Ask Matt: Life After ‘The Middle’ for Sue & the Hecks, ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘Good Doctor,’ ‘Last Man Standing’
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.
Have Sue’s Parents Abandoned Her?
Question: I just saw that Patricia Heaton has signed on for a CBS pilot next year. I fully understand that The Middle’s Sue Heck spinoff is Sue’s (Eden Sher) show and is not The Middle Season 10. However, with this signing, both Heck parents are now on other networks besides ABC (Neil Flynn co-stars in NBC’s upcoming Abby’s). Do you think this will prohibit them from guest-starring occasionally? Although I don’t need to see them all the time, it would be weird for those characters as they were established in The Middle to never interact with her at all. — Jake
Matt Roush: It’s not uncommon for actors to do double (or more) duty and appear on multiple shows, albeit sparingly for whichever ones aren’t their primary gig. In this case, given the long history they all have with The Middle, I’d bet that even though they’ve by necessity moved on, they’d jump at the chance to do an occasional scene as Mom (Frankie) and Dad (Mike), although whatever the Sue spinoff will be called—apparently they’re having second thoughts about Sue Sue and the City—it would be wise to establish itself as a separate entity from The Middle. Currently, the only full-time Middle connection on the highly anticipated spinoff will be Brock Ciarlelli returning as Sue’s gay BFF Brad as a series regular.
A Call-out for Saul and Good Doctor
Question: I would like to continue talking about older series that are still great and deserve mention—as a reader recently did with Suits, which I too have also loved. In particular, I am speaking about Better Call Saul, which is neck and neck with The Good Doctor as Monday’s best show. The recent episode involving Jimmy and Kim’s big scam was just brilliant and should be submitted at Emmy time. Maybe this is why it takes so long to develop a new season for this show—and I wish we would get more than 10 episodes. Also, when will Freddie Highmore ever get more recognition for all his great work now as Sean on The Good Doctor (and previously as Norman on Bates Motel)? — JV
Matt Roush: The last episodes of Better Call Saul this season really delivered, I agree—I might have wished it had arrived at this turning point sooner, but the evolution of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman has been fascinating, and Bob Odenkirk (as Jimmy/Saul) and Rhea Seehorn (as Kim) are just terrific—although I’m not sure some of the other subplots measure up. I’ve heard some suggestions that Saul is actually a better show these days than Breaking Bad—which sounds to me like a case of love-the-one-you’re-watching syndrome, because I can’t accept an argument that the spinoff/prequel is in any way as gripping as Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) descent into villainy.
As for The Good Doctor, which is having a very strong second season, I’ve argued from the start (including during the run of Bates Motel) that Freddie Highmore—who actually wrote the second-season opener of Good Doctor!—deserves more accolades and nominations. The genres in which he operates (suspense/horror for Bates, network medical procedurals for Doctor) probably work against him getting the acknowledgment he’s due.
Oh Mandy, You Came and You Went and You’re Changing
Question: Why did the producers of Last Man Standing do such a poor job of replacing Mandy and why did she leave? Also, Kyle in a suit and having an office job? I am not watching anymore. They ruined a good story line. I have watched the reruns over and over. — Creekwood
Matt Roush: I pity any actor or actress who steps into a popular character—or ensemble; you should see the mail I get instantly condemning just about any new face on any of the NCIS shows. While I’m fairly confident the Mandy character isn’t make-or-break for most Last Man fans, I’m not surprised the new and very broad take on the character is causing some backlash. (I read that the original Mandy, Molly Ephraim, took down her Twitter account because of the vitriol.) My understanding is that during the year when Last Man was shut down, with no guarantee of its return, Ephraim moved on to new career opportunities, including the upcoming feature film The Front Runner, and wasn’t available to rejoin the cast.
Why Wasn’t Murphy’s Comeback Bigger?
Question: The ratings for the Murphy Brown revival have been very disappointing so far for its first two episodes, and is also hurting S.W.A.T’s ratings (along with Thursday Night Football on Fox hurting the latter show to compete for the male demos). I think the reason why ratings are so low for the Murphy Brown revival is that the show is not in cable and streaming syndication (with the exception of the original series airing on Antenna TV), and only the first season of the show was released on DVD (music rights are also causing the show not to have further seasons released on DVD). And the heavy political news coverage of the Kavanaugh hearing is also negatively affecting the ratings for Murphy Brown. Do you think the Murphy Brown revival airing at a time of heavy political news coverage is just bad timing for the show? — Chris B
Matt Roush: In some ways, it’s the best and worst of times for Murphy Brown to be revived. It couldn’t be more relevant in a time of such extreme political polarization, which was true to some degree during its original run (i.e., the Dan Quayle incident and the parody of the Clarence Thomas hearings). But I’m also thinking we may be reaching a fatigue point when it comes to heated discourse on both sides of the political aisle, and while Diane English (Murphy’s creator) and star Candice Bergen are obviously enjoying this platform to state some deeply held beliefs—about the maligned news media, the current state of politics, and this week the #MeToo movement—there’s also a sense of preaching to the converted in the episodes to date that’s likely to turn off as many as who are attracted by the spectacle. (This column isn’t a political forum, so I tend not to publish attack letters from either side of the fence, and I get plenty of both.)
The relatively soft numbers for Murphy’s return (which grow, as often is the case, in delayed viewing) may have something to do with the show being out of sight, out of mind for so long. But it’s the climate in which the show returned that probably has more to do with its reception, for better or worse.
On Grey’s, Where’s the Fire?
Question: The season finale of Station 19 left the fate of Ben, and most of the cast, up in the air as they were stuck inside a burning building. Now obviously, there’s no way the show was going to kill off its entire core cast. We’d also seen Ben in the hospital in promos for the premiere, which means we knew he was going to get out of the burning building. However, it was still odd to see him appear on Grey’s Anatomy immediately prior to the airing of Station 19, because on Grey’s, he was in bed with Bailey and everything was fine. Then, the next hour on Station 19, he’s back in the burning building where we left him in May. I don’t think we should have seen him on Grey’s this season until after the premiere of Station 19 resolving his situation in that cliffhanger aired. It’s fine for the shows to crisscross characters as appropriate—especially Ben, since he originated on Grey’s and is married to Bailey—but they need to be more consistent with the timeline of when things are happening, and ABC needs to be more thoughtful about the airing pattern in order to make sure the shows work in a seamless manner. Otherwise, it’s just sloppy. — JL
Matt Roush: That’s a pretty egregious lapse in continuity, I agree. I wonder if this is a function of ABC deciding to combine the first two episodes of Grey’s (in which Ben didn’t appear) into a supersized season premiere the week before Station 19 returned. The Bailey-Ben scene was actually in the third hour of Grey’s, which for all purposes should have aired after the Station 19 opener. Either way, the shows operate in the same universe and city (not unlike Dick Wolf’s Chicago shows) and should always be aware of what’s happening in the other’s world.
Hopping for More Popping
Question: When will Dr. Sandra Lee (Dr. Pimple Popper) come back? We all miss her show. Please bring her show back. It’s a great show! — Charlye
Matt Roush: It’s between seasons right now, but set your machines for Dec. 13, when TLC airs a holiday special of the cult show: The 12 Pops of Christmas, all about Dr. Lee taking care of clients’ skin issues before the yearly onslaught of holiday parties, dinners and photos. The show is expected to return with new episodes in January, so happy popping new year!
Just One More Thing …
Question: I sure would like to see a resurrection of the brilliant and entertaining TV series Columbo starring the late Peter Falk. I believe that Mark Ruffalo would be the perfect actor to continue in Falk’s path, even if it were just three or four two-hour episodes a year. How can we make this happen? — David, Brooklyn
Matt Roush: First, you’d have to convince Mark Ruffalo to do episodic procedural TV—albeit high-end—which is probably a tall order. That’s an inspired casting choice, but honestly, there are some shows and iconic TV characters that I’d prefer to remain untouched by revival or reboot. Columbo is one, although I can see where someone might want to put a new spin on the character, much like Sherlock Holmes keeps coming back in new and different forms. And I cringe every time I hear of someone attempting to bring back The Rockford Files (which belongs to James Garner for eternity). But that’s the nature of the industry right now, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone give it a shot.
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.