let me recommend again the current 2-parter Birdsong (started Sunday the 22nd, but will be streamed on pbs.org; concludes this Sunday), a tragic romance played out against World War I. It's not as escapist as Downton or Sherlock, but this is first-rate storytelling.

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Question: I watched the whole first season of The Killing in less than two weeks thanks to Netflix. Now I am all caught up for the second season, and I have to say I am hooked! I know some people are frustrated with not knowing who the killer obviously is yet, but I am enjoying the ride. Maybe because I just watched up to date the entire show in less than a month, either way I love the dialogue, the plots, the drama, everything involving this show. My question to you: I read in an interview with the show's producers that indeed the killer will be revealed in the series finale, now with its ratings could this possibly change or for sure this series will be done in two seasons? Honestly I do not care either way, I love the twists and turns and it keeps me interested! — Mike M

Matt Roush: Although I'm an advocate of watching TV shows the way they are presented, in weekly chapters, there is something to be said for the all-in-one-gulp approach for certain shows. I've heard this sentiment a lot, especially regarding The Killing — which could also be a backlash against the backlash, which is actually kind of refreshing. But to address the question: The fate of the show beyond this season hasn't yet been decided. The ratings are significantly down from last season, so that combined with the perceived backlash puts its renewal in question. And while Veena Sud has promised we'll learn the identity of Rosie's killer in the season finale, that doesn't necessarily mean an end to the series, because this reveal is expected to dovetail into a new mystery (presumably another killing) that would, if AMC chooses to go forward, occupy the detectives in Season 3.

Question: I'm a huge fan of DirecTV's Damages with Glenn Close. Do you have any info on what to expect in Season 5? — Jen G

Matt Roush: Can you say "endgame?" Like it or not, the fifth season will definitely be the last, but the good news (as gleaned from DirecTV's announcement last week of the July 11 start date) is that it sounds as if it will be as provocative as ever — the central case, involving a Julian Assange-like web agitator (Ryan Phillipe), finally pitting Ellen (Rose Byrne) against Patty Hewes (Close), with the great British actress Janet McTeer appearing as one of Patty's former colleagues. Jenna Elfman, Spartacus' John Hannah and Victor Garber will be among the other recurring guest stars. I can't wait.

Question: I'm as dismayed as you are by the trailers for the Dark Shadows movie. Bad memories of the original Buffy movie spring to mind. I never thought Tim Burton and Johnny Depp would make a movie whose trailer instantly made me think "Been there, seen that, wasn't funny," but I guess this just goes to show that anything's possible. Disappointing, especially since that particular style of camp is just so dumb. Truly not something I expected from this project or that pair. I'd have thought the bones of the story would have been good enough for someone to create a franchise from the basic idea, but maybe not. I used to watch Dark Shadows too, but admit that my viewing was too sporadic to keep up. I remember being fascinated, creeped out and baffled.

I haven't yet worked up the nerve to see The Cabin in the Woods. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I agree that the dumb American Horror Story would have been much better served with Joss Whedon & Co. at the helm. Still not sure if I want to wait for the DVD of Cabin so I can avoid the lousy theaters in my neck of the woods. Part of me knows that if I wait for the DVD I'll ultimately save money, but I'm really curious. Plus, I feel like an old fogey for never actually going to the movies. P.S. Am I naive for thinking that there's still hope for even a bit more Fringe? Every time I read that ratings are down for some other show, or that more-expensive-shows X, Y and Z are not coming back, some part of me hopes that there might be room for Fringe in the fall. They've gotta show something, right? Every would-be hit that fizzles gives me hope. — Anna

Matt Roush: I don't usually discuss movies in this space, but I brought them up in my Week in Review column, so what the heck. These are subjects near and dear to my heart. I must caution that I've only seen the trailers for the Dark Shadows movie, and can only speak to my reaction to the marketing, which so far blows. At least for someone who has an iota of respect for the Gothic romance (however primitively rendered) of the original. For all I know, I'll be pleasantly surprised by the actual movie. I'm sure once I see it — can't promise when, as it opens in the middle of the busy May sweeps month — I'll share my thoughts. As for my Joss Whedon comment: Much of his fan base is hoping his return to TV, which I'm assuming is inevitable, will be as a partner with some cable entity: probably one of the more adventurous programmers, like FX or AMC, if not a pay service. As Cabin in the Woods so wildly (if imperfectly) demonstrates, there's great wit and whimsy in his affection for the horror genre, and I have to believe he could do a spin on the old standards without falling back on the lurid and poorly executed overkill of American Horror Story's overblown (and in some corners over-praised) first season. Although admittedly, there is a decidedly over-the-top aspect to Cabin as well. I do think Horror Story's anthology concept is the best idea it has ever had, and being a willing fan (or victim) of this sort of storytelling, I'll sign up again and, as with Dark Shadows, hope to have my skepticism proved wrong.

Regarding Fringe: I'm not losing hope for at least a partial fifth, and presumably final, season until the axe actually falls. Fox has indulged it, and us, this long, and I'm cautiously optimistic they'll work out some way to make this happen.

Question: So I watched Fringe Friday night and was blown away by the recasting of the story to a future time and the continued creativity of this program. This really is terrific science fiction at work in terms of the writing, acting and overall caliber of what's being put on the screen. Then it struck me. They have created a whole new show within a show that could facilitate the portability of moving this show from Fox to another channel (Syfy perhaps) in the likely increasingly event that it's canceled at the end of the season. What do you think, Matt? Is this a way to setting up the potential for a transition with a subset of the current stars (interesting mix of the two current Walters), a whole new set of story lines with the future scenario of resistance fighters putting up the good fight against the evil Observers (and how evil they have become!), cheaper sets perhaps, etc.? If this scenario were to pan out, would that small universe of avid Fringe viewers at least have some hope of continuing this show in some way going forward? — Raymond

Matt Roush: The reboot to a future war-against-the-Observers storyline, which I also quite enjoyed, is almost certainly driven creatively, not by some ulterior motive to keep the show alive on another platform — although the creators have spoken in the past about continuing the franchise in graphic-novel or webisode form if Fox does indeed pull the plug. The likelihood of Syfy (in particular) picking this up is very slim, mostly for economic reasons but also because they've got a fairly full slate of shows already, including several in development. I've begun to wonder if Warner Bros., which produces the show, might turn to one of its primary distribution arms, The CW, to keep Fringe alive for however much of a fifth season they need to wrap things up. (Just speculating here; haven't heard a thing and wouldn't necessarily expect it to happen.) One of my favorite aspects of the Fringe experience is watching it reinvent itself every season. I'd love to see it get this last chance.

Question: I haven't seen Girls yet, but any thoughts on why there seems to be such a disconnect between critics and viewers on this one? — Guy (via Twitter)

Matt Roush: Is there really? The show got off to a slow start in the ratings, but given that it's in many ways a series version of an independent film, with characters who are as unapologetically flawed as they are defiantly funky, I'm not surprised the reactions have been polarized. Lena Dunham is fearless in presenting her own central character (Hannah) in the worst possible light, and TV hasn't seen a group of young people quite like this before — Girls is like a CW series, only with warts (possibly genital) and brains. I've been told the reader/viewer comments on some blogs have been punishing, but it's only been one episode. (And most critics have only seen three, as far as I'm aware.) There's no way, given its buzz, that HBO won't renew it, so we'll see if Hannah and her soul-sisters eventually catch on with the public at large the way Dunham's vision has inspired such rapture from critics eager to embrace such a singular new voice.

Question: Why do you think network TV continues to insist on 22-episode seasons? After watching cable shows like The Walking Dead and Being Human and most BBC staples, it is apparent that the shortened format works really well. I have been frustrated with the way my new favorite, Revenge, has been scheduled with long lapses between fresh episodes. There is something refreshing about knowing that everything will be wrapped up in eight to 12 episodes. It made watching The River doable. Do you ever see this changing on network TV? — Rob

Matt Roush: We may be seeing the beginning of this change now, with short-flight midseason series like The River (which didn't go over so well, but I enjoyed it), Missingand maybe even Scandal, which feels like an old-fashioned trashy miniseries — although if ABC renews it (the most likely of these three to return), it would probably be for a longer run. Our Michael Schneider wrote an excellent story on this very idea, which you can find here. There are some types of shows — sitcoms, self-contained procedurals — which operate well under the current network system, but even then, you have to put up with periods of repeats (or the occasional hiatus to make room for a midseason tryout) to get from September to late May. As with most things involving TV, the 22-episode network model (sometimes 24 if you're a hit) has to do with economics, and I'll spare you the lecture on how costly it is to produce these weekly series and the importance of selling into syndication, off-network cable and/or the overseas market (in which case the more episodes produced the merrier).

This issue seems to come up most when it comes to the heavily serialized series, none more so this season than Revenge, whose scheduling has been roundly criticized by fans in the back half of the season, when it took long breaks, stalling the momentum. I agree that many cable series are made even more attractive by their uninterrupted runs, but I heard plenty of squeals when Justified ended after just 13 episodes, and when shows like Southland and Game of Thrones air only 10 (the latter because it's such a monster of a production), it hardly seems enough. For everyone who would appreciate an unbroken 13-episode run of a major network series, I guarantee there would be at least as loud a clamor going "where's the rest of it." I'm very curious to see if Revenge alters its scheduling pattern, the way 24 and Lost eventually were forced to do. Delay its return in the fall, people will be unhappy. Take a long winter break, ditto. Break up the flow the way it did this season with a scattering of episodes in February then a break until April, let the screaming commence. There's almost no way to make everyone happy unless a show like this runs straight through, which would mean either wrapping in March or airing January-to-May. The one thing that won't happen with a show burning as hot as Revenge is for ABC to reduce its episode order.

Question: While waiting for the axe to fall on A Gifted Man, I have taken time to reflect on the season and on why CBS might have given it a chance in the first place. Like most CBS dramas, Man had a solid ensemble cast. I have liked Patrick Wilson, Margo Martindale and Jennifer Ehle in a number of movies and TV series, so I tuned in. I know you were disappointed that Margo Martindale's first post-Mags Bennett role was as Rita in this show, but, really, almost anything she did would have been a letdown from that role of a lifetime. It was problematic for me that she was given little to do in the first couple of episodes except roll her eyes and exclaim, "Oh, Michael!" in exasperation over and over again. Once they gave her a major storyline, revealed her backstory, and involved her more deeply in the Holt Neuro storylines, she and the show came more into their own. Patrick Wilson's character evolved convincingly with help from the women in his life revealing some real substance. The Clinica Sanando crew of Rachelle Lefevre, Rhys Coiro and Pablo Schreiber was also very good. Pablo Schreiber's character, Anton Little Bear, could be a little overbearing with the New Age-y stuff, but I could forgive it as Schreiber played him with such conviction. Jennifer Ehle's ghostly ex-wife Anna was toned down as the season progressed, becoming less of a nag than she was at first. Her appearances were more rare yet more warranted, and Ehle still could dazzle us with Anna's passion and wisdom.

I don't know where the CBS suits thought this show might go story-wise, but I was not disappointed that it turned into a more conventional medical drama with only the one supernatural element. They introduced a few situations where hallucinations and visions of the dead had medical explanations, but Michael finally had to accept that his visions of Anna defied rational explanation and were good for him as well. The colorful stories at Clinica Sanando, which often bled over into Holt Neuro, made a pretty convincing case for universal health care. The dedicated, overworked, flawed docs at Clinica Sanando came off as everyday heroes for their efforts to treat everyone with as much dignity as possible despite unfavorable conditions, not giving up until they had made the correct diagnosis and given the correct treatment. Okay, so maybe it doesn't work like this in a real-life free clinic, but I'd sure like to think it does. While I liked the storylines overall, the storytelling was uneven and uncertain at times, but I felt it was getting consistently better toward the end. At least they left most of the characters in a good place at the end with no big cliffhangers. A Gifted Man had some interesting possibilities, remaining positive and hopeful from start to finish, but taking too long to find its way. Did you give up on it right away? Did you see any of the later episodes? — Frank

Matt Roush: I checked back in on occasion, especially to see Margo's role expand (still not enough) and when they flagged an episode as being of special interest. You accentuate very thoroughly the positive attributes of the show, but as much as I admired the cast, I never felt A Gifted Man was able to distinguish itself enough in either the medical or personal-drama arenas. Its improvements along the way were on par for a show figuring itself out in its first season, but I imagine we'll be looking back at this one as a noble failure.

Question: What's with Ringer? I watched the finale and was very disappointed. I thought since it was canceled, they would tie everything up. But I was truly disappointed. Is it canceled? Seems like it was a cliffhanger finale. Ringer and Revenge were my favorite shows and everyone at work watched it. Whoever schedules these shows against others should be shown the door. — Bev

Matt Roush: First off, Ringer hasn't been canceled yet, though I wouldn't be surprised if it is. Second, I'm sure you're not suggesting that Ringer aired against Revenge, because that didn't happen, and every show has to air against something. (And Ringer had it easier than most. Except for the NCIS franchise, which caters to a very different audience, there aren't many runaway hits airing Tuesday nights.) If you've been reading me lately, I haven't made it a secret that I regarded Ringer a terrible disappointment: turgid, badly paced and poorly plotted (until Andrea Roth showed up as the crazy ex-wife), and the finale was no exception. When it started, I thought it could be a fun B-movie sort of melodrama, but that crown was instead inherited by the much more fully realized Revenge. I will say, though, that as finales go, Ringer's at least did its job. It resolved several major stories (the threat to Bridget of Bodaway Macawi, Bridget revealing her true self to Andrew and Juliet, Bridget learning Siobhan was still alive) and gave a potential second season a starting block, as the twin sisters would now both be fighting to get back what they lost (namely: Andrew) while Bridget deals with her sister's betrayal and Siobhan continues to scheme. I was hoping for a sister-vs-sister showdown in the finale, but I guess they had to leave something to do in year two, whether they get there or not.

Question: With there being talk about NCIS not generating any buzz, I can't help but say that in my opinion it is really about to hit rock bottom quality-wise. Tons of guest actors are constantly being dragged in (especially in Season 9, not the "season of secrets" but "the season of guest stars"), stealing away screen time from already far too neglected characters like Tim, Abby, Ducky and Palmer, and now on top of that I hear they are looking to introduce another Special Agent?! (I seriously hope not as in "a new team member" or permanent nuisance like EJ or such, please?) Why can't the show get back to its old glory and concentrate on what it used to be about, namely the team and their cases? I have always wanted more McGee and Abby, but in Season 9 their screen time or importance must have been cut to a minimal like what, 90 seconds per episode doing boring and/or redundant stuff while everyone else is doing the "important work." How is it the producers cannot see that fans are actually watching the show for their team rather than random guest actors? And what happened to the team dynamics, the friendships, the equality, the respect, hell even some major character traits?! It makes it look like Tim and Abby hardly know each other, let alone care about each other anymore, even though they had always been best friends or more, and now they are being portrayed really out of character most of the time and don't get to see each other anymore because Gibbs is the only one ever going to the lab nowadays?

So please, can you get my hopes up that the show might return to its original gist and quality? Also with spoilers leaking about the finale wedding, is there any chance seeing Palmer's happiness and sharing an intimate dance Abby and McGee will remember what they had together, realize that they'd be much happier having it and consider giving each other a shot again, you know, like a romantic epiphany? That would be sooo great and at least make up for some of the cruelties that I call Season 9 (plus nine seasons of waiting, of course). — Lisa

Matt Roush: When a successful show runs as long as NCIS, the natural tendency is to introduce new characters (like Jamie Lee Curtis' Dr. Samantha Ryan most recently) to expand the world of the show and keep it fresh, not only for viewers but for the actors and writers. When fans focus so intently on one aspect of a show they feel is lacking — in this case, the Abby-McGee friendship (and I wouldn't spoil any developments even if I knew of any, which I don't) — I often feel they risk missing the forest for the trees, but there's no way a show reaching this mass an audience is going to please everyone all the time.

Question: So upset that CSI: Miami, my favorite show even after all these years, may be canceled. Putting it on after the football, basketball games, etc., that run into overtime and then saying the ratings are down is unfair. Once recently it did not come on until 10:51. And now a new show is coming on to see if they get better ratings? Anything loyal fans can do? — Rita

Matt Roush: My first suggestion is to punish CBS by ignoring the replacement show, NYC 22, which shouldn't be that difficult because it's terrible, even more generic than the usual CBS crime drama. But the fate of CSI: Miami isn't only a ratings story, and CBS isn't blind to the impact of sports overruns on all of its Sunday programming for at least half the season. Miami was moved to Sunday in the first place to open up the Monday time period for something new. There was little doubt Miami's ratings would suffer, but its number would eventually be up anyway, and after 10 seasons, it's kind of hard to cry foul. CBS has been pretty adamant in recent years about retiring long-running — read: expensive — shows (Cold Case, Without a Trace, etc.) to make room for the next wave, and while some of these shows might have been able to eke out another season or two, the strategy seems to have paid off with newer tentpoles like The Mentalist, Person of Interest and Blue Bloods — and a quality standout like The Good Wife. (Can the season really be over already this Sunday?)

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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