Ask Matt: Alex Trebek and ‘Jeopardy,’ ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ Unmaskings, ‘Undoing’ & 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 theform at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.
The Frustration When Jeopardy! Gets Bumped
Question: I am so happy they decided to delay Alex Trebek‘s last Jeopardy! episodes until January. When it was originally announced his final episode would air on Christmas, the first thing I thought of was, “Oh no — I am never going to see that.” Our local affiliate pre-empts the show all the time. So you are right about the pre-emptions during the week of Christmas. While I understand the comment in your latest column about Alex’s holiday messaging being “off,” I would much rather see those last episodes. Speaking of the pre-emptions that happen with Jeopardy!: Am I the only one who is frustrated that there is no way to watch (recent) episodes besides the local affiliate? If they pre-empt it and don’t air it in the middle of the night, you are out of luck. — KM
Matt Roush: You’re not alone, and it is beyond frustrating for these bumped episodes to get lost to viewers. I understand that local stations have contracts with the syndicated shows, including infomercials, they air during off-hours, but would it kill them to find a place (late night or weekends) to air the episodes that get pre-empted and then let the audience know? That’s what I would call a public service.
Question: There has been a rumor that Ken Jennings will be taking over Alex Trebek’s role on the show. That is a really really bad choice! He has no personality and is not very likable in my opinion. Who makes that decision? An unknown that has a subtle sense of humor and one that treats the contestants as the “stars” as Alex did, and someone who can grow in the role would be my choice. Traits that I do not think Ken Jennings has. There really is no one who can replace Alex Trebek — but at least choose someone who is as likable as he was. It is hard for me to believe Jennings would be his choice I have been a fan for years, but if Jennings is the host I will have lost the desire to watch. — Dolly H, Richmond, VA
Matt Roush: To clarify: Ken Jennings will be the first of an undetermined number of interim guest hosts with the unenviable task of standing at the beloved late host’s podium to read clues and interact with players. He was an obvious choice, having won this year’s “Greatest of All Time” tournament, then joining the show this season as a consulting producer who occasionally introduces his own categories. This doesn’t mean Jennings is taking over the role full-time, but more of a sign of respect to someone who has become so identified with Jeopardy! over the years since his unmatched winning streak. Like anyone, he has his fans and detractors, but it seems unfair to judge him this harshly in advance. And while the producers have yet to announce other guest hosts — who are said to be from within the Jeopardy! “family,” which could mean other past players, including Celebrity Jeopardy veterans — let alone any official long-term plans to replace the irreplaceable Alex Trebek, I’d expect they’ll end up with a TV professional who may or may not be known to the Jeopardy! audience. Whoever lands the job will need to have a pretty tough skin.
Will Discovery Continue to Beam on CBS?
Question: It was a treat for CBS to release Star Trek: Discovery on their regular network (probably COVID-related due to a lack of other network show production). Do you think there is any chance those of us without CBS All Access will get to see Season 2? — Larry
Matt Roush: Probably not, because the Trek spinoffs (including Picard and others in the pipeline) are critical to the brand identity of ViacomCBS’s streaming service, which in 2021 will be renamed Paramount+ to further distance it from the legacy linear network. You’re right that the first season of Discovery got that prime-time exposure because of pandemic production delays, but it was also an effective commercial to try to lure fans such as yourself to give the streamer a look. If that’s not a possibility, your best bet to see future seasons will be the DVD route.
A Favorite Gone Missing from SNL
Question: I just started catching up on Saturday Night Live episodes from this season and I was wondering if you could provide some insight into why Aidy Bryant seems to be missing in action. She doesn’t seem to be on as much as she normally is. Also, what do you think of the new featured players this season? Any who seem to stand out for you this year? I’m really liking Punkie Johnson but I’m not sure if any of the others will be long-term cast members or one-season wonders. Any thoughts? — MJ
Matt Roush: Aidy Bryant hasn’t been seen since the start of the season because she’s been far away from New York City, working in Portland, Ore., on the third season of her Hulu comedy Shrill, on which production this year was delayed until fall, like so many others, by the pandemic. She’s still in SNL‘s opening credits, and when she’s free to return, she’ll be back. As for the new featured players: It can take a while for them to break through, and so far I’m not sure any of them have, though like you I’m hopeful for Punkie. All it often takes is nailing a couple of strong characters when given the chance, but that’s a large ensemble and it isn’t easy grabbing the spotlight away from the veteran cast members.
To Mask or Not to Mask (But Seriously, Mask!)
Question: Some shows are sending mixed messages about mask wearing, which is essential for everyone to do during this pandemic. Last season’s finale of All Rise was very impressive, but this season they are so inconsistent with their safety protocol that it’s almost irritating to watch. In some scenes, masks were not worn during a conversation in an office (or courtroom), yet were pulled up at the end of the conversation (or hearing) before departing the room. In one scene, Emily Lopez greets her new beau at the front door and they proceed into her house where they passionately kiss. (Granted, the boyfriend has tested negative for COVID.) In another scene, Judge Carmichael sits (socially distanced) across the dinner table from her husband as she laments that she can’t touch or hold him. (No COVID tests available for the judge and her hubby?) This isn’t the only show where face coverings are worn in some scenes and not in others. If shows are going to have scenes where they are wearing face coverings, they should wear them anytime they are “in the public.” They need to set a good example. — Melanie
Matt Roush: This has become a favorite topic in my mailbag recently, with viewers pointing out inconsistencies on a variety of shows. It’s especially jarring when the characters appear to be taking the matter seriously in dialogue and storylines, then appear to forget all the protocols when it’s more convenient for actors to deliver dialogue mask-free — which violates the basic reason for wearing masks to begin with. The point being that if a show wants to reflect the current situation, it should do so correctly without these confusing compromises.
Linda S had this to say:“The Conners makes a big deal about the pandemic but they all wear their masks around their necks. I understand wanting to see the actors’ faces, but working on the line and being in the lunchroom without a mask defeats the purpose. Why didn’t they just ignore the virus if the characters won’t wear masks properly?”
And from Jake: “This might be a nitpick, considering what a terrific job Grey’s Anatomy is doing dealing with the pandemic, but did it surprise you that Maggie and her boy toy, Winston, from the conference immediately hugged when he showed up at her door? Like, I get the impulse, but he just drove all the way across country, and she just got off work at a hospital that is overflowing with COVID cases. I get that the show just wanted us to feel happy that they are finally reunited, but it feels like maybe they would want to get tested before being in such physical proximity given the circumstances. I’m probably overthinking it — they’re clearly not going to give Maggie COVID after Meredith, but the characters don’t know that. It just felt like an odd moment in a show that is otherwise doing so well with the pandemic storyline.” — Jake
Matt Roush: I agree that Grey’s Anatomy has been especially strong in its depiction of the struggles and tragedies of treating COVID-19, which makes moments like this especially noticeable. Just from personal experience, it would have been more effective if they’d hesitated before the clinch, even a momentary pause to wonder if this was OK. Maybe they both know they’re negative because as doctors they’re tested frequently, but especially after Maggie went off on someone earlier in the episode for not wearing a mask on hospital grounds, this lapse is hard to ignore. Do better, everybody!
Why The Undoing Undid This Fan at the End
Comment: I was all in on The Undoing and spent more time discussing the whodunit aspects with friends than on anything else in recent memory. It had me hook, line and sinker for 5 and a half hours — and then in the final 30 minutes, the wheels came off. [Spoilers Follow]
Not to judge David E. Kelley‘s writing — because I didn’t read the novel on which it was based and don’t know how closely he stayed with the novel — but there were some absurd things here which you had to close your eyes and swallow hard not to go “Are you KIDDING?” #1: That Jonathan KEPT THE MURDER WEAPON? For WHAT? A souvenir? He could’ve ditched the bloody hammer on every city block. In a sewer. In a garbage can or dumpster on the sidewalk. But he keeps it and hides it so that his son can (coincidentally) find it while playing alone. And HE keeps it and hides it!
#2: Then Grace offers to testify on her husband’s behalf, and his lawyer, cool, calm, collected and smart up ’til then goes along with it. ARE YOU KIDDING? There was NOTHING to be gained from Grace’s testimony (forget how well the scene played in the courtroom). Jonathan had already testified and did a great job coming off as a sympathetic child oncologist, and Miguel (the victim’s husband) was a perfect alternate suspect for the jury. So Grace brings NOTHING to the stand. If she gets on the stand, she’s subject to cross-examination and then it can all go bad. And it did, which she’d set up with her (unethical) friend.
#3: To cap it all off, Jonathan kidnaps his son for an idiotic joyride/escape — to what end? If he was that mad at Grace for what she did to him in court, it would’ve made far more sense to kidnap her for revenge then to grab the son who loved him and tried to cover for him. — Michael
Matt Roush: Let’s just say that for all of The Undoing‘s merits, it didn’t exactly stick the landing. (Which may be why HBO didn’t offer the finale to critics beforehand.) Those who were watching it as a whodunit must have been terribly disappointed to have the most obvious suspect finally admit to the crime. The title, though, suggests the series’ true intent: to dramatize the unraveling of seemingly perfect and entitled people when something unspeakable occurs and reveals the true nature of a supposed hero’s character. Grace’s plot to sandbag her husband, whom she no longer trusted, on the stand was part of that, however illogical it may have played. None of which accounts for Jonathan’s stupidity in keeping the weapon, of course, but then, he’s not a murderer by trade. Just a narcissist who probably thought he could get away with anything.
And About Their Son
Comment: To the person who complained (sort of) about the kid in The Undoing having brown eyes: My maternal grandmother had brown eyes. My mom and her sister, my dad, me and my sister and my brother-in-law all have blue eyes. My oldest nephew has brown eyes while his three siblings are blue-eyed. Just saying it happens! — Kelle
Matt Roush: You’re not the only one who pushed back on that point. While Mike helpfully points out: “That kid from The Undoing gave an amazing performance in an indie film called Honey Boy. Definitely someone to watch for in the future.”
For the record, this “kid’s” name is Noah Jupe, and I have no doubt we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot of him going forward. He was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his performance in Honey Boy, and before this, his biggest credit was as the son in the hit horror film A Quiet Place. He’s definitely going places, and he was one of The Undoing‘s best casting choices.
That’s all for now—and that’s a wrap for 2020! (It’s about time.) My thanks to everyone who sent in questions and comments, including those I was unable to address, for their enthusiasm and passion for TV. Remember that 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.) Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy, safe New Year!