Ask Matt: Trouble in Shondaland? ‘Madam Secretary,’ ‘Versace,’ ‘SEAL Team’ Going to the Dogs, ‘Good Doctor’ and More

Sarah Shatz/CBS
Sara Ramirez as Kat Sandoval on 'Madam Secretary'

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.


More Misses Than New Hits at Shondaland

Question: What do you make of the string of Shondaland-produced misses? The Catch and Still Star-Crossed were canceled. For the People looks to be headed for the same fate, and Station 19 lost a good chunk of its Grey’s Anatomy lead-in and was beaten out by Chicago Fire. Are people just tired of the same old Shonda Rhimes formula for all of her shows? Has the Shondaland brand lost some of its shine? — Ellen

Matt Roush: To be fair, The Catch and Still Star-Crossed, for all of their considerable problems, were attempts to break away from formula, and their failure is more of a sign of how hard it can be for anything offbeat to break out anymore. (At least Catch got a second season to try to course-correct, but Star-Crossed was doomed as soon as ABC relegated it to the off-season.) The verdict is still out on Station 19, but I’d bet ABC will be patient with that one. The preachy and inauthentic For the People, probably not so much. The unenthusiastic reception to the recent Shondaland shows may be a sign that viewers are burning out on this type of formula TV, but it could also be that Shonda Rhimes & Co. are burning out on the network process, which may make this the perfect time for the company to jump ship to Netflix. If they don’t raise their game with that new creative freedom and deep-pocketed largesse, then it really will be time to reassess the brand.

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Not All Shondaland Shows Are Created Equally

Question: In response to the recent rant about How to Get Away with Murder: It is a Shondaland show, and Shonda Rhimes is an executive producer, but it was created by Peter Nowalk, who is also the show-runner. It’s not a Shonda Rhimes show the same way Grey’s and others are, where her involvement is greater. This seems like an important distinction. — SB

Matt Roush: This is very true, and from the start, Shonda Rhimes has made sure that Nowalk got all of the credit (and/or blame) for creating and running Murder. That said, the show falls under her banner, and she is ultimately responsible for its existence, so must take some of the critical hits as well (especially when considering the totality of the “TGIT” lineup).

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What’s Up With Sara’s New Look?

Question: I love my TV Guide! I would like to know: Sara Ramirez, who is a beautiful woman with long hair (formerly of Grey’s Anatomy) is now on Madam Secretary with the most horrendous hairdo/shaved head. Did she do this because she is playing a bisexual part? I hope so—it is one ugly hairdo and I hope she is getting paid a lot of money to look like that! — KP in CT

Matt Roush: Thank you for loving TV Guide Magazine! Sorry you don’t love Sara Ramirez’s bold new look, but this was very much her choice. (Please read our interview below with her for more context.) She chose this in-your-face aesthetic purposefully in creating the character of Kat Sandoval, and the March 18 episode (dealing with international LGBTQ persecution) gave us more insight into her background when she challenged co-worker Jay’s (Sebastian Arcelus) assumptions about how she identifies herself. The hair in particular is such a startling departure that Ramirez is surely fully aware of how polarizing this will be, but she’s proud to be representing someone so far outside the mainstream. Which is her right.

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Was Versace an Afterthought in Crime Story?

Question: Now that Season 2 of FX’s American Crime Story has concluded, it is more than apparent that Ryan Murphy didn’t have enough material about Versace to cover the entire season, let alone one episode. If he was to delete the scenes about Andrew Cunanan and just focus on Versace’s life and tragic death. the show would be much less watchable to me. Most of the parts dealing with Gianni Versace, his sister and lover were auite dull. Conversely the parts (thankfully the vast majority of the series) dealing with Andrew Cunanan were spectacular and highly addictive. Overall, I grade the series an A- or 4 and a half out of 5. — Fred

Matt Roush: My magazine review (covering the first eight of nine episodes) gave the series four out of five stars, so we’re pretty much on the same page. (I’d give the remarkable Darren Criss as Cunanan five stars or more.) We’ve covered some of this ground before, but now that the entire series has aired, I feel I need to point out that the title aside (The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story), the psychopathy of Andrew Cunanan was always the primary focus of this project, but it would never have been made—and Cunanan would have been a footnote in the annals of true crime—if he hadn’t selected this famous, unwitting target. Producing a biography of Gianni Versace was never this series’ intent, and while those scenes certainly lacked the drama and intensity of Cunanan’s delusional reign of terror, I appreciated the contrast between the openly gay man who earned his fame and was loved, and the twisted, tormented poseur who used his sexuality for the most debased purposes. I also was quite moved in the final episode by the tragedy of Ricky Martin’s character, the widowed Antonio, who even in a supposedly progressive industry like fashion was sidelined by the family (and, less surprisingly, shunned by a priest at the funeral).

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Loving the K9 Member of SEAL Team

Question: I have noticed that SEAL Team is now showing the team dog a lot more. I really enjoy it, even if it is just a group shot of the team moving somewhere. Do you think that since Downward Dog, producers are noticing that people like the dog involvement? – Unsigned

Matt Roush: It’s fair to say that dogs make everything better, and K9 war dogs are a special breed deserving of attention—I recommend the HBO documentary War Dog—but I’m pretty sure none of this has much to do with my beloved Downward Dog (which wasn’t exactly a rousing success for ABC, although I and many of my readers adored it).

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Moving the Messenger, and a Good Doctor Cliffhanger

Question: Once again an inferior network, namely WGN America, has decided to bury a series that I guess was not getting ratings, namely Shoot The Messenger—consigning it to Friday night at midnight, no less, with no previous announcement, unless you would watch this network and their reruns which I would never do. Is this not unfair to anyone who would invest their time to watch the series? Thank God I checked my cable system’s listings by network and found where they had buried it, or you would be just left hanging. CMT did the same thing last year with Still the King. Are these networks possibly owned by the same conglomerate or is this just coincidence?

On another note: Is Richard Schiff being written out by way of cancer on The Good Doctor? I realize this will be meaty from a writer’s point of view, judging Sean’s reaction to losing his mentor and friend, but after all of the heartbreak on This Is Us, doesn’t the audience deserve a break already? Just saying. —JV

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Matt Roush: Shuffling an underperforming show to a graveyard slot is pretty common practice. Beyond that, no link between WGN America, which nowadays acquired all of its “original” programming from other countries (in the case of Messenger, Canada), and CMT, which does at least still invest in some original scripted programming.

Regarding Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) on The Good Doctor: I urge you to read our postmortem (so to speak) on Monday night’s episode, in which executive producer David Shore suggests we’ll be exploring the character’s mortality “over a lengthy period of time” as opposed to hastily killing him off. I love the dynamic between Schiff and Freddie Highmore, so even if suffering is involved (for the character and the show’s fan base), I’m hoping and betting he’ll be around for a good long while.

She Who Solves Crimes

Question: A reader suggested there be a show about a “quirky interesting woman” helping a man solve a crime— isn’t that Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote? – Unsigned

Matt Roush: Well, maybe. I considered this in answering that part of Sarah’s question, but the subject was more about the formula nature of crime-fighting teams. And while Jessica (the great Angela Lansbury) did have allies among the various sheriffs of Cabot Cove and police departments wherever she traveled, she was really more of a lone wolf (fox?). And I agree with those in the comments who called out Bones as an exemplar of the “quirky” female expert helping what was essentially the straight man (in Booth) solve crimes.

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And Finally …

Question: Will there be a tenth Jesse Stone movie on Hallmark this year? — Larry

Matt Roush: Not that I’m aware. This is a recurring question with no answer, until Tom Selleck has the time or inclination to put another movie into play. At which point Hallmark will almost certainly step up, and they won’t be quiet about it either. (In other words, if and when the franchise returns, you’ll hear about it.)

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That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again soon, but because of Holy Week activities heading into the weekend, there won’t be a regular Friday (or Good Friday) column this week. 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.