Ask Matt: ‘Abbott’s Name Game, Chopped-Up Drew, Reba’s ‘Big Sky’ Boost

Quinta Brunson and Janelle James in 'Abbott Elementary' Season 2
ABC/Gilles Mingasson
ABC/Gilles Mingasson

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] and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and some Fridays.

What’s in a (Principal’s) Name?

Question: I did a double take when I noticed the writing credit for last week’s episode (“Juice”) of Abbott Elementary, credited to “Ava Coleman.” This is, of course, the name of the principal played by Janelle James. Is it a coincidence that Abbott Elementary has a staff writer with the exact same name as one of its characters, or did (series creator) Quinta Brunson name the character after the writer?  I know she named the show Abbott Elementary after one of her teachers, Ms. Abbott. — Jake

Matt Roush: Strange but true. In an interview with the Awardist podcast, Brunson revealed that she met the real Ava, then a writer and story editor for Peacock’s fabulous Girls5Eva, before even making Abbott, and the name stuck when creating the hilarious character of Ava. When Coleman was available to join the writing staff for Season 2, Brunson hired her, which probably makes it interesting when they’re pitching stories for the over-the-top principal.

Half of Drew Isn’t Enough

Question: What happened to The Drew Barrymore Show? It now starts at 9:30 am, and running only one half-hour is putting this show pretty much on the shelf. It would be better to start at 9 am and run the full hour. My husband and I really liked this show even if Drew’s enthusiasm was over the top. — Mary Lee

Matt Roush: This season, the syndicated talk show was split into two half-hour segments, in part to give local stations more scheduling flexibility. A number of affiliates are using a half-hour of local news as a lead-in, but it’s up to the individual station whether to air one of both of the half-hours. You should reach out to your local station to let them know how you feel about the change.

Blue Skies for Reba Fans

Question: I feel like Reba McEntire has rejuvenated Big Sky, kind of like how Heather Locklear saved Melrose Place. Of course, Fox locked up Locklear after noticing her effect on the series and she then carried the show for six more seasons. Do you think there are any plans to keep Reba around Big Sky beyond this season? It’s must-see TV right now. Also, I feel the network shows have been doing better this fall. Quantum Leap and The Rookie: Feds are two that I’ve picked up that I really like. What do you think? — Scott Y

Matt Roush: Regarding Reba, as we’ve noted before in this space, she and the Sunny Barnes “Deadly Trails” storyline have made Big Sky much more entertaining this season. But I’m inclined to believe that once this arc is resolved, and I wouldn’t presume to guess how, they’ll move on with new antagonists, and the goal will be to find personalities as appealing as Reba’s, which won’t be easy. It’s also true, though, that Big Sky kept Tonya (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and the bizarre Donno (Ryan O’Nan) around from last season to keep causing trouble, so anything is possible.

As for the new season’s report card, nothing has jumped out for me the way Ghosts and (at midseason) Abbott Elementary did last season, but that may have something to do with my general disinterest in spinoffs and reboots. What I’ve seen of Quantum Leap I’ve mostly liked — the premise was always great — with one exception, which we’ll discuss in the next item.

Why Complicate Everything?

Question: I loved the original Quantum Leap, so I was excited for the reboot. Unfortunately, they had to turn it into an episodic series with an overarching story/mystery thing like they do with every show these days. Why can’t they make any shows that are simple self-contained episodes anymore? — Dennis

Matt Roush: It’s a fair question and complaint. While I get that discussion about why Ben (the new Sam) leaped and how to bring him home needs to be part of the show, I check out instantly when conspiracy/mystery threads enter the picture. Shows that dangle unanswered-question subplots for seemingly endless weeks or seasons tend to indulge a tiresome mythology that often threatens to take over a show (I’m looking back as far as The X-Files for this analogy). When I tune in to Leap, I’m doing it for the adventure, not to disentangle some dreary puzzle where the answer rarely lives up to the expectation.

Whatever Happened to Brevity?

Comment: There’s an awful trend going on right now. Why do so many producers/directors believe their stories deserve an 8-10 episode series? Case in point: The Patient. Here’s a very exciting story about a serial killer which is horribly bogged down by endless flashbacks about the shrink’s guilt and regret. It really ruins the drama and becomes almost unbearably monotonous. This could have easily been made into an entertaining three-part mini-series or even a two-hour movie. And this isn’t the only show guilty of this. — JL

Matt Roush: I have this issue with many series and limited series, especially on streaming, where I figure the bloat exists because they’re trying to keep people tuned in for as long as they can before they move on to the next shiny object. This felt especially true with several recent Netflix hits. Did Dahmer really need to go 10 full episodes? And even more so, The Watcher could have told its bizarre story in fewer than seven. But I’ll have to take exception to some extent with your impatience about The Patient, which wraps this week. This series was as much a psychological drama as it was a serial killer/kidnap thriller, and I appreciated how it told its story in taut 30-minute episodes (my new favorite drama trend), mostly sustaining its intensity throughout.

My positive review may have been colored by being able to preview the entire series over a day or so. This very well might have played better as a binge, instead of parceling these episodes out weekly. I did point out that the many references to the Holocaust were too heavy-handed, and I grew weary of Alan’s (Steve Carell) many internal conversations with his own therapist, but I felt The Patient paid off its multi-episode structure with suspenseful twists that took us further inside the heads of these two characters. I get where you’re coming from, of course, and I can’t tell you how often I despair at streaming bloat and hour-long episodes that run well past 60 minutes.

Changing One’s Tune?

Question: A while ago, you gave a negative review to the new show, Monarch. Do you still feel the same? My husband and I, along with many friends, love the show! We love Trace Adkins‘ acting and all the other actors and actresses. It is a nighttime soap opera for us to watch and talk about what is going to happen in the next episode!! — Kathy B

Matt Roush: I’m glad you’re enjoying the show, but we’ll have to agree to disagree — including, and most particularly, on the subject of Trace Adkins’ acting. I noted in my review, which was based on watching the first six episodes (through last week), that Adkins acquitted himself well on stage and as a country singer (no surprise, given the success of his career), but when he has to speak actual words, his monotonal guttural growl leaves much to be desired. This week’s episode (Oct. 25) is a big one, though, with payoffs for those who are watching for the soap opera of it all. Which I get. I was hoping for another Nashville here, but it mostly feels so underpowered and inauthentic, like most of them are just going through the paces.

And Finally …

Question: My husband and I have been watching Hot in Cleveland. I am not sure how we missed it when it was originally on. It is so much fun to watch and they had the perfect actresses to play each character. Do you think they might have a reunion show like so many others have done? They could all meet again to celebrate the life of Elka. It would be so interesting to see what has been going on for all these years since the ending of the show. — Laurie

Matt Roush: That’s a lovely idea, and maybe Betty White’s co-stars, who all professed great affection for their legendary scene partner, will someday find a way to reconnect for a suitable tribute. I’ve heard nothing to suggest this is in the works, but should such a thing happen, I’m sure it would be a nostalgic treat.

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. (Please include a first name with your question.)