Ask Matt: ‘Roseanne’ and ‘The Middle,’ Reba and TV Musicals, ‘Big Bang,’ ‘Station 19’ and More

Neil Flynn, Patricia Heaton, Charlie McDermott in The Middle
ABC/Michael Ansell

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.

Will Roseanne’s Success Rub Off on The Middle?

Question: I’ve seen a lot of articles pop up in the last couple of days about Roseanne‘s surprise monster ratings and how its success reflects representation for blue-collar families on TV. None of these articles seem to credit The Middle for doing the same thing for the last nine years, and I just roll my eyes at that. It’s not that Roseanne doesn’t deserve the credit, but I wish people would remember that The Middle exists and not pretend that this type of storytelling has been extinct since the end of Roseanne‘s original run. It would also be nice if Roseanne gives a ratings boost to The Middle as it heads into its final episodes. Thoughts? — Jake

Matt Roush: As always, I’m on board with anything that gives The Middle the credit it’s due, and I hope that airing it in tandem with Roseanne on Tuesdays through May will bring an even larger audience to this terrific final season. I agree that The Middle has upheld the Roseanne legacy of blue-collar family comedy with distinction and great humor, but one can’t ignore the explosive success of Roseanne’s initial comeback. Which may have something to do with the hype over the politics on display in the first episode (and in the star’s own interviews)—none of which is referenced in the episodes I’ve seen afterward, and anyone who thinks the show is endorsing some agenda will likely be disappointed, because this is a family in rough shape, with grandparents who can’t afford their meds and, soon, will be coping with an opioid addiction.

As much as I adore The Middle, this sort of realism rarely rears its head as starkly as it does in the Conner household, which makes the ramshackle Heck abode look like a vacation retreat. The point of the question, though, is whether Roseanne is unique in dealing with the American working class and portraying these kinds of characters in broadcast network comedy, and the answer is that it’s not. The Middle, which has always acknowledged its debt to Roseanne, has long depicted the travails of an Indiana family that often does without, and CBS’s Mom has confronted the pitfalls of addiction and its impact on family for five seasons. Both are successful, but on a different scale than the numbers Roseanne generated. Which is why some analysts are acting like the show is as revolutionary as it was when it first premiered. Back then, Roseanne truly was one of a kind.

Gunning for a New TV Annie

Question: With the success of most TV musical events around the holidays now, why in the world hasn’t any network pulled the trigger on reviving the success of Reba McEntire for her Broadway performance of Annie Get Your Gun? — Jason

Matt Roush: What a great idea. Reba McEntire is an authentic TV star, and Annie Get Your Gun is a great musical. She deserved all the raves she got back in 2001 when she stepped into the production that originally starred Bernadette Peters (currently killing it in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!). Annie Oakley is a role Reba was born to play, and though it seems impossible this much time has passed, I bet she’d still hit the proverbial bull’s-eye. Can’t say if this is on any TV producer’s wish list, but it ought to be. However, as I suggested in my review of Sunday’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, the only way to pull off a show like this with any degree of authenticity anymore is to either film a stage performance in front of an audience or do it live in a setting resembling a theater more than an empty soundstage.

Best Episodes of the New Century

Question: I disagree with Jim Halterman’s choice of the best The Big Bang Theory episode in TV Guide Magazine’s “65 Best Episodes of the 21st Century” feature. The best episode WAS a holiday gift-giving one, but not the one Jim chose. (Editor’s note: The magazine listed “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” from Season 2, in which Penny gave Sheldon a napkin used by his idol, Leonard Nimoy.) Mine is the episode (“The Clean Room Infiltration,” from Season 8) where Amy surprised Sheldon with a box of his favorite holiday cookies using his grandmother’s recipes. It was a real turning point in their relationship and Sheldon realized how a gift could be a real expression of love. — Donna

Matt Roush: Thanks for this thoughtful response. And before you hold Jim accountable for that choice, many of those episodes on the list were consensus staff picks, and I side with spotlighting the Nimoy gift over Amy’s touching callback to Meemaw. Maybe because it came so much earlier in Sheldon’s character development, but his rapture at receiving the napkin was so genuine and unexpected that it stays with me in a way that few other moments of Big Bang have managed.

Calling, or Praying, for More Reboots

Question: With all the reboots and remakes of shows that are going on right now, why has no one rebooted the one show we all need right now, 7th Heaven? This show ran for 11 seasons and was highly rated! It addressed serious issues in an awesome way and was great for the whole family. They dealt with all kinds of issues from minor relationship things to big things like death. With everything going on in our country right now, I feel this is a show that we need! It would be a completely different show for a completely different generation, since so much has changed since it ended. Please, can anyone, any network reboot 7th Heaven already!?! — Amanda

Matt Roush: Why not? Family drama is still something of an endangered species, This Is Us aside, and a contemporary reboot could maybe find a way to rise above the schmaltz to dramatize religion in America in a newly relevant, specific and provocative way. That’s a subject that is too easily ignored or simplified on TV, with the exception of OWN’s Greenleaf.

Question: With all the “reboots” happening lately, is there any interest in some of the other sci-fi shows that ended a bit too soon, like Warehouse 13, Eureka, Sanctuary, etc., and having them “continued” instead of rebooting with all new casts? Also, any word if Stitched is coming back for a new season? — Brian

Matt Roush: Do you mean Stitchers? (The only reference I could find to Stitched is a Canadian fashion competition that I’m not sure has even aired, and Stitchers falls more into the fantasy genre you’re writing about.) On Stitchers, the answer is no, Freeform canceled it last year after three seasons. And while you never want to say never on this subject, it seems unlikely any of the aforementioned shows would be revived with original casts in the X-Files tradition. A few of these had relatively successful runs, but none became such iconic cultural touchstones as to justify a comeback, although every show of this type seems to have a dedicated fan base that wishes it were so. Now if you’d included Farscape on your list … we’re all still waiting for that to return in some shape of form.

All Smoke, No Fire?

Question: I watched Station 19 and will give it another shot or two, but it is far from factual. The producer really pushes the female aspect of her shows, and in this case, I do not think it will work. Chicago Fire on the other hand is very factual and a good show. — Frank

Matt Roush: I wish I knew what you meant by “factual,” always a loose term when dealing with prime-time procedurals, and I’ll try to block you from charges of sexism by quoting Station 19’s creator Stacy McKee (representing the Shonda Rhimes factory) from our preview of the show: “I was interested in doing a show about a firehouse because Seattle has one of the highest percentages of women in their fire department in the country.” Our fact-checkers apparently had no problem with this statement, so I’ll let it speak for itself. This and Chicago Fire are both sudsy melodramas, but I’ll concede that so far Station 19 seems to take itself a wee bit less seriously and is very much Grey’s with a fire pole. Which will obviously not be to all tastes.

Defending, and Confused By, Homeland’s Carrie

Question: I respectfully disagree with Matt and others who find Homeland‘s Carrie annoying. She is playing a character in the throes of a bipolar breakdown caused by medication that lost its effectiveness. Claire Danes’ performance is spectacular. As for this season’s plot, it was a mistake to expect us to believe she can go rogue without any money but lots of expert support. Still, the government story is compelling, and I have not yet given up on Homeland. — Unsigned

Matt Roush: I actually backed you up on this in one Ask Matt column, but a few weeks later, when pressed on the paradox of Carrie, I found myself siding with the opposition. This has little to do with Claire Danes’ performance, which is exceptional even when the character is impossible—her recent mishandling of little Frannie in particular, for which she’s now atoning. But the improbability of Carrie carrying on this particular mission makes the character the show’s biggest liability at the moment. I agree, though, that the overall storyline, as it deals with Russian interference in our political process and the scourge of “fake news” conspiracy theorists, is both timely and electrifying.

Question: I’m confused about who Carrie is “working” for in Homeland this season. She’s blacklisted from the president’s office, and she and Saul seem to have had better days. She tackles her missions like she’s still employed, and appears to have tactical teams at her disposal. Maybe I missed something. Is she on her own at this midpoint of Season 7 or working with some undisclosed government department? — Unsigned

Matt Roush: As the earlier question indicated, Carrie has gone rogue this season after being fired by the paranoid President Keane. She doesn’t work for anyone officially, though she has taken it upon herself to save the country—and the presidency that coldly shut her out—from these foreign threats. The show has made it pretty clear she’s paying for some of these schemes out of her own pocket, to her financial detriment, and her deep contacts and relationships with colleagues like Max (good) and Dante (bad) have given her access to ad hoc special ops teams, again for better and for worse. Saul is beside himself over the liberties she takes, but it gets results, and she did expose the plot to take down the president’s team from within. It’s all a bit incredible, especially when you consider what an unstable loose cannon Carrie is, but that’s the show.

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.