Ask Matt: Is ‘OITNB’ a Comedy or Drama? Plus: A ‘Transparent’ Slump, Football Overruns and More

Orange Is The New Black, Uzo Aduba
JoJo Whilden/Netflix
Orange Is The New Black, Uzo Aduba

Happy new TV year, and welcome back 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 form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter.

Question: Why is Orange Is the New Black back to being nominated in the comedy categories for the Golden Globes, SAG and Critics Choice Awards this year after being nominated in the drama categories last year and for this year’s Emmy Awards? Is it because the show was lighter in tone this season, and why all the going back and forth with OITNB being either a comedy or a drama? I know that there can never be any dramedy categories in all of the award shows, but this is kinda getting ridiculous! — Chris

Matt Roush: Couldn’t agree more, but with the exception of the Emmys, which put its foot down last year and declared Orange a drama, making very few exceptions for hour shows (such as Jane the Virgin and Glee), most awards organizations take their cue from the show’s studio and/or producers, which get to determine, within reason, in which category they feel their show best belongs. I’ve always considered Orange more of a drama with elements of dark humor, but these are famously blurry distinctions, as you’ll see in the next question.

Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor

Transparent’s Judith Light and Jeffrey Tambor

Did Transparent Have a Sophomore Slump?

Question: I was wondering what your take is on Season 2 of Amazon’s Transparent. In my opinion, it’s the ultimate example of the sophomore slump. I just finished watching it all and was extremely underwhelmed. The plot, such as it is, drifts aimlessly as if the writers had no real vision about where they wanted to go. And for some reason they decided to spend a lot more time on the children than on the leading character, Maura. I didn’t time it all, but I have the distinct impression that Maura got less screen time than any of her three children. And as for the children, I couldn’t really summon up any sympathy for anything they did, with the exception of the episodes when Josh was trying to bond with his newfound son while also trying to keep his relationship with Raquel going. I have the impression that you still like the show, but am curious whether you felt that this second season was inferior to the first. As for me, I don’t think I could even rank it in the top 50 shows after this new season. I didn’t rate it as highly as you or most other critics after the first season, but it’s really plummeted in my estimation now. And I must raise again my old argument that this show should not be classified as a comedy. Not only were there very few jokes, even the situations in this season were more depressing than amusing. The only reason people think of it as a comedy, in my opinion, is that it’s a 30-minute show. — Paul

Matt Roush: As I noted in my own review of the second season, my biggest complaint echoes yours, that there often wasn’t enough Maura for my taste, and the angst generated by the younger members of the family often felt forced in a way it never did with Maura. While I did appreciate the backstory of Mort/Maura’s family in 1930s Germany, the midsection of the season was especially trying in its marginalization of Maura, but I felt Transparent ended on a high note, when Maura went with her daughters to the women’s retreat and still felt ostracized—until she hooked up with Anjelica Huston (who, with Cherry Jones, were wonderful additions to the back half of the season).

I do think Season 2 of Transparent, while still a terrific achievement, was inferior to the first year, which is why I didn’t include it in my Top 10 list (along with many other worthy shows). It didn’t feel as revelatory as it spent more time with Maura’s self-obsessed and whiny offspring, and I’m hoping the balance shifts back to her journey next season, showcasing Jeffrey Tambor’s magnificent performance.

Regarding the comedy-vs.-drama situation, I can accept Transparent as a very human comedy with deep dramatic undercurrents. The characters tend to be quirky, sometimes outrageous, and their situations amusing even when poignant or sad. Just because a show doesn’t rely on jokes for laughs doesn’t preclude it from consideration as a comedy.

Puzzling Omissions From Year-End Kudos

Question: Why no love for the excellent series Rectify, Justified and Broadchurch? — Marie

Matt Roush: I assume you’re referring to my year-end Top 10 list, which was especially difficult to assemble and narrow down, given the surplus of quality programming we’re not confronted with each year. With Rectify and Broadchurch, which made the cut in previous years, I didn’t feel this was their best work, or made the kind of mark on TV their previous seasons did. I’m a fan of both, but I wanted to focus this year on new breakthroughs as well as old favorites. (I doubt you’ll see Empire on my list going forward, although the jury’s out on sophomore seasons of Mr. Robot, UnReal and Better Call Saul.) Justified was a harder call. Because I was already including FX’s Fargo and The Americans, and wanted to spread the wealth, I may have passed on it reluctantly, believing we’d be cheering it in the year-end Cheers & Jeers package, which runs in the same issue of TV Guide Magazine. (It doesn’t appear to have made the cut in that package, either, in which case consider this a mea culpa, because I contribute to that package and should have caught that.) I thought Justified had one of the best final seasons of any show in a while, and I already miss it this winter, so it surely deserved inclusion in my list.

CSI: Cyber

CSI: Cyber

Which CBS Shows Are on the Bubble?

Question: CBS always has so many top-rated shows. Which shows are the lower-rated ones, and which ones in your opinion are in danger of not coming back next year? — Dave

Matt Roush: Ratings aren’t always the only determining factor for CBS, which is heavy on franchise shows and formula procedurals that tend to run for years. To keep the schedule fresh, CBS often takes a show out of rotation after a long run—last year, it was The Mentalist‘s turn—and it’s difficult to know when a show’s time is about to come up. (When any show moves to Sundays at 10/9c, prone to delay and pre-emption on big sports nights, that’s usually a sign it’s being prepped for departure, though not always.) There aren’t many vulnerable shows on CBS’s lineup right now. I’d think the biggest question marks for May would be whether Life in Pieces and Code Black get a second year, how long CBS wants to keep three NCIS series going (I’d bet for a while longer), if CSI: Cyber has any juice left now that the mothership is gone, and if the network wants to tinker with its Friday or Sunday lineups (doubtful on both counts, but hard to say). And then there’s the show that keeps coming up in this column, including the next question.

Question: I have been a devoted fan of the series Person of Interest since its debut a few seasons ago. But it hasn’t returned this season, nor have I seen anything in TV Guide Magazine about its status. What’s the scoop? — Marcia

Matt Roush: This has been a recurring topic in this column all season, and I include it here as a New Year’s gift to fans who are still worried about the show’s in-limbo status. The situation is that Person of Interest was held back for midseason, with a shortened season that has led many to speculate that this will be the show’s final year, though CBS hasn’t confirmed or addressed this head-on yet. (Maybe it will come up next week when CBS takes the stage at the winter TCA event.) POI was MIA in CBS’s first wave of 2016 midseason replacements, so we’re not likely to see it back on the air until spring at earliest (with no air date, we didn’t include it in TV Guide Magazine‘s current Winter Preview issue). So the best I can say for now is to stay tuned. The episodes will air at some point, just don’t know when or where or if this will be the final chapter on CBS.

How to Schedule Against Football Overruns

Question: After reading the inquiry about CSI: Cyber’s chances of survival, and the fact that it airs on Sunday night at who knows what time due to football overruns, it’s bad enough that some weeks it’s scheduled at 10 pm/ET, some weeks at 10:30, and then actually runs at whatever time. I usually set my DVR to record for an extra 30 minutes to catch it all if it runs real late, but this last time it was on, it was on the DVR guide as starting at 10:30, and then it started at 10! There is just no excuse for starting a show a half-hour earlier than it’s scheduled! Lucky me—I got the last half hour of the show recorded! Happy New Year! — Tom W, Kirtland, OH

Matt Roush: I appreciate CBS’s attempt to push back prime time a half-hour later on the Sundays when there’s a late afternoon NFL game, but that rarely does the trick. (Most games tend to end at the 45-minute mark at the earliest, and many, including this weekend, went right up to the 8 pm/ET hour.) Wouldn’t it be just as smart to start 60 Minutes at 8/7c on these nights, when overruns are inevitable, and just cut one show out of the rotation (airing repeats on the West Coast, which tends to happen anyway). The show that gets the worst treatment is the one scheduled at 10/9c, and CBS should just give that show a shorter episode order. The aggravation in this digital age verges on the absurd, and every fall, I know it will be among the most frequent complaints I’ll see in this column’s mailbag.

Streaming Over the Holidays

Question: One thing this holiday season will allow me to do is catch up on my streaming. Two things have impacted me this fall. I started a new job, which has made me busier, and solid lineups of shows on networks both mainstream and cable. The only streaming series I finished was Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and I’m also working my way through Transparent a couple of half-hours at a time. Not sure I like Season 2 as much, since it has dwelled more on the family issues rather than the main character from Season 1. So to me, it seems like a more mainstream family comedy/drama, though I see very little comedy. Still working through others like Jessica Jones due to lack of time. Not sure what I think about the new Showtime show with Damian Lewis, but looking forward to another season of Shameless. — Doug, Jacksonville

Matt Roush: This reflects my own (and I’m sure many others’) situation as they headed into a very rare late-December break in the never-ending glut of new TV on so many platforms. I hope Doug caught up. I did to a very limited degree, while also trying to get a jump on some of the new onslaught of January and February programs. What I’m coming to realize is that there’s no way to catch up on everything, unless one shuts themselves off from family and friends altogether. So let me end this first column of 2016 with a wish for everyone to have a Happy New TV Year and not to stress unduly over not being able to keep up with everything while avoiding spoilers at all costs. Paraphrasing the Friends theme, I’ll be here for you.

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 (and please provide at least a first name so I don’t have to post anonymous questions).