Ask Matt: The Ups and Downs of Season-Ending Cliffhangers

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist Alex Newell Jane Levy
Michael Courtney/NBC/Lionsgate
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

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.

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A Bone to Pick With Finale Cliffhangers

Question: What is your opinion on cliffhangers in series finales? News broke out Friday that ABC’s American Housewife was unfortunately canceled. We knew this were a bubble show, but did the ending where Katie announced she was pregnant seem like a Hail Mary to ABC to you? It doesn’t seem that realistic that would have happened if they knew they would have got renewed and could have focused the season on Taylor’s wedding and Oliver’s app development path. The Young Sheldon cliffhanger made sense as we know they have at least three more seasons ahead of them. Whereas B Positive is a mixed bag, as we kind of expected the series to be renewed since it’s Chuck Lorre producing. Ending on that note when the series focused on the surgery all season seemed weird, but maybe it’s to make sure people keep watching because their ratings have slipped since the 9:30/ET slot move. — Tyler

Matt Roush: Cliffhangers are a risky business for shows that aren’t guaranteed a future. I’ve always advised against producers throwing in a big twist in the final moment as if that somehow gives them leverage against cancellation (the “Hail Mary” strategy Tyler alluded to). It rarely works and usually adds to fans’ frustration over the show being axed in the first place. With American Housewife, you could look at Katie’s surprise announcement as a cliffhanger but also as a climactic moment that puts a button on the family’s journey. (A true cliffhanger would have been Katie looking at a pregnancy test without learning the outcome.) It was somewhat riskier for B Positive not to give us the outcome of the transplant surgery that the season has building toward, but as Tyler noted, with Chuck Lorre behind it, the show was almost guaranteed at least a second season (along with United States of Al).

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On a similar note, this week’s finale of Prodigal Son (which I can’t discuss in detail until after it airs) will likely frustrate or possibly delight the show’s small but fervent fan base in its final moments. I can’t fault the producers for ending the way they did, which obviously leaves us wanting more. But it’s also the sort of watercooler moment that with perspective might eventually feel like a perfect ending.

Zoey’s Playlist Not Depleted Yet

Comment: They’re not allowed to cancel Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist after Sunday’s finale. I know it’s a business decision and not a decision so much about whether the network likes the show or not. But if they don’t renew it after that, this is going to be a really painful cancellation. – Jake

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Matt Roush: Couldn’t agree more. That final twist (spoiler alert) in which Max was able to witness Zoey’s heart song — an expansion of her powers, or did they flip? — was a blast and a surprise. I do believe we’ll see more of this wonderful show, but the buzz is that it could move to Peacock, a trend that will likely happen with more frequency as these companies evaluate which shows work best on which part of their corporate ecosystem.

HBO’s Max Factor

Question: There have been several interesting programs listed for HBO Max, which I do not have. Do you know if HBO plans on airing them later on HBO? — Hal

Matt Roush: It’s possible some HBO Max originals could migrate to the original linear platform or one of its offshoots, but it seems unlikely. Streaming exclusives exist for a reason: to add value to the streamer and to drive traffic. I’m not aware of the circumstances that limit your exposure to HBO Max, but if you subscribe to HBO, you’re already subscribed to HBO Max. And if for whatever reason you can’t access it on your TV, you could watch their shows on your computer or another device of your choosing.

The Migration from Broadcast to Streaming

Comment: This is a general comment. I hate to see shows go to streaming. I wish they would just end. For example: The Orville went to, what, Hulu? Zoey might go to Peacock. There are too many services to get them all, and I am afraid to pick one, because I will just get mad if my show ended up on another one, but I miss the shows I started watching on regular TV. — Jeff B

Matt Roush: I hear you, and I hear this a lot. We’re quite clearly in a transitional moment that’s only going to become more confusing and frustrating as network conglomerates shift their assets among their broadcast, cable and more frequently streaming platforms, which they see as their future. We’re still waiting for a premiere date for The Orville, which has been MIA for two years already. That move was made for budgetary and creative reasons, announced way before the Fox network was jettisoned from its studio, but it was just one of the first examples of what’s quickly becoming a trend. I understand the frustration, but I can’t sign on to wishing the shows would just die if there’s a pipeline to keep them going for a few more seasons (i.e., shows as various as Lucifer and Longmire, which both enjoyed extended post-network life on Netflix). Eventually, these episodes might be available in a format that wouldn’t force you to subscribe to a streaming service, and this trajectory is only going to become more common, I’m sure.

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Was Mom Plotting a Backdoor Spinoff?

Question: Mom started out with the focus on Bonnie and Christy, and the rebuilding of their relationship. It was more about the relationship than about the group of friends. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the progression and the shift in focus. I hated to see it end. In the finale, they introduced Shannon and Jolene, a mother/daughter pair similar to Bonnie/Christy, just a little earlier in their story. Because of the caliber of actresses playing these roles (Melanie Lynskey and Rondi Reed), do you think it’s possible Chuck Lorre might be setting up a new series in the vein of the early episodes of Mom? One that focuses on the pair and away from the support group? It could be interesting. They could have the occasional appearance by Bonnie, but really just be about the growing relationship between the mother and her daughter. It just makes sense to me. — Mark

Matt Roush: Hey, anything to keep the Mom vibe alive would be OK with me. But there’s no indication that this is a plan or a possibility. My takeaway was that these combative new characters, a reminder of what Bonnie and Christy were probably like before we ever met them, was more of a symbolic move rather than a jumping-off point for a sequel. The entire episode was built around the notion that life would go on for this group and they’d be there for each other and for new arrivals through any crisis, including Adam’s cancer diagnosis. The fact that his bad news didn’t send Bonnie into a tailspin was meant to give us hope that they’d all be OK as long as they had each other. Pretty much a perfect fadeout as Wendy (Beth Hall) gets the final words: “Who else would like to share?” Although not everyone was satisfied.

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Unhappy Endings

Comment: After watching the Mom finale on Thursday, count me in the minority but I didn’t like it. I feel that Chuck Lorre doesn’t know how to end a show properly, even though Mom was called early in the season, unlike The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, whose finales I didn’t like either. I think his last good finale was Mike & Molly. Why so open-ended when you know it’s the final season? Is it a dig at CBS? Shameless also suffered the same way. I think they both should’ve wrapped when the stars left. At least Amy had the decency to come back to Superstore. — Maddie, NJ

Matt Roush: If memory serves, we also knew well in advance when the ends of The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men were coming. They were way bigger hits than Mom, albeit Men never really recovered from the Charlie Sheen debacle. Fact is, there’s almost no way to end a series to please everyone, and staying with Mom, there’s an argument often made that giving certain types of shows open endings are meant to provide a sense of comfort and satisfaction that we know these characters will be OK going forward without making a big deal about it. (And Jill did marry Andy in the finale, so that counts as an event, and the announcement of her pregnancy the week before gave some nice closure to one of their stories.) If there was any bone to pick with Mom, it’s that Christy and her kids remained pretty much an afterthought in the final episode. The show had moved on, but it was always strange that as Bonnie got her life together, she remained such a distant grand-mom.

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And Finally …

Question: I’m wondering about Killing Eve. Is it over? I feel like I’ve missed something somewhere during all the crazy things going on this past year or so? — LP

Matt Roush: It has been a baffling and overwhelming time, hasn’t it? And that includes keeping track of everything happening in the tumultuous world of TV. The good news is that Killing Eve isn’t over yet. The somewhat less good news is that the fourth season, most likely coming sometime in 2022, will be the last season, although there’s talk of potential killer spinoffs.

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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.)