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] and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on most Tuesdays and very occasional Fridays.
Riled by Ghosts Deja Vu
Question: Is it just me or are the networks blowing it? The major broadcast networks have been in an uphill battle against cable and streaming services for a long time now and seem to be losing. They finally get a hot show like Ghosts and blow it by breaking up the season with constant reruns. They air two or three new episodes and then have weeks of reruns until they air only one or two more new episodes, only to then air more reruns every week. How do they expect to keep an audience like that? They should air the whole season consecutively, giving people a reason to tune in each week. It’s ridiculous. Their old models of saving new episodes for sweeps weeks is outdated and no longer works in today’s world. They are blowing it. — Jayson V., L.A.
Matt Roush: There’s no question the broadcast networks are at a disadvantage on several fronts, but complaining about repeats is like objecting to commercials, another fact of traditional TV life which I hear about from time to time. I also get mail from streaming fans who gripe about the long waits between seasons, and because many of the streamers (Netflix in particular) tend to drop an entire season (often of shorter duration) at once, it must all be finished before it can return, leading to sometimes years-long hiatuses — which doesn’t seem to hurt a show’s momentum if it’s popular enough. In other words: There’s no perfect formula.
So since Jayson called out Ghosts, let’s look at its broadcast history this season. It began, as most shows do, with an unbroken fall run (excepting the weeks around Thanksgiving and Christmas) of 10 episodes (including a back-to-back two-parter) through mid-December. That’s nearly half the season right there. In the new year, it’s more scattered by necessity as CBS tries to keep originals on hand into late spring — sweeps really isn’t much of a factor anymore — and so there were two new episodes in January, three in February, and three expected in March, which isn’t a terrible schedule. And while the disruption in routine any given week can be aggravating — no one, I repeat no one, enjoys their favorite show airing a rerun — a newly popular series like Ghosts tends to do OK in repeats (not great, obviously) as more people discover it. What I’ve learned doing this job and writing this column for so many years is there’s no way to please everyone. Which means if CBS decided to run Ghosts straight through (minus holiday weeks), exhausting its bank of episodes somewhere around now, meaning no more new episodes until late September, fans would be screaming about that as well.
Final note: Some network series are adapting to the new reality, coming on at midseason (as This Is Us did for its final year) to run straight through with minimal interruption and no repeats, or airing through the fall and finishing their run in December or early new year. This is also a function of shorter episode orders, which tends to get some viewers agitated. Because it’s always something.
A Familiar Face, and a Gender Conundrum
Question: Who was the male gin player in the 450th NCIS episode last week? He looked so familiar!
On another subject: It seems both male and female performers are now referred to as actors. Our local paper lists birthdays and everyone is an actor: no “actresses.” And it’s not just them, I’ve seen it elsewhere. Not sure when the term actress stopped being used, but why then are there still Best Actor and Best Actress awards? Just curious — Jan K, Voorheesville, N.Y.
Matt Roush: Took me a minute to recognize him myself, but that card player was Alan Rachins, best known as L.A. Law’s Douglas Brackman and, years later, as the hippie dad on Dharma & Greg.
As for the actor/actress designation, that’s an editorial choice every publication decides how to deal with. There is a sense that the “actress” label is outmoded, segregating the profession by gender. In the bigger picture, several awards organizations (most recently this weekend’s Independent Spirit Awards) have done away with separate actor and actress categories altogether, instead just rewarding a single Lead Performer and Supporting Performer. As more performers identify themselves as nonbinary, unwilling to designate a specific gender, some awards groups are struggling with how best to honor their work. Other examples: The SAG Awards give their “Actor” trophies to Male Actors and Female Actors, avoiding the “actress” label. And the Television Critics Association’s awards have always honored “Individual Achievement” in comedy and drama, not separated by gender.
Tackling a Touchy Subject
Question: Did you see the nuclear explosion in the culture wars on Grey’s Anatomy last week? Remember the controversy when Maude talked about an abortion? What’s going to be the fallout of Grey’s Anatomy taking viewers through the procedure in the March 2 episode? — Ellen, St. Paul, MN
Matt Roush: Times have changed since Maude’s heyday, and while there might have been some blowback — I can’t be sure, since I limit my exposure to social media to preserve my mental health — I’m not aware there was an explosion of any sort over the series’ sensitive handling of this polarizing issue (perhaps even more so since the Supreme Court overturned the Roe ruling). I’m pretty sure no one is surprised by Grey’s stance when it comes to women’s reproductive health rights, so perhaps the most shocking element of this storyline (about a mother who sought the procedure to avoid another potentially fatal bout of postpartum depression) was how matter-of-fact and unmelodramatic it was. Obviously, there will be those who will applaud or condemn the way this was depicted, but no longer is abortion a third-rail topic for prime-time drama the way it was when stations refused to show the Maude episodes back in 1972. To its credit, Grey’s didn’t sensationalize the storyline. It just played out tenderly, compassionately, Grey’s at its Grey’s-est.
Todd’s One Twist Too Far
Question: We had one of those sad viewer moments the other night while watching one of our favorite new shows, So Help Me Todd on CBS. After finally getting the upper hand on the villainous Veronica, the episode ends with (SPOILER ALERT) Veronica sitting in the back of the courtroom while a semi-lookalike is taken to jail in her place. It makes no sense whatsoever. There was no time for them to switch places, and those who helped catch her in the sting would know immediately it wasn’t her. We can only suspend disbelief so much. As viewers, it just made us sad. At its best, Todd is a light procedural made better by its family dynamics. Why did they think they had to have this “big bad” type, when what they were doing was working fine? — RJ
Matt Roush: I get why a show’s writers, even on a light procedural (and Todd is among the lightest), might desire to raise the stakes once in a while, and there are worse decisions than casting Eliza Coupe as Veronica, a foil for Todd and Margaret. But improbable twists like this veer the show into high melodrama, which seems not to be what some fans want. Todd has already been renewed for a second season, so maybe we’ll see her again at cliffhanger time?
Someone Wants a Recount!
Question: Who are these “super fans” on America’s Got Talent: All Stars???? Wow, did they get it wrong!!!! I would really like your opinion on this. Did you agree? How could the talent of Tom Ball, Kodi Lee, and Power Duo be left out of the top 5? How could Aidan Bryant beat Avery Dixon? What do you think? — Barbara
Matt Roush: Not sure this was a shock to everyone, since Aidan was the runner-up in Season 16 so clearly had a built-in fan base when he returned for this competition. As for me, I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise that I am strictly Switzerland (as in: neutral) when it comes to talent competitions these days. In a period of overwhelming Peak TV, I don’t have much time for them, and AGT even at its peak was a chore because of its over-the-top “judges.” (I tend to watch the occasional newsy highlight on YouTube and tune out before the panel weighs in; it’s bad enough to watch their agog reactions.) What I can say with some authority is that, even when I was regularly watching American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance (my favorite) and Dancing with the Stars, and early AGT, among others, there is rarely a consensus winner that doesn’t leave someone scratching their head thinking they got it wrong.
And Finally …
Question: I have been waiting for the series The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch for what seems forever. The last episode was fantastic, but the series never returned. Did a UFO come down and take it to another solar system so that we would never find the truth of UFOs? — Daniel
Matt Roush: Be patient. It’s hard to keep track of these docu-reality series, which come and go with little rhyme or reason. The History Channel hasn’t announced a return date for the third season, but I’m assured it will be sometime this spring. (The last two seasons aired from early May to mid-July, so that would be my best guess.) As they used to say on The X-Files, the truth is out there. But it can take a while.
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. (Please include a first name with your question.)