Ask Matt: More Emmy Fallout (Jon Hamm, Lena Headey), Plus ‘Fear the Walking Dead’, ‘Blindspot’, ‘Bastard Executioner’ 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 unless it’s common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the new form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter.
Question: Why are people so excited about Jon Hamm finally winning an Emmy for best actor? The award should go to the strongest performance given by an actor for a given character for that season, not a lifetime achievement award given because you lost for so many years to superior competition during your material’s best years. The character of Don Draper, though phenomenal and transcendent in its inception and played magnificently during the earlier seasons, was an absolute brooding bore during the final two (technically three) seasons he was on air. During the final episodes, I found myself fast-forwarding as I couldn’t stand watching those scenes where he was basically doing nothing but drinking alone, thinking alone, being tortured internally alone. It was really a waste of film to even put those scenes in. Call me clearly annoyed, but there were definitely much better options this year that should have won, especially given the lackluster material and presentation of Don Draper, a character that did nothing but take up space. I would have rather watched an anthill than those final scenes containing Jon Hamm. — Chris
Matt Roush: I wasn’t shy about expressing my disappointment with much of Mad Men‘s uneven later seasons, and was particularly put off by the decision to isolate Don from the rest of the cast for those final episodes (the one in the motel seemed an unnecessary detour for the show’s next-to-last hour). Even that brilliant final shot didn’t compensate for this disconnect. But none of that diminishes the power of Jon Hamm’s performance, even in lesser seasons, and if he had walked away empty-handed after having created one of the most layered and complex roles of recent times, the outcry would be much more deafening that whatever nit-picking anyone might choose to do about the show’s more obvious flaws. While it would be nice to think the Emmys or any awards exist in a vacuum, they don’t, and the history of Hamm’s work, enhanced by the range he displays on shows like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to remind us he can do more than brood handsomely, argued convincingly for him to win. And it was one of the few that met with pretty much universal approval. (To be honest, the only actor I’d have been OK for him to lose to this year was Better Call Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk, and he’ll have plenty more chances.)
A Shame-ful Oversight
Question: I just wanted to ask you about the obvious mistake of not awarding Lena Headey with the Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama. This does not make sense at all, especially since the actual winner was awarded the same award a year earlier for a comedy! I know there is no point in arguing logic with an awards show that snubbed Sons of Anarchy and Justified for so long. Regardless, to deny Lena Headey the award after the magnificent “Shame” is just the biggest travesty. Hope to hear what you think. — David
Matt Roush: While I wasn’t shocked or disappointed that Game of Thrones had such a good year at the Emmys, I’ll admit if I could swap Peter Dinklage’s Emmy (which this season didn’t really feel earned, especially considering his competition: Jonathan Banks and/or Ben Mendelsohn, hello) and give it to Lena Headey, I would. She suffered magnificently last season, and it was among the show’s meatier roles. As for the repeat win (graduating from guest to supporting player) for Uzo Aduba, it’s not her fault the show was wrongly categorized as a comedy the first two seasons. The Academy put Orange Is the New Black in its proper place this year, and Aduba’s character is one of the showiest standouts from that ensemble, so I wasn’t tremendously surprised that she won over the more subtle work of Headey, but I wouldn’t have predicted or preferred it.
Fear the Invisible Dead
Question: I was wondering about your take on Fear the Walking Dead, as this has been a very big disappointment to me. Last week’s episode did not feature even one zomber, er, walker, but rather was devoted entirely to foreboding and the overreach of the National Guard without even showing them obliterating a nearby town regardless if they were infected or not. They were saving money on special effects, perhaps? I will stick with the much more entertaining The Strain, which features great villains and special effects, or the Emmy-deserving Ray Donovan.
Also, I loved Blindspot and was wondering if it could pair with The Blacklist in a crossover episode. (Heck, if you can pair Sleepy Hollow and Bones, anything is possible.) Is it way too early to slip this suggestion to NBC? Both shows are very similar in tone. Your thoughts, please. — JV
Matt Roush: First, Fear the Walking Dead. I respect that it’s trying very hard not to be just a copy of the mothership, and I’m impressed with how often it is able to maintain tension without pandering to the audience’s bloodlust. Restraint can be a powerful tool in horror—in an upcoming episode of The Good Wife, Eli makes reference to the unnerving movie It Follows, and I nearly cheered—and there are times it works in Fear and times when it can feel like they’re treading water. (Would the family really be playing Monopoly while all hell is breaking loose outside?) I’m not surprised some fans would be impatient with the last few episodes, which have dealt perhaps too heavily with the metaphor of humans as monsters. But I appreciate its seriousness of purpose as it depicts the breakdown of civilization, something the terminally silly The Strain (which I enjoy as a guilty pleasure) doesn’t do nearly as effectively. And yes on Ray Donovan, whose season ended much too quickly for my taste. (Ridiculous body count in the finale, but hugely entertaining.)
As for a Blindspot-Blacklist crossover, I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes a thing—maybe not in Blindspot‘s first season, but it’s hardly an accident that you notice a similarity in tone. That’s what NBC was hoping for (not unlike how Quantico apes the spirit and structure of How to Get Away With Murder).
When Mediocre Shows Happen to Great Actors
Question: I can’t argue too much with your lukewarm review of Blindspot. In fact, after having DVR’d the premiere episode, I considered your review and nearly deleted it before watching it. Nothing about it seemed special, and I usually detest series in which the main characters are always fighting against some faceless conspiracy. (I enjoyed the first season or so of Revenge until the conspiracies became so deep and entangled I lost all hope for it.) But I was intrigued by several of Blindspot‘s cast members, so I watched it. While the show as a whole is nothing special, it’s always a treat to watch the wonderful Marianne Jean-Baptiste (from Broadchurch, etc.), plus I’ve been a fan of Ukweli Roach since first seeing him on some other British shows. My question is this: Do you ever find yourself watching shows which are otherwise run-of-the-mill, just because you enjoy the work of certain actors, even if they are in minor roles? — Paul
Matt Roush: (Confession: I had to look up Ukweli Roach to remember who that was.) I don’t think I’d be watching Blindspot if I didn’t care about the travails of the main character—they don’t really give the others (even Jean-Baptiste) enough to do to merit the investment. But with many procedurals, especially of the NCIS variety, I know I wouldn’t bother with them if it weren’t for the enjoyment of the ensemble players. So the simple answer to your question is: Yes. Though nowadays, I have much less time to dwell in the land of the run-of-the-mill, which is why so many of this fall’s freshman series hold little interest to me.
The End of the Family Hour
Question: Regarding Life in Pieces: I understand that family hour is no longer that for most networks. Still, kids like my 8-year-old daughter love The Big Bang Theory and naturally wanted to check out the show that followed it. What a big mistake. It was a terrible show, and inappropriate for that hour on CBS, in my humble opinion. —Bryan
Matt Roush: I often wonder how families nowadays find anything they can watch comfortably together. (Even The Muppets has an unusual amount of smarmy innuendo, and I’m glad that this 8-year-old isn’t put off by Big Bang‘s randier moments.) But yes, I do think the Life in Pieces pilot seriously erred with the graphic nature of the childbirth/vagina subplot. Plus: not funny. Next week’s episode, in which the couple deals with sleep deprivation in fairly amusing ways, is better. But tonally, it couldn’t be less compatible with the broad hilarity of Big Bang.
Sticking With The Bastard?
Question: I had doubts about The Bastard Executioner as the next Game of Thrones, but after watching the first few episodes I think I might be done. I had always thought that Stephen Moyer was the weakest link in the True Blood trio, but now it seems as though he could hold a master class on acting versus the lot here. The Executioner and Baroness are not at all inspiring (and Katey Sagal might as well be on an entirely different show). I am looking to you to help decide: Execute or live on? Thanks for your insight! — CK
Matt Roush: Swing the axe. You’ve done your due diligence. (And as I’ve noted before, if you’re looking for a strong medieval drama, check out BBC America’s The Last Kingdom on Oct. 10.) I will try to keep watching Bastard for a while, as best I can given the fall glut of programming, and if the story and acting kick up a notch, I’ll revisit the show. But I agree about Moyer; playing the villain becomes him, and Sagal is so miscast here that as long as her character is around, which is probably forever all things considered, I’m not sure there’s much hope for me ever embracing this dour melodrama.
That’s all for now, but we’ll pick up the conversation again soon. Keep sharing your thoughts on the new and returning series. I can’t do this without your participation, so please send questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Or submit your question via the handy form below: