Ask Matt: ‘The Middle’ and Sue Heck, ‘Future Man,’ ‘This Is Us,’ New Mom on ‘Mom,’ 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.
What’s Next for Eden Sher?
Question: Rather than only feel sadness about the end of a beloved series like ABC’s The Middle, I'm also eyeing the future with some excitement. I'm really interested, for example, to see what Eden Sher will do next. Her evolving performance over the course of the series run has been overlooked as much as the show itself, and I can't help but think that she's got a great future as an embraceable lead on another long-running comedy series if she finds the right project, and one that might get her the recognition she's never really received on this one. She's been, at times, both slap-sticky comedic as well as touching—especially in certain moments with Neil Flynn, and recently Charlie McDermott—avoiding the potential pitfalls of a character that started out as more than a bit over-the-top and could have become annoying. Instead, she turned Sue into a character gradually more rooted in reality that viewers could honestly root for and see mature one small step at a time.
Sher has never given anything other than a fully committed performance on The Middle, and an adult role on another series where she could spread her wings even further may allow her to create an even more memorable character down the line. I always think back to how good David Hyde Pierce was on The Powers That Be, and how we'd never gotten to see him in an even better role on Frasier had Powers lasted much longer, and that would have been a great loss for television viewers. For that to happen with Sher, unfortunately, the book has to close on Sue Heck. I hope she can find a similar defining TV role. — Todd
Matt Roush: First, thank you for that callback to the great David Hyde Pierce and the underrated The Powers That Be and the compliment that gives to Eden Sher to put her in such a context. I agree that as much as I’ll miss Sue and the other Hecks, seeing what she does next is cause for optimism. Your description of Sue and how she has developed as a fully rounded character over the seasons is also spot on. And that’s a testament not only to the actor but to the writers of a show that hasn’t missed a beat in this fabulous farewell season.
Haven’t We Seen This Show Before?
Question: I read the description of the new Hulu show Future Man and can't shake how similar it is to an old movie with Robert Preston. He plays an alien who comes to Earth to enlist the help of the young man who wins a video game based on the space war going on. Is it a coincidence? - Janet
Matt Roush: Not only isn’t it a coincidence, but if you’ve watched any of the show by now—the entire season dropped Tuesday on Hulu, and here’s my review—you know that the movie you’re referring to, The Last Starfighter, is directly called out by the main character, Josh. Part of the fun of Future Man is watching it confront so many of the sci-fi and time-travel action tropes it merrily and bawdily cribs from, often referring to them by name (Minority Report another example). Some may see all of this “borrowing” as a lack of inspiration, but by the time Josh and the warriors from the future end up at a smart house owned by an iconic filmmaker responsible for many of the films they’re paying homage to, I thought it was all pretty clever and funny.
Growing Pains on This Is Us
Question: While it remains to be seen if my love for This Is Us will outlive my hate for this Kevin storyline—Justin Hartley is acting the hell out of it, but I find it poorly written and clichéd—I wonder how the show plans to handle its flashbacks in seasons to come. If the show airs long enough, the actors that play “The Big 3” as 10-year-olds are eventually going to catch up to the teen “Big 3” actors who will catch up to the 20-year-old versions of the “Big 3.” Do you think those flashbacks will be phased out at some point? Or do they film in a way that is giving them enough footage with its younger cast to use for seasons to come? — Kacee
Matt Roush: I imagine the producers would say this is a good problem for any show to have, but it may become a logistical problem when the younger actors in one time frame or another grow out of their roles. Or maybe they just expand the time frame so we follow the kids, especially the youngest set of actors, maturing along with the parents. However they choose to cross this temporal bridge, it’s hard to imagine This Is Us in any format without the structure of flashbacks to the Jack-Rebecca era informing the stories of the Pearsons in the present day.
Regarding Kevin’s storyline, here’s a response from Linda of Rockledge, FL, who initiated an earlier This Is Us discussion in this column, and wrote in again in defense of the addiction subplot: “Yes, the Pearson kids have issues, not unlike those of many of the viewers. Kevin bailing on his girlfriend's fundraiser was heartbreaking for her, but a recognizable symptom of addiction, be it alcohol or pills, as in Kevin's case. This Is Us is an appropriate title because so many of us recognize ourselves or someone we know in their stories. I suggest that this was the purpose of the show, and perhaps the ‘cliché threshold’ needs to be breached as opioid addiction has become such a crisis in this country.”
Matt Roush: There’s no doubt that Justin Hartley is making the most of this storyline—see our recent interview with him, during which he says, to my dismay, that Kevin hasn’t bottomed out yet. And there’s also no question that the opioid crisis is one worth exploring dramatically, and weaving Kevin’s condition into his feelings about his late father is emotionally potent. My problem is with the way the story is being told, where you can almost see each of these dramatic beats coming, which may be unavoidable but has the effect of making the show feel less special and original, which was always one of its selling points.
What’s Up with Fat Jill on Mom?
Question: We love watching Mom and especially enjoy Jamie Pressly. We've been a fan of hers since My Name Is Earl. I know she just had twins so might have gained a little weight. And we assume they are making her look so fat but don't understand why. It isn't enjoyable watching Jill eat like a pig when they are eating as a group. It really isn't adding to the show or to the development of her character. — Mary Jo
Matt Roush: I tend not to stay up on actors’ personal lives so was also thrown when the new season of Mom began and we saw Jamie Pressly (Jill) sporting obviously prosthetic jowls during the diner scenes. When I discovered she was carrying twins—Pressly gave birth to her sons exactly a month ago (congratulations!)—I got it, at least theoretically. Now that Jill is dealing with a foster-child storyline after miscarrying last season, it would be impossible to address the actress’s own pregnancy. And while it’s often awkward for TV characters to hide their baby bumps, I’ve never been a fan of turning an actor’s pregnancy into a pretext for fat jokes. (It was the lowest point of Frasier for me when they gave Daphne an overeating storyline during Jane Leeves’ pregnancy.) Mom at least can couch Jill’s weight gain as another form of addiction, but so far, the treatment has felt more crass than classy.
In Favor of Mom Moving On
Question: Regarding the recent discussion of Mom: I've been seeing some of the early episodes airing now on TV Land and have to say that I'm so glad that they mostly dropped Christy's kids to occasional appearances. Anna Faris and Allison Janney have so much chemistry with each other and the interactions with the rest of the adult cast are so much more interesting that I've been relieved to have less of the kids, though I know the original premise of the show was that Christy was a bad mom struggling to be better, just as her mother Bonnie is doing the same. And in terms of Bonnie dating Adam (again such great chemistry between the actors), I think yes, it's problematic for an alcoholic to date someone who drinks as much as he does, but it's also pretty realistic. — Jane
Matt Roush: No argument here. I like it even more nowadays when either Violet or Roscoe return to remind Christy of her shortcomings and challenges. It’s important for Mom not to forget them entirely, because it’s interesting to see how Christy’s attempts at self-improvement will trickle down to the next generation, but keeping the focus on the grown-ups has freed the show to go in bolder new directions.
Anne Is Back for Thanksgiving
Question: When is the second series of Anne of Green Gables going to be shown on PBS? It was supposed to be shown on PBS on Thanksgiving, but it’s not listed, so what’s going on? — Jeremy
Matt Roush: This may be a local station issue, because in the national listings published in TV Guide Magazine, the second in the new series of PBS Anne movies, titled The Good Stars, is very much the centerpiece of PBS’s Thanksgiving night lineup. (This is why we always advise “check local listings” with any PBS programming, as local affiliates often air these shows at different times.) A third Anne movie, Fire & Dew, is scheduled to air on PBS sometime in 2018. And for fans of the fable, the Netflix version, titled Anne With an E, has been renewed for a second season, with no air date announced yet.
Disgusted With AHS
Question: Please tell me: I cannot be the only one who finds this season's American Horror Story to be the worst. It seems with Cult, the crew set out to create a show merely full of shock, vulgarity and extreme and unusual cruelty. I truly hope the viewership is down this season and even hope that FX will think twice before airing another season. What was a great, smart and intelligently written show has definitely crossed all lines of bad television. — Sydney
Matt Roush: I’m afraid I reached that threshold with this franchise several seasons ago, and once again (as with past seasons, including the incoherent Hotel and Freak Show years) I didn’t make it much past the midpoint this year before finding better—and with shows like The Exorcist, far scarier and more satisfying—things to watch. The AHS brand of overkill has never been to my taste, and I consider myself a horror fan, but not when it rubs your face in it to this extent. Initially, I gave this season the benefit of the doubt, because I was intrigued at how they were using the current climate of political animosity to get at a more free-floating societal anxiety and existential terror. But as usual, AHS took it to an absurd degree of shock schlock, and even with another stellar cast, I couldn’t make myself stay tuned. Even the tedious shoot-em-up that The Walking Dead has become is more enticing.
On a Lighter Note …
Question: I had a really bad case of the blues this past Friday and needed cheering up. Jane the “Heteronormative” was the perfect cure. From the moment Petra accused Rafael of getting "Villanueved" to the closing when the narrator had to remind Jane it was a telenovela and things would not be all right, I was smiling or outright laughing for the entire hour. I needed that, especially with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's descent into darkness the past couple weeks. — Brett
Matt Roush: I take it that since Jane was deflowered, this is how you now refer to the show? Thanks, though, for letting me bookend this column with positive vibes as we head into Thanksgiving week. I’m still getting mail praising Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for its daring in the way it’s handling Rebecca’s depression and mental illness, and I agree, even if at times it seems as if the show is daring us to keep watching. A valentine to Jane the Virgin, which I’ve inadvertently drifted from in recent seasons, seems appropriate, as a rare beacon of light on a weekend night.
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.