Ask Matt: ‘Thrones’ Big (and Dark) Battle, ‘Kids’ Gets Messy, a ‘One Chicago’ Preemption, Life After ‘NCIS’
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.
The Battle of Winterfell: Too Dark and Too Light (on Deaths)
Question: What a MASSIVE disappointment Game of Thrones‘ Battle of Winterfell episode (“The Long Night”) was. Everything was so dark, I couldn’t tell what was going on!! What a wasted episode. — Deborah
Question: [SPOILER ALERT] Game of Thrones is taking some possibly well-deserved lumps for letting so many — OK, pretty much all — of its lead characters survive the otherwise gripping Battle of Winterfell episode. I watched the whole thing in a state of high anxiety, and despite some confusion during the height of battle, which was often hard to see, I once again marveled at the sort of spectacle that only Thrones can deliver. And by the way: Go, ladies! Lyanna Mormont (RIP) and Arya Stark are my heroes forever! And yet when the dust settled, I admit to some ambivalence that there wasn’t one truly soul-crushing tragedy to contend with on the level of the Red Wedding. Do you ultimately feel the show pulled its punches in this mega-hyped episode? — Charlene
Matt Roush: Obviously, these were the two most pressing complaints that emerged from last Sunday’s epic episode, and they’re both valid up to a point. I’ve read interviews with the cinematographer defending the episode’s darkness — and to some extent, what did anyone expect in a battle with the Night King? — and there were many moments when darkness was used brilliantly, most especially in the first wave, when the Dothrakis’ flaming swords were terrifyingly snuffed out in the far distance. And Thrones has always excelled in depicting combat as a confusing, chaotic mess‑which it is — so the “fog of war” argument holds here as well. But they took things to an almost laughable extreme in this episode, and when you get to the point that you’re not even sure who you’re seeing on which dragon and even how many dragons are left alive by the end of the episode, something’s gone amiss.
But, like Charlene, I was mostly impressed by the episode, and I’ve enjoyed the season up to now so much (especially the second episode, with the knighting of Brienne) that I feel I need to reserve full judgment until we get to the very end — because we’re only at the midpoint. Which is why I wasn’t that put off by the fact that no primary character met their maker during this battle, which clearly defies logic — as well as the storytelling principles George R.R. Martin established in the ruthless early volumes of his opus.
The fact that the battle with the Night King wasn’t the climax of the series — which is a good thing — suggests to me that having any of our favorites succumb to this soulless menace would have less impact than whatever treacheries, betrayals and reversals await them as they turn their sights toward King’s Landing and the Iron Throne. And it feels a bit petty to discount the significant deaths [SPOILER ALERT] of Lyanna as she slayed the giant, Jorah as he protected Daenerys, and Theon as he defended Bran. This reminds me of the days when people would complain any time The Sopranos went too long between whackings. That’s not really the point, and what I remember most about the Battle of Winterfell isn’t the battle itself but the moment when Arya gave Sansa the dagger, telling her, “Stick them with the pointy end” (a callback to when Jon Snow gave Arya her beloved Needle) — and then using her own pointy end to bring down the Night King. That I’m pretty sure everyone saw, darkness or not.
A Touchy Subject on Kids
Question: I’ve been enjoying ABC’s The Kids Are Alright all season, and it’s easily my favorite family comedy since The Middle went away, but this week’s (April 30) episode may have hit a hilarious new high — and dealt with the subject of, shall we say, self-gratification in as clever a fashion as we haven’t seen since Seinfeld‘s classic “The Contest.” What was your reaction? And I’m amazed ABC hasn’t given the show an early renewal. What do you think its chances are? — Trevor
Matt Roush: I’m still laughing. For those who missed it, the “Timmy’s New Hobby” episode dealt with mom Peggy (the priceless Mary McCormack) mistakenly believing her young son (Jack Gore) was engaging in “disgusting boy activity” when she found residue on his bedsheet, which was actually dried glue from Timmy’s latest secret craft project (puppet versions of his wacky family). She nagged husband Mike (the wonderful Michael Cudlitz) to have a father-son heart-to-heart, but the farcical complications just kept spiraling from there. It was brilliant, and like that great Seinfeld episode, managed to earn laughs without being salacious. It was also a great episode for obsequious older brother Frank (Sawyer Barth), who didn’t know what to make of his first kiss, reminding me that Barth may well be the next Eden Sher in terms of an underappreciated young comic actor who has created a thoroughly original and uproariously funny new teen archetype. Check this episode, and series, out.
As for renewal, I can’t imagine ABC not bringing this back for a second season. It’s firing on all cylinders, and appears to be holding its own. I see The Kids Are Alright as having at least a few terrific seasons in it — although the growing pains as the child actors age may be especially tricky to navigate, because right now, they’re perfect as they are. And there are so many of them.
A Chicago No-Show
Question: What do you think of NBC pulling the “One Chicago” franchise from a major Wednesday in the sweeps period? Does this mean sweeps is a thing of the past? — Amy
Matt Roush: We’ve discussed in this space numerous times the diminishing influence of sweeps months, but that really doesn’t apply here. NBC bumped the Chicago shows on May 1 to air a high-profile special event that is classic sweeps bait — the Billboard Music Awards, with an array of famous divas — which delivered some 8 million viewers, which the network described as the highest rated in-season non-Olympics Wednesday since December 2016.
Will We Ever See NCIS: The Movie?
Question: When eventually NCIS goes off the air, do you think if the show is still somewhat popular, they’ll go the route of a series of made-for-TV reunion movies like Perry Mason, Kojak or Gunsmoke did? I remember there even being an L.A. Law movie once. — Kyle
Matt Roush: It’s possible, although networks (even CBS, the most traditional broadcaster) have mostly moved away from TV movies in general, and these would come with a pretty hefty price tag given the industry clout of these cast members. But things in this industry are cyclical, and given the networks’ reliance on rebooting old titles because they’re at least familiar to a fickle audience, it might make sense to keep a franchise like this alive with periodic stunts. But then, if that were the case, why haven’t we seen any CSI movies?
Someone Trade This Designer!
Question: I am thrilled that Trading Spaces has been resurrected. It’s still a fun show, but I am pained that the designer Hildi Santo-Tomas was invited back. She continues to make homeowners cry because of her outrageous designs. Her designs are disrespectful, she’s a train wreck. Why would Trading Spaces invite her back? — Leona
Matt Roush: Probably because she elicits such strong reactions from viewers. In the world of reality TV, polarizing personalities tend to be valued if only because they get people talking. I’m betting there are Trading Spaces fans who are just as pro-Hildi as you are anti.
When Netflix Is No Longer Part of Your Diet
Question: No question, just a comment in response to the recent “Unsigned” question asking how long it would be before Netflix’s decision to cancel shows the way they’ve been doing would come back to bite them. I think it’s started already. I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since 2007. I’ve stuck with them through format changes and price hikes without complaint. I had almost given up on them, ready to pull the plug, and then they announced One Day at a Time. As a huge fan of the original, I stuck around out of curiosity. When they canceled it the way they did, I decided it was time for me to finally cancel Netflix, so I started going through my list and watching the things I really wanted to see, things that weren’t available anywhere else. And then they canceled Santa Clarita Diet without so much as a fanfare. I canceled my subscription within 10 minutes of hearing the news. By the end of the hour, I had subscribed to Hulu. (Where have you been all my life, Future Man? And hello, Cousin Larry! I forgot how hilarious you are!) And I also joined Amazon Prime Video (I missed you, Corner Gas!). We’re paying less for the two than we did for the one! And on top of that, with Hulu, we were able to cancel YouTube TV and save another $50. So not only did Netflix bite itself, it bit YouTube TV and drove money into the competitors’ pockets. And Matt, if you’ve never seen Corner Gas, you’re missing comedic brilliance. — Mark
Matt Roush: While this example is purely anecdotal — and understandable — and Netflix is in no danger of losing its reputation as a streaming behemoth, we’re obviously reaching a point where consumers are going to start making tough calls when it comes to which services they’ll continue subscribing. If Netflix keeps dropping shows abruptly for whatever data-driven reasons, without providing satisfying conclusions, more paying customers are likely to feel burned. As Mark has learned, there are alternatives. No one service anymore is going to give you everything you want, but with Disney+ and Apple TV+ coming our way soon, programmers are advised to consider the long-range consequences of short-sighted decisions like these.
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.