Ask Matt: Remake Fever (‘Xena’, ‘Roots’), Plus ‘Supergirl’, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’, Patty Duke 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 asking your opinions on reboots. Xena: Warrior Princess was a magical show that ended only 15 years ago with a wonderful original cast that has remained very active in the industry. That show’s hardcore fans have attended conventions, bought discs, had Twitter “watch” parties and petitioned for a return of Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor and other original cast since the show ended. The fandom has received a slap in the face with potential plans of a re-casted show (with a network expressing concerns over the original cast “overshadowing” the effort) and a rewrite of the characters versus the revival with the original cast and a handoff to new characters. Reboots have a high failure rate, and this plan follows many doomed paths (too soon as original cast is still in the public eye and wanting to do limited series; alienating fandom; rewriting towards darker themes aka Hunger Games). Why would a network choose to take on all these negative paths rather than do the respectful thing of casting the originals in the parts they made famous and handing off to new characters in a new plot (examples: The X-Files, Star Trek to Star Trek: TNG)?- dlsquared
Matt Roush: Any remake of a beloved property is fraught with peril, that’s the bottom line, and it’s an even more intense uphill challenge when it comes to cult TV. A successful reimagining like Battlestar Galactic is the exception, along with the various brand extensions of the Star Trek galaxy. It’s virtually impossible to please everyone in these circumstances, and while it might be fun to see a more “mature” version of the original Xena and Gabrielle hand off to a “next generation,” you’re griping to someone who tends not to judge in advance, so not really feeling the intransigence with which you’re greeting any news about this project that doesn’t jibe with your own vision. The producers and any new cast will obviously have to prove themselves, one would hope with the blessings of those involved with the original show—even the Galactica reboot made room for Richard Hatch in a new role—but they should get the chance to make the show they want to make. But I’m sure they’re well aware of the resistance they’re facing.
Why Remake Roots?
Question: What is your opinion on the remake of Roots? The cynical side of me says that the only reason that they are remaking this is because 12 Years a Slave was successful. How much is 12 Years a Slave going to influence this new version? The original Roots in 1977 cost $4 million, which wasn’t necessarily cheap back then, but looking back it does look cheap by today’s standards of what miniseries today look like. Also I am wondering how much of Alex Haley (Laurence Fishburne) in this new version. Is he simply bookending each episode, or is there someone in this new version that is willing to challenge him on the accuracy of these events? – Michael
Matt Roush: I could see being skeptical about remaking Roots, given its iconic status (although you’re right; by today’s standards, the early miniseries of the 1970s look a lot less polished). I can tell you where I was on my 18th birthday: watching the finale of Roots with everyone else I knew. It was that kind of powerhouse (and there were no VCRs or DVRs). But I don’t really understand the cynicism. 12 Years a Slave won Oscars and is seen as successful, but not the kind of phenomenon to ignite a cottage industry—although I suppose you could say WGN America’s impressive new drama Underground might owe some debt to the film. With Roots, it feels more like the desire to revisit the property for a new generation. History says this version will reflect new scholarship, which might address some of the criticisms of Alex Haley’s own work, but I haven’t seen any of it yet, so can’t say how much and how the character of Haley will be used, although the casting of Fishburne suggests he’ll be a significant presence. A colleague who has seen part of the opening episode was impressed, so I’ll stay hopeful for now.
Could Supergirl Fly to a New Home?
Question: As of this writing, CBS has not yet renewed Supergirl. If they don’t, do you think it could move to the CW? – No Name
Matt Roush: I wouldn’t count on that happening. Most of the early CBS renewals were no-brainers, and I expect several of the network’s freshman series (Supergirl and Limitless in particular) to make the cut once the new schedule is announced—and CBS tends to make some of these decisions later in the game than others. But should CBS opt not to renew Supergirl, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it jump to the sister network, especially given the success of this week’s crossover with The Flash. Speaking of which…
Question: I just wanted to preface this by saying I enjoyed the crossover Supergirl/Flash episode even though I am not a fan of the Supergirl series. I find the incidental music quite intrusive, but was glad that the Flash theme was incorporated into the show. I am curious, though, if there have ever been series in the past where crossover episodes happened between two different networks. – Stephen
Matt Roush: The most famous example was a 1998 crossover between two David E. Kelley shows on the same night: Fox’s Ally McBeal and The Practice, tonally so different (until The Practice morphed years later into Boston Legal). Kelley had once pondered a crossover between CBS’s Picket Fences and Fox’s The X-Files, which would truly have broken precedent, because the only thing those two shows shared was a studio. (Usually, crossovers happen within a single producer’s universe, or in the case of the DC Comics superhero shoes, sharing a comic-book mythology, and as you note, almost never cross network lines.)
Remembering Patty Duke
Question: I just heard about the passing of Patty Duke. I am very saddened about this as I know many people are. Of course her Oscar-winning performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker was absolute perfection, but many of her fans remember her from The Patty Duke Show playing twins [actually “identical cousins,” an honest mistake] Patty and Kathy. This was a true show of the ’60s and I will always remember it fondly as one of my favorite shows. Patty Duke will always be remembered as a consummate performer and humanitarian, and as a fellow child of the ’60s, I will always smile when I think of her. – JG
Matt Roush: And who can forget that catchy theme song, which I’ve been replaying joyfully in my head since hearing the sad news of her sudden death. Patty Duke was a class act, and I get choked up just thinking about her climactic scene as Helen Keller with the water pump in The Miracle Worker. (Many younger people associate her with the Annie Sullivan role in the TV-movie remake she did opposite Melissa Gilbert in 1979, which earned her one of her three Emmys.) I don’t know anyone from the time who doesn’t fondly recall The Patty Duke Show (and that includes those who discovered it in syndication and Nick at Nite replays), and I was intrigued to discover that in retrospect she much more enjoyed playing classy Cathy than exuberant Patty. I’m heartened that she’s being remembered with such affection.
Crazy About Girlfriend
Question: I’m really enjoying Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, thanks to your recommendations. It’s an awesome show with lots of interesting subplots. Rachel Bloom is so creative and funny. She reminds me a lot of James Roday from Psych. I saw that he recently directed Rosewood (another favorite). What else can we expect from James Roday these days? Also, any good summer replacement shows we can look forward to? Thanks for keeping it real! – Augustmom
Matt Roush: Glad you’re among the relative (but enthusiastic) few who’ve discovered the creative and kooky joys of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And wouldn’t it be cool if James Roday guest-starred on that show someday? He’d be right at home in West Covina. As I’ve noted previously, I don’t follow specific actors unless they’re currently on TV, so I have no information regarding Roday’s future plans, although from what I can tell, he does seem to be devoting himself more to directing these days.
Question: I sometimes think I’m the only viewer watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin. While both shows have received glowing reviews and their stars have been rewarded by the Golden Globes, where is the love? The CW target audience of teenage girls may just not be getting the many nuances and brilliance of these two shows enough to sustain them. Where does it leave these two brilliant shows? Do you think there is any hope of renewal for these shows? – Vivien
Matt Roush: Sounds like you missed the happy news that The CW has renewed pretty much its entire prime-time slate for next season, including Crazy and Jane. Woo-hoo! Clearly, the network is valuing more in these shows than their ability to attract live same-night viewing, because those numbers are awful. And you may be right, especially about Crazy, that its peculiarity and sophistication—many weeks, it’s as good as a Broadway musical—can be at odds with the generation the network tends to target. But I’ll settle for this happy ending for now.
BrainDead and Good Wife: Music to Our Ears
Question: Any more insight on what to expect from CBS’s upcoming summer series BrainDead? I’m no fan of the aliens/zombies-type genre, but I’ll be along for the ride now that composer David Buckley is following Robert and Michelle King to their new show. For the record, I don’t work in the industry, don’t know Buckley, and I recognize that nobody much appreciates the subconscious impact of TV music scores, but I personally give Buckley at least half the credit for making The Good Wife the fun fast-paced show it has been all these years, at least since he joined midway in Season 1. (I recently re-watched the 2009 episodes, they’re like any other bland drama without Buckley’s zippy Vivaldi-esque undercurrent.)
However, the music in last Sunday’s Good Wife episode went beyond generating tension/anticipation, specifically the few bars of hauntingly sad music when Jason drove away in his truck and when Alicia joyfully found Jason in her apartment at the end. Watch the scenes without the music, and the whole episode falls apart! After six years of enduring humiliation and forsaking the love of her life (oh, sweet never-forgotten Will) because she needs/wants/has to stay married, there’s one unfortunate encounter between the husband and Man Toy, and we’re supposed to believe that now she throws in the towel with Peter rather than sweet-talking Man Toy out of his funk and changing the front door locks like she did when Jackie had similar apartment boundary issues? However, add in the music, and what had been in earlier episodes merely invigorating calorie-burning romps between consenting adults is transformed into a Deep Love Affair of the Ages (Will Gardner who?), and of course we believe unquestionably she must immediately free herself from wifely shackles to spend the future gazing intensely into the eyes of this now irresistibly wistfully complex Jason—all from a few quiet notes of music! – Marla
Matt Roush: Thanks for this vivid recap, and you’re absolutely right that while so many shows bombard us with deafening pop soundtracks, The Good Wife‘s score is so witty and on point that it truly is an unsung hero in this terrific show’s success. Regarding BrainDead, I haven’t seen any of it, so can only hope this “comic thriller”—that’s how it’s being billed—will be as clever and engaging in its hybrid of sci-fi and political satire as The Good Wife was in reinventing the legal drama. You’re probably right to be encouraged by the Kings enlisting the services of their talented music man.
Question: Another opinion on The Good Wife story line: I think it’s about darn time that Alicia stands up for herself. I really hope she says “no” to Peter’s request that she stand by him when he is indicted. She spent most of the past seasons standing by him (at least publicly) while he continued his pattern with other women, and it’s time for her to declare her independence. And for him to say to Jason, “She’s married!” Well, pot, meet kettle! – Gwen
Matt Roush: I love the fact that however this particular cliffhanger is resolved, it will be satisfying in light of the fact that she has finally demanded the divorce, knowing there will always be some crisis in Peter’s compromised life that would require her to be the so-called “good wife.” But yes on the “no.” And that scene between Peter and Jason was fierce. Really going to miss this show.
Is Streaming a One-Way Street?
Question: Been reading you for years and never miss a column! My question is regarding syndication in the age of streaming. There may not be a rule to this and may be a case-by-case basis, but do you see shows or episodes that premiere on a streaming network being able to go into network or cable syndication? Has this happened already? For example, can we expect to see a show like Fuller House ultimately airing five days a week on Nick at Nite? And how about shows like The Mindy Project that move to streaming? Will those episodes ultimately also be added to syndication deals? – John
Matt Roush: An excellent question, though maybe one better suited to a business reporter. If syndication remains a lucrative avenue for studios to sell their product—and for the time being, why wouldn’t it be?—I would think the studios involved in making these streaming series, whether open-ended or limited, would make deals that would allow them to eventually pursue all platforms for profit. It might require patience, though, because the reason services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are investing in these original series in the first place is for them to be exclusive, thus encouraging subscriptions. At some point, though, the show if successful enough should be able to enter the syndication marketplace. Someday. (And note that Netflix has made earlier seasons of some of its shows, like Daredevil and House of Cards, available for purchase on iTunes.)
That’s all for now. We’ll pick up the conversation again next week, 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: