Ask Matt: ‘Speechless,’ No Answers From ‘God,’ Debating ‘Twilight Zone,’ ‘Walking Dead’ 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 Great Season (or Series?) Finale for Speechless
Question: I really, really hope ABC does the right thing and renews Speechless, but if they don’t … man, they really nailed last Friday’s finale. It hit every beat I would want if the series were to end at this point. I’m not sure what a fourth season of the show would look like, but I want to find out. This half hour is so excellent that it also demonstrates why the show deserves to continue. Really the entire season has grown and deepened the entire ensemble, not just JJ, and I think it’s ABC’s best current comedy. What do you think its chances are? — Jake
Matt Roush: I agree that the Speechless finale hit all the right notes, emphasizing the notion to “be unrealistic” when it comes to JJ (Micah Fowler) pursuing his dreams. There was just the right blend of humor and sentiment throughout, and the leap in the final scene with the family (including Kenneth) on hand to ease his transition to New York City makes for both a great end point or a significant turning point, however it turns out. The producers took the high road here by not leaving his fate and future in the balance, which would have been terribly frustrating for the show’s fans. I wish I could predict where ABC is heading with this and several of its other comedies on the bubble, but with all of Disney in transition after the purchase of the Fox studio and the launch of Disney+ in November, these decisions are likely more complicated than just setting the next fall schedule. I hope this doesn’t become a casualty, but until we know for sure, kudos on a great third season.
Seeking Answers from God
Question: In the Season 1 finale of God Friended Me, the question of who created the God account was left unanswered. After teasing viewers all season long, I’m leaning towards never getting an answer. I don’t want to spend another nine seasons How I Met Your Mother-style only to be disappointed by the ending. I’ve convinced myself that the Machine from Person of Interest is behind it all and got tired of communicating to people from rapidly disappearing pay phones in NYC. Any thoughts on the subject? — Brian
Matt Roush: I like how your mind works — and seeing Amy Acker on Grey’s Anatomy last week brought back such fond memories of Person of Interest. But I do think you’re headed for only more disappointment if you’re watching God Friended Me for the answer to the origins of the God account. (And I kind of wish the characters would just drop their obsession as well.) In the overall scheme of things, spiritual quests are all about pursuing the big questions which tend to lead to more questions. Easy answers aren’t the point, and in this case, the account is just one big metaphor anyway, so with this series more than most, I would stress that the journey truly is the destination.
Twilight Zone, Past and Present
Question: What do you think of the new Twilight Zone? As someone who saw the original episodes when they were new, I was skeptical. After viewing the first three episodes of the new one, I am impressed. The third one, “Replay,” was amazing, and the ending was perfect. The viewer sees a door from inside a house and then hears a noise and knows exactly what was going to happen. — Charles
Matt Roush: So far so good, and I agree (as I noted in my Thursday preview) that “Replay” felt like “classic” Zone to me, in its use of a fantastical device in support of a relevant social issue. Of the three episodes that have aired so far, two have lived up to expectations — the new twist on “Nightmare at (now) 30,000 Feet” was refreshing as well. My main gripe is that some of the episodes are, at 50 or so minutes, way too long, and the producers should remember than one of the great virtues of original Zone at its peak was its economy of storytelling.
Quite a lot of mail has been generated by this show since its latest comeback, so here’s a sampling of other reactions:
Can’t Beat the Original
Question: I’ve been around a long time and I remember the original Twilight Zone – AND I still watch the “old” shows. I have to say this: You cannot re-do GREAT!! The original Twilight Zone was the best. Serling was so-o-o-o ahead of his time with those shows, especially the “To Serve Man” episode, that was a great show. This new Twilight Zone will never make it — the other attempts failed too. Just leave great alone — and continue to show the original Twilight Zone shows. I’ll watch one and see what happens. — Cheryl
Matt Roush: If you’re only going to pick one, from the early batch I’d go with either the new “Nightmare” or “Replay.” I agree with you up to a point, and totally get the fact that we may never be able to experience a story like “To Serve Man” or “The Intruders” or “Eye of the Beholder” or “Time Enough at Last” (to name some of the standout original episodes) in the way we did when they were new — and we were younger and had never seen the likes of stories such as Zone specialized in. Which shouldn’t stop new generations from trying. I’ll never lose my taste for the original Zone episodes either, but it’s hardly sacrilege for a talent like Jordan Peele to be overseeing a new wave of storytellers with a penchant for the macabre, ironic and spooky. Not every Zone episode back in the day was a home run, and if the new iteration proves to be uneven, I’ll still watch in hopes of recapturing some of that frisson of old.
This Isn’t the First Reboot
Question: Speaking of The Twilight Zone: It always infuriates me that whenever the show is discussed, scant attention is paid to the two previous reboots. In my opinion, both of those revival series had their satisfying share of stellar episodes. The ’80s edition was particularly noteworthy. It showcased directors like William Friedkin and Wes Craven, and provided an expansive storytelling playground for writers like Harlan Ellison Rockne S. O’Bannon Alan Brennert, George R.R. Martin (yep, Game of Thrones), and J. Michael Straczynski (12 episodes foreshadowing Babylon 5). Like its predecessor, the show explored contemporary issues: ecology, feminism, domestic violence, war, the education system, social ills like credit card debt and hoarding, and New Age obsessions like past-life regression. Certain episodes are burned into my brain: the chilling “Nightcrawlers,” suspenseful “Chameleon,” existential “Button, Button,” heart-tugging “Her Pilgrim Soul,” “Wong’s Lost & Found Emporium” explains what happens to misplaced items, both physical and ephemeral. “Ye Gods” predated Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. Martin’s “The Once and Future King” explains what really happened to Elvis Presley. “A Message From Charity” is a heartwarming and literally timeless love story (which I rewatch each Valentine’s Day). And viewing the third series’ episode “How Much Do You Love Your Kid?” will forever change the way you view reality TV. Both series also offered satisfying, updated rewrites of classic episodes like “It’s a Good Life,” “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “Night of the Meek.” It’s high time these two woefully overlooked reboots got the attention, and new (and rewatched) viewership they deserve. — Maurice
Matt Roush: Point taken. I do remember some of the highlights of the ’80s revival, which took some big chances. (Not so much the second revival on UPN, which made a minimal impression in 2002-03.) But the fact is that, with the possible exception of a few episodes by auteurs like Ellison and Martin, The Twilight Zone will forever, and justifiably so, be best remembered for its original incarnation, which set the standard for all that came later (including series like The X-Files, which always acknowledged its debt to Serling). Your defense of the ’80s revival is helpful, though, in guiding curious viewers to some of the best episodes of that series, which are very much worth seeking out.
When Did the Dead Malaise Kick In?
Question: In regard to The Walking Dead, in a recent issue of TV Guide Magazine, it said that viewers had declined since Rick Grimes left. I disagree. Viewers started to leave after the murders of our beloved Glenn, Abraham and Carl. Why the writers believe the shock value of their deaths would make us stay is beyond me. Matt, what do you think? — Sandy
Matt Roush: I tend to agree that the beginning of the end was Negan’s dispatching of Glenn and Abraham — not so much the act itself, but that the show treated it like a “who’s going to die?” moment, when that existential dread had always hovered over the show, making it so compelling for those with the stomach for it. By focusing so much on the impact of a swinging bat wielded by such a cartoonish and tiresome villain, it diminished the true horror of what The Walking Dead represented from that point onward. That said, I felt the death of Carl was very differently handled, and his succumbing to his unhappy fate, while unwelcome to many, went beyond shock value to reminding us that good deeds in this unhappy world rarely went unpunished. His death was one of the few in recent seasons that seemed to me to have any real emotional impact. (And that includes the heads the Whisperers put up on spikes most recently.)
After our most recent debate about the diminishing returns of so many “big bads” on The Walking Dead, I received this unsigned response from a reader: “Generally speaking, the Walking Dead plot lines are taken from the graphic comics storyline, wildly successful with true fans. That includes all the new groups that are introduced on the TV show.”
If this was meant to justify the approach of recent seasons, and to distinguish “true fans” (as in, comics readers) from Walking Dead viewers who had become disenchanted of late, it had the opposite effect on me. The TV series needs to stand on its own merits, apart from whatever the comics do, and if the comics have kept going by introducing lower and lower forms of human antagonists (I have no idea if that’s the case), then I’m afraid that’s just not going to play well on TV. It certainly hasn’t lately. It just feels repetitive, uninspired — and a drag.
And Finally …
Question: I have several burning questions: 1) You had mentioned The Rookie hadn’t been renewed yet — has it now? I didn’t think The Rookie would measure up to Richard Castle, but it has! 2) Has Alone been renewed? The best of the reality series — I love Survivor; but Alone is better. — Kitzer
Matt Roush: 1) Here’s how it works. Unless a show gets an early renewal, which The Rookie didn’t, it’s unlikely we’ll know for sure until the new schedule is announced in mid-May. News sometimes dribbles out in advance, but rarely on shows “on the bubble” like this. In recent days, CBS has parceled out news of pickups for long-running shows like NCIS and Blue Bloods after the deals are signed, but many shows won’t have their fates decided for another month. 2) History did renew Alone for a sixth season, with a new location at the edge of the Arctic Circle. A premiere date hasn’t been confirmed, but expect it to return in early summer.
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.