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Examiner
  • Ask Matt: Mom & Laugh Tracks, Dexter and Broadchurch Finales

  • Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!
    Question: On your recommendation, I watched the first episode of Mom. Why do sitcoms insist on using these horrible laugh tracks still? I found it so distracting it took away ...
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  • Send questions and comments to askmatt@tvguidemagazine.com and follow me on Twitter!
    Question: On your recommendation, I watched the first episode of Mom. Why do sitcoms insist on using these horrible laugh tracks still? I found it so distracting it took away from any viewing pleasure. I'll sample the show again because I really like the actors, but do you hate laugh tracks as much as I do? - Rob
    Matt Roush: Funny you bring this up, as I was recently chastised by a star/producer for disparaging a show's "laugh track," reminded in no uncertain terms that shows like these are filmed in front of a live studio audience. Which is true, although I often wish the producers would dial it back a bit when sweetening the audience laughter. (Surely they didn't find everything that funny.) But no, I don't hate this type of comedy. When done well, I love it - and most people seem to as well. Look at the ratings for The Big Bang Theory, the best current practitioner of this most classic form of TV comedy, from the same producer of Mom and with the same screaming soundtrack. I grew up watching I Love Lucy reruns like everyone else, and many of my fondest TV memories are of the classic CBS lineup that included All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show (all performed in front of studio audiences). It wasn't that long ago that Friends and Seinfeld were the popular and critical darlings of TV, but it's true that the vogue in single-camera filmed comedy has led to a bias and even a backlash of sorts (from the industry/Emmy point of view, anyway) against this more traditional format, which is often seen as uncool or somehow tragically unhip. Many of these shows are more theatrical in feel and joke-driven, but I laugh out loud just as often watching filmed comedies like The Middle, Modern Family, early-year 30 Rock and the parts of Parks and Recreation that don't involve Tom Haverford.
    Regarding Mom: I've seen the next two episodes, and they're winners. Anna Faris and especially Allison Janney earn their laughs (and yes, they're fairly constant), and next week, Justin Long as Christy's first real date during her newfound sobriety is a charmer. While I understand the audience (not always canned) laughter is a deal-breaker for some, it's a part of TV tradition and history that I acknowledge and honor, when the show lives up to it.
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    Question: What were your thoughts on the Dexter finale? After an incredible run during its first four seasons (peaking with Trinity), the quality suddenly dropped like a rock and never recovered. During the final two seasons, Deb discovering who her brother was and coming to terms with it, as well as meeting the author of Harry's code, were elements that should have been ripe with material to revitalize Dexter's story, but it seemed like there was some kind of lack of urgency throughout those arcs - even after we learned the part Dr. Vogel played in Dexter's evolution. My strongest feelings after the finale was finished involved not excitement, sadness or even anger, but instead mainly just relief that it was over - hardly high praise. I don't have a problem with how things ended up for Dexter or Deb, and in fact liked how the last time we see No-Name Bearded Lumberjack, all he does is stare straight ahead, not even accompanied by a voice-over. (I don't know if that means that even his Dark Passenger has abandoned him, and that now that he realizes he has real feelings, his self-imposed exile has become an even harsher punishment.) Other viewers are complaining that Dexter should have gone straight to Hannah and Harrison, Deb should be back on the job at Miami Metro, and they should all periodically get together to hike through some Argentinian mountains. But I'll shamelessly quote Game of Thrones because it certainly applies to Dexter: "If you think this has a happy ending, then you haven't been paying attention."
    With the conclusions of other long-running dramas, my satisfaction or disappointment has always been with the destination. With Dexter, I don't have a problem with the destination, but the road we took just wore me out (and made it that much harder to care) before we finally got there. Given the creative heights reached by Breaking Bad recently, maybe Dexter should have wrapped everything up in its fifth season. - Mike
    Matt Roush: You hit on the real issue when you mention the lack of urgency in Dexter's final season. And yes, the show did ultimately run out of gas long before the end and would have been better off wrapping sooner. I felt the show got back some of its mojo last year once Debra discovered the truth about Dexter, with the psychological fallout leading to LaGuerta's death (a shocker), and as I've noted before, I was very intrigued by the initial reveal of Dr. Vogel's character this season, so proud of Dexter as her Frankenstein monster. But it sputtered to a finish, and while there is some haunting justice to the fact that his last killing was such a significant mercy killing, the season was so lacking in momentum (unlike Breaking Bad, which has been on fire) that the overall impact was more of a too-little-too-late shrug. But I did like that last enigmatic shot, reminiscent a bit of the final close-up of Norman Bates in Psycho, because it's so ambiguous and open to interpretation.
    Page 3 of 7 - Question: The feelings I have after watching the finale of Broadchurch are ones that are going to stay with me for a while. What a great season, story and cast. But man, I can't even imagine a season 2 after that! - Rachel
    Matt Roush: Completely agree. They're being very circumspect about what a second season of Broadchurch will entail, and part of me still wishes this had been a self-contained miniseries, especially if the intent is to keep Ellie Miller and Alec Hardy in the story (which may not be the case, for all I know). They're wonderful characters, brilliantly performed, but the writer would have to jump through an awful lot of hoops to have us believe they'd stay in Broadchurch after everything that went down, not to mention how improbable it would be that this peaceful town somehow becomes the next Cabot Cove with yet another murder to solve (again, if that's the case).
    Question: I watched the pilots of both Hostages and The Blacklist. I was expecting to like Hostages better, but the opposite ended up being true. The Blacklist was very entertaining. I know it has been compared to Silence of the Lambs, but I also see some similarities to Alias (one of my favorites). Didn't the scene where Elizabeth goes home to find her husband tortured and nearly killed remind you of the scene where Sydney goes home to find her finance dead in the bathtub? Now, if only Elizabeth could get a friend named Will Tippin, we'd be all set. My problem with Hostages was that the family was making such a big deal out of their other problems (son owes drug money, daughter's pregnant, husband's having an affair) that it almost made the hostage situation laughable. Like, when husband says, "Oh honey, you just have to kill the President and everything will go back to normal" just to save face from her finding out about the affair. And when son is freaking out about owing some (presumably) kid $1,000 when a masked man with a gun stands in his bedroom. I am interested in the back story of the captors and why they are doing this, so I may tune in a little longer, but parts of it seemed sort of ridiculous. Your take on these issues? - Carrie
    Matt Roush: My initial review of both shows last week touched on several of these points, and I basically agree, especially where the preposterous number of personal subplots in Hostages is concerned. I've since watched two more episodes, and the thriller framework remains solid and suspenseful as we learn more about the conflicts among the captors, and there are some interesting and harrowing twists as Dr. Ellen (Toni Collette) is confronted with the consequences of her impulsive action to switch the President's meds. But it only makes some of the other elements seem even more contrived or trivial. I haven't seen any more episodes of Blacklist yet, but the mysteries in the relationship between Reddington and Elizabeth - and the reveal that her victimized husband has his own secrets - feel fresher, more original (even with the echoes of past series and movies) and compelling. For now. Still early days. Though the momentum is certainly on Blacklist's side.
    Page 4 of 7 - Question: I very much enjoyed the first season of Broadchurch but was dismayed to learn that the U.S. broadcasts were an edited version of the British broadcast. I understand that BBC America needs to include commercials, but why can't they just extend the airtime of the episodes so U.S. viewers can see the full version of the episodes? Are the On Demand versions (iTunes, etc) the full versions? Also, am I correct that BBC productions (e.g., Doctor Who, Broadchurch) are edited from the full versions when broadcast in the U.S. but BBC America ones are not (e.g., Orphan Black)? - Brian
    Matt Roush: Depends on the show. It's safe to assume that any BBC America original production will air intact, and BBCA has expanded the airtime for certain of its imports, especially on the initial broadcast. Broadchurch first aired on the commercial service ITV, and the episodic screeners I viewed were roughly 46 minutes each and I believe were no different from what actually aired on BBCA, so I'm not sure how much if anything was edited from this series, but I doubt it was substantial. (I didn't notice it at any rate.) But generally, the iTunes versions tend to be the complete, unedited show if this is a pressing concern.
    Question: For the past eight years, the fact that NCIS has been among TV's top rated shows makes it incomprehensible why Cote de Pablo's character would not continue as part of the ensemble. Based on the public statements made, there appears to be "more than meets the eye." There must be a back story. It would be preferable if the "truth be told." Whatever it is, I sincerely hope that Cote De Pablo has many offers coming her way. She is an excellent and believable actress. - Hattie
    Matt Roush: At the risk of inducing more "air quote" hysteria, let me steer you toward our exclusive interview with Cote de Pablo, in which she talks about her decision to leave the show "under my terms," though without giving specific details of why she and the network ultimately couldn't or didn't make a deal. (Objectively speaking, this sort of negotiation usually boils down to matters of business, and for now, she isn't elaborating on this "personal" decision.) If there's a positive spin, it's that she got to film Ziva's highly anticipated "goodbye scene" with Tony (Michael Weatherly), which airs Tuesday (8/7c), leaving the door open for a potential return down the line (though probably not anytime soon).
    Page 5 of 7 - Question: I guess I am one of the few who like Hell On Wheels on AMC. I feel like this show is the "illegitimate child" of the network. They hardly advertise it as much as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. And it is relegated to the odd night of Saturday after a day of Westerns. After just losing one of my favorite shows, The Glades, I feel that Hell On Wheels will not make it to a fourth season. I know that you have not been favorable to Hell On Wheels and its "sister" show Copper on BBCA, but I feel that this time period needs to be on TV more. As for the future for AMC, I hope that they have a "deep bench" of new original series waiting, because Breaking Bad and Mad Men are ending. I don't think that this Low Winter Sun is going to be anything, and that any show airing after the final season of Breaking Bad would have to do well in the ratings. I read about a show called Line Of Sight and that AMC ordered the pilot. Maybe that will be something interesting. I remember AMC canceled Rubicon after one season and I really enjoyed it. At least it introduced me to James Badge Dale, who I followed to The Pacific on HBO. So do you have any information on AMC's new projects to fill the upcoming voids in their schedule? - Richard
    Matt Roush: I'm all in for a good Western or gritty period piece. Always have been, and while I liked the looks of Hell on Wheels and Copper and hoped they'd grab me, aspects of the writing and casting kept me from ever getting hooked, and I really did try with Wheels. While it's obvious (and understandable) that this is far from a signature show for the network, it's hard to gauge what AMC's expectations are on Saturdays. It actually makes sense to schedule the show to capitalize on what is traditionally their "Western" themed day - so sacrosanct AMC even interrupted the Breaking Bad marathon for it - and given the show's behind-the-scenes turmoil, it's lucky to have made it this far. As for AMC's future, I agree that Low Winter Sun is DOA, and beyond the projected Breaking Bad spin-off and the Walking Dead companion piece to keep those franchises going, the most intriguing projects on the horizon include the '80s-set Halt & Catch Fire, starring Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace as a personal-computer visionary; the aforementioned Line of Sight, starring Walking Dead's David Morrissey as a survivor of a mysterious plane crash who works for the NTSB; and returning to our theme of high hopes for period projects, the Revolutionary War spy drama Turn, starring Jamie Bell. Whether any of these will become AMC's next big thing is anyone's guess, but you're right that this is a challenging transitional moment for the network.
    Page 6 of 7 - Question: Your Sept. 9 column mentioned a 24 reboot next year? I was not aware that there were any plans to bring the show back! I tried searching the Internet to find out about the details but was unsuccessful. Can you give me any information/details regarding the return of 24? My wife and I loved that show! - John
    Matt Roush: Be patient. Fox isn't expected to premiere the latest chapter of Jack Bauer's exploits, a 12-episode miniseries subtitled Live Another Day, until late next spring, with episodes running through the summer. Plot and cast details are forthcoming - although Mary Lynn Rajskub's Chloe is back (yay!) - but the shorter season is a welcome change in format. While the episodes will stay play out as hours of "real" time, there will be time jumps between some episodes, meaning less aggravating filler. And a miniseries is so much better an idea than the long-rumored movie version, which thankfully no longer is a priority.
    Question: So on last week's episode of Bones, was that an intentional shout-out to Dirty Dancing (the Schumachers and the 4 other retreats they hit) or just a happy coincidence? - Amanda
    Matt Roush: Sounds like an homage to me.
    Question: Here's an interesting coincidence. Sleepy Hollow stars Tom Mison as a former history professor turned Revolutionary War soldier. Falling Skies' lead character is Tom Mason (played by Noah Wyle), a former history professor of the Revolutionary War now leading a new revolution against aliens. Since Falling Skies started years before Tom Mison was cast in Sleepy Hollow, it's just a complete coincidence, but a surprising one. - Jason
    Matt Roush: Now I'm hoping Ichabod takes a nap and wakes up in a crossover.
    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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