Ask Matt: Unsung Talent on ‘Mrs. Maisel’ & ‘Killing Eve,’ ‘Passage,’ ‘Escape,’ ‘Secretary’s’ Politics
Happy New Year, and 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.
How Marvelous is Maisel’s Lenny Bruce?
Question: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub rightly get lots of praise and attention for their great performances in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but can I sing the praises of Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce for a minute? He nails his role, has amazing chemistry with Brosnahan (although I hope they never go there) and steals every scene he is in. If anyone needs any proof of how great Kirby is as Bruce: go watch the Season 2 finale’s Steve Allen Show scene side-by-side with the real version. Spectacular. Marin Hinkle also doesn’t get the credit she deserves as Midge’s mom. Rose often has me laughing more than any other character. Do you think the show will (or should) introduce any more real-life figures into the storylines at some point? Kirby is on just enough as Bruce and I would never want them to overdo it, but fellow period piece Mad Men trickled in real-life figures/events now and then, and I thought it added to the show. — Molly
Matt Roush: In the “Happy New Year” spirit, I’m pleased to kick off the first Ask Matt column of 2019 on a positive note. And you can’t get much more positive than The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I singled out Luke Kirby’s Lenny Bruce in my own second-season review, and I could go on and on about the rest of the cast—including Marin Hinkle as Rose, whose escape to Paris was one of my favorite parts of the new season.
I haven’t a clue what Amy Sherman-Palladino is planning for Midge & Co. in the season(s) to come, but as Midge’s star continues to rise, I’d be surprised if she doesn’t come in contact with at least a few other famous folk of the late 1950s/early ’60s. I’d be OK as well with more fictional composite characters like Jane Lynch’s fascinating Sophie Lennon (who’s worthy of a guest actor nomination). Mrs. Maisel obviously takes a whimsical, mostly rose-colored look at the past—while acknowledging the sexism of the industry Midge is trying to break into—and while I wouldn’t want her to become a Zelig-like figure and constantly be running into show-biz icons, grounding the show in the reality of its times could only be a good thing.
Eve’s Villain Deserves More Accolades
Question: Amidst all of the kudos Killing Eve has (rightfully) received, I keep reading (and have written myself) wonderful praise for Jodie Comer. But no one has been able to explain to me that amidst the glut of awards season, she has not received a single nomination for anything to my knowledge, while her partner in crime (so to speak) Sandra Oh has been nominated for everything. I can’t understand how one can be so singled out without the other. For me, Comer’s intricate villainess is the far more difficult role to play, and if I had only one vote per series, mine would be for her, not Oh. — Michael
Matt Roush: This is a subject where I can take pride in my fellow critics, because while I would do nothing to diminish Sandra Oh’s achievement in her also-demanding role as the conflicted agent on the trail of Jodie Comer’s mercurial Villanelle, I’m happy to point out that both Oh and Comer received nominations at last summer’s Television Critics Association Awards and both are also nominated at the Critics’ Choice Awards (airing Jan. 13 on The CW), for which I helped serve on that category’s nominating committee. It’s a shame Comer was overlooked at the Emmys and the Globes for Eve’s freshman season, and I hope that changes this year, but it can take time for those types of groups to discover newer emerging talent. Sandra Oh is an established star and very deserving, and I’m sure she’d be the first to agree that her co-star is just as worthy of the spotlight in awards season.
Can Network TV Do Justice to a Horror Epic?
Question: Is The Passage worth watching? I could see it on HBO or Netflix, who are good at turning books into good TV, but Fox? — Warren
Matt Roush: I can only report on the first three episodes, and they’re solid. I’ve read the first two books in Justin Cronin’s epic horror trilogy, so I have an idea of the incredible scope of the story, which spans many years. My understanding from last summer’s TCA session is that the first season will deal primarily with the sinister doings in the labs of Project NOAH, which bring about the vampire apocalypse. And what I’ve seen so far has stayed tightly focused on NOAH’s search for young Amy (Saniyya Sidney) and her protector, Agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), with subplots involving various NOAH scientists and test subjects.
I understand there’s skepticism when it comes to network TV’s commitment to stories this big—there’s a reason Game of Thrones ended up on HBO—and if Fox drops the ball before The Passage goes to the next level, it would seem a very hot prospect for a streaming service. But for now, I’ll give Fox the benefit of the doubt. Network TV ought to be tackling more ambitious projects, and we should encourage them instead of letting all the best stuff go to cable and Netflix.
Question: I have a quick question. I see where all the networks have set their winter premieres and new midseason show premiere dates, but I still do not see Jane the Virgin on the CW lineup. What’s going on? When will Season 5 debut? — Amy
Matt Roush: I’ve been getting this question a lot, given all of the 2019 and Winter Preview dates that have been published. The reason there’s no specific date for Jane the Virgin’s final season is that The CW hasn’t announced it yet. We do know that Jane will air on Wednesdays when the 16-episode first season of All American wraps. Which, doing the math, means Jane would likely show up sometime in March. I’m sure it will be worth the wait.
Could It Have Been a Faster Escape?
Question: There are no words that you could print to describe how stupid, lame and boring Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora is. You could tell this story in two episodes. I’m so disappointed in Ben Stiller as a director and very disappointed at Benicio Del Toro for agreeing to do this awful movie. — Patricia
Matt Roush: Well, those certainly weren’t the words I used to describe the limited series in my own much more positive review. I thought Stiller as director did a fine job framing the story in the context of its place and time, and the performances (especially Patricia Arquette as the delusional prison employee Tilly and Eric Lange as her pathetically devoted husband) were terrific. I’m usually in the camp of those saying that much of today’s TV is overlong and bloated (especially on Netflix), but I didn’t have that reaction to Escape. I wonder if your reaction would have been different if you’d been able to watch the series in a binge instead of over seven weeks. (In reviewing the series in advance, I watched it over several days, becoming quite absorbed.)
I felt it was important to show how painstaking were the labors of Sweat (Paul Dano) to tunnel out of the prison, and presenting the full story in a two-episode format wouldn’t have allowed as much depth in the character development as well as in the planning of the escape. I’m also a big fan of the sixth episode that gave the backstories to all of the principals. To each their own, I suppose, but don’t be surprised if it’s a contender throughout the year’s awards seasons. (It’s up for two Globes and five Critics’ Choice Awards.)
How Dare Secretary Get Political!
Question: What’s up with Madam Secretary and its left-wing bias? The Dec. 23 show was a blatant attack on our president and our immigration laws. This is not the first time this show has gone overboard to the left. If a show took such a right-wing tack, it would probably be canceled. Thanks for listening. — Bob
Matt Roush: I try to avoid the issue of divisive politics in this column, because you can get that just about everywhere else on the Internet, but in this case, I feel I should come to the defense of a political drama that dares to take on one of the hot-button political issues of our day. (And can you really imagine any drama on any network actually advocating for separating migrant children from their parents?) I’ll try to look past the inadvertent timing of this question, when a second migrant child recently died in U.S. custody, and say that I saw the episode as a critique of a very controversial policy, though it wasn’t exactly subtle in its depiction of a blowhard and intransigent governor (sounds like harrumph?). For me, the issue isn’t left vs. right as much as it is human decency. And that’s the tack the show took as well, though in these times, sensitivities are so raw that I’m sure more than a few partisan feathers were ruffled. Not that the show’s leanings weren’t already fairly obvious.
Why Do Shows Continue Past Their Peak?
Question: It’s pretty common for successful TV shows to run wayyy past their expiration date. I mean, look at The Office, The Simpsons, Scrubs, Modern Family, Arrow, NCIS, etc. All one-time brilliant shows that got dragged out to death because of greed and thoughtlessness. I think The Middle which recently went off is the only show (that I watch, that is) that went nine years and not only didn’t lose the quality and hilarity but actually went off on top. I remember shows like Seinfeld, The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Miller, Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, all went off on their own terms, even at peak success. Seinfeld and the Griffith show were both literally the No. 1 show when they bowed out. I get that the business has changed, in some ways not for the better, but I don’t get what they have to gain on keeping a once popular series on the air that is now getting much less ratings or buzz as it used to? — Reid
Matt Roush: I’m with you for the most part, although I’d expect we’ll see this happen more, not less, as networks find it harder and harder to develop breakout hits in a cluttered landscape where delayed and binged viewing become more of the norm. Any show with any sort of traction is going to be so valued by a network and studio that letting it go while still popular will be almost unthinkable. Quality, sadly, has little to do with it.
And on that not-so-happy-new-year note, that’s it 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.