Ask Matt: The Timeliness of ‘Madam Secretary,’ ‘The Twilight Zone’ Revival, Reboot Mania and More

Robert Falconer/CBS

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.

This Secretary Is of the Moment

Question: Could you please show some love to Madam Secretary? It is a great show, takes on difficult issues with compassion and courage, has a diverse and compelling cast, and a powerful woman who will run for president this fall! It is SO timely: measles/anti-vax, climate refugees, and the many personal stories. It is invigorating and fascinating to see how they deal with difficult domestic and international crises, how things are interconnected, and the very clever solutions sometimes blow me away. You have a lot to watch; please don’t miss out on an established gem for the sake of a clamoring fad. — Corinna

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Matt Roush: Thanks for reminding me of just how remarkable it was for Madam Secretary to have that episode about a measles outbreak and the anti-vaccination controversy just as this was becoming a major issue in my part of the world. (The episode was written and filmed months earlier in one of those “art imitating/predicting life” moments.) I do keep up with and cover this show as best I can — more online than in the magazine, because of timing and space considerations — and am often struck by how prescient it is about world affairs in particular. I’m looking forward to what looks to be a campaign season for Elizabeth, as it will likely be higher-minded than the one we’re about to face in the “real” world. My main problem with the show some weeks is that in tackling the bigger issues, those solutions you enjoy often feel rushed — but that tends to come with the network-TV package. (And anyone encouraged to write in to gripe about the show’s political leanings can save their breath. This letter deals with timeliness, thankfully not ideology.)

The Wisdom of Reviving The Twilight Zone

Question: I have to admit that reviving/rebooting The Twilight Zone is a much less egregious “sin” than reviving shows as iconic or classic as Magnum P.I. or Full House, etc. because as an anthology series it’s a whole different type of thing. The only thing is: How fresh and interesting is TZ in 2019 when we have Black Mirror and many more shows like it? Even movies such as Get Out and Us. While not a bad revival, I found it rather run of the mill. — Tyrell

Matt Roush: The fact that you reference Get Out and Us, both from Jordan Peele (who’s the face and creative engine of the new Twilight Zone revival), is reason enough to cut the new Zone some slack. I remember reading a comment by Peele that while he’s a fan of Black Mirror, which has often been likened to a “technological Twilight Zone,” the cynicism and darkness of so many of those episodes was why he wanted to delve into the more humanistic world of fantasy established so long ago by Rod Serling. There’s a timelessness to Twilight Zone at its best that argues for a remake in the right hands — although as with any anthology, the new Zone is unquestionably uneven. But having seen four to date, I’m eager to see more. (The episode that I believe airs next Thursday, “Replay,” with a #BlackLivesMatter context in a story about a magical camcorder, felt like a classically topical Zone allegory to me — and I loved the new twists on the “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” episode.)

Question: I was very excited to see that CBS has revived Twilight Zone, even if it is behind the All Access paywall; this plus the positive reviews I’ve read about Star Trek: Discovery tempted me to finally try out All Access. But I’m sure glad they posted the first episode on YouTube so that I could check it out before paying any money. What a disappointment! I couldn’t get through five minutes because of the f-bombs and the “kiss my v*****” comment. Why was that necessary? I know that many shows use that kind of language for a certain mood or demographic, but why add it to a reboot of an old favorite that used to be reasonably family friendly? For now I won’t be signing up for All Access, because I need something besides Trek to justify adding another paid media service. As I said, what a disappointment. — Pat

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Matt Roush: Welcome to the “freedom” of non-commercial TV, where raunchy language is at times regrettably commonplace. I gather that “The Comedian,” set in the world of stand-up comedy, was the episode Twilight Zone put out for free. Not the best choice. (I’d have gone with either the new “Nightmare” or “Replay.”) While I get where you’re coming from, that’s how many comedians talk today (and probably back in Rod Serling’s day as well). My impression from the other new Twilight Zone episodes I’ve seen is that the content, while frank and contemporary, is far from gratuitous — and that’s certainly the case with Discovery as well. (We’ll table the discussion for now about how anyone can be expected to subscribe to all of these new streaming services for just a handful of original shows.)

Speaking of Reboots…

Question: So many rebirths of shows. I’m wondering where you stand on a new version of ER. Imagine getting a few (but not most) of the originals together on the same sets and starting again. I think it’s time. What do you think? — Bryan

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Matt Roush: Generally speaking, I feel the reboot trend is oversaturated, as is the medical genre: NBC already has two, with Chicago Med and New Amsterdam. It’s true that ER revolutionized and galvanized the medical drama in its day, and my fear is that any lesser version would dilute the overall legacy of the franchise. It might be fun, though, to see an ER built around John Carter (Noah Wyle), who in the original was the newbie, now in charge of mentoring a younger group of doctors. Otherwise: not dying for this to happen.

Question: Could there be a Two and a Half Men reboot in the future? — PTG

Matt Roush: I usually respond to such queries with a “never say never,” but in this case, I’m leaning towards never. The half-man is now a man, and one of the other men is pretty much persona non grata. So what show would there be to reboot?

Enough Already?

Question: Regarding Law & Order: SVUs renewal: Do you really think that was deserved? To be honest with you, I don’t think so. — Reed

Matt Roush: There are shows much younger than SVU that are much more out of gas, but I get it. At some point, enough’s enough, and the show peaked long ago (never having truly recovered from the departure of Christopher Meloni) — but as long as Mariska Hargitay wants to keep going, I wouldn’t mount a crusade to stop her. To your question of whether the renewal was deserved, from NBC’s perspective, the answer is probably yes. The numbers aren’t what they used to be — they aren’t for almost anything anymore — but network TV’s reliance on any franchise or title with a following keeps SVU a valued property in their eyes. Another thought: I wish the original Law & Order series had kept going past its own 20th season, at which point it had rediscovered its creative juices. And should SVU ever fold tent, that might be the time to bring the mothership back in some form.

Question: In your March 29th column, you talked about the critic’s mission and how you personally find it rewarding to hear from viewers who discover a show based on your recommendation. Well, I am here to thank you for pointing me to Mrs. Wilson on Masterpiece. What a wonderful show and I would never have found it on my own! Ruth Wilson is amazing and that she is playing out her own family history makes it all the more compelling! I always read your columns and am interested in what you find “Worth Watching.” You are correct that it is a peak period and there are so many choices! It is easy to miss the good shows. I can’t say I always like what you recommend (sometimes it is just not my thing!) but I will always consider them and take a look. My point is-continue recommending the new and fresh and know that your efforts are appreciated! — Shelley

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Matt Roush: Thanks for the generous feedback — and for reinforcing the love for Mrs. Wilson, which concludes Sunday on PBS. It’s a fascinating, and weird, story to be sure, and Ruth Wilson is always worth a look.

And Finally…

Question: Is TV Land’s Younger coming back for another season? I haven’t heard anything about it returning. — Sandra

Matt Roush: This terrific comedy is definitely coming back for a sixth season, but it has recently been reported that instead of moving to the Paramount Network, as originally announced, it may instead be staying put at TV Land, since that’s where fans expect to find it and where it has performed well. Stay tuned for confirmation and for a premiere date. (Fans of Younger creator Darren Star will be able to see his new dramedy Emily in Paris, starring Lily Collins, on Paramount Network sometime in 2020.)

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.