Ask Matt: Paige and 'The Americans,' the 'Idol'-'Voice' Logjam, 'Station 19,' 'Mom' 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.
The Americans’ Paige is No Mata Hari
Question: I am enjoying the last season of The Americans, but I am having a difficult time with Paige becoming a spy for the Soviet Union. I know she is being groomed, but it seems very out of character. Did I miss something that explained it? — Sharon
Matt Roush: This storyline has been brewing for quite some time, and the fact that Paige (Holly Taylor) is not a natural at the spy game adds to the tension of these final episodes. This was made frighteningly clear last week when Paige left her position after hearing the gunshot in the woods and stumbled upon her mother covered in the general’s blood and brains. You’ll see how hard-liner Elizabeth (Keri Russell) deals with her daughter’s ineptitude and fear in this week’s episode. The backstory to all of this began several seasons ago when Claudia informed the Jennings that the Centre (read: KGB) had initiated a “Second Generation” illegals program to recruit the children of spies like Philip and Elizabeth. They clashed, as parents do, over how to deal with this, but Elizabeth has taken lead on training Paige and somehow convincing her that she’s doing something noble for the Motherland. I know Paige can be a polarizing character, but I find it refreshing now that she’s in the loop to see someone proving to be such a problematic protégée. For Elizabeth to willingly put her daughter in these dangerous situations is just another morally challenging aspect to this remarkable series.
ABC’s Pitchy Scheduling Problem With Idol
Question: Why is ABC airing one of its American Idol episodes on Monday nights opposite NBC’s The Voice every week? Why couldn’t ABC air their Idol episodes only on Sundays, so the network won’t have to worry about Idol competing against The Voice? And I felt bad for Trevor Holmes not making the Top 24! He would’ve made the Top 24 if he wasn’t distracted by Katy Perry’s crush on him, and the producers of the show focusing more on that fake love triangle between Katy, Trevor, and his girlfriend than his singing chops! I hope he finds success with his music, since he has already built a fan base with over 100 million total viewers watching his Idol audition across social media sites! I would’ve put Trevor into the Top 24 over the annoying Catie Turner (I know that it sounds cruel of me to call a teenage girl annoying, but she just grates on my nerves)! And what is up with Cade Koehner also making the Top 24, who never got any screen time until we first saw him on Hollywood Week? Overall, I’m happy and satisfied with most of the contestants who made the Top 24 on Idol this season, and I’m very glad ABC revived the show! — Chris B
Matt Roush: The fact that people are engaged, both positively and negatively, with some of these contestants reminds me of the good old American Idol days. (The mail I get about The Voice almost never mentions the singers; it’s all about the coaches on that show.) But scheduling was always going to be an issue. On Fox, it was fairly easy to clear the decks to show Idol on as many nights as was required, especially during its peak. For ABC, airing Idol on only one night would be an awfully small footprint, making it hard to build much in the way of momentum, and Monday has traditionally been a home for ABC reality franchises that hold their own opposite The Voice (whether Dancing With the Stars or The Bachelor). Pitting two singing competitions against each other on the same night, however, has blunted Idol’s impact, but putting a second episode on any other weeknight would mean sidelining either a comedy block—and Roseanne’s success proves the folly of that strategy—or interrupting the “TGIT” flow on Thursdays. ABC didn’t really have a choice but to put the second night of Idol on Mondays. The real choice, still debatable, was whether the revival happened too soon.
Station 19’s Andy Is No Meredith
Question: I wanted to share my thoughts on ABC's Station 19, a show I really wanted to like and have sat through each week. It seems already this show is becoming a chore to watch, and that is simply because they've done a crappy job of making any of the characters remotely likable. I especially cannot stand Andy Herrera, who is supposed to be the lead character, this show’s "Meredith Grey." It seems that she suffers from both poor development from a writing perspective and terrible casting. When she's supposed to seem heroic and relatable, she comes off as whiny, selfish and manipulative. I'm all for a show with female leads, and shows showing females in male dominated occupation, but it seems on this show the tone they've decided on is anybody besides Andy is unworthy of having a job.
I don't get why they couldn't have spent more time establishing that she was rightfully the most qualified, most skilled of the firefighters, instead of just assuming we'd root for her to succeed. I was turned off by the way she ran to her sick father and manipulated him into promoting her, just so she'd get the job over Gibson, who they've established has spent more time training for the job and has earned it through hard work. I also have to mention that along with 9-1-1 and Chicago Fire, the rescue part of this show seems very generic and boring. They all seem to pale in comparison to the late, great Third Watch, which I still consider the gold standard of rescue/firefighter shows of all time, and seemed to have better character development than any of these shows.
Also: on 9-1-1, if they are a team of EMT's why do they work in a firehouse and drive fire trucks? We've never seen them fight fires even once. Any chance they'll explain that next season or perhaps show a fire or two next year? It seems odd to have them in a firehouse and not once mention anything about them working on fires. — Matt
Matt Roush: Seems a fair criticism of Station 19. If you don’t buy that Andy should be chief—and why should you at this point?—it weakens the premise, and suggests that maybe this would have been a better story to develop later in the show’s run. One of the reasons Grey’s Anatomy worked so well in its early years was that Meredith had to work her way up to a position of authority and respect.
Regarding 9-1-1: This is another fair point, though I always felt the idea behind this series was to show emergencies that went beyond the pale, over the top, anything that wasn’t a routine (if there is such a thing) fire call. Of course it would make sense for these first responders to actually respond to a fire on their rigs at some point. (And I take issue with Matt about the 9-1-1 rescue calls being generic and boring. In the episodes I watched, these crises were extreme for the sake of being extreme, making the soap-opera subplots feel “generic and boring,” at least to me.)
David P wrote in with a similar gripe about Station 19:
“I am having a difficult time staying with Station 19 while being an avid fan of Chicago Fire. While watching Station 19, I keep thinking how unreal the situation really is about them looking for a new chief. To begin with, I doubt that a firehouse chief could even promote a person in his house without at least approval from upper officers, and definitely not his daughter. Then to make it more unreal, that newly promoted person is one of only two from the same station in the running for chief. Guess Seattle is a one-station city, otherwise I am sure there would be more experienced candidates with a lot more seniority for the position.”
Matt Roush: Again, the sort of criticism that makes sense. Even Grey’s Anatomy acknowledges the presence of other hospitals in Seattle. Not that Station 19 lives entirely in a vacuum, but it’s a sign that this who-gets-to-be-chief storyline isn’t playing well to the show’s constituency.
A Mom in Name Only?
Question: Does nobody think it's weird that Christy's kids on Mom have just disappeared without a trace? Maybe she needs to stop making cracks about what a bad mother Bonnie was. The show should be retitled Welcome to A.A. since that's what all the plots are about now. I'm tuning out. — Ingrid
Matt Roush: We’ve dealt with this subject before, and it really isn’t true that Christy’s kids suddenly vanished. Violet’s separation from the family, including her relationship with an older man (David Krumholtz), was developed over time, establishing the fact that she is as unhappy with Christy’s parenting as Christy was with Bonnie’s. And Roscoe moving in full-time with his dad and stepmom was also given ample airtime. Shows evolve over the seasons, and Mom moved away quite purposefully from being a domestic comedy into a series about adult women forming their own sort of family unit as they support each other through recovery. If you don’t think there’s merit to such a show, that’s up to you. I still feel Mom has a lot to say about the human condition, and I’m glad CBS just renewed it for a sixth season. I do agree that the show should on occasion pay lip service to the fact that Christy so rarely sees her kids. The following question points out one recent opportunity that Mom should have taken.
Question: What is going on with Mom? It's obvious the show has abandoned the plot point that Christy is a single mom. Violet disappeared and Roscoe is (apparently) living with his father and stepmom. Are they never to be spoken of again as if they were never part of the show? They are writing her character as if these kids never existed—case in point, last week's episode, in which she turns down Patrick's offer to move in with him because he's three hours away. Not once was Roscoe mentioned as a factor in her turning him down. The show is still funny, but it's missing a part that made the Christy character—who, for me, is the least funny and most annoying of the group—somewhat sympathetic for her choices and predicaments.
Matt Roush: I had the very same thought when Christy didn’t even reflect on her own kids when deciding whether to move away. One of the things I most appreciate about Mom is its realism in showing the hard knocks experienced by people in recovery. For Christy to be separated from both of her children is a painful truth, one the show should revisit more frequently. But will Mom ever return to a time when both or either makes regular appearances? I doubt it.
New Girl, Like Old Times
Question: Have you seen any of New Girl's final season yet? I used to love the show and watched all the time for the first couple of seasons, but eventually drifted away from it somewhere around the middle of its run when it felt like it was getting repetitive and not going anywhere. Is it worth coming back for the final run? — Jake
Matt Roush: I’ve only had time to watch this week’s final-season opener, and while it has the feel of a show past its prime, I was glad to reconnect with the characters. (I also drifted away, and am not even sure if I watched any of the most recent season.) Knowing that these episodes will give the show closure, I’d recommend anyone who’s still curious to check in, as I will try to do in the weeks to come. I have a lot of residual fondness for New Girl, and when in the premiere everyone started weighing in about Schmidt’s ridiculous new mustache, it reminded me why.
And Finally …
Question: Why was Maris, Niles' wife, never shown on Frasier? — Cynthia
Matt Roush: Ooh, nostalgia! Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite running gags on one of my all-time favorite series. Maris is part of a great TV tradition of creating characters who are often heard of—or in some cases, heard—but never seen. The list includes Vera, Norm’s wife, on Cheers, Howard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory, Karen’s husband Stan on Will & Grace, Charlie of Charlie’s Angels, Carlton the Doorman on Rhoda, and so on. The idea with Maris in particular being that the jokes told about her thinness, her coldness, the very notion that Niles Crane even had a wife, were so rich that ever trying to depict her could never live up to our imagination of what she might actually be like.
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.