Ask Matt: Reassessing Fall TV (Like Limitless), The Man in the High Castle, NCIS: L.A., Agent Carter and More
Welcome to a special holiday-week edition 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: As the fall finales approach, I am curious what show has surprised you the most in the best ways and worst ways possible? - Rob
Matt Roush: That's a tough question. If you're asking if any of the new fall shows either exceeded or failed to meet my expectations—my reviews can be found by searching this directory—I guess I'd say that I hoped for more out of Neil Patrick Harris's Best Time Ever (which it wasn't) than a circus of silly ego-driven stunts with precious little music-variety entertainment value. And because Wicked City was sight unseen at the time we prepared the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide Magazine, I was surprised by that fast fade, given the cast and ABC's track record with anthology drama in last season's American Crime. Look to the next question for a discussion of a new show I underestimated—otherwise, not much second-guessing regarding this dismal fall.
And because this is Thanksgiving weekend and I'd like to accentuate the positive here, overall the fall's most pleasant surprise has been to see how FX's anthology series Fargo could reinvent itself in a second year with just as much brilliance and entertainment value as the first. (This is especially notable considering the collapse of HBO's True Detective in its second season, and the ongoing mess that is American Horror Story: Hotel.) If you want to see what all the critical fuss over Fargo is about, watch this Monday's episode. It's sensational.
Giving Limitless Another Try
Question: Have you given Limitless a second look? I remember you did not think much of it in your Fall Preview review, but I have to say it's one of my favorites of the new season. It is a fun show to watch, and Jake McDormand is perfect as Brian Finch. He brings a sweetness to the role, which could just be another generic cocky wiseguy. I think everyone in the cast is great, but I love Brian's relationship with Rebecca (Jennifer Carpenter). She is protective of him and almost like a big sister, but finds herself drawn to him. He, of course, is smitten with her. And the music in the show! Just thrills me. Brian's bobbleheads, his Ferris Bueller movie references, are just fun. I know I am gushing, but in a season in which I have been very disappointed in what critics told me would be the shows to watch—Quantico, Blindspot (I've already stopped Blindspot and would love to give up Quantico, but have not yet only because it's on Sundays), I am really enjoying Limitless. Give it another shot. — Shelley
Matt Roush: When it became obvious that Limitless was a keeper—I initially lumped it in with Fox's Minority Report dud as another misbegotten movie-to-series adaptation—I did check back in and was pleasantly surprised. I'm still not a fan of the pill-popping premise, but I underestimated Jake McDormand's appeal as a likable mensch who gets a kick out of his new powers. Brian's comic energy keeps the show from taking itself as seriously as most of CBS's other procedurals, and while I wouldn't classify it as must-see (unlike the show it replaced on Tuesdays, the still-in-limbo Person of Interest), I'm at peace with its success and will probably weigh in officially at some point, if there'd ever come a time when I wasn't juggling so many premieres every week. (For the record, since they were referenced in this question, I still enjoy Quantico as fun escapism and run hot-and-cold on Blindspot, but wonder whether either of these high-concept melodramas can sustain beyond this first season.)
A Woman in High Castle Hell
Question: If you were my hands-down favorite critic for something like fine wine instead of TV, and one day you said, “I couldn’t help myself, I had to gorge down 6 bottles of this particular vintage in one sitting and I only stopped because they didn’t send more,” then before buying a case, I’d think twice about the consequences. Silly me! In advance of a business trip this week in Europe (no respect for Thanksgiving in the old world), I pre-downloaded from Amazon Prime season one of Six Feet Under (always on my “to watch past the first 30 minutes someday” list) and, based on your recommendation, The Man in the High Castle. Only I slightly exceeded my Amazon Prime download limit, so by random chance the last episode of Man in the High Castle lost the bandwidth war. “I can’t possibly watch that much video when I’m in meetings night and day,” reasoned I, “so what harm could it do?” Two days later, virtually no sleep, I’m counting the hours (tick tick tick) until I’m back in the U.S. and can download that last episode. And still haven’t made it through Episode 1 of Six Feet Under yet again. (PS: It's probably lack of sleep, but today I thought I heard somebody down the hall call out "Seig Heil!"—and probably worse, it took me a second to remember that's not what people routinely say in greeting office co-workers.) - Marla
Matt Roush: How many ways do I love this anecdote? It gives me another chance to beat the drum for the gripping and provocative High Castle, which I plan to finally finish watching over the Thanksgiving break—see my binge-watching comments in the most recent Ask Matt column. But it also taught me something I didn't know, that there was a limit to downloading Amazon Prime content. You never say where you were traveling in Europe, but this would be a particularly weird series to binge-watch in Germany, I'd think.
Should CBS Move NCIS: LA Off Mondays?
Question: I wanted your opinion on was NCIS: Los Angeles. I know that you are not a fan of these procedurals' spinoffs, but I really like NCIS: L.A., even far more than the mothership. I understand CBS wanting to relocate L.A. to give New Orleans a comfortable spot for it to grow. However, the experiment, although successful for New Orleans, has been going completely wrong for L.A. (Blindspot is reining supreme at this time.) Therefore, do you think CBS would shuffle L.A. around to give it a better chance? The show is incredibly entertaining, and it would do much better on Fridays (if they decide Hawaii Five-O needs to go) or even Sundays after the network comes to its senses and realizes that CSI: Cyber was a total mistake. Should I start worrying about NCIS: L.A.? — David
Matt Roush: If L.A. were to move to Sundays, in the later time slot (10/9c) that's akin to putting a show out to pasture, then you should be worried that its days, and seasons, are numbered. Even shuffling it off to Fridays, where it might do better competitively but with much-reduced visibility, could be seen as a sign of no confidence. While L.A. may not be pulling the numbers on Mondays it did when riding the mothership's coattails on Tuesdays, I'd think the network is probably OK with its performance, especially in such a competitive time period with three very different procedurals vying for the same audience. (CBS has done much worse in that time slot with less established shows. Remember Intelligence and Hostages?) On those occasions I check out L.A.—mainly for Hetty, though it's an agreeable ensemble all around—I get why people are attached to it. For now, I wouldn't be overly concerned. But CBS does have a history of retiring its procedurals eventually so as to keep the schedule from stagnating. It's probably a while before any of the NCIS shows take a hit, but that day will come.
Agent Carter's Comeback and an Improved S.H.I.E.L.D.
Question: How do you feel about Agent Carter having a second season that will premiere in January on ABC? I know that you said that it wasn't necessary for the show to have a second season, but since it was a solid performer in the ratings, which was on par with the ratings of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and you also preferred Agent Carter over AOS), the show definitely deserved a second season renewal! Have you seen any second-season episodes of Agent Carter yet? If so, what do you think of it? I'm curious if it holds up to the first season, even though Agent Carter (along with Jarvis and a couple of her male co-workers from the SSR) will relocate to L.A.? And can you please give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a second chance? This current season of the show is getting better, especially with the episodes of Agent Jemma Simmons' back story of how she survived being on that alien planet after going through the portal, and the shocking Lash reveal! — Chris
Matt Roush: I don't remember having feelings one way or another about Agent Carter's return, but I'm more than OK with it as a placeholder while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes a midseason rest. I liked Carter as an enjoyable period romp, much more appealing than S.H.I.E.L.D. last year—which, for the record, you're hardly alone in recommending the current third season. (I made it, barely, through the first, and gave up in the second.)
Gary also wrote in to say, regarding S.H.I.E.L.D., "You might want to give it another chance. I think they're doing a very good job of defining all the characters, which was lacking in the first two seasons. Right now it's one of the shows, along with The Good Wife and The Flash, that my husband and I watch religiously."
One of the things I love most—and, given the timing, am most thankful—about this forum is the give-and-take with people who love TV. I'm happy to pass along these recommendations, even if I currently lack the time or inclination to second them with any authority. (It shouldn't take any series three seasons to figure itself out, but I believe these opinions are genuine and I won't bash S.H.I.E.L.D. again without doing my homework.)
The Middle's Hoosier Geography Conundrum
Question: Was there a major earthquake in Indiana that I missed? It seems that The Middle's fictional college has suddenly moved a lot closer to Orson. When Axl first went to college, the family apparently drove across the state to see him off. This season, both Sue and Axl have moved back home. Sue even has her old job back at the food court. They are both in school, and if they are on a Thanksgiving break, that's a long one. I understand the challenge of having both Sue and Axl away at college, and the producers wanting to keep them around. But really?? They didn't think we'd notice? — Jamie
Matt Roush: Good point. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I had shuttled back and forth between my Indiana campus (IU-Bloomington, for the record) and home with that much frequency. My memory is that the drive was always a bit arduous, and The Middle should acknowledge that if they're going to keep this up. I love Sue and Axl, and still adore the show, but its relative realism is one of The Middle's greatest strengths, and this is stretching it.
Will We See Longmire in Syndication?
Question: Like the viewer who recently complained about Longmire now being on Netflix, I too am unable to see it. Since I'm already halfway around the bend trying to keep up with my broadcast and cable shows, I don't dare subscribe to any of the streaming services—that would send me all the way around. Is there any possibility of shows like Longmire being eventually sold to TV for syndication? — Marci
Matt Roush: Anything's possible, but in this case, it could be a while. Because of the shorter seasons produced on cable and Netflix, by the end of the show's newly commissioned fifth season, Longmire will have produced just a little over 50 episodes, barely half of the "100-episode" magic number that was once the norm for a show to make it into the syndication marketplace. Complicating matters is that Netflix's business model is to provide a home for a show's past seasons as well, which depending on its deal with the studio could keep Longmire off the market for some time to come. That's not a part of the business I'm all that familiar with. But this is a business, after all, and if there are other ways for Warner Bros. to make money off this property in the future, they'll probably do it.
That's all for now, but we'll pick up the conversation again next week. Until then, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend. But since I can't do this without your participation, please keep sharing your thoughts on new and returning series and other TV matters, by sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shooting me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Or you can submit your question via the handy form below.