Ask Matt: A 'Modern' Ending, Rerun Woes, Serializing 'Trek,' Darkness of 'Sabrina' 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.
A Meta Modern Ending?
Question: I suppose it's way too early to speculate on how ABC will be concluding its veteran Modern Family next year, but I can't help but wonder: How will they end it? Here's what I would like to see. We finally get a look at the crew who have been filming the family all these years (those cutaways when they're sitting on the couch talking to an unseen person) and in the final shot, the director comes into camera range, looks at his co-workers and shrugs, "Yeah, there's not enough there to use for anything. Let's just forget the whole thing." And fade to black. It will never happen, of course, but I hope whatever they decide, this stalwart (albeit a bit worn-out) Emmy winner gets the same kind of hype that surrounds The Big Bang Theory. — Aaron F.
Matt Roush: That's kind of brilliant — and made me laugh in a way I haven't at this show in a while. I'm sure the industry and the media at large will make a fuss over Modern Family when it ends next year, but somehow its impending departure feels to me a bit less end-of-an-era than The Big Bang Theory, which made a bigger and more sustained splash — as multi-camera comedies tend to do — in the syndication and cable marketplace. (Modern Family famously underperformed in the USA.) Neither comedy has been best-of-year quality for me for some time — and Modern Family was top of the list the year it premiered — and that's only natural. But as discussed in an earlier column, Modern in particular has been trapped by its formula to hit so many of the same beats for so long, especially with the "mockumentary" gimmick, that it really would be cool for that aspect to be the ultimate joke when the show signs off.
Frustrated with Spring Repeats
Question: What's going on with The Big Bang Theory and The Flash? The Flash had reruns on for two weeks DURING A SWEEPS MONTH and after only a handful of episodes after that, is doing reruns again for too many weeks? The Big Bang Theory has been barely on this year. They also skimped on episodes during sweeps, ran a repeat just before it was preempted for basketball for two weeks, and they're only doing one new episode before doing reruns again?! Why? Fans deserve better. And could you please tell the networks that I NEVER, EVER, EVER WANT TO SEE RERUNS ON A SWEEPS MONTH AGAIN? — Shamus
Matt Roush: Point taken. But as we've discussed before in this space, sweeps months obviously aren't of as critical importance to the networks anymore in this era of time-shifted and OTT viewing on other platforms (especially in the case of shows on the younger-skewing CW). The rerun complaint is especially prevalent this time of year, when repeats dot the schedule more frequently as the networks stretch out the traditional season to the May finales.
While this is an understandable frustration, I'll take issue with Big Bang being "barely on" since the holiday hiatus. The show aired originals four out of five Thursdays in January, took low-viewership Valentine's Day off as many shows do, and while it has been sporadic since then, also accounting for the two-week break for NCAA basketball during March Madness, after this week's repeat it will be all new to the very end on May 16 (with a one-hour finale seemingly counting for two episodes, which may be why this week's isn't new). I won't pretend to understand The CW's scheduling, except to suggest that airing new episodes in blocks — five in a row in January-February, three in March leading to the current three-week hiatus, with the final five episodes of the season picking up next week — may make more sense than one week on, one week off. The other alternative would be to run a show straight through without repeats, which would mean that The Flash's current season would already be over.
In Space, To Serialize Or Not?
Question: I'm probably old fashioned, but the reason Star Trek: Discovery, and indeed most of the current crop of sci-fi genre shows, with the happy exception of The Orville, is disappointing to me is probably the very reason younger viewers are attracted: way too much "backstory" to Every Single Character, and way too much interconnecting of each episode to make a season-long "arc." The original Star Trek was a new planet, a new adventure or a new morality play every week. When a major character's past was revealed, it provided a fresh and interesting perspective on the character: Spock's mating rituals in one or his distant relationship with his father in another. But to my recollection, The Menagerie (Spock's trial for kidnapping Pike) was the only example of dramatic continuity between episodes, where the actions or events of one episode was reflected in the events of a subsequent one. (The character of Harry Mudd in two episodes could be argued as an example, but a thin one.) Even if a character had a major event — Spock's pon farr or the death of Edith Keeler for Kirk — it didn't affect their action or feelings in the next episode. Did we miss anything by not seeing Kirk grieving over Edith for the next several episodes, or drinking himself into a stupor with Andorian Ale?
Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine added some dramatic episodic continuity, with DS9 having the most, but it never got intrusive the way it is with Discovery, where what we get is too much character introspection and personal drama. The Orville, in contrast, while I don't care for the immature sexual and scatological innuendo, has had more self-contained episodes, and I look forward to each episode, while with Discovery, the endless search for the "Red Angel" and all that has gotten tedious. — Tom
Matt Roush: It's an interesting point to debate the pleasures of a more procedural (self-contained) sci-fi show over one with more densely serialized storytelling. I tend to favor the latter myself, with my favorite examples being Syfy's Battlestar Galactica reboot and Farscape, but I get the appeal of the former from a purely escapist point of view. Although I can't really applaud any dramatic series that would willfully ignore game-changing life events just so we can jump to the next adventure the following week. That type of "old-fashioned" TV narrative has, thankfully, mostly disappeared. Even in procedurals. (And just for the record, I'm mostly enjoying Discovery's "Red Angel" storyline, especially as it helps flesh out the relationship between Michael and Spock.)
Some Thoughts (None Good) on Abby's
Question: I watched Abby's mainly because I saw that Neil Flynn was in it. I was an avid The Middle fan (and still watch reruns of it). I wasn't really impressed with Abby's. It just didn't seem to have a good flow to it and the jokes seemed forced. Not sure I will watch again. What's your take on this new show? — Unsigned
Question: Abby's seems to be a pale imitation of Cheers. An outside bar? Doesn't it ever rain there? — Bob
Question: One thing that turned me off of Abby's right away was the way they had people who were dressed a certain way ("fancy") not allowed a seat or whatever. You had Cheers, where the character of Diane who was pretty prim and proper was embraced by the gang despite her snooty attitude, which was like embracing the audience into this world. Abby's alienating customers is like alienating its audience. Why would a new show start off the series doing that? — Robin
Matt Roush: I promise if someone had sent in positive feedback on NBC's new midseason comedy, I'd have shared it. But much like my own reaction — which can be boiled down to, "at least the air is fresh, if the content isn't" — this pretty much defines "meh," despite some of the talent on and behind screen. The outdoor gimmick isn't enough to get past the underdeveloped characters and the overall blandness.
Regarding rain, the show is filmed in mostly dry Southern California — on the Universal Studios lot in the backyard of what was Nicolette Sheridan's house on Desperate Housewives — and it was reported the first season was filmed without a rainout or having to move inside to a replica set. And what can I say about the attitude at Abby's? It sure doesn't feel welcoming — or funny — to me.
Let in Some Light!
Question: I'm really liking The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but I feel like it and Riverdale are making the same mistake. EVERYTHING is dark, whereas a similar show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seemed to make a very distinct difference between "normal" high school being very bright, and then the Supernatural being dark, at least in the early seasons. Sabrina is especially guilty of this. Why is her mortal life, school and friends just as dark and dreary? It would be a much more powerful contrast if her mortal life was bright compared to her witch life. — Cfolliot
Matt Roush: This is an interesting variation on the question I often get about "why are TV shows so dark?" — which usually refers only to the murky photography. In this case, I think you're on to something thematically. I find myself growing so weary of shows indulging their dark and dreary "edginess" — I could barely make it through an episode of Syfy's Deadly Class — and your comparison to Buffy is a good one. While there's much to appreciate in the new Sabrina, your comment reminds me how even at its darkest, for the most part there was a lightness of spirit to Buffy that made it a more enjoyable experience.
More Life for After Life
Question: I just wanted to give praise to After Life on Netflix. What a wonderful show about a topic as hard as grief. It made me laugh and cry, frequently at the same time. The writing and casting are impeccable. I just heard it was renewed for Season 2, and I just hope they can make it as wonderful as it was in Season 1. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: I had much the same reaction to this terrific tragicomedy. Initially worried because the maudlin tone of Ricky Gervais' previous series for Netflix, Derek, had been such a turnoff, After Life turned out to be a pleasant, and very emotional, surprise. I'm hopeful it will be as enjoyable the second time around, although the character arc of Ricky's character, Tony, through the first season felt satisfyingly complete. Still, I know I'd watch another short season.
Gone for Good?
Question: Gone is a great series on WGN America! I read somewhere that it was a "limited series." Does this mean it is a limited series like I Am the Night or Big Little Lies, or because WGN has a bad habit of axing their good programming? I would love to see this show continue! — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Here's the thing about WGNA programming. None of it is original to the channel anymore. The shows now airing on WGNA are all acquisitions, and in the case of Gone, it's a show that first began airing in late 2017 in international markets and only now found its way to an American outlet. Only one season of 12 episodes has been filmed, and since this much time has passed, it's hard to imagine more being made. (Although you never know.) This isn't WGN's call. They bought the show as is, and if more were to come, they might buy that, too. But I wouldn't count on it. As for the "limited series" label, maybe that's to manage expectations. Though there are connected storylines through the season, it doesn't seem like there's as much of a beginning-to-end arc as actual miniseries like Night or Lies.
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.