Ask Matt: Moving ‘You’ to Netflix, Sela Ward on ‘FBI,’ ‘SNL’ & Jussie Smollett, ‘Homeland’
Welcome 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.
Why Did You Work on Netflix But Not on Lifetime?
Question: I loved the suspenseful series You when it aired on Lifetime in the fall, and think you did, too. I was intrigued and upset to learn that it was only deemed successful when Netflix began streaming it over the holidays—and while Lifetime had picked the show up for a second season (before the first even began!), now it’s going to be a Netflix exclusive. Why do you think You only caught on when it began airing on Netflix, and is this a sign of the future? — Josie
Matt Roush: It’s definitely a sign of our times, and this trend began to catch fire back when Breaking Bad started streaming on Netflix, and what had been an acclaimed sleeper turned into a bona fide hit on AMC for its final seasons. With You, which seemed to me to be the right show on the right network—taking the Lifetime woman-in-jeopardy formula and turning it on its head—this may be a case where it just works better as a binge-watch, and we’re now so spoiled by this way of watching TV in multiple episodes at a sitting that the target audience wasn’t inclined to wait a week between episodes. (It may also have gotten lost in the fall clutter with Lifetime scheduling it on a very busy Sunday night.) This conundrum has nagged at me for a while—I also noticed it when people began singing the praises to me of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I’d raved about for months (and years), only after they discovered it as a Netflix binge.
We seem to be at a point in our evolving relationship with TV viewing where watching some types of shows the traditional way has fallen out of fashion, and I imagine we will see that reflected in the sort of projects certain networks will develop, and even how they will be distributed. I’m just glad You will get a second season, because I can’t wait to see where that twisted story will go next.
Is Sela Ward Underused on FBI?
Question: I am thrilled to see Sela Ward regularly on FBI. I have to admit that even though the show is not breaking new ground, it is very well made and very entertaining. However, I would like to see more of Sela Ward and Jeremy Sisto, in my opinion two of the finest actors TV has to offer, so I am a bit frustrated to see them having so little screen time. Sela Ward has had a stellar career and I have been a fan since Once and Again, so would love to see her front and center with a shot at best drama actress. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. — David
Matt Roush: The upside for fine actors like these is that a Dick Wolf procedural means steady work—as Jeremy Sisto already knew from his stint in latter-day Law & Order, much as Sela Ward previously spent time in the procedural-franchise trenches on CSI: NY. I also wish both had more to do within this ensemble, but the field agents played by Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki are, by the rules of the trade, going to get the meatiest material most weeks. And while I share your admiration for Sela Ward, which for me stretches back even beyond the wonderful Once and Again to her Emmy-rewarded work on Sisters—can you believe her win was 25 years ago, in 1994?—FBI is not the sort of show that tends to ever get on the awards radar any more. Maybe next time. (Here’s a thought: A cable network putting her and another longtime fave, Dana Delany, in a Big Little Lies-type scenario.)
Will SNL Tackle the Empire Debacle?
Question: Do you think Saturday Night Live will have the guts to make fun of the Jussie Smollett situation a la The Daily Show? It feels like that show has been playing it safe with the same joke the past couple years. I know when SNL was bold, innovative and fresh they would have been all over this! — Rachel
Matt Roush: Even now, SNL has its moments—the Don Cheadle episode earlier this month was above-par, start to finish, and it’s almost a shame this situation hadn’t developed fully enough for him to be involved in an Empire parody. While obviously a serious dilemma for all involved, resulting in Smollett being written out of the final episodes of Empire this season, this is such a bizarre incident that I would be surprised if SNL’s writers weren’t already working on something beyond jokes in “Weekend Update.” I guess we’ll see when the show returns this weekend with the very funny John Mulaney returning as guest host–or, if they want to wait to see if the facts become even clearer, for the following week when Luther’s Idris Elba takes the helm as guest host for the first time. Looking forward to that.
Wishing for Shorter Seasons
Question: I would love it if the broadcast networks would adopt a more “cable/streaming” type of format regarding the number of episodes. They could have both a fall and winter (spring) season. Each season would contain a full schedule of shows. So basically, the fall season would start late September and run 13 (-ish) episodes and then be done until the next fall. Then a new slate of shows would start in January/February and also run for about 13 episodes (returning the following spring). I know that I have gotten spoiled with shorter (tighter) seasons on cable and streaming, so that the network model of 22 episodes seems to drag on and contain so much filler (and sometimes silly story lines to fill those episodes). More pilots could get picked up and maybe more “bubble” shows could stay on for more seasons. Do you think that could work and do you think the networks would ever do this? Or does this make absolutely no sense from a financial standpoint for them? — Kathleen
Matt Roush: We’re already seeing a version of this playing out with reduced episode orders of a number of network series—we addressed it earlier this month in this space, and as usual, it was because a viewer was mostly upset to see shows signing off so early in the season, or repeats scattered through what was once the sacrosanct month of February. When a first-season show like ABC’s A Million Little Things airs its finale (this Thursday) at the end of February, it’s a sign things are already changing.
I get where you’re coming from, and an innovative series like The Good Place pre-emptively and correctly decided from the start that shorter seasons would make for a better quality show. Still, I believe for the foreseeable future that many hit sitcoms and procedural dramas (crime, medical, rescue) will continue to produce full seasons of 22 or more episodes, even with the built-in repeats necessary to stretch the season to May. But the networks’ schedules will likely become even more flexible to accommodate shorter runs of network series, with new and returning shows appearing throughout the year, including in summer months, to keep the lineup fresh. I don’t know if we’ll ever see distinct fall and winter/spring seasons such as you describe. It’s probably going to be more complex and confusing (for viewers) than that. But the trend is definitely heading in that direction.
Question: I just finished watching the first two seasons of NewsRadio on DVD and surprisingly found myself really enjoying it. I tried it once or twice as a kid but didn’t get into it, I guess now as an adult I have the palate to understand and love the witty and dry humor. Beforehand, I only knew that during the run of the show Phil Hartman was tragically murdered. I know that it was always close to cancelation during all five seasons. Do you think the show would be a major hit today? — Ken
Matt Roush: In the late 1990s, when NewsRadio aired, the bar for success on network TV was much higher. But even so, I’d think an acquired taste like this sophisticated workplace comedy would today perform on the mid-level of a Brooklyn Nine-Nine: acclaimed, enjoyed, but perpetually on the bubble. (B99’s fortunes may have improved since becoming an in-house acquisition by NBC this year.) I loved that NewsRadio ensemble, including the much-missed Hartman and featuring Dave Foley and Maura Tierney in their early prime, with reliable scene stealing from the likes of Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Khandi Alexander, Joe Rogan and Andy Dick. Good times.
Question: Are we ever going to get Homeland this year? — Diane
Matt Roush: Yes, but the wait for the final season will be longer than usual, for logistical reasons, so it was announced by Showtime during the winter TCA sessions. Instead of airing in the winter/spring as it has the last few seasons, we’ll see the end of Carrie Mathison’s story beginning this fall. I’m hoping it will be worth the wait.
Question: I enjoyed Scorpion on CBS, and I was sad to see it go off the air without any closure for the characters. Are there any plans to bring them all back for a final act? — Linda K
Matt Roush: The correct answer is always to never say never, but I’m not aware of anything regarding a Scorpion comeback (such as Timeless got), and the more time passes without any word, the likelihood grows dimmer.
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.