Ask Matt: ABC’s ‘Mess,’ Other TV Wannabes, Movie vs. TV Reboots, ‘Blue Bloods’ 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.
Note to Mess: You’re no Green Acres
Question: As someone who lives close to Omaha, I just saw the premiere of ABC’s Bless This Mess and I didn’t laugh once. With all the flood damage happening in Nebraska right now, and all the dismissal from East and West Coast types who view life in all of Nebraska as a rural stereotype, the last thing TV needs is a sitcom that reinforces it. A decrepit old farmhouse, cow-phobia, yokel jack-of-all-trades neighbors, ho-hum. Besides, Green Acres did this sort of thing much better back in the mid-’60s. It depresses me to think that this got on the air when I myself wrote a pilot for a sitcom that takes place in Omaha in the aforementioned mid-’60s and is my answer to Superstore, and I can’t get near anyone who could put it on film.
Matt Roush: Yes, I had much the same reaction to Mess in my own preview, and tend to feel as you do whenever I see a show or film characterizing my own roots — in small-town Indiana — as some sort of Rubesville. (That said, can’t wait for the biopic of Mayor Pete some day!) And you’re not alone in the ranks of frustrated would-be TV writers who wonder how some things get on the air when they’re about as fresh as last month’s milk.
Regarding Teller on The Big Bang Theory: In his first appearance as Amy’s dad, they played as a joke the silent persona that he uses in his partnership with Penn Jillette, when his wife (Kathy Bates) wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise. But now he’s simply playing a character, as he has done elsewhere, so on Big Bang he’ll likely continue to speak (should he reappear before the series finale), whereas in his stage act with Penn, he’ll keep evoking the era of the great silent comedians.
TV’s Deja Vu Problem
Question: Seems like this is the year of the wannabe. You have The Enemy Within, a Blacklist wannabe. Abby’s, a Cheers wannabe. And now Bless This Mess, a Green Acres wannabe. With these shows and all the reboots and revivals, it’s official. We have run out of new ideas. We might as well just shut down all TV production and send the writers home. Am I the only one who’s tired of the same old thing popping up over and over? — JC
Matt Roush: Obviously not. The broadcast networks in particular seem to be in a rut, either trying to copy the hits they’re already airing or reaching backwards to try to replicate past glory. On the plus side, it frees up a fair amount of time for me as I try in vain to keep up with the streaming glut.
What Map Is Enemy Using?
Question: Why is the show The Enemy Within making up names for local places around D.C., Maryland and Virginia? Instead of Rock Creek Park they used Rock Peak Park, instead of Great Falls it was something like Falls Park and they called a park Virginia Park, which I never heard of. There were a couple more that I noticed. It’s a good show with great acting but this is really distracting! — Va
Matt Roush: I imagine it’s done for legal purposes, the same way Law & Order shows generally make up fake addresses in their title cards. But if you’re trying for even a little authenticity, what would it hurt for a show like this to place its characters in actual settings? Not that I believe a moment of Enemy Within, from its set-up onward.
Do Movies Adapt Better Than TV Remakes?
Question: I know everything is reboot fever these days, which I feel is killing creativity and innovation in movies and television, but can we take into account that the ones that seemed to have worked the best were TV adaptations of classic movies? And the ones I’m specifically talking about are the TV adaptations of The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H and In the Heat of the Night. Those are not only very good adaptations of the films they derive of but even surpass them. Why is it that those reboots seemed to have worked exceptionally well while others either crash and burn or may have decent ratings but are polarizing and panned by die-hard fans? Even one I don’t like at all (the Lethal Weapon reboot) seems to have worked better than straight reboots of classic TV shows. — Isisah
Matt Roush: This is a fairly selective interpretation, because many movies-to-TV adaptations are also unsuccessful. But in the broadest terms, movies turned into TV shows may stand a better chance at success because they’re such different animals. For the most part, these titles are recast so they have a fresh feel with new actors, and what was self-contained within a movie gains new life and perspective in the broader canvas of a long-running TV show that can expand the world of the characters. But when TV shows are rebooted/remade/revived/whatever, they have to compete with our memories, and presumed fondness, for the original series, and it’s beyond rare for the new version to exceed those expectations.
Blood Boiling Over Danny’s Ring Toss
Question: I am really unhappy with the way last week’s episode of Blue Bloods ended with the psychic talking Danny into taking his wedding ring off. I thought this was a big mistake, as I know of personal friends who have lost a spouse and kept wearing their wedding rings for a long time. It took a while for me to get used to the idea of writing Linda out of the show — yes, my name is Linda also — but this really got my blood boiling! I am a big fan of Tom Selleck (hubba hubba), and Frank still wears his ring even though his wife has been gone for a long time. I’ll bet you’ll get a lot of letters from fans not happy as well, but just wanted to get this off my mind. — Linda
Matt Roush: To play devil’s advocate, this was also the episode where Danny put away the criminal responsible for his wife’s death, so there’s a sense that when he got legal closure for this tragedy, symbolically he might feel it’s time to move forward in life, as the fictional late Linda might want for him. It’s clearly an emotional decision for him, and quite a bit of time has passed, so it’s not like he took off the ring in haste or is dissing her memory, and who’s to say he won’t eventually put it back on. Especially if more fans are this upset, the show might take notice. But psychic element aside, this didn’t seem terribly out of character or an unearned dramatic moment.
Live Viewing and the Ratings Game
Question: I know you don’t go into a lot of discussions on TV’s ratings. However, I don’t understand why the industry keeps reporting live numbers as a true measurement of a show’s success? We all know that watching live TV is a thing of the past, since people now stream their favorite shows and watch them at different times. For example, seeing that Blue Bloods’ live viewership is around 6 million is a bit depressing, but when it gets the total number of late viewers it reaches 10 million which completely changes the tune. So my question is: Do live ratings still matter? Bona fide hits (see Empire‘s first season) are a very rare occurrence, and with new offerings like the Apple platform and Disney +, isn’t it time to get a new barometer all together? I would like to have a clear indication of how the shows I like are doing, otherwise I am just flying blind. — David L
Matt Roush: This subject really isn’t my bailiwick, that’s true, but the way I see it is that reporting next-day/live ratings is still an effective if limited barometer to see if a show is being sampled or has the possibility of breaking out. Most TV shows don’t instantly pop the way they used to, so the delayed viewing ratings are very much a factor in a show’s ultimate success (and are reported within the industry). The metrics are more complicated than ever in calculating whether a show has staying power, and given that we don’t even have a clue how many are watching most streaming shows, I prefer to focus on content over ratings, figuring that my job is to steer as many of my readers toward shows they might otherwise miss in this Peak TV glut and hope for the best.
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.