Ask Matt: New Dance Moves, Return of Rescue Me, and More!
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Question: A couple of summers ago, I gave So You Think You Can Dance a shot, based partially on your glowing praise for it. It quickly became one of my all-time favorite reality competition shows, and after Mad Men, the show I look forward to most every summer. Unfortunately, the last two seasons have been underwhelming, so I supported the show's decision to make some radical changes this season. So far, some of the changes seem to be working better than others. I don't miss Mary Murphy's screeching at the judge's table and feel Nigel, Mia and Adam give intelligent, pointed critiques that put the fools on the American Idol panel to shame. I'm still not a fan of the bigger stage, but in the second week of competition episodes, it appeared as though the dancers were trying to use less of the space and recreate some of that intimate feel from the old set.
However, one aspect of the show's new format that I just can't make up my mind over is the use of the rotating "all-star" partners for the top 11. In one way, it was a clever idea. After skipping the show's fall season, I returned with renewed enthusiasm knowing I would get a chance to see old favorites like Mark, Anya, Pasha and Courtney again. But I feel their presence has also made it harder for me to connect with any of the actual contestants. In two weeks of performance episodes, I know my eyes haven't drifted from Mark whenever he's dancing, and when his partner ended up in the bottom three last week, I honestly couldn't form an opinion on whether or not she deserved to be there since I hadn't really watched her dance at all. So far, Kent has managed to make an impact mostly due to his endearing personality, and Alex commanded everyone's attention with his performance in the first week, but it takes more than two stars to make a compelling season of this show, and I fear the others may have too much of an uphill battle to outshine the all-stars (especially considering many of the all-stars are even better performers now that they've had a few years of professional experience behind them). How are you enjoying the return of the all-stars, and do you think this was a wise move for the show? — Erin
Matt Roush: The jury's probably still out on the effectiveness of the "all-star" twist, but for the most part, I've really been enjoying this season, and the pleasure of watching the "all-stars" in action is part of the reason, I'm sure. That and having the judges act more or less like grown-ups helps (although I wish Nigel would curb his tendency toward lecturing us and the contestants — but still, after that wretched season of Idol, any substance is welcome). Shrinking the cast and tightening the series are smart moves, and while I agree it takes away from the new cast for us to be distracted by the return of so many great veteran dancers — couldn't agree more about Mark, by the way — that's a significant part of the challenge this season. It's up to the new dancers to project their personalities into their dance and force us to pay attention. Kent can do it, and so can a few of the others. But even when they can't, having the "all-stars" on board guarantees there's always going to be something electrifying to watch.
Question: I love So You Think You Can Dance, but I'm very puzzled as to how a professional dancer, Alex, who is with a ballet company, is allowed to compete with the rest of the folks. Technically, he's not employed by them right now during the show, but hopes to return. — Natalie
Matt Roush: I'm not entirely clear on the eligibility rules for this show, but where Alex is concerned, his professional training and background don't guarantee anything. One of the best attributes of SYTYCD is that it requires versatility not just in technique but in performance style, and even Alex admits he has a lot to learn (as the faux-Fosse routine reminded him and us). I've seen Melinda perform professionally in a number of New York concert venues, but that experience clearly isn't helping her connect to the TV audience. Regardless of their history, these are all more or less undiscovered and unheralded performers where the viewing public is concerned. This is their chance to take the spotlight, and the better they are coming in to the competition makes for a better show. Not sure it's really such an uneven playing field.
Question: As the new season of Rescue Me approaches, I have been trying to decide whether to keep watching it. It is the final season, and I am certainly curious to see how it ends. That said, last season left me completely burned out (pun intended). The Tommy-Janet-Sheila shenanigans in the last few episodes made them almost unwatchable for me. The intervention in the bar where Tommy's entire family fell off the wagon, resulting in the drunk-driving death of Uncle Teddy's wife, was painful as it hit close to home. In the last episode, I found myself wanting Tommy dead and put out of his misery once and for all. From your standpoint, it all makes for great drama, but for some people who bring certain life experiences to the couch when they watch a show like this, it just goes too far for the show to remain enjoyable or satisfying. The only FX show I watched from beginning to end was Over There. It only lasted one season. I stopped watching The Shield and Nip/Tuck long before they ended for a variety of reasons. I even gave up on Always Sunny. Do you ever get to a point where you just can't keep watching one of these dark shows or do you feel obliged to your readers to keep watching so you can keep writing about them? — Frank
Matt Roush: I would imagine that Denis Leary, Peter Tolan and the rest of the Rescue Me creative team would take your discomfort as a compliment. It's not meant to be an easy show to watch. There have been several points along the way where I've become exasperated by either the show or by Tommy for their various excesses — and I agree the Janet/Sheila triangle is one of the most exasperating — yet I find the show on balance still to be very entertaining and compelling, and that remains the case in what I've seen so far this season. (To be clear, the final season will be split in two parts and won't conclude until 2011, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.)
To your big-picture question: It's always a tough call to know when it's time to break up with a series, and I'm not always aware I'm doing it until I see how many unaired episodes (or screeners, depending) have piled up unwatched, which is a sign I've pretty much given up. I forced myself to make it to the lurid end of Nip/Tuck, because I wanted to be specific about my disappointment in a show I had once championed. With The Shield, I never lost faith, and was rewarded with one of the greatest final seasons of any series. It isn't the darkness of any particular show that turns me away. It's more a case of whether I'm truly engaged in the story and the characters, which is purely a personal decision. I'm not having any second thoughts about sticking with Rescue Me at this point.
Question: I know you're not a fan of Criminal Minds, but I was wondering what your thoughts are about the situation with the producers' decision to write AJ Cook out of the show and reduce the number of episodes for Paget Brewster. On Twitter, Brewster says she believes these moves are being made for financial reasons. I feel bad for both actresses as they obviously didn't see this move coming. In the end, I think the producers along with CBS are to blame for this debacle. — Allan
Matt Roush: It's not unusual for a long-running show to make cast changes and adjustments along the way, but it does seem especially odd for this show to be doing away with its primary female leads (excepting good old Garcia, that is, one of the few characters I've ever enjoyed on a show that tends to sap the life force from any actor who comes aboard). If it is a budget issue, which seems to be the case, my suggestion would be to scrap the spin-off — which looked pretty terrible from the "backdoor" pilot that aired last season — and focus the financial resources on shoring up the original series. Selfishly, though, I've always been a Paget Brewster fan (up until this role), so am happy to know she'll be back on the market and could end up on a show I'd be more likely to watch. A comedy, perhaps?
Question: Do you think that the Emmy categories (or at least the series ones) should be expanded to 10 nominees, similar to the Oscars? It just seems with more channels and shows out there, there are so many deserving picks that get passed over, i.e. Friday Night Lights. Expanding the nominees would also be great press for the shows themselves Your thoughts? — Nathan
Matt Roush: I wasn't a big fan of the Oscars rule change, being of a mind that it dilutes the best-movie category to open it up to so many contenders, which ultimately results in populist pandering. It would be even worse at the Emmys, which already splits the series candidates into drama and comedy, giving a dozen shows (6 for each these days) a chance to break through. As bitterly disappointing as it is to see shows like Friday Night Lights be neglected year after year, I'm not sure that the flaws in the nominating system would be remedied by opening up the drama category to even more nominees. The ensuing clutter would likely make the honor of being nominated a lot less significant. I don't see it happening at the Emmys — although I'm sure the networks, who feel so disadvantaged going up against cable series with less content restrictions, would like the playing field to be either expanded or leveled.
Question: I am surprised that ABC has been relegating Castle repeats to the dead zone of Saturday nights. I understand that truly serialized shows do not repeat well and do not make financial sense to rerun. However, Castle seems to be the type of show that would benefit greatly from the exposure since you don't have to watch it in order. ABC should learn a lesson from two hits on CBS. The Big Bang Theory didn't really seem to catch fire ratings-wise until it repeated last summer. Then it became a habitually viewed show by fall. And of course the biggest example is NCIS, a popular show that didn't become a mega-hit until constant airings on USA made it so familiar to viewers that they began showing up during first-run episodes too. Summer is a time for light, escapist viewing and Castle could fit the bill perfectly. I just think it would make sound fiscal sense to bombard the viewers now so Castle could also become a habit for the public by the fall season. — Sheila
Matt Roush: Couldn't agree with you more that Castle is exactly the sort of show that ABC should make a summer priority, especially knowing that it will be going up against one of the most hyped shows of the fall season in CBS' Hawaii Five-O. The good news is that with the collapse (again) of the dreadful Happy Town, ABC is moving Castle into the Wednesday night 10/9c time period effective this week and, I'm hoping, for the rest of the summer. A charming and purely entertaining show like this will only benefit from increased exposure, and now's the time to do it.
Question: I'm curious about your opinion of the Saving Grace finale. Like you, I don't need to have my shows tied up in a neat little bow, and the end of Grace was not a neat little bow by any means. I found the first hour to be rather confusing — I wasn't sure what the Mexico stuff was about. Was that girl Esparanza had Esparanza lived? And what was the event they were at? Who was the Hugh Hefner type guy? But I'm OK with the questions.
The second hour did a lot of hopping around and would have been better had they shown the first hour as a stand-alone this week and bulked up that last episode some so as not to bounce around so much and made it a two-hour finale. However, like Lost, we aren't dealing with "real time" when we've got an Angel like Earl and a God is a dog with a big tongue hanging out of his mouth! I found Grace's final act to be "so Grace." Sacrificing herself to try to stop evil from touching those she loves — it was who Grace was to me. She lived a hedonistic life, but she was nothing if not profoundly faithful to her love of her "chosen people." And her dog! I cried, but I was happy with the way it ended. I've read a lot of remarks about how she and Earl should have walked off together and all that, but I really appreciated the "non-cheese" that was the ending of Saving Grace. I will miss having Holly Hunter and, especially, Leon Rippy entertaining me with their fabulous chemistry and nuanced performances. They were wonderful together! Why neither actor has won an award for their work here, I'll never know. I'm not a religious person by any means, but I really loved this show. And if I had an angel, I'd want him to be just like Leon Rippy's Earl! So what did you think? — Kathy
Matt Roush: I'm not the best person to ask about this, because (referencing the Rescue Me question from above), I broke up with Saving Grace quite a few seasons ago, only occasionally tuning in to reconfirm my ambivalence. I was never convinced, intrigued or entertained by the show's forced blend of sanctimony and shock value, and while I admired Holly Hunter's gusto, I also found it incredibly self-indulgent. After hearing several co-workers (who watched the show more consistently) discuss the finale with varying degrees of confusion and contempt, I decided to give it a look and found it just as incoherent and unsatisfying as they did. So you know the range of mail I got on this, here's what a viewer named Dennis had to say about it: "Was there ever a worse final series episode than the final Saving Grace? What was the point? Why did they do it? I don't understand." It all felt very rushed and ridiculous to me, but the fact its fans are debating it tells me it struck a nerve on its way out. Which, given the way it was canceled (more a studio than a network decision), is something of a miracle itself.
Question: Why is NBC pushing Parks and Recreation back to midseason? I think it's one of their better shows, and I worry that it will be canceled because people won't remember to tune in come mid-season. I like Friday Night Lights, but because it airs so late in the season, I forgot that new episodes had started airing and I missed the first three. Also, how is Community going to last more than two seasons? Community college is a two-year thing. Will the school suddenly upgrade to a four-year school? Or will all of the characters fail one of their classes and not graduate? — Terry
Matt Roush: With Parks, NBC is giving it a rest because, much like CBS on Mondays, the network needs to keep introducing new shows each fall in hopes of creating new hits. (Whether Outsourced can overcome its thin one-joke premise remains to be seen.) Far from burying Parks, NBC can focus some promotional muscle upon its return, whenever that happens, more than it could if it were just part of the returning fall lineup. Like most of NBC's Thursday comedies, Parks isn't exactly a hit, but this hiatus doesn't mean the network is giving up on it. Yet. Where Community's long-term future is concerned, real-world rules probably don't apply, and if this wonderfully silly show is lucky enough to survive its second season — going head-to-head with CBS's transplanted The Big Bang Theory is not going to be pretty — I imagine they'll find some kookily contrived way to keep these misfits hitting the books or otherwise stuck in Greendale limbo. That's probably the least of the show's worries right now.
Question: I understand the various reasons why CBS canceled Ghost Whisperer. What I don't understand is why the network did not want to continue the show in periodic two-hour TV movies like it did with Murder She Wrote a while back. I personally believe CBS should reward the show's loyal fans with given them/us some closure and possibly more. Is there any chance of this happening? Out of curiosity: If there are ever any more GW reincarnations, what network do you think would televise it as ABC owns part of the franchise? — James
Matt Roush: In case you hadn't noticed, the networks are almost entirely out of the TV-movie business. Even CBS, with its Hallmark Hall of Fame franchise and occasional Jesse Stone movies, has no regular outlet for the format these days. If Ghost Whisperer were to have an afterlife (so to speak) as a series of TV movies, I'd think the best place to sell such an idea would be to cable. ABC could run them on ABC Family, or a deal could be struck with another outlet (Syfy would seem to be an obvious choice). But not having heard any talk of such a thing, I'd think this would be an awfully long shot.
Question: Maybe I missed something, or maybe (without entering spoiler territory) you can answer a question for me. In the Glee finale, at the Regionals, there were three teams in competition. And four judges (although why Olivia Newton-John agreed to play herself and come off like a jerk is beyond me), and why they would let one judge be from a school IN the finals (Sue) is a mystery. In a sort of flashback, we see Sue actually voting for her own school. Therefore, in the worst-case scenario, Vocal Adrenaline gets three votes to their one, and they finish second. Or: VD (nice touch) gets two votes and the other two schools split one apiece, in which case they tie for runner-up. But in no scenario that I come up with do they not finish in the top two. So what gives? Were they robbed? Did Josh Groban who said he liked them at first and really liked "the dark-haired girl" (Rachel), vote for them as well? If Sue saw the light and voted for her own team, why did she let the switch go through? Do the writers plan to rectify this next season and say what really happened? Or is it all some ploy to perpetuate their reign as supposed "losers" so they can get even more psyched to take the title next year? — Michael
Matt Roush: With Glee, the devil is in the details, and it's probably better not to dwell on them. The judging subplot was the season finale's weakest link and doesn't really hold up to scrutiny, as your questions rightly point out. (If anyone can do the math and explain the judging, or why there were only three teams apparently competing, send me an e-mail or go to the Comments area.) I even thought the way they shot Sue reading the results was suspicious, as if she were throwing the competition one way or the other. (And that's before we knew which team she had voted for.) Your interpretation is right on, though, that the show at this point needed for New Directions to take a loss and be seen as underdogs again as they go into season 2. The way they contrived this was pretty clumsy and confusing, to be sure. Sue being a judge is just the sort of ridiculous plot point that you either accept willingly or let it ruin the show for you.
Question: I was surprised to read that AMC is developing a football drama centering on a football coach pressured to turn his team around or be fired. I don't really want to say that Friday Night Lights has the market completely cornered on football dramas, but apart from this version being set in college and FNL being high-school based, they do sound awfully similar, and I find it hard to believe that anything will be able to compete with FNL in the quality department. Coach Taylor has always kind of had the threat of losing his job hanging over his head, and that's exactly what happened in season three when they failed to retake the state title. Plus, because making the show 100% football would never work, they are going to have to explore the lives of the players and those around them, also something FNL has done exceptionally well over the course of its run. Do you see AMC having success with this project? Certainly they will promote it better than NBC has ever done for FNL, but creatively nothing about it makes me all that curious to see how it will turn out. — Jake
Matt Roush: It is impossible and usually foolish to judge any show merely from its premise, especially in the development phase. There's no guarantee this show will ever see light, and even if it does, I'm more inclined to give AMC the benefit of the doubt given its recent dramatic track record than dismiss the show for being another sports/football drama. Friday Night Lights has been a wonderful experience, regardless of the way the industry largely ignores it, but that shouldn't preclude anyone else from telling their own story — and yes, being a TV series, it's going to need to balance its football stories with personal subplots, that's the way it usually works. No different from the way any sort of franchise show gets developed, whether it's legal, medical, police, school, workplace, any other setting. The focus on a college team makes me think it could be more adult in tone, not unlike ESPN's short-lived NFL Playmakers series back in 2003 (which might have lasted longer if ESPN hadn't caved to outside pressure). It will all depend on the casting, the writing, the execution, as it always does. The main reason I'm addressing it now is to caution against the natural tendency to pre-judge anything.
And now, our weekly round of Lost debate:
Question: Welcome back to the TV Guide website. I missed your thoughtful analysis. Your June 20 answer to Tony's question about the Lost finale is prompting me to write. Sorry for the length, but this will be cathartic for me.
Let me start by saying that I was a huge Lost fan. Loved it from Day 1. Even through some missteps, it was always fun, engaging, moving, interesting and intellectually satisfying. When they announced an end date, I was actually excited, as I believed that the producers then had the ability to map out precisely how the last three seasons would play out: no filler, no fluff, no falling off the rails, but just stories that served the characters and the island mythology. And I have never been more excited about a season of TV than I was for this last season of Lost. So my expectations were high, which is perhaps why I feel so disappointed.
The first couple of episodes were OK. Then things started going downhill. And once they started downhill, it just picked up speed (other than "Ab Aeterno," which was the best episode of the season, and perhaps the series, and it wasn't even about a "main" character). I agree with virtually everything Tony wrote, except for his appreciation of the finale, which I felt was one of the biggest cop-outs in TV history (I'm only 32, so judge my comment accordingly). At least when Newhart had the dream sequence reveal, it was a comedy, so it didn't feel like the producers giving their audience a mean-spirited middle finger.
My issue with your response to Tony is this: If you are going to introduce a character in the last season (Dogen and the dude from Deadwood) or next-to-last (Ilana and her team), you better (a) have a good reason and (b) explain their story. Otherwise, tell your story with what you have. Putting forward new characters to solely serve plot on a series like Lost is disingenuous. You expect us to care about the characters (and we did), and you go to great lengths to show us the before, during and after-island lives, but then you want us to ignore other characters. Cop-out.
I can understand, I guess, why some people loved the finale. But for me, all I can feel is anger, disappointment and resentment. I feel like I wasted more than five days of my life watching a show, just to get kicked in the jewels by Cuse & Lindelof while they are putting all four of their middle fingers in the air. Perhaps my expectations got the best of me, but I don't think so.
Know that I am not complaining that every mystery didn't get solved, that is not my complaint. I knew going in that there was no way they could answer everything, and I was OK with that. My complaint is that the last season made it clear that nothing mattered. My emotional investment was pointless, because everybody dies and ends up happy together. Really? There are no consequences for anyone? It just feels like a show that had some gravitas and weight ended with an absolute whimper. Again, welcome back, and thanks for listening. — Heath
Matt Roush: I kind of expected a more vociferous "Really?" response when Lost asked us to take such a leap of faith at the end. Disappointment I can understand, perhaps even anger among fans who wished the show had ended a different way. But with more distance of time and reflection, I'm even more puzzled by any feeling that Team Darlton was being "mean-spirited" or giving fans the metaphorical finger in the way the finale played out. It all seemed so heartfelt to me. The risk was in being so hopeful in its vision of an afterlife, so unabashedly emotional in its payoffs as the characters reconnected and remembered the things that actually happened on the island, events that actually did matter. Whether you liked the way the island story or the sideways story turned out, there was a definite ending, and for that I'm grateful. High expectations almost always come with a price, but for a show this original to go out on its own terms in this unique way still seems to me quite breathtaking and audacious. I've already asserted my position that if the show-runners didn't feel some of the newly established characters had back stories worth exploring, I'm OK with that. You disagree with me, I disagree with you (especially where Dogen and Ilana are concerned; I could barely remember their names, let alone care about where they came from). We'll be debating Lost for years, I'm sure. Nothing wrong with that. And thanks for the welcome back. Looking forward to many more debates to come.
That's all for now. Keep those questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @RoushTVGuideMag
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