Ask Matt: Dramedies, Arrested, Nurse Jackie, H50, Hannibal

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Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman | Photo Credits: Sam Urdank/Netflix
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Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman | Photo Credits: Sam Urdank/Netflix

Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!

Question: Why don't the broadcast networks produce comedy-dramas anymore? It was not more than 10 years ago when the networks were full of successful long-running dramedies like Ally McBeal, The West Wing and Gilmore Girls. But now all those dramedy show-runners have moved over to the cable networks: David E. Kelley has just produced Monday Mornings for TNT, Aaron Sorkin is with The Newsroom on HBO, and Amy Sherman-Palladino had (the great) Bunheads on ABC Family. And lots of successful long-running comedy-dramas are running on Showtime (Shameless, Californication, House of Lies) and on USA (Royal Pains, Burn Notice, Suits, White Collar). Now I'm looking at the new network fall schedule and it seems like none (!) of the new dramas scheduled for the fall is considered a dramedy, and so are very few of the veteran shows. Even The CW, which last year produced Emily Owens, M.D. to go with Hart of Dixie, this year decided to go in a completely different way. Is there a reason why the broadcast networks feel comfortable only with serious dramas and silly half-hour comedies? — David

Matt Roush: Part of the problem here is one of definition. Several of the shows you mention don't really qualify as comedy-drama/dramedy — the USA shows are light dramas with some humor, but only Psych (which you don't mention) is a true comedy/mystery dramedy — and if the insipid Emily Owens and Hart of Dixie represent the new definition of "dramedy," maybe it's better for the networks to get out of that business. And while I don't recall anyone ever classifying The West Wing (which did have humor and romance amid the drama) in this hybrid category, Newsroom certainly applies, though it juggled these elements so clumsily last season that it's almost an argument against the form. Shameless, definitely applies. (Nurse Jackie, which you left out, even more so.) Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal were probably the last network shows to walk this tightrope successfully, although Castle and Bones nicely straddle the line within the procedural format. Nit-picking aside, the most logical answer is that these shows tend to be tough sells, and the networks are more hesitant than ever in these times of fragmented audience to take risks with hard-to-pigeonhole premises — a conclusion that becomes even more apparent when you see the concentration of high-concept dramas this fall in the supernatural-fantasy and crime-action genres. On the bright side, we can at the very least expect Joss Whedon to bring the funny along with the mayhem in his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D series, which we're all very eager to see.

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Question:
I recently finished watching the new season of Arrested Development, and I really liked it. I was a little disappointed after the first few episodes, but as I continued to watch and more of the holes in the story got filled in, I really started to enjoy it. (I especially loved both Gob episodes.) I don't think it was perfect; some of the episodes seemed a little too long and, as much as I love Ron Howard, over-narrated. But overall I was really impressed by the way they told these nine inter-connecting stories. It was complicated at times and kind of dark, but I liked the way they were exploring these dark years as the characters struggled out on their own. After all, the name of the show is Arrested Development.

Of course, comedy is completely subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I was really surprised by the amount of criticism. I think that the seven-year wait may have created expectations that were just too high and could never be reached. It also seems like a lot of the negative reaction came from people who either binge-watched all of the episodes or had not finished watching all of them. Personally, I think the best way to watch was to pace yourself and try to reserve judgment until you're done. I'm thinking and hoping that history will be kinder to Season 4 than we're being now, and I was wondering what your thoughts are. — Grace

Matt Roush: I'm afraid time hasn't softened my opinion of this one. Overall, I regard the Netflix season as a largely unsatisfying experience — clever to be sure, and often funny (the Gob and Buster episodes in particular, and I still can't believe we had to wait so long for the latter), but the flabby length of so many of the episodes felt like pure indulgence, as did the overuse of Howard's voice-overs. And while I didn't binge all of the episodes in a day as some did to meet a web-induced deadline — if I'd liked them more, maybe I would have felt so inclined — even digesting them over a roughly three-or-four-day period felt more like a chore than a gift. But I wonder if it would have been worse to have episodes this uneven parceled out in a traditional format, because so many of them were letdowns. Bingeing did seem to amplify the season's flaws: the repetitive nature of the jokes — some payoffs were worth it, but even that gimmick grew stale — and especially the inability to capitalize on the full ensemble's magic, with a few set-piece exceptions. Less would have been more where this reboot was concerned, and I don't really buy the argument that the long wait and the hype contributed to the level of criticism. I think most people would have been thrilled to have been thrilled by the new season. Some of us simply weren't.

Question: Nurse Jackie is one of the rare shows where I can find something to like about each character. When I heard Eve Best was leaving Nurse Jackie this season, I was worried the show wouldn't be the same without the O'Hara/Jackie dynamic. However, I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by this season. I really love the addition of Morris Chestnut as Dr. Prentiss. He adds a lot to the show — shades of Owen Hunt Season 5 Grey's, anyone? Also, what did you think of the twist with Zoey? The chemistry with Prentiss and Zoey is one of my favorite unexpected things from this season. I love how the writers tried to trick us into thinking Prentiss would go for Dr. Roman, then ending up in a relationship with Zoey. I don't even mind Roman; I think she is a conflicting character because she is extremely shallow, but on the other hand I can't help but laugh at her, and root for her a little bit when she tries to be a doctor. I don't like the pairing with Coop, though; I would like him to find someone better.

Speaking of couples, I know you stated you enjoy Frank and Jackie, but I really think he is too good to be true, maybe even a bit possessive. Then again, I feel like we were robbed of a great relationship between Jackie and Mike Cruz. Even though they are both damaged goods, I think they could have helped each other through the healing process. It was great seeing the brilliant Bobby Cannavale back, and I hope he returns. Gloria, Eddie, Thor continue to be brilliant as ever. I wonder how Grace's drug use will play out, as it seems like she is trying to compete with Jackie in a way? Jackie still continues to be in the same category of Don Draper and Walter White in terms of human nature. — Maya

Matt Roush: This was without question one of my favorite seasons of Nurse Jackie. Edie Falco is sublime, keeping the character deeply flawed but not as hopeless as before. The episode where she reconnected with Cruz (Cannavale) was terrific, but even more so because it wasn't meant to last. It would be just another addiction for her, and they both could see that. Having someone as "normal" (though not without baggage) as good-cop Frank (played so appealingly by Adam Ferrara) in her life was refreshing to me. I lived the whole season in fear she would screw it up, and she almost did a couple of times. Watching Grace seem to go down the same path as Jackie, thanks to her screwed-up parents and her own unhappy psychology, is a riveting, disturbing and absolutely appropriate story for this show. So thanks be to the great Merritt Wever as Zoey to give just the right touch of comic relief, and her hook-up with Prentiss was icing on the cake. A special shout-out as well to Stephen Wallem as Thor, whose performance in the season finale, as he celebrated the life of the dying gay man (John Cullum) in his care, revealed aspects to this underused character that I hope we haven't seen the last of.

Question: Just read that Hawaii 5-0 is moving to Fridays. Uh-oh, does that mean it is going down the tank? Was there too much competition on Monday with Castle and Revolution? What's the scoop? — Rhonda

Matt Roush: Well, Revolution is moving off Mondays as well this season (to Wednesdays at 8/7c, where it will likely fade away), so Hawaii isn't the only one in this leaky boat. The move isn't necessarily a death sentence for H50, more a reflection of CBS once again aggressively shaking up its schedule so it doesn't stagnate. Hostages, which takes over the 10/9c time period, is a more serialized "limited series" form of thriller, closer in tone and appeal to the cable series that dominate that time period most nights of the week, so I'm encouraged by this particular scheduling move — especially since it will be sharing the space with next winter's Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway. CBS is also one of the few networks still thriving on Fridays, so Hawaii could still have several more seasons in it on a night where less will be expected of it.

Question: I was wondering what you think of TNT's new show King & Maxwell. As a fan of the novels, I was really excited to hear about this. I wasn't too impressed with the pilot. I just don't think it was a good idea to jam an entire novel into one episode. It should have been spread out. However, I enjoyed the second episode a lot better. Both the story and the characters were more fleshed out. After being disappointed in the pilot, it was great to see an improvement. It seems like a good companion to shows like Major Crimes and Rizzoli & Isles. — Mary

Matt Roush: Possibly too good a companion. From the title (with its nearly ubiquitous-on-TNT ampersand) to the casting to the plotting, it all comes off as way too generic for me. Like you, I did enjoy the second episode considerably more than the first, in part because I'm getting a kick out of Ryan Hurst's 360-degree turnabout, from doomed Sons of Anarchy biker to this show's humorous office Rain Man savant. And I understand this week's episode will reveal a bit more of Jon Tenney's back story about why he left the Secret Service under such a cloud. But appointment TV it isn't. (My top Monday summer-procedural pick right now is A&E's Wyoming-set mystery series Longmire.)

Question: When Hannibal first started, I didn't think it would be my type of show, as I don't care for violent/bloody shows. But a friend of mine did a great job convincing me I should give it a try. I went to Hulu, but they only have the five most recent episodes. I went to NBC.com and found the same thing. It is not available on Netflix streaming. I pay for cable, Hulu and Netflix, yet I still will have to resort to watching illegally if I want to catch up on the show. Why is that? Shouldn't networks want to make it easy for people to watch past episodes of their shows so that they will want to watch the current ones? It is really frustrating to me. — Meredith

Matt Roush: The full first season — terrific, by the way, as I indicated in my finale preview among other reviews along the way — is available on iTunes, but that's going to cost you. Which is part of the reason it's not all being given away for free on the various online and On Demand platforms. These decisions aren't always the network's, in this case because NBC doesn't own this show (it's an international co-production). If NBC did control the rights to Hannibal, I'd bet the entire season would be available On Demand at the very least (which it isn't), because it really is in NBC's interest to have as many people sample the show as possible. But even in this age of instant gratification, studios are looking at revenue streams like iTunes to sweeten the bottom line (there was no guarantee NBC would renew this show, so I can't really blame them). And it's not always in their business interests to make it so easily and readily available. However you're able to access it, Hannibal is worth it. As a sustained piece of surreal suspense, it's exceptionally well done. (And that isn't a cannibalistic pun.)

Question: I am writing to thank you for including Frank's Place on the 60 Shows Canceled Too Soon list. That was such a precious gem of a show, and my husband and I were really sad to see it canceled. It is one of the few times I wrote the network to beg them to reconsider. Thank you for remembering it. We still do. Also, we would have included John Doe and Tru Calling, both very unique shows. Tru Calling also had A.J. Cook, Matt Bomer and a then little-known stand-up comedian, Zach Galifianakis. Anyone who complains about Galifianakis' "one-note" acting should see him in that. He was amazing. We were also big fans of another quality show, NBC's Go On, which should make your next Canceled Too Soon list. I wrote NBC about it, also. Thanks again for putting Frank's Place third on the list. It deserves to be remembered. — Luanne

Matt Roush: My pleasure. I also fought (in print) for the survival of Frank's Place back in the day, but as so often happens, it was just ahead of its time, and maybe on the wrong network. Go On was a little "too soon" to qualify, and I wasn't altogether sold on it, but there sure was a lot of talent in that cast and I was surprised NBC didn't give it a second chance.

Question: I'm a big fan of NCIS, but am disappointed about the lack of McGee and Abby scenes the last two years. It almost seems like they stopped developing them as a potential couple and friend-zoned them. Does the same fear exist that romance would overpower the show if they got together for them that does for Tony and Ziva, because I always saw McGee and Abby as a lot simpler, and it doesn't require a slow burn to make them happen. — Robert

Matt Roush: Just my own theory here, but pairing up all four members of Gibbs' team romantically might seem like overkill, and the Tony-Ziva dynamic (even if not exactly acted upon) is so integral to the show's core that I'm not surprised they've kept McGee and Abby on more of a loving-sibling level. I'm comfortable with that and I wouldn't expect it to change.

Question: So it's reported that the four interns on Grey's Anatomy were promoted to series regulars. To put this nicely, GA fans are furious about the additions. We feel like a cast of 15 people is way too bloated and will take away screen time from the cast members we love. Not to mention that fans just didn't fall in love with the characters or actors playing them. It also doesn't make sense that Eric Dane was cut from GA because of budget issues, but they have enough money for four more cast members? Why couldn't they have just promoted them to recurring characters? Why promote all four, why not just one or two? ABC and Shonda Rhimes know fans don't like them. Does ABC think these four interns will be able to carry on the show after Season 10 if Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh leave the show? Because those interns aren't attracting any fans, so that's not happening. Any thoughts? — BP

Matt Roush: I wouldn't get all that worked up. With the exception of Jo (Camilla Luddington), depending on how her relationship with Alex develops, they're still basically glorified background players at this point. I wouldn't expect them to take over the show. They certainly haven't shown any signs of such potential. But in the life of the series, a new intern class needs to be established, and unless this group was going to be replaced by an entirely new batch next season (unlikely), securing their services makes business if not creative sense. Like the new kids on Glee, it's impossible for these new characters to have the impact of the original core regulars, and they aren't a very inspiring crew, I agree. The one thing that won't happen is for Grey's Anatomy to continue with these characters as the engine of the ensemble. Should Meredith, Derek and Cristina no longer be around, neither will the show. At least I hope not.

Question: Big fan of Grey's Anatomy, and really enjoyed the recent interview tvguide.com had with Shonda Rhimes, but there was one thing in it that highlighted a long-standing issue with the show: Rhimes, in talking about Owen and Cristina, says that she gets offended when people make comments about changing Cristina's stance on having children, and that every woman should want children, etc., and while I agree with what Rhimes is saying, I find it difficult to reconcile that they've not addressed in some fashion the fact that Cristina as an educated medical professional has had two accidental pregnancies, one of which nearly killed her, and unless I'm mistaken they've not addressed the issue that in this day and age and considering Cristina and Owen's careers, there are plenty of means of contraception (temporary and permanent) available, and apparently none are utilized. Any thoughts? — Will

Matt Roush: Yes, I suppose it does come off as rather sloppy for these characters not to practice more careful birth control, all things considered. But in the bigger picture, given the delicacy of this potentially deal-breaking conflict that always looms between Cristina and Owen, I would think that for either of them to go to the ultimate step of self-sterilization would be a point of no return that the characters (and writers, obviously) aren't ready to cross just yet.

Question: I really missed having Chelsie Hightower as a regular pro on the last season of Dancing With the Stars and clearly some other people did, too. Do you think there is any way that ABC could be persuaded into bringing her back for Season 17? - Jeanette

Matt Roush:
We're not usually privy to the casting choices, whether pros or celebrities, until the new teams are announced, but as far as I know, there's no reason to think she's done with the show for good. Chelsie sat out Season 13, and was back for 14 and 15, and many other pros have taken a cycle off and returned, no doubt refreshed. I enjoy seeing the dancers from So You Think You Can Dance emerge on this show as new fan favorites, so here's hoping.

Question: Have you heard anything on the chances of either Save Me or The Goodwin Games getting a renewal? I was skeptical of these shows, but have grown to like them both. — Gary

Matt Roush: Sorry, both were post-season burn-offs, dead before they even arrived. (Goodwin's Scott Foley just accepted a full-time gig on Scandal next season, which tells you all you need to know.) If these had been developed as summer programming, instead of pushed so far off the midseason lineup as to be irrelevant to their respective networks' future plans, then maybe there would be a point in analyzing their future. But they didn't create much buzz, critically or in the numbers game (although there has been some groundswell around Goodwin, too little too late), so as is often the case, their failure was a self-fulfilling prophecy as far as the networks were concerned.

That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!

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