Ask Matt: Thoughts on 'Speechless', 'Bull' and Other New Series, 'Quantico' Discontent 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 protected] (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 now three episodes into Speechless, which I added to my fall viewing as a result of so many positive reviews. But I must say that I find myself cringing every time Minnie Driver as the mom opens her mouth. What an unappealing character. And don't even get me started on the garbage collecting, anti-social (or is it just sociopathic) dad. I like JJ, the caregiver and the younger brother, but I am very close to giving up as I find myself more annoyed than inspired. Or entertained for that matter. Is it just me? — David
Matt Roush: Rule of thumb: It’s almost never just you. And in this case, it’s really just a matter of your threshold for these kinds of outrageous antics. I might agree that a little of Driver’s abrasive bellowing as mamma Maya goes a long way, but I appreciate the brave choices she’s making in not trying to soften or sentimentalize this character, who has had to fight so hard for so many years to give JJ the life he deserves. The irreverent tone Speechless establishes, including the bizarre behaviors of father Jimmy (John Ross Bowie in a role so different than the antagonist he sometimes plays on The Big Bang Theory), somehow appeals to me. I’d so much rather watch a show like this than depressingly lazy retro family comedies like Kevin Can Wait (or the upcoming Man With a Plan), which I would gather wouldn’t be David’s choice, either. So I’m willing to cut the show, and Driver, quite a bit of slack here.
When Pilots Leave You Not Wanting More
Question: I thought the pilots for Designated Survivor, Pitch and This Is Us were all great, except for one major flaw: I find I have no desire to see any more episodes. In each case, the pilot gave me an interesting story idea, but no characters I was interested in following. Each seemed somewhat complete in itself, like a mini movie. By contrast, I am eager to get to the next episode of Frequency. Granted the pilot basically covered the same ground as the first half of the film, but in its own way. The characters were interesting and the final time-stream changes were handled better, in my opinion, than the very similar reveal on Timeless. I know this show hasn't had the promotion that Timeless had, but wondered if you felt it had a chance, and the relative merits you see between the two time-stream shows. — Elle
Matt Roush: There are many shows where I feel the premise lends itself more to a movie or limited (mini) series than to an ongoing weekly series—Pitch falls into that camp, although I’ve been impressed so far by the episodes that followed—but I can’t agree that this applies to Designated Survivor and especially to This Is Us. The Designated Survivor pilot was clearly the first act of a much bigger story, and I find it hard to imagine anyone who enjoyed that first hour not coming along for the ride (despite some flaws and limitations in the ongoing execution). And This Is Us is all about character, and I feel invested in all of them, to see how the adult versions of Jack and Rebecca’s kids turn out, while looking back to the family in its earlier days. It’s a fresh twist on a family drama, and again, it puzzles me to think you could watch that first hour and enjoy it and not want to spend more time with them.
Regarding the time-travel shows, the word I use to explain my mild preference for Timeless over Frequency is a simple one: Fun. Timeless doesn’t take itself all that seriously, and the scale is impressive, as they have to recreate new eras (and put the characters in new costumes) each week. It’s a lark. There’s a glumness to Frequency that kept me from feeling fully engaged, though I’ll see how it plays out in the short run. Neither are exactly must-see for me, but given how dark so much of TV has become, Timeless feels like a more pleasurable escape. When I have the, um, time.
Not So Bullish on Bull or Timeless
Question: Several things in your most recent Ask Matt column prompted me to write. First, with regard to Bull, I agree that Michael Weatherly would be charming reading the nightly weather report, and procedurals don't bother me if they're well done. The part of the show I find off-putting is the implication that justice isn't possible without a million-dollar jury consultant. It's going to be hard to sustain the show on a weekly basis if the main message is that justice is for sale.
As to Timeless: I was hoping for this to be my BrainDead replacement (the "It doesn't make any sense but who cares" genre). The problem with time-traveling stories is that they can't make any logical sense, so you have to distract the audience with humor (Back to the Future), charm and whimsy (Doctor Who) or camp (Timecop). The problem with Timeless is that it takes itself too seriously, and the characters are so earnest (with the welcome exception of Rufus). If the mood doesn't lighten up, I can't see myself sticking with this for long.
Finally, I see that BBC America is running the first season of Humans. I thought I read that there would be a second season, but this was AMC's show, so who, if anyone, will be carrying a second season? And when can we expect it? - Rick
Matt Roush: That’s an interesting angle on Bull. Let’s see how much pro bono work he does or if they show him and his team as something other than infallible. (Hard to imagine.) And I’ll give you “earnest” when it comes to Timeless, but I still don’t see it as a particularly heavy show. Or important. And oh, how I wish BrainDead had worked for CBS. As for Humans, BBC America is part of the AMC Networks family, which may explain why it’s getting a second run on that channel. By all accounts, Humans still belongs to AMC in first run, and while nothing has been announced, it looks like the second season will air some time around February 2017. I can’t wait. (Till then, though, we have the fascinating Westworld.)
Divorcing Quantico and, Yes, Divorce
Question: I watched Quantico last year almost begrudgingly to the end. The cast was good; the writing, which began promisingly enough, grew more and more tiresome and ridiculous by season 1's end. Nonetheless, I promised to give it a chance in season 2 only to learn that what I thought ridiculous last year was steps up from the drivel of season 2's premiere. I've now gladly deleted the show from my DVR list. Just wondering whether anyone else had a similarly visceral reaction to this awful episode? – JW
Matt Roush: Guess what? You weren’t alone. Read on.
Question: My husband and I really enjoyed the first season of Quantico and looked forward to the Season 2 opener. However, we both thought that the constant switching back and forth from the present to the past was off-putting. Have you heard anyone else mention being bothered by this? I don't know if we will watch any more episodes if the writers continue with this. (On another note, we think Designated Survivor is really good!) Thanks as always for guiding us through the TV landscape. — Gwen
Matt Roush: My pleasure. I think it’s fair to say that many had grown weary of the Quantico time-shuffling way before Season 1 even ended, and hearing they’re still doing it makes me less inclined to dive back in as well.
Question: Divorce is the worst show this season. Sleazy, disgusting, terrible acting. How much dirtier can it get? Do women really talk like this? The Trump tape is nothing compared to this. — Fraystan
Matt Roush: I’m no fan, either, but honestly, what did you expect, tuning into an HBO comedy with this subject matter? Speaking of T---p, which I do try not to do on behalf of my blood pressure, and while I know we are all just counting the days until this horrorshow of an election is over, but how great will the inevitable HBO docudrama (in the tradition of Recount and Game Change) be looking back at this outrageous race?
A Medical Miracle, Or Just Coincidence?
Question: Last week on CBS’s Code Black and NBC’s Chicago Med, each had an African-American transgender female with prostate issues. Are there any repercussions for the writers who come up with such an unusual situation at the same time? — Phyllis
Matt Roush: Not only that, but both episodes featured the same transgender actress (Alexandra Grey), which is an even stranger coincidence. What this really says to me is that trans issues are becoming more prevalent in the culture—many would say it’s about time.
Question: I'm not happy with the casting change on Code Black. Seems like they dumped two great actors for no other reason than they were more mature. They were sure replaced with much younger people! — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Rob Lowe will be happy to learn that at age 52, he’s considered much younger than deposed first-season stars Bonnie Somerville and Raza Jaffrey, both in their 40s. (Although you might be referring to Boris Kodjoe, who was promoted to second lead, who’s also in his early 40s—and Jillian Murray, who was promoted to a regular member of the ensemble, is in her 30s.) These cast changes, most specifically adding Lowe, were intended to broaden the show’s appeal. We’ll see if it worked.
Question: Do you think The Exorcist will get canceled because of low ratings on Friday nights, or will Fox stick with it? And why can't they put it in a better timeslot? - Chris
Matt Roush: I’m really digging The Exorcist, which is about as creepy and unsettling as network TV can afford to be, and I’d expect Fox to keep it on for the entirety of its limited run. What have they got to lose on Fridays? Whether it gets another season seems more problematic. And where would Fox move it? My vote would be to replace the wretchedly unfunny and non-scary Scream Queens, which should never have been renewed. But the Fox company owes a lot to Ryan Murphy, so that’s not going to happen.
Question: What do you think about the 8/7c time slot for Blindspot? I really like the show, but I think such an early time slot is not appropriate for a show with so much violence. — Faye
Matt Roush: It’s not a good time period for the show for a number of reasons, but there’s really no such thing as a “family hour” in an environment where you can watch repeats of shows like this (and Law & Order: SVU) all day long, and many viewing are time-shifting anyway. So I’m not sure the show’s content is the real problem here.
Question: Do you know why the old Quinn Martin shows, like The F.B.I., The Untouchables, The Fugitive and Barnaby Jones are nowhere to be seen on TV or streaming? Shouldn't MeTV, Antenna TV, Netflix or Amazon air these wonderful Quinn Martin 1960s/1970s dramas? - Vee
Matt Roush: I have trouble enough keeping up with today’s TV to even try to understand what the deal is with rights for vintage TV. You’d think these shows would be a natural for the nostalgia channels at the very least. They’ve all certainly had their time in the syndication marketplace, so it’s probably just a matter of time before they’re revived again on cable or even streaming.
Question: I'm a little surprised that Time Tunnel was not mentioned in the same breath as Timeless. Yes, I'm old, but I still can't get over them not taking out Hitler. — Ray
Matt Roush: Yes, that’s the one I remember from my youth. Guess every era has one of these shows.
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 [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Or submit your question via the handy form below: