Ask Matt: Cards Spoilers, Mom, Blacklist, NCIS's 250th and More
Question: When dealing with shows like House of Cards (in which an entire season is available at one time), what’s your opinion on how spoilers should be discussed? Is every episode fair to be talked about as soon as the season comes out? Should no spoilers be talked about for, say, a week and then every episode is fair game? Or would you treat it more like a traditional series and discuss only one episode at a time? On the receiving end, do you just avoid all spoilers until you’ve finished watching the entire season? I’m mainly asking this because I’m only up to episode 6 of the new season of House of Cards and am avoiding any article with a spoiler alert, because I don’t know just which episodes they may be spoiling. (Thankfully, so far the biggest spoiler I could have had ruined was a very shocking moment in the first episode. I don’t gasp very often at a TV show, but I did then.) — Scott
Matt Roush: I can only speak to my own approach, and since I rarely do episodic recaps, the way I would typically deal with a show like this is if I were reviewing a novel (which also releases its contents all at once) or a movie/miniseries. No spoilers in the initial review at all, which would likely encompass the season as a whole, and in further discussions as time goes on I’d try to make it clear that plot points will be brought up that could be considered spoilers for those who haven’t watched yet. This admittedly is a different judgment call than when writing about weekly episodic TV, when after an episode airs I don’t consider it a spoiler to talk about what just happened. With Cards this season, I didn’t do a traditional review, deciding instead to address the “binge” phenomenon and whether it works for or against the show. (My verdict: against.) I gave myself a week to watch the second season, and during that time, avoided most commentaries and reviews to avoid spoilers. (Because I had seen the original British series on which this is based, the “shocker” in the first episode was not such a shock to me, and the debate I’d really like to have is whether that incident would have had more impact if, like in the original, it had occurred as the climax of the first season instead of the jumping-off point of the second.) But I’m very glad you weren’t spoiled, and my advice is to watch at your own pace and exercise extreme caution when reading any critical coverage of the show until you’re finished.
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Question: I really enjoy Mom. The writing is funny, and both Allison Janney and Anna Faris are a joy to watch. Even the supporting actors are seasoned character actors and are very good in the roles. However, I see that this show is on the bubble for renewal, when other shows such as 2 Broke Girls (which I find unwatchable) are likely to be renewed. Why do you think people aren’t watching this excellent show? Is it the fact that the show is about addiction? Which, by the way, the show handles very well, making it funny but not trivializing the fact that recovery from addiction is a difficult journey. — Julie
Matt Roush: I’ve been a champion of Mom most of this season. It just keeps getting better, and this week’s episode takes the story in an emotional new direction that reinforces how real it can feel, even with all the gamy one-liners. It reminds me, as I’ve said before, of sitcoms from the late ’80s and ’90s like Roseanne and Grace Under Fire, focused on tough women who’ve faced tough odds and who fight back with tough, tart humor. The real handicap for Mom, and for most of CBS’s Monday night lineup this season, has been the strength of NBC with The Voice and The Blacklist, and while the subject matter of Mom might be a turnoff for some, it’s not helped by the company it keeps, including two consecutive 10/9c dramas that didn’t catch on and aging comedies like 2 Broke Girls (which I agree has lost any appeal it once had) and Mike & Molly as lead-ins. I’m hoping CBS doesn’t pull the trigger too quickly on this one, and given Chuck Lorre‘s clout at CBS, he deserves a long leash to let Mom grow. If industry darling Allison Janney gets (as she deserves) a supporting Emmy nomination for this role, it might help build the audience as well between seasons. (I also wish CBS would give it some exposure on Thursday behind The Big Bang Theory and give the puerile The Millers a rest.)
Question: I’m a disgruntled TV fan. Okay, I’m getting seriously annoyed with the state of TV and am wondering if I need to ditch yet another show. On to my question: Has The Blacklist blown the “Red is Liz’s father” theory completely away? I was one of those fans who actually wanted them to be father and daughter (or at least be related in some way). But now I fear they will go with the clichéd “hooking the lead characters up romantically” angle. And I’m not interested in seeing Red and Liz’s lack of sexual chemistry be shoved down my throat each week. So should I hold on and hope for a father/daughter connection (or at least some other relative) or just split now? — Katt
Matt Roush: That’s your choice, obviously, and I hope you get over your TV depression soon. But it also seems obvious to me that you can’t trust anything Red says, so when he denied being her father, I figure it’s too early in this show’s run to give that absolute credence. Or at least not to surmise that his obsession with Liz has some other explanation. I do not see The Blacklist turning into one of those unresolved-sexual-tension (until it’s not) shows like Castle or Bones — and if it goes that way, I’ll join you in the “former viewer” ranks. But I’m still slightly curious to see where they take the Liz-and-Tom troubled-marriage dynamic, because there’s got to be more to that than a mere dispute over adoption.
Question: Is it just me, or is it strange that there has been so little hype and hoopla about NCIS’s 250th episode? I have hardly heard a word about it for weeks. With past milestone episodes, we almost knew the whole story before it aired. This one is only a week away and we really don’t know much except that Tony Sr. will show up. — Natalie
Matt Roush: Do you want them to leak the script? What more do you need to know? I’m aware that my avoidance of spoilers cuts against the grain these days, but it seems to me that if fans are aware the show has achieved this longevity and that one of the show’s favorite guest stars is returning to mark the occasion, that’s more than enough. It’s possible the hype machine is more muted than it was for the 200th, but I don’t grade shows on their promotion.
Question: I’m one of those people who couldn’t care less about the Olympics and never watched a single minute. I also noticed that on many nights the Olympics had fewer viewers than a new episode of The Big Bang Theory. That said, why do the competing networks run up the white flag and run nothing but reruns during the Games? Do you think they might realize there are millions who might want to watch something else, and might this change in the future? — Nic
Matt Roush: The night that made me think the networks shouldn’t necessarily roll over for the Olympics, especially during the Winter Games when the potential audience is so much greater than in the summer months, was on the Sunday when The Walking Dead premiered with huge numbers and CBS’s Beatles special also broke through (although with older demos). Lesson: Give the audience an alternative, they may take it. But when it comes to regular episodic TV, the research seems to show that the broad appeal of the Olympics (especially with women, rare for most sporting events) would likely result in shows posting season or series lows on many nights, bringing down their ratings averages, and that’s why they try to avoid going head to head. It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course, and if more networks tried to counter the Olympics with “event” programming (remember miniseries?) instead of rolling over with two-plus weeks of repeats, maybe the industry and certainly the viewer would be better served.
Question: May I say first of all, how much I enjoy your columns. My opinion and question: ABC and others put on these “off-season” shows and promote the H out of them, then when they get less viewers in a demographic, they cancel after a few episodes. I am talking Killer Women, Ironside, The Assets to name some (and don’t even get me started on The Glades‘ cliffhanger finale — we will never know what happened to Jim and Callie’s story). Why should we invest our entertainment TV time at all? I know Killer Women was not rocket science, but it was fun and just getting really interesting, plus the actors were fun. It really is a slap in the face by these “bottom line” TV/cable people. Thanks for letting me vent. — Marie
Matt Roush: If it weren’t for venting, this column probably wouldn’t exist. So thank you. But you’re mixing your apples, oranges and possibly a few grapefruit in this complaint, which really speaks to network TV’s high failure rate. Killer Women and The Assets were always intended as winter replacement fill-ins, marking time until the Olympics were over. If either of them had clicked, that would have been a happy surprise. Neither did, although Killer Women had its fans (according to my mailbag), while The Assets was not only awful, but DOA. Ironside? Not a true comparison. That show got a full fall launch and plenty of promotion, but was a bad version of a show that probably didn’t need to be revived. And The Glades? Now there you have a point in asking why people should invest their time when a network treats its fans this badly. No excuse for canceling a show on that kind of note. Ever. But I still contend, and will always argue, that the alternative to not watching a show out of fear it will be canceled is to not enjoy the show while it lasts, and what good does that do anybody?
Question: At the start of the season, I read complaints about the “new” Mike & Molly and understandably so, as the season premiere was really different from the previous seasons and it was apparent that they were trying to make Molly just like Melissa McCarthy‘s movie roles. I stayed all season long and I must say that the show is now back to what it used to be and it’s not Molly’s crazy antic-of-the-week anymore. I especially liked last week’s episode where Molly went to see a psychologist to address her behavior when she quit her job and found some good comedy material, but more importantly it had a very emotional moment when Molly opened up about her father. Do you think this has been the plan all season long or was it just a case of the new showrunner reacting to the reactions online about the changes? — Forg
Matt Roush: I haven’t been tracking this show all that closely since the start of what clearly has been a transitional season, but it doesn’t surprise me that things have settled down a bit from the madcap tone of the first part of the season. I’d like to think that adding emotional beats to any comedy is part of the creative process, not a reaction to online complaints.
Question: I’m a big fan of watching football, so I’m not angry with CBS for picking up some games to air on Thursday nights in the fall. That being said, why does that mean that Elementary has to get moved to another night? From what I understand, CBS had planned on airing six games on Thursday nights. So why couldn’t they do it like this: They could air the first three games during the first three weeks in September when the new season hasn’t even started yet. Then the fourth game could air during the last week in October when shows tend to air a rerun. Thanksgiving could settle as the fifth game and finally the sixth game could air during the first week in December when shows air re-runs. Now if CBS didn’t want to squander the week in October, they could just air two games in early December instead. Personally for me, I’d rather have Elementary stay where it’s at because just about every other night except for Saturdays is pretty full of shows where I’m already recording at least three hours a night. — Amy
Matt Roush: Actually, CBS’s new football contract calls for eight Thursday night games, not six, and if I understand it correctly (keep in mind I’m not a sports-TV columnist), they will air in a block, with CBS’s regular prime-time lineup that night delayed until November, so it won’t be a case of the games being on one week, off the next, which would just be confusing. This is a serious commitment, and the NFL is serious business. The upside to some of these shows not airing until November means fewer repeats later, but it’s also very possible that shows like The Big Bang Theory and Elementary could air temporarily on other nights to help bolster the fall schedule and then return to their regular slots once football is over. None of that has been determined yet, as far as I can tell. But also keep in mind that CBS has a tradition of moving successful Thursday night dramas to other nights to open that slot to new development. I’m not saying that will happen this fall; it might be too early for Elementary to make that move just yet. But if and when it happens, it may not be football that prompts such a move, and it may not happen at all. Still, the football deal certainly makes the fall more interesting.
Question: Why is no one talking about Shameless? Two of my favorite shows on TV right now are Shameless and Banshee. Banshee is definitely more of a guilty pleasure, but Shameless is such a great show, I can’t figure out why it’s almost never mentioned. I think they’re all doing great work, but in my opinion Jeremy Allen White, Noel Fisher and Ethan Cutkosky are killing it this season. I know it’s an off-the-wall show and understand why it doesn’t get as much recognition with the critics, but why does it seem like everyone else is missing out too? — Madeline
Matt Roush: I’m not sure Shameless is all that neglected. It’s doing well for Showtime and has been renewed for a fifth season. TV Guide Magazine recently ran a feature on the three oldest Gallagher kids (including White), and I’ve always felt the sibs are the strength of that show, especially Emmy Rossum. (It’s the “adult” characters like Frank and Sheila that always tended to drive me away.) Shameless has its champions in the critical press, but maybe because its power lies in its younger characters, the industry’s age bias keeps it from being taken as seriously. Banshee, though, couldn’t agree more. That pretty much defines guilty pleasure. I’ve fallen a bit behind on it this season, but I’m determined to catch up. What a wild, disreputable rush that show can be.
Question: Last summer, I watched three shows: Under the Dome, Siberia and Whodunnit. As you know, it was forever ago that Dome was renewed, but what about the other two shows? Has a decision been made, and if not, what is taking so long, and what do you think the chances of renewal are for each? Also, going back two summers ago, ABC had The Glass House. I’m guessing it was canceled, but I never found an official confirmation. What’s up with that? — Dan
Matt Roush: Generally speaking, if you haven’t heard that a show has been renewed after this period of time, it probably hasn’t been and won’t be. Most summer shows, whether scripted or reality-based, are seen as tryouts, and if they’re as successful as Dome, they get renewed fairly quickly. Siberia, Whodunnit and Glass House were not. But if these shows do make it through their entire tryout run without being yanked (as I believe all of these did), then no official cancellation notice tends to go out. They simply aren’t picked up, and in most cases are forgotten. Though clearly not by all.