Ask Matt: Old-Timers and Emmy Bait on Big Bang; Grimm, Hannibal, Southland RIP
Question: Two slightly related questions. First, in recent weeks, we've had the return of (at least) three classic TV stars guest starring on hit shows, with Bob Newhart on The Big Bang Theory and Patty Duke and Meredith Baxter on Glee. While a large part of me got a kick out of seeing them again (especially Newhart), part of me was kind of saddened to see how much they've aged. Newhart seemed fairly frail (granted, it has been almost 25 years since Newhart left the airwaves), though still funny. Patty Duke was virtually unrecognizable; if I hadn't already known she was playing Meredith Baxter's partner, I never would have known it was her. Am I alone in feeling a twinge of sadness in seeing them in such a state? I know I should be grateful that they're still getting the occasional role, but it just makes me miss them from their prime.
Second, do you find yourself watching episodes of a TV show and thinking to yourself, "Well, this is his/her 'for your consideration' episode?" I say this because I thought that twice during last week's episode of The Big Bang Theory. First, as Simon Helberg was really getting into his role as "Dungeon Master," I thought he was doing such a good job -and different from his usual geeky pervert role (not that that's a bad thing) - that I thought this would be one of his standout episodes for this season (along with the episode involving the letter from his dad) and be one he could submit for nomination. But then came Amy and Sheldon's "love scene" which I thought was just outstanding and should get Jim Parsons yet another deserved Emmy nomination (if not a win). He managed to show tenderness towards Amy without losing the essence of the character (something this show excels at as the characters grow without becoming different characters). I know there are some shows where actors get obvious "Emmy scenes," but this one was subtly acted in a wonderful way without feeling out of place. - Scott
Matt Roush: We should all be so lucky to age as gracefully as Bob Newhart, Patty Duke and Meredith Baxter. Age happens to us all, and while there's always a twinge of nostalgia when we reconnect with old favorites and remember them as they were, I was delighted, not saddened, to see them back in action - Newhart in particular, who deserves a guest-actor Emmy nomination for his deadpan responses to Sheldon, Leonard and Penny. I'm not sure I would have recognized Patty Duke either in that role if I weren't already aware of her casting, but evidence of age aside, her performance was witty and spirited and I hope we see more of her.
Regarding the D&D episode of Big Bang: I have a feeling just about everyone will be submitting that for their Emmy reel: the writers as well as the actors. It was an especially big home run for Simon Helberg, but those final scenes between Sheldon and Amy were among Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik's best work all year. And it all happened within the context of a fabulously entertaining episode without feeling like a "very special" piece of Emmy bait.
Question: Is NBC trying to get rid of Grimm? It was on Fridays at 9/8c during the fall season and then returned after a three-month hiatus to the same time slot and now why are they switching the show to Tuesdays at 10/9c? I know they have renewed the show for next fall, but the networks are killing good shows by constantly switching the time slots and putting the shows on hiatus for three or four months at a time. Why don't they just finish the fall season in January and then start a new series in its place for the rest of the season? - Jerry
Matt Roush: Of course NBC isn't trying to do harm to Grimm. In this case, moving Grimm was a sign of good faith, taking the show temporarily out of the Friday graveyard onto a night when more people are watching TV. (It's moving back to Fridays in the fall, paired with a new Dracula series.) But, to be honest, this particular last-minute move was motivated more by desperation, given that it only happened after the instant collapse of the new dating show Ready for Love opened up a slot on Tuesday. I do agree that Grimm's scheduling this season was unusual, more like cable in the way that its season was split into two. I'm OK with the way Grimm's season was separated into two "pods" - don't forget that NBC launched Grimm earlier than most shows, in late August right after the Olympics, which is why it took such a long break before resuming its run in the spring. It may be true that shows like this would be better off if they were shown straight through, but fans would no doubt gripe just as loudly if it disappeared for half a year or more between seasons. The good news where Grimm is concerned is that its fans seem willing to watch it wherever and whenever NBC chooses to air it.
Question: I love your column and agree with you on many shows. I always look for your column so I can see what is going on! So tell me: Where do you see Hannibal heading (around for a few more years or taking a nose dive?) and is Mads Mikkelsen in line for an Emmy nod? He mesmerizes me when he is on the show. I had high hopes for The Following, but it has let me down (Joe unraveled way too easily and much too quickly!), so now my hopes are on Hannibal, but I am worried it won't be able to sustain the scares and suspense either, so hoping you will tell me I am wrong. I enjoy the writing, and it's rather daring in some of what it does, so I am hoping it sticks around and continues to be interesting. Would love your thoughts! - Kathy
Matt Roush: So far so good on Hannibal sustaining its ghoulish tone and aura of unpredictable menace - the episodes critics screened in advance have all now aired, so what comes next I can't say - and I'm hoping the show will factor into NBC's future plans. It seems it's still too early in the show's run for the network to decide whether to renew it for next season. They still have time to make that call.
Question: My husband and I were recently getting a bit fed up watching Once Upon a Time. There seems to be no rules: Regina seems to be able to do whatever she wants, and finds out information with practically no effort or time wasted. The show seems to be making itself up as it goes, and is really stagnant in its middle-season episodes (both first and second). This then led to my husband remembering that Heroes began functioning this way around its second and third season. This has us worried! Heroes deteriorated significantly as the seasons went by. It was maddening and frustrating to watch, that is until we tuned out altogether. Do you see a similar pattern? - Jackie
Matt Roush: I guess I feel the same way, because I drifted away from this show midway through this season (around the time they kept airing original episodes opposite big-event TV) and despite meaning to never caught up, thanks to the glut of actual high-quality Sunday TV. (Maybe a summer binge awaits.) My real problem is that I'm not invested in the emotional stakes for most of these characters at this point, and outside of Robert Carlyle and the dashing Hook, wasn't feeling much magic in the performances either.
Question: In the first episode of Rectify, we watched someone, supposedly a friend of Daniel, shoot himself in the head. Unless I missed something, nothing was ever mentioned. What happened to him? Was he discovered? I really like this series. Daniel's stillness is really captivating. You mentioned another series you liked on Sundance, with Elisabeth Moss. What is the name of the series? - Susan
Matt Roush: That suicide, which we're meant to believe has something to do with the murder that put Daniel away for so many years, will be revisited before the end of next week's season finale - which is arriving way too soon. The Elisabeth Moss miniseries, already concluded but available on iTunes, is the acclaimed Top of the Lake, which should be a front-runner for movie/miniseries awards this year.
Question: Thanks for the shout-outs to one of the best series on TV. The last two episodes of Southland were the best two hours of TV I've ever seen! Will be sad to see this series canceled. I'm about to take my DVR box and chunk it over the counter to the cable company. The slim pickings on TV don't justify (no pun intended) the high cost. This outdated mode of ratings surveys, skewed demographics and "sweeps" is so pathetic. I know exactly two people that sit down and watch live TV. Everyone else time-shifts. And I'm a tech-tard. I can't stand to watch TV live. I don't have an iPad or a smart phone. But if I'm busy during the week, I catch up in a marathon on the weekend via DVR. The industry needs to wake up and smell the _______! - Belinda
Matt Roush: The industry is well aware of changing viewing trends and is adjusting its measurement to some degree. (The real challenge is how to make these various platforms pay for this kind of expensive programming.) It's clearly far from a perfect system, but it's also a fact that while binge viewing is a cool thing for the TV fan, it's not always great for a show's or a network's bottom line. And where Southland is concerned, its cancellation saddens me more than any show the broadcast networks have pulled over this hectic last week. I'm not surprised, of course, and I have considered the last few seasons a gift, considering how early it all could have ended if TNT hadn't rescued the show - and in so doing, made it a better series. Southland transcended the police drama/procedural drama with its rich characters and stark realism, and for something this unsparing to survive into a fifth season on a fairly mainstream commercial network is something of a miracle.
Question: After seeing the preview for ABC's summer TV show Motive, I can't help but be reminded of CBS's Criminal Minds. In the previews, it boasts that the viewer gets to see the suspect and his actions and follow along as the investigation team tries to find the suspect along with his motive. I'm an avid Criminal Minds fan and this show seems too familiar. Do you feel the same way? - Joel
Matt Roush: From the two episodes I've seen of Motive so far, its only resemblance to Criminal Minds is that they inhabit the same oversaturated genre of procedural crime drama, and both are as ordinary and unoriginal as they come - though Motive is far less repulsive in its subject matter than Minds, but so generic in its approach as to be essentially invisible. The gimmick in Motive is that the killer is identified immediately, as is the victim (shortly before the killing), and the story then basically cuts between the detectives' routine investigation, the killer trying to elude the authorities and cover his/her tracks while we see flashbacks of what led to the murder. It's more a why-dun-it than a whodunit, but the real question, since there's minimal suspense or mystery, is: Why watch?
Question: Would you please pass on to the industry that the "surprise" car crash, where the characters are driving along talking and suddenly the camera shows the car speeding up in the background and crashing into the side of the car ... enough already ... it's no longer a surprise ... almost all of those scenes are shot the same way and you can easily see it coming. It was shocking the first few times directors chose to use the effect, but it seems like every show I've watched this season has chosen to use this now old clichéd effect. Please pass along the word to find something else! - Joe
Matt Roush: Consider it done. The only "shock" more overdone these days is the shot of a person standing in the road or stepping off the curb and suddenly being flattened by a bus or some such. There should be a moratorium on these kind of cheap tricks for at least the next season.
Question: I am writing to complain about HBO's rule of airing only eight episodes per season of their comedies. Why did they start limiting all their comedies to eight episodes when Showtime and FX has 12-13 episodes per season? I also feel that the comedies HBO chooses to broadcast are not sustainable. Showtime has Nurse Jackie and Californication go for at least six or seven seasons. Most of HBO's comedies have a shelf life of two to three seasons. I don't understand why HBO is punishing its subscribers with their lame practices. Can you explain to me their reasoning for these ridiculous rules? - Liz
Matt Roush: It's not that there are rules, and the HBO average is closer to 10 episodes per season (more for mega-hits, of which there have been precious few), but yes, this is smaller than the industry norm. However, the issue of sustainability is very different than the number of episodes per season, which in most cases is as much a creative decision as it is a network mandate or quota, although economics no doubt plays a role. If we're to believe the channel's catchphrase "We're not TV," that applies to HBO's relationship with its shows' creators, who are producing material at their own steam and by their own rules, not HBO's or the industry standard. The idea being to emphasize quality over quantity. Harking back to your "sustainability" comment, I just wish more of their comedies were amusing and/or entertaining; even the new Family Tree, which I reviewed positively (and is airing just eight episodes in its first season, to bolster your complaint), is an awfully slow-building quirk-fest. With the exception of those too-occasional seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, certain aspects of Girls and the sophomore Veep, much of HBO's "comedy" output the last few years has left me cold, like a bad night in an art-house movie theater that's trying too hard. Comparing HBO to Showtime has its flaws, because that network has an unfortunate tendency to let its shows run too long (Californication a case in point, also Showtime's breakthrough Weeds, which limped to the finish line). The greedy American TV mindset tends to work against the notion that less can be more, and I don't really care how many episodes a show produces as long as they're satisfying, but it's true that sometimes even on HBO, less is just less.
Question: I've been deciding whether I'll be one of those sucked into watching the new season of The Killing and was wondering your opinion on the show. I watched the entire run; I wasn't furious when Rosie's murder wasn't solved at the end of the first season, and ultimately I was satisfied by the conclusion. But looking back, I think there are two major problems with the series. While I wasn't angered by the lack of resolution in Season 1, I think the mystery would have been much more effective and tightly written if the investigation were solved in one season - by the end of Season 2, there had been so many red herrings and implausible coincidences (many of which were irrelevant or forgotten by the end) that it stretched beyond what people were willing to believe, even for a TV show. I mainly hung in there for the Larsons, an element of the series I thought was very well done. Do you know if the writers plans to focus on and solve the mystery by the end of the new season?
However, that still leaves us with what I consider to be the second problem, and that is the format of the show. Regardless of how the show-runners plot the mystery, we know with absolute certainty that the killer is not going to be revealed in episode 4 or 7 or even 9. I remember watching one of the middle episodes of the second season, when it looks very much like the son of the man Stan killed was responsible, and thinking, "Well, it's not him because we still have six (or seven) more episodes." I don't know if that's a problem that can be solved. It might help if the show didn't reveal a new suspect at the end of every hour, which is then revealed to be some sort of misunderstanding in the next episode - maybe give us a line-up of suspects from the start and just have the series be about unraveling the evidence? Do you think the writers for The Killing have learned from their mistakes in stretching out the mystery too long? And even if so, do you think it's possible for this idea to work in a TV format? - Katelyn
Matt Roush: I've only seen the two-hour opener of the new season - moody, rainy, dour, slow, kind of spellbinding, pretty much what you'd expect - so I can't guarantee that it won't fall into some of the same traps as the first two cycles. But the producers promise the mystery will be resolved within this season, and the scope of the case this year appears to be much larger (a serial killer targeting homeless or wayward youths), so the story may not be as contingent on annoying and obvious red herrings as the Rosie Larsen murder. Plotting out a season-long mystery is clearly not an easy thing to pull off and sustain, and what I'd hope to see are occasional reveals that only deepen the puzzle until the ultimate denouement. The strengths of The Killing, including its mournful tone and the fascinating performances of Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, are still intact, so I wouldn't discourage the curious from giving it a shot.
Question: So, any news on a new season of Torchwood? It's been a long time, and I would hate for the show to be remembered by Miracle Day. I'm not sure if they can top Children of Earth, but I'd love to see another season (or miniseries). - Camille
Matt Roush: As far as I'm aware, nothing new - and believe me, if and whenever a new Torchwood gets a green light, it won't be a secret. Russell T Davies is busy with another project, and John Barrowman has been appearing on shows as diverse as Arrow and (as of last week) Scandal. But should the stars align somewhere down the road, every indication is that they'd all like to revisit Captain Jack's story. I agree, though, that it needs to happen someday. The terribly disappointing Miracle Day can't be the last word for this franchise.