What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Mar 20, 2014

Post TV critic Hank Stuever talked about what's bad, good and so bad it's good on TV.

Here's what Hank would watch if he wasn't paid to watch TV: "Game of Thrones," "House Hunters," "The Amazing Race," "The Suze Orman Show." And he recently gave "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a good review. Lately he's been digging "Masters of Sex," "Boardwalk Empire" and "Time of Death."

We're back and I have some chat-related news: This TV chat is going weekly, starting today. Every Thursday at noon. (Except that I already know I'm going to be unavailable on Thursday, April 3. Welcome to my version of commitment.)

And rather than wear you out with a bunch of links in my intro, I'm going to wear you out by sprinkling 'em throughout the chat.

Ready steady go.

Consistently impressed with F/X's The Americans. This second season is really finding its groove. Keri Russell is not your mother's Felicity. How is it doing in the ratings? Do they ever film in the DC area?

For fans and critics, "The Americans" is having a fantastic season and I even (a tad begrudingly) will give it up for Keri Russell; last season, I just didn't think she was quite holding up her end, acting-wise, alongside Matthew Rhys. But I don't think that anymore.

The ratings? Eesh, they're not so fantastic if you're looking at live or same-day. We're talking a million or so viewers, sometimes closer to 2 million, each week, but FX puts a lot of stock in the time-shifted DVR numbers a few days later.

"The Americans" is shot in New York. I can't remember off-hand if they do many exteriors here or not. Anyone seen 'em around? Lately?

I love this show but hate the Baltimore as a stand in for Washington trope. Maybe it is because I'm a DC local that this makes me grit my teeth. Does it bother you as well?

It would, except they did such a nice job on the opening theme sequence of DC locations.

When these things bug me ("Homeland," "House of Cards," "Scandal," "The Americans," "Veep," to name but a few of the Washington shows that aren't shot in Washington), I ask myself: Would I rather have a (trivially) inaccurate depiction of DC or would I rather have all of our already gridlocked streets blocked off by all the trailers, trucks, cables, etc. required for even the simplest exterior shots? For not having Hollywood block my pedestrian commute with regularity, I'll take having to watch Carrie Mathison get from her "Adams Morgan" condo to "Bethesda" and then out to "Langley" in, like, 20 minutes.

I am baffled by the makeup on the morning female anchors on Bloomberg news. They all seem to wear the same makeup, and it's this strange pale pink paint. You are the TV guy. Please address this.

It sounds Easter-y.

I can't help it, I kinda love NBC's Dracula - so much camp! - is there any hope that it will be renewed?

I would keep your hopes very low. But I also thought the show was good at what it was trying to be. I gave it a B- wayyy back in the Fall 2013 TV preview; I didn't keep watching it, though.

Speaking of cancellations and renewals, NBC did make some decisions along those lines this week. Here's what's renewed for next season: "Chicago PD" _and_ "Chicago Fire"; "Parks & Recreation" is also renewed; so is "Grimm" and "The Blacklist." Still waiting to hear on "Parenthood," "Community," "About a Boy," "Growing Up Fisher."

Also waiting to see how these two new dramas do in the ratings. Here's my review of "Believe" (meh) and the ridonkulous "Crisis." Anybody watch either of these? Thoughts?

YAAAAAY!!! I love this chat. That's all.

I wonder if any out there prefer Vikings? I just find it more interesting to see a portrayal of a culture in transition than a sword, sandals, sex, and supernatural soap opera (although when I put it that way ...) I really like watching Ragnar struggle with concepts and thoughts for which he has no vocabulary. He is trying to exercise power with a different justification than the "Family First" or "The Gods Decree" that truly ancient cultures used (and which GoT uses). To watch him try to explain why he wanted to sail west, to settle rather than pillage, to have other goals than simply fighting (which was pretty much the be-all and end-all of Valhalla) - it's just very interesting (more interesting than the gory sword thrusts) and makes me wonder if someone with some real appreciation of historical inquiry is involved. Something I NEVER ask about GoT.

I love both shows for very different reasons. (And on a related note of "squeee" -- my GoT season 4 screeners came last Friday; the first three episodes. I watched them immediately.)

"Vikings" is radically more simple that "Game of Thrones," but I'm with you -- the whole show hinges on Ragnar's open-mindedness. Even though he's a brute at heart, his eagerness to explore is a crucial metaphor for civilization. And yes, the creators of "Vikings" are mindful of the history and feel for accuracy -- to the degree that they need to be. It's not a dissertation, it's a cable drama. "Game of Thrones" has the luxury of a very powerful, very expansively imagined other world. To me, the two don't really compare, which is another reason I'm glad History moved "Vikings" away from the Sunday-night ratings melee.

Your review was the first I'd heard about this series, but I'm so glad it exists and even more glad that it's apparently good. I'm a sucker for a compelling show about female friendships and a sucker for an inside Hollywood-y story (Episodes! Extras!). Plus Dolly Wells has always seemed badass and awesome to me. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

That's what I like most to hear from a reader -- that I can play some small role in discovery. (Or, as it more frequently happens, sound a polite warning about some real crap.) Do enjoy "Doll & Em" -- it gets a little more intense as it goes. And they're showing two episodes every Wednesday, so it'll be over on April 2.

How is it most GLEE episodes seem written by drunken chimps, the lack of logic and continuity reads as incompetence not surrealism, but are still able to bring an emotional punch out of nowhere (last week's "Nationals" ep and the official Monteith memorial show)? I can't remember another show with such highs and lows.

It is my duty to wonder if some of the audience are also drunken chimps. Hey, speaking of "Glee," Emily Yahr watched the 100th episode so none of us had/has to! Check out her report.

If it wasn't for Adam Driver, would anyone watch "Girls"? No bias intended, but the male characters on this show are much better than the female cast. Guess that is because of Lena's writing?

Maybe there's an intention there? Maybe Dunham and the other writers mean to make the guys look more stable? That's my most charitable thought about why the show has turned out that way.

(By the way: How exciting is it to think of Adam Driver as Darth Whoever in the new "Star Wars" movie? At least, that's what the rumor was last week.)

If you read my review, you know that I was more than pleasantly surprised by this new sci-fi show, "The 100," on the CW. And I wasn't just having a weird day -- I watched six or seven episodes. Anybody else see it? Am I cray?

^^^^ I think we have a new name for this chat. Brings an extra hidden mystery and post-modernism that What to Watch doesn't quite have.

Better still if we spelled it Whut to Whut.

After all, where I was raised, "Do whut, now?" was a perfectly acceptable follow-up question to just about any statement.

I binge-watched the first season of Masters of Sex. How Alison Janney did not get an Emmy for her portrayal of Beau Bridges' husband -- I'll never know. I thought that was some of the best work she's ever done. Will she be back for the second season?

Unless you're writing to us from the fuuuuuture, you're way ahead of the disappointment curve about Janney's chances for winning a "Masters of Sex" Emmy. The show started in September 2013, so any Emmy nominations coming its way will be announced this summer. The Emmy Awards are Monday, Aug. 25.

Here's some good news you might have already heard: Season 2 of "Masters of Sex" is arriving earlier than expected -- Sunday, July 13 on Showtime. I love the show and look forward to it.

Just saw the season finale on west coast PBS and loved it, but am wondering why the show doesn't get more buzz. Is it the 3 episode format, not airing at the same time throughout the country, or ? am I an outlier in loving it?

In terms of niche-fandom in the wired 21st century, I feel like "Sherlock" has gotten a ton of buzz, especially when you consider the usual slobberbaths like Entertainment Weekly and web discussions, etc. It made a mainstream movie schtar out of our friend Bandersnatch Cummerbund (holla, Pookie). "Sherlock" doesn't come anywhere near my list of shows that are under-loved, but if you're looking for the sort of Monday-morning water-cooler, everyone-watches-this reaction from a very wordy, very nerdy, veddy euro, very long (90 minutes an episode) PBS crime drama, you might wait forever.

That. Is. All.

Boring.

For you "Bachelor" fans, I realize the furor has subsided a bit since last week's finale, but if you didn't read Emily Yahr's blow-by-blow recap, you really should!

My husband and I cut the cord a couple years ago, and we got used to (binge) watching on netflix, amazon prime, etc. Now we have cable again as part of our condo package (including HBO), and I have no idea where to start! What new(ish) shows should I start watching? I've been streaming Sherlock, Luther, Veronica Mars, House of Cards, Alpha House, Downton Abbey, Alias, etc. What have I been missing?

How far back are we going? You don't mention having Showtime, but if you have it, I'd do "Masters of Sex" and "Shameless." On cable, I like "The Walking Dead" (more on this in a moment -- has any show had a Season 4 turnaroud toward utter excellence the way TWD has?), "Vikings." Comedy Central gets you "Review," "Inside Amy Schumer." On HBO, you've got "Veep" and "Game of Thrones" returning (go back and do all of GoT). On FX you've got "The Americans" right now and "Fargo" in a few weeks (I haven't seen "Fargo" yet.)

Gang, what am I missing?

I've been thinking about "Girls"--I know, time on my hands. But all the hatred I hear for Lena Dunham misses the fact that she's playing a character. Since it's her show, people conflate her with who she's playing. The show is mildly amusing and insightful, but she has to be the bravest actress in the world. You can tell the directors are DELIBERATELY putting her in situations where she'll look awkward and bad.

Goof point. But nothing is happening to the Hannah Horvath character that doesn't either spring from or gets approval from Lena Dunham. And yes, it's a character, but she's also sort of playing that character in public too. This is a case of a character/creator/actor melding so closely together in public perception (fairly and unfairly) that it's difficult to separate them out.

I'm the fan of Lisa de Moraes who created "Bandersnatch Cummerbund." The guy may be a fine actor, but can also be a twit, namely: "Being Posh Can Ostracise You" (link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8978114/Benedict-Cumberbatch-being-posh-can-ostracise-you.html) See comment re Helena Bonham Carter at end of article (NSFW).

Nice to hear from you.

You're kidding, right? I feel like I'm hearing about this show all the time. The people who are obsessed with it are OBSESSED in the crazy, Breaking Bad-ish, "How can you not watch this show? YOU MUST WATCH THIS SHOW" kind of way. They're even more intense than the Doctor Who people lately, and that's saying something. If I didn't already watch and love Sherlock, it would actually turn me off from watching just on principle. (But seriously, it's very good and you should watch it, and yes I recognize the irony)

Yeah, that's kind of my perception of buzz and "Sherlock" too. But this happens all the time -- I hear from readers who are under the perception that their favorite shows aren't getting any/enough buzz. While the rest of us are, like, are you serious?

"buying Alaska" when you are under a blanket at home holding hot chocolate. Its the best.

My version of that this winter was "Ultimate Survival Alaska." I wonder if so many of us watching Alaska shows is what caused the polar vortex?

Who is winning these days? Thanks for going weekly!

We're all losing.

(Which is to say I dunno.)

Hi Hank, Are you watching "Resurrection" on Sunday nights? What do you think of it? Love your articles and chats!

Hi there and thanks. Here's my review of "Resurrection," for which I watched the first two episodes and will probably return a few more times to see where they take it and maybe more if it becomes a solid hit.

If you'll take time to read my review, you'll see my thoughts are complicated. I really ache for viewers who've lost someone and are still grieving, especially parents who've lost a child. (I wrote about this too when I reviewed "Broadchurch" and especially when I reviewed the French miniseries "The Returned," which I still think got ripped off by "Resurrection," even though everyone seems to agree it's just pop-culture coinkydink.) I've heard back from a couple of readers who are grieving the deaths of their own children and confirm that, yes, sometimes even just the ads for these shows are hard. So, there's that.

I think "Resurrection" is above-average, so far, unless the wheels come off the story and it gets too wackadoo.

What are your thoughts on this show? Is it a keeper?

See above.

Hello Hank, It suddenly seems to me that all dramas have to have a rape episode/plot line at some point, in the same clockwork that drives the many (more harmless) oft-mocked sitcom tropes. Do you think this is simply such a significant issue in our society that it always comes up, or do you see anything perverse in the ravenous entertainment demand for these plot lines?

Actually, the headline on Alyssa Rosenberg's blog post is "The Americans takes on sexual assualt" (so it took me a while to find it) and it's a recap of this week's "Americans" episode, so fair warning if you're trying to avoid spoilers. (Btw, I'm delighted that our Editorial/Opinion department has hired Alyssa to write about culture and politics. She's very smart.)

I think showrunners and their writers are looking for more and more intensity in dramas. Like everything, how you depict a sexual assualt or rape is all about tone. They're not all the same. (See this season of "Downton Abbey.") I don't think there's really an overall trend or a memo going around Hollywood saying "more rape, more rape."

Have you been keeping up with Scandal? They do cheesy cliffhangers well. I hope they don't kill off the U.S. Attorney David and kill off Cyrus's boyfriend instead.

Me too! (He said, not knowing what he's talking about.) You know where I like to watch "Scandal"? On Twitter. Try it sometime, just read the tweets.

Guesses as to COMMUNITY and COUGAR TOWN returning?

I think "Community" is finished, but I'm not an NBC exec. And I feel so sorry for the "Cougar Town" people, who try and try to have the kind of fun they were once having. Maybe they'll be renewed into eternity.

Last season, I thought that The Following was an interesting premise and I, well, followed it for a season. It became predictable with cult members being embedded in every law enforcement department, Kevin Bacon's character being frequently captured but not killed, and the cult leader surviving in the season "cliff-hanger." In addition, the frequent cult-murders took this show from plausible drama to horror-flick absurdity. Is it worth watching season 2?

Well, I didn't think it was worth watching season 1, so ...

I agree with your take on the show. I don't know why they didn't liven things up before it was too late. I thought the last three or four episodes were well paced, well written, and, well...creepy. Van Helsing and the vampire children was really disturbing.

People have asked me if I stand by my mostly-unimpressed Jan. 12 review of HBO's "True Detective" (which was based on episodes 1-4) and the answer is YES. I don't care if the cheese stands alone, I thought the series was technically and stylistically often excellent but, where it counted most, I think the writing was overblown. I think the performances helped mask a lot of the show's structural weakness.

And I thought the March 9 finale (which aired after our last chat) was reflective of the show's problems with hollowness.

I'm very open to other opinions, which generally tended toward rave reviews and huzzahs. What did you think? Try to keep it spoiler-free, though.

If you're just reading the tweets, you're missing out on a great show!

PLL is definitely my guilty pleasure (mainly because it shows on ABC Family & I am a 23 year old woman), but I can't help it. The underlying murder-mystery just keeps me coming back (after EVERY disappointing season/mid-season finale). This past Tuesday was the season finale and again, it lacked any answers to the million questions the audience has. So I think it is time for me to move on! Any suggestions for any "grown up" murder-mystery shows?

Is this how "Castle" viewers are made?

My wife and just watched the orginal BBC series. All the episodes were done as a WETA marathon. Confession: We taped it and ff through the donation pitches. Wow. That was some series. We have yet to see the US version (but we will). Just as good? Better? Meh?

Is this how "the British version was so much better" HoC people are made?

The way you watch Scandal is somewhat analogout to how I now watch Downton Abby-- through recaps, that way I don't have to sit through it, but can feel in the loop when all my women friends are all OMG can you believe Lady So n So did X!

I got so turned on when Lady So-n-So did X.

Of all the wonderful things on television right now, I'm always turning on Netflix to catch the Returned. I'm trying not to binge, two episodes left and I can't stop thinking about it. I guess I was late to it, do you have a link to your article? I can't read enough about this show. I saw my first commercial for Resurrection immediately after I watched the Returned, I just assumed it was a remake, I figured they had to do it since most people hate subtitles.

What, you're asking me for a link to something I wrote? My heart swells with gratitude. Here you go.

Bizarre as it is, "Resurrection" is not an American version of "The Returned." But it is based on an American novel that was called "The Returned." And the French series was based on a French movie. It took me forever to understand this, so just rest with it for a while.

Write me back and tell me what you thought of the ending to the French show. I'm still a little let down by it. (Oh, also, they're shooting another season of the French "Returned" now, I am almost certain I've heard that; should make its way to us in 2015, '16.)

You're not going to leave without talking about it, are you?

Oh, no, I'm afraid I am. Let me just say: IMMEDIATE EMMY FOR MELISSA MCBRIDE, PLEASE.

I really liked the show but maybe not the ending. Is that how they would have really ended?

After the ending, I was all: so the art director did it?

If they make it repertory do you think Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConnehay will be in the show again?I read that the writer, Nick Pizzolatto, wanted recurring casts with different stories.

I heard somewhere he wants lady detectives now. (Maybe because so many pointed out how needlessly macho season 1 was, how thin the female characters were).

I think I'm in the minority, but I prefer the American version of HoC to the British. I thought that the acting, especially Robin Wright's, was better, and I have a much better sense of how the US Congress operates than the British Parliamentary system, so I could follow the machinations more easily. (Sometimes I think that people just say "the British version was better" as a reflex.)

Oh no! You were let down? That's not good. I've already scheduled to watch the last one during my daughter's lacrosse practice this weekend. I'll let you know for sure. Thanks for the link

Just a tiny bit let down. Enjoy it, don't mind me.

That means it's time for me to scoot.

See you next Thursday at noon!

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.
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