Ask Matt: ‘Abbott Elementary’s Unprincipled Principal

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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] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

This Principal Deserves Detention

Question: Although I’ve watched all of the episodes so far, ABC’s Abbott Elementary is high on my list of shows to discontinue if and when my DVR fills up because of that ridiculous principal. I realize that good sitcoms have foils, but do they have to be so outlandish? How did this nut job even become the principal?! — Markell W, Laurel, MD

Matt Roush: I can’t think of a worse reason to stop watching one of the best new comedies we’ve seen in recent years on a broadcast network. As self-centered principal Ava, Janelle James is a riot, and in another time — maybe even now, who can say — she could easily be a contender for a supporting comedy actress Emmy. Is she too much? Of course she is — and the pilot episode made it very clear that she didn’t get her job on merit. (Can you spell b-l-a-c-k-m-a-i-l?) A recent New York Times story about how Abbott Elementary has been embraced by teachers quoted a principal from a charter middle school who said she identified with much of the show — though not so much with Ava. “I think she’s hilarious — but I am nothing like her,” she said with a laugh. Sometimes you’ve just got to let a comedy be a comedy, and while Abbott’s entire terrific ensemble gives us much to laugh and think about, I can’t imagine the show without Ava as the bawdy embodiment of the public education system’s ills.

This question is well-timed, though, because Tuesday’s (Feb. 22) episode gives Ava one of her best showcases, and we even get a glimpse of the woman beneath her outrageous façade. Check it out, you might even grow to like her.

Sounds Like …

Question: So is NBC’s The Endgame just The Blacklist and we’re not supposed to know, or is there something I’m missing? — Cory C

Matt Roush: No, you’re pretty much on point. Imitation is the sincerest form of network-TV development, and Endgame (premiering Monday) clones from all sorts of action-TV sources, including The Blacklist and Money Heist to name just the most current. Your tolerance for this one will depend on your patience for long cons — and for an anti-hero villainess whose schemes are so preposterously overelaborate that even Red Reddington might scoff.

Such a Dirty Mouth

Comment: We have been watching Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel for years. It’s an interesting show, and has been family-friendly, and teaches one about jobs we would never think about. Our problem is that this season, Mike Rowe has continually been very inappropriate with sexual connotations and language. It is uncomfortable and adds nothing to the show. In fact, it makes us want to change the channel. If this is going to continue, they need to change the rating and add a warning label. — Karen in Cleveland, Ohio

Matt Roush: I haven’t caught his act lately, so I’ll take your word that Mike’s gone blue. In the docu-reality space, there are shows where you expect rough and/or bleeped language, but I’m not sure Dirty Jobs is one of them.

Hearing Voices, Not Laughter

Question: How much do you think its lack of a laugh track has to do with the popularity of Ghosts? It’s certainly a main reason for my watching it. — Hal H, Austin, TX

Matt Roush: To my mind, very little — but the single-camera filmed format of Ghosts with its special effects would never work before a live audience, so the question is rather moot. (I’ve likened this show before to Bewitched, which did lay in canned laughter, but that was a different time.) There is a vocal contingent that I hear from frequently that detests even the sound of laughter from a live studio audience — not the same as a laugh track, though it is often obviously souped-up — and I often push back to remind them that many of the best and most popular comedies throughout TV history were filmed with live laughter (Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Big Bang Theory, all the way back to I Love Lucy). There is good, bad, and indifferent TV comedy being produced in both formats, but when something works as well as Ghosts, I’d prefer to give credit to the writers, directors, and the gifted performers who make it look so easy.

Somebody’s Listening

Comment: I watched one episode of HBO’s Somebody Somewhere and then abandoned the Olympics to binge the entire season to date. LOVE the cast, the writing, the setting, the whole wonderful show. Bridget Everett and Jeff Hiller click so beautifully and with such exquisite comedic timing. Fred Rococo (Murray Hill) slays me every moment he’s on-screen and the supporting cast is a smorgasbord of character acting talent. I’m a 74-year-old, straight Midwesterner, born and raised in southern Ohio, but I lived three years in rural Nebraska and totally get the prairie ambiance of that region. I am also the quintessential church lady and cracked up at the clandestine “choir practice” celebration of singularity. Too bad we can’t make that a universal, loudly proclaimed event at all our churches. I enjoy your column in TV Guide Magazine and hope you can give this inspiring, hilarious show some love. — Marcia A

Matt Roush: Thanks, Marcia. I did embrace this show upon its arrival last month — and there are still two more episodes to go — but small gems like this sometimes get overlooked amid the constant churn of TV. I agree with everything you say here — including the joys of a truly welcoming church such as my own (less eccentric) Fifth Avenue Presbyterian — and now that HBO has thankfully renewed Somebody Somewhere for a second season, I hope to make a bigger noise about it when it finds its way back to HBO. Bridget Everett has long been one of my favorites, and this is such a special vehicle for her talents.

Woulda Shoulda Coulda

Question: Don’t you think that CBS missed the boat by not replacing Mark Harmon on NCIS with Harmon Rabb Jr. (David James Elliott) from JAG? — Jerry

Matt Roush: Given the spike in fan interest when Harm and Mac (Catherine Bell) did a guest shot on NCIS: LA a while back, and never-ending speculation about a JAG reboot, this would have been a natural. I’m fine with Gary Cole, but it’s hard to deny that if they’d gone this route, the publicity would have gone through the roof.

And Finally …

Question: I love Michael Weatherly in everything he does and am saddened by the recent cancellation of Bull. What do you think are the odds that Tony will return to NCIS now? (Hoping ). — Laura C

Matt Roush: Next to nil, at least not full time. Under the right circumstances, you might see him pull a Ziva and return for some character closure, but even that seems unlikely, since the actor says he’s leaving Bull to pursue new opportunities, not go back to old ones. Still, it’s wise never to say never.

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), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)

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