Ask Matt: Is This is Us Emmy Worthy? Plus: The Walking Dead, The Strain, TV's Superhero Glut and More
Welcome back to the weekly Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their "TV therapist") Matt Roush, who'll address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today's vast TV landscape. One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won't be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it's already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to email@example.com (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. Note: Ask Matt will now be posting on Fridays most weeks.
Question: I am liking This Is Us, but I feel it may start to get tiring (at least for me). What are your thoughts? How do you think the show will do at awards season? While the acting is great, I am not so sure it's "Emmy Worthy." - John
Matt Roush: Shows like This come along so rarely that it honestly is a little frustrating to hear this early in the show’s run someone worry about when they might grow tired of it. When I wrote a re-review of This Is Us three episodes in, I noted as lovingly as I knew how that this series is “sensationally effective at being shamelessly manipulative.” Maybe the overt heartstring-tugging could grow wearisome over time, and some have written in to dismiss what fans consider heartwarming as mawkish or maudlin (I disagree), but the characters are so endearing and the way the stories are being told still feels fresh enough that the sentiment rarely feels cheap and almost always feels earned.
And so far, even when going up against this week’s legendary World Series, the show is holding up remarkably in the ratings for a drama that favors emotion over action, with nary a murder in sight, which bodes well for its long-term success. Does that make it Emmy-worthy? In my book (and my eventual Top 10 of 2016 list), yes. But it would be quite an achievement for a network drama, especially one scaled to represent ordinary (as opposed to extraordinary) life, to break through in the overstuffed drama categories, so I’d say it’s a bit of a long shot for its freshman season, although the performances of Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown (already an Emmy winner, so that’s an advantage) and Chrissy Metz to name just a few deserve to be seen as serious contenders.
To give you a sense of the show’s social-media buzz, when I tweeted after this week’s episode that Milo’s character of Jack gets my vote for TV dad of the year, here’s some of the response I saw:
“I seriously hope that Milo ends up getting a nomination for this role. He’s been a revelation in this show. Every week he’s the main one that makes me cry, out of some way he bolsters his kids up and makes them feel better.”—Jen
“Beth and Randall are the new Tami and Eric (a comparison to Friday Night Lights).”—Dana
“How refreshing is it to like, nay love, a Ventimiglia performance?”—Ryan
To which I answered: Beyond.
Question: I absolutely love the new show This Is Us. It is fantastic. Absolutely Emmy worthy. However, I have a burning question: Who is taking care of William’s cat? He used to take the bus and spend all day coming and going to Philadelphia to feed it but doesn’t seem to be doing that anymore. So: Is the cat dead or alive, being cared for or not? I won’t have any peace until I know. — Marsha
Matt Roush: I don’t have a spoilery answer for this, although does William really seem like the sort of person to allow feline neglect? I think not. Either the writers have decided to omit his cat commute as being the antithesis of drama, or he’s found a caretaker to feed kitty while he’s being nurtured by Randall and family. Your concern has been noted.
A Bad Seed Who Puts a Strain on Our Patience
Question: I know you’ve been tough in the past on Nick, the most aggravating character fans love to hate in the disappointing Fear the Walking Dead spinoff. But he’s a keeper compared to Zach, the brat on The Strain who set off nuclear winter in Manhattan in the season finale just to spite his dad. Is there a worse kid character anywhere on TV? — AJ
Matt Roush: Not that I can think of. Freud would have a field day with the Oedipal fixation Zach had on his (now blessedly slain) vampire mother Kelly, and the moment the kid snatched the detonator I feared the worst. But even I couldn’t have imagined how ridiculously it would play out, with Zach blowing up the Statue of Liberty (another mother figure?) with an “I hate you!” after watching his dad take down his forked-tongued ex. Well, Zach, we hate you more. And not in a good way. Even for all of Nick’s whiny and self-centered ways on the surprisingly dull Fear, you don’t sense he’s actually bad for humanity. There really is no redeeming this child, and watching papa Eph still screaming for the boy to come back to him reminds me of poor Kiefer Sutherland trotting along after his gifted boy on Touch. I still enjoy The Strain’s cheesy pulp-horror melodrama for the most part—it’s lots more fun than Fear was this summer—but Zach is awfully close to a deal-breaker.
More Debate on The Walking Dead
Question: I liked the premiere of The Walking Dead, and get some of the criticism, but not the "too much violence" complaint. The Walking Dead is a violent show, not for weak stomachs. The show has been much less violent (before this incident) and not killing off main characters. Fans like myself hated it. The premiere was needed. It’s the show’s own fault, though. They gave fans a whole summer to imagine how this would go and it could never top fans’ imaginations. — Rick
Matt Roush: These are fair points, but also reminiscent to me of the days when people would complain about The Sopranos if it went too long without whacking somebody, as if that was what the show was really about. The Walking Dead is obviously obsessed with mortality and survival, and it risks losing its edge if we grow too complacent that none of the characters we actually care about could die. (That said, do we still need Mullet Boy in the cast?) The point of the debate over the season opener is a valid area of criticism that the producers should think twice before cheapening the deaths that occur on the show with stunts like a “who will die?” season-ending cliffhanger or a fake-out like Glenn’s last disappearance.
Question: I totally agree about The Walking Dead and Negan. Seems somewhat predictable. It would have worked better at the end of last season. I hate that after having great relief that Glenn survived the zombie pileup last season, it really sucks just to kill him off in the beginning this season! I was hoping for a glimpse of hope and joy with Maggie having her baby with Glenn by her side. This is yet another example of why we question the writers. What were you thinking, people?! - Steve
Matt Roush: I’m actually OK with the tragedy of Glenn’s death as a dramatic turning point for the show. What I really regret is that when Glenn’s fake-out non-death occurred last season, some of those who cover the show felt compelled to note that Glenn in the comics met his maker with the arrival of Negan, which to me qualifies as a major spoiler (as someone who only follows The Walking Dead on TV). This definitely took the surprise out of Negan’s choice, even when he crushed another head first. Rule of thumb when covering this or Game of Thrones or any other adaptation, even when it veers from the source: Spoilers are spoilers, regardless of the medium. And while I empathize with those who felt gut-punched when Glenn was killed in front of Maggie and the rest of the gang, that’s the nature of this very bleak series. No one’s guaranteed a happy ending, and that unrelieved tension is one of the reasons the show is such a huge draw.
Should NBC Shuffle Its Late-Night Deck?
Question: Would you agree with me that NBC made a mistake by giving Jimmy Fallon The Tonight Show? I would have let Seth Myers get Tonight and Fallon do Late Night. I think Seth’s humor is funnier, and Fallon is too juvenile and silly. I watch CBS’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert now. I like him, but wish he wouldn’t be so silly at times. Just my opinion; would you agree? — Erwin
Matt Roush: I get where you’re coming from, and especially in this politically obsessed year, Seth Meyers has become the sort of must-see viewing that The Daily Show was during Jon Stewart’s reign. But from NBC’s perspective, this has been a win-win. Jimmy Fallon revived The Tonight Show with his fun-and-games approach and he's dominant by far in the ratings, so there's no incentive for the network to change, let alone regret their choice. Seth has really broken out this year with his "Closer Look" commentaries, and his is much closer to the sort of traditional topical comedy-talk show it sounds like you prefer. In the first hour of late-night, I also tend to check out Colbert over Fallon, but even more frequently I find myself drawn to the more biting humor and irreverent inventiveness of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel. In next-day online playback (my typical mode of watching any of this material), it’s not even close. It's Seth Meyers and "A Closer Look" all the way.
Has the TV Superhero Glut Peaked?
Question: I was excited when Superman finally made an appearance on Supergirl, but once that fascination subsided, I found myself bored with the villain-of-the-week nature of the show. Maybe there is a "super"-overload of superheroes now, especially between The CW's schedule, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix Marvel shows. It's all become one big blur. What is your thought? Are all these shows really sustainable and can they really differentiate themselves? – Ryye
Matt Roush: Two very different questions. At the moment, the networks that buy into this genre seem committed to the format, in part because of corporate ties to DC Comics or Marvel, so I don’t see the trend ending any time soon. But the shows really do tend to blur—perhaps because of their self-referential and crossover tendencies, or maybe it’s just my own blurry vision in a TV year where there’s so much to keep track of, including a ceaseless flow of new programming, that I’ve pretty much given up on trying to keep up with this entire oversaturated genre, with the exception of the new Marvel entries on Netflix.
I have nothing against any of these shows individually, but collectively, I feel I understand where most of them are coming from and haven’t either the inclination or time to keep going on their journeys. (Thankfully, I have colleagues here who do stay current, and I’m often leaning on them for insight.) This is a refrain you’re likely to keep hearing from me during this period of so-called “peak TV.” I’m spending many weeks plowing through multiple hours of new cable, streaming (and sometimes even network) shows. And if I’m watching seven hours of Good Girls Revolt or 10 of Netflix’s marvelous The Crown to prepare reviews, those are hours I don’t have anymore to spend on long-running formula series. Some weeks, I even miss them.
Is Insecure Too Bleeping Profane?
Question: I really wanted to like Insecure, but as I suspected, this being an HBO series, the unrelenting raunchy and profanity-laced dialogue was too much for my old fogy sensibilities. Is there a rule that I don't know about that premium-channel TV series must be raunchy and profane? It's a shame because I really liked Issa Rae and would have enjoyed the show but for all of the raunchiness. Do young women really talk to one another like that these days? - Marci
Matt Roush: I’m sure not all women talk with this sort of profane candor, but these particular women do. And maybe I’ve just become desensitized to it, but I can look past the profanity when what they’re saying is this honest and funny. Insecure is a series that gets more engaging the better you get to know the characters. (Even Issa’s boyfriend, who seems like such a slacker loser at first look, becomes someone to root for.) There was a similar reaction to Sex and the City when it first premiered, but most fans seemed to get over it.
On Volume, and Profanity
Questions: My questions relate to the loud music in TV programs that overshadow the dialogue. It drives me crazy. Also, in your view, what is the deal with these “reality shows” and other shows with language so profane as to require bleeping? Even the previews have bleeped words. Kids know what the bleeps mean, but believe it must be acceptable in some way as there are so many programs and previews with bleeps. According to previews of the reality shows, shown when watching other more acceptable programs, nothing is unacceptable or off-limits. Have you listened to middle school kids' conversations lately? The language is appalling. We are bombarding our kids with profanity, graphic brutality, sex and violence. What are our expectations for their behavior? If you would prefer to refer me to someone else, I will be happy to contact them. There have to be limits in a civilized society and if you read the news, you know that our society is becoming less and less civilized. — Penelope
Matt Roush: If I could monetize the amount of correspondence I get from people annoyed by shows pumping up the volume of their background music and soundtracks, I could happily retire. No one likes it, everyone complains about it, but the din never seems to lessen. Same goes for the coarsening of our society’s discourse, reflected in this most dispiriting of election campaigns with its own reality-TV taint. Certain types of reality shows are notorious for rewarding their most outrageous participants with face time, and that often includes swearing. And in the scripted arena, mainstream outlets including TNT, USA and Syfy are pushing the envelopes of adult content in an attempt to compete with edgier channels, including premium producers like HBO and Showtime. The language, even when silenced or bleeped, is quite raw. There aren’t many safe havens anymore, and when safe translates to treacle, that’s maybe just as unfortunate. I encourage you to voice your complaints to these specific offenders, but in a wired world such as we live in today, I’m afraid TV is just the tip of the iceberg.
Question: Since Sam and Dean Winchester have their mom back on Supernatural, maybe they could make a deal with the devil to get their dad back, too. After Rick kills Negan, that is. – Doyle
Matt Roush: If wishes were horses, I’d ride this one to the bank. I don’t hold The Walking Dead’s recent bad choices against Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who seems to be having the time of his life as Negan. That said, I’ll cheer his demise and would love to see this charismatic actor return to the Winchester fold before that show gives up the ghost. If it ever does.
Question: Any idea when in January, Scandal will return? I need my TGIT and Notorious is not doing anything for me. -Alex
Matt Roush: You and me both. As luck would have it, just this week ABC announced that the entire TGIT lineup—Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder— will be in place starting Jan. 17. (Grey’s and Murder air their fall finales Nov. 17, taking a holiday breather until they’re joined by Scandal.) Expect more midseason premiere dates to be announced over the next few weeks.
Question: I guess it’s too early, but do you know when Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors 2 is going to be shown on TV? - Jeremy
Matt Roush: The sequel to last season’s unexpected holiday hit is actually titled Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, and NBC plans to air it on Wednesday, Nov. 30. I guarantee, following up on Penelope’s complaint, this will be safe for family viewing.
That's all for now. Thanks as always for reading. I can't do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Or submit your question via the handy form below.