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October 10, 2015

Ask Mo: Answering your questions on 'Justified,' 'Mad Men,' 'Doctor Who' and much more

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 26th 2010 2:45PM
I recently asked you to hit me with questions, via the comment area of this post and email. I didn't get to all your great questions in the list of answers below, but look for more discussions of some issues and topics that you raised in next week's 'Talking TV with Ryan & Ryan' podcast. Thanks for all the great queries -- and don't fret, I'll be soliciting your questions again soon!

Cyloncaprica: I love 'Justified.' Nothing against Walton [Goggins, who plays Boyd Crowder on the FX show], but the lack of Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel bothered me a bit. Hopefully the creators find a way to integrate their characters a little bit better [in season 2].

Mo says: Nobody felt worse about the sidelining of actors Pitts and Tazel than 'Justified' executive producer Graham Yost. I spoke to Yost at the TCA Summer Press Tour in August, and he winced when I mentioned that we hadn't seen much of them later in the season.

He said in the case of Tazel, she was contracted for seven of season 1's 13 episodes, and he wanted to use her again later in the season, but the show was running out of money and she'd already appeared in seven episodes. But he promised, "She'll be back." Yost definitely wants to tell stories that involve both Rachel and Tim in season 2, which arrives in February (and by the way, Jeremy Davies from 'Lost' is joining the cast of the FX drama, according to EW).

Lyleus: How likely is it that 'Rubicon' will get a second season?

Mo says: I defer, as I often do in these matters, to Robert Seidman of TV By the Numbers. He wrote this about 'Rubicon' recently: "While I'm hesitant to to predict outcomes for cable shows, let me put it like this: I would be very surprised, but not absolutely stunned if AMC renews 'Rubicon.'" As soon as AMC announces anything either way, you can sure we'll post that news.

Valerie: A big part of my love for 'Friday Night Lights' is due to the incredible Coach and Mrs Coach: Their relationship feels real in a way I rarely see on TV. What is your favorite depiction of a solid marriage on TV?

Mo says: I'd have to say Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor (who are played by the wonderful Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) are one of the all-time great married couples on television, no question (and don't forget, the final season of 'FNL' begins on DirecTV's 101 Network Wednesday. Sniff).

If we're talking about shows currently on the air, other favorite couples on my list include Marshall and Lily on 'How I Met Your Mother,' Phil and Claire and also Cameron and Mitchell on 'Modern Family,' and Clay and Gemma on 'Sons of Anarchy.'

But this question is so good that I'd like to throw it to the peanut gallery. Let's face it, television loves conflict, so there are a million troubled couples whose sagas have engrossed us over the years. It's much harder for a TV show to depict a solid relationship that is nonetheless realistic and interesting, so very few try it. They're so rare on the tube that I had to really think about this question for some time, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some current couples that should be on this roster.

Share in the comment area, if you care to: Who are some of your favorite solidly committed TV couples, past or present?

Jeff: Every so often, the impending death of network television is debated. With the fall television season in full swing there have already been a few cancellations, [and] 'Lone Star,' one of the best reviewed new programs was the first victim. My questions are perhaps more about the business of television. Do you think the network television model is flawed, and do you think there will be some major changes in the network model over the next decade or sooner? And do you think a show like 'Mad Men' could have been successful on network television?

Mo says: To answer your second question first: No, 'Mad Men' never would have succeeded on network television. In order to get picked up by a broadcast network, the show would have had to change its characters, stories and themes so much that it wouldn't have gained a passionate, dedicated core audience, and I doubt the kind of big audience it would have needed to make it in that environment would have latched on to a broader version of the show.

Cable has at least two advantages over broadcast networks: Cable networks can air shows that cater to niche audiences and they have a dual revenue stream from both advertising and cable fees. And now the broadcast networks, tired of trying to emulate cable's shows, have instead tried to copy cable's business model.

There have been a series of bruising battles between the big networks and various cable carriers over whether they should pay the broadcast networks a fee for carrying their programming. Right now News Corp. and Cablevision are locked in a battle over that "retransmission" issue, but don't expect that to be the last fight. And it's worth keeping in mind that DVR use is affecting all networks, so don't expect product placement to ever go away.

Patrick: In a world where there's too much good TV to watch, should I spend my time watching BBC America's 'Luther'? The 23-minute preview On Demand was not enough for me to make a decision.

Mo says: Yes, you should watch it. The season's only six episodes total, but you need to give it more time. 'Luther' seems like a fairly standard-issue cop show at first, but the cases get more interesting as the season progresses, and it becomes clear at the end of season 1 that this is actually a serialized character drama, not just a procedural with London accents. Not all the twists and turns of the season make sense, but I enjoyed the ride overall and I think Idris Elba's performance was worth the price of admission.

Alison: Do you think there is a gap between the shows most people prefer to watch, and the ones critics think of as "good television"? If so, does that matter?

Mo says: Here's another question that I could spend 5,000 words answering. Bad television is bad television; I actually don't think critics and viewers are all that far apart most of the time when it comes to what's worth people's time and what isn't.

There is a divergence at a certain point, however, because I think there are a few different kinds of good television: There's good television that's interesting to write about, and good (or at least competent) television that's not interesting to write about. Those who write about TV are constantly yammering on about the former, and we don't spend as much time on the latter.

Of course, what's fun to write about varies by critic, but I think we can all agree that there is more fodder for our brains in an episode of 'Mad Men' than there is in an episode of 'Law & Order: Los Angeles.' I'm not hating on 'LOLA' in particular, and in fact, I think that show is a decent, if not exceptional, chip off the old 'L&O' block. But if you put a gun to my head, I'm not sure I could think of something new to say about it every week.

Shows that are essentially executing a formula can be very, very good at executing that formula, and I myself sometimes quite enjoy them (witness my rave for 'Law & Order: UK,' which has the kind of character actors and meaty writing that can spice up even the most familiar formula of them all). But certain kinds of shows come to very similar conclusions or arrive at similar destinations every week, which doesn't necessarily lessen the pleasure we derive from them in the moment. It just makes them somewhat less interesting to talk or write about the next day.

I certainly like checking in on formulaic shows every so often, but, like many critics, I'm drawn to shows that deal with time, identity, memory, complicated relationships, intriguing metaphors and emotional bonds that wax and wane over time. They just offer us chances not only to throw out our theories and thoughts, they give us the chance to interact with readers, who, I'm happy to say, often want to discuss these things as much as we do.

ZeppoMarxist: This might be too nerdy for Ask Mo, but do you have any thoughts on Russell T Davies ditching the 12-regenerations rule for 'Doctor Who'?

Mo says: Welcome to the House o' Nerds. Zeppo is referring to a change that was quietly inserted into the 'Doctor Who' mythology recently: It used to be that the Doctor could only regenerate, or change his physical manifestation, 12 times, but now the regenerations are apparently unlimited. Some fans are calling shenanigans.

And I know as a fully-fledged 'Who' geek (I just spent the past few months watching classic Tom Baker-era 'Who' with my son, indoctrinating him as a good mother should), I should probably have a problem with this. In fact, my friend Marc Bernardin raised many valid objections to this bit of retcon.

Yet I find myself unable to reject the idea of being able to watch 'Doctor Who' indefinitely. I certainly enjoyed the David Tennant/Russell T Davies run, and the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat season was a huge hit in our house. According to 'Doctor Who' lore, Matt Smith's Doctor is No. 11, so the character would have reached the end of his road in the next decade or so if the show stuck by the 12-regenerations rule. But speaking as a selfish fan, I can't imagine not seeing the TARDIS and the Doctor for many years to come. In this case, my desire for more 'Who' has trumped my geeky desire to enforce the "rules."

Inigo: Can you explain what you mean when you refer to "lazy writing" in a critique? From seeing the expression a bajillion times, particularly in the comments or reviews of amateurs, it's become meaningless to me or, rather, shorthand for "I didn't like that."

Mo says: Great question. And you're right, sometimes "lazy writing" is itself lazy shorthand -- critics, reviewers and commenters should probably explain what we mean by that phrase more often.

There are a million examples of lazy writing that I could think of, but I think the basic idea is that the writers took a shortcut that betrays some important aspect of the show or somehow insults the viewers' intelligence.

It could be having a character do something out of character, simply because the show needs that person to take that action in order to get the episode to the next story point. I don't mind characters growing and changing, but I do mind characters having no consistency week to week because the writers can't find ways to have character development progress naturally in each week's stories.

I watch a lot of genre shows, and in that realm, you often see the emergence of the "whatever" characters -- they can do whatever the plot needs them to be able to do, no matter what has been previously established up to that point. I like 'Supernatural' a lot, but that show is coming close at times to making Castiel a "whatever" character -- whatever mystical object, incantation or power the Winchesters need at a certain moment, you can be sure Cas will have it in the pocket of his raincoat.

Spy, espionage and action shows often have random technology that magically solves all problems and supplies relevant information in nanoseconds. And all of that is actually fairly easy to overlook, as long as the storytelling is tight, the dialogue is good and the characters and their relationships aren't taking a back seat to the demands of the plot.

In essence, lazy storytelling usually involves a moment in which a show asks more than it should of a reasonable viewer, without necessarily supplying compelling reasons for that viewer to overlook flaws, expediencies and shortcuts. We've all had the feeling at one time or another that a show was taking advantage of our investment in the story or the characters and doing something slapdash because the writers assumed we wouldn't notice or mind. Sometimes we let the lazy moments go, but if writers ask too much of us too many times, a show will quickly burn through whatever reservoir of good will we have for the program (cough'True Blood'cough).

Karen: We've all touched on the topic before -- [the idea] that script-integrated product placement, rather than inserted commercial breaks, will have to be the way of the future for ad-supported television, because so few viewers watch the commercials now or ever will again. So here's my question: which TV show, would you say, has so far done product placement the best?

Mo says: 'Mad Men' does a lot of things well, and I can't think of a scripted drama that has done a better job of integrating products into its weekly stories. Of course, the setting at an ad agency allows those mentions to seem seamless and natural (however, I can't say I loved the ads that aired during 'Mad Men' this season; they aped the show's style but didn't have the drama's cleverness or panache). Other than that, I'd say there are a number of reality shows that have done product integration pretty well, to the point that I don't mind or notice it much ('The Amazing Race,' for example). I'll throw this question to readers, though: What shows do you think do product integration well?

Ellen: How good do you think SyFy's version of 'Being Human' will actually be? I love the quirky performances by the original cast and will be really comparing the newcomers [to them]. I usually enjoy the original Brit versions of shows over the Americanized versions, as they primarily do not pander to the audience, especially about adult themes. Americanized productions on broadcast and basic cable here "clean" things up to such a parochial degree that I find them somewhat flat and toothless.

Mo says: Agreed, the number of successful adaptations of British shows is very small if not miniscule. Having said that, I don't think the British version of 'Being Human' is perfect. The cast was good but the show itself lurched ungracefully among several different tones and kinds of stories: There was the kind of dry humor you'd find in a flat shared by a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire; there were the relationships among the characters, all of whom struggled in different ways with their conditions; and then there was the 'Big Bad' of each season, which was often the least successful and most melodramatic part of the show.

I haven't seen Syfy's version, which premieres in January, but it has three things going for it: The showrunners have great track records (Jeremy Carver on 'Supernatural' and Anna Fricke on 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Everwood'); Mark Pellegrino ('Lost,' 'Supernatural') is in the cast; and the show has a full 13 episodes (as opposed to six or eight for the British series), which may allow the American version to tell stories in a more thematically and dramatically pleasing way.

The Crow Blogger: Why do some cable series seem to have multiple "season premieres" during the year ('Burn Notice,' etc), when others have only one 13-week season ('Sons of Anarchy,' 'Justified')? It doesn't seem like the complexity or cost of production on these shows differs a great deal, and they all have relatively big names. I guess I'm asking because I crave more 'Sons of Anarchy' and having it for [a quarter of the year] is not enough.

Mo says: It's really just a case of networks wanting to stretch out the programming they have over a longer period of time. When the season order is for 12 or 13 episodes, it makes sense to run them all in a row. But when the order is for 17 to 20 episodes, the networks want to air them in separate chunks in order to spread their programming out. I know, it can be annoying, especially when there are many months between half-seasons. But this practice will not change.

As for only getting to watch great cable dramas for three or so months every year, that's OK with me. The shorter shooting schedule allows those shows to attract top talent, and the somewhat condensed seasons means viewers (usually) get less filler. Of course, don't ask me if I'm OK with only 13 episodes the day after one of my favorite shows wraps up a good season -- you'll get a very different answer.

Sareeta: Are the two people in the picture you post whenever you put up a new Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast you and Ryan McGee? Because the female doesn't look much like you. Just wondering!

Mo says: Yep, the female is me.

It's my old Twitter picture inserted, via Photoshop magic, into an old 'Chuck' promo photo (the dude in our podcast logo is Ryan, sporting Chuck Bartowski's luxuriant hair). Diana, Ryan's wife, created the graphic, and she gets all the credit the awesomeness of our logo (let me be clear, the logo is awesome, not necessarily my mug).

Thanks for all the great questions! Let's do this again soon, and don't forget to listen to next week's 'Talking TV' podcast -- we hope to get to more queries there.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Mo Ryan

"I reckon the mind of this woman on a Northamptonshire sofa is close enough."

Inigo's Test of Reasonableness is thus born!

November 01 2010 at 10:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My current favorite television married couple is Joe & Allison Dubois on Medium. Every week, they take what could be a silly fluffy situation and make it real and human....and charming, too! The show is a guilty pleasure for me after the intensity of Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, etc.

October 29 2010 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When my then 10-year-old began to fret about the limit on regenerations, his brother and I pointed out that as long as the show was a hit the Doctor would keep getting new bodies. But that wasn't enough. So at our house, it goes like this: Russell T. built the answer into the Season 1 finale -- when Rose merges with the Tardis, restores Jack and kicks some Dalek butt, she also resets the Doctor's clock as he is about to regenerate (she also gives him more hair). It may not be accurate or fit the continuity (whatever happened to the Tardis' swimming pool, btw), but it had enough "logic" and romance to answer the query. And everyone got to sleep.

October 29 2010 at 3:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you, Mo, for responding to my question on "lazy writing." Once I ever jumped that "lazy writing" = lazy criticism = "I didn't like that" hurdle that arose automatically as soon as I saw the expression, I had in mind that it was perhaps more specifically that the writer borrowed - either for his/her own stock or from others - rather than created something new, be it a plot point, a character point, a style, etc. I've always pulled slightly away from that as a wholly fair criticism when the sheer body of drama through the ages means that very little can ever be original. As you have expressed it, I can see that a much wider application can apply. It can encompass lack of consistency, deus ex machine, plot holes and the like. The corollary is that unless the critic expands a little on his/her meaning in specific instances, it is perhaps too wide an expression to communicate much meaning on its own. Good critics do that anyway (thank you) but so many commentators don't.

I rather like the "reasonable viewer" construct. Here, there's the legal fiction of the man on the Clapham omnibus as the test of reasonableness. I reckon the mind of this woman on a Northamptonshire sofa is close enough.

October 28 2010 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love me some Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt on 'Mad About You' :)

October 27 2010 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Coach and Mrs Taylor....Hey we caught our kid in bed with her guy...of course she can have a sleep over that night....oh wow our kid talked back to us...well thats ok...I wont say anything to the guy until the end of the show then try to unleash big talk that no one believed

October 27 2010 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to damien's comment

Huh? In English?

October 27 2010 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
c koenig

I do love the Taylor's from FNL, but a past couple that I loved together were Doug & Carrie, from King of Queens.

October 27 2010 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry Anderson

The best married couple of all time had to be Harvey and Marybeth Lacey of Cagney and Lacey!

October 27 2010 at 10:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Friday Night Lights, which is on the 101 tonite, if you have DirecTV, is the very best show on TV. I refuse to miss it, no matter what. Love, Love, Love everyone on the show!

October 27 2010 at 10:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Regarding Being Human the syfy's version (cant say this but shhhhhh I saw the first episode), it is not to be miss, the production in awesome and the show is very well done. I think it will be well received.

October 27 2010 at 8:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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