Ask Matt: 'Speechless' and ABC's Midseason, 'This Is Us,' Oscars, 'The Americans' 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.
Should We Be Worried About Speechless’s Early Exit?
Question: As announced via a commercial in this week’s episode, ABC is double-pumping Speechless next week for the entire 8/7c hour. That puts the 18th episode and season finale on March 21. On some level, I get that ABC needs the time slot available for midseason programming, but is that all that's going on here? Season 1 produced 23 episodes including the pilot, so this year's order was 5 fewer. Should we read anything into the shorter order or scheduling issues as far as the future of Speechless is concerned? I love the show and think there's more life in it, not only because it has become an important platform for disability issues on TV but also because it's really good. I know last year it was one of the last renewals due to ABC and 20h TV negotiations. Does the pending merger of Disney and the Fox studio make renewing this any easier?
Also, what is this Alex, Inc. that is taking the Speechless timeslot? Other than touting it as some sort of family sitcom starring Zach Braff, the ads so far haven't really done a very good job of explaining what the story is or why we should care about it. — Jake
Matt Roush: I’d advise against reading too much into such granular matters as episode orders. These are business decisions, not creative decisions, and this year seems to be all about inventory. Of all the broadcast networks, ABC is having the busiest midseason, with American Idol (four hours initially on Sundays and Mondays), Deception and For the People arriving within the next week, and the end of March is even more crowded, with Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Station 19 joining the “T.G.I.T.” lineup March 22, leading into the return of Roseanne and the launch of sitcom Splitting Up Together on Tuesdays and Alex Inc. on Wednesdays. Something had to give, and Fresh Off the Boat is in the same boat as Speechless, with only 19 episodes having aired when it wraps its season March 20.
You may be right that the pending merger of the Disney and 20th studios may be a boon for Speechless, but I don't really see it as being in any great danger anyway. With The Middle bowing out this year on a creative high, ABC’s family-comedy brand needs a show this distinctive. By comparison, I’ve watched the pilot of Alex Inc. and am just as puzzled as you. Zach Braff is, naturally, Alex, a likable family man who risks everything by starting up a podcast business. The premise and execution seemed pretty flimsy, but I’ll try to watch a few more before it premieres before passing judgment. But as a replacement for Speechless, definitely a step down.
A View of Deja on This Is Us
Question: I like This Is Us, even if sometimes I find it a bit much. (As in, for example, Kevin, whom I am supposed to like, but I really don't.) Supposedly, this most recent episode focusing on foster kid Deja was divisive. I thought it was one of the best of the series. What did you think? — ML
Matt Roush: I haven’t been paying attention to the chatter, so not sure why this would have been divisive—or any more than TV ever and always is—except that I could understand some fans being put off by an episode that featured so little of the extended Pearson family this close to the season finale. I thought as usual, the hour was very thoughtfully crafted and moving, and if Deja is going to be a part of Randall’s family going forward, it’s a dramatically valid choice to go deep into her backstory, especially once it became so clear that Deja had sacrificed so much of her childhood to parent her own mother. That’s an interesting story to tell, and they told it well. (Lyric Ross, who plays Deja, is quite a find.) So I’m on your side if there indeed is a debate. The real question, though, is about that promo tease for the series finale: What is old man Jack doing at Kate and Toby’s wedding? Discuss.
Oscars: So Long and Awkward
Question: It’s understandable that the Oscars would be long with the many categories. However, I thought it was so terribly wrong to cut off the last person from the winning picture to be cut off to the extent they even turned off the overhead lights. Thankfully, Jimmy Kimmel came to the rescue. But how embarrassing. That's inexcusable, given the amount of time wasted on that trip to the movie theatre. That could have been shortened. — Nancy
Matt Roush: Or excised altogether. I get that this sort of person-on-the-street humor is an element of Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show. But that’s not why we watch the Oscars. And two years in a row, these bits have stopped the show cold. (Nothing’s ever going to top Ellen DeGeneres’s pizza delivery and selfie gags, and they should stop trying.) This year’s show was already inexcusably long as it inched to the four-hour mark, so yes, why not let the best-picture moment go on for a while? We were already in an Oscar coma by then. This wasn’t as embarrassing or memorable as last year’s envelope mix-up debacle, but a bad call given the optics. On the other hand, producers should work out the protocol of these acceptance speeches with winners so this sort of awkwardness doesn’t occur. The best solution always is to designate one speaker to give thanks on behalf of everyone else. When too many people come forward, it’s a recipe for disaster.
One Last Hurrah for The Americans
Question: I hope FX’s The Americans was not canceled. I have been looking in TV Guide for weeks. Please tell me it’s coming back. — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Check out the issue on stands next week, because The Americans is coming back. And even better news is that this final season, premiering March 28, is off to a great start. I’ve seen the first three episodes, which jump forward several years with Philip (Matthew Rhys) having put the spy trade behind him while Elizabeth (Keri Russell) remains lethally committed to the cause, and to training daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) as her nervous apprentice. It’s as sensationally suspenseful as ever, and I am both apprehensive and eager to see how it will all end.
Are “Sweeps” Obsolete?
Question: Years ago, the major networks used to have "sweeps" months of November, February and May. I noticed this February there were more repeats than new episodes of shows. Did Netflix, HBO, etc. have something to do with this practice going away?
Also, I work for a department store that sells a lot of large 4K television sets. As far as I know, the only media one can buy in 4K are DVDs of recent movies. NBC's coverage of the Olympics looked like the usual 1080. It seems to me that the TV industry is "putting the cart in front of the horse." Are any other media (Netflix, HBO, ABC, etc.) ever going to produce and air shows in 4K? — Tom
Matt Roush: First, sweeps, a subject I’m familiar with. As the volume of TV and platforms continues to escalate, sweeps months are a lot less noticeable than they used to be when mega-miniseries and other programming stunts were the network norm. But it’s still a thing, though this February it was disrupted by the Winter Olympics, which sent rival networks into repeat or cheap-reality mode. This is also why in a more normal February you’ll find the Super Bowl, Grammys and Oscars taking up three of the four Sundays that month. The Olympics disrupted that game plan as well.
I wish I could address your 4K question with any degree of authority, but you’re asking the wrong person. I’m not a tech person to put it mildly, and doing just cursory research—I’d have more time, but another 10-to-13-episode Netflix series is screaming for attention—it looks as if some shows are available in this format, especially certain streaming originals on Netflix and Amazon, where if you subscribe accordingly, shows in 4K are flagged as such. It doesn’t appear that broadcast and cable networks are rushing to fill this void, but it’s not a subject I know anything about. (I asked around the office and pretty much got a collective shrug as well, so this new innovation doesn’t appear to be sparking a revolution in mainstream TV.)
Marvel Properties Should Get on the Same Page
Question: I’ve read that the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. writers have written a finale that will serve as a series finale if need be. I'm more than OK with that fact, quite honestly, as I think the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has gone as far as they can go when there is no S.H.I.E.L.D. I do often wonder if Marvel Studios squandered its chance to integrate their "universe," though. Instead, viewers are left with three different universes: ABC broadcast, Netflix and the movies. Do you think we would have received a better product if Marvel Studios had better unified their product? I still think it's insulting to viewers that Coulson is dead in the movies. He's on the MOST wanted list, are we expected to believe that Tony Stark doesn't get a list of the most wanted people in the United States? — Veronica
Matt Roush: You’ve found another of my blind spots. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the various Marvel universes or mythologies, which would be a full-time job. Your point makes sense to me, though, that under the Marvel banner, all of these shows should be able to coexist with some degree of continuity. (I can’t comment in detail because I’m by no measure a Marvel completist.) I try to take each show (or movie) on its own merits and expect it to be able to stand alone, with the exception of the interconnected Netflix properties that all combined last year as The Defenders before retreating back to their individual series. But this Coulson situation does sound especially complicated, and I have no clue if ABC is indeed planning an endgame for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Moving it to Fridays wasn’t a great show of confidence. (It seemed to have hastened the demise of Once Upon a Time.) Can we all agree, though, that we’ve hopefully seen the last of the ridiculous Inhumans?
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.