Ask Matt: 'This Is Us' Issues, Live Holiday Musicals, 'Homecoming' Recasting, 'Walking Dead' Fallout
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.
Did the This Is Us Twist Damage the Vietnam Story?
Question: [SPOILER ALERTS] The acting on This Is Us is always superb. What I continue to struggle with this season is the writing. Kate and Toby’s story is fine, but sort of boring and repetitive. Randall’s campaign story is nearly unwatchable, for countless reasons that I won’t get into. Beth deserves a story that’s more than being Randall’s wife. And now I’m concerned the one story I loved and was invested in—Vietnam—is going to go by the wayside. I’ll certainly give it a chance, but the “twist” of Uncle Nicky being alive feels cheap.
The build-up to his death has been a journey, and I think him being alive really undercuts the emotional impact the Vietnam scenes are meant to have. Particular scenes that now don’t feel as compelling are the draft-watch scene and the scenes showing the importance in the timing of Nicky’s birth. I liked that the Vietnam story was tapping into an area of history that I (being 33) haven’t seen portrayed on fictional TV much, and that it was being done in a way that surely resonated with those who grew up in that era. Yes, Nicky’s story of a veteran returning home and not functioning as well as Jack may also resonate, but the bait-and-switch seems undercuts that too. I hope I’m wrong.
Side note: Are we really to believe Kevin would not have Googled his uncle as part of his quest for information? Seems like something he would do if his Vietnamese host thought to do it. That’s where the writing can be contrived and lazy. I will end on a positive note: Tess’s storyline is promising and the young woman who plays her (Eris Baker) was exceptional in the coming-out scene with Beth and Randall. This Is Us is so much better when it focuses on telling good stories rather than trying to manipulate us with a twist or trying to be a mystery show. Thanks for letting me vent. — Molly
Matt Roush: Venting is why this column exists. (Also, on occasion, praising.) I agree with you on a number of these points, especially that the quieter emotional moments—like Tess’s exceptional scene with her stunned but supportive parents—are when This Is Us truly shines. But from the pilot onward, the show’s storytelling has often hinged on manipulation, surprise revelations and mysteries of past and future, which acknowledges the appeal of This Is Us to fans of serial drama.
And to play devil’s advocate, the twist of Nicky being alive in the present opens up many opportunities for the show, including the great news that he will be played by Griffin Dunne, a terrific actor. This gives us a chance to see Jack from yet another relative’s point of view, and I expect Nicky will also afford us a look back at the Vietnam story from a new perspective. The sibling relationship between Jack and Nicky, and Nicky’s re-integration into the Pearson family, seem like potentially fruitful storylines. The reveal may have seemed like a cheap stunt, but that’s classic TV midseason cliffhanger 101. Even a first-rate series like This Is Us is susceptible. And it had the appropriate effect on me. I gasped, replayed the scene, and thought: Well played.
A “No” Vote for Another This Is Us Twist
Question: Regarding the Nov. 27 episode of This Is Us, I can't believe that Beth was adamant that Randall actually quit a race because he probably wouldn't win. What kind of writing is that? How do you teach your children to respect their father and be responsible people if you quit like that? And then to make it something that leads to immediate "your sleeping on the couch?" What kind of humans are these writers, because I can't see Beth, as previously written, pulling something like this. Incidentally, I also thought this plot line was ridiculous to begin with—running in another state? — Michael R
Matt Roush: This election storyline has not been This Is Us’s finest moment, no question. It seems improbable, illogical (geographically at the very least), contrived at best and, in this fallout, dramatically strained at worst. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Randall to assist the campaign of a local running against his rival? He really did come off like an opportunistic carpetbagger, even if (of course) noble in purpose. And I’m all for showing cracks in even this dynamic marriage, which is the stuff of drama, but I’m hoping the night on the couch is a passing fancy, because this took a sudden lurch into melodrama, and while Beth’s insecurity after losing her job may account for some of her sudden mood shift, it did seem out of character. (The flash-forward did suggest they were still estranged if not divorced, and I’m hoping I’m reading it wrong, because … Randall and Beth are awesome.)
Are Live Holiday Musicals Passé?
Question: I always enjoy reading your column. I'm wondering whatever happened to the live musicals over the holidays on NBC? I think the last musical was two years ago. Also, what happened to The Alec Baldwin Show on ABC? — Gordon
Matt Roush: Live musicals are still a thing on NBC and other networks (notably Fox), but the holiday angle has been shelved for the time being as the subject matter has moved away from family musicals. (The first disruption was when Jennifer Lopez’s busy schedule, or possibly other factors, delayed—perhaps indefinitely—NBC’s planned Bye Bye Birdie musical.) NBC’s most recent December musical was the live Hairspray in 2016, and in lieu of a holiday musical in 2017, instead pegged its Emmy-winning Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert for Easter 2018. (Fox stepped in with a lackluster A Christmas Story Live musical last year, which will be repeated on Dec. 20.) Next year’s musicals are decidedly more edgy, with Fox tackling Rent on Jan. 27 and NBC planning a live version of Hair in May.
Why Recast Homecoming?
Question: I really enjoyed the Homecoming podcast, I thought it has a terrific cast in Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer and Amy Sedaris. So I have to ask: Why did they recast all the roles for the Amazon show? — Terry
Matt Roush: You’d have to ask Sam Esmail, the auteur who turned Homecoming from an aural into a captivatingly visual experience. But common sense pretty much dictates that when you can talk a marquee headliner like Julia Roberts into doing your TV show, that’s where you go. And her casting certainly raised the series’ profile. (Plus: She was very good.) I also would think that in Esmail’s attempt to make the series his own, he populated the cast with new (and also excellent) actors including Bobby Cannavale, Stephan James, Shea Whigham, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Sissy Spacek, which by any measure is a remarkable ensemble. Not that Keener, Schwimmer and Sedaris are slouches.
A Schmaltz Logjam
Question: Why does a network like Hallmark and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries have to overlap its Christmas movies by an hour? I can see why they would do it during the rest of the year, but for Christmas, can’t they start the movies at the same hour? I think it would be simpler to watch Lifetime and Ion and Freeform, instead. — Gloria
Matt Roush: I’ve wondered this same thing, although wouldn’t it make more sense for the Hallmark channels to air their movies two hours apart (one at 7/6c, the other at 9/8c) instead of at the same hour? Recording and time-shifting solves the problem, of course, for those who do such things, but starting Hallmark’s weekend originals at 8/7c and Movies and Mysteries’ movies at 9/8c does create an odd overlap. (Although realistically speaking, you can finish the Hallmark movie and start the Movies and Mysteries movie at midstream and probably not miss a lot. These stories tend to be cut from the same holiday cloth.)
Rick’s Absence on The Walking Dead
Question: I cannot let a midseason finale of The Walking Dead go by without more comments that I believe are costing this series its ratings. First, we all know in real life Andrew Lincoln had personal reasons for leaving, but as far as the series going forward, wouldn't Rick attempt to get back to Alexandria no matter where he is? His transport after all was a helicopter and not a jet taking him overseas, and his love Michonne and daughter Judith were back there. A time jump with him not present is good for a story line, but does not answer this question. (And by the way, I assume that Pollyanna McIntosh will appear in these movies with him as Jadus since she was on the helicopter with him but was not even mentioned in the after-show.)
Next: Why does this show kill off the most interesting characters, the latest of which was Jesus, another one of my favorites, after Glenn and Andrea while leaving characters such as Eugene and Father Gabriel, which I believe should have been killed off long ago. Finally, no matter how adept Darryl is, I find it impossible to believe he could survive in this environment by himself for six years with his only companion a dog. — JV
Matt Roush: I’ve gone on record being skeptical about the wisdom of expanding the Walking Dead franchise with Rick Grimes movies, but if they don’t somehow address his desire to reunite with Michonne and Judith, and explain why he hasn’t, it will be a hollow exercise. (I presume there will be some sort of reasoning, whether we buy it or not.) And death is a constant on The Walking Dead, so while I hate losing characters I care about, if their death has some dramatic impact (as many have, not so much Jesus) I can live with that. I am also annoyed that Eugene is still among the living, as I can’t abide the character and can’t believe they welcomed him back into the fold so easily after his betrayal with the Saviors, regardless of his later actions. And don’t get me started on Negan. As for Darryl: He’s a beast, and I accept him as a comic-book superhero. He can do no wrong.
Walking Dead and Diversity
Question: I'm a gay male also, but my perspective about the death of Jesus on The Walking Dead is a little different from Chris B.'s in your recent column. I agree with him and many other fans that Tom Payne was severely underutilized (especially when compared to his character's comic storyline). But on-balance, I feel that The Walking Dead has handled the exits and entrances of its LGBT characters pretty well. For example, they waited a year-and-a-half between killing off Denise (Merritt Wever) and killing off Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson). And then they waited almost another season-and-a-half following Eric's death before Jesus met his untimely end. I don't think it's an indictment that The Walking Dead has "only four gay and lesbian characters" remaining, when we consider how they started off with zero (prior to Tara's introduction in Season 4).
If either Tara, Aaron, Magna, or Yumiko are killed off in the next season or two, hopefully they will be replaced with other new LGBT characters. Wouldn't it be powerful to show how a transgender character might realistically deal with lack of access to hormone therapy resources following society's collapse? Aaron losing his arm also means we now have an LGBT character with a storyline-relevant disability. Since the introduction of additional communities into The Walking Dead's TV mythology will be inevitable, I have every confidence that Angela Kang will find a way to organically introduce at least a few of those characters as gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or even asexual. — Anthony
Matt Roush: These seem fair points. I would also like for at least a few of these characters to be developed with the same depth as some of the more primary heroes. Jesus never got that luxury.
Question: I recently read that Preacher has been renewed for a fourth season but production is being moved to Australia. Not sure how true it is. I do enjoy the show—not sure how it's doing in the ratings. — Carol
Matt Roush: As sometimes happens, once I put a column to bed, the news changes. And that occurred late last week when AMC finally gave Preacher the go-ahead for a fourth season, which will be filmed in Australia (presumably for budget reasons). Couldn’t be happier, mates.
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 with your question.