Ask Matt: ‘Idol’ in Quarantine, Animated Finales, Future of ‘Jeopardy,’ Cliffhangers & More

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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. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

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 many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Would These Idols Play in Front of a Crowd?

Question: Did the American Idol and The Voice contestants clear out their local stores of candles? And in the latest American Idol, Katy Perry said Jonny West should win. Is he the American Idol COVID-19 Edition? He looks like a lot of us: get up, put on a hoodie, some flannel, a hat, and get to work. In all seriousness. he is an amazing talent. But also in all seriousness, would he be a stocking-cap front-runner in front of a live crowd? — Ellen

Matt Roush: We’ll never know, will we? (And thanks for your opening rhetorical question; I needed the laugh.) I’ve enjoyed this quarantined season of American Idol more than I have in ages. Less really is more when it comes to putting these young singers’ talents into the spotlight, not upstaged by flashy production elements (candles aside). More than most seasons, what this year’s Idol (and to some degree, The Voice) is making clear is that to win this time, you really do need to be ready for your close-up.

Why Not Animate the Shows Based on Comics?

Question: Considering the comics pedigree of the CW Arrowverse, I am surprised that the final unfilmed episodes of series like The Flash couldn’t be done as animated features. The software for creating good-looking animation relatively easily is available and I am guessing that the scripts are already written. The casts could be the voice actors, and they could work in separate places, just as has been done in many of the shows during the pandemic. There is no reason why animation couldn’t have saved the seasons even of other shows that were not derived from the world of graphic stories. — Michael B

Matt Roush: Somewhat ironically, the only shows I’m aware of that have gone the animation route as a stopgap are not from the comics universe: NBC’s The Blacklist, which was midway through finishing this week’s (May 15) episode when production shut down, so they decided to finish the remainder of the episode with graphic-novel-style animation. And Pop TV’s One Day at a Time is also planning a special animated episode to air next month. These are one-time stunts, and I’m thinking the reason more shows didn’t go this route has a lot to do with the uncertainty of the entire situation and the disruption of the moment.

Now that we’re two months into this “new normal,” it’s possible some producers might be wishing they had gone to more extreme measures to complete these handfuls of episodes. But in the big picture, the economic impact of shifting gears from live production to producing multiple episodes without union crews and such may have been prohibitive. In most cases, we’re only talking about a few hours of TV that can be picked up when it’s safe to go back to work. I’m sorry that the seasons of so many shows had to come to an abrupt end, but nothing about this ordeal is business as usual.

A Daily Habit in Jeopardy?

Question: I have been enjoying the “encore presentation” of the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament, but seem to recall that they included more contestant chats and player profiles than we have been seeing now. Why are those features being excluded from the reruns of these episodes? Also, I just heard that Jeopardy! will have four weeks of new shows beginning May 18. Do you know their subsequent plans, since I don’t believe the show is in production now? It would be awesome to see Ken Jennings‘ amazing regular-game run in its entirety, not just the first and last episodes. — Cindy G, Harrisburg, PA

Matt Roush: I’m very glad to have Jeopardy! back for the next few weeks, including two weeks of the always-enjoyable Teachers Tournament starting May 25. But the show hasn’t scheduled anything beyond the week of June 8 at this point, and in the most recent release would only say that “the rest of Jeopardy!‘s summer schedule will be announced in the coming weeks.” I agree that replaying Ken Jennings’ record run from 2004 would help get us through a longer-than-usual hiatus if that turns out to be the case. As for the “encore” of the tournament, when the episodes originally filmed for ABC were re-edited for the syndication replay, some of the filler from the original episodes were likely cut for time.

Comparing (Drama) Apples to (Comedy) Oranges

Question: It’s the first season and CBS already cancels Tommy. WHY? They didn’t cancel The Unicorn. I especially like Walton Goggins since he was on Justified. But Unicorn is not funny. I stopped watching after the Thanksgiving episode after his wife’s death. Dumb, not funny. Whoever the writers were should have been fired. I attempted to watch again but again had to stop because the show is not funny. So that continues on and Tommy isn’t given a decent chance. — MN

Matt Roush: What makes you think CBS was making a choice between renewing Tommy and The Unicorn? One is a comedy, the other a drama, and one’s fate has nothing to do with the other. For the record, I like both shows — we’ve discussed the unfortunate cancellation of Tommy in detail in earlier columns — but I hold The Unicorn in especially high regard, specifically because it’s different.

A more interesting query would be why CBS canceled sitcoms closer to CBS’s traditional style, like Man with a Plan, Carol’s Second Act and Broke, while sticking with this risky show. And I’m well aware, from earlier exchanges in this column, that The Unicorn is polarizing, which is one of the reasons I respect it — plus, I find the show and Goggins in particular to be as moving as they are amusing, and not every comedy always has to be laugh-out-loud funny, though to me, The Unicorn often is. It’s not a perfect show — sometimes his friends (though perfectly cast) are just too silly for what is generally an emotionally grounded show. But I’ll gladly overlook its flaws for what it brings to CBS’s schedule: a comedy where, like Mom on the same night, you find yourselves actually caring about the characters.

Rookie Moves in This Cliffhanger

Question: I have a feeling an awful lot of people were very, very upset with the season finale of The Rookie, especially since we don’t know if it will be renewed. But this was a horrible, horrible way to end the season and possibly the show. What is your opinion on this episode? — Charlie S

Question: This isn’t a question exactly, but I thought the final episode of this season’s The Rookie was ridiculous. Talk about a made-up crisis with no basis in reality and John’s frantic attempt to deal with it. I’m seriously tempted to drop viewing that show when it starts up again. Thank you for your column. — Ellen A, Spring, TX

Matt Roush: I have yet to receive any mail applauding The Rookie for leaving its star in such a tight spot at the end of the second season of a show that lives on the bubble. I get why producers raise the stakes for season finales, but when the situation is this contrived, and the prospect for renewal somewhat cloudy, it risks leaving loyal viewers in a very bad place should the show not return. (And for viewers like Ellen, with a bad taste overall.) It may be a while before any of this gets resolved, which makes the cliffhanging especially painful. Which brings me to our next question…

Hung Up on Cliffhangers

Question: Why does every show have to end every season with some sort of cliffhanger or twist, especially when there is no guarantee of the next season? The latest ones that really annoyed me with it are Beforeigners and Upload. They were great shows that could have simply wrapped up nicely, but instead they each put in multiple twists at the end of their finales. If a show is good, people will watch the next season without a cliffhanger. And with shows often having over a year between seasons, it’s impossible to remember where they all left off. — Dennis

Matt Roush: First off, kudos to the shout-out for Beforeigners, a Norwegian sci-fi mystery that HBO premiered on its streaming services this winter. (I keep meaning to find time for more Nordic series. I wish.) I hear you, but the good news regarding Uploadone of my favorite shows this year — is that it has already been picked up for a second season. (No word yet that I’m aware about Beforeigners.) As noted in the Rookie Q&A, I understand why storytellers often like to wind up a season to an exciting finish, but not every show can or should try to pull off a “Who Shot J.R.?” moment — although I had no problem with Upload leaving its hero in limbo, because the entire series was so full of clever twists, and the last ones were doozies, plus I never imagined Amazon would get into business with a producer like Greg Daniels for a one-and-done unfinished fantasy-comedy.

I also empathize with your frustration that because there’s so much time between seasons, which is only going to become worse this year because of the shutdown, it’s hard to remember where shows left off. Rule of thumb, especially for streaming series that we tend to binge so rapidly that it becomes a blur, is that I often rewatch the finale of a series before diving into the new season. I only know I am very eager to see where Upload takes us next.

And Finally…

Question: Is the Hallmark movie coming up this Saturday (May 16), How to Train Your Husband, a remake of the ’60s Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin movie If a Man Answers? I believe that’s the old title. The previews I’ve seen make it seem very similar. — Terri B

Matt Roush: Hallmark isn’t promoting it as such, but originality isn’t really the point of these rom-coms. Maybe “homage” would be a more appropriate description. Nice catch, though, in noticing the similarities between this movie, about a marriage therapist (Julie Gonzalo) who fears her own marriage is going south, and the 1962 film, in which the manual How to Train Man’s Best Friend (about dogs, not husbands) is used as a comic device in a very farcical if not exactly similar plot.

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. Everyone stay safe and healthy!

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