Ask Matt: Horror Shows (‘Walking Dead,’ ‘AHS,’ ‘Supernatural’), ‘Modern Family,’ ‘Instinct’
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 theform at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and Fridays.
The Scary Thing About TV
Question: In keeping with the spirit of Halloween, I would like to discuss horror-themed shows that I still watch and assess how they are doing. First off, I believe that this season of The Walking Dead has improved, but was it really necessary to tell us when Rick Grimes is leaving? I believe it’s a ratings ploy, and it would be better to spring it without knowing when. And really, only 5 episodes for Andrew Lincoln? Secondly: American Horror Story, which I believe has gone downhill, and I actually fell asleep on their return to the original house setting. I guess I probably was one of the few who enjoyed last season and AHS‘s take on our current political situation. Next, I think that even in its 14th season, Supernatural has reinvented itself with the Dean-Michael quandary.
Finally, I would like your assessment of the new commercial-free option being used by AMC and FX. Will this continue? Oh, and by the way, it will cost you more–WHY??? I use my DVR and watch most shows this way, why pay more? — JV
Matt Roush: A few reactions: Yes, even with Negan still alive—and why don’t they just gag this blowhard?—this is a better Walking Dead season than we’ve seen of late, but even by today’s standards, the marketing of “Rick Grimes’ Final Episode” (Nov. 4, if you haven’t been paying attention) feels over-the-top and unseemly. (For more on this trend, see the following exchange.) I’m not sure it’s possible for American Horror Story to go downhill, as it hit rock bottom for me several seasons ago, and when I watch nowadays, it’s just out of curiosity to see how unhinged and incoherent—and, yes, boringly grotesque—it can be. And for Halloween’s sake, let’s just raise a glass to Supernatural’s staying power.
Regarding AMC’s and FX’s premium streaming services: This is the wave of the future, as all outlets seek new revenue streams. Lacking time or interest, I haven’t investigated either of these fully, but it seems to me the main pitch is to those who have unplugged from regular TV and are looking at options to watch their favorite shows from these providers without commercials. If you’re recording and watching these shows on your DVR, you’re already getting that experience more or less, so I can’t think of a reason why you’d want to pay extra—until they start adding extras and/or original exclusive content the way CBS has done with its All Access platform (to the howls of many unwilling to add yet another subscription to their TV bill).
Laughing at Family’s Grief
Question: Just another take on the Modern Family “Good Grief” episode. My only beef was with the producers’ need to publicize it in a way that implied the attraction would be finding out the spoiler instead of simply laughing! I get it in this new day and age. But Modern Family isn’t a mystery or sci-fi show. It is a comedy. Great sitcoms have milked laughs from peripheral characters’ deaths before: the “Chuckles (the Clown) Bites the Dust” episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show being the best example. We viewers didn’t need to know DeDe more than what we knew from the wonderful seven episodes that Shelly Long did; all that matters is that we know that those characters knew her very well. I thought the episode was absolutely hilarious in bringing out the idiosyncrasies of every character, including the kids. I laughed so hard I had a coughing fit. We are going to miss this show when it is gone. Thank of all the network sitcoms that could never hope in a million years to produce an episode as satisfying for every actor in the company as this one did last week. — Rob
Matt Roush: Somehow I doubt this episode will go down in the annals of classic comedy alongside “Chuckles,” but I agree the situation serviced the characters very well and played to their strengths—although I would take issue that no other contemporary comedies are capable of doing such a thing. (Even the much broader The Big Bang Theory did a wonderful job honoring the off-screen character of Howard’s mom when Carol Ann Susi passed away several years ago.)
A Basic Instinct Question
Question: Just read your comment about Take Two and I’d like this show to return as well. Though I thought the first episode was fluff, by the second I decided I liked fluff, but I’m writing because I have the same question about CBS’s Instinct. I really enjoyed that show and liked it more and more as weeks went on and now I’m hoping it will get renewed. Any idea whether it will, or thoughts on this series? I don’t remember what they were the first time round. — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Better news on this front—and I’ve been getting enough questions about this, I figured I should address it. CBS renewed Instinct, but as in its first season, the show will return as a midseason series (no air date yet). I’m a big fan of Alan Cumming and appreciate the groundbreaking nature of the character he plays as a married and openly gay crime-solver, though I often wished the cases and the writing would rise to his level. A not uncommon reaction to procedurals these days.
Impatient for Blacklist
Question: You recently wrote about the prospect of The Blacklist being “shuffled … off to Fridays, which would likely do more harm than good.” But The Blacklist will be sent to Fridays at midseason, according to NBC. The question is why did NBC not simply place it on Fridays for the fall instead of Midnight, Texas? It would certainly do better than Midnight, Texas. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Yes, I know NBC announced back in the spring the intent to return Blacklist at midseason on Fridays, but I always figure a lot can happen on a network schedule once the fall lineup actually kicks in, so I tend to be a bit skeptical at scheduling announcements in May that predict what’s going to happen in January. Still, it’s entirely possible that Blacklist will return as announced as a Friday series in the new year—and I continue to contend that’s not the best use of this franchise. But I also get why NBC is trying out Midnight on Friday in what used to be the Grimm time period, especially with a launch this close to Halloween. (Although in retrospect, it makes less sense to have scheduled Friday’s premiere against an epic World Series game.) Regardless of how Midnight fares, NBC will likely be able to promote the return of Blacklist at midseason more vigorously than it could have in the fall while launching new shows like Manifest and New Amsterdam.
This Does Not Compute
Question: In the original Star Trek and other shows from the same era, they show the computer is processing/working by a close-up of a panel/screen with flashing lights. Today, with shows like the NCIS franchise, when they do a fingerprint search or a facial-recognition search, the computer screen has flashes of fingerprints or faces, again as an indication of the computer working. In this day and age, where even the Luddites know basic computer, do they still need to show a graphic representation of a computer working before the results are shown on screen or is that just expected since that is the way it was then and it will be so in the future? — Dewey
Matt Roush: Back in the day, seeing computers at work like on the Enterprise bridge was a harbinger of the future. Now, as you note, it’s fairly routine, but one of the reason procedurals like NCIS are so popular is because they routinely show process—sped up, naturally, so cases can be solved in an hour, but these computer searches are an easy and effectively visual way to move the action along. (Quite a few shows, of course, have ramped up the high-tech gizmos with computer walls and the like.) So I guess the answer to this question/observation is that, as long as these types of shows are popular, this device isn’t going anywhere.
'NCIS' Star Diona Reasonover on Abby Comparisons, Working With David McCallum & What's Next for Kasie
The War Over This Is Us
Question: I finally got around to watching the “Vietnam” episode of This Is Us and I’m highly disappointed to say the least! Did they suddenly get new show writers or something???? I have been watching this show since it started and have never gotten bored or lost interest in an episode like this! I mean really, was there a contest of how many flashbacks can we cram in a 45-minute episode?!? There were like five flashbacks in that one episode! We didn’t need all of that to get to the one single point of Jack looking out for his little bro his whole life! Not only that, but we didn’t see any of the other characters in the episode at all!!! They should have called the episode This Is Jack! I really hope this show gets back to its usual amazing self soon! — Amanda
Matt Roush: I’ve published reactions both positive and negative to the “Vietnam” episode in this column, but what especially troubles me about this response is a seeming unwillingness to allow a show to break form and tell a different sort of story in a new way. Whether you liked or disliked the episode, that’s a matter of taste, but it was so obviously an experiment in form for that week only that this sort of pushback makes me wonder why anyone producing broadcast network TV even tries to be creative anymore. (Not that very many do.) The same thing happened with black-ish last season, in a story arc that explored a rift in Bow and Dre’s marriage that took a very dramatic turn, which met with immediate and vociferous negative response in my mailbag. Thankfully, the marriage and black-ish survived, but I was left with a sour aftertaste that so many viewers seemed unwilling to go on that ride. Imagine if Norman Lear had been unwilling to take chances with serious subject matter in the heyday of All in the Family, Maude and Good Times.
Back to This Is Us, which a week after the “Vietnam” outing dug deep into Toby’s backstory and childhood for the first time. I enjoyed that just as much, but found myself wondering if viewers would start complaining because there was so little of Jack in that episode.
And Finally …
Question: I’ve been watching God Friended Me. Do you remember a show called Early Edition in the 1990s? GFM reminds me a lot of it. Thoughts? — Jamie
Matt Roush: There are echoes of quite a few shows in the high concept of God Friended Me—which I’ve also heard described as “Texted By an Angel”—but the DNA of Early Edition is also apparent in the story of a person getting predictive messages to do good for unknown reasons. Friended has the added spiritual/religious/atheist angle, which I find especially intriguing. But I’ll admit as someone who got my start in newspapers, I find myself nostalgic for any show that depicts someone getting an actual newspaper dropped at their doorstep—as opposed to getting all of their information and behavioral cues on social media.
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.