Ask Matt: ‘Orville,’ ‘Good Doctor,’ the Top-10 TV List, Remaking a Classic, and More
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 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. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.
Orville, Come Back!
Question: I know Seth MacFarlane has his hands full with all of the shows he's involved with, but Fox aired the last episode of The Orville’s first season in the first week of December. That means viewers won't see another new episode for roughly 9 1/2 months—or maybe even longer. While I appreciate seeing as many of them with as little interruption as possible, could there be any way to kill a show's momentum—especially a newcomer—faster than keeping it off the air for almost a full year? I'm aware critics (present company NOT excepted!) have not been kind to the sci-fi/comedy hybrid, but it's clearly been one of the few out-of-the-gate hits of the season. I can't believe Fox would think it's a good idea to let it go off the air for so long—even if it's not entirely their choice. — Aaron
Matt Roush: I know the less-is-more philosophy is not popular with many readers of this column, who would prefer the shows they love never to stop airing whatever the time of year. But the first season of The Orville was always intended to be a limited run because of the high production and post-production values, and if doing fewer episodes results in a better series, I’m not going to argue with that. (We can agree to disagree on the quality of the show itself, which I still feel suffers from an uncertain tone falling somewhere between homage and parody.) By giving The Orville an early renewal for a second season—not sure about the duration—Fox is giving MarFarlane and his team the time to produce the episodes to their satisfaction, not grinding them out like the usual weekly network sausage.
To your point that going off the air for such a long period of time could stall whatever momentum The Orville might have, I would counter and say that Fox has an opportunity to promote its return next year as something of an event. It’s also an acknowledgement that networks are by necessity becoming more like cable with shorter or split seasons for some series resulting in longer breaks. The upside being that more compressed arcs can sometimes lead to more compelling storytelling. And yet it’s understandable that fans of a show prefer longer seasons and less time between them.
Taking The Good Doctor to Task, Word By Word
Question: I love Freddie Highmore and I never miss The Good Doctor, but it can be hard to continue as a believer sometimes. In the last episode, the kid from Africa with the very screwed-up heart, hours after open-heart surgery is playing, he's out of bed looking like he's ready to take on the world. REALLY? Then if I'm to accept someone as not just intelligent, but brilliant, should they not use proper grammar? In regard to this show—they (like so many others) keep saying "In regards" (the “s” is so very wrong most of the time unless you’re “sending my regards to Broadway.” It is everywhere—even newscasters, but it's still wrong. Then Dr. Shaun says eccetera—also all too common, but just remember the great Yul Brynner, "Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera," from The King & I, there is a “t” in there. Do none of the writers take English—or the directors, producers? — Mary
Matt Roush: I’ll give you the forced happy ending with the African patient. I enjoy The Good Doctor, but can see how its manipulation of the heartstrings can sometimes be too much. But regarding the tendency to nitpick the language so minutely, not so much. Sometimes writers write like people talk, even at the expense of perfect grammar. It’s also possible that because Freddie Highmore is masking a British accent, his pronunciation of certain words might leave something to be desired. None of that detracts from my enjoyment of a show, at least not this one.
The Highs and Lows of a Top 10 List
Question: Just perused your Top 10 list. Firstly, THRILLED that The Middle is on there. I've been a fan since episode 1 and their farewell season has been stellar. This series deserves all the retroactive awards and acknowledgment it can get. Fact is—it was a very good season and a Top 10 may not be enough. Maybe goose it with a list of 10 more honorable mentions.
I did not get to see The Handmaid's Tale, but I'd be hard-pressed to name ANYTHING as #1 over Game of Thrones. Thanks for including The Vietnam War, which was mesmerizing. And Ozark. Although I would definitely have found a place for the superb Godless as well. Maybe drop Master of None, which I didn't think was as good as its first season (especially to make room for Better Things, which was "better"). I also thought that GLOW was better than Master of None. And I'm already on the record as NOT being a Downward Dog fan—so that one wouldn't have taken a spot away from any of the others mentioned here or in your list. — Michael
Matt Roush: The whole purpose of a year-end list, as I see it, is to stimulate this kind of discussion. No two would be alike, and I took some risks with mine (Downward Dog and Middle not exactly critical darlings, but I love them, whereas fixtures on many others’ lists, like The Good Place, I admire and enjoy greatly but don’t respond to as personally or deeply.) I’ve already noted my regret in not including Better Things, and I’ll stand by my singling out Master of None, which episode for episode was so creative and cinematic and memorable that I couldn’t ignore it. My Netflix entries gave multiple shout-outs to shows I liked just as much (Godless, GLOW, etc.), but I didn’t want to clutter the list with just one network’s output. And as I noted in my column earlier this week, the response to including Downward Dog was so gratifying I don’t second-guess that at all. I know it wasn’t to all tastes, but if it had been, it probably wouldn’t have been as special.
Playing Along With Reality Competitions
Question: Thanks, Matt, for your recent defense of Survivor! Hubby and I have enjoyed that show, along with The Amazing Race and Big Brother, from the beginning. I guess we just enjoy competition shows. — Linda in Florida
Matt Roush: They’re just about the only type of “reality” programming I can abide. (I have no use for shows where people pretend to be living their live on camera, and become famous for their exhibitionistic habits.) But I draw the line at Big Brother. What I enjoy about Survivor and especially The Amazing Race is the sense of people having a once-in-a-lifetime adventure—not such a fan when they come back for “all-star” seasons—and there’s an escapism to these lavishly produced games. Whereas Big Brother I find an appalling, and unbelievably uninteresting, exercise in claustrophobic self-absorption. I get that it’s some people’s guilty pleasure, but I just don’t see where the pleasure comes in. On the other hand: Digging the new season of Top Chef on Bravo. Yum!
A New Generation of Golden Girls?
Question: Since remakes are all the mode now, I wish someone would remake The Golden Girls, one of the funniest shows ever on TV? A great cast would be: Goldie Hawn as Rose, Diane Keaton as Dorothy, Susan Lucci or Kim Cattrell as Blanche, Diane Ladd or Linda Lavin as Sophia. What do you think? — Arthur
Matt Roush: (Stunned silence as I choke on my cheesecake.) Nice try, Arthur, and I love The Golden Girls, too, but while the immortal Betty White is still with us, and let’s hope for many years after, this feels to me like sacred ground. Recapturing that classic vibe would not be easy, and as long as the original can thrive in syndication, I’m content to bask in the glow of those who created these roles. It does seem overdue, though, for TV to provide a vehicle for underused talents of the AARP generation. Just not this one. (Although if it could rescue the great Linda Lavin from the mediocrity of 9JKL …)
The Wisdom of Cancelling Crowd Question: I love it that you answer people's questions. It's so nice to be able to find out answers to our questions, so thank you very much. My question is about Wisdom of the Crowd being canceled. Since jeremy Piven is being written out, why couldn't they say he found his daughter’s killer and reunited with his wife and let the talented Natalia Tena take over the lead? All the rest of the cast is also very talented. — Mary
Matt Roush: You’re welcome, and I try to answer as many questions as I possibly can through the year. (Apologies to those I haven’t.) I hope for the sake of this show’s fans that they resolve the main murder story to some extent before going dark. But it would be very unlikely for a network to hang a show like this on a co-star with so little name recognition (although I’ve often said TV is better at creating stars than repackaging them). Personally, I never cared for the premise of this show—encouraging a mob mentality on social media to exercise justice, gives me the chills—and I always thought, even before the allegations, that Jeremy Piven was miscast. I don’t see any way to salvage this one, but I am looking forward to the replacement show heading our way in March: Instinct, starring the always entertaining Alan Cumming.
Buying The Librarians
Question: The Librarians is one of the rare quality shows on TV that you can actually watch with your family. TNT seems to be burning off the episodes by running two a week in December. That and the lack of marketing for the fourth season has me nervous about the prospects for Season 5. Why would they just "throw away" a show that has an A+ cast, directed and produced by Dean Devlin? — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Got me. As we’ve often discussed, regarding other shows from TNT’s earlier regime (most notably Major Crimes in its ongoing final season), the network is in a rebranding mode, and where this upbeat fantasy fits into TNT’s overall programming scheme is hard to figure. It’s obviously not a show of confidence.
And Finally …
Question: Why did the Golden Globes snub This is Us? — Jettybo
Matt Roush: Snub? Did you see the same list I did? The show was nominated for best drama, lead actor (Sterling K. Brown) and supporting actress (Chrissie Metz). I suppose a few more could have made the cut, but no episodic series received more nominations. (The Globes offer fewer categories in the TV arena, which is why it looks low.)
That’s all for now, and for 2018. We’ll pick up the conversation again year, and I thank all who correspond with me for your thoughtful and often challenging questions. 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. A happy holiday season to all and here’s to what’s sure to be a busy 2018 worth watching.