Ask Matt: Crying Along With ‘This Is Us,’ Plus ‘Madam Secretary,’ ‘The Good Fight,’ ‘The Americans’ and More
Welcome to the 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. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.
Question: I just finished watching last week's This Is Us on my DVR and I wept through the entire episode, as I have all season long. I haven't been this personally affected by a show in years, since Party of Five ended its underrated run on Fox. This makes me wonder what shows in the past (and present) have made you weep like a baby? Do you think the outstanding success of This Is Us will send networks a message that viewers want more shows like this that focus on family and matters that are grounded in some reality? Not every show has to be an action-packed, psychologically damaging superhero show, spy drama or edgy FX-style show. Sometimes a simple family drama is more than enough, especially one this well written. So what are the shows that have made you cry in the past, or if you didn't "cry," shows that made you emotional or really affected you on a personal level? - MJ
Matt Roush: I’m an unashamed TV crybaby, and have been since my childhood spent weeping at various Lassie scenarios and at particularly moving episodes of The Waltons. (Back when the only way to watch a classic movie on TV was to stay up late on a Saturday night, I was known to wake up my mother making loud noises at the end of Mrs. Miniver and Imitation of Life.) In my previous incarnation as a critic at USA TODAY, colleagues could always tell when I emerged from screening an episode of China Beach (especially that final season), because I’d be a mess. And a big yes on Party of Five—remember Bailey’s intervention? The Herskovitz-Zwick oeuvre, including thirtysomething and later Once and Again, often wrecked me. In its early best years, ER was an emotional rollercoaster, and my favorite tear-jerking hospital drama was St. Elsewhere. Steven Bochco’s groundbreaking police dramas, Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, were often wrenching. More recently, Parenthood was often good for a weekly dabbing of the eyes. And among genre shows, Buffy truly slayed me time and time again. I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten, and will be happy to share readers’ teary TV memories in a future column.
Assault on Madam Secretary
Question: I looked at my TV Guide to find out the gist of Sunday’s episode of Madam Secretary. I read that “Elizabeth is shocked when she gets hit on.” So I thought the episode was going to be about someone mistaking her for a single (available) woman and would try to take her out (and/or have consensual sex). Imagine my surprise when I watched the episode and found that not only wasn’t she “hit on,” but she was freaking assaulted! This leader actually put his hands on her. How can TV Guide classify hitting on someone as being the same as assaulting someone? WTH? These two activities are WORLDS APART! I cannot believe that assault would be depicted in such a trivial manner! Who’s writing these blurbs? — Marlene
Matt Roush: Not to speak for our editors and writers responsible for the blurbs in the magazine’s listing grids, which for reasons of space are often very tersely written, but they’re working off information supplied by the network, and here is CBS’s official storyline description for that episode: “Elizabeth is shocked when the Philippines’ unconventional new president makes a pass at her during their meeting.” Maybe it’s too glib to turn “makes a pass” into “hit on,” but not by much, so I’d aim your rage at the network for setting the tone on this one. And watching the episode, the incident was staged in an almost comically slapstick manner, with the inappropriate gesture by the narcissistic Philippines president (clearly a broad parody of our own new leader’s outrageous excesses) countered by Madam Secretary instinctively lashing out and breaking his nose. So while Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) and especially Nadine (Bebe Neuwirth) were appropriately indignant at his boorish behavior, which ultimately went mostly unpunished, the episode itself could be accused of trivializing the subject more than our blurb ever could.
Cheering On The Good Fight
Question: Have you been watching The Good Fight? I just finished Episode 5 and was gratified to see scenes between the wonderful Carrie Preston and Matthew Perry (I think she brings out the best in him) and Gary Cole back with Christine Baranski, if only temporarily. It added to an already intriguing episode. I am thoroughly enjoying all the new cast members (especially Delroy Lindo), and the writing is on the same level as its predecessor. I admit I felt blackmailed by CBS into signing up for its streaming service, but as someone who religiously watched The Good Wife every Sunday night (and was curious about the new re-boot of Star Trek) I decided to at least try it out for a few months. I'm just wondering if you've been getting any feedback from your readers about the show, other than people being upset with having to pay for it. It's a pretty sophisticated program, and it seems a lot of its target audience might be people who wouldn't jump into the streaming platform right away. Keep up the great work. I really rely on your columns and reviews. - Susan
Matt Roush: Thanks for that, and yes, I’m still watching and enjoying The Good Fight, and loving the continuity with recurring characters from The Good Wife’s past. But I also empathize with those who are already paying for multiple streaming and premium-TV subscriptions, and probably cable, who resist adding yet another item to their menu and ledger. Most of the feedback has been more like pushback, resenting CBS for making this calculated decision that feels like a slap to its loyal broadcast audience. But among those who are actually watching, the reaction is largely positive. As a critic, I can’t focus on the delivery system at the expense of the content, which like The Good Wife is top-tier in every way. (And for those who aren’t as budget-conscious, the no-commercials option is a great way to play back current CBS content without overburdening the DVR, much like Hulu with the other networks.)
Catching Up With The Americans’ New Mission
Question: I just watched the first episode of the new season of FX’s The Americans. I must have missed something last season, because I don't remember anything about this second identity as an airline pilot and a stewardess and an "adopted" son who seems to be helping them in their espionage. What have I missed and when? I checked the last two episodes from season 4 on Amazon which didn't offer any clues. — Tim
Matt Roush: Welcome to a literary device known as “in medias res,” in which we enter a storyline already in progress, in this case the result of a time jump between seasons in which Philip and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have already begun focusing on their new target of the Soviet defector with the help of their phony “adopted son” Tuan. It all becomes clearer as the storyline proceeds, but the disorientation you experienced was intentional.
Is There a Post-Paxton Future for Training Day?
Question: What is going to happen with Training Day now that Bill Paxton has died? - DL
Matt Roush: Quite a few questions about this in the wake of the well-liked actor’s unexpected and sudden death. Even before Paxton passed away, the show’s future was problematic: Mixed reviews (though the notices for Paxton were, as usual, mostly strong), unimpressive ratings. So when the show returns after this and next week’s NCAA basketball preemptions, Training Day will air the rest of its remaining episodes on Saturdays, starting April 8. And once that’s done, CBS will call it a Day on yet another misfire adaptation from movie to TV.
A Race Delay and Idol Chatter
Question: I actually have two questions: 1) What's the delay in airing the new season of The Amazing Race? And 2) Is it true that American Idol is coming back and will be on NBC? — Mark
Matt Roush: 1) The delay isn’t as bad as it once was. CBS only ordered one cycle of The Amazing Race for this season, and it had been announced that it would premiere on Fridays in late April once MacGyver finished its run. But with the collapse of Training Day on Thursdays, CBS has pushed up the premiere of Race to Thursday, March 30, and the new season will air on Thursdays at 10/9c for the time being.
2) There have been reports that NBC is considering reviving American Idol, but nothing is yet confirmed. (Maybe there will be an update when NBC hosts its Upfront presentation in May, if not before.) Seems kind of sketchy to me, though. Why would NBC want to do anything to dilute the success of The Voice, the singing competition that helped hasten Idol’s demise? Surely lessons were learned when Fox tried airing both The X Factor and American Idol during different parts of the regular TV season. One flopped, the other faded. But NBC does have a solid track record in the talent-show genre, with Voice and America’s Got Talent, so it’s conceivable Idol could air during one of The Voice’s off times (filling the summer months, perhaps). Still feels like overkill to me.
Renewed or Canceled Lightning Round
Question: Is USA's Eyewitness coming back for a second season? - Steve
Matt Roush: No, it was canceled. As was Syfy’s Incorporated, one of several dark dramas that premiered around the same time last fall on NBCU’s cable channels. (The third, USA’s Falling Water, is still in limbo.)
Question: I'm a huge fan of Code Black and was super excited when it was renewed for a second season. However, it was a very short season, and I'm wondering if that means CBS has pulled the plug? - Leslie
Matt Roush: Not necessarily. At 16 episodes, this season was only two shorter than its first season, and it’s sometimes a matter of inventory, with the network choosing to use this prime real estate to try out new shows in the spring. Given the fast fades of Doubt and Training Day, CBS might want to rethink its treatment of this solidly producing hospital drama. If any of the network’s midseason dramas had caught fire, I’d be more worried. Code Black is at least an established show now, so unless CBS believes it has a real game-changer in development for Wednesdays, this should be safe for another year. But without an early pickup, its fate won’t be known for sure until May, most likely.
That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again soon. Thanks as always for reading, and remember that 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.AlertMe