Ask Matt: Scandal, Person of Interest, Nashville, Revolution and More
Question: From the moment Cyrus elected (pun intended) not to let anyone else in on the bomb threat to the final silliness of Olivia and Jake wending skyward on daddy’s jet, the Scandal finale was all the usual over-the-top perfection Gladiators have come to love and expect from Shonda Rhimes when she’s operating at the top of her “a little too much is not enough” game. Nice homage to the Keyser Söze reveal from The Usual Suspects at the end. Sorry Columbus Short got offed; perhaps if his character had been given a real reel life I’d miss him more, but that was one of the flaws in the mostly great/outlandish storytelling that truly bugged this fangirl. I know it was a rush from plot point to plot point, but I’m willing to accept the pregnancy as a legitimate excuse for the end-of-season, roller rink stop-and-go, punch in the face/gut action. And what a nice sendoff for Joe Morton! Now let’s see how Rhimes gets Olivia back in the game. Who’s she gonna play with now? This could be a signal that there are new players, yet to be named. And how in the expletive deleted are they (Ms. Rhimes and Ms. Pope) gonna top that?! — McKenzie
Matt Roush: I’m tickled by how much you enjoyed the finale (much more than I did), and for all the gripes I’ve been fielding lately regarding Scandal‘s mind-numbingly excessive outrageousness, it helps to have an appreciation for what you perceptively describe as “silliness,” which is really the only way to make sense of the high degree of nonsense on display through most of this season. A few points: The “twist” of Olivia “quitting” felt so trite and unsatisfying, not unlike bad pilot episodes in which characters ponder making a decision that we already know is the premise of a series. Yes, she rationalized her departure by acknowledging her sense of responsibility for all of the mayhem around her — “I AM THE SCANDAL” quickly became my new office catchphrase — but what a colossal shrug of a non-cliffhanger otherwise, and that includes the red herring of the bomb scare. Also: Until you actually see Harrison’s cold corpse, don’t assume that character is dead (a first rule of melodrama) — although he’s easily the most underwritten and useless character since Henry Ian Cusick‘s long-forgotten co-worker from Season 1. For me, the only part of the final hour that had any real impact was in all of the trauma visited upon the First Family: Olivia’s reveal to Fitz about Mellie’s rape and then the murder of their son upon the campaign stage, leaving the President and First Lady triumphant yet broken, and in their grieving, he can still only wonder: “Where’s Olivia?” That’s mighty fine (if sadistic) soap opera, and hits Scandal‘s sour sweet spot.
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Question: I have been a fan of Person of Interest since it debuted and try to see every episode. But lately I’m finding it harder and harder to follow. It seems that the longer it goes, the more convoluted the storyline gets. I’m all for complex storytelling, but over the last few weeks, who is doing what to whom and why is making less sense to me. Also, adding to this is the character of Root. Amy Acker is fine, but I wonder if the writers know what to do with her. Maybe I should just kick back and trust that this will all come together, but right now it’s a bit frustrating. — Robert
Matt Roush: This isn’t a show meant for casual sort-your-socks-while-it’s-on viewing, that’s for sure, and there are times as we dive further into the mystifying conspiratorial abyss of Decima, Samaritan and Vigilance, etc., that I’m reminded of past rabbit holes from The X-Files and Alias to Lost, and it’s understandable to pine for the days when it was mainly about Finch and Reese following the Machine’s numbers with Carter’s assistance. But even when I’m not sure what’s going on, and find myself consulting some Wiki file to jog my memory, I’m still enjoying this electrifying ride. And Root is part of that pleasure, both in Amy Acker’s devilish performance and in her motivations, which seem pretty clear to me. Given her special connection to the Machine and her determination to stop its rival from going online, Root’s storyline is one of the few elements of the show that I think I get. But to address your concerns directly, I’d advise not worrying about connecting all of the dots. I trust the writers will sort it all out for us eventually. And it’s still one of TV’s most exciting, enjoyable and unpredictable thrillers, so there’s that.
Question: My question is about syndication and how it works in the modern TV landscape. I’ve seen rumors that ABC’s Nashville may get renewed for a third season in the hopes it can rack up enough episodes for a syndication deal. This got me thinking: Who in their right mind is going to pay millions upon millions of dollars for repeats of a little watched, barely buzzed about ABC soap like Nashville? I know networks often renew low-rated shows in the hopes of reaching that sweet syndication money, but who wants to buy shows nobody watched in the first place? These days cable networks seem more interested in original programming than broadcast reruns, and making it to 80-100 episodes on NBC, ABC or Fox certainly doesn’t mean you’re a massive hit. As viewership splinters and true broadcast hits become extremely rare beasts, do you think lucrative syndication deals could become a thing of the past? If so, how will the networks survive? — Donnie
Matt Roush: Those are provocative questions, and I’m sure I don’t have any definitive answers when it comes to this aspect of the marketplace. Stepping back a bit, syndication may not be the only economic factor in Nashville‘s prospects for renewal. From what I gather, there’s a healthy revenue stream from its music sales — also note the limited concert tour starting later this week featuring some of its stars, reminiscent of Glee on both fronts. But it’s true that most dramas as a rule aren’t nearly as robust and profitable in syndication as hit comedies, and middling dramas with no procedural hook are even tougher sells. On the upside, with more streaming sites available for off-network runs to accommodate binging by those who may have missed the earlier seasons on ABC, there are outlets beyond traditional syndication for serialized shows like this to thrive, but whether the payoff is worth it for the networks and studios involved I couldn’t say.
Question: Please help me make sense of Revolution‘s scheduling. I’m very upset that NBC is showing new episodes one week here, one week there, then waiting a month for another one. And in its place they put Law & Order repeats. Have they given up on the show? Please help me understand this phenomenon. — Dan
Matt Roush: The reason you’re not seeing Revolution right now is that NBC is holding back the last episodes to air during May sweeps amid the countdown to the end of the season, with the finale currently scheduled for May 21. This is the kind of show that repeats terribly — not that it’s doing all that great in first-run — which is also why SVU is being replayed for a few weeks in its time period until Revolution returns with new episodes on April 30. (If you recall, NBC took a fateful risk with Revolution last season, removing it entirely from the schedule for more than three months so as to avoid having to interrupt the flow with repeats, but it never really regained its momentum after that.) Has NBC given up on Revolution? Not yet, or it would have already been taken off the air. But it’s clearly among the more endangered of this season’s “on the bubble” shows. And a show like this would probably benefit by having its episodes air straight through without interruption, even if it means ending the season earlier than May.
Question: Why is Catherine (Michelle Borth) leaving Hawaii Five-0? Although it took a while to warm up to her character, I didn’t want her to leave. Is it just me, or did it seem that Steve wasn’t as into her as she was to him? It seemed as if the relationship was always one-sided. Does this mean a new love interest for Steve? I was disappointed that nothing came of the relationship with the blonde lady [Lauren German]. She seemed a much better fit with the gang. — Denise
Matt Roush: I haven’t seen anything to indicate that this is anything but a creative decision, but since it sounds like you weren’t all that impressed with their chemistry anyway, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to free up McGarrett — since we all know the only relationship that really matters on this show is his bromance with Danno.
Question: I’ve been pretty impressed with how Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has managed to fold in the plot line from the new Captain America movie without giving away too much from the film. It seems like a really difficult balance, and given that this is the only time I can think of where a TV show has run concurrent with a film series, I give a lot of credit to the writers for walking that fine line. If only there was something they could do about the mostly bland acting. All the characters seem so “blah” that I’m half-hoping that the resulting fall-out from this arc is that half the team gets replaced with people who are, you know, interesting. Unfortunately, that also includes Clark Gregg, who is a fun actor but just doesn’t seem strong enough to carry a show and is so one-note that when he tries to show emotion of any kind it comes off as really forced. — Chip
Matt Roush: We covered some of this ground in last week’s Q&A, but you’re right that even though the current storyline is S.H.I.E.L.D. at its best to date, a show is only as good as its characters, and this conflict gives the producers a perfect opportunity to make some bold moves in resetting the board and refreshing the ensemble. I can’t imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. without Coulson, and for the most part I still enjoy Clark Gregg’s stoic irony, but I can see how the limited palette with which he’s working could come off as monotonous. Now’s the time for everyone on this show to raise their game, and I’ll be curious where it takes them in what seems an inevitable second season.
Question: I know there has been a lot of discussion on when it is acceptable for spoilers to be revealed on entertainment websites, but I was wondering what you think about social media coverage such as Facebook. I get really annoyed because I live in Australia, try to do the right thing by not illegally downloading TV shows, but nobody seems to consider people like me when it comes to spoilers. I am really looking forward to the next season of Hannibal, but it is no longer available on free-to-air TV here, so I intend to wait for the DVD set and binge-watch like I do with a lot of shows. Anyway, I “like” the show on Facebook, and I generally enjoy following the shows I like on Facebook, but the Hannibal Facebook updates have spoiled the entire second season so far for me, to the point that I have now “unliked” it. One post had a picture of a central character with the words RIP (Sons of Anarchy is also guilty of doing this), and this week a presumed-dead character was shown to be alive in a new picture. I am really annoyed! What are you supposed to do to avoid spoilers when you live in another country and respect piracy? It’s really tough! You should be able to like a show on social media without it being assumed that every person in the world is able to be up-to-date, shouldn’t you?! — Lucy
Matt Roush: I’m afraid the immediacy of social media is a great part of its allure, and no one’s likely to make an exception because of geography. (By the way, hello Down Under!) I can’t really blame whoever is running the Hannibal Facebook page for being as current as possible with the latest plot developments, so if you’re in a situation where you can’t be on the same page with the rest of the audience, your best bet is to disengage as soon and as completely as possible so as to preserve your own experience with the shows you love. That’s much the best way to “like” anything. And you can always catch up on the conversation later should you feel the need. Personal aside: I’m rarely at home on Friday nights to watch Hannibal when it airs on NBC, and I make a point to avoid any tweets or other posts of any sort relating to the show until I can catch up. (And that includes calling up questions in this mailbag.)
Question: A friend of mine and I were both fans of The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries, among other genre shows — and then things went south, fast. After the big battle with the Governor, I decided to take a step back from Dead. (I was a Governor hater. Not in a love-to-hate, isn’t he such a cool villain kind of way. More like a, this is the most boring, ridiculous character and an obvious epic fail in the transformation from book to telly kind of way.) On the Vampire side, though the Katherine ridiculousness was starting to get us both down, I stuck with it while my friend bailed. When she saw I was still watching Diaries after being rather vocal about how disappointed I was in Dead, she asked why. My explanation is that I frankly hold Dead to a higher standard.
Though the situation is fantasy, Dead has always been grounded in the feelings and behaviors of the characters. It always felt “real” — that if a virus or something turned the world into something we’ve never seen or thought we’d have to endure, then these are the kinds of situations and decisions we’d find ourselves faced with. And it used to do a great, logical job of bringing that to life on screen — until, for me, it didn’t. On the Diaries side, I have incredibly low expectations. I don’t feel like The CW has ever asked me to believe that these twenty- and thirtysomethings are teens, so my suspension of disbelief is already rather high. I don’t watch for realism. I watch for the campiness and, I’ll say it, the eye candy. My friend feels that with time being valuable, bad is bad. And since she still found Dead very interesting, she chose to stick with it and dump Diaries, while I chose the opposite. What I’m trying to get at is: Do you feel that soaps get some sort of a free pass? Or “teen” shows? Or any format or genre for that matter? That’s really what I was trying to explain that was behind my choice. – S
Matt Roush: What you seem to be struggling with is the notion on one hand of a guilty pleasure (Vampire Diaries), in which there’s no shame in watching for mindless enjoyment — although I bailed on that show a season or so ago when it just felt to me like they were making up new supernatural rules as they went, and I stopped caring about who was living, undead or somewhere in between. While with The Walking Dead you’re dealing with a much more significant, even iconic horror show that transcends genre and demands to be taken seriously, which means it can feel more like a deal-breaker when it disappoints and stumbles dramatically — which it does on occasion, and fans can argue until the next apocalypse which parts they liked and/or loathed the most. I have been frustrated at times with Dead as well, including the back half of this season when the characters were so scattered for so long with subplots of unequal interest (although even then, we got that incredible episode involving Carol and the sisters under her care), but I would never give up on something so daring and uncompromising, even if imperfect. You’re not wrong to hold The Walking Dead to a higher standard, but I do worry when people expect so much of any show that they’re willing to quit when a single storyline or character doesn’t satisfy.
Question: I have no — well, few — complaints about TV of late. I think programs have been getting smarter, more interesting and less pandering than they’ve been in years. However, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a hue and cry about the horrible, maddening promotions that appear on screen during programs. You know, the station identifiers, the countdown clocks, little animated figures that pop up out of nowhere. Yeah, I grew up in the days of three networks, and yeah, I still remember carbon paper, but I can’t imagine that even those who never knew a calm screen are OK with this. And as long as I’m ranting: What’s with putting subtitles and credits over light backgrounds, anyway? — Linda
Matt Roush: Sounds like you do have a few bones to pick after all. Next to the blaring background music and shows running over a minute into the next time period, the intrusive pop-up ads are probably the most popular topic of viewer scorn in my mailbag. But in an age of DVR time-shifting, the networks see these devices as one of the only ways to get the viewers’ attention, since so few of us sit still for the commercial breaks anymore. You’d think, given how much we despise these distractions (especially when they’re animated), they might fear a backlash against whatever’s in those messages. And yet they continue.
Question: I watched last Sunday’s National Geographic Channel airing of Inside the Hunt for the Boston Bombers, and I just had to express to someone my disappointment. My main complaint, one that applies to many other documentary and non-fiction shows in recent years, is the constant use of reenactments. In this particular case, I wound up speeding through all the reenactments (having recorded the show for later viewing). To my mind, a documentary should show or describe things as they happened, with real-time video or photographs of the events and people, or with interviews of those who witnessed them. The problem with reenactments, in my opinion, is that you know that you’re seeing actors playing some part, and not seeing the real thing. In this particular show, many of the reenactments seem to have been done using the participants themselves. Even some of the bombing victims were shown reenacting what they did during the bombing or in the day or two after. I guess I don’t understand why they would want to be involved in such reenactments. When I see a reenactment, I get a feeling of doubt about what it portrays that I don’t get when seeing real-time videos or photos. I don’t want to be seeing “acting” in documentaries. I’d prefer to see just the facts. I know that this is a common way to make television documentaries these days, but it really drives me crazy, and I was wondering whether you had any thoughts on this issue. — Paul
Matt Roush: I didn’t see this special so can’t comment on the quality of the recreations, but I get where you’re coming from and on principle, I agree. Re-enactments have become a staple on the sort of tawdry true-crime shows that are the backbone of bottom-feeding cable outlets like Investigation Discovery, and invariably come off as cheesy, although there can be an added level of unease when the actual participants take part in the recreations. With an event this recent, I’m not sure why they felt this would be necessary. There are ways of doing this sort of thing well, and I’m generally OK when chapters of long-ago history are recreated with actors in costume to illustrate a documentary narrative, but even that can come off like hokey amateur pageantry. From the producers’ point of view, I can see why they would be trying to provide visuals that go beyond talking heads reacting to the same news clip being repeated over and over, but if it comes at the expense of credibility, it’s rarely a good idea.