Ask Matt: Nadine's 'Madam Secretary' Exit In Praise of Ted Danson, 'The Good Place,' Sterling K. Brown and More
Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their "TV therapist") Matt Roush, who'll try to 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.
Ted Danson Has Found His Place on TV
Question: After watching last week’s The Good Place and laughing harder than I’ve laughed in a long time at Michael’s “unconventional” solution to the Trolley Problem, I started thinking about just how versatile and successful Ted Danson has been on TV. I’m trying to think of another actor who has had so many successful roles with relatively little recognition (I don't think he's won an award since his Cheers days). He’s played the lovable womanizer (Cheers), the curmudgeon (Becker), the head of the CSI team (two CSI shows), and now has had to essentially play two different roles on The Good Place. (I know I skipped some notable ones, but those are the ones I’m most familiar with.) Given that the Emmys sometimes like to give awards to actors for their body of work (rather than just the role they’re nominated for), I’m really hoping he gets recognized next year (he’s deserving for just The Good Place, of course). Are there any other TV actors or actresses that have had such a wide-ranging career? — Scott
Matt Roush: And let’s not forget how good Ted Danson is at playing and spoofing himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm (where he’s dating Larry David’s ex, Cheryl, to Larry’s chagrin). His most recent dance with the Emmys was from the drama side, with three consecutive supporting-actor nominations for his sinister work on Damages, and it would be very cool for him to get a comedy nod again for the devilish fun he’s having on The Good Place. I tend to resist these “can you think of other” questions, because I know I’ll forget something obvious. But the first names that came to mind in terms of crossing genre lines with great success include John Lithgow (his Churchill in The Crown is one of his greatest roles yet) and Alan Alda, with Diana Rigg from the female column. From The Avengers’ Emma Peel to Game of Thrones’ Queen of Thorns, what can’t she do?
When Shows Get Better With Age
Question: Your recent discussion of This Is Us and its sophomore slump (if we can call it that) made me think about, alternatively, how much better I like The Good Place this season as compared to its freshman outing. The only other series that immediately jumps to mind as being better in the second season than in the first is Parks and Recreation. Are there other series in your opinion that got measurably better the second season? - Erin
Matt Roush: There are many shows that follow this path of slow and steady improvement, few as obviously as Parks and Rec, but the first one I thought of, because it’s newly relevant, is ABC’s original Dynasty, which really picked up steam when Alexis (Joan Collins) joined the party in Season 2. (Prime-time soaps often had slow builds, including Dallas and my favorite, Knots Landing.) Not sure the CW retread will ever achieve those heights, but it’s still early days.
Remembering Sterling Before He Was Randall
Question: I was offended by the recent complaint in your column about the Pearson kids on This Is Us. Maybe that person had the perfect childhood, but millions didn't and have no problem identifying with them. Also, why are Sterling K. Brown's many seasons on Army Wives never mentioned in the talk of his history? As a military wife for over 43 years (18 active duty), I loved him as Roland and a comforting presence to his officer wife Joan. I was heartbroken when that show was canceled. Too few people know anything about the family side of military life, something I wouldn't change for anything. Thank you, Sterling K. Brown, and the entire cast of Army Wives (even though we were Air Force). — L. Norway
Matt Roush: Look, I’m not piling on whatever backlash there may be regarding This Is Us, but if you didn’t groan when Kevin bailed this week on his girlfriend’s fundraiser, which was so obviously telegraphed by his new painkiller addiction, your cliché threshold is higher than mine. As for Sterling K. Brown’s TV past, I’m not aware that he or anyone is diminishing his long run on Army Wives, but there’s no question his breakthrough year of Emmy-winning roles in American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson and This Is Us is what will dominate any current discussion of his career.
And thanks for your impassioned comments about dramatizing military life on TV, which gives me a chance to give an early plug to National Geographic Channel’s excellent docudrama The Long Road Home, starting Nov. 7, which relives a harrowing 2004 ambush of U.S. troops in Iraq and its impact as well on those awaiting word back home in Texas. It does a great job honoring the sacrifice of the imperiled soldiers and their families.
A Fond Farewell to Nadine
Question: Again, a surprise (and bittersweet) departure from a favorite show: Nadine on Madam Secretary. But unlike with Linda (Amy Carlson) on Blue Bloods, with Bebe Neuwirth (who I HAVE seen on Broadway), she gave them a sufficient heads-up to let the writers come up with a touching and appropriate exit. Beautifully done, in keeping with previous plotlines on the series and she got to say her goodbyes to both the cast and the audience. Well done. — Michael
Matt Roush: Agreed. And I’m especially impressed when these exits aren’t leaked as spoilers in advance. That was a very classy final bow for Bebe Neuwirth, and I wish Blue Bloods had been able to work out a way to make Linda’s death less jarring and confusing to viewers. (A story in the current issue of TV Guide Magazine explains the show’s and co-star Donnie Wahlberg’s response to Amy Carlson’s surprise decision to leave after last season had wrapped production.)
What’s Behind All of These Exits?
Question: With the departure of many performers from many different series this TV season, how much in your opinion is it truly the actor's choice? Would an aging series with an ensemble cast be looking at the balance sheet for reducing increased costs? — Dave S., Pennsylvania
Matt Roush: That is certainly the case in many instances, especially with large ensemble shows. And who’s to say that if Blue Bloods had backed up the proverbial Brinks truck to keep Linda on board she might have stayed, but sometimes it really is the desire of an actor to do something different after many years in the same role. Until the actors in question speak publicly and frankly about the reasons they choose to walk away from a show, or we otherwise learn that cast changes are a result of corporate belt-tightening, we’re sometimes left guessing. In Bebe Neuwirth’s case, with her tweeting that CBS accepted her request to depart the show, and then within days the network announcing that former Grey’s Anatomy star Sara Ramirez (who left her previous show after a decade) was joining Team McCord, that does seem to be a personal choice not dictated by budget.
Why Do Critics Hate The Orville?
Question: The Orville is my favorite new show, yet it has been trashed by critics. In fact, it probably has one of the largest disparities ever between critics (19%) and viewers (93%) on Rotten Tomatoes. The cast is very likable, the special effects are top-notch, and the stories tackle some real issues. Why do you think this well-made show gets no respect? — Drew
Matt Roush: Can’t speak for other critics, but my discontent with The Orville is mostly about tone. It looks and feels like a smirky Seth MacFarlane sendup, but then comes off as painfully earnest when it tries to be an old-fashioned Star Trek homage. I’m not averse to retro TV (hello, Stranger Things 2), but I feel I’ve seen this sort of thing done before and done better. Some sci-fi genre and MacFarlane fans seem not to share these reservations, and that’s not surprising.
Scorpion Is Nerd-Tastic
Question: Is it just me or has Scorpion become TV’s new Chuck? Compare nerd-like Walter and dream girl Paige to a similar Chuck and Sarah. Cabe Gallo is the new John Casey. And the rest of Team Scorpion is like Morgan and the Buy More crew that became part of Team Bartkowski. Many of the plots are equally out there with an unlikely team always saving the day. Can you see what I'm saying? — Charles
Matt Roush: This hadn’t occurred to me, but why not? The way Chuck flipped the spy genre into a fresh action-comedy with its reluctant and charming hero made it feel a bit more special from this critic’s point of view. But Scorpion is harmless caper entertainment that’s found a happy home on CBS, and wouldn’t a crossover homage be fun someday?
Today’s Noisy FAQ
Question: Why the overly loud “background music with horribly loud lyrics” in Grey's Anatomy during a scene where someone is spilling their deepest darkest secrets and we as the viewing audience have NO IDEA what they said because of the aforementioned “background music?” — Cindy
Matt Roush: I could run variations of this complaint every week, and have in the past. The Shonda Rhimes shows are particularly susceptible to the ongoing lament about blaring music upstaging the action, but I hear this about shows on other networks as well, usually of the action variety. Grey’s is especially fond of using pop songs to comment on its stories, but it’s a problem when the underscoring is so intrusive that it becomes a distraction or even a deterrent. We've aired gripes like these often enough that it can’t be a surprise to the producers that viewers find this annoying. (The other most common pet peeve: Shows that are shot so dark you can’t make out what’s going on.)
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.