Ask Matt: Where in the World is Gordon Ramsay? Plus Judge Judy, ‘Unicorn,’ ‘Murder’ & More

Greg Gayne/FOX

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.

When Will Ramsay Return to Fox’s Kitchen?

Question: Have MasterChef, et al, been canceled? It’s been a while since I’ve seen any trace of Gordon Ramsay‘s multi-show lineup on Fox. Did the sale of Fox terminate the long-running relationship? If so, is anyone picking it up? — John W

Matt Roush: To the contrary, Fox is still very much in the Gordon Ramsay business, but this fall has been giving us what is perhaps a much-needed break from the ubiquitous and oft-belligerent chef/TV personality. His current absence may have something to do with having traveled the world filming the wide-ranging (and above-par) National Geographic TV series Gordon Ramsey: Uncharted, which aired over the summer. But the real issue is that with The Masked Singer becoming such a hit, and football on Thursdays and wrestling filling the Friday lineup for the foreseeable future, with precious few slots for returning and new series, there just wasn’t room for one of Ramsay’s signature shows in the fall. But he’ll be back, and I’m sure will be all over the late spring and summer lineups.

The first of his shows to return will be Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back starting Jan. 7, but Fox’s programming slate still also includes Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, which haven’t been scheduled yet for 2020.

Tiring of a Judge’s Tirades

Question: Is Judge Judy planning to retire soon? It seems that in the past few years all she does is badger and belittle the people in her courtroom, having already decided the case before they even begin speaking. She reminds me of a petulant tantrum-throwing child, which I guess happens when people get old and grumpy. Even her faithful bailiff seems to notice sometimes. What happened to her sense of humor? Even her laugh sounds evil. Please retire, Judge Judy, while you still have a modicum of dignity. — Warren

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Matt Roush: And just how is any of this different from her trademarked combative persona? This approach has worked incredibly well for Judy Sheindlin for years, making Judge Judy one of the most lucrative franchises anywhere on TV. At the moment, her contract goes through the show’s 25th season in 2020-21, by which time a decision to stay or go presumably will be made. The Judge turned 77 this year, but if she wants to hang in there like RBG on the Supreme Court, I can’t imagine CBS’s syndication arm would do anything to stop her. Not that I blame you at all for having grown weary of her act.

Not a Unicorn Fan

Question: I had high hopes for The Unicorn, being a huge Walton Goggins fan, but after 3 episodes I was DONE. The supporting characters are so annoying and grating I couldn’t take it. Shut them up! Shelve this so called comedy… with just about all of the new fall shows. — Monica

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Matt Roush: I won’t rehash my defense in recent columns for the CBS comedy as one of the most charming and emotionally satisfying shows in some time, but I will say that if you’re lucky enough to get actors like Michaela Watkins, Rob Corddry and Omar Miller to play your friends in a supporting ensemble, the last thing you’re going to tell them is to shut up. I get that no show is going to appeal to all people, and in this case, the friends are meant to be aggravating with their hovering and meddling in the life of their widowed friend. But they mean well, and I find them individually to be mostly very funny. Nothing’s more subjective than comedy, so we’ll agree to disagree on this one. As for the overall fall season, I grade it higher than many past seasons. I’m enjoying Prodigal Son, Evil, Emergence, The Unicorn and to a lesser degree mixed-ish. Not a bad start. And counting the days until NBC launches Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which looks terrific.

Screaming Bloody Murder

Question: I know you don’t keep up with How to Get Away with Murder regularly, but I had to write in about the twist at the end of the midseason finale. I’ve been watching this show since the day the pilot premiered and have stuck with it through thick and thin. I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for some of its more ridiculous twists and have enjoyed the show more often than not. However, the reveal that Wes is alive and attending Analise’s funeral seems like a bit much. When he died in Season 3, we saw his burned corpse and there was an autopsy performed. Also, his death was a major event for the show which had massive effects for all of the remaining characters. I mean, Laurel had his child after his death, and he stayed away this long because…why? It seems like a particularly significant thing that the show shouldn’t take back. He also confessed to murdering Sam, so even if he is alive, how would he be free to attend Analise’s funeral? It just seems like Pete Nowalk and the other writers are going to have to go through a lot of logical gymnastics to explain this bit of revisionist history, and I can’t imagine what would make that worth doing.

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Also, putting a show on hiatus until April that recently hit an all-time demo low in its overnight ratings doesn’t seem like a smart idea. I suppose the thinking is that since it is in its final season anyway, ratings don’t matter as much, but they would obviously still like it to finish strong. Your thoughts? — Jake

Matt Roush: My first thought is one of self-congratulation for having ditched this one sometime around the second season, when it was already defying sense more than most TV melodramas. I’ll let your reaction to this outrageous twist stand, since bringing characters back from the dead almost always strikes me as a cheap and desperate stunt. But the scheduling does suggest that ABC sees little momentum building in this final season. A Million Little Things is clearly more of a priority, getting the 10/9c slot following the Grey’s AnatomyStation 19 tag team returning Jan. 23. And that makes sense to me. When Murder returns April 2 to play out the rest of the episodes, it will likely enjoy some robust promotion. But putting it out of its misery seems a wiser option than ever.

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Objecting to the Winter Hiatus

Question: What is this new Fall/Winter Finale that the networks are pulling on us? Are the networks shorting the number of new episodes of the season? It looks like we now have 4-6 weeks of re-runs and fill-in shows. It is no wonder that people are turning away from network TV to streaming. What is your take on the concept of Fall/Winter Finale? — Dusty

Matt Roush: It’s not really new, but in recent years, the networks are becoming more transparent about marketing their midseason finales, and that’s not such a bad thing, although a surplus of fall/winter finale cliffhangers can grow tiresome. The more information viewers have about when shows stop and resume their runs, the better. The reality of network programming has long been that the fall season begins with a mostly uninterrupted run of roughly 10 episodes, which for many shows constitutes nearly half of a season (of 22 to maybe 26 episodes, depending on the show’s popularity). It’s true more shows are producing shorter seasons, a result of higher production costs and lower overall ratings and occasionally a creative desire to do more with less. But this winter break would be happening regardless. Viewing levels go down between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and short-run holiday-themed series and specials fill the gap, along with repeats of procedurals and sitcoms. This is nothing new.

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The upside is that by taking this break, there will be more episodes in the back half of the season, although from winter to late spring, there will continue to be a pattern of repeats and originals to get to the end of May. Or some series which don’t repeat well will end their runs early in 2020, making room for midseason replacements and returning shows currently on the bench. This is the reality of the business anymore, and while streaming can seem a more seductive option, even those platforms have their issues, like long waits between seasons and various other confusions, plus clutter (see: Netflix). No system is perfect, but these are the hands we’re dealt.

NCIS, You’re Killing Me!

Question: Regarding the recent comments about the latest death on NCIS: New Orleans, the NCIS franchise rarely takes the effort to write a character out, usually killing off even minor characters, usually a woman or character of color. Someone should take a look at their track record. It started with Kate on the original NCIS and has gone from there: Vance’s wife, Sam’s wife (we barely ever saw her but they felt compelled to murder her). In addition, the story rarely plays out based on it. It’s rare that a character like Tony gets to walk away. I have stopped watching the shows for this reason. — Unsigned

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Matt Roush: Fair enough, but I’ll still always argue on behalf of a franchise show’s producers, especially in action/intrigue series like the NCIS shows, that if we’re to believe these characters are immune to injury or tragedy, what are the stakes? While I agree that some of the deaths you’ve described (primarily spouses) are regrettable because they seem a too-easy way to generate a shocking twist, these shows are already so painfully formulaic that an occasional jolt once in a while is good for the sake of drama. Or maybe that’s just me being a critic (my job), wishing for just a little hint of surprise.

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.