Ask Matt: How Big Will ‘Bang’s Finale Be? ‘Ray Donovan,’ ‘Orville,’ ‘Modern Family’ and More

The Paintball Scattering
Michael Yarish/Warner Bros.
The Big Bang Theory is in its final season on CBS

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.

A Finale With a Big Bang

Question: I am a HUGE fan of The Big Bang Theory. Do you think the series finale will see ratings as high as the finales of Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond when they ended their runs in 2004 and 2005? — Steven

Matt Roush: Hard to predict, because while I’m sure interest (and hype) will be huge when TV’s most popular sitcom signs off this spring after a very successful 12-season run, viewing levels for even hit broadcast-network TV shows is way down from what it used to be. The blockbuster network days of Friends (65.9 million for the finale), Seinfeld (76.3 million) and Raymond (32.9 million) are largely behind us, but events on the scale of a Big Bang finale are awfully rare, so anything could happen. (My conservative estimate would be that the episode could maybe reach NFL-level numbers in the mid-to-high 20 millions, and even that would be a remarkable feat.) Honestly, I’m thinking the finale to beat this year will be HBO’s Game of Thrones, which though being on a premium service has such a global reach its numbers will likely be staggering.

Kudos to Sunday TV, and an Orville Departure

Question: I would like to give a big shout-out to how great Sunday nights have been for the last two months, with the exceptional Ray Donovan on Showtime as well as Dirty John on Bravo, with great cast performances as an ensemble by everybody.

On another note, I was quite taken with last week’s episode of The Orville with the background on security officer Alara, but was quite shocked to learn that she will be leaving the show. My question is: WHY??? Did she want to leave or was she written off?? — JV

Matt Roush: Let’s take the Sunday comments first. This may have been the most grueling season of Ray Donovan ever, but that’s what its audience seems to like. The real surprise for me was Dirty John, which as I’ve said before was so much better than it had any right to be. The casting/acting in particular elevated the material into something truly gripping and memorable.

As for The Orville: Fox has confirmed that Halston Sage as Alara is no longer a series regular, though since she wasn’t killed off, there’s always a possibility we’ll see her again. A new cast member (Jessica Szohr as Lt. Talla Keyali) will come aboard starting next week, so this seems like the sort of cast transition many shows go through in a second season. Whether the actor wanted out I’m not sure, but I’m not aware it was anything but amicable.

That Ray Donovan Is a Beast!

Question: In Ray Donovan’s Season 6 finale, Ray and Vinny step into Samantha Winslow’s building elevator and mix it up after Ray hits a switch and kills the elevator light. Next, the elevator stops at Winslow’s floor and we see that Vinny has been beaten and rendered unconscious by Ray. How did he accomplish that in total darkness? — David

Matt Roush: Am I to understand you’re questioning Ray Donovan’s mighty macho powers? This guy has taken a licking and kept on ticking throughout one of the most grindingly violent seasons yet, and I give Liev Schreiber credit, especially in the finale, for playing this powderkeg of unstable vengeful fury with as much authenticity as possible. He was on such a mission to make Winslow pay for putting his daughter Bridget in mortal jeopardy—and to deliver Vinny to Lena as a bonus (for murdering her lover)—that Ray using the darkness of the elevator to his advantage is hardly the greatest leap we’ve had to take this season. I was actually a bit grateful to be spared that fight scene (and to not have to witness what happened next with Susan Sarandon as Sam).

The Family’s Not What It Used To Be

Question: Might be a totally controversial topic, but do you feel like Modern Family has gotten stale over the years? I mean, I don’t think it’s bad or anything. There are a few gems every now and then, and I still adore Mitch, Cam, Phil, Gloria and Jay’s characters, but the show just hasn’t been the same the last three or four seasons. — Flo

Matt Roush: I appreciate how reluctant you are to call a favorite show out when it no longer lives up to your expectations, but you’re hardly alone on this one. Modern Family is still popular enough that ABC (and the 20th Television studio) is reluctant to let it end gracefully, but it’s obvious to most that its best days are behind it. For me, the problem with this show (unlike The Middle, which always lived in its shadow) is that the younger family members for the most part didn’t develop into characters who are still fresh and funny. The traits that were amusing in the adults still by and large work, some weeks more effectively than others, but Modern Family is an example of how difficult it can be to sustain such a high degree of quality over the long haul, especially when so many of the situations are built on misunderstandings and farce. (The show’s high concept of breaking the fourth wall also now seems more intrusive than innovative.)

Could There Be a “Good Place” for Canceled Shows?

Question: All the pleas you get about rescuing canceled shows prompted an idea in me. Do you think a streaming network could be successful whose only mission was rescuing and continuing to broadcast (or bring proper closure) to canceled series (quality only)? It certainly would generate buzz, and garner support from a canceled series’ rabid fans. — Maurice

Matt Roush: As pipe dreams go, this is a noble one, but with so many impractical pitfalls I don’t even know where to start. What would you call it? The Endgame Channel? I was especially intrigued by the “quality only” qualifier, because I can testify through my mailbag that almost every show, no matter how short-lived or critically derided, has some sort of fan base. (I’m expecting a complaint about CBS axing the mediocre Happy Together any day now.) The real issue, of course, is economic. All of the moving parts, from writers and producers to cast to crew (all with their own unions), have to align to keep a show continuing for even one more episode—see the recent Timeless finale—that it would be unfeasible to expect most canceled series to get that one last shot, even if there was a service devoted to such a thing. Miracles do happen, of course (again: see Timeless), and streamers have given series as diverse as Longmire and The Mindy Project a robust afterlife after the networks dropped them. But the reality is that TV on nearly every platform (even including streamers) is a high-risk business, and some shows just aren’t going to make it.

When Old News Isn’t Good News

Question: What’s up with ABC’s 20/20 rehashing old stories this month? I understand that these are probably very cheap to produce, one new interview surrounded by file footage, and that Fridays are an under-performing night for most networks, but there aren’t any current stories to explore? The soundtrack for these really should be Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years.” What kind of ratings are they getting? — Mary Kay

Matt Roush: I’ll admit that when I saw the most recent promo for this week’s 20/20 look back at Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I turned to my better half to lament, “Why would they go there again?” From what I can tell, the numbers have been OK (considering the night), and some of these stories have undeniable rubber-necking train-wreck staying power, but you answered your own question when you suggested this is a very cost-effective way to fill two hours on an otherwise sleepy night.

Will Gone Be Here and Gone?

Question: I have watched the Chris Noth show, Gone, that aired this fall and loved it. Do you have any idea if the show will be renewed? It is from a book by Chelsea Cain, Kick (which I read). It is one of the best new shows out there. — Judi

Matt Roush: I assume you caught this on Canada’s Bravo channel, because the missing-persons procedural won’t have its U.S. premiere until Feb. 27 on WGN America—which only confirmed the premiere date this week. Like most WGNA “originals,” it’s an acquisition, an international co-production (with NBCUniversal International as the distributor) from 2017 that also has been seen in Australia, France, Germany and the U.K. before making its way here. WGNA is billing Gone as a “limited series,” which suggests there may be only one season—it hasn’t been renewed yet—but anything is possible.

That’s it for now—and because of the holiday weekend, there will be no column on Tuesday. 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.