Ask Matt: 'Mandalorian,' Short and Sweet, Plus Reluctant Adieu to 'Madam Secretary,' Kennedy Center Scheduling, 'Stumptown'
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.
Less Is More in The Mandalorian
Question: Do you think the Disney+ series The Mandalorian might start a new trend of shorter episode lengths for streaming shows? As someone who has endured the interminable length of so many Netflix shows — is there an episode of a Marvel series that wouldn't have benefited from being 15 minutes shorter? — I'm finding the shorter episode length of The Mandalorian refreshing. — Darren
Matt Roush: I couldn't agree more, and I can only hope other shows would follow The Mandalorian's lead and realize that just because streaming gives you the freedom to fashion episodes of any length, that doesn't mean it should always be an endurance test. (That groan my co-workers often hear is when I cue up another episode of a Netflix or other streaming series — Castle Rock, I'm thinking of you, too — and realize from the time code that it's going to occupy at least a full hour of my time.) One of the virtues of The Mandalorian is its economy within each episode, its tight focus with minimal filler. The cinematic wipes between scenes also keep the pace brisk. Another thing I enjoy about The Mandalorian is the weekly scheduling of new episodes. If the whole season had dropped at once, like most Netflix shows do, what are the odds we'd still be obsessing on Baby Yoda weeks later? There are lessons to be learned here.
Parting Thoughts on Madam Secretary
Question: I still do not understand why CBS is not continuing with the fantastic Madam Secretary. Or why no other network has picked it up, like Fox. If they didn't have so many other good shows, I would stop watching CBS. At least it is already being rerun. There are a number of episodes I've missed but I'm trying to catch them in reruns. I even rewatch episodes and enjoy them just as much as I did the first time. — Charlotte, Texas
Question: I agree that Madam Secretary is definitely NOT a carbon copy like other CBS shows and think it's insane for CBS to dump one of their best efforts. Any chance the title can be updated and one of my favorites reincarnated in 2020? — JoAnna
Matt Roush: I'll miss the show, too, but am glad we got to enjoy it for as long as we did. It was never really a breakout hit for CBS, whose schedule as previously noted relies heavily on formula procedurals, which this definitely was not. And once the network moved Madam Secretary from behind 60 Minutes, where it was a perfect fit, to the end of the Sunday lineup, always a precarious slot for any show (especially during the months of sports overruns), the clock was ticking. As Charlotte notes, the series will enjoy a decent afterlife in syndication (and no doubt streaming), but the reality is that CBS did the honorable thing by giving the show an opportunity to produce a final season (albeit shortened) with actual resolution and, despite the heavy-handed impeachment storyline for much of the season, a hopeful and upbeat note at the end. So I wouldn't expect the network to rally around a reboot, and because it was made for and by CBS, it's very unlikely anyone else would resurrect the show at this point. In the bigger picture, it's better for the show to have gone out on its own terms, which is more than many shows get — remember Designated Survivor?
Question: Madam Secretary ended sweetly on Dec. 8 with the wedding of Stevie and Dimitri. Everyone was brought back for the event and their stories were tied up nicely. Everyone, except Dimitri's sister, who actually brought the couple back together. What's up with that? She could at least have been a bridesmaid. — Sylvia
Matt Roush: She wasn't the only one missing. I was kind of hoping for a return visit from Nadine (Bebe Neuwirth), her former chief of staff, or even policy advisor Kat Sandoval (Sara Ramirez) from more recent seasons. I figure either logistics, budget or time constraints kept these reunions from happening. Still, like you, I was satisfied with the happy ending.
Question: I have been watching Madam Secretary since the beginning and now wonder that since she has become president why does she always wear a version of a man's tie on every show? She is supposed to be a female president, but the tie goes back to a man. If she has to wear a tie. why didn't the previous president on that show wear a bow like on a female blouse? — Grace
Matt Roush: My two biggest problems with Madam Secretary's final season were the inordinate time spent distracted by a poorly executed parody of an impeachment hearing, and Elizabeth's fashion choice of wearing a facsimile of a tie against open-necked blouses and jackets. Even my usually non-judgmental significant other grew tired of looking at that.
An Early Air Date for Kennedy Center Honors
Question: What's behind the decision to move the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast from the week after Christmas to December 15? — Jon A
Matt Roush: I was surprised by this, too, but haven't seen any explanation from the network regarding the scheduling. My own take is that instead of stranding the annual special as an oasis amid one of the sleepiest times for network TV (the week between Christmas and New Year's), CBS is giving the broadcast higher visibility and exposure by airing it just a week after the actual event. I could see the other argument that it has always been something to look forward to during the extended holiday pause, and it's not like it's going to get a big ratings boost since it will be airing against Sunday Night Football, but I'm happy to see this grand tradition getting a bit of a higher profile this year.
In Praise of Stumptown
Question: I appreciate and endorse the list of new network shows you recently noted that you're enjoying — but what about Stumptown? Cobie Smulders is stellar in the lead role, and the supporting characters (and the actors behind them) are solid and dimensional. I know nothing of the comics series on which the show is founded, but its roots in Jim Rockford territory are welcome and plain to see. Walton Goggins (The Unicorn) and Allison Tolman (Emergence) are always welcome on my screens, but for me nothing in this season shines as bright as Stumptown. — J. Norris
Matt Roush: Completely inadvertent omission on my part — and how refreshing that the fall season is so strong that I actually forgot to list one of my favorites! If you follow my daily "Worth Watching" columns, including this Wednesday's, you'll notice that I have been an advocate for Stumptown all season, for many of the reasons you note. I love its humor and irreverence, Cobie Smulders is a breakout star of the season, and the recent episodes have taken the romantic angles to a new level. It's definitely a keeper.
Housemates No Longer
Question: Candace Cameron Bure has lately been appearing in a holiday TV commercial associated with Xfinity and the Hallmark Channel. Ironically, the Hallmark Channel is the same entity that cut ties with Cameron Bure's former Full House co-star Lori Loughlin after the latter was arrested on federal fraud charges earlier this year. What do you have to say about this situation, Matt? — Chris
Matt Roush: What is there for me to say about it? Lori Loughlin's college-admissions scandal has no bearing on Candace's ongoing relationship with the Hallmark Channel, where she's still one of their go-to stars and personality. I'm sure she and Hallmark both wish this mess hadn't happened with Loughlin, but life and business have a way of going on.
Living Long and Prospering
Question: OK, I give up. What's with the Star Trek insignia being snuck in at the end of nearly every CBS network promo? It usually appears for a split second in the final frames of video. I get it — they own the rights to the storied sci-fi franchise and there's yet another incarnation on CBS All Access, which they'd love to sell to every free TV viewer. But they also spent almost 70 years making their "eye" logo the only symbol associated with the Columbia Broadcasting System. (It first debuted on Oct. 20, 1951.) Not even Star Trek can make that claim. I, for one, (or should that be "Eye," for one?) find it too subtle and pointless, especially since their online offering is never even mentioned. But for better or worse, it appears it's now become part of the brand. — Aaron F
Matt Roush: At least for now. This is subliminal advertising at its most overt, and I imagine as the premiere date of Star Trek: Picard (Jan. 23) nears, you'll see even more promotion, a sign that this series is of paramount (pun not intended) importance to the company as a whole. Not unlike the recent wave of advertising on ABC and other Disney brands in the build-up to the launch of Disney+. Right now, adding the Star Trek insignia in a quick flash at the end of CBS promos is meant to be a subtle (though not entirely subtle) reminder that CBS and CBS All Access is the home of Trek past and future, with the highly anticipated Picard hoping to do for CBS All Access what The Mandalorian is doing for Disney+.
A Bone to Pick with Carol
Question: Carol's Second Act made a big mistake in the Dec. 5 episode. She constantly referred to therapy dogs as service dogs. This is one reason people have issues and misunderstandings. Service dogs can go anywhere, except a zoo, and assist the disabled with tasks and/or medical alerts. Therapy dogs are comfort dogs for people in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Both types are very important, but service dogs go through a lot more training and have special talents. — Debra, Sacramento
Matt Roush: Thanks for pointing this out. CBS's promotion for the episode mentioned they were "therapy dogs," and the actual show should have as well. These animals are all quite valuable, as you noted, and given the subject, I should point out that on Dec. 20, Disney+ will launch a series, Pick of the Litter, based on the film of the same name and featuring the stories of service animals, their trainers and human companions. The series follows six canines in their quest to become guide dogs for the blind. I expect I'll be blubbering frequently when I watch.
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.