Ask Matt: ‘Modern’ Ending Felt Final, ‘Thrones’ on Fire, Mark Harmon’s Career, Would-Be Finales

Mona Lisa
Sonja Flemming/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 Friday.

Modern Ending Would Have Made a Great Series Finale

Question: I have to say for the first time in a long time I was very impressed and satisfied with a Modern Family episode in Wednesday’s season finale. Though I feel like it’s too bad it’s coming back next season, because this was a PERFECT series finale for this show. They even went full circle with the Lion King thing. Whatever series finale they do next year is going to feel so cheap and over the top like a lot of series finales do. — Marcus

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Matt Roush: I agree that Cam and Mitchell presenting Haley’s twins to the Lion King music in matching robes, a callback to the very first episode when the couple introduced their Baby Lily to the family (establishing at that moment that all of these disparate characters were related), would have made a wonderful series capper. The vignettes of the various birthdays were mostly also very cleverly woven through the episode. My main hope and concern in thinking ahead to next year’s series finale is that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot trying to top themselves. That kind of hubris has brought down more than a few shows when they fail to stick the landing. (I have a special fondness for the way Everybody Loves Raymond ended, with no “very special” event but with an overall warm feeling that we were bidding the Barones a fond farewell.)

Burning Thrones Questions

Question: In Game of Thrones, isn’t it a little strange that when the wights were stopped at the trenches, Daenerys didn’t fly by and Dracarys them all? I realize the fighting might not have been as difficult, but it just seemed kind of dumb. Speaking of “Dracarys,” when Missandei shouted it, do you think she wanted Daenerys to burn everyone? — Maria W

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Matt Roush: I’ll admit I sometimes wonder about the dragons and the selective use of fire to wipe out their enemies. (Even last Sunday, after Rhaegal fell to its death after being ambushed by evil Euron’s fleet, I momentarily puzzled why Daenerys didn’t just unleash holy hell from her one remaining mount. I suppose she didn’t want Drogon to expose its flank?) As for Missandei’s dying word — which for the uninitiated is High Valyrian for “dragonfire” — the implication to me was that she was imploring Daenerys to continue the fight, not to give up — as if she would — and to take down Cersei by any fiery means necessary. The worrisome aspect of all of this is how far her revenge will go. If she burns “everyone,” including whatever innocents remain in King’s Landing, she’ll be no better than the cruel queen on the Iron Throne and perhaps will be judged as mad as her Targaryen predecessor. It’s an interesting dilemma heading into this next skirmish.

When Harmon Was Bad, He Was Great

Question: While I am in total agreement with TV Guide Magazine‘s selection of Mark Harmon as “Giant” #1 of the Biggest Stars on TV, I was surprised that Eric Andersson omitted any mention of the role of Harmon’s career: that of Ted Bundy in 1986’s The Deliberate Stranger. He was so cool (translate chilling) and earned a Golden Globe nomination. That he has moved so effortlessly through the last 33 years in a kaleidoscope of ever-changing characters speaks volumes, but only if you first see The Deliberate Stranger. — Bonnie, South Portland, ME

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Matt Roush: I can’t speak for Eric, but having written my fair share of those types of career summaries (often in posthumous tributes for the magazine), it’s simply impossible to mention everything. But you make a good point, especially since playing a notorious real-life fiend like Bundy is so out of character for Harmon, who typically plays heroes. (Not unlike Zac Efron taking on the same role in the new Netflix film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.) A few years after Stranger, Harmon’s TV-movie roles included gangster John Dillinger in Dillinger and the sinister Uncle Charlie in a remake of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, so it hasn’t been all good guys in his long resumé.

Did Seinfeld Pull Its Punches in Its Finale?

Question: While Tom L.’s comment in a recent Ask Matt column about the possibility of a deadly elevator accident bringing The Big Bang Theory to a close doesn’t really fit the tone of the overall series, for me it did bring to mind what would have been my dream ending to a series where it might have fit right in: Seinfeld. In the extra-and-too-long finale, the show walked right up to it, with all four core cast members on a plane that was seemingly going to crash as the episode went to a commercial break. Of course, when it came back, everyone had survived and the viewers had to endure that long, drawn-out court trial that tediously brought back memorable characters from the show’s history. I’ve always felt it would have been a “classic” ending, and more in line with Seinfeld‘s darkly humorous tendencies, had the show ended with the crash, then returned for a final scene with only George Costanza, apparently the lone survivor, once again (as he had in the classic, though divisive, “The Invitations” episode in which his fiancée Susan had died) trying to set up a date with Marisa Tomei, with him trying to engender some pity from her by noting that it’d have to take place later, since he had “a few funerals” he had to attend. — Todd S

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Matt Roush: Well, if Seinfeld had gone that route, they certainly would have topped “The Invitations” for leaving a sour aftertaste. As heartless and selfish as the Seinfeld characters often were, killing off an entire ensemble — or even leaving them in jail to atone (or not) for their sins — feels awfully extreme. In retrospect, one of the problems with the Seinfeld finale is that it tried too hard to rise to the occasion with an epic conclusion — which, to be fair, was almost required, given the final-season hype — which ultimately for many fans violated the tone of a “show about nothing.”

Reboots = End Times?

Question: A pretty maudlin question, but do you see this sudden reboot craze as the sign of the end of network TV? Not literally, of course, but the end of any chance of getting future and ORIGINAL classic TV shows. I feel that suddenly with rebooting classic TV shows like MacGyver, Magnum — even Bewitched, for the love of God — it’s a sign that TV will never be pushed to make bold and influential programming. It’s like the end of television to be frank. — Paul

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Matt Roush: To me, it’s more a sign of desperation than total creative collapse. I get why the networks go back into their archives, figuring that remaking or tweaking a familiar title could be an easier sell than trying something new or, on the increasingly rare occasion, original. Even so, the success of something like This Is Us suggests to me that networks can find new angles on old formulas and somehow feel fresh, and I’m hoping a few of the more intriguing pilots in development make the cut when the Upfront announcements roll out next week. But we have been in a cycle in recent years where playing it safe on broadcast TV seems to be the guiding principle, and that’s what upsets me even more than the reboot/remake trend.

The Art of Faking It

Question: Was last Sunday’s episode of NCIS: LA actually filmed in Cuba? — Tish

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Matt Roush: No. As usual, the series filmed in Los Angeles, so give credit to the production and location designers for finding a way to fake Cuba. (If the show had made such a trip abroad, they almost certainly would have publicized it.)

And Finally …

Question: Although I am not trans, I really enjoyed the scene in which Good Girls Sadie (trans actor Isaiah Stannard) finally felt comfortable enough to reveal their sexual orientation to their mom recently. Since the series began, Sadie’s character has always dressed androgynously. In the April 21 episode, Annie (Mae Whitman), Sadie’s mom, was helping her ex-husband’s wife Nancy (Sally Pressman) with the home birth of her son. When Annie got home, Sadie asked about the baby, Annie said, “Yay, it’s a boy,” and Sadie replied, “So am I.” I know it doesn’t always go that smoothly within the LGBQT community, but it was nice to see a scene that was so heartfelt, sincere and organic with a subject matter that sometimes can be so controversial. Kudos to Good Girls. — Scott

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Matt Roush: Always happy to end a column on a happy note, and that warm and accepting coming-out scene certainly qualifies.

That’s all for now, and because of the network Upfronts next week, there probably won’t be another column until next Friday. 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.