Ask Matt: 'Castle Rock' Confusion, Unsung 'Mom' Character, 'Dancing' Voting Woes & 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 Friday.
The Misery of Deciphering Castle Rock's Annie Wilkes
Question: Hulu's Castle Rock is confusing this season. In Stephen King's novel Misery, published in 1987, Annie, who was born in 1943, is 44 years old. In Castle Rock, the younger Annie has a cellphone, and the hotel in one episode has a rather old-looking sign advertising high-speed internet. Even if this younger Annie is only 10 years younger, the internet wasn't available (I'm not sure when Al Gore invented it) and cell phones were not around. Could Annie be related to Benjamin Button? — Doyle
Matt Roush: To fully enjoy Castle Rock (which I'll concede isn't easy), you need to keep in mind that this anthology isn't adapting Stephen King stories literally, but borrowing characters and settings (like Salem's Lot's Marsten House) and creating entirely new stories around them. So Lizzy Caplan's Annie Wilkes is not entirely the same Annie as seen in the novel or film, for better or worse, and this younger version has been transplanted into a current-day environment. In an upcoming episode that reveals her and daughter Joy's backstory, while much of her psychopathy is quite similar, you'll see many differences — though it's been such a long time since I've read or seen Misery, don't ask me to point them all out. Much like how Jerusalem's Lot is no longer a haven for vampires but a breeding ground for another sort of ghoul. Castle Rock at best is a mash-up of King tropes with lots of Easter eggs to titillate fans. At worst, it's a cheapening of King's oeuvre with its messy collision of tones — in this case, fusing Annie's psychological terrors with Salem's Lot-style boogeymen.
Why is Mom's Wendy Such a Wallflower?
Question: I love Mom on CBS. Even at seven seasons, it still makes me laugh. But why doesn't Wendy ever get her own storyline or a love interest? We got a tiny hint of her background on the Oct. 24 episode, but come on! Even the newest characters have already been highlighted. — Felice
Matt Roush: It really was kind of a shock to see Wendy (Beth Hall, a hilarious sad sack) at home in last week's episode. That may have been a first. But that was also part of the point of the storyline, because the running gag around this character is that no one pays attention to her, even though she's ostensibly the leader of their AA group. She is regularly cut off mid-sentence, dismissed as boring and overlooked because of everyone else’s more outrageous antics. We’ve seen her at work at the hospital, but she remains a mystery—in part because of her supposed friends’ self-involvement. Which is part of the humor of Mom, and Hall makes the most of her moments whenever she tries (and usually fails) to make an impression. I'm not sure the joke would work as well if she were given a significant storyline, but like you, I think it would be fun to see them try.
Voting No on This Season's Dancing Changes
Question: I cannot believe that I can't be part of the Dancing with the Stars show this season. We cannot vote live in the Pacific time zone. I always voted for the dancers on this show and that made me feel part of the show. Now I can only watch. They should go back to voting one week and eliminations on the next week. It is not as much fun watching if I can't vote! — Paula from San Diego
Matt Roush: I fielded some complaints about the show’s new format when the season began, but they’ve been pouring in again now that the show is in full gear. ABC has pointed out that "fans in all U.S. time zones may vote" on abc.com and the ABC app during the real-time window of the broadcast, which means between 5 pm and 7/PT. (Which also means you'd be voting for your favorites from the week before if you're not watching live.) This isn't optimum, and if the show is hearing some of what I’m hearing from fans, I wonder if they'll ultimately decide to go back to a more democratic system next year.
Question: What a disgrace that Dancing with the Stars does not let the elderly vote who do not text or use a computer. Do they feel that they don't need to vote? I for one will not watch a show that discriminates. Sorry to see that they feel everyone doesn't have to vote. I am sure there are thousands that can't vote because of the elimination of the phone voting. Also, letting the judges vote at the end to save one of the two lowest is ludicrous. The lowest should be the one leaving. I for one will not be watching this show. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. — Rosemarie
Matt Roush: Rosemarie sent me this complaint (a common one) by e-mail, so obviously she has some access to a computer. But the fact remains that many fans are upset that phoning in their vote is no longer an option. The bigger issue is that the judges get to make the ultimate call on who goes home each week, and I can see how that's unsatisfying to the fans as well. Not sure why the producers keep trying to fix what isn't broken, but change rarely goes over well on shows this established.
Who Wants to Read an Action Series?
Question: Once again I have abandoned a promising new show because the show-runners make it too difficult to watch. I am referring to Treadstone on USA. The problem is too many subtitles. I know they want to make it more authentic, but having to continuously read the translations is way too distracting. And the subtitles run by too fast to keep up with the conversation. I know this is a show I would really enjoy, but after only two episodes I've given up. Why do they seem to sabotage their own shows and lose viewers when they can avoid it? — JC
Matt Roush: I actually like the global feel of Treadstone and that it isn't asking its Asian or Russian or European actors to speak faux English. I get that such a device asks a bit more from the audience than the usual high-octane action series, but I'm still on board because the set pieces are quite thrilling. My bigger issue is that the sprawl of time periods as well as international settings can make the narrative even harder to follow than the subtitles. But it’s a fairly common complaint in my mailbag from viewers who find it difficuit to keep up with reading subtitles, or texts or other printed materials on screen. Producers should keep in mind that with most things (including subtitles), less can be more.
Relaxing with Harmony
Question: Regarding the recent discussion of Perfect Harmony: It's growing on me, and I urge your readers to give it a try. I admittedly rolled my eyes through much of the first couple of episodes, which DID overly rely on small-town Hicksville clichés. I stuck around, though, for Bradley Whitford and Anna Camp, and the show is settling into its groove as a charming comedy good for some laughs. As you noted, it's not particularly groundbreaking. But in my opinion, the Peak TV era has come to rely too heavily on the dark, twisty and cynical. I love Fleabag. I'm sure The Handmaid's Tale is excellent. But sometimes it's nice to just sit back and enjoy a show. That's the sweet spot Perfect Harmony hits. — Kirsten
Matt Roush: As a critic, I spend much of my time recommending the edgier or more distinctive shows (e.g., Handmaid and the fabulous Fleabag, and premium series like Watchmen) that deserve attention amid the clutter of today's ever-expanding TV/streaming landscape. But there should also be time to appreciate some of the simpler pleasures that TV has always stood for, especially on broadcast networks. As noted before, I’d never make a claim of greatness for a show like Perfect Harmony, but it's enjoyable enough, and now that Will & Grace is back on the lineup, I look at Thursday's current NBC comedy block as the week's most pleasurable — with NBC's The Good Place and CBS's The Unicorn my highest comedy recommendations for the night.
Question: First, thank you for your terrific column. I discover many great shows after reading your recommendations. My question: Do you know when Killing Eve is coming to Hulu? I don't have access to BBC America, and I saw the first season on Hulu. And similarly, when are more seasons of Outlander coming to Netflix? — Unsigned
Matt Roush: Always happy to help when I can, but as a rule of thumb, I tend to follow shows only through their initial run on the networks that present and premiere them. I simply can’t always keep up with their afterlife on disc, streaming or syndication. To your specific question, nothing has been announced yet on either of these fronts, and neither Hulu's nor Netflix's November slates (all that is available to date) includes either of these titles. The second season of Eve may show up on Hulu before long, but given that Netflix only has the first two seasons of Outlander licensed to them at this point, and four have aired, it appears that Starz may be keeping later season of the show exclusive to subscribers for now — though it's available to Hulu and Amazon Prime members through Starz add-ons. For a price.
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.