TV chat: What's worth watching this season?

Oct 10, 2013

The Post's TV critic Hank Stuever and Style writer Emily Yahr will take questions about what's good, what's terrible, and anything else surrounding the world of TV.

Related: 2013 Fall TV preview.

The fall season has achieved orbit, though debris is already crashing down. ("We Are Men," and then we weren't.) Since our last chat on Sept. 27, much has happened -- notably the end of "Breaking Bad" (I'm eager to hear your thoughts; people afraid of spoilers, carefully back out now while there's still time!); also a new season of "American Horror Story" is upon us and already some disturbing slavery-era imagery and scenes that have people talking; you've seen two episodes of "Homeland" and probably have some opinions there; Paul Farhi had an interesting report on "SNL's" rather disappointing inability to diversity its cast with all those openings; and tonight, "Glee" deals with the death of Finn (Cory Monteith) ... plus whatever else is on your mind and on your DVR!

Boardwalk Empire is good TV and Steve Buscemi is well cast. There I said it. I like the tempered pace of the show -- a rarity in today's TV environment -- and I like Buscemi's character -- a kind of milquetoasty and thoughtful tough guy. It looks great, of course, and is shot great. I just wanted to weigh in on it because so many people/critics like to pooh-pooh it as just a bland costume drama. Do you like it?

I do like it, and in a piece last month, I tried to get at why it just hasn't caught on as what we once called a "water-cooler" show, with all the breathless associated Twitter buzz and the like. Here's a link to that. I agree with you, it's good, even though its violent outcomes are relentless. I also think Buscemi's character (Nucky) has become almost a conduit through which all the other storylines run. The show gets more interesting around him; he's become an inert character for me.

I LOVE Son's of Anarchy, but have been very disappointed with this season. It's a dude soap opera, I get it, but I feel like there is NO one left to cheer for. They keep killing off the good characters I like, and keeping the stupid mean jerks. Biggest surprise 'Good' show for me has been Sleepy Hollow. So implausible, but so FUN!

I confess I've slid on my "Sons of Anarchy" upkeep, a show I once praised to the stars. I may yet go back and fill it in as a binge; it really depends on if I get one of those colds this winter that leaves you flat but still willing to watch a heap o' violence.

Is "Sleepy Hollow" improving? That's good to hear. My initial take from the pilot was that is was kind of lifeless and too ... damp. Is Ichabod still rolling with the 21st century or did he have some sort of major jet-lag/freakout about how much things have changed. I'm always amazed in these shows when characters travel from the past and don't immediately lose their minds.

Hank, we'd love a recommendation! We greatly enjoyed Dexter and were fine with the ending (because really, do you want two divorced actors to ever have to work together again?), are looking forward to the final season of True Blood, and loved Battlestar Galactica. But we never got hooked by Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, or Homeland, too close to depressing real life during this recession, oops I mean recovery. Is there another cool series coming our way, or perhaps already ongoing, with a somewhat unreal premise?

Kind of stab in the dark, but sure, let's see ...

Could you stomach "American Horror Story"? (I often can't, but some like the camp value) ...

Do you do "Game of Thrones"? (Do it my way: Watch without any sense of obligation for learning the characters' names or constantly consulting the Wiki entries. Just let it wash over you -- I promise it eventually works, and splendidly.)

Have you tried "Orange is the New Black"?

Did you do "Broadchurch"? (Do it on demand or streaming -- the commercial breaks on BBC America are torturous!)

Am I helping, or not at all? Tell me if I'm way off base and I'll try again...

Is Suburgatory around this season? It wasn't great, but I do miss Cheryl Hines.

 It will indeed be back for a third season sometime early next year, unless one of the ABC's comedies flames out early -- sort of what happened with "Mike & Molly" planned for midseason, but winding up with a Nov. 4 launch date when "We are Men"was pulled off the schedule this week.

Anyway I agree "Suburgatory" had its faults (and apparently they're cutting some cast members for next season) but usually it's worth it to tune in just for one hilarious deadpan line delivery by Carly Chaikin.

Not a TV show question, but I live in Kansas City and am waiting for my neighborhood to get Google Fiber. Have you heard much about the interface? If it came to your town would you utilize it? Thanks!

I've heard of it and will now NOT make a joke about needing more fiber.

I am not Mr. Upgrade when it comes to my iPhone or my broadband service or my TV feed. I'm still happily using my 2007 Macbook even though I can't upgrade beyond about OS 10.6 (I predict I'll get a new Macbook in 2014 since the cooling fan on my old one seems to get a good workout eight or nine times a day ...) I'm also someone who's been a longtime, delighted Comcast/Xfinity customer. (Yes, I'm that guy!) So I don't know that I could be sold on letting Google have that much of my life. They already have so much!

You're not Lisa.

No, but she'll always be one of our spirit animals.

I've always loved Robin Williams but I haven't caught his new show yet. Is it worth catching up on? Is it going to stick around?

I'd watch it, but because I like (rilllllly like) James Wolk, who's also on "The Crazy Ones." Gang, any thoughts on the show? Are we going to keep watching it?

So, you're probably going to think where has this person been for the last decade, but my son has turned me into a Friday Night Lights addict. He found it on some channel called Pivot, which appears to be aimed at nerdy hipsters. That show is riveting! Too bad NBC couldn't make a go of it when it originally aired.

That's the best description of Pivot (the channel for millenials!) that I've ever heard.

Also, confession: I'm actually in the same boat as you for "Friday Night Lights." Originally, I thought the pilot was boring, then avoided it more when everyone kept telling me how great it was. Fast forward, thanks to the wonder of Netflix, and I found myself completely addicted when I decided to give it another shot a few weeks ago. Now all I want to do is talk about my Tim Riggins theories, but apparently I'm many years too late to that party.

We mostly DVR everything so I haven't seen all of THE TOMORROW PEOPLE yet, but I liked the first half. Which probably dooms it as the networks love to cancel Sci Fi that I enjoy. Any chance that it being on FOX will help it survive?

It's actually on the CW, which I think betters its chances for survival. Look at all the shows CW has nursed along toward the syndication line over the years. Even "Hart of Dixie" clings to life there. Have you tried the British version of "The Tomorrow People"? I hear it's better.

I think I can count on one hand the number of shows I watch on network TV because most of the shows are just terrible. I know pay cable channels like HBO grant more creative freedom (nudity, cursing, oh my!) which is probably a draw for directors/producers/actors, but even basic cable networks like AMC and F/X are better. What gives?

There are millions (billions?) fewer dollars at stake on cable channels, but I don't think it's the nudity/language thing so much as it's the faith they demonstrate in long story arcs and slower builds. Audiences who love narrative really respond to that -- it's almost a Pavlovian response now that we're conditioned to view these premium dramas as 800-page novels in progress.

But I think cable's influence on network TV since about 2000 is very noticeable on broadcast shows. Mostly in style if not always in execution.

What's your final letter grade for OUAT Wonderland? You didn't have one in the Fall Preview.

I didn't, because there wasn't an episode finished. I have a full review today. I don't put letter grades on the full reviews (just the fall capsule reviews), but if pressed I would give "Wonderland" a C-. It's kind of a mess. It's not nearly as confident a launch as the original "Once Upon a Time" and, frankly, Lewis Carroll's Alice saga is a much harder/darker/weirder fit to this format, I think, even when we tweak it and mold it as much as they have. The episode I watched yesterday was still missing a lot of its CGI effects. I'm kind of wondering if they'll get it tonight before it airs!

I miss her, too, but Hank and Emily, I appreciate everything you do for our viewing pleasure. Thanks.

To paraphrase an old McDonald's ad (what is this, "The Crazy Ones?") -- WE DO IT ALL FOR YOU.

Thanks!

Show of hands, please. Are there any other people out there who don't have cable or a DVR? Just feeling like we can't be the only ones out here surviving, and thriving!, without paying anyone to watch TV, but if we ever mention that we don't have cable people look at us as if we have two heads (well, four if we're together).

Just throwing this out there in case some sort of support group needs to be formed!

I have just discovered a little channel called Antenna TV, buried in the 200s of my Comcast directory. Apparently, the purpose of Antenna TV is replay my childhood! I've seen Maude, WKRP in Cincinnati, and best of all: Barney Miller! I think I may give up all the premium channels in favor of being a kid again.

Aren't those channels great? They also live in the Malkovichian half-floors between digital TV shows. At the beach this summer I succumbed to a fair bit of Cozi -- "Magnum P.I.," "Charlie's Angels," "The Bionic Woman." I'm always up for a Lindsay Wagner reverie.

"Maude": Isn't it remarkable? It was on TV 40 years ago and more risky with its cultural commentary than most of what we see now.

Just watched the second episode last night and it is just shockingly bad. The new "Charlie's sister" addition of Amber Tamblin adds nothing other than another irritating character? What are your thoughts? Is Chuck Lorre consciously trying to destroy the show?

I only watch "2.5 Men" in hospital waiting rooms or when a big replacement joins the cast, so I'm happy to report I haven't seen it a good long while. But my gosh, Kutcher makes a lot of money doing it.

I fell for this show HARD last year (after missing the first few episodes and catching up when Lisa and her chatters recommended it). It is coming back, isn't it? Will I have to wait for the winter season?

Oh yes, this show was a hit for FX and should return for Season 2 around January.

Every couple of years or so, there is a battle between a cable television company and 'over the air network' retransmission rights (CBS most recently). Will any cable company ever make one of the traditional networks optional? Do you think we will ever get a la carte cable?

Like most all-out wars, I think the refugees (that's us, the viewers) will eventually relocate to a more peaceful terrain. We'll go a la carte via streaming. I don't know that we'll ever be offered a la carte through our cable/dish providers. It makes so much sense that we should, until someone really explains to you how it works. I am ambivalent about all of this: cord-cutting, a la carte, etc. I will be very sorry if each and every consumer becomes a niche market unto herself/himself and we can no longer have cultural communion over, you know, tee-vee. But I might be overly invested in old models of cultural exchange, media, criticism, discussion, life.

Cable and BBC imports have really hooked me on 8-12ish episode seasons - less time commitment and much less filler. BROADCHURCH was great and I'm late to the game on ORPHAN BLACK. American networks should think about it; I know the Kevin Bacon series tried it.

I think you'll see more of it. Maybe more like 13 episodes, but I'm with you. The bummer is the look on people's faces when they find a show (like Broadchurch) on their own time and own dime and gobble it up and then you tell them the next season won't be here until 2014 or 2015ish. They want more now now now.

One reason I didn't watch the show is that there was not a single recognizable name or face in the cast. I didn't expect big stars, but some mid-level actors (b list?) would have been good. The stars of Leverage are available now, for example. One or two would possibly have attracted some viewers. I know I tuned in to Happy Town because of Amy Acker, for instance. Of course We Are Men's cancellation seems to refute this. . .

That's an interesting point, "Lucky 7" -- which won the honor of the year's first cancellation -- was one of the only shows this season without at least one big name in the cast. But with so many niche shows, it's tough to know who would be a draw these days (for example I don't think I remember anyone from "Leverage" except for the guy who was also a country music singer), though it is surprising that a network show had all unknowns.

We, too, get our reception from good old digital broadcast...digital antena on the roof. Yes, we have a dvd/vcr combo that records our TV shows on dvd disks...love it. We do Netflix (stream and disk) so we're very pleased with not paying for cable or Fios. Stay the course!

See, you're not alone.

Did you ever finish watching this? I am trying to figure out if it "Jumped the Shark" in the final episode already.

Oooh, I'm interested to hear where you think it did that. That's certainly not what everyone said about it when they were coming off their OITNB binges.

But it's the only way to get baseball games and The Weather Channel. Otherwise I'd be all about Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu or whatever the nerdy hipsters are doing these days.

As a TV critic, I get an onslaught of everything, but as I civilian, I'd miss just flipping around and finding something I didn't know existed. Does that bother you at all? (I find a lot of people gave up channel surfing years ago.) I'd also miss the local news. Speaking of ... I have a question here with the subject line DOREEN GENTZLER. Let's take that one!

There have been a few moments when Ichabod comments on the new world he's in, but they're not focusing on that so much. His rage against the outrageous tax on donuts was pretty funny. He does seem a little too accepting of the newfangled devices he encounters. But I'm ok with that -- I'm really enjoying the show!

This show really weirded me out, but some people are already hooked...which works well, because Fox already gave it a second season renewal.

I used to have the same problem, then I started turning the backlight on the keyboard down or off, and it stays remarkably cool for long periods. Just a tip from me to you...

I'll try that. Somedays the fan gets so excited I think the thing is going to take off and fly around the room.

Is this a regular Thursday discussion? I know Pookie was on Friday. I'd like to join the party next Thursday if this is a regular discussion. Thank you.

We're still beta-testing. Could I interest you in every other Thursday? What do you guys think?

The show had a goofy energy for the first season but seems to be running out of gas as time goes on. Even the stunt casting lacks the old pizzazz. Worth sticking with?

Truth? I think it's time to move on. Maybe they should rename the show "And They Lived Happily Ever After" and say 'night-night.

Am I the only person increasingly frustrated with those who complain online that something was spoiled for them? If you don't want spoilers, avoid the Internet. Don't expect everyone else to stuff a sock in it to protect your special snowflake ears. Someone the other day complained about (SPOILER) a certain death on Downton; it's been a year. If you didn't know that this actor left the show and how they wrote him out, it's not my responsibility to save you from the horror of hearing it. ARGH.

No, you are far from the only person who's a little fed up with latecomers who insist on a spoiler-free life online and in everyday conversation. We do what we can to accomodate them and then we do no more. I wrote a piece about this in June. Would you like to read it?

Broadcast shows make their profit on syndicated reruns, which before cable was one-episode per day with an irregular audience. So Hill Street Blues was a syndication failure. Now that syndication is a three-to-ten hour block on cable, broadcast can run longer story arcs.

All they need is the courage to let the writers do that.

Just want to say that James Spader is awesome in this show! My favorite new show of the season!

He does take creepy to a whole new level in a way that not many actors can. Props to you, Spader! NBC picked up the back nine episodes, so you'll see a lot more of him.

How does a local anchor women get an interview with Obama? And why doesn't she ever age? I mean, at least Wendy Rieger has had the common decency to get a little heavier.

She looks great. I watch them just about every night. I'm transfixed by the stripes on Jim Vance's suits. And I think Doug Kammerer might be a vampire -- a good vampire -- but we just don't have time for this kind of chat right now. Only 11 minutes left.

I was with it all the way to the end. I can't see where they are going to go with it next. Piper was the "nice" girl who got caught and should have just done her year, gotten out and married. Now what? Death row? Prison for life?

Death row. Bring it!

Hank: You may have answered this at some point, but what do you think of Justified? Although it may not be the best show (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, a few others may come to mind), it is by far my favorite show. Marc

I have never answered that at any point. Every critic has one that got away and mine is "Justified." I've watched a season or two, but my predecessor reviewed it first and then I asked a fan of the show who works in the newsroom to do a review in season 3 or 4. I believe people when they say it's good, but I confess to them right away that I won't be able to hold my end of the conversation. That's another one I'm saving for that day when I'm recovering from a broken leg or something.

Any buzz or rumours about this Breaking Bad prequel? I am trying very hard to figure out if it is a good idea or not.

All I hear is from viewers who are verrrry nervous about it and don't want it to besmirch BrBa's reputation. Odenkirk fans obviously delighted. I don't think there's any concrete info out there about it yet, besides AMC's original announcement.

So I was watching this show called "Mom" that ends with Allison Janney giving her daughter a wrapped gift that vibrated. Unless the daughter was setting up an aquarium and needed an air pump, the implication is clear. My question is, who, exactly is this show designed for?? Moms or Daughters? Because the idea of both watching together is kind of horrifying.

That was my complaint about the pilot. It's trying way too hard to be naughty.

No snarking allowed? ;-<

No, I just think it would take a whole special hour to go into local weathermen/women and which of them are vampires and which of them aren't.

No no no no! Tell us alllllllllllllll your theories! Seriously.

I wish I had time! Or wasn't embarrasssed about dissecting a show that ended years ago. I will say I love when Taylor Kitsch accidentally uses his Canadian accent.

Check out Portlandia's Spoiler alert sketch on You Tube :-)

Yes, if you've not seen that, it says it all about people and their spoiler panic. I believe there's a link to it in that spoiler piece I wrote and linked to in the previous answer.

yes

There's one. (Emily, is that you?)

I've found this year's slate of network comedies pretty disappointing and lacking in ambition (Brooklyn Nine-Nine the only exception; I do enjoy Trophy Wife and The MJF Show too, but they are comfort food at best). However, one show that has piqued my curiosity is CBS's Mom. I'm a big fan of Faris and Janney, and the premise has so much potential. What does the show (i.e., Lorre) need to focus on/develop to ensure that it doesn't devolve into 2 Broke Girls?

I don't know quite how to express it other than to tell the show to chillax just a bit? Tone it down just a scoch?

What new shows do you foresee being cancelled? I don't want to get attached to anything so it's all sitting on my DVR for now!

I wouldn't get too attached to ABC's "Betrayal" -- but it appears from the ratings that no one really is.

I'm really enjoying Brooklyn Nine-Nine and think it has a lot of potential, plus how often do you see a cast that diverse in a sitcom? Sure the lead is still a white male but the other characters are (so far) the more interesting/hysterical bits. Anywho, when are you planning on writing another book?

I think they found a nice balance with a good cast. People seem to be running about half/half on it. Ratings aren't encouraging -- slight improvement this week. So we'll see.

 

I'm waiting for the return of Brody and the CIA getting back to catching terrorists. All of the family drama and phsychological drama is fine, but not really why I watch the show.

You mean you don't want "Homeland" to always be about Dana and her bad attitude? I wonder what Claire Danes's deepest, private-est thoughts are about the show's Dana fixation, since she more or less or invented one of television's greatest sullen teens?

Didn't know you were here today & would come back. PS - You're doing good work on the reviews, Hank.

Yay.

That's the only way I can explain why I watched Back in the Game last night. I wrote to you about how awful it was after the first episode. Last night's episode was disgusting, gross, and nasty... I couldn't turn away, but I'm done. It sank so far below the first episode, I am afraid to think how bad the next one could be - and don't want to know. Please tell me it will be gone. And what's with the bathroom humor - is there some kind of retro need for writers to return to 3rd grade? Even the mom on that new Will Arnet show was doing fart humor. It seems like most of the new shows I'm watching are going there. Back to NetFlix. At least when It's Always Sunny in Philadelpia does dumb, they do it well.

Agreed.

 

 

I haven't done that since I got my DVR. Maybe I could cancel cable and use the money to go to actual baseball games, but then I'd miss seeing Jayson Werth's beard in high def.

I'm on board with that reasoning.

My stepson, who is/was a camerman for The Following, Carrie Diaries, Damages, tells me that Boardwalk Empire has the luxury of shooting each episode over 20 days, rather than the usual 8, which is why it is such a luxurious production.

Twenty days. I'm exhausted just thinking about. That would mean they work most of the year. I'll keep this in mind and ask a source if that's true.

I read the book and found out from my Sis what happened in the show. Let's just say that the book and the show are widely diverging...

As I think they probably oughta. Most shows do. The "Masters of Sex" biography by Thomas Maier is different from the new show too.

We'll see how we did in the chat ratings and maybe I'll be back in a couple of weeks for more. If not, fear not -- there's tons of TV to review. I have a piece on the new season of "Walking Dead" running in Sunday Style this weekend. Should be up online Friday afternoon for those chompin' at the bit (or the prison fence, or Carl's arm, or ...)

In This Chat
Hank Stuever
Hank Stuever, The Washington Post's TV critic since 2009, joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation. Stuever was born and raised in Oklahoma and previously worked at newspapers in Albuquerque and Austin. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Emily Yahr
Emily Yahr reports, writes and blogs about TV for the Style section, and contributes to pop music coverage. She especially enjoys when the worlds of TV and country music collide. Originally from Cleveland, Emily has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.
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