Ask Matt: Hosting the Oscars, Scandal Madness, McDreamy MIA, Sleepy Hollow, and More

Ask Matt

For those new to the “Ask Matt” column, this is a weekly 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. Don’t ask me what’s going to happen on a show. I prefer to find out along with everyone else. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] and follow me on Twitter.

Question: I read your review of the Oscars, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I was so disappointed in Neil Patrick Harris’s hosting. I still have all of the Tony Awards he hosted on my DVR. But he seemed to channel his Barney-esque smarminess more than his Broadway charm. He just seemed so uncomfortable. I feel to some degree that if NPH can’t successfully host the Oscars, who can? — Erin

Matt Roush: My take on this paradox is that the Oscars are both the brass ring of hosting duties—it’s the highest-profile and highest-prestige of TV’s many awards shows—and also almost always the third rail. It defeats almost everyone, but I had hoped that Neil Patrick Harris’s showmanship (oddly muted in this venue) would have saved the day. I looked back at my review of Ellen DeGeneres’s hosting a year ago, which left a much more positive aftertaste, in part because she didn’t let you see her sweat. Her laid-back approach was more disarming than watching him constantly aiming for a snarky rimshot, most of which failed. I was most surprised by how feeble his audience interactions were, because his track record with such things at the Tonys has been so remarkable. There have been successful, even (wait for it) legendary, Oscar hosts—Johnny Carson for years, Bob Hope, more recently Billy Crystal (although his comeback was a letdown) and Jon Stewart got pretty good notices. But mostly it’s a lose-lose proposition, because the show is such a lumbering monstrosity with built-in dull stretches and only four awards given to marquee stars (if they’re lucky) over the entire night.

Question: I was wondering your opinion on The Nightly Show. It’s going to be hard for any show to replace The Colbert Report; I spent four nights a week with Stephen Colbert for nine years, give or take a missed episode. Losing him was almost like losing a friend—on an intellectual level, I understand how ridiculous that sounds, but he was a fairly consistent and always hilarious presence that is now gone and very much missed. Despite this, I was excited for The Nightly Show. Although Larry Wilmore was never my favorite Daily Show correspondent, I quickly warmed to him as a host and especially appreciate his willingness to take a firm stance on controversial (or at least politically sensitive) issues, while maintaining a friendly sense of humor. I like the panel idea, particularly if it is well moderated. I love to see a minority voice finally represented on late-night TV (Arsenio notwithstanding). And the “Keep It 100” segment is my favorite part (although they seem to have backed away from this in recent episodes; I wonder why). I can’t quite place my finger on why I don’t love it. Are you watching/enjoying? Do you think any problems are just part of the growing pains of a very new series?

On a related note, we’re also soon-ish going to lose Jon Stewart—sob! Do you have any personal favorite/fantasy ideas for a replacement? Again, there’s quite the legacy to live up to, but I’m open to seeing what someone else does with the show. — Katelyn

Matt Roush: You seem to be pleased with Wilmore’s new show, as mostly am I—my biggest hurdle is the panel format, which I find a bit limiting, and it’s awfully uneven from night to night. But it’s understandable that a habit as ingrained as one’s addiction to a nightly treat like The Colbert Report (and for me, it will be worse when Stewart departs The Daily Show) is tough to get over, and it may be impossible for a replacement show this different to fill the void to your satisfaction. I do feel that shows like this deserve several months to figure out what’s working and what can be improved, but I love Wilmore’s smartly irreverent tone as a host and believe the diversity he’s bringing to this crowded arena is beyond refreshing. As for brainstorming a replacement for Jon Stewart: I just can’t. I’m in denial. (Of the scenarios I’ve heard, someone like a Joel McHale would make the most sense. But I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by someone I’d never considered. Taking over that chair will make hosting the Oscars look like kindergarten.)

Question: I’ve become a huge fan of The Slap, which you gave a positive review. Last week’s episode featuring Uma Thurman and Blythe Danner was particularly good, I thought. It’s sad that not many people seem to be watching it. Some of the problems are the unfortunate title, which really gives no idea what the series is really about, its absurd time slot, and the fact that it’s on NBC instead of one of the cable channels. It’s the kind of show which should have been nurtured in the way The Affair was, on a premium channel, and not have to compete in the commercial arena with American Idol, The Big Bang Theory, etc. Kudos, though, to NBC for airing something so thoughtful and sophisticated! – Paul

Matt Roush: I might add borderline pretentious; the cast is terrific and it’s a bold experiment in storytelling, but yikes to that voice-over narration. I get what you’re saying about network-vs.-cable, and you may feel similarly when you see ABC’s American Crime later this week, premiering on the same overcrowded Thursday schedule, and what a disconnect that is from the overheated Shonda Rhimes melodramas to which the ABC fan has become accustomed. But as opposed to lamenting The Slap‘s fate on NBC—which was pretty predictable, especially when the network decided to schedule something this adult in the 8/7c hour—shouldn’t we be championing the network for essentially saying “ratings be damned” on occasion as it tries something so very different? The audience may be small, but how is that different from the relatively puny though discriminating viewership for many of cable’s acclaimed but niche dramas? (The bigger question, though, is what was NBC thinking stranding its biggest drama asset, The Blacklist, between something as narrow in appeal as The Slap and something as mediocre in execution as Allegiance?)

Question: I’ve been hooked on Scandal this season, more than previous years, so I have a question about context. I know the show is and always has been about crazy, and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but I’m a little bit thrown by the recent story that had Fitz declare war and sacrifice thousands of lives to save Olivia. Is this bizarre even by this bizarre show’s standards? – Edwin

Matt Roush: If ever there was a show for which a “reality check” would be useless, it’s Scandal. Ever since B613 became a thing, the show has gone even further off the crazy-train rails, and for me considerably less enjoyable—although I still get a kick out of it as the weirdest and most verbally diarrheal of guilty pleasures—but this latest misadventure into global politics is ludicrous by anyone’s standards. At this point, going beyond over the top is Scandal‘s only direction, and I fear to see what happens if it ever comes back to earth.

Question: The last time we saw Patrick Dempsey in a Grey’s Anatomy episode was the midseason premiere on January 29 as Derek left for his new job in Washington, D.C. And in last week’s episode, Amelia made a point of saying he is not coming back for Dr. Herman’s surgery. Yet there he is listed in the credits every week, as he is still a series regular. Even though you could say he’s out for story reasons, it seems clear that his new deal to continue on the show this year included a decreased workload. This begs the question: As a series regular, is he paid for episodes he doesn’t appear in? I have felt his absence, but I’m surprised to say I haven’t actually missed the character as much as I thought I would. While I would hope that Meredith and Derek can work out their issues at whatever point he returns to the show on a normal basis, the storytelling with Meredith alone the last several weeks has been really strong. What do you think of Dempsey/Derek’s absence? — JL

Matt Roush: It’s kind of a McNightmare, especially for MerDer shippers, I’m sure. Can’t really address the payment-by-episode issue; Dempsey is still under contract to the show, and is no doubt being paid accordingly, and by all accounts will be returning at some point, but those business matters are beyond my ken. From the creative perspective (which is all I really care about), the separation has made Meredith newly interesting, as she seeks a “person” with Cristina no longer handy. But this is one of those situations where I actually like it when Mer and Der are in a good place, providing stability among the rest of the show’s bottomless reservoir of romantic angst, so I’ll be happy when he comes home. If, of course, there’s still a home for him to return to.

Question: I am sure that you have heard and read many complaints concerning the second season of Sleepy Hollow. When it first premiered, it became one of my favorites immediately, with the great chemistry between two charming leads (Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie) and a headless horseman firing off a machine gun. I knew that we were in for a fun ride. So, my question for you is: Why? Why with so many positives resulting in high viewing numbers and good critical reviews in the first season, why would showrunner Mark Goffman want to change the show so very much when he took over? Ego? The desire to shape the show according to his own idea instead of the approved version? Unconscious racism, as some people claim? Personality conflicts?

With the exception of one or two early episodes and the last three, the writing for the second season was terrible. Instead of the Witnesses being the forefront and battling the Four Horsemen, we are forced to endure tepid exchanges between Katrina and Ichabod or Katrina and the Horseman of Death (who went from a badass demon to a whiny aristocrat), Irving and Jenny being sidelined, and then, of course, the apocalypse that required four Horsemen but could somehow suddenly take place with only the benefit of two. We were told (not shown) that Katrina is a powerful witch, but she seemed not to be able to do anything very well except rock a bustier. To be fair, even the amazing John Noble was held back by the scripts, and the use of his character this season was just a waste, but Katia Winter certainly did not have enough talent or skill to cope with the bad writing, and by the end of the season, I usually just fast-forwarded through her scenes as much as I could and still keep up with the story. I was relieved with the way the Sleepy Hollow season ended, and I hope that Fox renews it and focuses again on what is still good, i.e. the Ichabod-Abbie partnership, Irving, and Jenny, as well as come up with something comparable to a machine gun-wielding headless horseman. The show still has so much potential if not mishandled by its showrunner. — Sara Anne

Matt Roush: What you witnessed in Sleepy Hollow was a classic sophomore slump, which for a show this offbeat and original in appeal is almost understandable, but certainly regrettable. I’m not sure demonizing the person in charge is the way to go—can’t say I’ve been studying up on this one—but there’s no question that some very bad calls were made in terms of narrative and focus: too much Katrina, way too much Hawley, not enough Henry (poor underused John Noble), the misconceived humanizing of Headless, and waiting way too long into the season for any real payoffs. The mostly satisfying finale may have been too little too late, but I agree the core of Sleepy Hollow (Ichabod and Abbie) is solid, and I’ll miss them if they end up in cancellation purgatory.

Question: I wrote to you a few weeks ago complaining about the networks not providing endings for short-run series. I would like to compliment ABC for providing a solid ending to Agent Carter. The storyline was wrapped up neatly and nothing was left hanging for a possible second season. Yes, there was the scene tacked on at the end, but IMO that just showed another tie-in to the Marvel universe and wasn’t any sort of cliffhanger. — Dennis

Matt Roush: Finally, a satisfied customer!

Question: I have to admit, I am in love with The Following and feel this is one of Fox’s best shows. I like how they wait until late in the season to start the yearly run and even enjoy more that you get most of the season in successive weeks. My biggest concern with the show is that Season 1 was so popular that Season 2 had a lot to live up to and fell short in some areas. This is a show that I believe will be on for a limited amount of seasons; I mean, there is only so much you can have Ryan Hardy do. Do you think Season 3 will try and get back to its Season 1 roots, or are we in for a shorter series run than we can expect? — Sean

Matt Roush: I’ve only seen the first two episodes, which is more about last season’s psycho-du-jour (Mark and ghost-of-Luke) and his sociopathic followers trying to make Ryan and his team accountable for their past actions. (Joe Carroll is behind bars and off camera so far, though his influence continues to be felt.) So basically a new cat-and-mouse is underway, with the feds almost always a beat behind and suffering mightily for it, and the chase is feeling more than a bit tired. With The Following, less is definitely more, and the uninterrupted shorter run (comparable to cable scheduling) is an asset for sure. But nothing yet has been as surprising and shocking as the best parts of Season 1, so if The Following does end up having an abbreviated run—too soon to say if it will be renewed for a fourth year—I would be at peace with that.

Question: Do you know if DirecTV plans to release Season 1 of the Kingdom series than ran on their Audience channel on DVD? — Ronnie

Matt Roush: I’m told that Endemol (the producing studio) does plan a DVD release, but no date announced yet.

Question: I have always liked watching The Graham Norton Show on BBC America, but since the beginning of 2015 it is no longer showing. Can you help me get an answer as to why it is no longer on BBCA? No one I have asked seems to know. — Robert

Matt Roush: Can’t explain why it went temporarily MIA, but the good news is that BBC America quietly returned this gleefully campy talk show to the schedule last weekend—and the guest lineup this Saturday (10:15/9:15c) looks especially promising: David Beckham, Will Smith, Hugh Jackman, Margot Robbie, and Noel Gallagher. Even Jimmy Fallon would be impressed by that all-star gathering.

That’s all for now. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected].