Ask Matt: Lighten up, Nashville! Plus, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Sophomore Report Card, The Muppets and More

Matt Roush
CHARLES ESTEN, CONNIE BRITTON, Nashville
Mark Levine/ABC

Welcome to the 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 unless it's common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the new form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter.

Question: I love Nashville and have from the beginning. I get that it's a drama, but lately it seems like almost every character is depressed, mopey or in some kind of emotional crisis all the time. I don't know why this seems more extreme recently, but this season is only beginning, and already we've had Deacon's sister Beverly dying, Teddy thrown in jail, Juliette's continued post-partum depression, Layla feeling ignored by both Jeff and Rayna, Will being dropped from Luke's label for being gay and not knowing what to do with himself. All of these are interesting stories creating dramatic conflict and I still think the show is great. But would it kill the writers to inject some fun in there every now and again? Even Grey's Anatomy is more fun to watch, and that's still dealing with the aftereffects of Derek's passing. I'm not looking to break up with the show, but I do think it would help them to diversify the plotting a bit. Thoughts? — JL

Matt Roush: Watching Nashville lately, you might think all of country music had become one long downbeat, weepy dirge. A while back, I was asked to explain how Empire could explode in the ratings while Nashville continued to struggle, despite the relative high profile and continued popularity of country music in the culture and on TV. And now I'm thinking it boils down to one essential element: joy. Empire is an outrageous hoot that rarely takes itself too seriously, whereas Nashville, especially this season, tends to wallow in dour unhappiness. And while it's true that drama requires conflict and many country songs deal with heartbreak, a good soap must know how to balance the bad times with the good and provide moments of pure escapism and inspired madness along the way.

Of the subplots you detailed above, only Will's evolution of being openly gay in a skittish (for now) music industry feels new and fresh. I love the Deacon character (and Charles Esten's performance), but his soggy storyline is so predictable and wearisome I'm almost rooting for him to take a drink in hopes we'll ever see him smile again. And watching Juliette's decline in light of Hayden Panettiere's own struggle with postpartum depression is beyond uncomfortable. (That's not entirely the show's fault, but the way it has been written is tiresome and contrived.) What this show needs is its own Cookie Lyon: a catalyst for change who isn't afraid to whoop it up and live it up and shake things up. (I was hopeful the wonderful Laura Benanti could have that effect last season, but the writing soon quenched her upbeat spirit as well.)


 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom, Santino Fontana

Greg Gayne/The CW

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Can Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Survive Lousy Ratings?

Question: What do you think of the very low ratings for the new CW musical comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Do you think the network brass will give this show a chance if it improves in the ratings, or cancel it if its ratings continue to decline? — Chris

Matt Roush: The ratings were a downer, for sure, but this is The CW we're talking about, and Crazy was always going to be an acquired taste, so I'd hope they will stick with it at least for a while in hopes more will discover the show's deranged delights. As another correspondent, Fred, wrote in response to my review of The CW's Monday combo of Crazy and Jane the Virgin, "Those two hours are pure bliss for an otherwise dull Monday workday. Hope the positive reviews [mine was hardly alone] translate into some more viewers." There does come a point when even a network like The CW will have to make a tough call on an underperforming show, but they don't seem as obsessed with traditional ratings as its more mass-market peers, and the media support behind these Monday comedies could have a significant impact in keeping the wacky newcomer on the air at least through its initial order.


Assessing the Sophomore TV Class

Question: Which of last year's new crop have successfully transitioned into year 2 and which are suffering from the sophomore slump? Are lower ratings for some related to creative reasons? Are there any you feel are better shows this year? — Rob

Matt Roush: I'm not going to dwell on ratings here, because almost everything on TV appears to be in a state of decline until you factor in other metrics (delayed and online viewing, etc.), and I'm more interested in tracking quality. Of the sophomore class, the show that earns my "most improved" badge of approval is ABC's black-ish, which has tackled issues on a weekly basis (including the "N"-word and guns) with smarts, laughs and confidence. Close behind are the riotous Empire, the delightful Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat, and the darkly villain-centric Gotham, while the more mainstream crop of returning shows (Scorpion, The Flash, NCIS: New Orleans, Madam Secretary) seems to be holding up, so it's probably too early to single out any sophomore flame-outs. I've saved How to Get Away With Murder for last, though, because while it's still doing fine on Thursday's Shonda Rhimes insanity express, I find its main mystery arc considerably less compelling than last year's and it all seems way too overheated with too little effect (and that includes Viola Davis's performance, which while powerful can't always make sense of this bizarre character). To end on a positive note, the best second season of anything is not taking place on the broadcast networks but on FX, with the brilliant new edition of FX's Fargo.


 

ED HELMS, MISS PIGGY, SCOOTER, BOBO THE BEAR, The Muppets

Nicole Wilder/ABC

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Why Are The Muppets MIA?

Question: So during last week's The Muppets, ABC aired a commercial announcing that It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will air in the 8/7c slot this week. I understand they need to air this classic special in October, and I will probably watch it, but The Muppets has only aired four episodes so far and has yet to find the bottom of its ratings decline. Isn't it counterproductive to be pre-empting the show this early into its run? It seems to me that airing Charlie Brown on Wednesday, as I think they've done for the past few years, would make more sense. The Middle, which is established and consistent, can weather a week off. Muppets, maybe not so much. What is ABC's thinking here? — Jake

Matt Roush: In retrospect, it might have been wise for ABC to order a Halloween-themed episode of The Muppets so it could pair up with the annual showing of Great Pumpkin, which tends to be a big ratings draw no matter how many times it airs. (This year, it's being teamed with the terrific Toy Story of Terror special.) At least this provides a potential opportunity for ABC to pepper the holiday special with Muppets promos in hopes of luring some viewers back. If that's even possible. But in terms of why ABC would pull the show for a week right now, the answer is in the short-term gains. The network will almost certainly do a better number with these specials than with the usual Tuesday lineup.


Is Castle's Daughter Too Precocious?

Question: How long is Wesley Crusher, I mean Alexis Castle, going to be front and center on Castle? It's really amazing how she has just the right skills at just the right time, even though she's surrounded by experts in their fields. Please tell me she's going back to Starfleet Academy...oops, Columbia soon. — Marie

Matt Roush: No comment, except that it's almost a relief to field a Castle complaint that isn't about the split between the two leads.


Why No Cancellations Yet?

Question: We are a few weeks in to the new fall TV season and nothing has been canceled yet? When do you expect the axes to fall? — No Name

Matt Roush: I'm sure it won't be long until we get the season's first official casualty—it could even happen by the time I put together the next Ask Matt column—but it's a new fact of TV life that the networks are generally exercising a bit more patience with shows so they can gauge if there's any uptick in the other platforms where people may be sampling them. This isn't such a bad thing, given the complaints I used to hear about the programmers' itchy trigger fingers. Even obvious losers like Minority Report and The Player may stick around longer than they used to, if only to use the remaining inventory to keep original programming in the time slots for the time being.


Keeping Up With Renewals and Reboots

Question: If there has been no announcement on whether an older show has been canceled or renewed, should we assume it's canceled? There are several shows over the year that I have enjoyed but haven't heard anything since their season finales. These shows include Alpha House (Amazon), Big Time in Hollywood, FL (Comedy Central), Billy & Billie (Audience Network) and SoulPancake (Pop). Also two newer shows I'm awaiting news on: Kevin From Work (ABC Family a.k.a Freeform) and last but certainly not least, the brilliant, amazing Review (Comedy Central). Any news you can give on these shows would be appreciated. — Jenny from Encinitas, CA

Matt Roush: I understand this can be confusing, especially since cancellations aren't always announced for smaller fringe shows that hang in limbo until it's decided there won't be another round. In those cases when enough time has passed, as with Alpha House (whose second season dropped a year ago this week, with no apparent news since), you might assume a renewal is a long shot. But with shows (especially on cable) that just finished airing recently, like Review and Kevin, it may be too soon for the network to make the call just yet. Especially in the case of Review, which enjoys great media buzz, I doubt you have any cause for concern. From your list, Big Time apparently won't be back, but no news that I'm aware of regarding the future of Billy or Impress Me (which I believe is the show from SoulPancake you're referring to that aired on Pop).


A New 4400?

Question: In this time of reboots, do you think The 4400 has any chance? I miss that show!! — Diane

Matt Roush: You never want to say never (see Heroes Reborn for example), but it's kind of like the rule with renewals. If too much time passes without any movement, the odds for revival grow slimmer. And while The 4400 has a vocal fan base that has campaigned for its return since being canceled in 2007 after 44 episodes, I'm not sure the show has the cultural resonance to merit a comeback—especially on a network like USA that is in the process of rebranding and thus unlikely to look back in its archives for inspiration. (The show would be a better fit these days for Syfy, but even that seems unlikely given that outfit's busy development slate.)

That's all for now, but we'll pick up the conversation again soon, so keep sharing your thoughts on new and returning series and other TV matters. I can't do this without your participation, so please send questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Or submit your question via the handy form below.