Ask Matt: Better Call Saul an Awards Contender? Plus Idol, Flash-Arrow Spinoff, The Comedians, and More

Ask Matt

Welcome to the 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’m interested in your opinion regarding awards- show buzz for Better Call Saul. It has quickly become one of my favorite shows. What do you think of its chances around awards season? Will it be overlooked as “just a spinoff” or is it getting enough critical notice to make it a contender? — Steven

Better Call Saul
Ursula Coyote/AMC

Matt Roush: I’m writing this before seeing Monday night’s season finale, but it was clear from the start than Better Call Saul was always aiming to be more than “just a spinoff.” Any show deriving from a series as powerful as Breaking Bad has to be seen as a serious contender—critics have certainly championed it—and reinventing the character of Saul Goodman into the hapless schlemiel we now know as Jimmy McGill (so excellently and movingly played by Bob Odenkirk) was such a fresh approach to re-entering this universe that I’m betting it can break through the serious clutter of the drama categories. Odenkirk, Michael McKean, and Jonathan Banks in particular merit recognition, along with the writing and direction at the very least.

Question: I’m a big fan of your Ask Matt column, and am glad to see that Wolf Hall has traveled across the pond stateside. Just a tip for Wolf Hall watchers, there were a lot of comments from viewers to the BBC that it was hard to see the on-screen action as everything was filmed so dark. The solution: watch by candlelight. I think that is the best way to appreciate it. Keep up the good work. — Brian from Dublin

Matt Roush: Thank you for the feedback and for this charming recommendation. For me, one of the most distinctive elements of this excellent Masterpiece miniseries is its naturalistic visual style, with so many interior scenes lit by fire or candlelight, and I only wish I’d thought to watch it in similar circumstances. The point being: However you choose to watch, don’t miss it.

Question: First, to add to the comment last week about Girl Meets World, Disney Channel tends to stretch out airing new episodes of its shows with no apparent pattern (the days and times shows air can also differ). There is also an unwritten rule that no Disney show goes beyond four seasons, so I would assume that is a factor as well. Second, I heard that there is a Flash/Arrow spin-off being developed, but I’m not clear on how that will be different than the two existing shows. Have you heard any details? Lastly, I saw that CBS aired The Dovekeepers last week—is this a one-time thing or is CBS getting back into the miniseries/TV-movie business? — Brian A

Cate Cameron/The CW

Matt Roush: OK, this covers quite a bit of different ground. 1) Thanks for the clarification on Disney Channel’s puzzling scheduling. I should have pointed out that since so many (especially of a younger generation) tend to rely on their DVRs and other recording devices to tell them when a new show is airing, maybe Disney’s actually ahead of the curve in this respect. 2) I’m not sure being “different” is all that important to The CW’s projected Flash/Arrow spinoff (which may not appear until next midseason). One of the producers recently touted that it would be like the crossovers every week, with a core group of superheroes from the DC Universe (some introduced in either Arrow or The Flash) banding together, with the probability of appearing in any of the other series at will. This is intriguing, but also risks oversaturation of a popular brand. We’ll see. 3) The Dovekeepers marked a rare return to the old-fashioned miniseries format by a broadcast network, and didn’t make much of a splash with its curious midweek scheduling. (The audience numbers were so-so, but the key demographics feeble.) While there are a few more titles in the pipeline at various networks, we’re more likely to see the networks embrace the “limited series” model, airing a self-contained story over several weeks (like Fox’s 24 and forthcoming The X-Files reboot and NBC’s A.D. sequel to The Bible), rather than the once-popular format of airing a long-form story over several consecutive nights. I still hope that this kind of “event” TV can find its way back, but for now the networks are still taking mostly baby steps.

Question: Regarding the last edition of Ask Matt, which used the Glee finale to address the subject of shows affected by the deaths of prominent actors but which successfully went on: Maybe the most significant examples are Jim Davis (Jock Ewing on Dallas) and Nancy Marchand (Livia on The Sopranos). Early-in-the-series deaths, though secondary characters: Selma Diamond/Florence Halep as the Night Court bailiff, replaced by Marsha Warfield for the bulk of the run. A few that came late in the show’s run: Jack Soo (Barney Miller), John Spencer (The West Wing). And of course, Freddie Prinze’s suicide didn’t immediately end the Chico & the Man production, but it didn’t last much past the tragedy. Love the new digital home. — Todd

Matt Roush: This somewhat morbid topic generated quite a bit of mail, and it’s still proving hard to find a show that lost an actor and character as integral as Cory Monteith’s Finn was to Glee that carried on successfully. Without question, though, the deaths of Jim Davis and Nancy Marchand in pivotal roles affected the development of two blockbuster series that were very much in the public/media eye when their passing occurred.

Several wrote in to honor Lee Thompson Young from Rizzoli & Isles, including Scarlett, who added: “The show did move on, but I still miss him very much, and it was obviously very difficult for the rest of the cast as well. Such a tragedy when someone so young, with such a bright future, is lost in this manner. Then there’s the Dallas reboot. While Larry Hagman wasn’t young per se, his death was unexpected, and based on the recent cancellation, TNT clearly felt that show was not able to recover.” Proving that there is no Dallas without J.R.

American Idol
Michael Becker / FOX

Question: If I read it right, it appeared that American Idol was the top show on Fox last week at 9.9 million. Is that enough, or are there any rumors about its cancellation? I’m sure there’s a lot being paid out on judges and host salaries. — Deon

Matt Roush: Sounds about right, and while there has been speculation for some time about how long Fox will stick with this fading franchise, if Idol is the network’s top-rated show—albeit at a time when Empire is off the air and many of the regular shows are in repeat mode—the network may not feel it can afford to retire Idol just yet, whatever the costs (and shrinking the series down to one night a week is clearly a reaction to the show’s slippage). The day of an Idol-free schedule will almost certainly come, but probably not until Fox lands a few more hits on the level of Empire.

Question: What do you know about Wayward Pines and have you seen any episodes? Based on the ads, it looks like a cross between Twin Peaks and The Prisoner. Also, I read an earlier comment that you didn’t like Backstrom. I find it quite enjoyable. To me, it’s like Monk, and more fun than I ever found House to be. At least Backstrom has some reasons to be messed up and he tries. More than House ever did. I like the characters. Makes for a good Thursday night: Bones, Big Bang Theory, Backstrom, and Elementary. — Kathy

Matt Roush: I’ve only seen a clip reel of Wayward Pines at this point. Fox has sent a handful of episodes for preview, but since it doesn’t premiere until mid-May, I need to get a handle on all of this new April programming first. (The volume never lets up.) What I’ve seen has me concerned that Pines may be too derivative of Twin Peaks and its ilk, and the fact that it has sat on Fox’s shelf for so long is not a particularly positive sign. But I’ll approach it with an open (though skeptical) mind, hoping to be intrigued, and will share my thoughts when it’s appropriate. As for Backstrom vs. House: I seem to have enjoyed House much more than you did, despite the character’s aggravations and the show’s creative ups and downs, and if the character of Backstrom had even an iota of the charm and wit that Hugh Laurie brought to his own exasperating character, maybe I’d buy it. But we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, and wow, that’s a lot of quirky procedurals to watch on one night. (I’ll stick with Bones and Elementary, which is plenty.)

The Comedians
Ray Mickshaw/FX

Question: I was disappointed at your review [in TV Guide Magazine] of The Comedians. I love Josh Gad in everything I’ve seen him in and hoped he’d finally found a good project. I’ll give it a try, though. Secondly, I’ve felt that no very young child comic actor has ever come close to “Spanky” McFarland and his inexplicable comic genius. But I think Aubrey Anderson-Emmons as Lily on Modern Family, comes pretty close, albeit she’s not in a leading role. She just nails it every time! Third, when is Hollywood going to create a vehicle for Sarah Chalke that doesn’t stink? — Mike

Matt Roush: Yay, another multiple question! Thanks for playing. 1) If you’re a Josh Gad fan, by all means give The Comedians a look. I’ll be posting a version of my review online later this week—the series premieres Thursday—but my objections have less to do with the actors (Gad co-starring with Billy Crystal as unflattering versions of themselves) and more to do with the show’s tone and format, a mock-documentary style that seems awfully played out to me. And I’ve seen more entertaining versions of this dark-side-of-showbiz story (The Larry Sanders Show, Episodes, to name a few). 2) I agree that Lily is a hoot—her acerbic asides are always worth waiting for—but this is the first time I’ve seen this young actress compared to a Little Rascal. That’s quite a compliment. 3) They can’t all be Scrubs. Be patient. Sarah Chalke is a very appealing actress, even with lesser material, and eventually she’ll find the right role and show again.

Question: Dear Dr. Roush, TV Therapist: I need your diagnosis about why I keep watching certain shows (guilty pleasures) that really seem to be a design of the creators to simply put in whatever works for them. I refer to three shows specifically: 2 Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, and Glee. I have kept watching all three shows, but I sometimes ask myself why? 2BG seems like a joke set-up, joke set-up situation with no real progress, other than to set them up to remain broke, and don’t get me started on the Sophie’s entrance “applause” aspect. Two and a Half Men decided that it wanted to break the fourth wall constantly and didn’t even bother with a coherent ending, and Glee seems the worst of the bunch. I have long forgiven the inconsistencies, but it seems they have a “Hell, why not?” attitude to everything they put in of late. Seriously, I know why I watch these shows, as each has something I enjoy or somewhat out of loyalty, but do these guys not have any desire to do anything but crank out each episode? At least two of these shows have helped me break the habit by leaving the air, but I’d like your take on why their creators, and I have to look at Glee the hardest, write a show with whatever strikes their fancy? I am writing myself a prescription of 2 ccs of I Love Lucy and the musical episode of Buffy stat! Thanks for letting me vent! — George

Matt Roush: You’re welcome. And kudos to your antidote for bad TV. (Even just listening to my “Once More, With Feeling” Buffy soundtrack can make a lousy day better.) There really is no accounting for taste—or lack of, depending—but you help demonstrate how difficult it can be to break a bad habit, even when you know you should. (Though honestly, you’re still watching 2 Broke Girls? Or as I think of it, the first show ever that makes me cringe when Jennifer Coolidge takes the stage.) This is also a reminder than even shows that have come to annoy us often have compensating pleasures—case in point: watching the final season of Glee by fast-forwarding through anything that wasn’t musical—and finally, that there’s no point in apologizing for one’s choices. We all have guilty pleasures, some guiltier than others. And to your more existential question about how shows you once loved get in such sorry shape, it’s often a function of the merciless grind of the industry as producers scramble to feed the beast on a weekly basis. If it begins to feel like you’re watching sausage being made, that’s the time to look elsewhere for your jollies.

Question: Long ago when Fox started up, it was pretty clear that the network was being conservative in only scheduling two hours of new programming per weeknight. All these years later, why haven’t they picked up the third hour? The Big Three networks can benefit from the “lead-in” situation, which it seems Fox doesn’t get, and I’m not sure how, but surely the short night has something to do with Fox always having lower ratings. — Althea

Matt Roush: Perhaps you were asleep when Empire became the midseason’s biggest new hit? And let’s not forget that American Idol was once a juggernaut, and The Simpsons, 24, The X-Files, and many other innovative Fox series have broken though in major ways throughout Fox’s scrappy history, despite the limited hours of airtime available. The network was founded on a business model that did not include programming in the 10/9c time period (which many markets give over to successful and lucrative local news), and given how tough (not to mention expensive) it is for even the so-called “Big Three” networks to develop successful shows in that hour, given the fragmented marketplace, Fox has no incentive for adding five to six hours to its weekly schedule. Never going to happen.

That’s all for now. Thanks to all for sharing your questions and comments. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] or on Twitter.