Ask Matt: Why Cast Grown-Ups as the Kids From ‘Facts of Life’ & ‘Diff’rent Strokes’?


Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

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 (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Not Amused by Stunt Casting

Question: What are ABC, Sony, Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear thinking, casting middle-aged adult actors in roles that were originally played by kids and teenagers in the upcoming Live in Front of a Studio Audience special (Dec. 7), recreating classic episodes from Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life? Why couldn’t they cast currently well-known actual child, teen and young adult actors, anyone from any show that airs on Nickelodeon, Freeform, The Disney Channel or current ABC sitcoms like The Conners, The Goldbergs, black-ish or The Wonder Years reboot? Kevin Hart, Damon Wayans, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Gabrielle Union and Allison Tolman are all way too old to play those characters. The thought of these actors recreating shows that had kids in starring roles sounds like a very bad SNL sketch! — Chris B

Matt Roush: As longtime readers of this column know, I’m not one to prejudge, and in this case, I’d advise lightening up and just see how it plays, because these are the campiest and cheesiest sitcom “classics” yet to be revived in this format. Part of the draw since this experiment began was to see today’s biggest stars paying homage to, and in some cases commenting on, iconic characters of a bygone time, and for major players like Kevin Hart (as Arnold) and Damon Wayans (as Willis) and the quartet of accomplished actresses taking on those private-school BFFs is stunt casting on a whole other level. It could backfire terribly, I suppose, but if young actors were taking on the kids’ roles, this wouldn’t feel like nearly as big an event. Personally, I’m just as eager to see the great John Lithgow fill Conrad Bain’s shoes as Strokes’ Mr. Drummond, and to watch The Handmaid’s Tale’s formidable Ann Dowd channel Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Garrett.

A Shaky Future for Dr. Bell?

Question: It seems Dr. Bell’s (Bruce Greenwood) shaky hands have returned on The Resident! Any light you can shed or hope you can give on this arc in Bell’s story? We definitely don’t want to see HODAD (“Hands of Death and Destruction”) return, or worse, to lose this now beloved character! He’s come so far since Season 1! — Kendall

Matt Roush: This is as good a time as any to remind readers that this isn’t a spoiler column. For Kendall and other Resident fans to be alarmed by Dr. Bell’s tremor re-emerging is quite intentional, and we’re not meant to know as we head into next Tuesday’s midseason cliffhanger just what this means for the reformed doctor. As our recap points out, Dr. Bell’s character growth was made clear when he removed himself from surgery once his tremor and blurred vision became a problem. He didn’t try to blame someone else, and he even turned to Conrad for private counsel. Fox’s storyline description for the Dec. 7 midseason finale says, “Bell is hiding a secret from the whole staff and they are starting to become suspicious,” so clearly this is developing into a major storyline, and you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Did Dexter Go Darker?

Question: What has happened to Dexter (Michael C. Hall) in Dexter: New Blood? It’s so dark now. He’s certainly not the happy Dexter we all knew and loved from the past. Must be the snowy weather. — Kathleen D, Santa Rosa, CA

Matt Roush: With all due respect: Wha-a-a-a-t? When have we ever known a “happy Dexter?” Yes, the original series with its Miami setting was brighter and had more comic relief (especially with C.S. Lee’s raunchy lab tech Vince Masuka), but Dexter is one of the most tormented anti-heroes in TV history, haunted by childhood trauma and saddled with the “dark passenger” he now worries his son Harrison has inherited. Seems to me that the first episode introducing him as “Jim Lindsay” showed him to be about as content as we’ve ever seen Dexter Morgan, a condition that obviously couldn’t last long or there would be no series.

Cancellations and Renewals: It’s a Sin

Comment: I cannot believe The Sinner has been canceled! The sting of that fact wouldn’t hurt so bad if I hadn’t just read that La Brea has been given another season. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when the bosses weighed the value (?!) of that one! — Kathryn R

Matt Roush: This is a case of the proverbial apples and oranges—or in this case, maybe kumquat-the-hell-is-happening. With The Sinner, we’re talking about a dark and challenging psychological mystery that survived for four seasons, taking its hero beyond retirement and airing on a cable network that is moving further away from scripted TV—which will become even more pronounced once USA inherits sports programming after NBCSN shuts down in the new year. With La Brea, which I wouldn’t argue is anything but a guilty and mindless pleasure (not so sure about the pleasure part), it opened big and created enough buzz and audience to get renewed at a time when it’s harder than ever to launch new scripted shows on network TV.

Comment: Alright, agree to disagree. I see La Brea was renewed. The show is strange. Nobody has dirty fingernails or any dirt on themselves. It is not making sense. Debris was a top-notch science-fiction thriller. Yet NBC canceled it. There is no sense with that network. 4400 is even better. What gives? — Louise D

Matt Roush: Why would I disagree with this? Usually I get angry mail when a show is canceled. This is one of the few times I can remember getting such impassioned comments protesting a show getting renewed. I do agree that I wish Debris had been given a second chance to find its audience, but that was always a long shot, another sign that it’s tough for genre shows to survive on mainstream networks unless it’s got a big noisy hook like La Brea, for better or worse.

And Finally …

Question: Now that NBC passed on the series she was supposed to be in (Getaway), is there any chance Marg Helgenberger will return to either All Rise or the new CSI: Vegas? — Linda, New York

Matt Roush: Most likely the former. Marg Helgenberger was contractually obligated to the Getaway pilot, which she booked after CBS canceled All Rise (and before OWN rescued it). I haven’t seen any updates from OWN about casting for the third season, but it makes sense that she would at least recur on the series, since they picked up all of the other major cast members. Regarding the CSI reboot, we’re not even sure that it will get a second season—it didn’t pop the way many expected—though if it does, there’s always the chance more original cast members might show up.

That’s all for now. We 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), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)