Ask Matt: The Verdict on 'The People v. O.J. Simpson', Plus: An 'NCIS' Threeway? ABC's Bubble Shows and More
Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic (also known to some TV fans as their "TV therapist") Matt Roush, who'll 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 unless it's 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.
Question: I’m writing to express how impressed I am with The People V O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. I literally had no interest in watching what I thought was going to be a Lifetime miniseries, plus I generally find Ryan Murphy’s work to be frustrating experiences that start strong and then devolve into salacious messes. But I’m so happy that I gave it a shot, because it’s riveting despite (obviously) knowing the outcome and most of the events that led up to it, in huge part because of how the same issues resonate today surrounding race and the police. Full marks to the writing and directing, which are top-notch in fully bringing L.A. in the mid-’90s to life and the brilliant choice to begin framing it with the aftermath of Rodney King. The actors playing both legal sides are giving incredible performances (Courtney B. Vance in particular) and even the supporting roles are great. I’m enjoying it all so much that I’m reading the "fact-checking" sites after episodes to see how close to the truth the narrative stays—and even if it is an embellishment of Robert Kardashian’s character, I also love how pointed the writing is in depicting that if he had survived, that the Kardashian children might not have turned out to be the awful fame-whores we know today.
So my one (albeit large) nit to pick is Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. himself. It’s not his acting, as I think he’s doing an excellent job of dancing on the line between O.J.’s guilt/innocence depending on the scene, and the anguish he portrays is undeniable. But his lack of resemblance in both physicality and voice to O.J. is what takes me out of some scenes. Maybe it’s because the rest of the cast is so spot-on that it stands out, but I find him the most distracting piece. Did it bother you when you watched, and if so, were you able to get past it by the end? Appreciate the thoughts and your column as always! — CK
Matt Roush: This miniseries has been the most pleasant, and gripping, surprise of 2016 so far, I agree, for many of the reasons you've detailed here (echoed in my initial review). I do get where you're coming from regarding the casting of Cuba Gooding Jr., especially when it comes to him evoking the larger-than-life persona that O.J. represented before this crime of the century occurred. I've wondered from time to time if the series wouldn't have benefited by keeping him off camera throughout, and the only way we saw O.J. would be through news footage of the time. But Gooding's acting is solid—his petulance, his despair, his ego, his rage—so I'm at peace with it. I was much more unnerved at the start by John Travolta's weirdly reptilian take on Robert Shapiro, but watching him get sidelined by Vance's marvelous Johnnie Cochran (while Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey cheers him on) has been a treat. And let me use this discussion to tout this week's episode, an astonishing showcase for Sarah Paulson as the embattled Marcia Clark. Simply stunning.
Are Shows Like American Crime Too Dark to Watch?
Question: One side effect of quality television's devotion to "honesty" is that darkness threatens to envelop the show to the exclusion of light. The closing chapters of The Knick were almost comically bleak, with all evil going unpunished and all good rendered deeply suspect. American Crime, as you've noted, is often excruciating to sit through because we keep anticipating what the next bad thing will be (we're never even allowed to hope for the protagonists). The death of Jodi on Mom felt like one misfortune too many, as if the writers thought it had been too long since the characters experienced a traumatic loss. And The Walking Dead ... well, enough said. Has there ever come a time when a show has become so grim and painful that even professional duty could not keep you watching? — Ryan
Matt Roush: When a show's as well executed as American Crime, which airs its finale this Wednesday, I'm more than OK with feeling the pain because I so deeply care to see how this provocative parable about class, sexuality and civic responsibility plays out. (And talk about great acting, from usual suspects like Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton and Regina King on down to the young actors, most notably Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari.) Your comment on Mom is interesting. I respect the show for not sugar-coating the life of a recovering addict, whether it's dealing with financial struggle, relationship woes or, in this case, needless sudden death. They still find a way to thread humor into even the darkest moments, and given that Jodi's demise was all off-camera (which some might have felt a cop-out), it didn't feel exploitive to me.
To your question, one show I eventually and reluctantly bailed on because its level of extreme violence wore me out—as the plotting got more outrageous, which cheapened the experience, though there was always much to commend the show—was HBO's OZ. (I also drifted from Sons of Anarchy in the early seasons, when they kept introducing brutal straw-man antagonists to make the bikers look more heroic. Came back when the club began to turn on itself, which to me was always the most interesting story.)
Hoping for an NCIS Three-Way
Question: I love NCIS and so I'm wondering if there will ever be a three-way crossover between NCIS, NCIS: LA and NCIS: New Orleans where a case could span the whole country. — Andrew
Matt Roush: Haven't heard anything specifically, and it didn't come up during the reporting of TV Guide Magazine's current cover story on NCIS's 300th episode (airing next Tuesday), but it seems like a no-brainer somewhere down the line, though if such a thing were being planned for this season, it would probably already be known. (Reminder: This is not a spoiler column.) Especially given the way that Dick Wolf's NBC Chicago shows cross-pollinate, I would think the NCIS bosses could work something out where all three teams work together on a major crisis. I'm a bit surprised it hasn't happened yet.
Is There Any Hope for ABC's Bubble Shows?
Question: Since Nashville wasn't included on the list of ABCs obvious renewals this past week, the question becomes: If the bubble bursts this year and it is canceled, do you think the producers will be notified of that in time to provide a satisfying resolution to the story? They've ended on a huge cliffhanger every year, regardless of their perpetual existence on the bubble. I love the show, watch it live every week, and buy the CD soundtracks as well, so obviously I hope it continues, but if it doesn't, the most important thing to me is that we get some kind of ending on this season. Also: what did you think of The Muppets' finale? I think the whole back half of the season was tremendously improved over the initial batch of episodes that aired in the fall, and I think it deserves a renewal, at least from a creative standpoint. Ending on a cliffhanger seemed misguided given the low ratings, and I'm not really expecting a renewal, but I would love to continue watching the show if it gets a miracle reprieve. Also: Given that Galavant was a favorite of Paul Lee, do you think his departure is the end of the line for that one? Since Once Upon a Time is renewed again, they'll need something to stick in January. — Jake
Matt Roush: All of the conventional wisdom points toward Nashville packing up its instruments after this season—I say that regretfully, as it's one of my continual guilty pleasures—and the people making the show have to be aware of that already, so it's the fault of the producers, not the network, if the season ends with some big plot twist dangling. (Leaving the story open-ended is acceptable, but giving Deacon another health crisis or something of that ilk wouldn't be.) As for The Muppets, I was away when the finale aired and haven't had a chance to watch, but I enjoyed the show's happier tone after the retooling, but it wasn't enough to budge the ratings. That has to be seen as a real long shot for renewal. The only saving grace would be the investment Disney has in the Muppets as a brand. And Galavant? That was definitely a Paul Lee pet project. Its second season was a surprise. A third would be a miracle, and under this new administration, I doubt that's possible.
Question: The question you recently answered about the change in executives at ABC possibly endangering several shows on the network made me wonder: Do you think there's any chance of Agent Carter surviving? I heard Hayley Atwell has signed on with another pilot, which makes me believe that the low ratings may have already doomed it, but given that Agent Carter is a limited series, maybe she could handle both projects. I just don't want to lose this wonderful show, and the best heroine I've seen on TV in decades. - Linda
Matt Roush: The fact that the star is looking toward new opportunities suggests that maybe we should move on as well, although I agree that Agent Carter has been a fun and welcome diversion the last two winters. One thing to keep in mind: You left the world Marvel's out of the title, and ABC's ties with that company could help give the show another reprieve, but that's beginning to feel like false hope.
Why Is TNT Cutting Rizzoli & Isles Loose?
Question: Can you tell us the reason Rizzoli & Isles was canceled? I personally enjoy the show. Once canceled, it's an hour less watching TNT. — Charlotte
Matt Roush: Rizzoli is a casualty of TNT's evolution and rebranding under a new regime that is aiming to develop noisier, potentially edgier and less formulaic shows—though for now, Major Crimes is staying put, a link to The Closer, the show that helped put TNT on the map. At least TNT isn't forcing a sudden exit, with a seventh and final season (shortened to 13 episodes) planned for this summer to give the show a proper send-off. That's a pretty decent run for any show, but it's surely a calculated risk on TNT's part to ditch a show with such a loyal following, which could at least give some sort of springboard to the new shows now in the pipeline.
Is Second Chance Worth a Second Chance?
Question: A while ago you wrote a rather cold analysis of the Fox series Second Chance in which you virtually (it seemed to me) wished it off the air. I couldn't disagree more. Your analysis largely went to the show's premise of, for lack of a better description, scientific reincarnation. I agree that such a premise is quite a stretch when compared to reality, but really, "stretchy" premises are, seemingly, common on TV these days. To me, this show is serious fun to watch. Emmy? Hardly. But then, some of the shows that do receive Emmys are... well, back to the "stretchy" thing. Have you watched more episodes since your review? Have you changed your mind ... even a little? — J
Matt Roush: I have no problem with high concepts. (Speaking as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer super-fan, to name just one.) I'd even be OK with a Frankenstein-ian procedural if done well. But Second Chance failed by my standards on all fronts: including casting (the bland lead, for sure, but also including the typecasting of Tim DeKay as a, quoting myself, "humorless clone of his former White Collar character") and writing, as the show evolved into a dreary procedural once the resurrected Pritchard became a (yawn) consultant to his understandably peeved son. I watched four episodes before writing that review, which felt to me like I'd done my homework. Once the show was banished to Fridays, there seemed little point in giving Second Chance a second (or in this case, fifth or whatever) chance. Is it possible that even a lousy and failed show could produce some good episodes? I suppose. But I stand by my take that "the genetic makeup of Second Chance is itself corrupted by a lack of imagination and existential empathy." You obviously disagree, and that's OK. Enjoy the show while you still can.
That's all for now. We'll pick up the conversation again soon, but 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). Or submit your question via the handy form below: