Ask Matt: ‘Race’ Alliances, Grooming During the Pandemic and Other ‘Conners’ Issues, ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ HBO Max Movies, and More

Anya Taylor-Joy - Queen's Gambit
Ken Woroner/Netflix
The Queen's Gambit

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.

Are Alliances Making the Race Less Amazing?

Question: I have been watching The Amazing Race for many years and I have to tell you after this year, this may be my last. I am so disgusted with the “alliances.” It takes away from the excitement of the race. Telling other teams how to finish a task or telling them what to expect just doesn’t seem fair. The first team to complete a task paves the way for the alliance teams to breeze through. We miss out on the fun of watching the struggle. If this happens in the next season, I will stop watching. What are your thoughts? — Larry

Matt Roush: If this becomes the strategy for teams going forward, I agree it will be a game changer in the worst sense of that phrase. I tend to always root for underdogs, so have found myself rooting in recent weeks against the “Mine Five,” fruitlessly as it turns out. There have been alliances before, but never one so large and determined as this at sharing answers to puzzles (“Sauerkraut”) with other teams in a concerted effort to block lower-hanging fruit. (As sibling team Eswar and Aparna rightly pointed out before their recent elimination as the first of the five to drop out, they’re only hurting themselves in the long run by protecting other top teams like the vulnerable NFL buddies, who now seem to be on the chopping block.) It does seem an unfair and lopsided advantage, and the gloating by certain teams feels especially unsportsmanlike. So yes, I can see how this strategy has soured the season for many fans who waited a long time for The Amazing Race to return. Although now that it’s every team for itself in the final legs, it’s getting interesting again.

Hair-Raising Objections

Question: Are there no razors, scissors or hair dye during this pandemic! Drew Carey, Anthony Anderson and others need a shave!! The worst is the group from The Conners! Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman — what is with their hair! And Darlene’s boyfriend (don’t know his name) looks like Wolfman Jack — terrible. How come these directors or producers don’t say anything? Aren’t there any hairdressers or stylists on set anymore, or is it just laziness? — Charlene S

Matt Roush: As someone who couldn’t wait to get his hair cut when my neighborhood shop finally and safely opened after many months of lockdown, I cut anyone some slack who went for the pandemic beard look. It works better on some than others, but I don’t see what obsessing on the subject achieves. I happen to like Jay R. Ferguson (who plays Darlene’s boyfriend, Ben) so much that I’ll forgive him those extreme mutton chops. Ditto his co-stars. It’s not laziness, it’s a reflection of reality, which The Conners does better than most, that these people aren’t going to look their best during this time, and when has The Conners (including in its Roseanne days) ever been about vanity?

More Conners Issues

Question: On The Connors, the trans woman wanted to quit instead of giving a monitored urine sample. I knew employers could order a urine test, but did not know someone actually had to watch while giving a specimen? Also, the woman is trans and that was her reason for not wanting to do it. I did not understand. If she is trans, how would anyone know from watching her pee? Are we to infer she has not had surgery or infer nothing as she just did not want to do this? — Beth

Matt Roush: I’ll leave the more clinical details to experts, and would prefer to focus on what that scene was really about: which is Robin (played by Transparent‘s Alexandra Billings) choosing not to force the issue in a context where she didn’t feel safe. Coming out to Becky, an employee she has clashed with in the past, was an expression of trust and an interesting declaration by someone who has obviously fought her own battles, privately and publicly, and found peace in her identity, which isn’t anyone else’s business. Especially in a community like Lanford. I also like that Robin is prickly and anything but a saint. Liking or disliking her has nothing to do with her gender identity, and that seems fair.

Question: Since you have recently discussed The Connors, what is your feeling regarding the quality of the acting and the whole premise of the entire show? No money to pay rent, buy decent food, etc., but money for alcohol and drugs. — Christine

Matt Roush: As with many shows, the acting on The Conners is uneven, reflecting varying levels of experience, and even pros like Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman aren’t above mugging. But the premise, as with the original Roseanne, I have no problems with. I still find this the most realistic of family sitcoms, and to judge them for their flaws is to miss the point that The Conners bothers to reveal their flaws amid their struggles. This season has emphasized the family’s poverty amid the pandemic, although it was already a plot point that Dan was having trouble meeting the mortgage, but it’s not unrealistic that they would self-medicate during this time with the occasional beer or even joint. (I guarantee they’re not buying top-shelf product.) Should they do better? Of course, and they’re the first to admit it.

Did Netflix’s Gambit Sell Itself Short?

Question: I finally got around to watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. While I understand the critical praise the show has received, especially the Emmy-worthy performance of Anya Taylor-Joy, I feel like the producers squandered a chance to make this a riveting series over several seasons. The storylines were compelling, but felt rushed. For example, the first episode ends with her being a little girl and overdosing, but in the next episode she’s already living with her new mom and in high school. Overall, I feel the series lacked depth. But it seems no one else (at least among critics) feels the same way. Am I way off? — Joe D

Matt Roush: You make some fair points. As entertaining as The Queen’s Gambit is, it’s not perfect, and I’ve read commentaries suggesting that, like many Netflix series, it even felt padded to some, as well as unsatisfying to others to end where it did, leaving so many wanting more. With limited series like these, I often find myself wondering if it would have had more impact as a tightly focused movie, or if it should have been expanded further with sequels — though then you fall into that Big Little Lies 2 trap, where you end up lessening the impact of the original series by staying at the party too long. It’s a conversation we’ll keep having, I’m sure.

Mixed Messages in Pandemic TV

Question: We have been watching new TV shows that include the pandemic in their storylines. However, the main characters begin wearing masks but soon take them off in the office with their coworkers. The latest one showed the actors questioning suspects face to face unmasked. What message are they sending their viewers? Their actions seem irresponsible in this time of increasing cases of Covid-19. We wonder if the actors want to show their full faces rather than be partially covered by masks. What do you think? — Antoinette Z

Matt Roush: Whether it’s the actors’ or producers’ choice, it really is a mess. My own personal experience is that words can easily be muffled by masks, which is probably why so many scenes find actors removing their masks in dialogue scenes, even though (as we’ve discussed previously in this space) it invalidates the very notion of mask wearing if people outside their personal bubble speak to each other in tight, enclosed spaces without protection. It could also be a choice made so actors will be able to use more than their eyes to express emotion. But I’d be happier for now that for any show trying to reflect the times we’ve living in, the actors might be advised to loop their dialogue (even if the clarity is unrealistic) and keep their masks on when appropriate. (Of the shows I regularly watch, Grey’s Anatomy seems to be following the rules most closely.)

A Flashback to Another Tragic Time

Comment: Not really a question, just more of a statement. I understand why people aren’t happy about reality-infused scripted television shows, but I always thought it was weird that Friends took place in New York City and didn’t acknowledge how much life there changed after 9/11. It’s like it was set in some alternate reality (which it basically was considering there were no minorities). I don’t watch a lot of scripted television anymore, but it would feel very weird if scripted television that established itself as taking place in our timeline ignored the elephant in the room. — Veronica

Matt Roush: A fair point, and one today’s series (and audiences) continue to struggle with.

And Finally …

Question: At some point after their individual HBO Max debuts, will each of the new Warner Bros, films (specifically Wonder Woman 1984) eventually make their way onto original HBO? ‑ Alex

Matt Roush: Could they have found a more confusing name for their streaming service? I digress. My understanding of this unprecedented situation, with HBO Max streaming all of next year’s Warner Bros. theatrical films at the same time as release (though only for the first month), is that after the initial streaming exposure, the movie in question will then proceed on the usual distribution route. If a big hit, it will stay in movie theaters (those that are still open) as long as required, then move on to pay-per-view and then to whichever premium service is in their contract, including regular HBO.

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.)