Ask Matt: ‘Dirty Dancing’ Debacle, ‘Dancing’ Finale, Calling Out ‘Saul,’ ABC’s ‘Dog’ Days, 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.
How Did the Dreadful Dancing Get OK’d?
Question: How—for the love of the TV gods—could a misguided train wreck like ABC’s Dirty Dancing reboot get green-lighted? Every aspect: casting, costuming, editing, even the flat-footed choreography (which should have been a saving grace) was not just wrong-headed, but inept. I do not understand how so many disastrous decisions could have been made. Was no one watching the rushes? What a deplorable waste of time and money. — Carol
Matt Roush: Can’t say I disagree. In fact, the remake was almost universally critically reviled, including by yours truly, and while it got an OK tune-in from rubberneckers such as yourself, the best answer to your despairing “why, TV gods, why?” question is to point out that we are in a moment where remakes, reboots and revivals are all the rage, for better (staying hopeful for Will & Grace) worse (this) and in between (the jury still out on Twin Peaks). ABC was counting on a nostalgia and curiosity factor to drive an audience on the last night of the traditional broadcast season, and to some extent it succeeded, but at what cost?
Dancing in Place at the Finale
Question: Why do shows like Dancing With the Stars make viewers sit through hours of filler material in their finales and then completely rush the last 45 seconds of announcing the winner? Then there’s this huge rush to grab the contestants and barely get a word out of them before the show goes off the air. After so many seasons, you’d think they could do better time management and actually save two minutes of the bloated finale to have a real conversation with the winners and runners-up. – Teri
Matt Roush: The finales of shows like Dancing With the Stars, The Voice and possibly starting with American Idol are a reminder that these competition series are the new incarnation of what used to be the music-variety show. Padding the finales with special performances is meant to be entertaining, but when it upstages the actual event and short-changes the climactic announcement, it does the show a disservice. I can’t remember the last time I watched one of these in real-time, because it seems to me this is why the fast-forward button on the remote was invented. (Although I’ll never forget the year the DVR cut off the end of American Idol, which inexcusably ran over just as Ryan Seacrest announced the winner was David … and the screen went blank before I could tell if it was Cook or Archuleta. Learned my lesson on that one.)
Calling for More Saul, Less Jimmy
Question: I know I’m swimming against the tide of critical and fan consensus here, but I’m just not feeling the magic with Better Call Saul. Is it just me? Yes, Breaking Bad is my favorite TV show of all time and I doubt anything will ever top it in my personal view. To that end, I revised my expectations for the first season of Saul and I did enjoy it a great deal. Still, it feels as if the show has been running in place for the better part of two seasons now. I don’t think this is in my head, because Vince Gilligan and company admitted that they liked Jimmy a lot more than they thought they would, so they slowed down the transformation process.
I hoped that the return of Gus Fring might breathe new life into the story, but even that feels as if it’s creeping along at a snail’s pace. I’m always glad to see familiar faces like Francesca and Huell, but when Don Eladio reappears in the very same pool where he will later drop dead, it feels as if the show is being too clever by half in the name of fan service. I enjoy original characters such as Kim, Chuck and Nacho, but the show is titled Better Call Saul for a reason. I know that Breaking Bad could be a slow burn for many episodes at a stretch, but you always knew that you’d get some kind of emotional payoff that would make the waiting worthwhile. In Saul, it doesn’t feel as if we’re getting that. Yet I read various critics gushing about how amazing the show is on a weekly basis and I feel like the lost kid at the back of the classroom wondering why he’s the only one not getting the obvious math problem. Can you straighten me out here? — Ryan
Matt Roush: I checked the date on this question to be sure, and it arrived after the last few episodes in which Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) finally began adopting the persona of Saul Goodman, so if that hasn’t turned you around on this show, maybe nothing will. My take, in a nutshell: When Better Call Saul premiered, it was so different from what I expected as a spinoff—basically reinventing a character with such depth and seriocomic empathy—that I was enthralled. Season 2 I agree was way too much of a slow burn to escalate the tragic sibling conflict between Jimmy and Chuck—a more entertaining version of this kind of rivalry is currently on display in Fargo—and Better Call Saul may not entirely have recovered from that yet. But this season I feel we have been getting payoffs in that storyline, in the subplots involving Gus Fring’s growing criminal empire (and the inevitable Breaking Bad foreshadowing) and now in the emerging transformation of Jimmy into Saul. As a character study, I’m enjoying the show more than I did a year ago. But does it have the hold on my imagination that Breaking Bad did? Not hardly.
Question: On this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, I swear I saw Bryan Cranston in the bar where Kim and Jimmy were sitting. Was I seeing things? I haven’t read anything about him doing a cameo, but maybe you have better intel. – Jan
Matt Roush: May have been a case of wishful seeing. I didn’t notice it, and there are many out there much more obsessive than I am on such matters, and no one appears to have mentioned it. So I guess you’ll have to keep looking.
Praise From a Dog Lover
Question: Downward Dog is the brilliant, funny, fresh show I have been waiting for on ABC. Alison Tolman and Martin the dog shine in this mellow comedy. I would be thrilled if it was renewed for a second season, but I don’t think ABC has a lot of confidence in the show, considering they held it until the end of the broadcast TV season. How can someone start a successful renewal campaign for a show? – Michelle
Matt Roush: Social media is a good place to start. I’ll keep beating the drum for this one as long as it’s on, and the good news is that it has been getting decent sampling in these waning days of the season. I imagine its ratings will suffer when it’s up against America’s Got Talent starting next week, but the positive reviews and any viewer buzz may help ABC see this as something other than a burn-off.
Naturally, a show this offbeat will also have its detractors. So I’m sharing these observations from Michael: “I thought the first episode was lousy and clichéd. It’s like 2 shows forced together, with the dog half having only a tenuous connection to the human half. And I HATE the dog. If I want to hear a teenager with a severely limited vocabulary and point of view saying “like” 12 times per sentence, I can listen to some of the students at the high school where I substitute teach.”
We can agree to disagree on the dog’s charms or lack thereof, but one of the reasons I enjoy Downward Dog is the contrast it sets up between the way Martin sees the world and the world Nan actually inhabits. It’s a very clever approach to the girl-and-her-dog story.
Familiar Faces on Long-Running Shows
Question: What do you know about NCIS: LA bringing in John M. Jackson aka Admiral Chegwidden from JAG to be the assistant director? He would be a perfect fit and he was great on the episode this season. – Sissy
Matt Roush: He actually appeared in several episodes this season, and while I’ve heard nothing official yet about him joining the team full time, it would make perfect sense and I’m sure fans would love to see Chegwidden back on a regular, or even recurring, basis.
Question: With the cancellation of Chicago Justice, are there plans for Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda) to return to Chicago PD?- Art
Matt Roush: It may be a bit premature for anything to be settled yet, as Justice was just canceled, a rarity these days in the Dick Wolf universe. But like with the previous question, Dawson is an established presence in the world of the Chicago shows, so it makes sense for him to show up on occasion, whether or not he rejoins the ensemble full time.
Question: On the new ABC line-up, it shows Inhumans. Is this the retooled Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? I thought Agents had been renewed, but did not see it on the schedule, or did I just miss it?- JMQ
Matt Roush: Marvel’s Inhumans is a separate entity from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—not so much a spinoff but a companion piece as TV becomes overrun with Marvel projects. Agents was renewed but is being held to midseason, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it shares the Friday time period with Inhumans during its hiatus, but that hasn’t been determined yet.
Question: Why were my two favorite shows, Rosewood and Home Fires on PBS, canceled? Neither had endings. – Laurel
Matt Roush: The simple answer is always ratings, and in Rosewood’s case, its fate was sealed by Fox’s decision to move the show away from Empire to a death slot on Fridays, where it failed to be a self-starter. With Home Fires, it’s a reminder that the TV business can be just as unforgiving on the other side of the ocean. ITV’s decision to end the show after two seasons—on a cliffhanger, no less—sparked a furor a year ago in England, and now it’s our turn to be disappointed. The audience’s older demographics may have played a factor in Home Fires’ demise, which is reminiscent of when A&E dropped The Glades and Longmire without warning or, I might add, cause.
Question: I wish another network would pick up Emerald City. I mean it is a GREAT show: scenery, direction, storyline. Do you have any insight? – Unsigned
Matt Roush: I wasn’t enamored with this revisionist Wizard of Oz fantasy, and with only one low-rated season under its belt, and given that it came from NBC’s parent studio Universal, I can’t imagine there will be any takers.
Question: I would like to watch The Good Fight, I was a huge Good Wife fan, but I don’t want to pay for CBS All Access. Will there be a way to watch the series somewhere else? – Nancy
Matt Roush: An oft-recurring question, and for now, this first-rate spinoff is not available on any other service or format. Being exclusive to CBS All Access to drive traffic to the site is the whole point. It’s possible the season will be released on DVD for rental or purchase, but one way or the other, you won’t get it for free (on CBS, anyway). I’m not one to advise people on how to game the system, but you could sign up for a free trial and watch all 10 episodes within that period, or subscribe for long enough to watch the season and then cancel. CBS just wants to get people inside the tent in hopes they’ll stick around. Same strategy applies to the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery.
Question: What happened to Sun Records? It disappeared from the CMT lineup before there was a conclusion. — Janet
Matt Roush: This was announced as a limited series, and my current understanding is that CMT won’t continue the story beyond the eight episodes that have already aired.
Correction from Tuesday’s column: The studio shopping Last Man Standing to new outlets is 20th, not Sony.
That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again next week, but later than usual because of the holiday. 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