Ask Matt: ‘Stumptown,’ ‘Fleabag,’ ‘Suits,’ ‘Big Brother’ 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.
Is Stumptown a One-Woman Show?
Question: I checked out Stumptown and found it was pretty decent. Cobie Smulders was really good, although she was playing a stereotypical hard-drinking, cynical, hardass PI, she managed to pull it off despite that. I do think the problem is that she kind of carried the whole thing by herself and I don’t know how long that will last. The supporting cast they put her with is kind of lacking. Michael Ealy is Michael Ealy, so of course he’s charming, smooth, likable etc. but… his character seems that he’s just Michael Ealy as a cop, lol, not much character there. Do you think the show could survive with just Cobie Smulders carrying the load? That seems to be counter to every other successful show that had a great ensemble, even shows with one person’s name in the title had a great supporting cast that took some of the pressure off. — David
Matt Roush: Seems a little early to make some of these assumptions. Pilots have to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, and in this case, setting up the many facets of Dex (Cobie Smulders’ character) was the priority, including moments of softness (with her brother), humor (with everyone, including crooks) and vulnerability (flashes of PTSD) that may not have registered with your focus on the more stereotyped aspects of this classic type of hardboiled character. The main issue is whether Smulders can carry a show, and on the basis of the pilot, I’d say: Yes. Whether she’ll have to every week remains to be seen. ABC’s description of Wednesday’s second episode notes that “Dex and Grey’s history unfolds,” referring to the bar-owner BFF played by New Girl‘s Jake Johnson, so already they’re planning to flesh out some of the supporting characters. Your assumption that Michael Ealy is just playing a “Michael Ealy” character is a bit condescending as well; I look at it (and Camryn Manheim as his skeptical boss) as promising casting. The reality is that I don’t expect Stumptown to be much more than a very entertaining, commercial caper. On that basis, though, as noted in my review, it’s still one of my favorite network shows of the fall season.
And About That Music …
Question: It’s amazing what you can learn watching a show with the Closed Captioning turned on. Sometimes it’s the name of a song playing in the background or some original dialogue that was changed. But it can also yield a few surprises. Take the premiere of ABC’s new Stumptown. In the pilot episode during the kidnapping scene about 15 minutes in, you hear “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee playing as the action goes down. But the CC clearly indicates that the original tune that was supposed to punctuate the point was “Love Will Keep Us Together” by The Captain and Tennille. I’d be curious to know why they made this change before the show went to air. Was it a rights issue? A change of mind of the producers? Something else? It certainly would have changed the mood of the scene in question and it makes you appreciate what a difference background music can make in a TV show. — Aaron F
Matt Roush: That’s wild — and yes, in at least one rough-cut version of the pilot that I screened in advance, “Love Will Keep Us Together” was playing on the car’s broken cassette deck. In many cases, rough cuts use temporary music tracks until rights can be secured for broadcast, and that appears to be the case here as well. But for me, the change of song didn’t really change much. The point wasn’t the content of the song being played, but the incongruity of an upbeat piece of pop kitsch blaring during such an otherwise tense and raucous moment of peril. Still, I’m surprised they didn’t update the closed-captioning for this.
Will There Be More Fleabag?
Matt Roush: There’s always a possibility, but right now, I wouldn’t count on it. Here’s how Phoebe Waller-Bridge answered questions on this topic backstage after her remarkable Emmy wins for the second (and for now final) season: “To be honest, this just feels like the most beautiful, beautiful way to say goodbye to it, actually. … It does feel like the story is complete. … It does feel right. Go out on a high. You can’t get higher than this.” Maybe when she comes down from her high, she’ll reconsider. But very likely not. British TV has a habit of not staying too long at the party. Or in this case, not long enough. But Phoebe fans can savor her wit once again when she hosts Saturday Night Live this weekend. (I’ll be shocked if this issue doesn’t come up — maybe in the monologue?)
A Fitting End to Suits
Question: I have been a huge fan of Suits throughout its run. The series finale may have been the best series finale of any TV show ever. What a great way to wrap up a show with drama, laughs, tears, and a perfect way for all the characters to move on to the next chapter of their lives. Well done, Suits! — Mike
Matt Roush: Few things are more satisfying than for a long-running show to end on its own terms and fashion a finale that gives viewers what they want, with maybe a surprise or two. Cynics have come up with the term “fan service,” as if this were somehow pandering. I just think it’s good TV, and bravo to Suits for going out on a high.
Question: I am a huge fan of Big Brother and have seen every season and episode. But I have to say that I felt the attack on the housemates during the last half-hour of the finale was brutal. They were being asked to apologize for stuff they have not even seen as others have had the chance to watch, and NO ONE was meaning anything personal, after all, it is a game. Seems like most of them forget that and in the end can’t ever seem to let it go. It was disheartening for me that it was brought up so viciously and felt it was uncalled for. It was not a happy conclusion when it should have been. — Loretta
Matt Roush: I am quite famously not a fan of this franchise, in part because I feel it encourages and rewards horrible behaviors such as were demonstrated in words and possibly actions during this latest season. (For a fuller analysis, I refer you to Andy Dehnart’s peerless “Reality Blurred” column, as he actually takes the time and trouble to watch.) I’m sorry the end felt deflating to you, but words have consequences — including those spoken on TV in live feeds, which contestants know exist — and besides, how could anyone including a fan know what was meant to be taken personally. I’ve talked to several Big Brother watchers who felt the finale was beyond squirm-inducing, but even they had to admit the winner got what he deserved. Plus $500,000, so he can cry all the way to the bank.
The Big Bust of the Emmy Show
Question: The Emmys have never been more awful than they were this year. I never personally got into The Big Bang Theory, but even I know it was wildly successful hit for a very long time. That the Emmys didn’t see fit to give it a proper acknowledgment the way it did Veep and Game of Thrones is terrible. I thought for sure the Big Bang cast would present the award for Best Comedy, but instead they were sidelined to a clip reel, as you noted in your Emmy review. The other thing I cannot understand is why the producers didn’t try to capitalize on the 25th anniversary years of Friends and ER. Having the six Friends and key members of the ER cast reunite to present would have made the show worth watching. Rather than bad banter and schtick, the Emmys going forward should do more to pay homage to the reason we’re all watching: the TV shows! Get the nostalgia going with a look back at shows having anniversaries or with cast reunions and get us excited about the shows still on by highlighting the nominees. It’s not that hard. — Molly
Matt Roush: All very valid points, and even if the logistics had worked against gathering the entire Big Bang and Friends casts, or the biggest names (Clooney) from ER, any effort to present such a moment on the TV show would have been more appreciated than Ike Barinholtz pretending to have been blinded by lasik surgery or the dreadful Ken Jeong with his TikTok moment. So many wasted opportunities to honor TV during those three hours.
And Finally …
Question: I’m glad NBC’s Songland was renewed for a second season. It’s entertaining, informative, and overall delightful! It’s also turned me on to some artists with whom I hadn’t been familiar. — Susan
Matt Roush: Couldn’t agree more. This was a very pleasant surprise during summer’s season-of-reality-TV, shining a light on a creative process tailored to individual musical performers and acts in a way you rarely see, beyond the competitive aspects of the show. And it wasn’t nasty, either (ahem, Big Brother).
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.