Ask Matt: Finales (Dallas, Southland, Suburgatory, Spartacus), Defiance, Americans
Jesse Metcalfe, Patrick Duffy | Photo Credits: TNT
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Question: I started watching Dallas at the tender age of 7. It was what my grandmother and I did on Friday nights and I have always been fond of the show. I was ecstatic when I heard about the new series. I have enjoyed it very much — although seeing some of the older cast members making an appearance has been somewhat painful — and I felt the way they handled the passing of Larry Hagman was respectful and keeping true to form with J.R. I read recently that Dallas has yet to be renewed. One of my frustrations with the mainstream networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox) is that I'll get attached to a show and they cancel it. Please tell me TNT is going to renew this gem. Yes, the loss of J.R. as a character and Larry Hagman as an actor is a blow, but the story lines this season have been amazing and if they can keep it up, I know this show can have a good run. — Bonnie
Matt Roush: First off, while I'd be surprised if TNT didn't renew Dallas (it's still a powerful brand name, even though it slipped this year against more robust in-season competition), cable networks actually have been known to cancel shows. It's less apparent than on the broadcast networks, which deal with a much higher volume of programming and thus have a much higher failure rate. Not even AMC and FX have a perfect track record, but because TNT is aiming for a much broader audience, I'd think the third season (if there is one) will be make or break. And I'm not sure the show will ever truly recover from losing J.R. The next generation just isn't cutting it for me, especially where their acting chops are concerned, and there's only so much heavy lifting we can expect Patrick Duffy and (especially this season) Linda Gray to do.
Question: What did you think of how they wrapped up this season on Dallas and set up next season? I have two why-did-that-happen questions. Why did they plant a duplicate of J.R.'s belt buckle in the safe-deposit box? What happened to the original? And why exhume the body? Didn't they get the bullets during the original autopsy? — Terri
Matt Roush: I liked the fact there was resolution, and that the Ewings, at least for now, have triumphed over Cliff Barnes — the way they went about bringing him down was mostly satisfying — and Harris Ryland, this season's Big Bads. I was less impressed with the explanation of "who killed J.R." turning on the character's fatal disease (awfully on the nose, especially when factored into the reveal that Original Pam's absence was also explained away by cancer), but seeing how J.R. chose his own way out, and doing it as a way to get back at his enemies, at least felt like something that would happen within the crazy Dallas universe of yore. To your procedural questions: Apparently J.R.'s original bent buckle went missing or was stolen from the crime scene in Mexico. I don't know how or when a copy was made, but we do know why. And the bullets having to be exhumed: That's just sloppy, stupid plotting. For more answers to burning questions about the Dallas finale, read William Keck's post-mortem with the executive producer.
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Question: Don't get me wrong, Dallas is my personal guilty pleasure. Not only because I love this version of the show, but because it brings back great memories of the original when I watched with my mother and we enjoyed Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy so much. This reboot, though, sort of turned a lot of strange corners including this whole "Pamela isn't dead" storyline. I still remember that gut-wrenching moment when Bobby realized she was gone. Horrible. So I just hated the whole idea that she had survived the accident and abandoned Bobby. Not the Pamela we knew and loved, no way, no how. That however is my personal issue. The question I have, though, is when is Christopher ever going to be told that he is in reality a Ewing, and John Ross's half-brother? That seems to me to have been something important, and while I know Larry Hagman's death ended many storylines, surely he should have been told at J.R.'s death?
Finally, I want to ask what you thought of the lost year of Dallas? You know, the one that melted away in the shower? Personally, I loved what happened to the characters, and as much as I love Bobby, I think that Cliff, Sue Ellen and many others developed in better ways after his death. Oh and one last thing, I pray that they end the "Sue Ellen is drinking" story because it has been done over and over and over to death. — Terri
Matt Roush: I can't believe I have an opinion on this, but wasn't it established in the original series that Christopher was not J.R.'s bastard? He shares a bloodline with Sue Ellen through the late Kristin (of "Who shot J.R.?" infamy), but Christopher was her child by another man. If I'm wrong, don't shoot me. And regarding the lost year of Dallas: That was the jump-the-shark moment from which the original show never recovered. (By that time, my allegiance had shifted to, and stayed with, Knots Landing.) As for Sue Ellen's drinking: It is familiar ground, but Linda Gray is playing the heck out of it, and this time, it's not like this struggle is going to destroy her. She's a much stronger character now, but unlike in the first season of the reboot, more cracks are showing (and I'm not talking make-up).
Question: Much like how the British series MI-5 ended, if last week's episode of Southland is indeed its last, that is the worst way it could have possibly ended. I've grown to admire Officer Cooper over the course of this series, as he overcame so many obstacles along the way. If his death is the last scene we see in this serial, what I have to ask is: Why? And by extension, why does Southland have to end on such an anti-hero note? The negativity in this finale makes the series a waste for me. There is enough hate and discontent in the real world without it being mirrored so miserably in this way. In the ideal, police officers right wrongs, they don't become the wrongs. — Gary
Matt Roush: But Southland never has presented an ideal world, has it? That's the best argument to make regarding the bleakness of the final scene, which is very much in character, although I don't entirely disagree with your reaction. When I saw how that climax was unfolding with Cooper exploding in violent rage at his ex-wife's neighbor, I couldn't help flashing on what would be the worst-case scenario and hoped the show wouldn't go there. Which it did. It felt to me like piling on and because of that a bit predictable, although there's no denying the power of these final episodes for Cooper. But a point of fact: John Cooper didn't necessarily die. He was still breathing, though it certainly didn't look good. In fact, if you read Ileane Rudolph's post-mortem with Michael Cudlitz and the show's executive producer, if the show miraculously returns for a sixth season, so very likely would John Cooper be resurrected. In the bigger picture, I wasn't really looking for Cooper to get a happy ending in this finale. That would be out of sync for Southland. Having his pipe dream of fatherhood dashed, and even his mentor chiding him for losing his gun in the previous week's horror show, Cooper had clearly been driven beyond the edge of despair. I admire the show's integrity in leaving fans in much the same state, but part of me wishes the show had gone out on a more ambiguous, less graphically dark note. Not that I was surprised.
Question: I absolutely love Southland and hope that TNT continues to bring it back. Just one complaint: the constant bleeping during the dialogue that apparently is the taboo "F" word. All the other language gets by, so why not inform the writers to just substitute another word in the place of that one. Third Watch did that very well and never lost any of the drama by replacing it with something else acceptable. And that was on network TV. I get the gritty gist of the street talk, it just annoys me that some scenes are filled with bleeps and drowns out anything else being said. Otherwise, I would really miss this show if it isn't renewed. So few good dramas as it is. — Martha
Matt Roush: The bleeping was imbedded in the show's quasi-documentary signature style from the start, along with the lack of any soundtrack underscoring (unless it came from natural sources) and jittery camerawork, which was somewhat toned down over time. If the Southland cops had substituted fake "frak"-style cursing (or the made-up patois of NYPD Blue), it might have diminished or negated the show's realism. At times it probably was self-consciously overdone, and it certainly felt that way to me during the NBC season, but I came to accept it as part of the formula.
Question: I watched the hour-long finale of Suburgatory, and it left me a little confused. Why did this show, which I have loved since the beginning, decide to switch almost completely from comedy to drama? Yes, there were a few funny moments with Sheila and her family, and I did love the frozen yogurt store (the Gurt Locker!), but the rest of the hour was very heavy. It's almost like the writers did a complete 180-degree turn at the end of the season. Can you remember the last time a show changed its tone so drastically? Hopefully the show is renewed and switches back to being hilarious when it returns. — Tom
Matt Roush: It's not the first time Suburgatory has shown a dark or more poignant side, especially when dealing with the emotional damage from Tessa's broken family life. The better TV comedies allow us, or possibly even force us, to feel something for its characters, and I was touched as well by Dalia's genuine-seeming regard for "Daddy Altman" after his split with her mom. The problem here is one of tone. So much of Suburgatory is so stylized and wacky that the unforced moments may well feel like they've come out of left field, from a different show entirely. I'm sure if and when Suburgatory comes back — there's little doubt it will get renewed — it won't take long to get back to the funny. But the Tessa-George-Alex storyline is likely to ground the show in some painful emotions at least for a while, and I don't see that as a bad thing.
Question: It was good to see commentary about the Spartacus finale in the most recent Ask Matt column. When the show first premiered, I definitely fell to the side of thinking it a poor man's 300 knock-off with even more violence and sex, simply because Starz desired that degree of gratuitousness so it could get some much-needed publicity for a fledgling premiere cable channel. By Vengeance, the show found some really solid footing, and the sex and violence was just part of the stylized historical backdrop to some pretty interesting social questions that are being asked even now. Though I can see Spartacus being remembered for many things, I do hope that it is often referred to in the discussion of portraying same-sex couples on TV. I know that in Blood and Sand, there was an outcry over how gay characters were quickly killed off. Steven DeKnight certainly redeemed himself in Vengeance and War of the Damned with the couple of Agron and Nasir. One of the reasons their relationship worked so well was that there was no difference in the treatment of them versus, say, Crixus and Naevia. Their relationship simply was, and the fact that Dan Feurriegel (Agron) and Pana Hema-Taylor (Nasir) had so much chemistry between them (two straight actors, I might add), it really just shows how you can successfully tell a same-sex storyline successfully. I think Spartacus will also be remembered for how to properly end a serialized action/drama. Though certainly not a "happy" ending, it was a satisfying one that stayed to the history while still providing a sense of hope. Considering some recent series finale letdowns, Spartacus is now very high on my list of the most satisfying. — Chris
Matt Roush: All good points. There was no patronizing in the attitude toward the gay warriors on this show, and that's simply remarkable for this genre. It made more of a statement by not trying to make a statement. And the ending lived up to the epic billing, tragic yet somehow uplifting. Beyond all the extreme carnage and graphic sex, deep down Spartacus had a great story to tell, and it will be a tough act to follow.
Question: What is your prediction for Syfy's new Defiance? I was completely engaged for a majority of the two-hour premiere, and the ending's battle scene literally had me on the edge of my seat! I was a little disappointed when I realized the show was just about one town in a huge new world, but I hope that the characters will find a need to branch out of the town and give the viewer a broader scope of this new earth. I love the idea of learning more about the different alien races and how the conflicts between them and the humans play out. And what's with all the video game hype when they clearly stated that it would not affect the TV show? — Shannon
Matt Roush: My prediction is that Defiance will be around for a while. It opened strong, and some of that may be attributable to the video-game tie-in, which might have helped it break through the TV clutter (which on Mondays is considerable). The good news is that you can enjoy one without the other, although the interactive element of Defiance is a hook that calls attention to it, and these days, where's the harm in that? What I liked about the next few episodes, even more than in the pilot, is that Defiance the town serves as a microcosm to explore the various alien races and the conflicts within. It's possible the show will expand its scope, especially where outside threats are concerned, but I'd give it some time to get on its feet before asking it to reach for the stars (where Syfy hasn't gone in far too long).
Question: Is there any hope we're going to see Philip and Elizabeth reconcile or make up a little on The Americans before this season ends? I'm not looking for all their problems to be worked out, but watching the last few weeks has been such a disappointment. The sexual tension and chemistry between those two was phenomenal the first half of the season. As much as I like the spy work, it's not as interesting to watch when you completely take out the romance and make them into robots. — Hannah
Matt Roush: I don't know where the show's going in the finale (and if I did, I probably wouldn't tell you, this isn't that sort of column), but I have all kinds of hope that Philip and Elizabeth will continue to try to work things out. The fact that we're frustrated by their lack of connection and maddeningly bad timing — when one wants to make up, the other misconstrues or has other priorities — is a sign that we care, and that's a good thing. Elizabeth's emotional breakthrough in last week's episode is a positive sign that she will fight as hard for this relationship as she has for her homeland. That's a major development for this character, and a clear sign that they're anything but robots. But if you're expecting a conventional romance here, you're almost certainly going to be disappointed.
Question: I'm enjoying Hannibal so far, but I have to wonder what the producers' long-range plan is. Unlike Lost, we know how this ends: Will Graham figures out Lecter is a killer, Lecter almost kills him, and Graham puts Lecter in jail. Given how complicated Lecter's schemes are becoming after only three episodes, it's hard to see this playing out for more than 15-20 episodes without the show turning into How I Met Your Psycho. Given the show's concept, and NBC's track record with dramas, the producers have to suspect that 13 episodes may be all they're going to get. I'm hoping that this season ends with Graham putting Lecter in jail, giving some closure if the series ends, and subsequent seasons (if any) explore Will Graham in a post—Red Dragon world. Graham was always Thomas Harris' most interesting character anyway, so why not write the sequel Harris never wrote? — Rick
Matt Roush: I wouldn't be so sure that Hannibal won't get a longer leash than most new NBC dramas. If it were on a different network, maybe. But this at least shows some signs of life amid all the grisly death, and the reviews (including mine) have largely been positive. Again, a rarity for NBC lately. And much as A&E's Bates Motel is rewriting the Norman Bates mythology, who's to say Hannibal won't chart its own path? Besides, I don't get the impulse this early in a show's run to start worrying about an end game. Why not just enjoy it? The plotting so far is so twisted where Lecter's schemes are concerned, I could see this playing out for quite a while without his true self being discovered. And when he is, that will be high drama indeed. But How I Met Your Psycho? That's a good one. Also kind of applies to Bates Motel, don't you think?
Question: I just finished watching the season (series?) finale of Sundance Channel's Top of the Lake, starring Elisabeth Moss. Wow! Twists and turns until the very end — and perhaps beyond! Phenomenal! Kudos to all involved! So many questions. First, do you know if there are any plans to continue this show as a series, or was this just a one-off sort of thing? I'd love to see where the characters go from here. Second, and more generally, I love watching TV series from other countries. I really enjoy most British imports on BBC America, Cinemax, Starz and PBS, and it seems like many networks are now importing Canadian series in lieu of airing repeats all summer long (and we know most series airing on cable networks are filmed in Canada anyway). Top of the Lake was a New Zealand production, and I'm sure there are many series from other English-speaking countries that are equally good. Australia, for example, has a thriving television industry that's produced many of our favorite contemporary actors, but we only get to hear about it — not see it. Why don't we see more foreign TV series? Is it the money? Licensing issues? Hollywood's fear of losing too many jobs? Third, if you can point me in the direction of other networks that regularly air imported series, I'd greatly appreciate it! — Nancy
Matt Roush: As far as I can tell, Top of the Lake was conceived and filmed as a self-contained miniseries. There was quite a lot of resolution and revelation in that story, and while I'd be happy to see Robin Griffin take on another case, I'm pretty satisfied with how this played out. Regarding imported TV: The major networks tend not to go there because it's generally seen (fairly or not) as exotic niche programming, and if they like the premise, they try to make their own version (for better or, usually, worse). If your cable system gets the arts channel Ovation, you can find some interesting imported series and specials there as well as on the channels you've mentioned. And there's plenty of discovery to be made on the various streaming services like Hulu (which offers the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which inspired Homeland) and Netflix.
Question: Long-time fan, first-time writer. I was a bit behind, but I just finished House of Cards and despite a slight lag in the middle I thought it was one of the more interesting new dramas in years! How far into it are you? And has your opinion changed since your initial review? Also, I'm a huge fan of Person of Interest, but I don't think it gets the critical appreciation that it should, because of the assumptions that are made about CBS. Do you think that the success of this kind of smart, unconventional and intriguing show is going to alter CBS's approach to its programming? And what are your opinions on how sustainable the concept is over a long period before becoming as redundant as most network TV? — Peter
Matt Roush: I watched the full series of House of Cards on Netflix within the first week it was available and reviewed it in the magazine (I guess I failed to post the re-review online). My opinion didn't really change. I thought it was terrific, and even some of the narrative detours in the middle (like Francis' visit to his alma mater) held my attention. My main disappointment was that the finale was rather anticlimactic, a far cry from the British original (also available on Netflix), whose finale I'll never forget. Looking very forward to Season 2. I'm still not sure how I feel about the way Netflix is distributing its original series. If they'd played their Cards over several weeks, releasing a few episodes at a time to build anticipation, the buzz and impact might have been even greater. And while we're on the subject, good luck making it to the end of the new Netflix series Hemlock Grove, where every hour I've watched so far feels like torture. No binging this one. It's too painful and tedious.
And finally, regarding Person of Interest: I agree it's underappreciated in large part because of the company it keeps on CBS. It's wonderfully and excitingly offbeat, but this and The Good Wife are exceptions to the CBS "formula first" rule. I hope CBS' success with its more routine procedurals allows the network to take more such risks, but this is a very broad-based network that isn't going to become FX all of a sudden, nor should it. And as in the earlier question about Hannibal, I'm not going to worry about Person of Interest losing steam until it happens. It's a tricky tightrope they're navigating, but as the world of intrigue and gallery of recurring characters keeps expanding, no reason to fear the wheels will come off anytime soon.
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