Ask Matt: ‘Underground’ in Limbo, Emmy Contenders (Vera Farmiga, ‘Hap and Leonard’), ‘America’s Got Talent,’ and More

The cast of Underground
WGN America

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.


Will Underground Resurface?

Question: While I’m not surprised, I am still very disappointed that WGN America’s Underground was canceled. Any news on the chances someone else will pick it up? I imagine it’s not easy or cheap to produce with so many locations and the sets and props of a historical drama. Not to mention all the costumes just for the many, many extras. Politics aside, I think it would be an injustice to let this prestige show go. (Sinclair/Tribune are shooting themselves in the foot.) Just as important, do you think anyone will still remember Underground come awards time? – Woody

Matt Roush: As of this moment, no updates regarding Sony’s attempts to land Underground on another cable or streaming outlet, but even the head of Tribune, when confirming the cancellation, expressed hope (somewhat disingenuously) “that this remarkable show finds another home and continues its stories of courage, determination and freedom.” As do we all. With WGNA now out of the big-budget scripted business entirely, let’s hope someone steps up, and you’d think the deep pockets of OWN, Oprah Winfrey and Discovery could give this series a new lease on life. (Maybe give one of those awful Tyler Perry series a rest for a while.)

As for awards, it’s a long shot in most categories because the field is so crowded. I’d especially like to see Aisha Hinds rewarded for her remarkable episode-length speech as Harriet Tubman, but was surprised to see that she was being submitted as a supporting rather than guest actress, as the latter field might not be quite as competitive.

Early Emmy Outrage (Drama Actress Edition)

Question: I just saw a list of likely contenders for Best Actress in a Drama for this year’s Emmy Awards. I was not only stunned, but very angry, to NOT find Vera Farmiga nor Ellen Barkin on even the “long shot” list to get a nomination. I know there is an abundance of talented women out there working in TV right now, but I thought both of those ladies were shoo-ins. Not to mention Animal Kingdom starting early this year to remind people of just how great Barkin was last year (and continues to be). I think if they did the actor list and Freddie Highmore wasn’t on it, I might have stroked out! Are people just not watching anything other than HBO or what? This is criminal! Or are they just trying to stir up controversy and get people talking about the Emmys? Do you agree that Barkin and Farmiga deserve nominations this year? Which five (or six) actresses would YOU nominate? — Beverly

Matt Roush: Not sure what list you were referring to, but keep in mind most Emmy prognosticators right now are predicting what might get nominated, not what they hope will be. For the record, Bates Motel’s Vera Farmiga is being submitted in the supporting, not lead, category this time—she was nominated as a lead in 2013—and she has a fairly decent chance at being recognized for one of the great playing-dead performances of our time. (I wish I were as confident about Freddie Highmore, but he certainly deserves to be.) For Ellen Barkin, who is submitted in the lead category, it will be an uphill battle for even someone this recognizable to break in for a new show that doesn’t seem to have much traction—though Jacki Weaver was Oscar-nominated for the same role in the movie that inspired the series. It does seem odd, though, not to include her among the deserving long shots.

My own preferred list of six top candidates for the Drama Actress category would include what I see as the two front-runners: Claire Foy (The Crown) and Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), with The Leftovers’ Carrie Coon—a long shot given past Emmy history—not far behind. I’d round out the six with Keri Russell (The Americans), Christine Baranski (The Good Fight) and probably Evan Rachel Wood, the haunted android heroine of Westworld. As always in recent years, it’s hard to narrow down any of these categories. Such tough choices.

Hap and Leonard Season 2

James Purefoy as Hap Collins, Michael K Williams as Leonard Pine

A Hap-Less Emmy Field?

Question: Firstly, been a follower and fan of yours for 10 years (we even had a chat in 2008 about Foyle’s War). I wanted to ask about Hap and Leonard, it’s one of my favorite shows and I stumbled upon it on Amazon by accident, then proceeded to binge-watch the first season. My question is that this show is on SundanceTV and has minimal viewership, and I wondered how much this plays into awards and even coverage on sites like TV Insider? It’s a great show, well written, well acted, and James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams have amazing chemistry, but I hear nothing about this show. I often think awards shows which air on broadcast TV would be reluctant to show much support to shows with low viewership as it would impact the viewership of the award shows themselves (if that makes sense), which seems to defeat the object of an awards ceremony in my opinion, but this little gem deserves so much love. I wonder do you have any shows you love which are tucked away on cable somewhere with a few hundred thousand viewers? Either way, I hope more people watch this show. It’s based on a series of books, and each series (two so far) is based on a single book, and at only six episodes a series, it’s the perfect show for a mini-binge, and Season 3 is coming in 2018. — Gavin, Wales

Matt Roush: It’s true that many shows fly under the radar at awards time, some because they’re on a smaller niche service and don’t reap high ratings, but blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short-flight series like Hap and Leonard face additional hurdles because they come and go so quickly. (This may have inhibited the chances of the even more award-worthy Rectify on the same network.) I’m thrilled Hap and Leonard is getting a third season, and I agree it’s a great sleeper of a series, funny and exciting and fresh, and in terms of our own coverage, I try to cover as many bases as possible, but wasn’t able to shower as much attention on Hap in Season 2 as I did during the first, in part because it wasn’t new and because the spring was relentless with premieres (especially these long multiple-episode binges on streaming services). I’ll try to do better by these guys next year. But in the bigger picture, breaking into the awards race, even for actors this good, is less a function of awards shows worrying about their own ratings than it is about being noticed amid the clutter.

Kids Should Have Their Own Talent Show

Question: To the producers of America’s Got Talent: It is not right to put very young people on the show against older people who have spent years practicing their talents. The young kids are cute and talented, and if they want to showcase them, it should be on America’s Youth Has Talent with the prize being a college scholarship, not a show in Las Vegas and a million dollars. Last year’s very cute and sweet girl with a nice little voice won over four extremely talented adults who could have appeared in Las Vegas and made better use of the million. She couldn’t possibly be in Las Vegas!!! — Mary

Matt Roush: The late, great W.C. Fields would likely agree with you, being famously averse to performing with children and animals (another America’s Got Talent staple). And I bet some of last year’s grown-up competitors groaned when they realized they were going up against America’s latest instant child-star sweetheart. It might not always be an even playing field, but the appeal of America’s Got Talent is that at its best, it truly is a variety show, open to all types of acts at all ages. And from what I can tell, last year’s winner, Grace Vanderwaal (now 13), only played a limited engagement in Las Vegas, but continues to perform on many TV shows and specials and at special events, and has a recording contract with Columbia Records, so seems to be making the most of her win.

Network TV’s Scheduling Chess Game

Question: I was glad to see NBC reconsider its original decision from the Upfronts and return This Is Us to its original Tuesday time slot, even after the Upfronts had already been announced. Chicago Fire will be just fine on Thursdays. But I wish some of the other networks would consider reversing their poor rescheduling decisions, too. Specifically, The CW swapping the time slots and nights of Riverdale and Arrow makes absolutely no sense. Riverdale is a young player, and tasking it with leading off Wednesdays is a needless risk. Yes, I admit my own bias as a fan of Riverdale. Meanwhile, Arrow (which I’m also a fan of) is a reliable player, and doesn’t need Supernatural as a lead-in.

Same with CBS: Why don’t they swap the announced time slots for Life in Pieces and Superior Donuts? The latter would be pair nicely with Mom on Thursdays, while it would also create a “laugh track-less” one-hour comedy bloc on Mondays. Finally, why does ABC seem to be giving the Tuesday “death slot” to The Gospel of Kevin? It’s one of the few new broadcast dramas in the fall that I’m really looking forward to. Do they really have that much faith that a relocated black-ish (also a risky move) and The Mayor will give Kevin a decent enough shot at gaining momentum? Networks changing their minds about announced fall schedules is hardly without precedent. I remember back in 1994, when ABC announced, in the mid-summer, that it would be switching the time slots of Roseanne and Home Improvement because it felt the latter would be stronger counter-programming to NBC’s newly relocated Frasier. Other shows have been pulled altogether during the three months between the spring Upfronts and fall premieres. But these tend to be the exceptions rather than the norm. Do you believe the networks holding the line on their announced schedules can be somewhat due to ego and an unwillingness to admit that their announced scheduling changes may have been hasty? – Nancy S

Matt Roush: Let’s start with The CW. It looks to me like the network moved Riverdale to Wednesday as a lead-in to the reboot of Dynasty to make the night a prime-time soap destination of sorts, since both are highly serialized dramas with an edge. Putting Arrow behind Supernatural on Thursday doesn’t seem like such a risk, given that both are established genre favorites. With the CBS comedies, the network is likely thinking about continuity and keeping both shows on the nights they’ve previously aired, although I agree that Life in Pieces’ single-camera format would be better suited with a series with a similar tone like Me, Myself & I. As for ABC, moving black-ish to 9/8c on Tuesday is a calculated risk, but I believe it can thrive outside the shadow of Modern Family the way The Middle has on its new night, though moving black-ish also weakens what was a solid Wednesday lineup. No matter its lead-in, an offbeat drama like The Gospel of Kevin will have its work cut out for it in attracting an audience—although skeptics felt the same about This Is Us a year ago, because it was unproven that a show leading with its emotions would click on that scale.

It’s also entirely possible that more schedule swapping may occur between now and the fall premieres, because the Upfront announcements are often made before some competitors know what the others are doing, and as buzz (or lack thereof) begins to circulate during the summer, second and third thoughts are not uncommon among programmers.

[Note: I love that in her original question, Nancy referred to The Gospel of Kevin as The Book of Daniel, a very short-lived NBC drama from 2006, also with an offbeat spiritual theme, that I greatly admired and still miss.]

Question: Were you surprised that NBC moved This Is Us back to Tuesdays? Why do you think they did it? They claim that the Thursday Night Football hiatus was to blame, but didn’t they know this before the Upfronts? I’m guessing advertisers weren’t willing to pay for the higher rates on Thursday given the likely declines (ex: The Blacklist)? Also think that the studio 20th played a role. – Nick

Matt Roush: We covered some of this ground in the most recent Ask Matt column, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t pushback from the studio and possibly others about moving this breakout show from where it was already so successful. And while I’m sure advertisers would follow This Is Us wherever NBC puts it, it only makes financial sense for NBC to do whatever it can to protect this asset.

Dirty Dancing - Abigail Breslin, Colt Prattes

Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes in ABC’s Dirty Dancing

In Step With Dancing Remake

Question: I don’t get why everybody is bashing the Dirty Dancing reboot! I missed it when it aired, so watched it On Demand. It was different in so many ways, BUT in good ways, I think. I admit that I was a bit skeptical, since the reviews weren’t so good. I wanted to judge for myself! HOWEVER, I was pleased with the interaction of the characters with Baby, AND that the black and Latino characters added more to the story than in the original. Overall, the production, design & dancing were OUTSTANDING! I give it 9 & 1/2 STARS!! — Steve

Matt Roush: I’m glad someone liked it. And at the very least, this gives me a chance to remind everyone that no matter how bad the reviews, if it’s something you think you’d like, you should always try to judge for yourself. I think back on some of the dismissive reviews (not mine) of last summer’s CBS sci-fi romp BrainDead, and am glad I stuck with what turned out to be a giddily guilty pleasure. But really: 9 and a half stars? Even the original Dirty Dancing didn’t merit that high a score!


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