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Ask Matt: Twin Peaks, A Season of No Cancellations (Yet), Person of Interest, Grey's, NCIS, Arrow, Black-ish

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter! Question: My curiosity is piqued: What's your take on Showtime's plans to revive Twin Peaks in 2016 with David Lynch at the helm, along with Mark Frost? Looking back at the cultural impact it had, despite its ultimate ratings failure, it seems odd that it took 25 years for this to happen. Are you excited? Skeptical? What does your log have to say about this? — John Patrick

Matt Roush
Matt Roush

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

Question: My curiosity is piqued: What's your take on Showtime's plans to revive Twin Peaks in 2016 with David Lynch at the helm, along with Mark Frost? Looking back at the cultural impact it had, despite its ultimate ratings failure, it seems odd that it took 25 years for this to happen. Are you excited? Skeptical? What does your log have to say about this? — John Patrick

Matt Roush: It's hard to describe how completely I geeked out at the news of this revival, which took me back so vividly to my first years on this beat as a critic, covering the show with such rapt fascination, and usually delight. (I have a great memory about Piper Laurie trying to punk me during one of my visits to the production office, conducting an interview in her then-newly introduced Japanese male-drag character, pretending to be an actor called Fumio Yamaguchi. I had already suspected such, but what a hoot nonetheless.) Regarding the revival, if David Lynch and Mark Frost weren't attached to this, I'd be a lot less intrigued. If it were announced as an open-ended project instead of a nine-episode "event," I'd be a lot more concerned about its ability to sustain, given what happened after the Laura Palmer reveal in Season 2. But everything about the way they're presenting this comeback sounds like a best-case scenario, including Showtime presenting the original series in its entirety before the new episodes air. Also, airing on Showtime makes perfect sense. Twin Peaks was ahead of its time for ABC in the early '90s, and given the current state of network TV, it still is.

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Question: In years past, networks have been pretty quick to pull the cancellation trigger after only one or two episodes of a new show maybe not performing to full expectations. I've always felt that was incredibly hasty, since a week or two is not nearly enough time for a show to develop any kind of following. Where would Cheers or Seinfeld have been in that type of environment? But this year, after almost a month of new programming underway, I've noticed that no new shows have been canceled yet (at least as I'm writing this). Are the new shows doing so much better than in previous years, or are networks giving shows more time to grow and develop? And do you think that all the new platforms for program watching are having some effect on this? — Wendy

Matt Roush: It's not that the shows are doing better — and this mediocre fall, it's definitely not the case that the shows themselves are better — but the networks are increasingly looking beyond same-night ratings to better gauge a show's potential, and they're giving marginal performers more of a chance to get noticed on these other platforms. So while I'm under no illusion that the casualty rate for this season will be lower than in most past years, the body count will certainly not be as immediate.

Question: I'm curious — have you ever seen a fandom as bitterly and vocally divided as the Person of Interest fandom currently is? It feels like the Classic Coke vs. New Coke battle to me. No one (including me) is willing to compromise, and no one seems happy. Part of it is the death of Carter (it was a horrible mistake vs. it was necessary, let it go); part is the new direction of the show (episodic vs. serial); part is the new take of the characters (Crazy-Evil-Root vs. Reformed-Helper-Shoot-in-the-Kneecaps-Root); part is the new focus (ordinary people vs. the Battle of the Machines). It seems to come down to the fact that the people who loved Seasons 1 and 2 have hated Seasons 3 and 4, and vice-versa. Whether the episode is episodic or arc-based, half the fandom is angry about it. The show is finally getting critical attention and acclaim, but the ratings slip further every week. Given the deep and bitter divide, do you think there's any hope for a reconciliation that will turn the ratings around? Can this fandom (and show) be saved? — Linda O

Matt Roush: From a purely critical point of view (as opposed to worrying about fandom in-fighting, which is a rabbit hole I try always to avoid), if Person of Interest weren't so polarizing, it would be a lot less interesting to me. I have always admired this show for not playing it safe, and while I hope the Samaritan arc will be contained to this season and the team moves on from their current exile to some new modus operandi next year — although I love the new HQ in the abandoned subway car — I'm excited by a show that continues to evolve as dramatically as POI does. Ratings are relative (see earlier question), and POI in what had been a very problematic Tuesday time period isn't a disaster, as something so off-brand might be expected to be (though I'm not surprised it trails the more mainstream Chicago Fire). So to me, the question here isn't about reconciling the fan base that still can't get over Carter's death (old news — and good news is that Taraji P. Henson is back later this season in a new Fox drama called Empire, which I'll be getting an early look at later this month) and who can't embrace Shaw (my current favorite) and Root for the roles they're now playing. It's about an audience's willingness to keep going on the ride with a show that I still look very forward to each week, because it's so different and unexpected. That said, I rather enjoyed last week's more conventional episode that felt like a classic "follow the number and save the kids" caper.

Question: I'm really impressed by Season 11 of Grey's Anatomy. The "Only Mama Knows" episode this past week was incredibly executed on all levels. However, I want to focus on the acting. I think Ellen Pompeo is doing some of her best work. It's early, and so many people deliver great performances, but I believe she has a solid Emmy reel this year. Has she ever been nominated? I know the Golden Globes likes to recognize younger, more hip shows. What about the Emmys? Do they also follow the buzz? Do you think it is harder for an actor on an older but still fine show to get recognized at the Emmys? — Lynox

Matt Roush: Answering your last question first: yes, it's much harder for a show and its cast to get noticed this late in the run, especially once it's fallen off the Emmy radar the way Grey's mostly has, eclipsed by shinier new obsessions like Scandal — and it's hard to imagine Viola Davis not being noticed this year for How to Get Away With Murder (the scene of Annalise starkly removing her wig and makeup to confront her husband should be on her Emmy reel, for sure). But Ellen Pompeo really was luminous in last week's terrific Grey's episode, wasn't she? For the record, she has never been nominated for an Emmy (and only once for a Golden Globe), and much of that probably has to do with the fact that for all of her neuroses, Meredith has always been surrounded by showier characters. Given the surplus of quality drama on TV, the odds that Grey's and its lead actress will get recognized are slim, even when the show is back on its game, like it was last week. (And I felt last Thursday was a home run for all three of the Shonda Rhimes shows. Best Scandal of the season to date as well.)

Question: I've never submitted a question before, so I hope this one gets answered, this being my birthday week. The Good Wife is my favorite show currently on the air. It's just amazing. There's only one thing bothering me (and I know I am not alone): The Kalinda/Alicia situation. They used to be best friends. At the end of Season 3, it seemed like they were making up over the Peter situation and it seemed like they were ready to move on. Kalinda started to open up more, and even Alicia seemed friendly toward Kalinda. Now, it has been 30-plus episodes since they shared a scene. People are talking about it, but at the same time they are not talking about it. Every answer we get from the creators seems evasive. What is happening on the set? Why are they making it seem like they don't even know each other anymore? It doesn't make sense. It seems like they do everything to make sure they don't have to interact with each other. We got some phone calls, but nothing more than that. Fans are counting, and I really hope you have an answer, whether it's bad or good news. Is there any hope? I mean, they just showed Kalinda denying Alicia was ever her best friend? What? — Ingmar, The Netherlands

Matt Roush: First: happy birthday! Next: This question arrived before the news broke last week about Archie Panjabi's departure from The Good Wife after this season —which reignited the speculation over why Alicia and Kalinda never share scenes in physical proximity to each other any more. The estrangement caused by the revelation of Kalinda's tryst with Peter explained this for a while, and the show is so full of rich material I admit it took me a long time to notice (and I can't say it bothers me all that much, as I've come to accept it). But neither the producers nor actors have to my knowledge addressed this issue directly or at any length, except to say that they still value Panjabi and the character of Kalinda (but this is Julianna Margulies' show, which may be why Panjabi is seeking a new showcase now that her contract is expiring). I'd prefer not to speculate further, except to hope that before this season ends, Alicia and Kalinda will get at least one substantial scene (or, better yet, episode) to put their relationship in a context that will make Kalinda's impending exit as satisfying as possible.

Question: As a fan of NCIS, I really enjoyed watching the Oct. 7 episode that centered on David McCallum's character Ducky and gave fans a better insight into his past. I think this was by far McCallum's best performance on the show. Since the show first started, I have always enjoyed the Ducky character and I think it's one of the reasons why the show is still one of the best on TV today. McCallum has proven that he can carry an episode, and I hope that CCH Pounder will have the same opportunity to do the same on NCIS: New Orleans. So how much of the show's success would you give to McCallum? — Allan

Matt Roush: That really was a good episode, and a fine performance by David McCallum (enjoyed his chemistry with Alice Krige as well). In an ensemble as popular and pervasive as the NCIS cast has become, each contribution is essential — and while most of the success of the show falls squarely on the leadership and magnetism of Mark Harmon, Gibbs' rapport and counsel with the wise, wry Ducky is every bit as crucial as his affection for Abby, his indulgence of Tony and his mentorship of McGee. Using McCallum sparingly, and giving him the occasional big moment like this, is exactly the right approach to a very special character and actor.

Question: I liked the idea of an NCIS spin-off in New Orleans and it feels like NCIS: New Orleans is a closer match to the original than NCIS: LA, which might as well just be Hawaii 5-0 set in L.A. I am concerned that we're not getting to see the show stand on its own, though. In each of the first three episodes, we're getting crossovers from NCIS, including an occasional recurring character from NCIS. Shouldn't the show have a chance to stand on its own two feet without the "stunt casting?" I understand the pilot establishing that it's the same universe, but three in a row seems excessive. I figure it's just a matter of time before Jimmy has to make a trip to Louisiana. — Jason

Matt Roush: And this Tuesday, you'll see Joe Spano appear as Agent Fornell (a long-recurring NCIS presence) along with Rocky Carroll as NCIS Director Vance — who at least makes sense to be a recurring figure on all three NCIS shows. I'm sure as time goes on, the New Orleans spinoff will be left to its own devices more and more, with fewer crossovers, but given that Mark Harmon is one of the executive producers of this series (unlike on LA), there may be a more noticeable collegial relationship between these back-to-back series, at least in this early period. And honestly, who wouldn't covet a trip to New Orleans now and then, even Jimmy?

Question: With A to Z telling us exactly how long Andrew and Zelda are going to date (eight months, etc.), which seems to correspond with a television season, is the plan to have a new couple featured in a second season (assuming there would be one which considering the ratings seems a long shot at this point)? — Amanda

Matt Roush: I haven't heard that scenario, that A to Z might be an "anthology" rom-com, although it's a fresher idea than the wearyingly generic show currently on display (however endearing the leads may be). Seems to me that the intro (which I find annoying) suggests that the dating part of their relationship will continue for this period of time, and then they'll evolve to some new level: moving in together, engagement, marriage, whatever. Unless they find new actors to play an "Arnold" and "Zoey," I imagine we'll be following these two for however long the show lasts.

Question: Why do some showrunners push so hard for some characters to star that it weakens their overall show? On House, the producers did it in Season 3 when Cameron and Chase got pushed back, in favor of Cuddy as House's love interest and later co-star. The Huddy years were the worst of House and the show never recovered. Now Andrew Kreisburg and Marc Guggenheim are doing it on Arrow with Laurel Lance, the most divisive character on the show (and in my opinion the weakest). After two seasons of trying to make Laurel relevant and failing, they've killed off Sara, a strong, interesting character and good role model so that Laurel can take on her Black Canary persona. Laurel is disliked enough already. Instead of building her up slowly as a crusading lawyer so that viewers will like her more, they've killed a more popular character to push Laurel into a starring role she's not ready for and many will resent her in. Who will die for Laurel next? Felicity? After all, Laurel's destiny is to be both Black Canary and Oliver/Arrow's love interest. I was willing to give the show another chance after a poor second half of last season, but it looks like I can't trust the producers at all. At least not when it comes to seeing Laurel Lance with a professional eye. — Marika

Matt Roush: And yet, while Laurel will never be my favorite character either, she has always been a key player in this story, so are you really so surprised? This doesn't feel like a deal-breaker, given how many other elements of the show are working. (The one I'm missing most these days is Susanna Thompson as the elegant Queen matriarch, Moira.) But if Arrow is disappointing you so much, might I suggest transferring your attention and affections to The Flash, which is an utter joy. While I enjoy Arrow, the casting on The Flash is superior throughout, and it's refreshing to watch a superhero who actually enjoys himself once in a while.

Question: I was so disappointed that Bones killed off Sweets. Why? Why? Why? I really enjoyed him. - Natalie

Matt Roush: By all accounts, everyone on the show liked him, too, so much so that you can almost look at this as a mercy killing, freeing up the actor John Francis Daley to pursue his burgeoning career as a screenwriter and director. (Read the post-mortem here.) If they hadn't killed Sweets, they probably would have had to write him out of much of the season, and as we've discussed many times before in this space, the death of a major character can provide valuable new story material for a show and its characters (in this case, Booth more especially). Can't say I'm crazy about how quickly they subbed in the character of Agent Aubrey, who while not a replacement (different duties and attitude) serves to help us forget, even temporarily, that there's a gaping absence on this team.

[NOTE: I saved the following for last, not because it's not an important topic, but because the writer had a lot to say, and I felt it was worth giving him space to do it, with only minimal edits.]

Question: For network TV, specifically family sitcoms, black families have been severely underrepresented for far too long. There might be BET shows and shows with Tyler Perry's name on them, but if they don't lack mass appeal, they lack the mass audience that shows like The Cosby Show and The Jeffersons enjoyed. So I was hoping Black-ish would start a trend that would restore the black family to TV as well as start introducing more mixed families. Reviews have been pretty good. But after watching the show, I have mixed feelings. I cannot stand Anthony Anderson. Every comedic role he plays is injected with the same smarmy idiot delivery, and every scene he has in the show might as well be a spinoff of his Guys With Kids character. Everything he says in narration sounds like he's bragging about his second-place bowling trophy while clenching as hard as he can. And while I get that they can't exactly have the show be a comedy with heavy-handed civil rights and slavery history lessons, there is a lot of black-culture material worthy of inclusion without making the father seem so concerned about the most arbitrary things such as ogling women's butts. Seeing Deon Cole from Conan guest-starring and stealing every scene made me wish he was the father instead.

It wouldn't be so bad if the kids were treated as actual characters instead of plot devices that solely exist to motivate the parents to be bad parents. Frankie is my least favorite Heck on The Middle (and I feel like Patricia Heaton goes out of her way to represent the middle class as lazy, entitled, irresponsible deadbeats), but she is completely offset by the rest of her family and all the busy dynamics between the other Hecks. All the great classic family sitcoms were right to have the kids be the main focus, while Black-ish seems to have bizarre, detached parenting as its thing. It does make me laugh occasionally, and I love Lawrence Fishburne as Pops, but it's just not enough. The show is too formulaic to sustain a long term. Older kids disappoint parents, parents overreact, younger children have C plot, parents realize they made a mistake and everything is resolved by the end. I just don't see the show lasting long enough for the show to have the problem of keeping the kids on the show after they graduate high school. Do you? I hope the show improves and abandons the formula while humanizing the kids, but the "modern" perspective is overshadowed by its '80s derivativeness, and I can't imagine a course correction dramatic enough to avoid the inevitable icebergs of bleeding ratings and cancellation. If Black-ish manages a Season 2 renewal, I expect ABC to put a new show after Modern Family for 2015, following in the footsteps of Cougar Town, Don't Trust The B in Apartment 23, Happy Endings and Super Fun Night. — Gene

Matt Roush: Black-ish isn't perfect, but I find it more enjoyable and more significant than this gives it credit for. So few network comedies are about anything these days, except maybe irony and/or hooking up, that a show daring to deal with class, race, most recently gender, while presenting classic generational family situations in a post-Obama context, is refreshing even when it occasionally stumbles out of the gate. Give it some leeway, let it grow and maybe even grow on you, though I agree it wouldn't hurt to pull back on the incessant voice-overs. (Although if you're that immune to Anthony Anderson's charms, maybe this is a lost cause. But the show wouldn't have been made without him.) I thought the pilot was strong, followed by an iffy second episode, then came "The Nod," which was the best yet as the parents once again have to manage their expectations and supposed expertise against their kids' own attitudes. Black-ish feels like a very suitable complement to Modern Family — flash back to a year ago, with Super Fun Night, and try convincing me this isn't a major improvement. The show is walking a tricky line between appeasing those who enjoy formula family sitcoms and presenting a progressive, maybe even subversive, point of view, so it's not likely to satisfy either camp entirely. But it's way too early to write it off, and thankfully ABC is giving it a full season to find its way.

But I draw the line at dissing Frankie Heck and Patricia Heaton's spot-on portrayal of one of the most amusingly harried and overwhelmed TV moms of all time. She's under no illusion that she will ever be a Supermom, and for her and the show to find self-deprecating humor in the rare-for-TV acknowledgement that today's middle class is on the ropes is just as meaningful for me as the social commentary Black-ish aspires to achieve.

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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