Ask Matt: ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Perry Mason,’ Ending ‘Supernatural,’ Recasting ‘Batwoman’ & 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. (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.
A Tale of Two L.A. Period Pieces
Question: I agree with your take on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful: City of Angels that John Logan has stacked the deck with a riveting story of corrupt politicians and land grabs in 1938 L.A. — borrowed a wee bit from Chinatown, perhaps? — and culture clashes with the Chicano population coupled with the L.A. cops seeded with bad hombres, one Mexican cop and one Jewish cop fighting for respect, an influx of Nazis pre-WWII laying the groundwork for all kinds of havoc and murder. There is (IMO) no need for any of the supernatural elements, which are so out there and bizarre and (cue the spooky music) literal overkill as to diminish all the rest.
That being said, another series set in L.A. in the post-WWI time period which has me absolutely riveted (and wishing I could binge-watch it) is HBO’s Perry Mason. Forget that the ’50s TV series name has been borrowed from Erle Stanley Gardner’s series of books for a prequel — I could care less about that. Two episodes in and I am hooked, right down to my gut. The writing, acting, direction, the period look and detail, the story — the characters — I am doing something I have NEVER done in my life, I’m watching each episode two and three times each before the next one comes on. Already planning to own this one on BluRay as soon as it comes out. Kudos to ALL involved. — Michael E
Matt Roush: The similarities between the two shows are jarring, not the least of which is the subplot in each involving a celebrated female (and blonde) radio evangelist, but as I noted in my very positive review of the revisionist take on Perry Mason, I felt the noir elements of this tightly focused crime drama were more authentic and organic. The disconnect of social realism and the supernatural in the Penny Dreadful sequel never quite gelled for me, but there were many elements of the story — and Nathan Lane in particular — that will keep me coming back should Showtime renew it (which I’ll be surprised if they don’t).
As for Perry Mason, I was gratified by your enthusiasm, which I share for such a bold reimagining of an iconic character. It’s an origin story of the man before he became a pillar of justice, and it begins when he’s at a personal, psychological and moral low point, which is pretty much the definition of drama (as opposed to formula procedural television, where every episode is basically the same). Besides, it’s on HBO; Why would anyone expect a throwback? Still, according to my mailbag, this has put off a lot of purists (as I figured it would), and most of my mail has gone like this from Judy: “Why in the world did they give the name Perry Mason to the new show when it has nothing in common with the original? My husband and I were looking forward to having something new to watch, but it is so dark and violent we won’t be tuning in.”
As I’ve said before, if HBO had indicated in any way that this version of Perry Mason would be like the original series or character, I’d be more empathetic with the negative feedback. But it’s a different spin altogether — darker, for sure — and should be judged on its own creative merits, not how it stacks up to a proud relic from a very different TV era.
Did Angels Sacrifice the Wrong Character?
Question: [SPOILER ALERT] Do you think it was a mistake to kill Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé) on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels? She added so much light to such a dark theme and was an important character. I hated the ending as much as the Game of Thrones finale. — Unsigned
Matt Roush: That much, really? I get where you’re coming from, and character deaths are a popular topic of debate in this forum. In this case, while I was surprised (in a good way) that they offed this character at this pivotal juncture, it felt earned to me — especially once Molly learned of the crimes that had been committed in the name of her church. By her mother, no less. Her hopelessness felt real, and her embrace by Santa Muerte was one of the few times that the spiritualism of the show’s supernatural subtext rang true to me. To be honest, I didn’t think there was all that much chemistry between her and Tiago (Daniel Zavatto), but this loss will certainly motivate him to take down the conspiratorial forces (Nazis, politicians, dirty cops, religious hypocrites) threatening his city and community.
The Spooky Dilemma of Finishing Supernatural
Question: How is Supernatural going to be able to facilitate filming its final two episodes considering that all of the necessary main and supporting actors and production crew will be moving onto newer shows, much less the current COVID-19 restrictions for filming in Vancouver? I’m certain everyone wants to complete the series in a well-deserved fashion, but what if some essential people are not logistically available? — Mark
Matt Roush: These are hard questions to answer until we know just how and when prime-time production will get underway, and I’m more concerned about how they’ll able to conduct business safely and confidently. But one thing’s for sure: Supernatural will be a priority for the network and studio, and I assume you’re referring primarily to Jared Padalecki, who’ll move on from playing Sam Winchester to the title character of Walker. Wisely, The CW has announced the reboot of Walker, Texas Ranger will not premiere until midseason in January (which could still be wishful thinking), giving ample time for Supernatural to finish filming its remaining episodes. Whichever of the rest of the cast and production crew are associated with other projects, I’d think their contracts would put finishing Supernatural in first position. But again, it’s hard to be definitive about anything until the industry gets back on its feet.
Will Next Season Be Shorter or Longer?
Question: If a show had a 22-episode order but was cut short three episodes because of the pandemic, will next season’s order get three extra episodes to cover the loss and will a season premiere be a real season premiere or just start with the three shows that were still left from this season? — Scott
Matt Roush: This will obviously be a case-by-case situation, but the conventional wisdom is to expect less, not more. Production under the current guidelines is going to be slower and more expensive, and the uncertainty of the entire situation will also likely lead to a more conservative approach in storytelling and filming for the time being. I’d expect any show that wasn’t able to finish telling specific stories to continue with those arcs into the new season as best they can, and others to start fresh. However it plays out, it will almost surely not look or feel like an ordinary TV season.
Should the CW Have Clipped Batwoman‘s Wings?
Question: I think the CW should just cut the cord on Batwoman since the lead actress quit suddenly. Someone new won’t match up, and I know that networks replace leads without explanation all the time, but this show is kind of weak anyway in my opinion. I DO watch it and liked the storyline and lead. BUT still think a better follow-up to Gotham would have been a grown-up Bruce Wayne using the same actor (from Gotham) as Batman. Of course the show would have a different name, but a few of the actors could have continued and the theme remain the same. I think the CW missed the mark and should just cancel Batwoman while they’re ahead and work on something else rather than struggle for momentum on this one!! — Steve
Matt Roush: As someone who generally feels The CW has gone way overboard with its superhero assembly line glut, I’m nevertheless encouraged by the network giving this particular franchise a second chance, in large part because of the diversity this character represents, resetting with a Black actress (presumably one with a bit more range than the original star). Without going too deep into the DC corporate thicket, your concept of a grown-up Batman as the main character probably wouldn’t fly because of rights issues between the company’s film and TV divisions. And if they do succeed in making the new Batwoman truly distinctive, then it’s a win-win.
Psyched for the Latest Reunion Movie
Question: Will Psych 2: Lassie Come Home be available for free when it premieres next week (July 15) on the Peacock streaming service? Loved the series and would hate to miss the movie. Why they could not just keep it on USA Network is a mystery to me. — Justin
Matt Roush: My understanding is that Psych 2 will be available on the free tier, so enjoy. And while I get your frustration about a new Psych project airing somewhere other than USA, there’s not much mystery to figuring out why NBC-Universal would use a popular pre-existing franchise to help launch an important new streaming service. It’s the same reason the new Star Trek shows are only available on CBS All Access. These companies see streaming as an important part of their future, and they’ll lean on fan favorites to get consumers in the door.
And Finally …
Question: Is there any news on the status of Dark Shadows Reincarnation? A pilot for The CW was announced last September but it has been radio silence since! — Mike
Matt Roush: Still silent as a tomb. This didn’t even make it to the pilot stage for the upcoming season, suggesting that this latest version of the iconic supernatural soap is either still deep in the development process or no longer a contender. No updates on this front as far as I can tell. Back in 2004, The CW’s predecessor, the much-missed WB, shot a pilot for a reboot that didn’t get picked up. And NBC’s remake, which had the bad luck to premiere amid the Gulf War in 1991, didn’t last long. So the stakes (so to speak) are high should this Reincarnation ever occur. And how I hope it does (being a fan of the original from my own personal wonder years of the late 1960s).
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.