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'Mad Men,' 'Fringe,' 'Justified' And 'Game Of Thrones' Questions Answered: Ask Mo Time

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When I recently asked for your TV-related questions, I got a bumper crop of great ones. Thanks for sending in so many good queries, and I tried to answer as many as I could get to here.

But one note before I get to them: We may take on a couple I didn't get to in this week's Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast, during which my co-host Ryan McGee will also discuss "Awake," premiering Thursday. Look for that review Wednesday and the podcast late this week.

Now, on to your questions!

Dale Kunz: Do you think "Mad Men's" long hiatus has cost it the cultural initiative? I should be bugnuts for it coming back, but I'm not. Think that first new hour will snap us all back into place as fans or will they have to work at it to draw back their audience?

Mo says: I will be interested to see what the ratings are for "Mad Men's" two-hour season premiere on March 25. Will they be higher than average because people missed Don Draper and company? Or will they be lower than past "Mad Men" season premieres because the show has been gone for 387 years? (OK, that time frame is not entirely accurate -- 525 days will have passed between seasons -- but it certainly feels like "Mad Men" has been gone for decades.)

It occurs to me that "Breaking Bad's" ratings grew in that show's fourth season, in part, due to what could be called the Netflix Effect. The fact that people could watch previous season of that AMC show on Netflix -- in addition to DVD, iTunes and the rest -- meant that a lot of people finally got around to watching the drama. Similarly, for "Mad Men," the long wait between seasons may have helped in that regard. I've heard anecdotally about a lot of people catching up with "Mad Men" via Netflix, and look at how well "Downton Abbey" did in its second season -- I think a fair amount of "Downton's" Season 2 dominance derived from the fact that its first season was available via Netflix. My guess is that "Mad Men's" ratings will not be significantly down when Season 5 rolls around, and the show's long hiatus will also drive a ton of coverage of the show in the weeks leading up to its return (and yes, we will be bringing you a lot of that here on HuffPostTV). So I think it's going to dominate parts of the pop-culture sphere, at least for a while.

Of course, the show will have to work to draw us back in, and that's one reason I think a two-hour premiere is a great idea -- to reward us for our patience, fans will essentially get a "Mad Men" movie, one that I very much hope will re-establish my allegiance to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Given how much I loved Season 4, my hopes are high.

Caprica Times: Do you see Netflix as a medium that will draw large audiences to original programming?

Mo says: It depends on what you mean by "large," but sure, I don't see why not. I think Netflix will be happy if its original programming causes a decent chunk of subscribers to continue to subscribe. It's not dissimilar from the HBO model, which boils down to having an array of different things that cause an array of different kinds of people to want to subscribe, ideally for the long term.

I don't know if "Lilyhammer," a new Netflix show starring Steven Van Zandt, will have that effect (I haven't seen it). But there's every chance that the company's upcoming David Fincher show and the new episodes of "Arrested Development" that Netflix has commissioned will be a draw for new and existing subscribers. Assuming it can make the numbers work (and the Fincher show is not cheap), I hope Netflix continues to commission original programming.

But I personally won't consider its programming initiatives successful until it comes up with what I'd consider a truly home-grown hit. Here's what I mean: Fincher is remaking a British series, "House of Cards," and "Arrested Development" is obviously a continuation of a previously existing cult hit. There are a ton of great writers out there looking for their big break; some are already working in the industry, some are doing excellent things with online shows and some have yet to be discovered. When Netflix commissions an original idea from a new or new-ish talent, and turns that project into a buzzy, pop-culture success story, then I think I'll take it a bit more seriously as a "network," or whatever we're going to call it when it's more fully participating in the original-content business.

Of course, it's not a bad strategy to have a bold-faced name remake a previously successful project, and it's a smart idea to gain the affection of TV fans who love cult comedies. But when Netflix begins to nurture deserving talents with distinctive and original visions, and when it begins to take advantage of the fact that it can commission the kind of out-there or unusual programming that even the bolder cable networks can't or won't touch, then I'll really begin to take it seriously. Given that Netflix doesn't have to answer to advertisers, it is in the unique position of being able to commission whatever the hell it wants, and if it (and other online distributors of content) embrace that "anything goes" mentality and begin to break free of the restrictions most television labors under regarding length of episodes, length of seasons and content, that would be a terrific development.

Bozy: Why [is it taking] so long for "Sherlock" Season 2 to be released in the US? I know it came out in the UK already, but isn't scheduled to be released here until May. Why is that?

Mo says: Yep, "Sherlock" Season 2 arrives on these shores May 6. I'm not a fan of the huge delay between the US and UK seasons, which just encourages piracy, but PBS and "Sherlock's" UK network simply have different priorities and different scheduling needs. PBS' Masterpiece brain trust had a slot open in May, hence the debut of "Sherlock's" second season then. I know, it doesn't make much sense, but what are you going to do ... except grind your teeth until Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman return as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson?

Briahoe: Ever since you moved to HuffPost TV, you no longer do your recap articles of shows like "Justified" etc. I really miss them. Bring them back!
Rmoats8621: Do you think that you will ever go back to reviewing "Supernatural"? I know you said you would keep watching as a fan, but I miss seeing reading your professional thoughts about the series.
David Aaron Reeves: Isn't it better to review shows that do longform storytelling arcs at the end of the season instead of [reviewing] individual episodes?

Mo says: I thought I'd answer these questions in a group, rather than one by one, given that they're more or less about the same topic. First things first: I haven't given up on weekly recaps -- I'll be doing them for "Mad Men" and "Game of Thrones." But the truth is, it's really hard to find shows that I truly enjoy recapping on a weekly basis. What I've found in the last few years is that, in many cases, I find myself saying the same things over and over again, and that's not fun for either readers or me. And there are times that I think about the point David Reeves made -- sometimes it makes the most sense to review a season when it's complete.

The fact that I may not want to do weekly reviews rarely has to do with the quality of the show in question. For instance, I absolutely adore "Archer," a show that is very funny and adds new flavors and wrinkles each week. But when I was writing about it regularly, some weeks my recaps weren't much more than a compilation of my favorite lines and that kind of thing can be fun to generate, but there are just other kinds of stories I enjoy doing a bit more. Generally, I've found that when I'm doing more than one or two recaps at a time, they tend to start feeling like chores, and I don't want writing about shows I'm interested in to be a chore. Also, I knew I'd be writing about two shows this spring, and that was part of the motivation to give up writing about "Supernatural." (The other reason: I began to repeat the same complaints/observations a lot, and I got as tired of that, as did some readers.) I wanted to free up time to do "Mad Men" and "GoT" recaps, which are very labor-intensive. Also, I enjoy having the flexibility to weigh in on a show -- any show -- when I have something to say about it, not because I'm scheduled to do so.

For me, what it comes down to is this: I want to spend a decent amount of my writing time on ideas that occur to me spontaneously; on reviews; and on observations and on news or trends that crop up through the week. I'm not someone who writes weekly recaps quickly, so having a lot of them on my plate tends to eat up a ton of my time, and if I'm being honest, I begin to resent how much space they occupy in my work week. I'm very happy to do them for certain shows with a lot of depth and complex themes -- i.e., "Mad Men" and "GoT" -- but I have to love the show a lot, and find a lot to dig into, if I'm going to write weekly reviews of it.

Last Week On: I listen to NPR's weekly Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and they sometimes do a segment on "pop culture comfort food" -- that is, some form of pop culture that feels nostalgic or sentimental. If you had a TV comfort food, what would it be and why?

Mo says: I've loved lots of different kinds of TV comfort food over the years, but there's been one constant when it comes to the small screen: Space shows. From "Lost in Space" to all the "Star Treks" to the original "Stargate," I feel as though I've been watching sci-fi or space shows all my life, and a lot of them occupied that reliable-escapism niche for me. Shows like "Battlestar Galactica," "Firefly" and "Farscape" -- and even the later seasons of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" -- were more ambitious than the typical sci-fi comfort-food fare. But for decades there were a range of shows that sated my need for outer space adventures, courageous camaraderie and menacing (or poignant) alien monsters.

So where have those kinds of shows gone? Not to sound all whiny, because there's a lot of good TV to watch these days, but I'm a little sad that the networks -- not even the niche networks -- don't want to touch spaceship (or wormhole) shows with a 10-foot alien probe. Sure, we get Earth-set shows like "Falling Skies" and "V," but most of those don't have the optimism or the excitement of shows in which humanity travels far and wide and comes across new species and new worlds. That's one of the varieties of comfort food I've loved the most over the years, and it's a drag that TV seems to have abandoned this particular strand of sci-fi programming.

Ted Fried: Is "Terra Nova" coming back?

Mo says: Nobody knows yet. Fox won't decide on its fall schedule until May, and "Terra Nova" is an expensive show that didn't perform amazingly in the ratings. If it does, I hope makes a ton of changes, because, as I wrote here, its first season was incredibly problematic.

Lynnybb: You haven't had much to say about "Justified" this season -- how about Limehouse and Quarles? Do you think Raylan's preoccupation with Winona is distracting him from keeping an eye on Boyd, or will that distraction become a key later on in the season (with Quarles looking for "somewhere to apply pressure" and Winona being pregnant)? Will Loretta be back? Of all the interesting interactions Raylan has, the ones with this young girl with the old soul are some of the most interesting.

Mo says: Here's what I think: I love "Justified." Every week, it takes twists and turns that surprise and intrigue me, and it's got some of the best storytelling, characters, dialogue and acting on TV (that's more or less what I said in my Season 3 review). Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) have been sterling additions to its already fine roster of supporting characters, and I like the way that the show is weaving in several bad-guy plots into a tapestry of down-home wiliness. It stands to reason that one (or more) of the men who want to apply pressure on Raylan might use Winona in some nefarious way, but I have no idea if that will happen, nor do I know if Kaitlyn Dever will be back as Loretta. I agree that Raylan's relationship with her is one of the most intriguing things about the show, but the actress is a series regular on the ABC sitcom "Last Man Standing." My guess would be that, as was the case with her appearance early in Season 3, any additional guest spots from her would be short and sweet.

Tausif: What do you think of "Parenthood" and what are its chances of renewal?

Mo says: I think I feel incredibly guilty whenever I look at my DVR and see at least 10 "Parenthood" episodes stacked up there. I like this NBC show a lot, and I watched the first third or so of the season, but I fell behind last fall and I never quite found the time to catch up (episodes of the show are like the Bravermans -- there are a lot of them, and every time I turn around, there seem to be more). In any event, I like the show a lot, even if it doesn't always come up with solid story lines for all the characters. That's not really a deal-breaker, given that he story lines that do pay off make up for the wobblier moments. I tend to think that it'll be back next year; NBC doesn't have a lot of reliable performers, even if its ratings aren't all that great, it does OK by NBC standards. I'd like to think there's more than a 50 percent chance the show will be back next year, but we'll probably have to wait until May to find out.

Aunt Beckles: Why don't more critics cover "Raising Hope"? I love this quirky little comedy. And while I don't think a weekly review is necessary (I also don't think a weekly review is necessary "New Girl" or "Modern Family"), it would be nice for the show to get more coverage. The cast is wonderful, it has a lot of heart and it's ballsy. Do you think "Raising Hope," like "Cougar Town," suffers from a poor title choice? The show really isn't about baby Hope as much as it is about the dad and grandparents' growth.

Mo says: I actually don't think that "Raising Hope's" name has ever been a hindrance for it; the name may be a little vague, but it's not as problematic as "Cougar Town's" name has been. (I still come across people who laugh out loud -- not for good reasons -- when I name it as one of my favorite comedies. Oh well. It really is terrific.)

In any event, I think "Raising Hope" gets the kind of coverage most shows get in their second season and beyond: There are stories about it here and there and the occasional bigger buzz factor if a prominent guest star stops by. That's how it is for most shows once they're past their debut seasons, unless they happen to take a great leap forward in quality or boldness as they age.

Varangian: With "Sons of Anarchy's" last season, you criticized it for being afraid to make real changes and for just pressing the reset button to keep Clay alive and everyone else in much the same position as before. I agreed with you there -- it was implausible and showed a lack of courage on the writer's part. So I was surprised that when "Fringe" mixed things up by having Peter disappear for a few episodes and then, find himself in an alternate timeline to the one he remembered, and you were all, "This is terrible, why are the characters different from the ones I liked last season?" Personally, I thought this worked well, the actors got to stretch themselves and do something different (Astrid got to go out in the field!) and some old characters could plausibly re-appear. Are you perhaps wanting to have your cake and eat it here?

Just to qualify my criticism of your criticism, you made similar comments regarding "Supernatural" and there I pretty much agree with you. It seems to have done a slash-and-burn with many of the things that made it fun and it has not replaced them with [elements that are] as good. So I guess my more general question is: What's the right amount of change in serialized dramas, and which ones would you say have got it just right?

Mo says: Great question. I don't think there should be any set rule in terms of how much and what kind of change is good for a show -- shows are just too varied and it's just not possible to apply one set of principles when it comes to these matters. But here's my general response to your question: Change is good when it deepens the viewers' investment in the characters, their dilemmas and their world. Change is not good when it seem arbitrary, unearned or when it lessens how much we care about the people on the screen.

Just to specifically address your comments about "Fringe," I know some viewers have relished the fact that the actors have gotten to play yet more versions of their characters, but for me, the current season greatly lessened my interest in the show, I'm sad to say. The disappearance of Peter and the arrival of new versions of the characters might have been an interesting exercise for a few episodes, but it has gone way too far with that idea ... far past what I find emotionally or intellectually compelling. What "Fringe" has done is take characters I was very invested in and introduce pale facsimiles of those people. The Season 3 arc in which time was split between our world and Over There was great, because we got to spend time with "our" characters, but we also got to see the contrasting versions of them. We got to double our pleasure, as it were.

This season, it's not that I think "Fringe" is terrible -- it's still usually competently made -- but I am far, far less invested in the versions of Astrid, Walter and Olivia we've seen for most of this season. In my opinion, a change can't be a success if I sit there on my couch thinking about what an ill-conceived idea it was, week after week. It's not a change I can applaud, because "Fringe" previously did a great job of getting me to emotionally invest in the characters' situations, and that investment has mostly evaporated this season. I got a question or two about whether I think "Fringe" will get a fifth season, and I don't think it will. And, I'm sad to say, I won't campaign for another season of it, given how ineffective this one has been (and to be clear, part of the reason I won't agitate for more "Fringe" is that I don't think that agitation will affect the decision-making at Fox, which has been very patient with "Fringe," but isn't in the business of supporting low-rated shows for five seasons).

Here's just one example of a fairly significant change that was good for a show: In "Friday Night Lights," Coach Taylor changed jobs at the start of Season 4. If the show hadn't done that, it probably would have stagnated and started to tell too many similar stories about the Dillon Panthers. But with that change, which felt earned and appropriate, "FNL" had a new sandbox to play in. Even if it took a little while for that new work environment to become as interesting as the old one, it was an example of change that invigorated a show, instead of change for its own sake or "change" that isn't really change at all (and as I've written recently, in their current states, "Sons of Anarchy" and "Supernatural" are examples of that kind of waffly, arbitary non-evolution).

Pamela Hunt: Will someone explain to me why the Nielsen rating system has anything to do with the death or survival of a show? With TiVo, online viewing, DVRs and the like, how can that possibly be relevant in 2012? Ratings systems are a joke and should no longer be the yardstick by which TV success is measured.

Mo says: I can't add much to that! I agree. I think the current ratings system is seriously broken, and for evidence, I point to the steep declines that several shows have experienced this season. There are just so many ways for people to watch television these days, and the "appointment viewing" model of people watching TV at a particular time and on a particular day is losing ground to all those other venues ... at least, that's how it appears to me. Yet our ratings system is woefully behind in counting those kinds of viewers, and I can't for the life of me understand why the networks pay good money for ratings that certainly seem out of whack and not closely tied to how many people actually watch various shows. I just don't get it, frankly.

Phil Ogden: Why haven't the big networks embraced the 10-13 episode order per season of scripted dramas? Is it too unrealistic?

Mo says:
I think they're trying to. So far, cable TV has shown a lot more flexibility in this regard (as I wrote in this piece, the new normal in cable TV seasons is often 10 or 12 episodes, or so it would seem). And ABC commissioned the eight-episode series "The River," and comedies like "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" got six-episode tryout seasons in their first years. So it's not as if the networks haven't tried to embrace shorter runs, but it's certainly still not the norm on the broadcast networks. I think that may continue to evolve, ever so slowly.

DAR: When do you get "Game of Thrones" screeners? Is the hair any better?

Mo says: Ha! I haven't gotten the screeners yet -- I hope to get them in a week or two. Before I receive those advance DVDs from HBO, I will spend a little time praying that Cersei's hair doesn't look like something I could have picked up at a Halloween party store. (Now, "GoT" fans, don't get all bent out of shape -- I generally think the HBO show has exemplary production values, but some of the wigs in Season 1 were just awful, and I complained about that in several of my weekly reviews.)

Alan Hinton: Was "In Plain Sight" on USA cancelled? I personally thought this was USA's best original show. The reason I ask is because I thought I saw an item saying that Mary McCormack had signed to do a pilot.

Mo says: "In Plain Sight" returns March 16 on USA with its final set of episodes (it ends for good in May). Mary McCormack has indeed taken a role in an ABC pilot, but it's not known yet whether that pilot will be picked up to series.

Adam Baker: How optimistic are you for "Community" to come back for a fourth season?

Mo says: I'm weirdly optimistic. As Josef Adalian wrote in this piece, the show (which finally returns March 15) is made by a studio that is very motivated to keep it on the air so that it can be sold into syndication. That makes me think NBC may be offered a deal it can't refuse when it comes to negotiations over the show's fourth season. Of course, a lot could go wrong between now and May, when NBC will announce what it will air next season, but I have to think that NBC might want to stick with a show with a loyal (if smallish) audience. Maybe.

Tom Sadowski: Do I stick with ABC's "The River" or is it in danger of being canceled?

Mo says:
Go ahead and stick with it; its ratings are not great, but I don't think ABC will yank it before its eight-episode season finishes up. But I wouldn't go so far as to hope for a second season.

This last note isn't really a question, but a note from another "Lost Girl" convert:

Christy Woodcock shared her breakdown of what makes the show such an enjoyable diversion (as I've been saying of late): "'Lost Girl' = ("Buffy" - the angst and obvious metaphor) + ("Veronica Mars" - the social commentary) x "True Blood" (in all its campy goodness, but without the hot mess and confusion). [Bo is] a Super Important Girl who is also a spunky P.I. with a heart of gold, but who has a full-on backstory of interest. Turns out this is a great genre show, thanks for turning me on to this.

You're welcome!