Ask Matt: ‘Big Sky’ Shocker, Big ‘Millionaire’ Win, Pandemic (and No Pandemic) TV & More

Big Sky Ryan Philippe ABC
ABC/Sergei Bachlakov
Big Sky

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 (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

The Big Twist on Big Sky

Question: [Spoiler Alert] As with all of Ryan Phillippe‘s fans, I am totally shocked that his character was killed off on the premiere episode of ABC’s Big Sky. I did read that he couldn’t commit to a full season due to films he was already committed to. But Ryan Phillippe is the reason I was attracted to watching Big Sky, so I’m not sure if I will continue watching it. I will be curious how the ratings go as the season progresses. This could go really well for ABC or be a total bomb. What are your thoughts? — Melinda B

Matt Roush: I don’t know anything about Ryan Phillippe’s career plans, but I do know that the fate of his character Cody Hoyt comes straight from the source material: C.J. Box’s thriller The Highway ‑ and I was shocked when I read it, especially since Cody had been the hero of an earlier Box book, which might have given the twist more impact if there had been more context to his background. That said, it’s obviously a calculated risk to do something that drastic that early, but I imagine that’s what drew David E. Kelley to the idea of adapting it for network TV. This kind of reminds me of what it would have been like to see Psycho upon its release in 1960, having no idea that Janet Leigh would meet her fate in the shower halfway through the film. As the focus now turns on Cody’s survivors (his estranged wife, played by Katheryn Winnick, and his P.I. partner/lover, Kylie Bunbury) and their search for the kidnapped sisters, we’ll see how many follow. It’s not easy for any network show to break through these days, so I give Big Sky some credit for trying to make some noise early in the game.

Why Did Millionaire Tip Its Hand?

Question: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has been promoting all season that one of the celebs would go all the way to the top without saying who it is. But then ABC listed and promoted Sunday’s episode (Nov. 29) as “The Million Dollar Win,” which takes the hype to to the next level. I get that ABC wanted to lure in more viewers with the news that there will be a big win, but that takes a lot of the fun out of the game, which has already been neutered by the changes for the revival. It would have been so much more exciting (although obviously less promotable) if ABC had not said anything about a celeb getting to $1 million this year, let alone nailing down which episode it is in. Where is the tension and excitement that is part of the game? It works best when you don’t know what the contestant is going to do. Announcing the result ahead of time just feels like all of that is gone. This would be like Jeopardy! announcing during its “Greatest of All Time” tournament, “Watch Ken Jennings become the GOAT.” Your thoughts? — Jake

Matt Roush: If Millionaire was still the mega-hit of its early Regis Philbin days, I bet they’d have preserved the surprise, or couched it in “you won’t believe what happens next” hype. In this case, it seems to me that ABC sacrificed the suspense and surprise of the game for the promise of a historic (in game terms) payoff to get a bigger audience. It’s too bad, but those are the realities of the network TV world these days. I will say that watching Sunday’s episode, fully aware of the episode title and listing information, I still enjoyed seeing how David Chang risked it all for the win. Would I have preferred to be in as much suspense as he was? Absolutely, but it still felt good to have watched, and lately, that’s worth something.

TV Reflecting Society (Pandemic, Police Reform) Or Not

Question: On black-ish, where has the pandemic gone? They did such a great job incorporating it into the first couple of episodes this year. Bo was struggling with the pandemic at work; Junior violated her trust by seeing his girlfriend who wasn’t in their bubble; Dre was both working from home and regulating Jack and Diane’s home schooling. Now, only a few episodes later, it’s like the virus has disappeared. (When Dre and Bow hosted a wedding for Ear and Ruby, they had multiple out-of-town visitors, no one was wearing masks, Junior’s same girlfriend was suddenly invited, and there wasn’t any social distancing. Also, Dre has been seen at work in the office for the last couple of weeks with no masks or social distancing among employees either.)

I understand the idea that people perhaps don’t want to dwell on the pandemic, nor am I saying that every show on the air has a responsibility to address it. But I think that it is weird for a show which is usually so topical and prides itself on including current events in its storyline to just drop the virus midstream. If the Johnsons are living in the pandemic, I would expect it to reflected weekly, which doesn’t mean they have to dwell on it, but it does mean they should at least be consistent with showing the effects of the pandemic (masks, etc.) It’s like the virus has vanished from the storytelling, and that feels weird. Your thoughts? — JL

Matt Roush: As you’ll see in the comments that follow, there’s a fair amount of ambivalence among viewers as to whether and how TV shows should be reflecting the pandemic world in which we’re living. I was first thrown when, after two weeks of COVID storylines, ABC’s The Good Doctor abruptly shifted course, saying they would now be “portray(ing) our hope for the future — a future where no one will have to wear a mask, or take other steps to stay safe from COVID.” black-ish appears to have made a similar choice, though making less of a public statement — which seems fitting, given The Good Doctor‘s frontline status (though maybe giving Bow short shrift for her sacrifices as a doctor).

I figure most of these shows are looking to the long term, when this crisis will be behind us — though, one hopes, never forgotten. Shows like The Good Doctor and black-ish have long lives ahead of them in streaming and, to some extent, syndication, and while dealing with the effects of the pandemic for several episodes was their responsibility, to spend too much time on the subject could be seen as limiting their storytelling options, not to mention their appeal to viewers suffering from COVID fatigue. I’ll admit I struggle with this issue, because we’ll still be dealing with this in our lives for a while to come, and I respect the shows that are facing it head-on. I also don’t want to characterize those who are saying “enough already” as burying their heads in the proverbial sand. Each show is going to have to figure out its own balance, and I hope they are able to do it without network interference or the clamor of fans one way or the other. The fact that they’re even able to film episodes in this environment is rather remarkable.

Comment: My husband and I just watched the season opener of Bull and absolutely loved it. The season openers that we have seen so far (The Good Doctor, NCIS: New Orleans & Law & Order: SVU) have featured COVID-19 and/or BLM but in a sad, depressing way. It was so refreshing for Bull to address it in a funny, light-hearted way; we needed that. There is enough sadness and negativity in our everyday lives, so kudos to the writers and actors of Bull for outstanding writing and acting! My husband and I couldn’t stop smiling when it was over. — Robbie B

Matt Roush: Agreed. While I have no problem with shows that tackle the pandemic with all due seriousness, Bull‘s whimsical and musical look at our new normal was a smart change of pace.

Comment: My wife and I are huge fans of Chicago PD, and after the first two episodes, we can already see this season will be like watching the 10 o’clock news in Chicago. I know these shows have a responsibility to show today’s realities, but on the other hand, TV has always been an escape from life’s realities for at least an hour or two. I hope I’m wrong, but this season already looks less enjoyable than year’s past. — Jeff, Lake Zurich, IL

Matt Roush: On the other hand, police dramas can’t afford to ignore the social movements and calls for reform — especially this show, and Voight in particular — so while Chicago PD may be somewhat less enjoyable during this soul-searching period, a better series might actually emerge from the process. Let’s see how it all turns out.

Hope Springs Eternal

Question: Is there any possibility that another channel or streaming service might pick up Carol’s Second Act? This is a very funny show with a great ensemble cast that looked to have real chemistry. It’s a shame it was canceled. Especially given that it was far better than many of the shows that were renewed or in some cases that continually get renewed. — Joan

Matt Roush: If this were to happen, it would likely have happened by now. I don’t see a third act in Carol‘s future.

And Finally…

Comment: I think I could really like CBS’s B Positive if I could get past the awful opening intro. They need to change that! — Debra, Sacramento

Matt Roush: You and our Cheers & Jeers columnist, Damian Holbrook, are on the same page with this one. He jeered the graphic opening credits as “bloody awful,” though I see them as a funky throwback to Monty Python-style grotesque animation. My bigger problem is that they don’t fit the tone of the show, and to associate these images with a kidney transplant sends a bizarre message. I wouldn’t miss them if they went away. But how about that Annaleigh Ashford?

That’s all for now. We 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.)