Ask Matt: ‘This Is Us’ Racks Up the Honors, Plus: No Respect for ‘Fuller House’ and ‘Blue Bloods’
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.
Is This Is Us Trending in Awards-Land?
Question: I am so gratified and relieved to see NBC’s marvelous and touching This Is Us getting its due: an AFI Award as one of the 10 best shows of the year, Golden Globe nominations for best drama and its female co-stars (Mandy Moore and Chrissy Metz), a SAG nomination for Sterling K. Brown—though an ensemble nomination would have been nice—Writers Guild nominations for new series and “The Trip” episode. And it led your own top-10 list! Am I wrong in thinking this is nowadays rare for a first-year series on a broadcast network? Is there a chance that the Emmys might even take notice? — Brad
Matt Roush: It surely is refreshing to see a show not on the trendier cable and streaming platforms to get so much industry attention this early in its life. [Full disclosure: I participate on the AFI TV jury and was thrilled This Is Us made the cut.] It’s especially encouraging when the writers’ and actors’ guilds take note, especially given how crowded the drama field is. My only disappointment is that no one yet has singled out Milo Ventimiglia, who’s doing career-high work as the hands-down TV father of the year. (The lead actor drama category is notoriously tough to break into.) At this point, if the Emmys don’t embrace This Is Us, it will look like a snub, and a reinforcement of the industry’s bias against broadcast.
A Waters-Fall of Hairspray Homages
Question: As a native Baltimorean, I enjoyed the recent TV showing of Hairspray Live! and your review of it. I wonder, though, if during the “Good Morning Baltimore” opening street scene number—where you paid homage to the “Divine Pet Food Storefront”—were you aware of the “Waters Plumbing” sign four buildings away? Baltimorean John Waters wrote the original Hairspray screenplay. — Stuart
Matt Roush: Don’t I know it. I’ve been a fan of every incarnation of Hairspray, from John Waters’ original movie to Broadway, back to movie and now to TV. And yes, I saw that other sign. But the “Waters” sign felt fairly obvious, whereas the Divine storefront with its neon Pink Flamingo (the name of a notorious Divine-Waters collaboration) felt more inspired, and in my instant review of the show, didn’t have the inclination to list every “Easter egg” reference. (Including the “Greenblatt’s Baltimore Crabs” sign, a nod to NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, without whom these live TV musicals wouldn’t be happening.)
A House Without a Rave
Question: Why are critics so hard on Fuller House? I know it can be predictable and doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre, but that’s not what it’s for. Rather, it completely captures the spirit of the original, and gives fans all of the nostalgic feelings they could ask for. What’s wrong with that? – Melissa
Matt Roush: As opposed to the last topic, with Fuller (and the original Full) House, this was and will never be a critical darling. There are family comedies that receive justifiable acclaim—most of them currently air on ABC, where many of the families appear to be living in a relatively real world, populated by characters with distinct personality and sometimes even wit. Fuller House is intended as comfort food for those who grew up in that era of ’80s artificiality. (I had aged out by then, but understand the appeal, having been the target audience for the Brady Bunch-Partridge Family-Nanny and the Professor period of early ’70s banality.) If you look up my original review of Full House (at a different publication) from way back when, it was not kind. With the reboot, I’ve decided benign neglect would be a preferable alternative to a second helping of contempt.
Is It a Snub, Or Just Too Much TV?
Question: Responding to last week’s comments about black-ish not receiving a Writers Guild nomination, let me say this: I am a WGA member. A voting member. Black-ish is one of my favorite shows. But please understand: You have no idea how many shows are listed on the preliminary ballot that we get for nominations. Network shows, basic cable shows, premium cable shows. It’s a very long list in three main categories: Best Comedy Series, Best Drama Series, Best New Series. Some voters like to vote for the same show in multiple categories (if it qualifies). I try not to, so as spread the wealth, thinking if it doesn’t make my cut of Best 5 (all subjective of course) in comedy or drama, I can get it in new. For example: I voted this year for Stranger Things, Better Things and This Is Us among others. I go through each category once and check off every show I think deserves recognition. In some I’ve had as many as 18 on the first go-round. But I have to narrow it down to no more than five, or my ballot is invalidated. I actually agonize over it. The paring down is no easy task. So when all the votes are tallied—and a great show like black-ish doesn’t make the cut, it is not because it doesn’t deserve to. It just didn’t make the top 5 in Comedy Series, where it is a deep well. – Michael
Matt Roush: Thank you for walking us through your painstaking process. I know for a fact, from my experience on the American Film Institute jury as well as my own annual ordeal in settling on an arbitrary Top 10 list, that it’s not easy to sort through all of the options—in fact, it’s near impossible anymore—to do justice to all of the worthy TV out there. I’m still trying to process leaving off Game of Thrones (if only for the “Battle of the Bastards” episode), Veep and Silicon Valley, Orange Is the New Black, The Middle, Penny Dreadful, ABC’s American Crime and those other great limited series, The Night Of and The Night Manager, among many, many others.
No Respect for Blue Bloods
Question: Why is Blue Bloods always overlooked for awards, even your list of best TV shows of 2016? Every lead role is played magnificently, the stories are real front-line community issues resolved in the best of ways, and the portrayal of police work is totally accurate. The show is usually a truly emotional experience that incorporates family, religion and ethics in such a positive manner. Politics? — Larry
Matt Roush: My appreciation for Blue Bloods was reignited when I was doing homework for a recent SAG-Aftra Foundation Q&A with Tom Selleck. I rank it high among the very many (OK, too many) CBS crime procedurals, because of its focus on family and the integration of social issues, ethics and faith into its storylines. But I’d be lying if I said it was part of my regular TV menu, which is currently overstuffed with a never-ending stream of new series on a growing number of platforms. It’s probably too easy to take long-running mainstream hits for granted, but even a well-executed show like Blue Bloods doesn’t really transcend its genre, the way that most shows that make critics’ lists distinguish themselves. (Examples: Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, The Wire—and even that flew under the Emmy radar.) While Bloods may not get much critical attention, it also isn’t a show that you tend to see anyone go out of their way to slam. That is in its way a sign of respect.
USA’s Fall Sleepers (Eyewitness, Falling Water)
Question: I have read very little about USA’s Eyewitness. In fact, I didn’t even know about it until a couple of days ago. I binged all nine episodes pretty quick and love it; any idea if it will get a second season, and since they called it an “anthology” show, what that would look like? – Chris
Matt Roush: You may not have been looking, but I reviewed both of USA’s buzz-free exercises in murky drama upon their premieres in October. I wasn’t keen on Eyewitness (having screened something like seven episodes in advance), feeling it was a weak clone of The Killing-style European-influenced mysteries. (It’s based on a Norwegian series.) But I did like Julianne Nicholson as the sheriff, and should the show be renewed—seems a bit of a long shot—it would be an entirely new mystery (hence the “anthology” classification), although perhaps her character might carry over, hard to say. The idea would be to tell a different story with another “eyewitness” angle each season.
Question: Is Falling Water worth the effort it takes to keep all the characters, plots and subplots straight? Not to mention trying to figure out what is “real” and what is “dreaming.” Am I wasting my time? Will we ever find the answer(s)? So far I’m feeling not much sympathy with any of the many characters. – D Bergholz
Matt Roush: Wasn’t worth it to me. I watched four episodes before filing my review, and bailing, at which time I concluded “this ponderous, pretentious thriller asks too much of us with too little immediate reward.”
Another Solution to Sports Overruns
Question: On the recently covered subject of sports overruns on Sundays, why can’t CBS or any other network show games/events on a digital sub-channel? That way those who really wanted to see all of the game could do so without messing up everyone else’s viewing schedule. It would also make it easier to DVR. — Robert
Matt Roush: The simple answer: Money. The networks pay enormous sums of cash to get rights to these games, and charge enormous sums for advertising, which would be undercut by shuffling the game off to a digital channel. It’s more likely the network would subjugate the entertainment programming than the headline sports event, but even then, the economics wouldn’t work. This is just a fact of current TV life that we (in certain time zones) have to live with—and to set our DVRs accordingly, for at least an extra hour.
Sunday’s Full Dance Card
Question: How come NBC doesn’t start its regular scheduled Sunday programming in January and February? All of their Sunday programs start in March. I know they air several awards shows on Sundays. Every year is like that. Nothing was good this fall on Sunday nights. I enjoy reading your columns every week. – Gordon
Matt Roush: Thank you, but with shows like PBS’s Poldark, CBS’s 60 Minutes, Fox’s The Simpsons, HBO’s Westworld and a handful of others, I’ve kept plenty busy on Sundays, and expect to into the new year. To address your question, the reason NBC won’t premiere new series until March is that there isn’t an opportunity to get traction until then. In January, NBC carries the Golden Globes, and another Sunday is dominated by the NFL conference championship games. In February, three of four Sundays are devoted to major events: the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the Oscars, not conducive for launching new shows against. This is also why years tend to fly by.
Question: What are the odds that Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life will eventually be available on DVD? Netflix is great, but I absolutely crave the thought of completing my DVD collection. – Anthony
Matt Roush: The odds are excellent. Warner Bros., which produces Gilmore Girls, has a robust home-video division, and while I don’t know how long it takes from exclusive Netflix distribution for the studio to be able to market in other formats, I would imagine this four-part gift will be available for purchase at some point, perhaps by next year’s holiday season.
Question: I’m hearing rumors about Notorious being canceled. I don’t understand it, as the actors are amazing, especially the woman who plays Louise Herrick. Piper Perabo was phenomenal in Covert Affairs and is again in this new show. I hope another network picks up the show like when ABC canceled Nashville. — Patricia
Matt Roush: It’s beyond rumor. Last week’s (Dec. 8) episode was the last produced, and there won’t be more. The show’s original episode order was reduced, which is the new way of saying “canceled.” I wouldn’t expect a resurrection. Notorious was one of the worst reviewed shows of the fall, and depressed ABC’s Thursday ratings (not that it was expected to draw a Scandal-size crowd). I don’t blame the actors for this one, including Piper Perabo and Kate Jennings Grant, who certainly camped it up as Louise the cougar. But their characters were so obnoxious, and the plotting so over-the-top, it will be a relief to get the night back to wall-to-wall Shonda Rhimes.
Question: A week ago, NBC released the dates for midseason shows, and I noticed one midseason show was not mentioned: Taken, based on the movies, and I was wondering if NBC is still planning on airing the show, and if they are, when will it air? — Natalie
Matt Roush: The reason you didn’t see Taken in that news story is that back in November, NBC made a separate announcement that Taken would follow a new season of The Voice on Mondays (10/9c) starting Feb. 27, taking over from Timeless once it finishes its 16-episode first-season run. This is as good a lead-in as any show could hope for. Just ask The Blacklist, Blindspot and Timeless.
That’s all for now—and a wrap for 2016. Thanks as always for reading, and for keeping me on my toes all year with provocative and passionate questions. 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), and we’ll pick up the conversation again in early January. You can also submit questions via the handy form below. Happy holidays and let’s hope for the best in 2017!