Ask Matt: They See Dead People — But Should They? Also: ‘The Chase,’ ‘MacGyver,’ Netflix’s New Show & 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 (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.
TV’s (Talking to the) Dead Zone
Question: I do not know if anybody else has a problem with what I am going to complain about, including you, but here goes: I find it extremely annoying for live people to talk with dead people, especially if they have never met or only for a limited time. I am referring to HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant in which the title character continues to talk with a victim with whom she had a one-night tryst — give me a break. The former reference is to This Is Us, and Randall’s conversation — while he’s swimming! — with his dead mother, whom he had never met. I realize that this involves the writer’s dramatic license and it is important to Randall’s character, but this device is getting used more and more in programming and I dislike it greatly. I have never had any conversations with my dead parents — have you??? — JV
Matt Roush: What an interesting, if macabre, topic. Ghosts have their place in storytelling, but I’m with you on The Flight Attendant. Among the many problems I had with that series, the overuse of this device was top of the list — much as I enjoy Michiel Huisman in everything, and I get why the producers would be reluctant to lose him after the first episode just because he was slaughtered in his hotel bed, I grew tired of him constantly chirping in Kaley Cuoco‘s booze-addled head before they even left Bangkok. I wasn’t as bothered by the scene in This Is Us, especially because of the water/rebirth symbolism as Randall reconnects with his roots and the memory of the mother he only just learned hadn’t died when he was born. Also: It was beautifully shot and acted and had an emotional payoff. Communing with the visible manifestations of the dead is a time-honored device — think the opening of Hamlet — but when used badly or glibly, few techniques come off more contrived. (And to answer your personal question, my dad died when I was 3 and I don’t remember much about him, but he has appeared in my dreams over the years.)
Is The Chase Too Mean?
Question: Is it just me, or does ABC’s The Chase seem mean-spirited? Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter are know-it-all millionaires playing keep-away from the little contestants and they’re coming across as snarky. What do you think? — Diana N
Matt Roush: You’re not alone. Another reader, Sherry, recently wrote in to comment: “Alex Trebek never made anyone look stupid on the show even if they gave the wrong answer. But the guys on The Chase seem almost pompous that they know all the answers. And contestants that go out the door with no winnings, what’s the point of the show? Not very entertaining to me.”
I get it, but The Chase in its first U.S. version on the Game Show Network had similar attitude, and for me the appeal of the show is on the level of a “Trivia Gladiators” where the contestants know they’re going up against the best of the best, and if they’re not at the top of their game, they’re going to lose. (In the first episode, with Ken Jennings in the “Chaser” seat, the contestants won, so it is possible, but not easy.) It could be that this version is leaving such a sour aftertaste because these Jeopardy! champs have by and large always been seen as good sports, even as heroes in the rarefied quiz-show world. As Sherry’s reference to the great Alex Trebek suggests, his kindness and empathy for the players was part of what made Jeopardy! such a success. The jibes on The Chase are meant to be humorous, and I can see where it would come off as smug as they sit above it all and gloating as if they enjoy crushing their opponents’ hopes. The players know the stakes going in, so I wouldn’t take it so seriously. If it’s too much of a turn-off, though, there’s always Jeopardy!, where Ken is much nicer to everyone.
Will the Feud Never End?
Question: Does Steve Harvey own the Game Show Network? The Family Feud shows outnumber all the other game shows. I counted 38-40 times Family Feud was on in one week from 6 PM to midnight whereas there were only 20 other game shows on in that time frame. On Saturday and Sunday, it is on back-to-back from 6 to midnight. I wish they would give the other shows as much airtime. — BZ
Matt Roush: Welcome to the world of basic cable, where whatever works tends to repeat in volume. (Surf during the daytime or weekends, and it’s hard to find a mainstream channel that isn’t airing some show in what looks to be infinite back-to-back repeats during non-peak hours.) This is TV as wallpaper — I know, because my mom in her early 90s, who loves her game shows, often has Family Feud on virtually all day on weekends and nights, while she’s doing crossword puzzles or other activities to fill time. If there were another show in their lineup with this kind of staying power, you’d probably see them give Family Feud more of a rest. (I prefer it during those respites when they’re running several-hour blocks of Cash Cab, but that’s just me.)
Say It Ain’t So, Jack!
Question: Way to burst my bubble! When I saw Jack (George Eads) before a recent MacGyver episode as “previously on,” I was so thrilled! I figured he must be coming back!!! Then to open with his funeral, my bubble burst! Then a postcard was received from Jack, after his supposed death, and I got excited again, only to find someone else mailed the postcard after he died. Do you think there’s any chance they’ll ever bring George Eads back? The show is definitely not the same without him! He could have faked his own death — so easy to write him back into the show. And Mac belongs with Riley, not Des. It seems like they might be trying to work that angle… I hope so! — Syl
Matt Roush: This isn’t a spoiler column, so I won’t speculate on what’s to come, but there seemed to be quite a bit of finality in this eulogy to Jack, so if George Eads ever returns, which seems unlikely, it would probably be in flashbacks — or, harking back to the earlier question, as a ghost communing from the great TV beyond. Still, we’ve all been watching TV long enough to know that if you don’t see the body — and sometimes even if you do — dead doesn’t always mean dead on shows like this. But for now? RIP, Jack.
If It’s New to You …
Comment: Just recently one of my nephews texted me to watch a new show on Netflix, All American. He was shocked to discover The CW is already airing the third season. My mom just called me today to ask if I knew that there is a new Dynasty! She just started streaming Season 1 on Netflix. This one shocked me more because Mom watches tons of broadcast shows. A sign of the times. — Fred
Matt Roush: That sign has been flashing for quite some time. Personally, I’m more shocked that anyone could be excited by the new version of Dynasty, but so be it. There’s no question that many shows would live in obscurity without the boost they now get when they begin streaming on a major service like Netflix. Does anyone believe Schitt’s Creek would have made Emmy history if it hadn’t become popular on Netflix while still airing new episodes on a niche network like Pop TV? I had the same experience a while back when after beating the drum for ages about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, only after it started streaming on Netflix did most people I know start talking it up to me, as if I hadn’t already been one of its biggest champions.
Does Fleabag Owe a Debt to Miranda?
Question: Thanks for years of enjoyable, helpful reviews. I just read your review of Fox’s Call Me Kat. While I, unfortunately, tend to agree with your assessment (and we stopped watching), the TV Guide Magazine article and your review led me to the original show, Miranda, with Miranda Hart. What a gem that show is (available on Filmrise for free and the Christmas specials available on Prime). Here is my query. You label the frequent asides to the camera as Fleabag-esque (we also loved Fleabag, BTW), but watching the original makes me think perhaps Fleabag took the gimmick from Miranda. Both Miranda and Fleabag do this so well! Further, the waving at the end is done, we think, quite endearingly by the cast on Miranda, but not so much on Call Me Kat. Finally, it is nice to see Tom Ellis pre-Lucifer. What do you think-mainly if Fleabag stole from Miranda. — Angeleque
Matt Roush: I wouldn’t say “stole” as much as “refined.” Asides to the audience have been around at least as long as Shakespeare — two references in one column, is that a record? — and while Miranda may have been an influence as Phoebe Waller-Bridge developed her one-woman stage show and ensuing series, the effects are often different and certainly where tone is concerned. The best answer, I think, is to concede that both Miranda Hart and Waller-Bridge tailored this device perfectly to their personalities and sensibilities.
Question: So many reboots and remakes go off track, so I was thrilled with the new All Creatures Great and Small on PBS’s Masterpiece. As a fan not only of the original series, but of the books, I can say I just love this new version, too. I sure hope it continues. Do you know anything about the future of the show? — Andrew C
Matt Roush: Always happy to end this column on an upbeat note. I’m enjoying the new series as well (check out my review) — and you won’t want to miss this Sunday’s episode, which features the late Diana Rigg‘s final posthumous performance in the series as the eccentric Mrs. Pumphrey, mistress of the spoiled Tricki-Woo. Even better news: The series has been renewed for a second season, so we’ll have more of James Herriot’s veterinary exploits to enjoy in 2022.
That’s all for now. 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.)