Ask Matt: ‘Old Man’ Adaptation Not by the Book

    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 some Fridays.

    Should The Old Man Hew Closer to the Source Material?

    Comment: I was so looking forward to The Old Man thriller, having read Thomas Perry’s book first, which was one of his best. The series is disappointing for me as it doesn’t follow the storyline in the book. Of course, Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow, along with the supporting cast, are terrific. — Lynn

    Matt Roush: I long ago stopped expecting TV shows based on novels to follow the original by the letter, especially when used as the source material for a series. (Limited series, or miniseries as we used to call them, that film a well-known title might be expected to be more faithful.) With The Old Man, they’ve retained the basic cat-and-mouse framework and the essential hook of the main character (Jeff Bridges as “Dan Chase”) having lived off the grid for decades and being too easily underestimated because of his age. Plus: those wonderful dogs were just as vivid on the page, and the character of Zoe (played by Amy Brenneman) seems close to Perry’s invention. Several of the changes I’ve liked, especially the deepening of Lithgow’s character to become almost an equally dominant player and the twist involving Angela (Alia Shawkat) and Chase’s daughter. Less successful for me is the altered backstory that suggests a new motivation for why Middle East warlord Faraz Hamzad has it out for Chase.

    The real issue here is what makes a successful adaptation, and for me, it has more to do with capturing the tone of what made the original successful—which this mostly does, although it’s getting awfully talky lately — and less to do with following the plot, point by point. Now that The Old Man has been renewed for a second season, I’m curious to see how this develops, because it’s bound to deviate even more from the book’s storyline.

    Someone Turn on the Lights!

    Question: I read all the Terminal List books and looked forward to this show on Prime Video. We’re so disappointed that it is shot so dark we can’t even see it! Ridiculous! No one lives or works in homes and offices that dark. What has happened to the quality of filming? They are supposed to tell and show a story. Please put some light on the actors’ faces so we know who they are. This is another show we won’t bother trying to view. —Connie P

    Matt Roush: Next to loud background music (and please don’t see this as an invitation to weigh in on that topic), low-light filming is by far the most common complaint I hear about TV — but after hearing from others about the extreme gloom of the cinematography in The Terminal List, I checked it out and was shocked even by today’s standards. I typically suggest adjusting the light balance on your TV’s settings to compensate, but in this extreme and almost laughable case, I think just moving on to the next streaming series might be the best solution.

    Taxing Our Patience

    Question: Why are the Chrisleys still on television? I read where they were convicted of tax evasion or something. Is NBC (via USA Network) so desperate for viewers that they are giving time to these people with another season of Chrisley Knows Best? My God, Hallmark dumped Lori Loughlin when she was just accused of a crime. Have they no conscience? — Sandy S

    Matt Roush: Money talks — which in this case has a rather sad irony. In announcing the June return of the reality series, the same month that Todd and Julie were convicted of fraud and tax crimes, USA touted that Chrisley Knows Best was “USA’s most-watched current original series.” Apparently, USA is still amused by their antics, and maybe some of their fans are, but I’m no champion of this genre of self-exploitation even when the characters aren’t criminals, so I guess I’m as disgusted as Sandy by this. Or would be if I’d ever even watched this show.

    Making a Swift Exit

    Question: Long-time reader (and also former Hoosier!) here. My question/comment is about the new Tom Swift series on The CW. There are many reasons I really want to like this show: the LBGTQA+ representation, the lead and primary cast all POC, etc. But the problem for me is that the Tom Swift character is so petty, small, childish, bitter, and out of control that I find myself unable to even root for him. I have seen interviews with the actor portraying the character (Tian Richards) and he seems to be as charming, kind, gracious, and charismatic as you could ever want, but Tom Swift as a protagonist leaves much to be desired. I feel like if you don’t really care to see the main guy overcome his adversities because he’s too vile to root for, that’s a pretty fundamental problem. Perhaps they’re setting up some kind of redemption arc for him, but if he doesn’t become slightly less awful soon, I’m not likely to stick around for it. — Unsigned

    Matt Roush: Most of the mail I’ve seen about this series has been mixed to negative, often complaining about how this version of Tom Swift has veered so significantly from the source material. But as I state the obvious — that we won’t have to deal with Tom much longer, since The CW canceled the show before the first season had even ended — I would expand my remarks to say that building a show around an arrogant-to-unlikable character or anti-hero is a very tricky undertaking. I didn’t watch enough of this series to form my own opinion, but this kind of ambivalence — liking the idea but not the execution — is nothing new.

    If We Could Turn Back Time

    Question: What happened to HBO’s romantic time travel series?! The Time Traveler’s Wife was billed as Season 1 and then, in the middle of the story, the Steven Moffat adaptation of the iconic novel is suddenly canceled. Please tell us why. It had bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes but an 85% audience approval rating. Fans of the novel signed up to HBO MAX just to see this series. Six 45-minute episodes is an insult to the book’s author, who loved the adaptation, the writer, the director, the multi-aged talented actors, and the fans. The complaint about grooming is ridiculous. The people upset with the nudity must not watch the explicit sex scenes in other series. TTTW’s explanation of both complaints is delicately done and true to the book. Will anybody else pick it up? Moffat has already written a second chapter. — M Garie

    Matt Roush: I figure that HBO had hoped The Time Traveler’s Wife would do for them what Outlander did for Starz, but it never generated the sort of media or especially critical buzz that would take it to that level. I’m sure there’s a devoted fan base‑there usually is — but this particular story was tricky even on the page, and seems to have defied adaptation on the big and now small screen. I agree with the critics (including our own) who felt a distinct lack of chemistry between the leads, but even if we agree to disagree on the show’s quality, this rather startling quick cancellation may have as much to do with the fallout from the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger as it does with the show’s content or the bruising critical reception. As for its chances to be rescued on another platform: Good luck with that. But you never know.

    A Cancellation Double Whammy

    Question: Are you surprised that CBS axed both B Positive and United States of Al? I am! They are brutal to do that to Chuck Lorre, who I thought they had a good relationship with! Especially B Positive, since it did pretty well for a comedy at 9:30/8:30c. (Al did lose a lot of viewers out of Young Sheldon, so that wasn’t as shocking). B Positive seemed to be on an excellent creative path for season 3, and with series lead Annaleigh Ashford so talented and such a star, I was totally surprised and didn’t see the cancellation coming! Do you think another network would pick it up or has that ship sailed and it’s gone? Any input would be appreciated. — Ivo M

    Matt Roush: I tend to be more surprised by renewals than I am by cancellations these days, given the state of the network business, but yes, given Chuck Lorre’s track record at CBS, it was unexpected to learn that neither of his more marginal sitcoms would be given a reprieve. As discussed in an earlier column, neither show developed into hit status in their second seasons — though it’s getting harder to know what a hit even is — and I’m betting Annaleigh Ashford will get another shot at TV stardom before too long. (Oh for the days when someone of her prodigious talent would get to shine in a music-comedy-variety show.) In the bigger picture, I can’t imagine any network beyond CBS would be amenable to keeping these shows going.

    And Finally …

    Question: On Animal Kingdom, please, I need to know how did Andrew get to be called Pope? — Norma J

    Matt Roush: You’re in luck. Before this final season ends, this burning question will be answered. According to our listings, in the July 17 episode, a 1992 flashback will reveal how Andrew (Shawn Hatosy) got his nickname of “Pope” Cody.

    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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