Ask Matt: 'Walking Dead,' 'Will & Grace' vs. 'RuPaul,' 'NCIS,' 'Good Fight' and More
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.
Walking Into Ridiculous Situations
Question: My wife and I have been avid watchers of The Walking Dead ever since its debut. However, we've become increasingly frustrated with the continued addition of new threatening groups. The skin wearers were one thing; however, we felt the show "jumped the shark" with its latest group introduced this month, not the group so much as Carol's reply when they threatened the Kingdom. When she said, "When was the last time you saw a movie?", my wife and I looked at each other and said "That’s it." What a ridiculous way to thwart a threat, as if that would make a difference to that hostile group! We then swore never to watch it again. — John
Matt Roush: I'm totally on board with your complaint about Walking Dead's development into a series that can only seem to break new stories by introducing new and ever more tiresome Big Bads like the skin-wearing "Whisperers" — whose most recent epic evil act took care of your specific complaint, because [SPOILER ALERT] the presumed leaders of the so-called "Highwaymen" are no longer an issue. And yes, for them to cave so quickly at the mere mention of a creature comfort was a bit silly — although given how relentlessly grim the show can be, I almost welcomed that bit of short-lived comic relief. I much preferred the show when the threats were existential and not about wondering whose head would end up on a spike or get bashed by a bat wielded by the unbearable cocky Negan.
Why Pit Gay-Inclusive Shows Against Each Other?
Question: My question will be in the form of a rant. Will & Grace has been one of my favorite shows for literally decades — yay for them finally remembering AIDS is a thing! I'm also a huge fan of RuPaul's Drag Race, and like so many members of the LGBT community, arrange a weekly viewing with my friends either in a local bar or at someone's apartment. There are so few shows out there that are, at their core, about the LGBT experience. And ratings really matter for our shows; we represent a small percentage of the population and I'm sure it's already hard to show that we're worth investing in as it is. When a show that caters to the LGBT community (i.e. the leads are LGBT, not peripheral characters) fails, it lowers the likelihood of the networks trying again. Please help me understand why Will & Grace and Drag Race are on at the SAME TIME. How does it make sense for either show, when there must be at least some cannibalization of each other's audience?
Even as the episode length of Drag Race reduces as the season progresses and they don't directly overlap, people are still watching in groups or at bars, so if they change the channel it won't impact Will & Grace in the Nielsens. Will & Grace's ratings have fallen off a cliff this year (thank God it was already renewed) and surely this can't be helping. People will always choose Drag Race over it to avoid spoilers. It's so frustrating that we're so underrepresented yet it's somehow impossible to put these two, hugely LGBT friendly shows on at different times. I literally can't watch them both live. What's next? Will FX schedule Season 2 of Pose opposite All Stars 5? Are next year's Oscars gonna be during the Super Bowl halftime show? — Campbell
Matt Roush: I'll grant you the hyperbole because I understand the frustration — although this is also the point of the conversation when I feel compelled to mention how few people nowadays (at least in my circle) pay attention to when a show actually airs. We're time-shifting and platform surfing more than ever, and while watching Drag Race in a party setting makes the actual broadcast something of an event, the impact this has on a broadcast network show's numbers is likely minimal. It's true Will & Grace's numbers, like so much else on TV, have come down to earth, but NBC doesn't appear to be losing faith in it. As for why VH1 chose to schedule Drag Race in a time period where W&G has aired for the last few years, who can say. Thursday is a hot night for TV, a curtain-raiser for the weekend ahead, and may be more profitable for VH1 than actually airing it on a weekend night. The good news is that after next Thursday (April 4), Will & Grace will have wrapped its season and there won't be a problem for the rest of the run.
The One Where Someone Hates Friends
Question: What do you think of the situation regarding Netflix and Friends? It seems insane that they're really still pimping a 20-plus-year-old sitcom at the expense of newer programming. I didn't like Friends then or now, but it's sad that it's still hurting other series like it did with Living Single. Netflix also has Frasier, why not give more attention to that show? It saddens me that Frasier is so underrated and never got the true appreciation and recognition it deserved because Friends got it all. — Angelle
Matt Roush: Insane, maybe, but that's show business — and however you feel about it, few shows have the broad appeal and staying power of Friends, which is still popular enough almost 15 years since it went off the air that it sparked a bidding war last year among streaming services. Which is why Netflix ponied up $100 million — chump change to that free-spending service — to keep the show in its stable for at least one more year through 2019. (Friends will likely move to WarnerMedia's yet-to-bow streaming service next year, since that company owns the show.) While Netflix makes plenty of noise with its originals, it's still in the business of curating hits old and new to satiate subscribers' seemingly bottomless appetite for content.
As for comparisons to Frasier: I don't see that classic as underrated at all. It wasn't a Friends-size blockbuster — few shows are — but was a significant hit for NBC with an even longer run (11 to Friends' 10) that is still fondly remembered by all. And the industry worshipped it, with its 37 Emmy wins (including five in a row for best comedy) dwarfing the six (one for best comedy) that Friends amassed over the years.
Last Man Standing at NCIS
Question: What do you think would be the last straw for NCIS? Mark Harmon's exit? Because while you lost all the original characters, Gibbs is the glue, and without him, I don't know how people who are still watching would even feel without that glue there to hold it together. I know I watched less when Cote de Pablo and Michael Weatherly exited and David McCallum made fewer appearances, but stopped watching officially after the exit of Pauley Perrette, who was the heart and soul of that show. Do you think the show could go on without all of the original characters? Because then you just have a bunch of randoms. — Lily
Matt Roush: Attrition is a fact of life for all long-running TV shows, and NCIS is far from an exception. Much as I believe Grey's Anatomy will finally call it a day when Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) hangs up her scrubs, so will NCIS be over when Mark Harmon decides it is. There's no show without Gibbs, and even CBS would probably have to agree on that point.
Critical Acclaim Doesn't Always Mean Popularity
Question: If TV is really "so great right now," as the popular slogan from pretentious critics and viewers say it is, how come most shows that ilk seem to love so much do so-so in the ratings and old favorites like The Big Bang Theory and NCIS top the charts? — Wendell
Matt Roush: Surely it can't be a surprise that most critics don't see their role as reinforcing popular taste — although the twain have been known to meet, especially when network TV reigned supreme (think The West Wing, ER, Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, the golden age of Norman Lear sitcoms, etc.). While plenty of critics appreciate The Big Bang Theory — though formula procedurals tend to fall beneath their radar, it's true, unless one finds a way to tweak the format creatively — part of the critic's mission is to look for shows that might otherwise go undiscovered. Especially in this "peak TV" age of so many platforms and hundreds of premieres a year, critics tend to get most excited about fresh, risk-taking shows that have something to say or try something new — which are almost guaranteed not to attract an audience on the scale of a mass-market network hit. Most critics I know don't take it personally when a show they love struggles to survive. In fact, they love rising to the challenge, because these are crusades worth fighting. (Think One Day at a Time or ABC's Speechless as current cases in point.) And few things are more satisfying than hearing from someone who discovered a wonderful show, even if short-lived, because of something we wrote.
Wife Back in the Fight?
Question: I saw recently that the Kings (Robert and Michelle) were considering having Alicia Florrick (aka The Good Wife) on the new season of The Good Fight. I was wondering if you had a take on this. I for one think Alicia's story ended with the slap. Does it take away her ending if we see her now? — Unsigned
Matt Roush: I read that the Kings had considered this, not that this was actually going to happen. (If it does, I hope it can be a surprise.) I love that this audacious spinoff (streaming on CBS All Access) is not a carbon copy of The Good Wife but stands very much on its own as one of the boldest, most politically charged, racially aware and also wildly entertaining dramas anywhere on TV. Should Alicia (Julianna Margulies) return, I hope there would be a good reason — and I wouldn't necessarily see it as a negation of that controversial ending for the original series. Alicia didn't die, and the show is still set on her home turf of Chicago. The good news is that The Good Fight doesn't really need her. It's sensational as is.
And Finally …
Question: Wallace Shawn, who plays Dr. Sturgis on Young Sheldon, is best known for his iconic part in The Princess Bride. Am I the only one watching each episode hoping for him to say the infamous word, "Inconceivable?" Do you think he'll ever fulfill my wish and say it? — Bruce
Matt Roush: Now that you've put it out there … I suppose it's quite conceivable. (In-jokes can be fun. I especially enjoyed this week's cameo on The Kids Are Alright by Danny Bonaduce, as a guard outside the Partridge Family studio, poking fun at his own notoriety as a child star.)
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.