Ask Matt: 'Killing Eve' Kills, But TV Should Lighten Up; Fall Copycats, Drunk on 'Bold Type,' 'Elementary'
Welcome back 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.
[Editor’s Note: I’m sure there will be plenty of reaction to the Emmy nominations announced Thursday. For deadline purposes, this column was prepared in advance, and I imagine we’ll be dealing with Emmy fallout in next week’s columns.]
Is “Smart” TV Synonymous With “Dark?”
Question: I'm not a binge-watcher, bur I wound up blasting through BBC America’s Killing Eve. I thought the first episode of HBO’s Sharp Objects was well done, so I'll watch again. But must every "smart," "serious" show be so grim and/or crime focused, with all the characters being train-wrecks? I found two shows that are different, so naturally they didn't get a lot of buzz.
The Split wrapped its first season on Sundance, but should still be available. It's a high-level British soap about a family of female lawyers, grounded, without ridiculous plot twists. And it's got the terrific Nicola Walker in the lead, far away from Last Tango in Halifax (another show I love). Then there's Love Is... on OWN, which has the feel of an indie-movie romantic dramedy and an appealing cast. I just wish these sorts of shows were more prominent and discussed. These two can hold their own with This Is Us. What are your thoughts? — ML
Matt Roush: I love this, because there is a critical assumption in some corners that dark and twisty makes for the best drama while light is inconsequential, and that’s simply not the case. Your picks are good ones, and I did single out The Split (in print and online) and Love Is … (online only) upon their premieres, although I’ll admit to not following through with as many repeated recommendations as they might have merited. The glut of TV, even in the summer, is so overwhelming anymore that boutique services like Sundance, and pleasant diversions like Love Is … can get lost in the fervor over higher-profile shows on the ever-increasing number of platforms. Lately, for those who’ve asked me what’s worth watching that won’t make them want to jump off a cliff, I’ve been recommending FX’s Pose, Netflix’s GLOW and Amazon’s A Very English Scandal (which at only three hours is a blessedly compact binge).
More Praise for Eve’s Killer
Question: Following up on Carolyn’s comments about Jodie Comer in Killing Eve: I raved about her from the start. And as much as I like Sandra Oh, and even if both are nominated from this series, for me Comer is a standout and the clear winner, even vs. her co-star. I did a double take and had to go and make sure I was watching the same actress from The White Princess. (The eyes gave her away—even crazy eyes in Killing Eve). She gives a STUNNING performance as Villanelle. Unlike any villains I've ever seen (credit to the writing as well).
As for HBO’s Sharp Objects: I agree with your review that the story is interesting (slow, but hopefully more interesting as it goes) and the acting is incredible. I expect no less from Amy Adams et al, but in this particular case, I think I'd rather read the book (and I liked, but didn't love, Gone Girl, book and movie, because I thought the ending in both was ludicrous and potholed), because the idea of spending eight hours of my life with these people is rather unappealing. When there are other series out there, even with dicey characters but more intriguing to me, not sure I'll make it another seven hours with an alcoholic cutter and her grating mother. — Michael E
Matt Roush: Even when the mother is played by the incredible Patricia Clarkson? I get the resistance to shows that are defiantly unpleasant, and like much of what I’m dealing with these days, Sharp Objects might have been twice as good at half the length. That said, the languid pace allows an actor like Amy Adams to delve deeper into character than she would be able to in the two-hour movies that constitute her regular career, so I see the attraction for her and for the director (who had a much more entertaining story to work with last year in Big Little Lies).
And I hope all of these raves for Jodie Comer inspire more and more people to check out Killing Eve online or On Demand—although I just noticed on a quick check of the BBC America website that Eve is only available for another two weeks. So time’s a-wasting! The good Emmy news: Sandra Oh was nominated, and so was the writing. Yay! The not-so-good: The show itself, and Comer, were not. It was always a long shot, but at least Eve got a bit of attention for its freshman outing.
Networks’ Copycat Tendencies
Question: Looking at fall shows, it seems that ABC and NBC are just copying one another. The generic New Amsterdam seems to obviously be NBC’s answer to The Good Doctor’s huge success last year. While the more interesting A Million Little Things is ABC’s answer to This Is Us. Seems comparisons could potentially harm both series. Your take? — A
Matt Roush: Yes, as usual, originality is in pretty short supply in what I’ve seen so far of the broadcast networks’ new season offerings. And as is almost always the case, success breeds imitation. On one hand, familiarity is not a crime, and any hospital show deserves to be judged on its own merits. The Good Doctor is fairly unique in its focus on such an unusual lead character, and New Amsterdam is (as noted) more generic as a whole, but tries to distinguish itself with the setting of a hospital based on New York’s Bellevue and the character of Ryan Eggold’s maverick (and at first glance apparently saintly) new medical director. So it’s not really a copycat as much as a reminder of how persistent the medical genre is on TV (and this on a network that already airs Chicago Med).
I’m surprised it has taken this long for the networks to rev up more shows aiming for the This Is Us emotional jugular, and while Million Little Things’ pilot does go there, and like the NBC hit is built around the death of a character who still looms large in the lives of those left behind, it seems at first glance more of a relationship-driven soap heavy on the bromances than a tear-jerking family drama. The emotional drama is among the riskiest genres to attempt on TV, so I would think Million would welcome comparisons to This Is Us. The downside of course being not able to measure up, but the impulse to sell a show to fans of another—if you like X, try Y—is hardly new.
Question: So I am a big This Is Us fan, and two new shows — A Million Little Things and NBC’s upcoming The Village — seem to be going after that audience. Which one do you think has the best shot? — Mr. P
Matt Roush: Impossible to say at this point. Few thought This Is Us would break out the way it did, lacking a typical workplace or genre framework. Trying to replicate that deeply emotional vibe won’t be easy, and the hook of Million Little Things (think The Big Chill without the nostalgia factor) may be more of a turnoff that ABC expects. We’ll see. I’ve only seen a clip of The Village (not airing until midseason), which struck me as overly earnest and manipulative—not always bad things, and I’ll reserve judgment until I see more. On paper, both seem risky, but if ABC nurtures Million properly, that could be a good fit on a network that needs solid new dramas in the wake of Shonda Rhimes’ departure.
The Bold and the Boozy
Question: Maybe I am being self-righteous as a woman who rarely drinks. But I am getting tired of the constant flow of alcohol on The Bold Type. In fact, that is why I wasn't impressed by the pilot of Life Sentence. There was alcohol in nearly every scene—as if there is no better way to deal and bond with family & friends. Do things like this get to you and your TV critic friends? Thank you! — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Booze was hardly my main problem with Life Sentence (RIP). And I suppose I’ve been desensitized to on-screen drinking the same way I am with most rough language and some sexual content, all so much more prevalent in this “peak TV” era, where everyone’s trying to make noise. In a wish-fulfillment young-adult urban fantasy like The Bold Type, I’d expect to see a fair amount of partying and drinking, but it would also be smart to dramatize the consequences (blown deadlines at the very least).
An Elementary Mystery
Question: I recorded Elementary on July 9, but when I went to watch it, Salvation was recorded in its place. What happened to the Elementary episode, "You've Come a Long Way, Baby?" Has Elementary been canceled? Why did CBS pull Elementary and substitute Salvation? — Richard
Matt Roush: In case you missed it, programming on that Monday was interrupted by the announcement of the new Supreme Court appointment, and CBS was forced to do some last-minute juggling of the schedule. Instead of disrupting too many start and stop times, CBS moved Salvation into Elementary’s time period (airing a repeat during the hour of the news event). The Elementary episode scheduled for July 9 will air this Monday instead. And not only has Elementary not been canceled, it has been renewed for next season—once again, for a midseason launch.
[Editor’s note: The discussion in the most recent Ask Matt column about shows being canceled without a proper finale generated more feedback than usual in the mailbag. Here are some other responses to this quandary.]
Question: I've read many complaints about series being canceled while leaving viewers hanging, and as an avid TV viewer this has happened to me more times than I care to admit. I wonder how many potential viewers don't tune in to a series with a continuing storyline just because they worry that it will be canceled with no conclusion. And while I understand the reasoning behind not bringing everyone back to film a movie to tie up loose ends (cost versus payoff), I did appreciate what some people behind the 2005 Fox series Reunion did after their show was canceled. First, they offered the remaining filmed but unaired episodes for online viewing. Then they also put up a synopsis of what they planned in upcoming episodes so that viewers could at find out whodunit. I think if more show creators would find a way to at least let viewers know where they were going with their programs, it would take some of the sting out of these cancellations. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: If everyone followed through on their pledge never to watch a serialized show again after a series is canceled prematurely, TV would go out of business. It’s human nature (just ask Charlie Brown in football season) for us to swallow the bait time and time again, and I’m sure it will happen again, perhaps with NBC’s latest Monday-night speculative drama, Manifest. (If it doesn’t open strong, it’s likely doomed from the first.) That said, I heard from a number of readers who echo this wish that show creators and show-runners would make widely available their theories on what would have happened next. The Reunion example is among the best when it comes to giving fans some sort of vicarious closure.
Anna agrees: “I understand why it makes no sense from the studio's view to film an episode to wrap things up after a cancellation. But why can't the producers or writers simply tell the audience how things were supposed to wrap up? There are all sorts of outlets available for them to use to get the story out. P.S. Please tell Karen from your last column that Deadwood is well worth watching even without a final episode!”
I agree. Deadwood was always about more than plot. And believe it or not, some sources indicate that the long-rumored Deadwood movie may actually get underway this year—more than 12 years after it was canceled. Lesson: Never lose hope.
And finally, from Doug: “I liked the online epilogue that The CW’s Frequency (a show I really liked and recently re-watched on Netflix) did, when [SPOILER ALERT] they filmed a 3-4 minute segment where the dad survives and suddenly walks into the garage with the ham radio. They released it online for fans who wanted a little closure.”
That’s all for now. 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.