Ask Matt: ‘Bates Motel,’ ‘Riverdale,’ Debating ‘Trial & Error,’ ‘Amazing Race,’ ‘Arrangement’ and More

Bates Motel - Freddie Highmore
Cate Cameron
Freddie Highmore stars as Norman Bates in A&E's "Bates Motel"

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 theform at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.


Giving Norman Bates His Due

Question: I just finished watching the “Marion” episode of Bates Motel. I was blown away by the performances of Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. If Freddie doesn’t win an Emmy for his work this season, there is absolutely no justice in the world. What do you think? — DT

Matt Roush: I think there are times when there is absolutely no justice in the world (this year more than most)—but I also agree that Freddie Highmore is way overdue some serious industry recognition for his sensitive, emotionally fraught interpretation of such an iconic character as Norman Bates. Bates Motel digs so deep into his psyche, especially now that he’s channeling Norma (with the invaluable assistance of the great Vera Farmiga), that if Freddie weren’t so spot-on, the show would just fall apart. I’m curious how viewers felt about the show quoting so directly from Psycho this week, then veering so sharply away from the events of the classic Hitchcock film. I enjoyed how it played out, which felt more appropriate to contemporary times while also turning more into a Tales From the Crypt-like morality (or immorality) play. If you’re as obsessed as I am, here are our post-mortems from the producers and from the actor who spent the most time in that bloody motel shower.


Scary Times Ahead in Riverdale

Question: I would like your take on the news that Riverdale is going to explore the supernatural in Season 2. Honestly, I have been very disappointed with this show. I expected an upbeat coming-of-age story: Gossip Girl meets Beverly Hills 90210 (the original). However, I was invited to a noir story where teenagers act like adults. Fair enough. It’s The CW, so most of their teenager stories are told as if these characters were adult. The problem is that in Riverdale, this approach is just weird. I stopped watching when Betty and Veronica staged a threesome to punish one of the bullies. My apologies, but I didn’t sign up for a show that uses such a contrived plot twist to make a point. As soon as I read the news that Riverdale is turning to the supernatural, I cringed. The show doesn’t know what it is and is just trying to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. In my opinion, viewers deserve a bit more respect than this. So consider this viewer discarding Riverdale for good. Love to hear your thoughts. – David

Matt Roush: If Riverdale had just been an earnest Archie’s Creek sort of coming-of-age angstfest, I doubt it would enjoy the buzz it’s been getting as a bizarre teen variation on Twin Peaks. I’m kind of fascinated by the show, even when I’m put off by how overdone and overwritten and full of itself it often seems to be. Clearly, it’s not for everyone, and the episode that turned you off was the one most frequently cited by critics as Riverdale at its best. Go figure.

There is one upside of going horror-show for the second season, if that turns out to be the case: the possibility of crossovers with the Supernatural brothers or even the iZombie gang, depending. But when a show is this stylized, for better or worse, you either roll with it to see where it goes next or you abandon ship. I understand both reactions.


Loving and Hating Trial & Error

Question: I absolutely love Trial & Error. I can’t get enough of John Lithgow. Will it be renewed for next year? – Deb

Question: The new John Lithgow comedy Trial & Error looked good when it was being promoted, but when it finally aired, it was too annoying to watch. The show is trying too hard, and there are too many characters with issues, which spoils the pot—er, plot and show. Why do show writers go overboard with such characters? I would argue that the show would be better if the Sherri Shepherd character was a wisecracking smartass instead of having so many issues. Ugh! – Unsigned

Matt Roush: Say this for a show like Trial & Error: It’s obviously hard to be indifferent. I find myself to be in both camps. I like the premise and love the star, but as I noted in my initial review, the show has a way of running cheap gags into the ground and milking stupid stereotypes past the point of endurance. Shepherd is doing her best selling her silly behavioral tics—though the most recent one, in which she lapsed into foreign accents, wasn’t even funny once—but I agree it might have been wise to let at least one person in lawyer Josh’s camp be smart, or at least smart-alecky, and she could have pulled that off.

To answer Deb’s question, it’s too soon to know if the show will be renewed, or even what the show would be if it is, as I’m not sure how far they’ll take Lithgow’s character’s murder trial by the end of the season. Without him, though, I’m not sure there’d be any reason to come back.


Staying Up for the Race

Question: Why is CBS airing one of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race, at the late hour of 10 pm/ET instead of its usual 8 pm/ET time? I do not know if I will be able to watch it at such a late hour. I hope that it will return to its usual earlier time if it is renewed for next year. – Earl

Matt Roush: Here’s the why: CBS brought Race back a little earlier than scheduled when a hole opened up on Thursday. It was originally going to go into its former Friday time period (8/7c) when MacGyver ended its run in mid-April, but CBS decided it was worth trying it out on a night with more potential viewership, and with a fairly solid comedy lead-in. There wasn’t an option to air it any earlier on Thursday, because of the dominance of hit comedies like The Big Bang Theory and Mom. (And outside of the network’s miserable Monday lineup, there really isn’t an 8/7c opening any other night of the week.) This isn’t as big an issue as it used to be, because so many more people time-shift and record their shows that it doesn’t always matter when it airs. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to everyone, but if Race does falter on Thursdays, I wouldn’t be surprised to see CBS put it back on Fridays in the earlier time period when that opens up (which might mean flipping Race with Undercover Boss, which is currently scheduled to go into the Friday rotation on April 28).


Cruise Control in a Roman a Clef

Question: Okay, like seriously, is E!’s new series The Arrangement not even trying to avoid comparison to the life of movie icon Tom Cruise? An impossibly handsome actor, with ties to a “controversial” organization (The Institute of the Higher Minds). The actor’s questionable “friendship” with the leader of the organization. The fictional actor’s name, “Kyle West,” even has the same number of syllables as Tom Cruise. There was even an “out of place” scene where a woman wore a mask reminiscent of Cruise’s movie Eyes Wide Shut. C’mon, please tell me this was all totally intentional!!?? – Sydney

Matt Roush: What, you were expecting subtlety in a drama on the E! channel? Of course this show is cashing in on the tabloid fixation that is this channel’s currency, without actually using the star’s name (or mentioning Scientology). Nothing is an accident here, although feel free to let me know if and when an original thought breaks out.


Not Ready to Let Grimm Go

Question: Is there any hope for Grimm? Could another network pick it up or do a spinoff on it? – Linda

Matt Roush: And here is where we make the distinction between a show being canceled and ending a successful run, the latter of which applies to Grimm, which wraps a six-season major-network run this week with nearly 125 episodes, which has to be seen as a triumph. If Grimm had been yanked off the air without giving the creators a chance to finish the story on their own terms, that’s when it’s appropriate to lose hope. It’s always hard to see a favorite show go off the air—I felt much the same way all those years ago when Buffy the Vampire Slayer put the Hellmouth in its rear-view mirror after seven years, and I’m in denial that there are only a few more episodes to go of Bates Motel. But I respect creative decisions to end a series’ run while there’s still gas in the tank. And as this season’s returns of 24 and (starting next week) Prison Break remind us, there’s always a chance for a comeback, or a spinoff, down the road.


In Praise of Human-ity

Question: What do you think about AMC’s Humans? I think it is a severely underrated gem that is thought provoking and surprisingly emotional for a show about synthetic humans. Gemma Chan is one of the standouts who I thought should have been nominated for Golden Globe and Emmy awards for her sympathetic, nuanced and sometimes creepy performance as Anita/Mia. What do you think? Also, what are the chances for a season 3? – Kevin

Matt Roush: As I noted when the show returned for its second year, I give this show at least as much credit as HBO’s more labyrinthine Westworld in grounding its artificial-intelligence storylines in a real, believable world, with authentic emotional stakes. I’m beyond thrilled that since this question arrived in my mailbox, AMC announced that a third season will be produced.


Question: When will Nashville return? – Janet

Matt Roush: When CMT says it will. So far, no announcement has been made on when the second half of the season will resume. Speculation is late spring, although I’d also settle for a summer batch of episodes. Any later seems way too long a break. Until then, we’ll always have memories of Rayna.


That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again next week, no April fooling. 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.