Ask Matt: ‘Vampire Diaries’ Future, Taking ‘The Grinder’ Seriously, Colbert’s Eclectic Guests, ‘Castle’ and More

The Vampire Diaries
Bob Mahoney/The CW

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: What fate do you think awaits The Vampire Diaries and The Originals on The CW? There’s a lot of talk about Season 8 of TVD already being a lock because the show is fun and new and refreshing without Nina Dobrev, but can it really crank out another year? Similarly, most everyone seems to think The Originals will get a Season 4 due to syndication deals. Are these two shows really as safe as everyone believes? Or do you think The CW’s recent habit of cramming their line-up full past capacity is going to hurt the vampire duo when it comes time for renewals? — Becca

Matt Roush: Is that just wishful thinking that Vampire Diaries is somehow more “fun and new and refreshing” without its former leading lady, because the show doesn’t even premiere until this Thursday. Objectively speaking (because I no longer have a valid critical opinion on these particular shows), it will more likely be the studio’s call than the network’s when it comes time to make the decision to put a stake in these vamp melodramas. While I have become a bit of a CW convert in recent seasons—thanks to Jane the Virgin, the Flash-Arrow combo, The 100—and as of next week, the terrific Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—I never lose sight of the fact that the main reason this network exists is as a pipeline to distribute shows from the Warner Bros. and CBS studios. Which is why certain series stay in production way past what the ratings or common sense would dictate, so as to build up an inventory of episodes to be sold to syndication (or, nowadays, the streaming outlets). Bottom line: These vamps, witches, etc., will stay in business as long as Warner Bros. sees it as profitable. It has little to do with the rest of the schedule or the Thursday night ratings as far as I can tell.


The Grinder

Taking The Grinder Seriously

Question: There’s narcissism, and there’s narcissism. John Stamos’s character in Grandfathered exists in, well, not the real world, but a realer world than Rob Lowe’s on The Grinder. The required suspension of disbelief for Grinder is enormous: Dean doesn’t have eight years’ worth of TV money to cushion him, and isn’t fielding other job offers? That’s asking a lot. Bottom line for me: Grandfathered is funny and has promise, while Grinder is funny but cartoonish, and where’s it going to go? — Jon D

Matt Roush: At least they’re both funny, which is more than you can say for most of this season’s new comedies. I think the better way to approach The Grinder‘s premise is not to demand believability as much as relatability, and while it may be unrealistic for a big Hollywood star (who looks like Rob Lowe) to hunker down with his family in Idaho, there’s more to Dean’s character than a delusional actor on an ego trip. He truly yearns to connect with family again, and obviously envies much of what milquetoast brother Stewart (Fred Savage) has. The sibling dynamic is very fresh and gets even funnier in this week’s second episode, with Stewart fretting about being perceived as The Grinder’s buzzkill sidekick and Dean momentarily losing his mojo when a case seemingly goes south. It’s all very absurd for sure, but I laughed all the way through it. (Didn’t get to see the second Grandfathered in advance, so still have to see how that’s holding up.)


The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Colbert interviews Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai

Approving Colbert’s Guest List

Question: I have recently been interested by the varied list of guests appearing on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. While Seth and the Jimmys still mainly have the usual roster of actors and actresses shilling their new projects, which is perfectly all right but not very innovative, Colbert has, at least a couple times per week, interesting guests whom you would not normally expect to see on late-night talk shows. I’ve been especially surprised by the number of Internet personalities and tech entrepreneurs. Some examples from his first few weeks: Sean Murray, video game creator; PewDiePie, YouTube star; Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize winner; Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy; Apple’ Tim Cook; Ban Ki-Moon, U.N. General Secretary; Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Travis Kalanick, head of Uber; Elon Musk, businessman, inventor, etc.

It’s true that Colbert, as well as Jon Stewart, often had such guests for short segments at the end of their Comedy Central shows, but this variety seems refreshingly new to the late-night talk-show world. I think it’s a good thing, and was wondering whether you had a take on this new trend, and whether it’s likely to spread to the other shows. — Paul

Matt Roush: Couldn’t agree more. Like many of his rivals, Colbert’s Late Show has had quite a few politicians on lately seeking free publicity on the campaign trail—I especially enjoyed the inspired bit asking Donald Trump whether he or the Colbert Report version of Colbert had uttered a number of outrageous statements—but even more notably, he has welcomed public figures from all corners of the culture (corporate, political, social) who simply seem to interest him. We’re not quite to the point yet where Colbert is the reincarnation of Dick Cavett’s legendary late-night talk show of the ’60s-’70s, and Late Show is not trying to rival PBS’s Charlie Rose (nor should it be) in its serious focus, but there’s an eclectic mix already being established that will likely help set this work-in-progress apart. Which is smart business and good TV.

Diversity of Dr. Ken Is a Good Thing

Dr. KenQuestion: I read your review for Dr. Ken, and while I agree it is “sick,” I was overcome by the fact that there are now two shows on network TV featuring Asian-American families. It seems like diversity has come finally. It seems pretty significant. Do you agree? — Robert

Matt Roush: It’s especially significant in that the ethnic background of Dr. Ken isn’t the driving force behind the show. It’s just a fact of life. (Although in this Friday’s episode, in which we meet Ken’s parents, it becomes more of an issue, in one of the few amusing payoffs this show has yet delivered.) So of course it’s laudable to see families of diverse backgrounds on TV. Though it becomes perhaps even more lamentable when the material is as tired and as poorly executed as on Dr. Ken, which feels like it’s on an entirely different network than the one that took a swing on the much funnier and more inventive Fresh Off the Boat last season.


Cutting Castle Some Slack

[Editor’s note: There was quite a bit of feedback to last week’s Castle discussion, most of it agreeing that it was a horrible, lame, unoriginal, disappointing, etc., decision to split up Castle and Beckett again. But there’s almost always another side to the story, so here are some thoughts from loyalists not ready to give up yet, beginning with excerpts from a spirited Twitter conversation.]

Question: Here’s the thing [about the Castle storyline]. Not every relationship is rainbows and unicorns. We’ve had three years of good times, something had to happen. I am interested in seeing what they do to bring the spark (back) in, because it was missing it. It’s easy to criticize people, but these new showrunners are giving it a chance. It’s only been two episodes, two awesome episodes. I’m just frustrated with the continued hate toward the show from people who say they are done. I’m looking forward to seeing if it pays off. It might not, but at least they tried. The show needed something IMO, and I’m not sure if it’s regression (on Beckett’s part), it’s who she has always been. She went to Castle and told him to trust her and forgive her. In the past, she would have just left in the middle of the night without a word. That is some progress, she loves him no doubt. — J-Mizzle

Matt Roush: Well, yes, I guess that is progress, that she didn’t just vanish. Where I respectfully disagree with this defense of the latest twist is the notion that Castle had somehow grown stale because of the couple’s happiness. When a show is this long in the tooth, after all the angst of the past, what would be so wrong with it just settling into an enjoyable groove without rekindling yet more conspiracy nonsense to keep them apart. Whatever.

At least Castle can count on the loyalty of fans like Teri, who wrote: “I will stick with it forever. No show brings me the great entertainment like Castle does. I may want certain other things to happen, but the acting is just so good that I am compelled no matter what. I hope long-term fans stick with Castle because there will be nothing like seeing a happily-ever-after play out. Beckett left to protect Castle and her family, not because she doesn’t love them. Beckett always has been flawed and damaged, but we cheer for her, and I will continue to cheer for both her and the show.”

Significant Attraction?

Question: I’ve been pleasantly surprised about The CW’s under-appreciated Significant Mother. I find the attractive leads amusing. I’ve watched nearly every episode and I am entertained consistently. What are your thoughts? — Fred

Matt Roush: I watched the first episodes CW sent in advance this summer, and it left no impression on me other than 1) yes, very attractive stars; and 2) undistinguished filler until new episodes come back of superior comedies like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (starting next Monday). If Mother has a future, it probably won’t be during the regular broadcast season. The CW’s interest in half-hour comedy is spotty at best, and shows like this only reinforce that disinterest.

No Love For Bloodline?

Question: I agree with all you have written about the Emmys. However, don’t you think Netflix’s Bloodline was an underrated show? I mean, Kyle Chandler’s performance was better than Jon Hamm’s by far. Ben Mendelsohn was great, too. And the casting director and the picture editor should have been nominated at least. I was very disappointed. —Antonio

Matt Roush: My own take on Bloodline was that it was fairly engrossing and I loved the setting and the cast, but as with many Netflix dramas, I’m not sure it warranted 13 very long hours to tell that story. I’ve been a big fan of Kyle Chandler’s since way back to Homefront (look it up), but I would not have championed his work against that of Hamm, not even considering Mad Men‘s spotty final season. Ben Mendelsohn, though, I would have loved to see win. He and Better Call Saul‘s Jonathan Banks were my front-runners in the supporting category, and I hope American TV will find more roles for him in the very near future.

That’s all for now, but we’ll pick up the conversation again soon, so keep sharing your thoughts on new and returning series and other TV matters. 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: