Ask Matt: The ‘Race’ Is Back, But Why Is ‘Homeland?’ Also: ‘Black Mirror,’ Globes, 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.
Is Amazing Race Back For Good?
Question: My question/observation is around my favorite show, The Amazing Race. I personally believe it is the best game show on television (don’t anyone dare call it reality TV), but have been worried in recent years because: a) they started doing only one race per year instead of two, and then b) it got moved to Fridays. This frustrated me because I thought what while the quality was consistently excellent, CBS was effectively giving up on the show. And then I saw last week’s numbers; the show kicked off the night with no lead in, and scored a 1.6 in the demo. These are numbers that any network (including CBS) would kill for; it beats the majority of scripted network television without the underlying cost of an expensive cast or special effects.
Now for my question(s). What’s your opinion on the show so far? Are they moving too far towards reality TV by using Big Brother/social media stars, or is that just the price of doing business in this TV landscape? What do you think the ratings performance means for the show? Will CBS recognize it for the asset that it is, use it to its full potential and keep it in a good time slot going forward, and bring it back for two races per year? I hope so. And I’m #teamwellstrung all the way! — Campbell
Matt Roush: Where The Amazing Race is concerned, I’m glad of two things: that CBS has returned it to a weeknight when I’m more likely to stay aware of it; and that the numbers so far have been quite promising. There’s an argument that only running one cycle per year could whet the appetite and avoid burnout, but success tends to beget excess, so maybe we’ll see more than one running a year going forward. Also keep in mind that this season will be compacted into just two months, with two-hour episodes scheduled for Jan. 24 and Feb. 7, 14 and 21, which will be the finale—during the Olympics. So while I wouldn’t exactly accuse CBS of burning the show off, the scheduling is definitely sending a mixed message.
As for the show itself, I’m mostly enjoying it so far, and am encouraged that they’ve cast so many truly competitive teams. I was squirming this week when the Debate Team of Henry and Evan kept losing the head-to-head competition, which didn’t seem fair to a team that had made it to the obstacle so much sooner than others. But it was exciting for sure. And while I’m not a fan of recycling reality-TV stars (I sat out the social-media season, but that was more a matter of timing), this season’s Big Brother combo of Cody and Jessica are way less obnoxious than I feared, so keeping a mostly open mind.
Why Go Back to Homeland?
Question: What's the purpose of Homeland? Ever since Brody's death, I vowed to never watch the show again, but I did, only because nothing else was on. The show, in my opinion, lacks purpose. The show revolved around Brody, but now it's just useless storytelling. Do you feel the same? — Marques
Matt Roush: I wouldn’t say useless, because there’s always room for a timely thriller about intrigue within the intelligence community here and abroad, especially now when so many institutions are under siege. But your point about the show’s purpose is a fair one, because Homeland definitely struggled for clarity after the Brody story ended, and the writers had trouble (with me, anyway) justifying Carrie’s continued existence as an analyst, given her instability. The show has regained some dramatic footing recently, and Showtime touts Homeland as its No. 1 drama series, so that explains why it’s still on. I’ll be watching this year (starting February 11) as Carrie takes on the authoritarian new President Keane (the always watchable Elizabeth Marvel), who has imprisoned 200 members of the intelligence community, including Saul. But will the show ever again achieve the heights and emotional tension of the early Brody seasons? Doubtful.
In Praise of Black Mirror
Question: Just finished binge-watching Season 4 of Black Mirror, and this series just keeps getting better and better. It is unrelentingly dark in most of its stories, but they are also quite inventive in their use of technology to make statements about everyday life in the near future. Each hour (or less) introduces a brand new set of characters—establishes who they are and tells a riveting story, and then on to the next. Anthology at its best. I've been incredibly impressed by the writing (almost all by Charlie Booker) and the different directors (kudos to Jodie Foster for her work on "Arkangel"), and the superb casts in each episode who immediately ARE who they portray. Each one left me with a pounding heart rate and the desire to grab the phone and discuss it with another viewer—family or friend—and that is high praise. — Michael
Matt Roush: I obviously agree with you—my review of the current season was a rave—and there’s surely no higher recommendation than the desire to talk about what you’ve just seen with everyone you know. That’s happening with me right now with the new season of FX’s American Crime Story about the murder of Gianni Versace. Starts next week, and is it ever gripping. Watch for the review online and/or in next week’s issue of TV Guide Magazine. Back to Black Mirror: I’m glad the anthology format is making a comeback, here on Netflix and this Friday on Amazon with Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (which didn’t jazz me as much as Black Mirror, but what could). They honor the tradition of one of my all-time favorite shows, The Twilight Zone, which I hope CBS All Access does justice to with its impending reboot.
Will the Oscars Lighten Up?
Question: The fashion “blackout” at the Golden Globes was a resounding success, but I fear if they try to duplicate it at the Oscars, it will seem stale, repetitive (been there, done that) and lose its impact. My suggestion to Time's Up: allow for traditional and colorful outfits, yet find another way of visually expressing solidarity: Pins? Armbands? Boas? Your thoughts? — Maurice
Matt Roush: Red carpets are so not my thing, but I agree the symbolic statements at the Globes (and the intriguing variety of designs in black) made their point with maximum impact. I have no idea if and how the Oscars will try to seize this moment, but as we’ve seen in headlines just since the Globes this week, the stories of harassment and gender/pay inequality in Hollywood continue to rock the industry, so it's hard to imagine the Oscars turning a blind eye to all of this. And while I get your point that a monochromatic awards-show circuit could get old fast, it may be too soon to go back to a can-you-top-this fashion spectacle. This year, it's less about who someone's wearing than what everyone's saying.
Question: What's going on with Linda Hunt (Hetty) on NCIS: Los Angeles? Is she OK? I've found that when people are placed in different situations, and not seen that often on that show, it's because something is wrong. Is she ill? Are they planning on getting rid of her, or is she leaving on her own, and that's why there have been so many personnel changes? — Deirdre
Matt Roush: Maybe the situation will change after this Sunday’s episode, let’s hope, when the team organizes a rescue mission to get Hetty away from her captors in Vietnam. I avoid spoilers, so can’t say beyond the episode description from CBS whether or when she’ll be returning full-time to her post. I can say, though, without hesitation that fans want Hetty back, and they’ve been missing her. (Typical for NCIS fans, most tend to hate the new hires.) If there’s anything more behind Linda Hunt’s reduced presence so far this season, no one appears to have addressed it publicly. (Or I've missed it, which is possible given the tidal wave of TV we're all navigating these days.) For now at least, she’s still part of the show, and it would obviously be a lesser show without her.
The Fate of NBC’s Former and Current Monday Shows
Question: Whatever happened to Timeless? Is NBC hoping that since it’s been so long, people have forgotten and moved on? – Sue B
Matt Roush: When NBC changed its mind and renewed Timeless after canceling it, the network’s programmers said at the time that one of the problems they had was finding a place for it on the schedule. (You wouldn’t want it to air in the graveyard zone of Fridays, would you?) CBS just this week finally announced late spring premiere dates for Elementary (April 30) and Code Black (May 2), so it’s possible that will be the general time frame, or possibly even summer, for the return of Timeless. One way or another, it will be back. With these churning and year-round schedules, it’s just hard to predict when anymore.
Question: My mom and brother have been urging me to give NBC's The Brave a shot. I didn't particularly like the promos when NBC began advertising it. So I dismissed them during the initial run. After watching seven episodes On Demand, it is now among my favorite shows. I realize ABC's very popular (deservedly) The Good Doctor overtakes NBC's The Brave by a large margin, but hopefully NBC will take the ABC competition into consideration come renewal time. This show could possibly thrive in another slot. — Fred
Matt Roush: And The Brave is certainly not being helped this month, which will include its season finale, by having the incompatible and old-skewing Better Late Than Never as a lead-in. The network has said it is keeping The Brave in contention for next season, despite not picking it up for the back nine, but we likely won’t know its fate for sure until May. I’m not terribly hopeful, but it’s the only one of the season’s new military dramas I’d give a second look, so I’d love to be pleasantly surprised. As I was with Timeless.
That’s all for now. 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.