Ask Matt: Finale Fever for Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful and Person of Interest
Welcome to the weekly 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: The last two Game of Thrones episodes were so epic and satisfying, though much of the rest of the sixth season felt stagnant and overextended waiting for these climactic events to happen. Wondering how you rank this season now that it’s over? — Chandler P
Matt Roush: I doubt anything can top the first four seasons, dramatizing those masterful first three books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. After that, the books stalled (especially the fourth), and to some, but lesser, extent, so did the series. I’m still struggling with the notion of how to judge a season that was so frustrating for so many weeks, with each episode so scattered across the map that there was often little narrative momentum, even when individual scenes scored. Clearly, it was building toward something, and these last two episodes are among the very best in Game of Thrones history—so I won’t be surprised if, ultimately, this ends up once again on my best-of-the-year list. Beyond the thrillingly executed “Battle of the Bastards” and the long-overdue retaking of Winterfell—Rest in Hell, Ramsay Bolton—the final episode delivered on so many promises, and I lost count of how many times I yelled “At last!” at the screen: Queen Cersei taking the Iron Throne from those odious Sparrows (but at what a cost); Daenerys finally setting sail (with Tyrion & Co.) from Meereen; Arya finally escaping Braavos and getting grisly revenge for the Red Wedding (Rest in Hell, Walder Frey); the banishment of Melisandre (though I’m sure that’s not the last we’ve seen of her). What a great finish to an uneven season, well worth the wait—and I hope the same can be said when The Winds of Winter itself is some day published.
Which brings me to the bigger picture. The talk (as yet unconfirmed by HBO) about producing two shorter seasons to wrap up the series is encouraging. This season might have been twice as effective with half as much treading of water, and I hope the network and the producers stick to their guns with more concentrated seasons to come. TV rarely operates on the “less is more” principal, but this finale brilliantly set the stage for battle on many fronts, so there’s no need for padding. Friends have been lamenting to me about the long wait between seasons—but consider how long Martin has made the poor readers wait between volumes.
Penny’s Sudden Stop Left a Bad Aftertaste
Question: I've read your column for years and have never written, but I'm just so frustrated by the abrupt end of Penny Dreadful, I had to weigh in! I feel like the show was just really hitting its stride with the addition of new characters and storylines. What a waste of the considerable talents of Patti LuPone, Wes Studi and Perdita Weeks! Although I originally began watching as a longtime admirer of Eva Green, I continued to watch because of the spellbinding stories and an ensemble cast that was unparalleled on any TV show. I really think the story could have continued without the Vanessa Ives character given the potential of new adventures of Sir Malcolm Murray and company, the barely begun tale of Dr. Jekyll/Hyde, and the hint of a possible new story with the Mummy in Cairo. If showrunner John Logan didn't want to continue the series, it seems plausible that a worthy new writer/director could be found given the tremendous abilities of the ensemble cast and the compelling ambiance of the series in general. Or was it entirely up to Showtime? Would the show have done better on HBO or Netflix? Added to my aggravation was that the show just ended with no advance warning, depriving fans of the opportunity to petition the network to continue the series or asking another network to consider adding it to their catalog. So, so disappointing! - Peri
Matt Roush: I’m basically with you on all counts—I was away when the show so suddenly ended without fanfare (opposite Game 7 of the NBA Finals and Thrones’ “Battle of the Bastards,” mind you, adding injury to insult) and have yet to watch the final two hours, being in a state of denial (and, more practically, swamped with new summer programming to consume)—but if John Logan did in fact conceive this series to end with Vanessa’s arc, as he has asserted in interviews, I’ll take him at his word and give him that, though it seems a lost opportunity to continue many of these richly conceived stories. And I was also looking forward to seeing a Mummy subplot next year, which alone convinced me there was more life to this series. There may be some integrity in not announcing this as the final season until it was over, thus keeping us from anticipating an endgame, but you’re hardly alone in suspecting some corporate foul play in the show’s whiplash-inducing exit. I’d like to think Logan and Showtime (or some other entity) could revisit this enthralling world some day with stand-alone movies or some other project inspired by classic horror fiction, but for now, it appears to be done. And I share fans’ dismay at this unhappy fact.
How American is NBC’s Talent Show?
Question: Hello! Doesn't anybody see that all of the judges on America's Got Talent are, in fact, not Americans? How can a network (and apparently oblivious audience) contend that a Canadian, a German and two Brits are qualified to tell America what its citizens should consider "talent?" And, equally sinister, a significant number of contestants on America's Got Talent are non-Americans. Citizens from Canada, Japan, various Eastern European countries, etc. have not just performed on the program, they are frequently extolled by the judges. Perhaps it's time for America's Got Talent to grow up and be renamed Planet Earth's Got Talent and to rejoice in its acknowledged universality! — Thomas
Matt Roush: I vote for the latter idea, although for me, the word “Talent” in the title has always been the real deal-breaker, all things considered. I suppose the optics are a bit bizarre that NBC has imported the entire panel of judges this year, but it doesn’t seem to have impacted the ratings. And the concept did originate in the UK, after all, with Simon Cowell. Globalism is certainly a hot-button issue this year, but this might be taking it to extremes.
A Satisfying End to Person of Interest, But Is There a Future?
Question: I'm sorry that Person of Interest is gone, but I do think it was a nice touch for Harold to “find grace” at the end. He'd been something of a tortured soul, so I'm glad to see him get such a poetical ending. Plus: Shaw CRIED. Shaw SMILED. (Way to go, guys, try not to get too sappy on us, OK?) And I spent entirely too much time worried that Bear would wind up getting hurt. All that talk earlier in the season about getting him a bulletproof vest had me worried, but apparently everyone else should have been wearing them, but were not. Too many gut wounds all round. Yikes. The fifth season felt a bit truncated, but I'm glad it does exist. One more thought after seeing POI's finale: If only more shows managed to craft such well-thought-out endings. Sure, I'm sorry the show is gone, but this one will be a pleasure to watch again. — Anna
Matt Roush: Find Grace. I like that. I also enjoyed the last episodes, although I agree it felt rushed at times. I heard some gripes about Reese’s unhappy fate, but he always seemed a tragic figure to me, so going out a hero made sense (reuniting him thematically with Carter). And because the show wisely gave us something of an open ending, there’s lots of speculation about its afterlife.
Question: I'm also glad we finally got the fifth season, and I did appreciate the finale, but Jeers to CBS for cutting short the most fascinating program on broadcast TV and for making us wait an entire year to view it. Hope you guys are correct about the possibility of a reboot. — Joe
Matt Roush: At this point, it’s impossible to know if and where Person of Interest could return in any form: maybe with Shaw leading the charge, possibly in cahoots with former “numbers” recruited to the cause. If there is more life to The Machine, I’d expect it to be on a streaming service rather than a traditional cable network, but I’m terrible at predicting such things, and I’d advise patience. For now, I’m just glad the CBS version ended on such a hopeful note (though not without loss and pain).
Orphan Black Worthy of Emmy Love
Question: I have been a TV Guide Magazine subscriber since the 1970s and even with cable guides on my screen I look forward to each issue to read about new shows and what to look forward to. But your article about Emmy Contenders disappointed my wife and I immensely. Once again we feel, probably along with many others, that the consistent overlooking of the amazing job that is done by Tatiana Maslany in playing six or seven different roles in a short 10-episode season is one of the great performances that is never acknowledged by any organization. I would like to hear why you felt that she did not deserve a spot on the ballot. The fourth season just ended and the credits said Orphan Black will be back for a fifth and final season in 2017. Maybe someone, anyone will acknowledge the talent she has brought to the screen by giving each of the clones clearly different identities. Thanks for letting me vent. — BJ
Matt Roush: Thanks for reading, and caring. By no means was that list of possible (often long-shot) contenders meant to be all-inclusive. My intent in the drama and comedy categories was to point out many talents and shows that have been passed over in the Emmy nominations or which broke out within the last season. Tatiana Maslany was nominated last year and I hope she is again. But I’d be even more gratified if anyone, or everyone, from The Americans finally got noticed. For what it’s worth, I beat the drum for Tatiana repeatedly, as did legions of other critics and fans, until the Emmy voters woke up. Now that she’s made the cut, I’d be surprised if she doesn’t repeat. Although those drama categories are seriously overstuffed.
Crossover Dreams (Including Elementary)
Question: With all of the shows on The CW this season, and especially next season, taking place in the same DC Comics "universe" and with four Dick Wolf Chicago shows on NBC similarly related, CBS needs to step up. I know NCIS, NCIS: LA and NCIS: New Orleans are nominally connected, but might as well not be. But it would be so cool if Elementary's Capt. Gregson and Sherlock Holmes got some help from the Reagans of Blue Bloods, or the Scorpion team had to save the day in the Code Black hospital. Just dreamin’. — Tom
Matt Roush: Nothing wrong with that. But on the practical side, it’s a lot easier for shows operating within the same production company to cross over than for shows from completely different universes (so to speak) to try to coordinate a linked storyline. Still, Elementary and Blue Bloods do both film in New York, so who knows?
Question: Can we talk about Jonny Lee Miller? I realize Elementary's ratings are bad (thankfully it was renewed despite the ratings) but Miller still seems to be forgotten at awards time. Is it because he's on a CBS procedural? Is there snobbery involved by the voters? It's ridiculous, in my opinion. He's one of those rare actors that can make me forget I'm watching an actor, and he can pull me into the character's world to the point where I forget I'm watching a TV show. He is practically in every single scene and still manages to give 110 percent in each scene. - Sam
Matt Roush: It does seem a shame he doesn’t get the same sort of credit for his quirky twist on the classic character that his buddy Benedict Cumberbatch does for the PBS Sherlock series. But the competition for lead drama actor slots is so fierce, and being in a formula procedural doesn’t help, especially these days.
Are The Good Wife’s Creators Brain Dead?
Question: I don't know what possessed the Kings to cancel The Good Wife, one of the best shows on TV, but it was a big disappointment for loyal fans who watched the show from the first episode. When I read about BrainDead, and that it was being advertised as from the producers of The Good Wife, I thought I might give it a try. Then they started showing trailers on TV, and the more they showed the more I knew I'd never turn it on. Shame on you, Robert and Michelle King! What a slap in the face to us loyal viewers. I will never watch this show and certainly don't consider it a (tongue-in-cerebellum) summer guilty pleasure! It's an insult to my intelligence and offers no pleasure, guilty or otherwise! — Lois
Matt Roush: The misconception here is that the Kings somehow ended their involvement in The Good Wife just so they could make BrainDead, which obviously isn’t anywhere near as sophisticated or significant a TV series, though I get a kick out of it. Their decision to finish The Good Wife after seven seasons (on an admittedly controversial note), and CBS’s call not to continue the show without their involvement—though there is a spinoff in development for CBS’s digital service—was a hedge against the series declining in quality over the long run, and I can respect that, even though I also wish it were continuing, and I’ll miss it on Sundays. But that has nothing to do with BrainDead (which CBS did no favor by hyping the Good Wife connection), which was conceived as a very broad spoof with a sci-fi element in keeping with the sorts of escapist shows CBS tends to air during the off-season, where the best approach is to lighten up. BrainDead’s utter lack of pretension is one of the things I like most about it, but I get why it’s not for all tastes, sharing very little sensibility with The Good Wife. You’re well within your rights to choose not to watch BrainDead, but to call it an “insult to your intelligence” without even watching it does little credit to your argument.
Giving Hell on Wheels Its Due
Question: Why has Hell on Wheels never gotten any recognition during the five seasons it has been on AMC? Excellent writing, wonderful acting, and a great story about a crucial period of U.S. history. Christopher Heyerdahl's performance as the Swede has been nothing short of fantastic. Best evil villain ever. And Anson Mount is excellent as well. — Mary
Matt Roush: At least this got a longer run, and clocked considerably more episodes, than HBO’s Deadwood, another dark Western drama that earned considerably more Emmy attention during its truncated life. Hard to say why any show doesn’t resonate on the pop-culture radar—it may have something to do with the genre, and being overshadowed for much of its life by buzzier shows on AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad)—but happy to pass on your praise, especially for that spooky Swede, and hope you enjoy the ride through the July 23 series finale.
Why the Long Wait for the Next Outlander?
Question: Do you know what the plan is for the next Outlander season, covering Voyager? Will the powers that be make us wait as they did on Dragonfly in Amber? I am a huge fan, and feel that Sam Heughan was overlooked for his acting in the awards. I feel you’ve always been honest in your reporting and thank you for any info. — Bobbie
Matt Roush: I’m afraid you’re in for the same wait between seasons as with just about any show (including Game of Thrones, another epic production based on a beloved series of books). Given how different each book is, there’s likely to be a fair amount of pre-production, not to mention writing, before production on the next season can begin. I don’t know a timetable for the third (Voyager) or fourth (Drums of Autumn) seasons, but I’d be surprised if you’ll see the next batch of episodes before next spring or thereabouts. It’s rare for shows to film consecutive seasons continuously—the writers, producers and actors need a breather—so there’s almost always a significant break between seasons.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading. We'll pick up the conversation again later this month—I’ll be away 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: