‘Talent’ Conundrums, Filling TV’s Charm Void, Cult TV (‘American Gods,’ ‘Leftovers’), WGN’s Orphaned Shows
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.
Is Talent Rigged Toward Singers?
Question: I’ve watched and enjoyed America’s Got Talent from its beginning, but I bemoan most of the winners. I think the show has a serious structural flaw: It’s not fair to pit such dissimilar acts against each other. AGT voters have repeatedly indicated their preference for acts and/or talents they can identify with: singers (a long string of them during the show’s initial seasons, only broken up by winner-worthy ventriloquist Terry Fator—and of course he was a singing ventriloquist), a dog act, a magician, you get the picture. Trapeze acts, death-defying acts, goofball Gong Show-type acts, are never going to win because viewers can’t relate to them the way they do to cute young singers. If I were the producer, I’d have four categories: singers/bands, dancers/movement acts, circus/vaudeville acts and (if you must), novelty acts. A $250,000 prize in each category, and for the finale, the four winning acts go against each other for an additional $250,000. – Maurice
Matt Roush: I’ve heard worse ideas, although pigeonholing each act into its own subcategory would rob the show of some of its suspense, I suppose. My more radical thought to make America’s Got Talent more interesting and less predictable is that with so many singing competitions on TV, including one on the very same network, AGT should do away with contestants whose only talent is vocal. We can’t blame the show’s viewers who bother to vote when they go with what they’re comfortable with, which often involves singing big or singing young or singing through a dummy. (But that brings up the question of whether they should then eliminate dance acts, because there are plenty of those shows on TV as well. And maybe they should.) One of the reasons I believe AGT is so popular is because it showcases many acts you can’t see anywhere else on TV. These acts should also be put in a position where they have a better chance of winning the big prize against more mainstream populist performers who have plenty of other platforms on which to compete. Ultimately, though, this is a moot argument. AGT isn’t likely to change. Why fix what’s already working so well in the summer ratings?
Question: I agree with Mary’s recent comments about the children on America’s Got Talent. They should have their own show with contestants from 3 to 18 because I believe the young people who are eliminated go through a devastating experience and it could scar them, like bullying does. I hope the producers realize that soon. Thanks to Mary for writing. – Unsigned
Matt Roush: But even in a kids-only competition, aren’t they just as likely to be upset when eliminated? Because not everyone can be a winner on these shows. I obviously agree in theory that the very youngest of these tykes who appear on a show like AGT aren’t emotionally prepared for either the highs or lows of this circus—and for that I blame the parents who are exploiting them—but I’m not sure it would be any different on an AGT Junior-type show. That’s why NBC’s own Little Big Shots is a better alternative for acts and kids like these, to celebrate their talent without pitting them against each other.
In Praise of ‘Heart,’ and ‘American Gods’
Question: Just wanted to thank you for the heads-up on The Heart Guy on Acorn TV. While Peak TV has brought new highs to television, the one thing it lacks (with a few exceptions) is charm. This show has charm coming out of its ears, and the large cast is extremely talented—they created a large group of individual characters in just a few episodes. So thanks for the recommendation.
And you haven’t had much to say about American Gods and I’m wondering what you think of it. To be honest, I thought this was a one-off, and the pace of the storytelling was off-putting because it seemed they would have a hell of a lot of storytelling to cram into the last few episodes. Now that I realize that the series will go on, the pace of the story makes more sense. You once compared watching The Wire to reading a novel. I’m finding American Gods to be more like a collection of short stories that share a common world. So long as the individual stories continue to be so fascinating, I can wait for whatever climax there may be. — Rick
Matt Roush: I’m glad you enjoyed The Heart Guy, and couldn’t agree more about how refreshing it is to watch anything these days that provides more joy than angst. Which is why—digression alert—when I was making a decision on which of this month’s many Netflix originals to focus on in late June, I opted for the delightful GLOW (premieres Friday) over the pretentious and dreary psychosexual drama Gypsy (premieres a week from Friday). After three long hours of the latter, I was so bored and bummed, I gave up, realizing sometimes life’s just too short to bother with another glum TV anti-hero (on in this case, Naomi Watts as an anti-heroine). So bravo to a smart, feel-good show like The Heart Guy.
Turning to American Gods: I stand by my original review, which was written after screening the first half of the season. I was often dazzled by the baroque spectacle, which I expected from Bryan Fuller, but I’m less forgiving of its pace than you. Reminds me of AMC’s Preacher, which I felt was spinning its wheels through most of its first season — though the second season, which begins this weekend, is much better, as the characters finally hit the road. When an adaptation of a sprawling epic fantasy like American Gods is so opaque that you’re not even sure what you’re watching or why half the time, that’s ultimately not a success in my book.
‘Leftovers’ Afterglow, ‘Claws’ Curiosity
Question: Long-time reader, but I think I’ve only submitted a question once before, so I have a two part question! 1) What did you think of the last episode of The Leftovers? I thought this season was a bit uneven, and I don’t know that I needed another full change of setting, but I loved the last episode. Carrie Coon can do no harm in my book, and I loved the focus on Nora and Kevin. And even though I didn’t want it, we got an ambiguous clarification on the underlying mystery that was exciting and mind-bending and full of possibilities!
2) Thoughts on the new TNT show Claws? Seems excitingly off-brand for this network, and I love the casting so far, but I’m a little afraid of the edginess of it. Will everyone end up being unlikable all the time? Let’s hope not, there’s enough of that going around. — Gonzalo
Matt Roush: I was very satisfied by the Leftovers finale and the emotional reunion of Nora and Kevin, which I felt helped bring the show back to its core themes of loss, love, grief, faith and family. And this gives me an opportunity to note that the finale is streaming on YouTube for free through Tuesday, June 27, for those who either missed it or want to savor it again or, if they never caught Leftovers fever, want to sample the show at its best.
Regarding Claws: I’ll refer you to Rick’s earlier discussion on charm and the lack thereof to explain why Claws left me cold. Much as I like Niecy Nash, Carrie Preston and the rest of the funky ensemble in the Florida nail salon, junking up the premise with an over-the-top crime melodrama made it feel too derivative, not to mention gratuitously unpleasant in its graphic sex and violence. TNT, and the show, are trying too hard here to establish an outrageously raunchy edge, and I found it a turnoff.
WGN’s Orphans (Mostly Underground)
Question: First Manhattan, then Underground is cancelled. Why does WGN bother to offer excellent programs and then abruptly cancel them? Is there a chance another network will pick up the creative and informative Underground? — Bill
Matt Roush: Quite a bit of mail on this subject since WGN America got out of the scripted programming business. To answer Bill’s direct question, the cancellation of Manhattan was all about ratings—too few were watching for the expense of producing that terrific period drama—but the demise of Underground had more to do with Sinclair’s acquisition of WGNA’s parent company Tribune Media and the subsequent move away from all high-end, high-priced scripted fare. Still no news on where Underground might continue, if anywhere, but I’m hopeful we haven’t seen the last of it. Keep reading for more recent mail on the regrettable situation.
Question: As always, I look forward to reading your opinions about TV shows. I really come with a heavy heart over the cancellation of the well-written and acted series Underground. I feel that WGN could have at least provided a two-hour conclusion to this often bold and yet meaningful series. I understand that WGN wanted to end scripted series and go in another direction. It is so unfair, however, to the viewers to leave these characters of Noah, Rosalee, Ernestine, Cato and others without a proper ending. Aisha Hinds was simply stunning as Harriet Tubman. I am in hopes that some other network or company will pick up this deserving show, but I may be dreaming. I’m glad NBC gave Timeless another chance. I digress, though. What is your opinion of the cancellation of Underground? — Allen
Matt Roush: My opinion is that this fascinating and often grueling historical drama deserved better, and depending on who picks it up, if anyone does, maybe a different platform will help Underground get the industry attention (as in awards and nominations) that it merits. Rooting for an Aisha Hinds nomination for sure.
Question: I am severely disappointed about the cancellation of Underground (and Outsiders). How can fans like me get Netflix to pick it up? — AJ
Matt Roush: Social media is probably the best route for now. And streaming does seem like the most logical next step, as these shows’ production costs are probably too high for most cable networks.
Question: What about the History channel picking up Underground? – Arlene
Matt Roush: Thematically, makes sense. Economically, probably a tougher call.
The Fate of Chicago, Criminal Minds Spinoffs
Question: I’m a total TV freak and that obsession has me being a subscriber to TV Guide Magazine for 20 years. Can you give me the reason why Chicago Justice was canceled? In May, TV Guide Magazine had this show on the “Looks Good” status list. I absolutely LOVE this show so much. I love all the Chicago shows but this one became my favorite! Justice for Chicago Justice! — Deb, York, PA
Matt Roush: First off, thanks for your loyalty. And if the cancellation of Chicago Justice was a surprise, it’s because Dick Wolf and the Chicago franchise are such backbones of the NBC schedule. Justice may have just been one show too many, and while there are usually many factors behind a show’s cancellation, in this case it seems to be mostly about inventory. While NBC’s entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt was still deciding the fate of Justice, he told reporters: “We decided that we didn’t need it as there was no space for fall,” which includes a Law & Order: True Crime miniseries occupying one of the regular Chicago time slots. In weighing the network’s midseason needs, this show apparently fell short.
Question: Please tell me Chicago Med is coming back! I don’t see it listed with the other fall premieres! — Cindy R
Matt Roush: Case in point: NBC’s fall schedule didn’t have room for this spinoff, either. But it will be back at midseason, presumably taking over for the Law & Order: True Crime Menendez brothers miniseries once that wraps.
Question: I just read in one of these TV Guide newsletters that Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders got cancelled. Why was that? It was one of the few shows that my husband and I both enjoyed. What will Gary Sinise do now? I hope he does another TV show. I loved him in this show and CSI: NY. I’d love to see him in something else. – Deirdre
Matt Roush: This is the second Criminal Minds spinoff that didn’t hold the numbers of the original, so this was most likely a ratings decision. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gary Sinise lands another show before long. CBS seems quite fond of him.
Question: Will CBS release The Good Fight on DVD? I pay for cable and Netflix and cannot afford CBS All Access. – Nancy
Matt Roush: This is a pretty frequent question, and I don’t really have an answer. The Good Wife did release its multiple seasons on disc, and if the company sees another profit source by doing so with this sequel, you may see it as some point. But for now, its exclusivity to the CBS All Access streaming service is why it exists, as a lure to potential subscribers. You could always buy in long enough to watch and then opt out. People have been doing that with HBO and its ilk for as long as I can remember.
Question: Is Project Runway ever returning? – Jane
Matt Roush: Just this week, Lifetime announced an Aug. 17 start date for the 16th season of the pioneering fashion competition. Something to look forward to in summer’s dog days.
That’s all for now, and we’ll pick up the conversation later this week. 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.