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Ask Matt: Race on Sleepy Hollow, Person of Interest, plus Grey's, Glee, Good Wife

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: What are your thoughts on the awareness of people in the TV industry regarding the perception that it's always the non-white characters that are killed off shows? It seems impossible to me that those in charge don't see this phenomenon as a problem, and yet, consistently, that seems to be what happens. That reality is so pervasive for me that when I watched the pilot for Sleepy Hollow, my thought as what looked to be the two main characters — a well-known white, male actor (Clancy Brown) and a young, unknown-to-me African-American actress (Nicole Beharie) — approached the spooky, abandoned farm house was, "Seriously, Show? Already you're going to kill off the black actor?"

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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

Question: What are your thoughts on the awareness of people in the TV industry regarding the perception that it's always the non-white characters that are killed off shows? It seems impossible to me that those in charge don't see this phenomenon as a problem, and yet, consistently, that seems to be what happens. That reality is so pervasive for me that when I watched the pilot for Sleepy Hollow, my thought as what looked to be the two main characters — a well-known white, male actor (Clancy Brown) and a young, unknown-to-me African-American actress (Nicole Beharie) — approached the spooky, abandoned farm house was, "Seriously, Show? Already you're going to kill off the black actor?" When it turned out to be Clancy Brown who got his head cut off, I actually laughed out loud and clapped. Because I felt like they had deliberately played on my expectation that the black character would die and then turned the tables. I loved it. (Though to be clear, I did not love that Clancy Brown got killed off — I was disappointed that he wouldn't be a regular.)

And in light of that, one thing that has struck me about the show generally (in addition to how much fun it is) is the use of non-white actors as main or main-adjacent characters. Not only is one of the leads African-American, but two of the three primary support characters are African-American. Three out of five of the characters we see week-to-week are black. Are there any other shows on the main networks that have that level of participation by non-white characters? — Beth

Matt Roush: I hope you're watching Shonda Rhimes' shows, most especially Scandal but also from the start Grey's Anatomy, because her series tend to blend ethnicities in a color-conscious but also color-blind way that's both exhilarating and liberating. And come to think of it, very few of the minorities die (although there can be a high body count on her outrageous shows). She also distributes the power among her characters to represent a variety of genders, spotlighting a refreshingly broad spectrum of sexualities (straight, gay, etc.) but rarely in a way that calls attention to itself. That said, shows like Scandal and Sleepy Hollow are fairly rare in casting minorities in such prominent roles, but Fox's Monday night companion piece Almost Human is doing pretty well on that score — the African-American male lead is a robot/android, but he's the most appealing character on the show and you know he's not going anywhere. And continuing to beat Fox's drum, while the comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine may look on the surface like a vehicle for Andy Samberg to horse around, it has developed into one of the most promising, not to mention racially diverse, ensembles anywhere.

To your first point, the death of Clancy Brown in the pilot was one of the show's first masterstrokes. A classic bit of misdirection, because he's a recognizable enough character actor that you'd never believe they would kill him in the opening reel, and that surprise is underscored by the fact that he's the white authority figure, and in lesser series, the sidekick would be the expendable one.

But because I also believe in diversity of opinion, here's an alternative view on this particular subject.

Question: With the death of Detective Carter on Person of Interest and the replacement of the Ziva character with Bishop on NCIS, there have been a lot of messages in your in-box about a lack of diversity among the stars of major TV shows. Maybe it's just me, but I have never once thought about the racial make-up of a cast so long as I find the acting and writing enjoyable. Do the casts accurately reflect society as a whole? Probably not, but then again I also don't believe that there are rogue former special forces soldiers stalking New York City rescuing people as directed by an all-seeing machine or that there is a super-secret government agency investigating alien technology and super-humans.

Racial makeup, whether it's all white, African-American, glow-in-the-dark Martian, just doesn't (and shouldn't) factor into the decisions producers and writers make. If the intent in killing Carter was to take John to the dark place he was in when the show began, then they accomplished their goal. And the subsequent episode reminded us that behind the wisecracking laid-back exterior was a brutal killer struggling to maintain control. So while people may malign the death of Carter from a racial perspective I think that, objectively, it did more to develop the main character than any other plot twist could have done. — Chip

Matt Roush: I appreciate this perspective, because while it's important for networks and show-runners to strive for diversity, I also agree that these concerns shouldn't hamstring producers from telling the stories they want to tell with the greatest impact possible. Which is why Carter's death on Person of Interest in particular, while dismaying to the character's fans, was an important turning point for the show — and for the character of Reese to be sure. Regarding the bigger picture, though, TV is strengthened as a medium if those pulling the creative (and purse) strings cast their shows with an eye toward inclusion — in the best case, spreading the wealth when it comes to creating heroes, villains and victims of all shapes, colors and types.

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Question: I know that a lot of people have issues with Meredith and Cristina fighting on Grey's Anatomy this season. Personally, I don't have any big issues with it. It's nice to see another side of their "friendship" so far into the series and it makes you wonder why it has never been explored before. Even when they are fighting, they still have amazing chemistry. That said, with Cristina leaving at the end of the season, do you think there's still time for them to fix their friendship? I doubt it will ever be the same, but I want them to part on good terms and I want Meredith to mention Cristina when she's off the show. Do you even think there will be an 11th season with the falling ratings? Will they get the same fate as Desperate Housewives (getting renewed for one final season perhaps)? — Ingmar

 att Roush: As we've discussed before in this space, my hope is that Sandra Oh's departure as Cristina will be on a triumphant, not tragic, note. And that would entail coming to terms with Meredith and healing the current rift, and also reaching an emotional reckoning with Owen while she's at it. All of which can and hopefully will be accomplished, unless Shonda Rhimes and her team have something else in store. I wouldn't presume to prognosticate. Regarding the show's future, while Grey's has obviously peaked (in every way imaginable), ABC is doing too well with this Grey's-Scandal block on Thursday to halt it quite yet. There's at least another year left in the show, I'm sure, for better or (interns) worse, but it would be wise for them to prepare an exit strategy sooner than later. And we should also hope that when the time comes, ABC and the producers announce Grey's final season in advance instead of just ending it out of expedience. I'd like it to be more satisfying than Housewives' forgettable final bow.

Question: I appreciate that most reviewers and viewers are enjoying this season of The Good Wife. I initially found the changes refreshing. However, over the last few weeks I feel the writing has taken this drama too far into the absurd. It reminds me how the plots and characters in the old show, L.A. Law, became more ridiculous in the later seasons. Will making out with his girlfriend in the office in front of the partners as well as the staff seemed silly and out of character even for the "new" Will. And Alicia's emphasis on beating LG in the "Whack-a-Mole" episode, rather than working to get her client cleared of the terrorist charges, was ludicrous. I know you advise viewers to sit back and enjoy, but I appreciate how these characters have been developed over the years and think things could easily become too broadly written if the writers are not careful. — P.J.

Matt Roush: These writers have always seemed to know what they're doing (Kalinda's husband aside), and even those off-putting scenes of Will with his new (and kind of random) squeeze can now be seen in the context of last week's sensational episode, which made it clear how much pain Will is in after Alicia's betrayal. I used the word "dangerous" early on in describing The Good Wife blowing itself up in its fifth season, and I'm willing to give a show like this a lot of slack for refusing to play it safe when the dramatic stakes are this high. It's a treacherous tightrope for sure and could easily slide down a slope of David Kelley-like cheap absurdism (Damian's childish stunt with stealing the office furniture comes to mind), but you'll just have to forgive me for being a cheerleader when a show takes such exhilarating risks.

Question: Please tell me Jordana Spiro will be making more appearances on The Good Wife. Yowsa! — Ken

Matt Roush: Count on it. And I agree.

Question: I think most people, upon hearing about a pilot being ordered for CBS's How I Met Your Dad, rolled their eyes and said, "Really?!?" I think most people don't want to sit through another 5-10 years of being teased about who the titular parent is. But I actually think it could work if, instead of using a whole new cast/set of "parents," they told the story of how the current "Mother" met Ted. This means that, rather than having to fit in tease after tease about who the "dad" is, we would get to know the Mother better than we are doing this season. This could not only make for a more interesting show, but it could also help us understand better why the Mother was so important to Ted. It would also allow for the occasional cameos from the current cast (hopefully not too often, however). There would be some logistical issues (the current cast would look a bit too old in those cameos and the scenes with the kids would probably have to have aged them significantly), but I think this could potentially be interesting. I don't really have any interest in going through the story of how people we don't know met each other at this point. What do you think?

On another note, I've heard rumors that, after the upcoming graduation, Glee is going to shift full-time to the New York City story. It looks like they are in the process of preparing for some of the current seniors (Artie and Sam, in particular) to end up in NYC, so this rumor is looking true. I think this could be a good thing, since I honestly care very little about what happens at McKinley now and most of the "non-classic" students aren't very interesting, with the exception of Unique. If Cory Monteith were still alive, I suspect they wouldn't be doing this, as I think the overall plan was to have Finn take over the glee club at the end of the show, but they clearly had to come up with a new plan. First, what do you think of the idea of abandoning the "Glee Club" stories from a show called Glee? Second, I can't really think of a show that changed its focus/location like this and was successful (both I Love Lucy and Laverne & Shirley did something similar, but didn't last more than one season with the new location), but do you think this could work? Or does it not matter much if it works, since we already know the show is ending next season? — Scott

Matt Roush: Sorry, not even your idea makes the notion of a female-centric Mother-to-Dad spin-off palatable. It all smacks of desperation, not the greatest starting point for a franchise that's now just running on fumes. As for Glee, I won't speculate on the credibility of rumors, as the show seems locked into a constant state of anything-goes transition. It seems clear the most vocal core of the fan base prefers the New York stories over the second generation of New Directions (not unlike the apathy being shown toward Grey's Anatomy's latest crop of interns), and I get that, and I'd be OK if more of the focus shifted to the graduates we know and love finding their new voices post-glee club in the final season. It's hard to imagine Glee altogether abandoning its high-school roots, though, so maybe there's a way to reinvent the show yet again in its last act while honoring its origins. But as you said, it's not as if anything they do next year will affect the show's future. The fat lady is about to sing, and that chorus is clearly overdue.

Question: I've just heard that two of my favorite shows might well be cancelled, and they're The Mentalist and Hawaii Five-0. I've often looked at what shows were "on the bubble" but the appropriateness of that term just struck me since I now realize these shows may very well either burst or float on, so I really hope it will be the latter! I think The Mentalist was bothered by too many late showings due to football (and maybe the Red John saga hanging on so long turned people off — not me), and Hawaii Five-0 is on a tough night where many shows, except for Blue Bloods —another on my "must watch" list — don't appear to do that well. Have you heard anything about the outcome of these shows, or do you have an opinion one way or another? — Dorothy

Matt Roush: Not sure where you're hearing these things, but the fact is that CBS has a tradition of cycling out many of its long-running procedurals over time (Cold Case, Without a Trace, the CSI spin-offs) so as to keep the schedule fresh, and one of the warning signs that a show's expiration time is near is when CBS moves it from its original night to trouble spots like Sundays at 10/9c or Fridays. But your fears may be a wee bit premature. CBS is no doubt looking closely at The Mentalist to see how viewers respond to the show's new format post-Red John (the denouement of which spiked the ratings), but the football overruns aren't really a factor. CBS has been dealing with that problem for ages, and they know the show in the 10/9c time slot tends to suffer. The real issue here is that when a show is moved into that time period, that's usually a sign the clock is ticking. But CBS tends to let shows of this sort run for at least seven seasons, and I wouldn't be surprised if The Mentalist gets one more lap, although if fans don't embrace Mentalist 2.0, that could hasten the end. With Hawaii, it's clear this reboot is unlikely to have the staying power of the '60s original (which ran 12 seasons), but it's doing well enough on a tough night that I'm betting they'll stick with the Hawaii-Blue Bloods combo for at least another season if not more.

Question: Almost Human has quickly become my favorite network show, right behind The Good Wife (best season ever). But how is it doing in the ratings? I hear it is not doing too well. What are Almost Human's chances of lasting the season? — Gary

Matt Roush: The odds of lasting the season? Probably pretty good. Fox should give this one some time to work out its kinks, but it's obviously not the breakout hit Sleepy Hollow was. Few shows are. Its fate will likely become clearer when it's paired next month with The Following (which has its own damage control issues for Season 2).

Question: I love Major Crimes, but I hate the "Rusty" character. Why is he there? He's certainly not relevant to crime solving. Every time he's on the screen, it's that much less time the fabulous cast is not on. Boo, Rusty. — Mike

Matt Roush: He's a deal-breaker for me as well, and helps explain why I haven't exactly rushed to watch the current batch of new episodes. He seems to exist to humanize the Capt. Raydar character, but I always found it a forced relationship, easily the clumsiest aspect of this spin-off.

Question: This isn't a question, but a thank you for all the shows you've guided me towards that I normally wouldn't have given a chance. There are many, but Breaking Bad comes first to mind, since I wasn't really enamored by its first season. However, your championing it and giving just enough tidbits of the other seasons to pique my interest again made me give it another shot around Season 4. And wow, I'm glad I did! The other show I can think of offhand is The Middle. I'd seen promos and commercials for it, but it really didn't seem like my type of show. Boy, was I wrong! I love how it's a very realistic family sitcom that is really relatable without going for the wacky situation of the week. The actress who plays Sue Heck (Eden Sher) steals the show, but all the Hecks are great also. Axl has become a much more defined character in the latter seasons, as have most of them. Once again, thanks for your thoughts and reviews, and I look forward to being shown other diamonds in the rough. — Dan

Matt Roush: Music to this critic's ears, especially during this time of year that's designed for giving thanks, which includes currently stewing over my year-end best-of list, and I'm sure it will surprise very few that both of the shows Dan mentioned will make the cut. I've also come to realize that in a time when social media seems to take such pleasure in the experience of "hate watching," I realize most of my quality time is spent "love watching" TV. I'm gratified to know that sometimes my passion is contagious.

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