Ask Matt: Cast Changes on ‘Hawaii Five-0’ and ‘NCIS,’ the ‘Fargo’ Finale, Diversity on ‘Dynasty’ 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.
Salaries and Race on ‘Hawaii Five-0’
Question: My thoughts on the Hawaii Five-0 cast shake-up have nothing to do with race. Please put that part out of the equation for a second. Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan are the stars of the show. Sadly, Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim are considered co-stars or supporting players. They are not the main leads, even though they have been with the show since day one. Now there have been rare times when supporting players move up, like in the case of The Big Bang Theory, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar were supporting players, but they are finally considered higher on the billing. Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch are also supporting players, but they got a raise (they are not the original five), with additional help from their co-stars. I know the women of Criminal Minds went through the same thing and got a satisfactory offer from CBS, but they are not the leads. It’s sad that Grace and Daniel are leaving, but the fact is they are not the leads. In our minds, they are. We see them as equal, but they are not the main stars. The worst part is that other people are making this a “race” issue. Nowadays, there have to be other reasons: race, gender, weight and other things. For once, I don’t think this is a race issue. Unless CBS and CBS Television Studios want to consider all four actors as the leads, they are simply supporting players, who worked hard for over seven seasons. What are your thoughts? – Bud
Matt Roush: These complicated discussions are where the business of show business gets in the way of the show, and while you’ve got a point about supporting vs. leads in an ensemble cast, it’s impossible to consider the reality of the optics of the Hawaii Five-0 situation without considering race, especially given the cultural melting pot where the show is filmed. When a show goes beyond that magic seven-season point, as H50 has now done, the negotiations become especially tricky as the cost of production escalates, and there are often casualties. (Your Big Bang analogy is an anomaly, because the stakes are even higher on a mega-hit sitcom that’s a powerhouse in syndication—H50 is successful, but not on that level—and while Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar are at parity with the three leads, they’re still essentially supporting players in creative terms.)
As the Hawaii saga unfolded, it seems that Grace Park was already looking for an exit strategy, so the real issue here is that CBS wouldn’t meet Daniel Dae Kim’s demands. That’s a real loss, since his character of Chin Ho links to the original series and Kim is an established star (Lost, etc.) who could have been bumped up to co-lead status alongside the Caucasian bro-team of McGarrett and Danno without altering the show’s chemistry that significantly. (Losing Park as Kono, of course, creates a gender imbalance as well, so strike two.) While it’s true that on one level the unfortunate way things played out was, as usual, more about money than race, the bigger picture is one of economic inequality for Asians in the TV industry, and for H50, an embarrassing setback to lose the two most prominent Asian actors in the cast. I can’t imagine the show will go forward without trying to replace these characters with new actors who reflect the ethnic richness of Hawaii. But the damage has already been done, and who knows if the show can recover.
Unhappy About NCIS Departure
Question: I for one am fed up with CBS! First they fire Jennifer Esposito as the best partner Danny ever had on Blue Bloods, now she’s let go from NCIS after one season! No reason was given, but if it was because of a drop in ratings when Michael Weatherly left, did ANYONE think there might not be a slight drop, come on. Could it have been the total of three new cast members!! Did either of the two new male members get the axe? Can’t believe the male-heavy NCIS couldn’t take another female cast member! Shame on you, CBS, you have twice treated Jennifer Esposito unfairly, but you could care less, I’m sure. Jennifer, you will be missed AGAIN!!! – Sandra
Matt Roush: Few shows inspire more passion in this column than NCIS, and last season’s transitional post-Tony year was no exception. I’m of the belief that there are as many opinions about this show as there are fans, but one thing on which nearly everyone seemed to agree is that NCIS overcompensated with too many new characters trying to fill the Tony void. I thought Jennifer Esposito was a fine fit as Alex, but since the departure of Ziva, any new woman on the team has met a chilly reception from some fans—at least in my mailbag. We’ll have to see what direction NCIS takes this year, but I’m sorry Alex didn’t get more of a chance to fit in.
Fargo Left Us Hanging
Question: I was away for a while and just got caught up watching the final episode of Fargo, and I am confused over the final scene. Was it left to our interpretation as to whether it was to be the marshall or the bad guy’s assessment of his fate—i.e. to either eat Snickers at Rikers or to be freed and never heard from again? The camera did a fade-out here while surveying the clock and door. After all the things Varga did and got away with, it is certainly possible that his interpretation could be true. I hope it was not left for the viewer to interpret as I will always consider this a writer’s copout and is a continuing reason I will never include The Sopranos in my all-time Top 10 due to David Chase’s final scene decision – JV
Matt Roush: The ambiguity was intentional, but I’m not sure it’s as epic a copout (your term, not mine) as the non-ending of The Sopranos. For me, Fargo’s final scene was a win for Gloria, who had graduated from her sorry excuse of a police department to a position in Homeland Security. It was also a win for viewers, who could relish the performances of David Thewlis and Carrie Coon one last time. Gloria finally got her man, regardless of whether the evil Varga could contrive some sort of legal rescue and once again escape justice. I felt he was toying with her mind in that encounter, as he had done so effectively with others all season. Didn’t seem to be working from my perspective. Gloria’s better than that, and she’s better than Varga. Still, as the screen faded to dark, I imagine I did an involuntary eye-roll, thinking, “Here we go again” with an open ending that might prove controversial. But I was mostly satisfied that Fargo had told its story as completely as it needed to.
Does Dynasty Need Diversity?
Question: Diversity is wonderful and has been needed. However, I beg the networks to do it with new shows, not of resurrected shows such as Dynasty. Characters were already defined! If you can’t keep the same concept, then it shouldn’t be named the same!!! Would you cast a black Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, or a white Kunta Kinte in Roots? This is beyond getting ridiculous! – Jenni
Matt Roush: Wow, those comparisons go way beyond apples and oranges and the whole barrel of fruit. While some color-blind casting can be a stretch, nothing about the characters in an updated Dynasty is race specific in the manner of a Civil War drama like Gone With the Wind (about a slave-owning plantation culture) or an historical slave chronicle like Roots, where racial identity is at the core of the narrative. Why couldn’t Jeff Colby be African-American? This, it seems to me, is progress—though considering the genre of low melodrama Dynasty represents, maybe more like baby steps.
Summer Season Confusion
Question: What happened to Still Star-Crossed? — Lorna
Matt Roush: After the first episodes bombed in its original Monday time slot following The Bachelorette, the Romeo & Juliet sequel was shuffled off to Saturdays, where it started airing last weekend and will play out the remaining episodes of its one and only season. (Saturday night is also the dumping ground for CBS’s Doubt, the Katharine Heigl legal drama that CBS pulled after two episodes.)
When It’s Time to Go …
Question: To my knowledge, Scandal is the only broadcast scripted series that has announced next season will be its last. Can you think of any other veteran players in prime time that you believe could benefit from announcing, sooner rather than later, that 2017-18 will be their final season? – Adam
Matt Roush: Oh my, yes. Scandal’s companion piece, How to Get Away With Murder, is to me even more creatively challenged than Scandal, which I respect for acknowledging that its crazy train can run only so long before completely derailing. I’m reluctant to name more names here, because every show, however modestly rated, has its loyal following that would hate to see it go. And generally speaking, the longer the show runs, the more it becomes a habit and thus a bigger deal when the time comes to draw the final curtain. But I’m a proponent of the less-can-be-more philosophy, and I applaud just about any show that has the guts to announce that it has an endgame in sight and sticks to it, even if I’ll miss it. (Thinking of you, The Americans.)
That’s all for now, and we’ll pick up the conversation again next 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.