Ask Matt: Those ‘Evil’ Children, Abandoning ‘Boat,’ Pausing ‘Days,’ ‘Dancing’ & 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.
Can No One Shut Those Evil Girls Up?
Question: WHY do the four girls on Evil need to be so whiny and screamy? And WHY does the grandmother need to be so inept? The show is interesting in that it has that element of “could be true, could be science, could be supernatural,” but those kids! Hey, I was a young lass once, but if I ever screamed like that, my mom or dad would have calmed me down instead of allowing such behavior. It really detracts from the show. — Betty
Matt Roush: A disclosure up front: I am a champion of Evil, and am thrilled that CBS of all networks took this wild swing, and am even more gratified that CBS has already renewed it for a second season (of 13 episodes; the first season will wrap at the end of January). I like the show for its ambiguities and even for its quirks, including those magpie chattering daughters, who are a pet peeve of many. (Patti wrote in to say, “My mute button is on overload” every time they appear.) The fact that Kristen (Katja Herbers) even has four young daughters — and, oddly, an absentee husband who’s away mountain-climbing or something — is so unexpected for this type of TV character that even when the girls’ babbling makes me want to run screaming from the room, I’m amused by the audacity of it. And the episodes in which the kids were put in danger, by the VR game and then the Halloween appearance of the creepy mystery girl in the mask, unnerved me to no end. I like that Kristen is shown to be a committed and devoted, but overwhelmed and imperfect, mother. She may have given these girls too long a leash when it comes to their raucous behavior, but that fits her character. Why she keeps putting them in the care of their wayward grandmother — though it makes economic sense, I suppose — is another story. Which leads to the next complaint.
Evil’s Leland and Sheryl: A Match Made in Hell
Question: I’m a BIG fan of Robert and Michelle King and The Good Wife, The Good Fight and the short-lived BrainDead, and was looking forward to Evil. Can’t put my finger on why exactly that I never grew enamored of it. The tone threw me off. Was never sure where they were going or what they had in mind, and although the use of the home life and the four little daughters (all adorable) was nice—it never seemed to integrate seamlessly into the action outside the home. I struggled through every episode. But now I’m done. Once Kristen’s mother Sheryl (Christine Lahti), out on a blind date, gets hit on by Michael Emerson‘s confidently creepy character (Leland), and goes for it, ditching her date and meeting Leland in the alley for a kiss, I’m out. I know he’s trying to insinuate himself into her daughter’s life, but I’m not buying this at all. Emerson looks like some pervy professor who probably watches porn on his office laptop, and the fact that some quippy lines would win over Sheryl is beyond belief. I’m not willing to suspend my disbelief quite that far. I’ve de-listed the show from my DVR. — Michael
Matt Roush: And here’s someone calling the daughters adorable — the mail I get about them is polarized, you either love them or hate them. For me, the fact that Evil is a bit of a mess and doesn’t “seamlessly” integrate the show’s disparate elements is part of what makes it so original, unusual and enjoyable. I never know where it’s heading next, or what the tone or approach of the next episode might be. How rare is that on network TV? As for Leland seducing Sheryl, and even entrancing the daughters until Kristen sent him packing—and bleeding—with a knife wound, this twist may defy logic, but Leland is still an enigma and there’s clearly something about him that draws certain people into his spell. Could it be… evil??? For Leland to be so assured in his malevolence makes him a character worth watching, at least in my book. I wouldn’t write this show off so soon.
ABC’s Expiration Date for Fresh Off the Boat
Question: I don’t know how you feel about Fresh Off the Boat, but word is it has just been axed. People are having a field day with Constance Wu jokes, she must be happy, though. I always found the show charming but not particularly hilariously funny, and honestly Wu, Ray Wise and Randall Park carried it. — Will
Matt Roush: I always appreciated what Fresh Off the Boat stood for as it told a family story we’ve rarely if ever seen on network TV, of an Asian-American family’s rocky assimilation into the Orlando suburbs in the 1990s. It worked on several levels: to some degree from irreverent young Eddie’s (Hudson Yang) point of view as a connoisseur of hip-hop and youth culture, at odds with the more traditional heritage his parents represent. But I agree the most fruitful humor came from the adults: ever-optimistic Louis (Park) and sternly pragmatic, eternally suspicious Jessica (Wu, the show’s breakout star). And while it’s true that Wu’s indelicate response to last year’s renewal — as it turns out for a final season—created some understandable if unfortunate blowback, I’m glad Boat got to sail for six seasons and more than 100 episodes. That’s a very decent run. (I wish ABC had been as generous with The Kids Are Alright. Still mourning that one.)
The Ultimate Days Cliffhanger
Matt Roush: At the moment, there is no answer, and also apparently no immediate cause for alarm, since the daytime drama is so far ahead in production that the stockpile of episodes already filmed will carry into next summer. But concern is understandable when you read a report that the entire Days cast has been released from their contracts while NBC and the Sony TV studio negotiate for the future of the network’s last remaining daytime soap. That’s a business move, and most if not all of these actors would likely be back on the job once a deal is made, if that happens. In the bigger picture, I wish I could be more optimistic, but the trend is working against daytime soaps, and I’m still in disbelief that All My Children and some of the others no longer exist. Maybe the streaming world can eventually figure out a way to sustain a daily serial, but for now, you’re going to have to settle for Days being in limbo for a while.
Is Dancing on Its Last Legs?
Question: I’ve watched Dancing with the Stars since it started, but have not watched it after the first two episodes this season. It seems like some of the stars they have had on the last few seasons aren’t that good or well-known. This season with Sean Spicer, it has lost the contest for the best dancer as he should have been voted off in the first round. It’s become very political. I think this show’s time has come and should end. — Lynne
Matt Roush: The law of diminishing returns has affected Dancing with the Stars more than most, in part because of the difficulty of finding a level of celebrity to participate who is well enough known to make noise and who isn’t a lightning rod for controversy like Sean Spicer. (To which I say: It’s finally safe to return to the show now. And go, James Van Der Beek!) The best thing Dancing could have done was to limit itself to one cycle a season, in hopes of maintaining some level of quality and novelty. The worst thing Dancing did this season was cynically cast someone who would only reinforce these negative opinions about the show’s fading appeal. But looking back at the show’s history, I do give it credit for casting people who might not be known to the wider audience — including race-car driver Helio Castroneves, classical singer Katherine Jenkins, Army vet J.R. Martinez and deaf actor-model Nyle DiMarco — and who achieved stardom during their respective seasons.
Million Going to the Dogs?
Question: I just wanted to vent about A Million Little Things. In the Nov. 7 episode, I couldn’t believe the characters talking about the “old lady” (about five times at least) and how it was so easy to fool her with a substitute dog. I couldn’t believe the bias towards an elderly person — and yeah, the dog too! As if neither of them were capable of catching on to the switch. Shame on the writers and the actors too for accepting this storyline. And yeah, I’m elderly, too, and would hope I’m not thought of as a doddering old fool who wouldn’t recognize my pet. Shame on you all. — EB
Matt Roush: To be fair, they established the fact that the dog that Gary (James Roday) had adopted truly belonged to the widow’s late husband, but in retrospect, this was a rather silly solution to a contrived problem. (And why she didn’t question Gary’s earlier visit as a pretend pollster is another demerit.) I’m sure the writers thought the set-up was charming, amusing and sentimental (especially the whole manboy-and-his-dog aspect) and didn’t mean to be so tone-deaf as to give offense. But thanks for this perspective.
Bluff City Backlash
Matt Roush: Putting on my armchair-programmer’s cap, in response to NBC’s decision not to extend Bluff City Law‘s run (the finale airs Nov. 30): NBC had to put something in that Monday time period, and in past seasons, shows have launched strongly on Mondays behind The Voice, so this wasn’t necessarily a bad scheduling idea. Besides, with established shows in the 10/9c time period throughout the week — not counting Friday, which would be an automatic death sentence — there really wasn’t anywhere else it could realistically go. It just didn’t catch on the way NBC had hoped.
Question: So disappointed about Bluff City Law. We are loving this show as are many of our friends. Where could I send a letter of support? — Bette
Matt Roush: You could always write the network the old-fashioned way to let your feelings be known. (Address for NBC Entertainment: 10 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608 or 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112.) You could also go online to see if any fan groups are organizing a campaign through social media, but individual personal appeals tend to have greater impact. Not that anything is likely to move the needle in this case, but what could it hurt?
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.