Ask Matt: Hallmark Christmas Formula (and Soundtrack), 'Rookie' Ratings, Rick's Noisy 'Walking Dead' Exit
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.
Deja View, Hallmark Holiday Edition
Question: Who are the writers for the Hallmark movies and why can't they come up with some new story lines? I do like their movies, but they really need to step out of their comfort zones. Big business taking over small business in small town. Girl falls for guy and learns he is a prince. Town's festival, Christmas Land, Christmas tree, Lodge, Christmas tree farm, etc. saved by outsider. Baking or some other contest has to be won to save someone or something. I'm aware that because it is Hallmark, they need to offer "feel-good" movies, but you rarely need to watch the whole movie because 10 minutes in, you know the plot and the outcome. The scenarios are all the same, just the actors (sometimes) and venues are different. Any chance we will see something different from them this holiday season? — Gerry
Matt Roush: From what I see coming down the pipeline, which seems to overflow more and more each year with record numbers of interchangeable holiday movies — and not just on Hallmark, but on Lifetime, Freeform, UP, even Netflix, and I'm sure I'm missing a few — the tried and true remains the winning and never-changing formula. Just once I'd like to see a Hallmark movie tell my story: Small-town guy finds success and love in the big city — and stays there! (A guy can dream, no?)
The inescapable fact is that there's a reliable and sizable audience for these proudly cookie-cutter movies, and this time of year — especially in a year that has been so full of grim headlines and nasty invective and rhetoric — the appetite for TV comfort food is just about bottomless. My advice is just to sit back and enjoy. And if you can't enjoy, check out the vintage holiday-themed movies on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. They really hold up, and are often actually pretty good if not great. And I promise, if any of this year’s holiday movies sound even remotely interesting, I'll be sure and point that out in my daily online TV roundups.
What'd They Say?
Question: I just finished watching Christmas at Pemberley Manor on the Hallmark Channel. The background music throughout the duration of the movie was unbearable. It was so loud at times that the dialogue was difficult to hear. Some scenes were ruined because background music was inappropriate and it was a distraction. Music is important in some scenes, but this was overkill. Why are movies made with this technique? — Martha
Matt Roush: Not just movies, but nearly every conceivable type of TV seems plagued with this problem. I could post a letter every week complaining about the overbearing music soundtracks on TV shows, which is by far the most common gripe I ever see in my mailbag. But this is the first time I can remember anyone writing to mention they've encountered this on a Hallmark movie. (I'm tempted to say you could just write your own dialogue, but that would be petty.) I doubt there's any comfort to be had in knowing you're not alone, but producers seem to be oblivious to the fact that background music should stay in the background and not obliterate human speech, such as it is.
Sabrina Chills From the Get-Go
Question: I'm a long-time devoted reader (and also a former Hoosier), with a couple of thoughts about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. First, I wonder how you feel about the show overall. I tend to like these kinds of programs, so maybe I'm an easy sell, but I think the show is top-notch. The cast is 100% perfect, top to bottom, and the production values are quite high. What I really want to comment on, though, is the opening — something we tend to not think much about. Personally I think the introductory credits for Sabrina are spot-on and pitch perfect, to the point that I actually watch them each time instead of skipping ahead to the show (rare!). To me, they hit exactly the right tone for the show that's to come, and they do so in an entertaining, engaging and aesthetically pleasing way. Do you think these kinds of details impact the quality of the shows we watch perhaps more than we consciously realize? I would think particularly in the case of a brand-new program like this, it's nice to get a sense of the mood of the show. Sabrina does that beautifully. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: My own review was more of a mixed-positive—I liked it, but it's no Buffy—and I agree that the tone, the production values, the performances and especially those credits with their throwback-comics vibe are a gas. My enjoyment may have been a bit diminished by feeling forced to watch multiple episodes at a sitting (if only to meet my deadline), which rarely makes any show better — although Sabrina improves greatly in the back half with the "Monkey's Paw" storyline involving Harvey's brother. And you make an excellent point that the nearly lost art of title credits can often truly enhance the experience of settling in with a favorite show. I wish more shows did it.
Question: Will The Rookie with Nathan Fillion make it to a second season? I have been surprised with the ratings, considering Nathan Fillion's large fan base. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: I admit I also thought Nathan Fillion's return to ABC, in a show that seems to suit him well, would be more of a draw. It's one of those glass-half-full situations. The Rookie is improving on what has for years been a troublesome dead zone for the network, and grows (as many shows do) in delayed viewing, but not to the degree many would have predicted. It's pretty clearly a disappointment so far, but the first test will be to see when and if it gets a full-season order. (The Rookie premiered later than most fall series, so we may not hear for a while.) Right now I'd look at it as a work in progress on its way to bubble-show status, but if it doesn't grow, its chances will continue to diminish.
Rick's Exit the Worst Spoiler Ever?
Question: I just can't understand why The Walking Dead told us about Andrew Lincoln leaving the show. It's especially upsetting for a person who doesn't watch trailers and coming attractions ... like me. What was the point? Not knowing what was going to happen was one of the best things about the show. I'd like to know whose idea it was. — Maria
Matt Roush: I'd blame AMC and The Walking Dead producers equally on this count. Maybe they thought they were doing a public service by letting die-hard Rick fans know this was coming. Maybe they thought it was a foolproof way to boost ratings for the first half of the season, building anticipation and perhaps dread. Even so, boldly announcing last weekend that Sunday would be "Rick Grimes' Final Episode" is the sort of calculated risk that smacks of desperation and hype and isn't likely to enhance the show's reputation in the long run.
In Defense of This Is Us
Question: I'm confused by the This Is Us backlash. Some episodes and story arcs I prefer more than others. But the show is called This Is Us, and flashbacks/flash-forwards are built into the entire premise of how our experiences throughout our lives affect our behavior and, ultimately, the ensuing generations'. So, yes, Jack's childhood and Vietnam history make sense. So does diving into Toby's childhood, particularly right at the moment he and Kate learn they're having a baby. Randall's election storyline is, in my opinion, the weak link this season. But I am looking forward to learning more about Beth. It's This Is Us. Like it or loathe it, it all fits. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: Your points are all well taken, and I tend to agree. I still enjoy and look forward to this series, even in an off week (and just about every show has them). The way I see it is that This Is Us generates very strong and passionate feelings from its large fan base, which has an up and down side, and the down side is that when some of these devoted viewers are less than enchanted by an episode or a certain storyline — Randall's campaign seems particularly unpopular — they'll let everyone know it. Loudly. I believe most This Is Us fans are still willing to go down whatever path the writers take to illuminate this beloved TV family's story in a variety of time periods, and any perceived backlash is probably overstated. I also agree that right now, Beth's story is maybe the freshest, because we've never seen her shaken quite like this before.
And Finally …
Question: Is there any chance Scorpion will ever make a comeback? — Samuel
Matt Roush: Probably not. You never want to say never, given the nature of the business these days. And with four seasons under its belt, Scorpion came so very close to that magic 100-episode number, and I was surprised CBS didn't give it at least a half-season order for midseason. But it really does appear to be over for good. For now.
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.