Ask Matt: Honoring Star Trek's 50th, Plus Rectify, Fear the Walking Dead, Summer Sci-Fi 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. 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] (or use the new form added to the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. [For those who've been asking, we'll likely resume the twice-a-week schedule after Labor Day.]
Question: Star Trek's 49th anniversary is coming up soon, and I don't expect much fanfare. However, once we hit 2016, we are looking at the year of Star Trek's golden jubilee. Having spent the majority of 2013 celebrating Doctor Who's 50th anniversary with multiple specials and a special simulcast episode around the world, do you know if we can expect any type of similar celebrations from CBS? I know the third film of the rebooted trilogy is set to premiere two months prior, but are you aware of any rumblings regarding the classic series? Might we get a retrospective special, or possibly some produced episode which might reunite the too few members of the original aeries who are still with us? It's such a rare opportunity for a franchise to celebrate a 50th anniversary while still being active, and I get that Doctor Who is a different animal in that it was actively engaged in TV production before its 50th passed. It would just be nice to see one of the longest and popular franchises out there (and my personal favorite) to get the celebration it deserves, and to give the fans something to cherish, because the opportunity may never come again as time marches on and we continue to tragically lose more members of this pioneering series. Live long and prosper! — Rob
Matt Roush: I imagine by this time next year, with the actual 50th anniversary of the Sept. 8, 1966 premiere looming, we'll be so immersed in Star Trek nostalgia you may be sorry you ever asked this question. As of now, I haven't heard any official plans beyond the usual fan-convention hoopla, but I'll be astonished if the studio and possibly multiple networks don't gear up to celebrate this true pop-culture phenom in elaborate, meaningful ways. (And I don't mean an Unauthorized Star Trek Story Lifetime movie, which may also be inevitable.) I'd expect there will be exhibits at media/culture museums—I was in London for the James Bond 50th celebration, and that display was awesome—maybe a road show for fans across the country (and world), and surely some sort of TV retrospective, as well as the long-gestating latest feature film. One way or another, the Enterprise and what came after will get its due.
Question: Have you ever discovered a series that was so good, it was hard to get excited about other shows you previously watched? I discovered SundanceTV's Rectify about a month ago, and am now caught up on all three seasons. I was completely blown away by the cast, the acting, the writing, the atmosphere—truly one of the best shows (if not the best) that I've had the pleasure of watching. The only downside to my recent discovery is that other shows I've been watching or have been trying to get into don't seem as good in comparison, and I think it's going to take me a while to stop comparing every show to Rectify. Not one of life's major problems, I realize. Just wondering if you've ever had the same experience. Big fan of your column, by the way. — Siobhan
Matt Roush: Thanks. And I will say that when I'm watching something as sublime and special as Rectify, which moves to such a different rhythm than most anything else on TV, that it can be difficult to shift gears and focus on something more ordinary. (I usually try to build in a break after screening episodes of a show like that, though the current glut doesn't always afford me that luxury.) But I also don't expect other shows to operate like Rectify, which is so quiet and subtle, so deeply immersed in character as the story unfolds in slowly measured and almost imperceptible cadence, that it defies normal TV practice. I'm glad this small gem exists, but it's a rarefied experience. To address your larger question, I find myself most overwhelmed on many Sundays, where there's so much great TV of such different types that moving between shows like The Good Wife on CBS and the best of pay cable (especially when HBO is on a Game of Thrones-Veep-Silicon Valley roll) and other adventurous programmers like AMC (i.e,, Mad Men during its heyday and The Walking Dead) can be both exhilarating and exhausting, spoiling me for much of the rest of the week. And yet it helps, critically speaking, to accept (or not) each show for what it tries to be. And few shows aim as high or as deep as Rectify.
Question: After watching the pilot for Fear the Walking Dead, I believe I know the twist that makes this different from its parent show. In this one, we are meant to root for the walkers! Looking forward to October 11. — Mike R.
Matt Roush: That date being—for those whose calendars aren't up to speed—the premiere of the new season of The Walking Dead, from which the spinoff is probably always going to suffer by comparison. (If you disagree, feel free to weigh in below.) It was a calculated risk to focus so much of the first episode on the broken families at the core of the story, and while I could have done without the obvious metaphor of Travis (Cliff Curtis) teaching survival themes from Jack London, I felt the conflicts within the families were authentic enough—compare any of these characters to Eph's bratty son in the hokier horror show of The Strain—and the actors sold the slow dawning of realization that something inexplicably bad is happening. As the action escalates, I would hope they'll earn our sympathies and loyalties, but it will be a while (if ever) before we feel the visceral sort of rooting interest we have in the more mythic Walking Dead characters like Daryl, Rick, and the rest of the core gang.
Question: It certainly has been a busy summer TV season, and as a sci-fi/fantasy fan, I should be happy since something like 80 percent of the shows fit that category, even loosely. But most of it was such a downer, and a lot of it just went to stupidville. These are the ones worth caring enough to discuss.
Teen Wolf, which was excellent the first three seasons and pretty good the fourth, was just dumb this summer. With everything they've been through and all the experience they should have, it's as if the writers wanted to go back to the beginning, only it's four seasons too late for that. Instead, most of them made the stupidest decisions I've ever seen on the show.
The Last Ship must be in a sophomore slump because it danced over the line into stupidville. A U.S. warship let a ragtag crew that barely knows each other sucker punch them all over the East and South coasts. Blow them up already! Seriously, the ship sailed six months ago. It's been maybe three months since civilization fell. It took the Ramsey's how long to decide what they were going to do and round up a crew from across Europe. They must barely know each other at this point. Blow them up!
Defiance seemed anemic. Considering we had two seasons where it didn't really look like Earth anymore, this year it seemed like a north town in regular northern woods. A lot of the cast was cut, including extras apparently. And now the season finale seemed like more of a series finale. I really liked it the first couple of years. Too bad. Dominion has its moments, but other than Michael and Noma, and surprisingly Gabriel of late, I don't like any of them. Without a good protagonist you can root for, what's the point? Claire has become power-crazy and the blond boy is a brat that needs to grow up. I'm tired of shows that feel the need to say all people suck.
On an up note are Killjoys and Dark Matter. Dark Matter is pretty good and the season ending surprising. And I love Killjoys. Everything about it from the actors, direction, filming and effects, music. The story is "real" without feeling like it's got you in the gutter all the time. There is color, both visually, and in the stories and characters. Humorous light moments mixed in with some pretty dark stuff. And people you actually care about pretty quickly.
On the non sci-fi list, UnReal managed to pull off the taking the "high ground" approach to how bad a show like that is, while getting to take advantage of how sleazy the doings are in a balancing act. I was surprised!
TV is supposed to be enjoyable, especially after a long day at work that makes survival of the fittest look like a picnic. And I don't like it when they make characters uncharacteristically stupid for plot reasons. Come up with better plots. — Kathy, NH
Matt Roush: Thanks for the exhaustive survey—which nevertheless failed to touch on my own favorite summer sci-fi show, AMC's haunting Humans, and CBS's various adventures in fantastical melodramas as well as ABC's The Whispers. As we've been saying all summer: too much TV. Most of the shows you mention either never made it on my radar or fell off long ago, so thanks for reinforcing my decision to be choosy regarding the mediocrities I avoid (by necessity this summer). And I do agree with you about Killjoys, and the need for this sort of escapism to be enjoyable at times and not always so heavy. Also: given your understandable excitement over UnReal, might I suggest continuing to expand your horizons beyond genre if the usual suspects aren't up to snuff?
Question: I am writing about a fantastic show I just discovered on NBC called The Carmichael Show. I watched both of the episodes NBC aired last week and was blown away. What really strikes me is how brave they are to do a show that actually has something to say about issues of great substance such as race and class. As I watched the two episodes, I was really impressed. It seems rare in the current marketplace for a show to actually attempt to tackle any sort of topical issue, especially comedies. It actually made me think back to the 1980s and 1990s era when sitcoms as diverse as The Facts of Life, A Different World, The Golden Girls, Designing Women, Kate & Allie, Murphy Brown and Roseanne all tackled serious, often controversial topics on a regular basis. It seems we haven't had a show like this in a long time. I was wondering your opinion on this series. Does it strike you as upsetting that NBC buried this show in the summer? I feel like with the proper promotion this show could be huge. I honestly can't remember any show after The Cosby Show/A Different World era that had anything to say about race from a black perspective. Do you think this one has any legs or chance at success? — Matthew
Matt Roush: For me, the touchstone goes back even further to the groundbreaking Norman Lear sitcoms of the ’70s, when All in the Family helped spawn a wave of relevant, progressive sitcoms including Maude, The Jeffersons and especially (in this context) Good Times. I'm not sure The Carmichael Show is up to that level, or to that of the ’80s hits whose memories you rightly extol, in part because the title star (Jarrod Carmichael) has a long ways to go as an actor—in that regard, reminding me of Ray Romano's early days on Everybody Loves Raymond, so there's hope. But compared to the woeful Mr. Robinson, which NBC also scheduled with back-to-back episodes in the weeks before Carmichael's launch, this one's a winner.
I found myself laughing at the broad comedy of David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine as Jarrod's outspoken and judgmental parents, chewing on meaty subjects like religion and current politics, which felt refreshing after the dated antics of Craig Robinson's terrible show. Given the sorry state of NBC comedy, it's possible Carmichael has a future. It got decent sampling its first week, and one reason it's airing now instead of the fall is that the network has pretty much given up on comedy these days, with only two sitcoms on the entire schedule in the fall (airing on Fridays, no less). The show may actually have a better shot airing now. I'd also like to think that the strides network TV took in diversity last season—mostly in drama, although ABC also did well with black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat—helped pave the way for a show like this, which if it gets sharper and a bit more polished might find its legs, and an audience.
Question: Just read your response to the question regarding the Rusty storyline on Major Crimes. I work my way around him because the rest of the cast is so enjoyable. The key for me watching a show is whether I like the characters and cases to solve. Don't give up the good moments and just ignore Rusty! LOL. I really enjoy your column and opinions. — Pat
Matt Roush: Thanks, but the no-Brenda factor is also a deterrent for me. Still, this is a handy tip, and don't think I haven't tried it on occasion.
Finally, from our handy new "Ask Matt" form … And a friendly request for first names to be added to future questions, so the back-and-forth can feel more personal:
Question: People say that The Whispers has been axed. Is this true?
Matt Roush: Only true in the sense that the show hasn't yet been renewed, and because it sat for an entire season on ABC's shelf before the summer run, the network reportedly had to let the actors' options expire, and it's unclear who would be available to return to the show if it is picked up. So while I wouldn't be terribly optimistic on the renewal front, no official decision has been made.
That's all for now, but 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). Or submit your question via the form below: