Ask Matt: Getting UnReal, Whither the Walking Dead Spinoff, Remaking Foreign TV, Wipeout, and More

Ask Matt

Good news, Ask Matt fans! TV Insider is now presenting the popular Q&A with TV critic (and sometime “TV therapist”) Matt Roush twice a week—on Tuesdays and Thursdays—giving you twice as much opportunity to share your concerns and join in the love for all things TV in today’s vast landscape. One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] and follow me on Twitter.

Question: I really like the new Lifetime dramedy series UnReal! I read in your review of the show that you didn’t like the soap opera subplots, including Quinn’s affair with her boss Chet. While I agree with you on that, that subplot doesn’t bother me as much as the love quadrangle between Rachel/Jeremy/Adam/Lizzie. (Doesn’t the behind the scenes making of Everlasting already add enough drama on this show?). Do you also not like that soapy subplot? I personally don’t think that Rachel is ready to pursue any romantic relationships after her mental breakdown, and I really find it hard to believe that an average-Joe nice guy like Jeremy would be in love with a dark and cynical feminist like Rachel, and vice versa (nothing against feminists). Ditto for her crush on Everlasting‘s suitor Adam. While I understand that you don’t like the love triangles/quadrangles on this show, I understand that the creators of UnReal wanted the show to have these soapy subplots so that the show can be compatible with its lead-in show, the primetime soap Devious Maids.

And what do you think about the very low ratings that the pilot episode of UnReal got last week? Do you think that Lifetime releasing the first four episodes of the show for people to stream free on the network’s website will help the show’s ratings? If a lot of people binge-watch the first four episodes of UnReal on Lifetime’s website and help the show get more buzz and ratings, will Lifetime really renew this show for a second season? – Chris

Matt Roush: First off, I’m not opposed to the soap-within-a-soap machinations of UnReal, which only makes sense, given the show’s serialized nature. (It’s sending up the faux reality-soap genre while also hewing rather ironically to some of the genre’s conventions.) My critical objection, as I watched the first few episodes, was that the tone in the real-life soap opera scenes, especially when it came to the cynical Quinn’s dealing with her boorish lover/boss Chet, was way too earnest, less convincing than the blistering scenes inside the control room, as Quinn sends her minions (including Rachel) out to stir up conflict on the set. I’m not bothered at all by Rachel’s romantic entanglements. She’s a train wreck, but a smart and funny one. I can see what Jeremy saw in her (in part because Shiri Appleby is so darn appealing) before her meltdown, and I especially like the fact that the spoiler suitor Adam is drawn to her, despite of or perhaps because of her flaws. And it’s way too early to worry about a next season. The fact that Lifetime is putting the early episodes out there for streaming/sampling is a sign that the network is taking a long view for now. If the ratings collapse and don’t grow, then it’s probably toast. But given that there is some critical interest and buzz around the show (which rarely happens for Lifetime series), I’d like to think they’ll exercise some patience for this intriguing and entertaining experiment.

Question: Do you have any idea when Fear the Walking Dead is set to premiere? I would have sworn it was supposed to begin in June, but now all I can find is are statements it will premiere “later this summer.” Why the delay? I hope it doesn’t run concurrently with The Walking Dead, as that might be a little too much zombie action at once. — Elizabeth

Matt Roush: AMC hasn’t announced a specific premiere date (at least not as of this writing), but the latest I’m hearing is late August. Since the first season of this spinoff/prequel hybrid consists of only six episodes, even with a late-summer premiere date, it will be finished before The Walking Dead begins its run, traditionally in mid to late October. The scheduling will probably only heighten interest (not that it’s needed) in the return of the flagship series, and one reason it may not be airing until then is because AMC these days doesn’t tend to double up on originals on any night, and its new androids-run-amok series Humans (which is terrific) will be occupying the Sunday slot from June 28 to mid-August.

The Middle
Michael Ansell/ABC

Question: ABC’s recent re-airing of The Middle with Jerry and Dick Van Dyke reminded me how special this episode is. I don’t know if there were any promos for it, but when
 I watched it the first time, I was shocked (in a good way) when Dick Van Dyke walked in—what a great surprise! It was so much fun to see them together. Kudos to whoever’s idea that was! — Kathleen

Matt Roush: At the very least, because of Dick Van Dyke’s name recognition, this may be a way for The Middle to get some much-deserved and overdue Emmy recognition (in the guest actor category, anyway). I loved this stunt casting, and the joke about the ottoman: a reference to the opening credits of the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show. ABC and Warner Bros. did promote the brotherly reunion—I was able to spotlight it back in April for my “Top 10” list in that week’s issue of TV Guide Magazine—so maybe this isn’t the last we’ve seen of “Uncle Dutch.”

Question: We all know that many “American” shows are based on shows originally produced and aired in other countries. Some (Getting On, Shameless, The Killing, The Returned, for example) are well done and can stand on their own merits. Others (Secrets and Lies, The Bridge, Broadchurch, etc.) pale in comparison to their original versions and should never have been made. My question: What are the reasons that American networks, if they like a foreign show, insist on making their own Americanized versions, instead of just buying the rights to show the original versions on American television? Is it for financial reasons, or do they just think that American audiences wouldn’t watch foreign shows? Thank goodness there are a few exceptions: BBC America, for example, which was created to show British shows in America (though they produce some original content); or Pivot, which aired the wondrous Please Like Me. And Pivot, with Fortitude, and Logo, with Cucumber/Banana, are, if not showing totally foreign shows, are at least co-producing shows which are created overseas.

What prompted me to write this is that I just finished watching Seasons 1 and 2 of the original Australian series Rake on Netflix. I don’t recall watching the American version, though I know you gave it poor reviews, so I can’t honestly compare it to the original, but the original Australian version is a rollicking, raucous, joyous romp through the life of a sleazy but entirely lovable lawyer. I just don’t understand why, if networks wanted to air such a show, they can’t just air the original. I’d be curious to know their thinking. Most countries air the best American shows. I don’t understand why American networks can’t air the best shows from other countries. — Paul

Matt Roush: Cable outlets, not as dependant on a mass audience as the broadcast networks, are more likely to import the original, but even that’s not a given. (See Syfy’s inferior remake of Being Human or, as you noted, FX’s The Bridge, which tried with little success to transpose a Scandinavian mystery to south of the border.) There is a prejudice, for reasons I can’t fathom either, against importing shows with English/Aussie accents—or, horrors, subtitles—for the broad American TV populace. You’d think the pop-culture breakthrough of something like Downton Abbey might sway the programmers, but that isn’t the case. At least not yet. Maybe with the continued fragmentation of the audience to streaming and other outlets, we might see a network take such a leap, but it will still be a rarity. Just consider how few British or Australian actors get to use their actual voices when they land a series lead. (So thank you, Elementary, for letting Jonny Lee Miller be Jonny Lee.) Another factor to keep in mind is that in those instances when a U.S. network can produce a successful version of an overseas concept (such as NBC’s The Office or, back in the day, Norman Lear’s mega-successful All in the Family and Sanford and Son, to name a few), the financial payoff is much better than if they’d just imported someone else’s show. Plus U.S. networks tend to make more episodes of most series than overseas markets, for better or (often) worse.

But before we leave this subject, let me recommend to you a series starting a week from Wednesday: Deutschland 83, on SundanceTV, a straight-from-Germany import (with subtitles) that’s tailor-made for fans of The Americans. Set at the height of Cold War tensions, it’s about a young East German recruit who goes undercover on the West side of the wall to pilfer NATO secrets, and it’s pretty thrilling. SundanceTV says it’s the first German-language series to be aired by a U.S. TV network, so this is a step in the right direction, wouldn’t you say?

Question: I’m a huge fan of Wipeout. Can you tell me if ABC canceled this show. If they did, then do you think another network will pick it up? — Larry

Matt Roush: At present, ABC doesn’t have a new season of Wipeout in its summer playbook. But it’s apparently not over yet. A new Wipeout Extreme version is in the works, according to casting notices, but when ABC will unveil that remains to be seen.

Question: My wife and I are both big fans of the show Motive (go figure, eh? Not many of us around), which like Rookie Blue is a Canadian import. But Motive did not seem to get picked up for this summer by ABC—I’d seen that it had miniscule ratings here in the past. Any idea where we may be able to watch this season’s episodes of Motive? I tried iTunes, but it would not let me buy the series, because it’s only on the Canadian version of iTunes. — Tom

Matt Roush: Sorry, but unless you’re adept at working around the system, and I’d be no help for you on that front, you may have to wait until this season of Motive gets picked up by some streaming service or other outlet, or gets released on video. Doesn’t look like the usual suspects (Netflix, Hulu) carry even the past seasons. I’m kind of surprised ABC passed on it this year. It wasn’t a hit, to be sure, but can’t imagine it cost so much to import that it wouldn’t continue to be effective filler in the off-season.

That’s all for now, but remember that the Ask Matt column now appears on TV Insider on Tuesdays and Thursdays! Can’t do it without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter.