Ask Matt: What Might Have Been for ‘Todd,’ ABC’s Fall Comedy Desert, Cast Departures & More

Skylar Astin and Marcia Gay Harden in 'So Help Me Todd'
Michael Courtney/CBS
So Help Me Todd

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 or developments here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected]. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays.

Where Would Todd Have Gone in Future Seasons?

Question: I just finished the penultimate episode of So Help Me Todd (best episode since episode 2), and the entire season has been BANGERS!!! (Grr, CBS.) So just putting in an early request that after the series finale — eyeroll, CBS! — that someone ask the powers that be at this amazing, wonderful, hilarious, gone-much-too-soon show what they were intending for Season 3. Much thanks to the entire cast and crew from the Weaver family in Spokane for two exquisite, PERFECT seasons. You will be missed. — Matthew

Matt Roush: I hope you also enjoyed the finale, cliffhanger aside, in which case you should really enjoy the in-depth interview my colleague Meredith Jacobs conducted with series creator Scott Prendergast, who is incredibly forthcoming with details on his plans for the show in Season 3 and beyond. It was his feet you saw in the final shot as the show’s new villain, the heretofore unseen law firm partner Merritt Folding (who had not been cast yet). My favorite twist he described: that Margaret (the delicious Marcia Gay Harden), who had been framed by Merritt for his crimes, was going to experience a fall from grace, while son Todd’s (Skylar Astin) stock rose, and while they would eventually clear her name, Margaret would return to the firm in a demoted role as a paralegal and would have to fight her way back to the top. It may hurt to picture storylines we’ll never see, but it’s an entertaining read and a clear indication that on Todd, they weren’t making it up as they went, but had a definite arc for each season. CBS, how could you?

Abbott’s Solitary Confinement on Wednesdays

Question: What do you think of the ABC fall schedule? It seems so weird to strand Abbott Elementary by itself among an unscripted Wednesday lineup. Also, I called it, but I didn’t expect it, that they are giving Ryan Murphy a two-hour Thursday block with the new Doctor Odyssey following 9-1-1, dislodging Grey’s Anatomy to the 10/9c hour. A two-hour block from the same producer makes sense if the shows are connected—like Grey’s and Station 19 when there were frequent crossovers and therefore you need those to air consecutively — but that does not appear to be the case with the two Murphy shows. — Jake

Matt Roush: First, Abbott. It is truly bizarre that ABC can’t find even a single comedy to air alongside its Emmy and Peabody-winning hit on Wednesdays. (An abbreviated final season of The Conners is being held to midseason.) While a 90-minute edition of The Golden Bachelorette may provide a solid lead-in, I’m not laughing. (And I don’t know what to make of the 10/9c entry, Scamanda, a docuseries based on a podcast about a woman perpetrating a fake cancer scheme for years.) But this is what network TV has come to.

Regarding ABC moving Grey’s Anatomy to the later hour on Thursday: Fans will find it wherever it airs, and the live linear viewing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that show’s enduring popularity. From ABC’s point of view, it’s important to be in business with Ryan Murphy, who’s back in the Disney fold after his adventures with Netflix. So launching his new show off of 9-1-1’s backdraft is hardly a surprise, but I doubt there will be much opportunity for crossover. 9-1-1 has already done its cruise-ship story.

Are Shows Diminished by TV’s Revolving-Door Cast Departures?

Question: I am a big Law & Order fan. More than that, I am a huge Dick Wolf fan, as I also enjoy Chicago Fire, Med, and P.D. as well as FBI and FBI: Most Wanted. I am a bit puzzled and really fed up about the fast revolving door for cast members on these shows. I understand that’s the formula and they refresh the cast every so often, but these past two seasons it has been too much. I enjoy these formulas in part for the stories/ writing but also because of the cast. Assuming that a story/show can survive, irrespective of changing the whole cast every other season, is wrong. I hardly recognize anyone from the early days of Chicago Med. What triggered this question was first Jeffrey Donovan’s departure from the original L&O and now Camryn Manheim’s. These amazing actors were the main reason I went back to the show a few years ago, and now that they are gone, should I stay just for the formula? These tactics feel disrespectful to the fans and audience.

It made me think of when Melrose Place changed most of the cast and the magic was gone. Do you think that so many changes could potentially hurt some of the weaker shows within the Wolf spectrum, for example: P.D., FBI: International, Med, and Law & Order (the original)? The fact that Law & Order: SVU is the most popular out of the whole bunch should point to the fact that Mariska Hargitay as the show’s staple brings the magic that makes a good story a great show to watch. A lesson we’ve learned through CSI is that a good formula is able to give you great success, but it won’t survive relying only on a “case of the week” arc. — Hector

Matt Roush: This is the tradeoff on a show that runs for many seasons. Very few are able to keep their original stars for the duration, with the exception of character actors in the ensemble who’ve found their home there. Mariska Hargitay’s loyalty to SVU is something of an anomaly and more power to her. What Hector says about Chicago Med also applies to ER back in the day and, more recently, Grey’s Anatomy (more on that later). Whether it’s the actor’s desire to move on, or budget and/or creative concerns, these shows learn to evolve to survive the long haul, and procedurals tend to have more staying power than soaps like Melrose Place. Fact is: We all have our favorites who we hate to see leave a particular show — I cringe every time a major player leaves NCIS, because I know a deluge of mail is coming — but that’s a fact of TV life. I don’t see it as disrespect, though I do sometimes wonder why a show hangs on after it’s lost its core characters. In most cases, it’s because for the networks and producers, the show itself is the star of the show.

Is a Shrunken Grey’s a Sign of the End?

Comment: So now we learn that Grey’s Anatomy is the latest show whose budget is being cut, with series regulars’ episode guarantees being reduced. The surprise is the departure of Jake Borelli as Dr. Levi Schmitt, while everyone else is being asked to reduce. Their number of episodes seems like it will be even more of an issue because the writers will now have to plan the storylines according to how many episodes each regular is given. If I counted right, Season 20 has 14 series regulars plus Ellen Pompeo, who is still listed first in the cast list even though she has essentially become a recurring guest. The ensemble is obviously bloated, but I still can’t quite fathom having less of characters like Bailey, Richard, and Owen, who have been such mainstays. If they’re cutting down the number of episodes for series regulars, that probably means they won’t move Stefania Spampinato as Carina over as a series regular to Grey’s from Station 19, even though it would make sense to have Carina as a regular since she is permanently employed at Grey Sloan.

I’ve thought I was going to quit the show a number of times over the years and yet I never end up doing it, so I have no illusions that I would stop now. However, this again raises for me the question of when it will be time to end the show. I already think it is beyond its prime, and yet most weeks still very watchable and investable. I understand ABC’s interest in keeping the show going because it is a huge money maker. But clearly a show of this caliber and importance to the network should be allowed to build to some kind of ending. The question is who will decide when it is time to do that. It used to be “as long as Ellen Pompeo is interested in playing Meredith,” but she isn’t the center of the show anymore and they’re still making it, so they’ve blown past that marker. Any thoughts? — JL

Matt Roush: Grey’s Anatomy is my No. 1 example of a show that I expect I will continue to watch until either it or I stop functioning. I can’t explain it except to say that I’ve come this far through so many changes, why stop now? ABC isn’t giving up on it either, according to the latest bullish remarks of the ABC/Disney TV boss, and this latest twist of limiting the number of episodes per actor reminds me of the belt-tightening during the latter days of the classic 1980s’ Lorimar prime-time soaps (Knots Landing, Dallas, Falcon Crest), when the principal cast also was informed they would not be appearing every week. (Famously, Knots star Michele Lee offered to forgo her usual salary for some episodes so she could assert that she had appeared however briefly in every episode.) I guess the point of all of this is whether I see a light at the end of the Grey’s tunnel. Not quite yet, but when that time comes, I hope they give everyone plenty of notice.

Too Grim for TV (or Even Streaming?)

Question: I wanted to comment on Under the Bridge now airing on Hulu via ABC Signature. Apart from the fact that this based-on-a-true-story account is deviating greatly from its source material (not a surprise), or the fact that some episodes go like 30 minutes without achieving anything, the writing on this is making me cringe more than any show in years. But it’s the story which is off-putting. The great Roger Ebert once said, “There are some stories you simply can’t tell.” This is one of them. It’s the kid characters and particularly the victim Reena who comes across as repulsive, unlikable, and down-right cruel, especially in how she treats her family. I mean: Is this really a story we really need to share with the world? And why are we trying to give a sympathetic look towards the perpetrators? It’s a very ugly story and it’s been very heavily handled by the production team. I finally have stopped watching, but man, this show made me feel dirty. – Solly W.

Matt Roush: I get it, that there’s only so much darkness one chooses to expose oneself to, especially if the dramatic value of the story doesn’t justify it. I don’t have an objection to the writers trying to humanize these broken characters or revealing the social and in this case cultural conditions that made them this way. My problem with Under the Bridge, when I sampled the first episodes, is that nothing about this particular story seemed to merit an eight-episode commitment, even with fine talent like Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough involved. Streaming bloat is at an epidemic level, and a project like this once was able to be contained in a two-hour or four-hour format (during the days of the classic network TV-movie or mini-miniseries). Even the ugliest stories of human misbehavior deserve to be told, when done well and preferably with some judicious economy, but enough is enough. (Another example: I just finished a 10-part South Korean melodrama about high-school bullying that hooked me, even though I was often tempted to fast-forward, and felt it would have been twice as powerful at half the length. I’ll be writing about that later this month.)

And Finally …

Comment: A thumbs-up to Fox’s Alert: Missing Persons Unit for wrapping up its stories for this season by bringing down the evil cop and his brother and the marriage. It seemed to me that the writers nicely ended the stories just in case it was not coming back and not having a stupid cliffhanger. Glad it’s coming back. I guess it’s a cheap show to do around Toronto though I wish they’d do some real-life Philly scenes. (Same with the old show Cold Case that was supposed to be Philly but shot very limited on-location street scenes.) — Douglas

Matt Roush: Regarding faking locations: You can’t have everything, and budgets are tight. Still, this provides a nice bookend to this week’s column, saluting a show for not ending in a cliffhanger when there’s no guarantee of another season. (In this case, Alert made it to Season 3, unlike poor Todd.)

That’s all for now, and we’ll be taking next week off for the Memorial Day holiday. 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 X (formerly) Twitter @TVGMMattRoush. (Please include a first name with your question.)