Ask Matt: Begging ‘The Middle’ to Stay, Vietnam War Stories, ‘Orville’ vs. ‘Trek,’ More Emmys Issues

Michael Ansell/ABC

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 @TVGMMattRoush. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.


No Middle Ground With This Departure

Question: Why isn’t The Middle coming back after this season? Every actor on this show deserves an Emmy. Never any kudos for this show. Patricia Heaton never nominated. Old Modern Family walked away with it all. Ugh!!! — Charlotte

Matt Roush: I share your sorrow, and your frustration that The Middle never got its due at the Emmys, living in the shadow of Modern Family since its premiere on ABC the same season. (The first few years, I understood. Now, not so much.) We’ve tackled this topic before, but now that the final season is about to begin (starting Oct. 3), it’s worth revisiting—and also because I heard from one fan accusing TV Guide Magazine of not adequately promoting the show. (If it had been up to me, I’d like to have seen more than a blurb in our jam-packed Returning Favorites issue, but trust me, we will give The Middle a loving sendoff, or at least I will, before it’s over.) I’ve been a champion of this series from the start, and yet as much as I’ll miss it after its ninth season, this was a decision of the creative team to wrap things up while the juices were still flowing. (Nine seasons was also the duration of Heaton’s previous hit family sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, which won the best comedy Emmy in its final year, which alas will likely not be The Middle’s fate.) Family comedies in particular risk losing their freshness if they overstay their welcome, and while that’s not the case with this exceptional series, I’m at peace with letting the Hecks retire before the nest is entirely empty.

Language on The Vietnam War

Question: I just finished the first episode of The Vietnam War and it’s, of course, excellent. The imagery in many places is highly graphic, and the statement warning readers of such as the top of the program is warranted. However, I find it quite distracting that two or three times in the episode a supposed “curse” word was bleeped out. I think all supposed “obscenities” would be appropriate in this context, and those words pale in comparison to the horrific imagery. Anyone who is old enough to see those images is old enough to hear a veteran honestly describe the situation, even if that description has one of the “seven” words. A silent removal of the word would be better, though still pedantic. The bleep makes it seem like MasterChef. Further, I recall some time ago a network airing Saving Private Ryan with the obscenities. What would be PBS’s penalty for including the language? Also, do you see a time when such language will be commonplace on network TV? On basic cable these days, we hear language that would have only been heard on the premium channels a decade ago (I’m thinking about FX shows, in particular). — Erin

Matt Roush: I echo your praise for this remarkable documentary series, which continues through Thursday of next week. The advance screener I viewed seemed to include all of the rough language, which I found entirely fitting giving the subject matter (and the times it reflected). While I doubt the FCC would go after PBS, and Ken Burns’ team in particular, over the language issue, keep in mind that with the current political administration, PBS and CPB once again are in the cross-hairs of threatened congressional budget cuts, so erring on the side of caution probably makes sense. Regardless, in a meh fall season, this qualifies as the month’s most must-see program.

To the bigger issue of relaxing language standards on TV in general, it’s already happening in some corners, and may be inevitable in the long run as networks try not to look entirely out of date. In the right context, this is fine, though I’d hate to see the art of thoughtful discretion vanish entirely. (In other words, if Brick on The Middle started talking like South Park’s Cartman, I’m done.)

Question: The Ken Burns Vietnam War series is off to a good start on PBS, but did I miss the series on The Korean War? Maybe because it’s called the “Forgotten War,” except by those of us who have served in Korea? — Hugh

Matt Roush: With the exception of M*A*S*H, which many see as a Vietnam War allegory anyway, the Korean War does tend to seem like an afterthought in the current culture. But PBS hasn’t entirely ignored the conflict. A 2010 documentary titled Unforgettable: The Korean War is available on DVD, and the great American Experience series featured an episode on The Battle of Chosin last November. There may be more examples, but these stand out.

THE ORVILLE - Scott Grimes, Mark Jackson, J. Lee, Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki

Orville, Classic Star Trek, and The Good Place

Question: Regarding The Orville, I’m not sure I get the hate I’ve seen in most of the reviews for the show (and I know you weren’t a fan). Having seen the first two episodes, I find it a fairly entertaining (though not great, at this point) show. I think one problem is that some people went in expecting the “throw as many jokes at the wall and hope some of them land” humor from Family Guy, and some went in expecting a serious sci-fi show, but it’s really neither of those. To me, it’s a lightly comedic homage (ok, maybe “clone” is more appropriate) to Star Trek, and that has its place on TV. I’ll be curious to see how the show impacts the new Star Trek show Discovery. There may be enough people who look at the price tag of CBS All Access, then look at The Orville and say, “Ehh … close enough!” and watch it instead.

I was happy, yet also a bit concerned, when The Good Place got renewed for a second season. In its first season, it was a show that reliably put me in my good place, but I was concerned the show would lose its charm now that we know the twist. We’re only one episode in so far (so it can still go off the rails), but it seems my concern was unwarranted. Knowing the “gimmick” allows us to see the show from a different perspective and see more of the “behind the scenes” aspect of the Bad Place, which I found fascinating. I’m so happy that the writers have, so far, found a way to make a show that normally should have been a one-season gimmick and put a fresh spin on it. What did you think of the second season premiere (and have you seen any of the upcoming episodes yet)? — Scott

Matt Roush: Your “close enough” line was funnier to me than anything I’ve seen to date on The Orville (different strokes), which still strikes me as neither fish nor fowl: not funny enough to qualify as comedy, not original or exciting or visionary enough to work as sci-fi. But yes, I hadn’t considered both this and Star Trek: Discovery premiering in such close proximity. I’ve just seen the first three Discovery episodes, and while they should be cosmic catnip to Trek followers—very earnest, gorgeously produced, a bit predictable until the main storyline kicks in—putting the show behind a paywall will infuriate many. It’s going to be a litmus test for this “premium” strategy affecting mainstream TV, and for CBS, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Don wrote in with similar observations, concluding, “I have three problems with shows that stream: 1. I don’t have Internet at home (too expensive!!!!) 2. None of the shows that stream seem to come out on DVD. 3. I don’t like paying for something that should be free (the new Star Trek show comes to mind). A lot of Trekkies feel this way or at least the ones that post in the Star Trek group on Yahoo.”

On to The Good Place: Loving it this season, as I noted in my valentine to its premiere. I’ve only had time to stay one week ahead of broadcast at this point, so I can only tell you that when the show moves to its regular Thursday time period next week, the episode is as fast, funny, surprising and delightful as the premiere. I don’t know how long they can sustain this fantastical premise, but so far it feels arguably even more enjoyable than Season 1.

Alec Baldwin

The Emmys: Big Bang, Alec Baldwin, Politics and More

Question: I did watch the Emmys—that and the Oscars are the only “award shows” I still watch—and I was not expecting Sean Spicer to pull a Melissa McCarthy; that was great. I also liked Stephen Colbert. I thought he kept it moving along. But for some reason, I was expecting Jim Parsons to win again—had no idea that he was not nominated. Because The Big Bang Theory seems to be the only network show that I watch, since I don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc. Is it morbidly wrong to say that I look forward to the “In Memoriam” segment every year? Also, that Jermaine Fowler [the play-by-play announcer] was atrociously obnoxious; a little medication would have calmed him down a couple notches. He made me wish that Peter Coyote was available again. All in all, it was a good show, even if I don’t recognize or watch the TV shows that won [again]. Perhaps Mayim Bialik, Johnny Galecki and Kunal Nayyar could represent The Big Bang Theory if Jim Parsons decides not to nominate himself. — Lujack

Matt Roush: Just because Jim Parsons, a four-time winner, wasn’t nominated this year doesn’t mean he wasn’t submitted. He was. But as with Big Bang itself, the Emmys have decidedly tilted away from that style of comedy in the nominations, and Parsons hasn’t even been in the running the last three years. (The last time a multi-camera comedy won the top comedy prize was the aforementioned Raymond back in 2005.) Other observations: The “In Memoriam” segment is always a highlight, if only so some can argue about which deserving soul was left out, but this year I was struck to realize that Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore passed away just a few months apart. And regarding Jermaine Fowler’s performance … read on.

Question: Many people appreciated the enthusiasm Emmy announcer Jermaine Fowler brought to a normally boring show. Everyone does not enjoy the boring lady who sounds like she is a DJ for Lite FM. He wasn’t “howling.” — Unsigned

Matt Roush: Surely there’s a middle ground. And would you accept “screaming,” maybe? Even when his commentary was on point, it felt inane and intrusive and immature.

Question: How does Alec Baldwin win for supporting actor in a comedy series when he’s not an actual cast member on Saturday Night Live? Shouldn’t he win for guest performer like Melissa McCarthy? I don’t understand how that works. — Amy

Matt Roush: That’s a slippery slope, but my understanding is that if a performer who’s not an actual series regular appears in enough episodes during a specific season, he or she can qualify as a supporting, not guest, player. It’s up to the person (or his or her reps) to decide where to submit, and for the Academy to sign off on it. It can be confusing, though, because I’m still scratching my head that the marvelous John Lithgow, who notched his sixth win this year for The Crown, qualified as a “guest” actor the year he won on Dexter (2010) for what was very much a full-time role.

Question: With regard to the person who wrote about a separate awards show for cable programs, didn’t the cable industry used to have the CableACE awards, which I think went by the wayside when cable shows began being included in the Emmys? — Charles

Matt Roush: An oft-asked question, and yes, the ACE Awards existed from 1978 to 1997, by which time the Emmys had begun to embrace the Emmys to a degree that they had become redundant. Every year around Emmy time, I hear from people wishing they’d bring back the ACEs and separate cable from broadcast shows to give the latter a better shot, but that genie is way out of the bottle and not going back.

W Deitch wrote in with the same query, and added these thoughts: “[This year], a cable Emmy Award should have gone to the best show, Suits. The broadcasting Emmy Awards could have shows like NCIS, Designated Survivor and shows like that. I for one will not watch the Emmys again until broadcast shows are given the same opportunity as cable and streaming shows.”

Matt Roush: I’m afraid you’re in for a long wait. But really, Designated Survivor?

Question: With regard to the Emmys, you were admirably restrained in your commentary concerning the political comments throughout the night. Whether someone is pro-Trump or anti-Trump, they should be able to admire a clever political barb when it’s offered (I enjoy the commentary of both P.J. O’Rourke and John Oliver). But in this case, don’t you feel that TV as a mass (entertainment) medium is shooting itself in the foot by being overwhelmingly one-sided? When you’re worried about maintaining your audience, why alienate half of it on television’s showcase event? Or does everyone ignore the Emmys anyway? — Rick

Matt Roush: Thanks for noting my restraint. I figure that my politics (while hardly a secret, and you can probably figure out my leanings from my taste in television—which is the real point of this column) is no one else’s business, though I also don’t buy the argument that the Emmys’ flat ratings have that much to do with the political humor dished out during the show. (More likely, the masses would rather watch football or other options than a self-congratulatory ceremony honoring shows in which they’ve no rooting interest.) Of course I often hear from those who wish Hollywood types would exercise more discretion at events like these, but in this case and this year in particular, there’s no avoiding the fact that, as Stephen Colbert joked, the president is and has been the biggest of TV stars (with an opinion on the Emmys from his past as a blustery Apprentice also-ran), and whatever one’s value system, or lack thereof, he’s a ripe object for satire and comment and can give as good as he gets, for better or worse.

A Midnight Dissent

Question: Just a comment: Anyone who read the Midnight, Texas books had to be totally disappointed in the show. So badly cast, such a cheap production. I can’t watch anymore. The author (Charlaine Harris) doesn’t need the money, so why would she go with this production and ruin her books? — Lucy

Matt Roush: Actually, the mail I got on this show was almost entirely positive. I’ll give you that Midnight isn’t nearly as distinctive, bold or entertaining as True Blood at its peak, but as summer diversions go, what I saw of it exceeded my expectations. Still, it’s often the case that when you fall for something in book form, the filmed version disappoints. And for those asking, still no word yet on whether NBC will give Midnight a second season.


That’s all for now, and we’ll pick up the conversation again soon. 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.