Ask Matt: Moving ‘Speechless,’ A ‘Million Little’ Questions, ‘SNL’ Stunt Casting & More
Welcome back to the Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist”) Matt Roush, who’ll try to 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.
Can Speechless Survive on Fridays?
Matt Roush: I feel your pain, especially if the move negatively affects this terrific family comedy. (Friday’s season opener is very strong, with the DiMeos off to London, where they encounter the great John Cleese as Mia’s estranged father.) The motive for the move was simple and understandable—to relaunch ABC’s “TGIF” family-friendly franchise with already established series, including Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless. The problem: Fox countered with its own sitcoms, including Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, which ABC foolishly dropped a year ago and now presents formidable competition. (Fox’s very broad Cool Kids, with its cast of veteran comics, is a compatible fit.)
To clarify, Speechless’s time-slot competition in the 8/7c hour on CBS is MacGyver, not Hawaii Five-0 (which airs later), but the point is taken that uprooting a show as special as Speechless from a comfortable berth on a Wednesday comedy lineup could be potentially damaging. I’d like to think that if Speechless noticeably falters on Fridays (which is quite possible), the network will move it back to Tuesdays or Wednesdays in a more protected spot—although nowadays there’s no time period that’s without serious competition.
Picking Things Apart (with a Suits Chaser)
Question: I watched A Million Little Things and am still on the fence, but will keep watching. My biggest problem, besides the suicide, is how an unknown “friend” goes to a funeral for a date and then presto! She becomes a near-and-dear within minutes. How would a widow be so attentive and welcoming to a complete stranger who knows nothing about any of them? Just way too contrived for my liking and not endearing me to the character at all. I do like the twist of the widow and friend being in an affair and no one knows about it.
Can we also talk about how good Suits is once again? Now that all the Mike drama is gone and it no longer centers around him, it has become a refreshing change. The story lines are interesting again and hopefully it will continue to be Litt Up! — Teresa
Matt Roush: That’s a fair point about A Million Little Things, although establishing the new-to-the-group Maggie (Allison Miller) as a therapist may help explain why some of these troubled souls have no problem opening up to her. If believability is the issue, there would seem to be multiple hurdles in embracing this show—which I like despite its improbabilities. (One friend stopped from committing suicide by another jumping off a balcony, for starters.) The best episode yet airs on Wednesday, Oct. 10, which moves along the secret-affair storyline much more quickly than I’d expected. I’m intrigued to see where the show goes from there.
As for Suits: Agreed. What I’ve seen of the eighth season I liked, and it does feel like a refreshed series without being weighed down with Mike’s baggage. I’m even more eager now to see the Second City spinoff built around Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson.
Question: I finally watched the pilot of A Million Little Things — or, as I call it, thirtysomething meets 13 Reasons Why. I’m undecided at this point, and I know you’re a spoiler-free zone, but if you’ve seen beyond the pilot, can you explain why the writers decided to have some sort of subplot with the secretary? I’m all for human melodrama, and it doesn’t even bother me that the widow is having an affair with one of the buddies. But the secretary subplot just seemed bizarro. I know, not really a question. More of an irritated rant. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: I’ve only seen the first three episodes so far, and my takeaway on the character of Ashley (Christina Ochoa) is that she is obviously holding back secrets about the business life and legacy of “perfect Jon” (Ron Livingston), which may hold a key to why he killed himself. It actually seems kind of realistic to me that someone who has been a successful workaholic’s assistant for six years may spend more time with and know a person better than his most intimate friends—and possibly even family. But once that storyline is resolved, which I hope they don’t drag out too long, it is hard to figure how she’d remain connected to the core ensemble without twists that would strain credibility even further.
SNL Should Give Its Cast More Chances to Shine
Question: My question is about stunt casting on Saturday Night Live. Over the past couple of seasons, the show seems more and more to fall back on movie stars whenever there’s a high profile public figure to parody: Trump, Comey, Spicer, Ivanka, Kavanaugh. Don’t get me wrong, this is incredibly entertaining, and is definitely helping the show’s clips go instantly viral and generate massive amounts of buzz. But I feel kind of bad for the cast. Did Matt Damon do a great job as Kavanaugh? Of course. Could any one of the other cast members have also done a great job? Probably. But instead, week after week, celebs come in and take on the meaty roles (even when they’re not hosting) and the cast are just kind of … there. I think the new featured player had literally one line in the last episode. How is anybody supposed to really break out?
I see flashes of greatness from Heidi Gardner, if only they gave her more to do. Last season, I attended the dress rehearsal of John Mulaney’s episode. They had both Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro doing cameos, and then both the sketches featuring Luke Null were cut for time. He was let go at the end of the season, having had almost no screen time. He was good in both the cut sketches, and showed off a great singing voice to boot. I think the days where SNL created “stars” vs. just courting them may have ended with Leslie Jones. Nobody on the show has been given an opportunity to make an impression since she joined the cast, and I don’t think it’s their fault. What are your thoughts? Will Leslie Jones be the last SNL star? Should the show go back to empowering its cast, or is it better off as a buzz-worthy show full of cameos? — Andy
Matt Roush: Great observations and such an interesting angle on how SNL has developed in recent years. It’s almost like SNL is two shows these days: the “cold open” showcase, taking on the Big Topic of the week with an all-star extravaganza, hitting a brilliant peak in the spring with DeNiro as Robert Mueller and Ben Stiller as a sheepish Michael Cohen, while Alec Baldwin’s comically caricatured president pouts and fumes. And then there’s the rest of the show, with sketches that calling them “uneven” barely begins to describe the mediocrity, amid occasional bursts of glory in “Weekend Update” cameos, where reliable players like Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Leslie Jones and Kenan Thompson can shine.
I agree many of the cast (including though certainly not limited to Heidi Gardner) are underused. But a lot of this has to do with the hackneyed material of the sketches they’re trapped in—and it’s not always clear if it’s the writers’ (probably) or the performers’ fault when they don’t pop sooner or brighter. Last season, I kept feeling like Mikey Day in particular was on the brink of breaking out like a versatile Phil Hartman or Bill Hader, and that could still happen. I’m sure SNL will continue to generate stars, but it would help if they had more to work with, and that means creating stronger moments beyond the high-profile opening that could generate a new wave of memorable characters to launch these careers.
Been There, Saw That
Question: I really enjoy all the Chicago shows (Med, PD and Fire), but why does it seem EVERY season on Chicago Fire that someone is out to get the firehouse or the chief? It’s getting really stupid, boring and too repetitious! They seriously need new storylines. — Bob
Matt Roush: So what is it you like about the show? I get the comfort level of procedurals and the interlocking nature of these three in particular, but I have the same problem as Bob when I tune into any of the Chicago series. I feel I’ve seen it before, and often better, and while I’m glad they’ve found their audience, I can’t justify from a critic’s point of view adding yet another uninspired firefighter/medical/cop show to my over-cluttered TV menu.
A Plug for Ballers, and Good Times for God
Question: Regarding HBO’s overlooked The Deuce, might I add Ballers? I don’t think it’s ever received any nominations. I’m a big sports fan—in addition to being a fan of great TV—and sports are not always easy to get right AND make something dramatic or comedic out of it in the bargain. Ballers gets it right. And Dwayne Johnson (who played college football at the University of Miami) knows what he’s doing and is VERY good in this series, especially in the more dramatic arcs he’s been given.
Also, wanted to thank you for suggesting that I give God Friended Me a look. (I was going to skip it because it sounded a bit like Kevin Almost Saves The World, which never made it past one season). I thought the pilot was excellent. It was what I thought it would be, but so much more. Loved the characters and can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Already set on series record on my DVR. — Michael
Matt Roush: In another time, a superstar like Dwayne Johnson doing fine work on a show like Ballers would have been Emmy (and other awards) bait for sure. I’ve watched the show intermittently, despite being less than fascinated by the world it portrays, and while it’s solid and colorful, and clearly successful for HBO, it’s hard for me to argue that it’s more worthy of nominations than Barry, Silicon Valley, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Insecure or (when eligible) Veep, to name HBO’s current Emmy comedy darlings.
Regarding God Friended Me: I find the premise and execution much more appealing than the muddled Kevin—no knock on Jason Ritter, who deserves a successful series—and will be curious to see how it holds up on Sundays in what seems to be a very friendly time period. God did well in its first week, and getting sampled is half the battle anymore. So here’s a little prayer that we won’t end up being disappointed.
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. Please include a first name in your question.