Ask Matt: Memories Die Hard for a Cedric Fan, Plus ‘Unicorn,’ ‘Grey’s’ Malaise & More

ABC/Kelsey McNeal

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.

Haven’t I Seen (Insert Name) Somewhere Before?

Question: What do you think about fans of classic shows having a tough time with actors from their shows playing a different role with a different cast or specific cast members? Like I can’t get into The Neighborhood, because for me I can’t get past seeing Cedric The Entertainer married to another woman that’s not Terri J. Vaughn from The Steve Harvey Show, which was a WB sitcom back in the ’90s. Same for why it took me forever to watch The Middle or Modern Family. — Tonya

Matt Roush: You know I’m only kind of kidding about that “TV therapist” label, right? Because this could be a real problem for your longtime TV-viewing future. Careers live way beyond individual shows — even Mariska Hargitay will (presumably) take on another role once Olivia Benson’s two-decade SVU reign is over — and this should be celebrated instead of seen as a hindrance. But this kind of identification with an actor and a role is hardly new. When Mary Tyler Moore was developing her self-titled sitcom classic in the 1970s, there was concern that no one would accept her as anyone but Laura Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show — and they couldn’t depict Mary Richards as divorced, because people might assume she’d left Rob. Even now, the mail I get about Patricia Heaton‘s new show Carol’s Second Act seems largely motivated by not just a reaction to the show’s mediocrity but the unhappiness among her fans that she’s no longer playing Frankie Heck on The Middle (or even Debra on Everybody Loves Raymond).

My advice: Get over it and rejoice in the fact that one of your favorite TV stars is still working. It’s quite possible you won’t enjoy Cedric’s curmudgeon character on The Neighborhood as much as his role on The Steve Harvey Show, but how could you object to him now sharing a fake TV home with Tichina Arnold? She’s great.

A Unicorn by Any Other Name

Question: Have I watched too much TV? CBS’s The Unicorn seems like How I Met Your Mother between when Mom died and Dad started telling the story. Remind everyone HIMYM couldn’t literally be about HIMYM every week and Cougar Town couldn’t be about dating younger guys every week. Regardless of the show’s titles, we wanted to spend time with those characters. At this point, I’m wondering which Unicorn character is Aunt Robin. — Pete in San Antonio

Matt Roush: I’m hoping none of them. The Unicorn isn’t that kind of show, and I find it so much less gimmicky than How I Met Your Mother (which I enjoyed for most of its run) that I never would have made this connection. (For one thing, I’m pretty sure we didn’t know the “mother” was dead until the end of that series, which still leaves a bitter aftertaste.) I agree that The Unicorn will need to mix things up, so it’s not always about Wade (the excellent Walton Goggins) and his daughters grieving as they try to move on with their lives, but we’re only five episodes in, so there’s plenty to time to develop the other characters. It helps that the bench strength of comic talent among Wade’s friends is considerable. This is still hands-down my favorite new comedy of the fall season.

Grey Days on Anatomy

Question: I haven’t watched this season of Grey’s Anatomy yet (for a myriad of reasons). But based on what I’ve read, I’m OK with tuning out. I know over the course of 16 seasons, some plot lines will re-emerge, but I feel like everyone going to Pac North reminds me of the Mercy West defections back in the day before it was Seattle Grace-Mercy West. I know you’re a no-spoiler zone, but any idea on when things will get back to normal-ish? — S

Matt Roush: For me, the bigger issue is sidelining Meredith, but I have yet to see any mail from anyone who thinks splitting the troops was a good idea. I hope for everyone’s sake things settle down soon, and one positive sign is that in the Nov. 14 episode (the latest storyline provided so far by ABC), “Meredith faces the medical board as her future as a doctor remains uncertain.” However that plays out, I hope she’s back at work soon. This has just been so tiresome. I don’t know if and when the Pac North storyline will resolve or if that’s a long-term development for Alex, Richard and perhaps a few others. I don’t mind that as much, because the characters still keep getting in each other’s business, but it’s a frustration for many.

Like Amy H., who writes: “I am in agreement with your recent writer regarding Grey’s. I am very much over and bored with the current storyline. I do not dump shows and I have to trust that the current storyline will wrap up — please sooner rather than later. Having the cast all over the place and not in the hospital together is annoying. I was very happy that the show was returning this year, but if this is what the season is going to be — the ousted outcast and a whiny Bailey — then give me Izzie brain tumor rerun episodes instead.” Surely not that!

Who Will Survive the Streaming Wars?

Question: With Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max joining the existing streaming services soon, the streaming wars will become a reality very soon. How do you think it will change the TV landscape? Can the broadcast networks survive the sheer volume of on-demand content? Or will they merely transition into these streaming services if the inevitable happens and broadcast TV ceases to exist? Will Netflix’s library of originals be enough with the loss of popular titles from the past? Curious to hear your take on the ever-evolving TV business. — Sascha

Matt Roush: First off, broadcast TV isn’t going anywhere. Yet. It will obviously continue to diminish in terms of its overall hold on the audience, as more viewers unplug from traditional distributors and migrate to platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (where many people I know get their fill of ongoing network programming). There is still a desire among many millions for weekly comfort food on a regular schedule, and what I’m really hoping is that the competition represented by the streamers will inspire the networks to someday raise their game. Although it’s also possible that they will find their sweet spot in continuing to program formula procedurals, sitcoms and reality contests to the masses, leaving niche programming to others.

You’re right, of course, that every major media company (Disney, NBC-Universal, WarnerMedia, CBS) is or has already gone all in on streaming — they really had little choice — and what interests me is which shows end up where. I hear many complaints from viewers who wish some of CBS’s better shows (the Star Trek series, The Good Fight) were on the broadcast mothership instead of behind a paywall, and I imagine the same will be true with Disney+ and Peacock. Nevertheless, I don’t see any of them abandoning their core broadcast and/or cable businesses anytime soon. As for Netflix, it might take a hit when it loses some of its tentpole library content to rivals (Friends, The Office, others), and I still can’t fathom why Netflix thinks it’s a good idea to push out so much content on a weekly basis that it ends up cannibalizing itself and its better series. (I’m still amazed that anyone actually discovered Unbelievable.) But Netflix takes up so much oxygen and attention that, as long as its financial model doesn’t collapse beneath a mountain of debt — someone please explain to me how that works in the long run — it will likely continue to thrive in this ridiculously overcrowded marketplace. How the consumer will fare is another story.

Which HBO Is Which?

Question: What is the difference between HBO and HBO Max? — Gary

Matt Roush: Simple yet deep question. HBO you probably already understand, since it pretty much pioneered the premium cable universe it has long dominated. HBO Max builds on this as WarnerMedia’s flagship streaming service, which will include the HBO library as well as many Warner, DC and Turner properties, plus a ton of original content. (Truly, I don’t think a day of October went by without an announcement of an HBO Max program or production deal.) Click here for a quick overview, and here for some of the latest announcements made this week at WarnerMedia’s launch event. Most if not all current HBO and HBO Now subscribers (especially if you’re with AT&T) will gain access to the new platform with no extra charge when it launches next May — that’s still being worked out — but as a stand-alone, it’s on the high side at $14.99 a month. And no, I have no idea where this trend will end and how anyone is expected to afford it all. Welcome to the new TV world.

Dr. Phil’s Sales Pitch

Question: I’ve been watching the Dr. Phil show since its inception, but, although I watch it daily, lately I’m seeing less and less of his show. The reason is that I turn it off when Dr. Phil, under the guise of helping his guests solve their problems, makes pitches for products he’s involved with: books, telephone apps or his wife’s beauty products. When Dr. Phil shamelessly turns his show into an infomercial, I’m outa there! — Lois

Matt Roush: Makes sense to me. Although I never much saw the appeal in the first place.

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.