Ask Matt: ‘Timeless,’ ‘The Middle,’ In Defense of ‘Emerald City,’ ‘One Day at a Time’ and More

Timeless - Season Pilot
Joe Lederer/NBC
TIMELESS -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: (l-r) Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin, Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan, Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston -- (Photo by: Joe Lederer/NBC)

Will NBC Give Timeless More Time?

Question: I wonder if you’ve been able to keep up with Timeless as the season went on? It didn’t seem up my alley, but I gave the pilot a shot and kept coming back. So it might not be great, significant TV. It’s more than a guilty pleasure. The show has gotten better as the season progressed. I know it might not hold up to a lot of scrutiny, but it’s entertaining, suspenseful, often funny, never going too dark to be fun anymore. I guess it’s on the bubble, but I’m hoping that NBC will stick with it a while like they did with Chuck or Grimm. What are your thoughts? — ML

Matt Roush: I am keeping up, more or less (an episode behind right now), with Timeless, for the very reasons you lay out. And the comparison with Chuck, as a purely escapist sleeper, is a good one. Sometimes you just want a show to entertain, and this does a pretty fair job at that, and as silly as much of it is—inserting themselves into Lincoln’s assassination, for example—I appreciate elaborate detours like the recent Chicago’s World Fair episode, with Harry Houdini as the hero of the hour to save the team from the Devil in the White City serial killer. I don’t care a whit about the Rittenhouse nonsense, I’m just along for the ride when I’ve time. Your point about Timeless never going so dark that it stops being fun is essential to its appeal. Things are plenty dark right now, and a show needs to earn that anymore to hold my attention or gain my respect. (The chief reason I have no use for a gloomy vanity project like FX’s Taboo.) With only a few episodes left before it makes way for Taken in late February, I’m cautiously optimistic that NBC will keep this around for a while. But then, I also thought ABC would give Forever a second season (sorry to open that wound).


Sticking With The Middle

Question: This isn’t so much a question as it is an acknowledgment of how nice a surprise it was to see ABC give an early renewal to The Middle. Especially since it has moved away from the Wednesday block this year, it’s nice to see them giving an early vote of confidence to the show. It will help prevent the mess from two years ago, the last time the cast’s deals were up, when ABC refused to renew it until the last minute and Charlie McDermott (Axl) went to do a CBS pilot. The Middle is still my favorite family sitcom, and the writing this year has been just as good, if not better, than ever, so I’m so grateful that the Hecks will be sticking around. — Jake

Matt Roush: Agreed. How rare for a family comedy to stay this fresh and funny in its eighth season as the kids grow, mature (more or less) and even leave the roost. And so far, no Cousin Oliver or Little Rudy has come along to infect the show with a case of the cutes. In its comical depiction of a small-town family barely getting by, The Middle has also been an important reflection of a middle class too rarely seen on TV, so I’m not ready to bid them farewell, either.


In Defense of Emerald City

Question: I enjoy your commentary very much and am often guided by your opinions on television. That being said, I adored Emerald City. I read all of the Oz books as a child and still own them today. I expected this TV interpretation to be a more adult and sexed-up version of the movie. The fact that they are focusing on the story lines from the books is quite exciting as the books were, for the time, quite advanced. L. Frank Baum slid feminism, socialism, and explored the conflict between nature (magic) and technology in the series. What I have seen of the TV show so far makes it look like they are going to address those themes. I especially enjoyed the political neutrality of Glinda that came out pretty clearly in the books. I did think the wizard was a bit overdone, but hopefully that will be toned down and the character will become more clarified in future episodes. Thanks for letting me talk about this. — Kristi

Question: I’ve been craving a slow, brooding show like Wallander, with a bit of the fantastic thrown in reminiscent of Fringe. While not nearly the equal of either of those classics, Emerald City has become a great Friday night destination. Have you kept up with it, or changed your original opinion of the show? I’ve not read any of the Baum novels, so I’m just along for the ride on this fanciful adaptation, and ten episodes don’t seem nearly enough. – Tommy

Matt Roush: Two very different and thoughtful takes on a show that I didn’t care for in the least. (NBC made all 10 episodes available in advance, so my opinion stands, though I know it’s rarely popular not to embrace a show in the dark-fantasy genre.) I’m not as familiar with the Baum canon as I’d like to be, and I will say that as cyberpunk over-the-top adaptations go, this is an improvement over Syfy’s Tin Man movie of 2007, though its Game of Thrones pretentious put me off. Basically, I found this Dorothy a drag, the Wizard an unbearable and convincing ham, and only the intriguing characters of the Scarecrow/Lucas and Tip/Ozma made me wish I weren’t watching the MGM musical for the umpteenth time.


Fed Up With Networks’ Stop and Start Scheduling

Question: First, love your reviews and column! My question is why do the networks bring back shows after they’ve been off for 5-6 weeks for only three episodes or so? Then we have to wait until whenever (March?) for them to come back! Why don’t they just wait and bring them back in March/April to finish the season (like Empire does)? My husband and I would appreciate any insight you can give. — Mary

Matt Roush: This is the time in any TV season that tries the patience of many TV fans.Spoiled by what is typically an unbroken run of 10 or so episodes from late September to early December, we’re now in a cycle where originals will alternate with repeats—this applies mostly to procedurals and sitcoms, the only series that tend to repeat well—and this will continue for much of the rest of the season, to fill out the weeks until the May finales. Sweeps months are an antiquated notion, but networks still tend to vamp in late January so February episodes are mostly new. And the reason shows like Empire sit out for longer spells is that serialized shows tend to repeat badly, and the networks are edging ever closer to the cable model of splitting seasons into two distinct pods, though there’s also an argument that long absences such as Empire endures can hurt a show’s momentum. So as usual when it comes to TV, there’s no way to please everybody—or possibly anybody.


Question: Why are they showing repeats of Speechless? – Jeremy

Matt Roush: See above. After three new episodes in a row in January, original episodes are expected to resume Feb. 8. There’s nothing new about this.


Question: Matt! I know I should be used to the whole fall/winter finale thing, but I feel Fox is going too far. Gotham was just off for several weeks, and now next week’s third episode back is the Winter Finale?? What is that about!? I know they seem to be making room for the 24 rebootm but how long am I going to have to wait for Gotham to come back? Will I even want to come back? – Felicia

Matt Roush: That is the multi-million-dollar question, isn’t it? This sort of stop-and-start-and-stop-again scheduling can be particularly aggravating, but Fox’s strategy seems to be that the three January episodes completed Gotham’s “Mad City” arc, and when the show returns April 24, after the runs of 24 and the new crime APB, it will close out the season with an eight-episode arc, running into early June, subtitled “Fallen City.” Whether this proves more harmful than helpful remains to be seen.


Oh, Happy Day

Question: Have you had a chance to check out the new One Day at a Time on Netflix? I knew it was in the works, but it just popped up without any fanfare and hope it doesn’t get forgotten. The performances are really great (Rita Moreno is a treasure) and it tackles the serious topics well. I was wary of a remake, but it is really good and hope it gets some attention. — Garrett

Matt Roush: You’re not alone, and the re-imagining of One Day at a Time with a Latino family has earned plenty of praise, including from me. If Rita Moreno doesn’t get an Emmy nomination for her scene stealing, I’ll be shocked. I’d also rally around Justina Machado, whose single-mom sitcom heroine is made of tough and funny stuff, the equal of another of my favorite and underrated sitcoms, CBS’s Mom. At its best, it reflects the hard-jokes/hard-knocks best of Norman Lear, who oversaw this remake. It’s even better when it’s serious than when it’s silly, and I anticipate many more seasons. (It almost makes up for the witless Fuller House.)


That’s all for now. Thanks as always for reading, and look for more another round next week. (Most weeks, columns will appear on Tuesdays and Fridays.) 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 you can also submit questions via the handy form below.