Ask Matt: Stranger Things, An UnReal Finale, Musical Superheroes and More
Thanks for your patience. Between the very busy end of the TCA critics’ press tour and a necessary period of decompression, it’s time to welcome you back 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 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.
Question: I started watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and I was not only hooked in the first two minutes, but the premiere episode was so crazy good that the show kind of defines what a binge watch should be all about. Thrilled to see Winona Ryder back, but the casting—especially that of the young group of buds along with their missing pal and the mesmerizing Eleven—is simply wonderful. These young actors are all terrific and play as if they are who they portray: a really tight-knit group of best friends who've known one another their whole lives and have each others backs and won't fall apart when the "strange things" start to happen. Add on all of the homages to TV and movies from the not-too-distant past, and a plotline that has my head spinning, and this may be one of the coolest new shows on TV. — Michael
Matt Roush: The unasked question here is: Why hasn’t Netflix renewed the show for a second season yet? Considering the buzz, more positive than for any other new show (or even movie, really) this summer—with the possible exception of HBO’s tremendous The Night Of, which concludes this weekend—I’m sure Netflix will order more of Stranger Things before too long. During the TCA press tour, when this subject came up (which was frequently), there was some speculation that Netflix may be waiting for the furor to die down so a renewal could spark even more interest. What I’ve found so refreshing about the Stranger Things phenom is that unlike so many pay-cable or streaming originals, which try to push the adult-content envelope with graphic violence as they go dark and bleak in their worldview, this is actually fun to watch. And family-friendly to boot. The kids are terrific, with Millie Brown (Eleven) clearly a rising star—I was surprised to hear her speak with a British accent during the show’s TCA panel—and Winona Ryder is a scream as the frantic mom of the missing boy. The ’80s nostalgia factor, with its nods to early Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, is also key to the way so many of us seem to be connecting with the show. And at only eight episodes, its economy of scale and storytelling also sets it apart from so many bloated Netflix originals.
UnReal’s Unbelievable Finale
Question: I saw the final episode of UnReal’s second season. I liked what the suitor decided, but was shocked to see the ending. Why would a character help end the lives of two major characters? Was the future of Everlasting that important? After that ending, is there any hope for a third season? What are your thoughts on the ending? — Marv
Matt Roush: There was never any question (despite falling ratings) of UnReal getting a third season. It was renewed before the second season even began. What we’re really left wondering if there’s any hope for the show to redeem itself from its apparent need to keep trying to top itself, at the expense of dramatic credibility and coherent character development. The way the Everlasting season ended was satisfying, as suitor Darius defied the producers to follow his heart and bring Ruby back for a triumphant exit. But after a season of preposterous behind-the-scenes twists, including a police shooting that seemed to affect Rachel more than the actual victim, the biggest shark-jump was saved for last, when Jeremy tried to redeem himself by apparently causing a fatal car accident to take out the two people who were threatening to expose Everlasting’s darkest secrets. I know this is all meant to be a heightened dark satire of reality TV’s excesses, but its own desire to keep going over-the-top has resulted in diminishing returns. There’s still an interesting psychological drama at the core of the show, involving producers who sell what’s left of their souls to manipulate contestants for ratings (all in the name of faked romance), but I’m worried that UnReal’s producers have spun too far out of control with this latest outrageous act.
Question: I thought UnReal’s finale was just as big a mess as most of the season was this year (except for that sweet reunion between Darius and Ruby), especially the way they made Jeremy "save the day" by having him murder Yael and Rachel's ex-boyfriend Coleman, so that he can win back the trusts of his bosses Quinn and Chet and the love of his ex-girlfriend Rachel, who he abused earlier this season! I read some post-mortem interviews about the season finale episode from the show's female creators that they're trying to redeem Jeremy next season so that he could try to win back Rachel's love. Jeremy doesn't deserve to be redeemed; he should go to prison! And why can’t the women behind UnReal make Rachel mostly single—despite having had three serious relationships with Adam, Jeremy, and Coleman—like Mary Richards was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? I don't know if I want to watch UnReal again after this weak season, though I might change my mind if Jay actually gets a love interest next season! — Chris
Matt Roush: Isn’t it interesting how Jay (the sympathetic gay producer) emerged as perhaps the only likable character by the end of the season? Let’s go there and not only give him an off-hours honey, but why not break more ground for Everlasting. Now that they’ve had a suitor of color, why not a gay season of Everlasting? Back to reality: I like your comparison of Rachel to Mary Richards, who surely had her own share of thwarted romances yet still managed to carry on. There are worse ideas than having Rachel, and Quinn for that matter, swear off men for a season and maybe even try to stick to that pledge.
No Remorse Over Liking Survivor’s
Question: First, I want to register my opinion that Season 2 of UnReal is just as good as the first, though many of you correspondents have said they dislike it. Frankly, I think that all that happens in Season 2 is exactly what should have been expected by anyone who liked Season 1.
But what I really wanted to ask you is about an entirely different series. What are your thoughts about Survivor’s Remorse? I watch a lot of TV, and recently realized that I enjoy it more than about 95 percent of the shows I watch. I find it well written, but I especially enjoy the fine performances of the cast, who were all unknown to me before this series debuted. I am truly interested by all the main characters, even though much of the time nothing very important happens to them. It’s not the type of show that creates a lot of buzz, and I don’t remember critics discussing it much, but I wondered whether you were watching, and, if so, what your opinion was. (I am afraid that this show might get overshadowed in people’s minds by the inferior Ballers, which is like a bad cross between Survivor’s Remorse and Entourage.) — Paul
Matt Roush: A mini-binge awaits me on this show, which I agree is seriously underrated. (I did welcome it back, briefly, upon its return, although with the press tour and then the Olympics, I haven’t stayed current, though with Starz, it’s always available On Demand.) What sets Survivor’s Remorse apart from the more uneven Ballers is its sharp and funny focus on family, as sports prodigy Cam (Jessie T. Usher) tries to do right amid this rush of fame and fortune, and anytime he stumbles he’s always got someone on his back, even when they have his back. It does deserve more attention, so consider this my (and your) good deed for the day.
Another Constantine Comeback?
Question: I have heard a lot of rumors lately that The CW may in fact bring Constantine back for a second season. Are the rumors true? Is The CW bringing back Constantine? And if they are, is Matt Ryan going to be Constantine again or are they replacing him? - Kevin
Matt Roush: If such a thing were in the cards, imminently anyway, it probably would have come up at Comic-Con or during the TCA press tour, which featured a full panel of producers of DC-related series. For now, this remains nothing but wishful thinking, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Constantine the character might emerge once again on one of the ongoing CW series. And should that happen, I can’t imagine they’d cast anyone but Matt Ryan in the role. What would be the point? (Editor’s note: While we wait for John Constantine’s possible return to prime time, Ryan will resurrect the role for the upcoming animated movie Justice League Dark, due in 2017.)
A Famous Marion Checking Into Bates Motel
Question: In your May 18 Ask Matt column, you answered my question about the possible integration of the Psycho storyline into the final season of Bates Motel. In your response you seemed averse to the show going there. However, the recent news that they've cast an A-lister (Rihanna) as Marion Crane indicates that the Psycho component will be a prominent theme. Given the brilliance of the show, particularly last season, I'm sure you trust the producers/writers to handle it properly, as I do. But following this news, I'm curious as to whether your opinion has changed about the final season playing out almost as a remake of the film. — Matthew
Matt Roush: My main concern is that however Bates Motel pays homage to the Hitchcock classic (which I recently watched again, and does it ever hold up), they don’t actually try to remake it. (Gus Van Sant’s dreadful 1998 shot-by-shot copy should serve as a warning.) My initial dream ending for Bates was with Marion checking in, fading out as the movie intersects with the series. But considering how strong last season was—including Freddie Highmore’s amazing work as Norman, which deserved an Emmy nod—I’ll cut the producers some slack here in hopes they’ll do right by the original.
Amazon Adds to September Deluge
Question: Why is Amazon competing with broadcast’s biggest launch month by premiering four comedies (including the new season of Transparent) in September? — Callum
Matt Roush: The simplest answer: Because they can. And also, from all I can tell, because they don’t really seem to care. With Amazon, much like Netflix (which also tends to ignore the traditional rules of scheduling), once a show is up, it’s always available, regardless of what the broadcasters may be doing. From my own perspective, with most of my energies devoted to analyzing a new broadcast season through much of September—and, let’s not forget, the Emmys—I worry that one or more of these shows (including Woody Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes, the British import Fleabag and Tig Notaro’s semi-autobiographical One Mississippi) won’t get the critical attention they deserve. Because of the nature of streaming shows, it’s always possible they’ll find their audience eventually, but given that Amazon didn’t even announce these dates until about two weeks ago, it may be difficult to give each of them their due when dealing with the dozens of shows already on the month’s calendar.
What Took the Emmys So Long With The Americans?
Question: So The Americans does well with some major Emmy nominations, and it only took voters four seasons to realize how good a show it is. Funny how that's pretty much exactly what happened with Friday Night Lights. Are voters' DVRs so backed up that it takes this long for them to realize what they've apparently been missing? Critics such as yourself and other industry observers have been singing its praises from every conceivable mountaintop, so word of mouth certainly wasn't lacking. I might think that voters might have been too busy reading about themselves in the trades to take notice of anybody else, but surely Hollywood types aren't that shallow and self-centered? Other than such "it's about time" rants, though, this year's nominations are surprisingly satisfying, although there are a few obvious snubs (my list includes Miranda Otto, Michael McKean and the perennially overlooked Eden Sher) and an attachment to Modern Family that's becoming unhealthy (but Ed O'Neill remains that show's only never-nominated adult principal, and that's just plain shameful).
Also, is there any truth to the rumor that an Orphan Black spinoff is in the works that would follow the continuing adventures of Alison, Donnie and Helena? Surely this is just wishful thinking or the offhand result of somebody's amateur (and likely illicit substance-fueled) brainstorming session, but if it's true by some chance, this sounds like it has the makings of the funniest show on TV. — Mike
Matt Roush: To clarify, Ed O’Neill was nominated three times (2011-2013) for a supporting actor Emmy for Modern Family, but otherwise, all fair points. With The Americans, its slow build to Emmy awareness is probably more a fact that despite critical acclaim, it can take some series years to break through the Emmy clutter. With Mad Men now out of the running, there was an opening this year, and The Americans was finally able to take advantage. Overdue for sure, but with only seven slots available to acknowledge the best in a very crowded field, this is actually something of a small miracle. As for an Orphan Black spinoff, that does sound like a bit of a pipe dream, although with this TV this cult in nature, anything is possible. Let’s let them execute a fifth and final season before worrying about what comes next.
A Sophie’s Choice: To Laugh Or Not to Laugh
Question: Can you explain to me what purpose Jennifer Coolidge serves on the show 2 Broke Girls? As far as I can see, Sophie adds nothing to the show. Her lines are inane, she is loud, irritating and her accent is insulting. It seems that she just gives the studio audience an excuse to cheer at least once during the show. I'm reminded of Norm on Cheers. — Tom
Matt Roush: That’s hardly fair to Norm, or to George Wendt, don’t you think? I liken Sophie more to over-the-top scene-stealers like Good Times’ J.J. or Seinfeld’s Kramer, although Sophie is much more tiresome than any of these. If you had ever told me that there would come a time when the appearance of Jennifer Coolidge (so wonderful in all of those Christopher Guest movies, and even as Stifler’s mom) would make me cringe instead of laugh, I’d have said you’d probably have to blame the writing. With 2 Broke Girls, that’s absolutely the case. Sophie is an unfunny walking dirty joke, and one of the show’s several offensive ethnic caricatures, and even Coolidge can’t make magic out of this mess.
Music to This Superfan’s Ears
Question: We did it! A while back, you published my question about all the musical talent being wasted in non-musical superhero shows and promised to pass the message on to Greg Berlanti for fun. [Note from Matt: Which, by the way, I did.] Now, he's giving us a Flash/Supergirl musical crossover episode that will also include Victor Garber and John Barrowman! Since it was our idea, we'll get producer credits on the episode, right? ;) Also, I would like to reiterate my original suggestion that fellow Glee alum Naya Rivera would make a great villain of the week, now that I know Mr. Berlanti is listening. And if Jenna Dewan-Tatum happens to be sticking around on Supergirl, maybe her husband Channing Tatum would be willing to stop by for a dance-off? I wasn't sure if I would stick with Supergirl for Season 2 after hearing Calista Flockhart wouldn't be a series regular anymore, but I'm totally willing to give the show another chance now. This is the best TV news I've heard all summer. Thanks again for publishing my original letter. — Erin
Matt Roush: This makes me very happy as well. After the TCA panel that announced the musical crossover, Greg Berlanti looked positively giddy when I reminded him that there was a template for this already, in the short-lived ’60s Broadway musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. I’m not expecting any credit, but I will be front and center when it airs.
Question: Why did Shooter not premiere as planned on July 19? I went to the website the other week and it was on the schedule for July 26 and it did not come on then. —Lane
Matt Roush: A very frequently asked question this summer. Shooter was initially postponed for a week (to the 26th) after the police ambush in Dallas in early July. But after the fatal shootings later that month in Baton Rouge, compounded by June’s mass shooting in Orlando, out of sensitivity to the issue of gun violence USA wisely decided to shelve the show for the time being, at least until fall—but with no air date set yet, it could be later. Inspired by the 2007 movie (with Ryan Phillippe taking over the Mark Wahlberg role), the series is also based on the novel Point of Impact. All things considered, should USA decide ever to air the show, they might consider renaming it after the book. There may never be an appropriate time to put a show titled Shooter on the air.
That's all for now. Thanks as always for reading. We'll pick up the conversation again soon, 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:AlertMe