What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Aug 14, 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 once gave "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a good review. Lately he's been digging "The Leftovers," "Fargo" and "Silicon Valley."

Well, my fellow dogs, these are our days of August. I'm back from a nice 12-day vacation in Quebec, where a willful insistence on French identity results in some delightfully weird television choices -- but I didn't really watch a lot of it.

Back home, we've finally reached a point where TV has cooled its jets for a few weeks; 2014 has been a relentless buffet of new shows. It'll pick up in a few weeks.

A few debuts while I was gone: I reviewed Starz's "Outlander" and Cinemax's "The Knick" here. (I thought "The Knick" was just sort of ho-hum and not up to the expectations I had for it. Anyone watch it?) And is anyone an "Outlander" fan? For my positive review, one reader granted me special status as an "Outmander" (i.e., a male fan of Diana Gabaldon's fantasy/romance novel series) -- but I'm still curious if the TV show is meeting the fans' high expectations? If you're out there today, let us know.

Despite all my "Poirot" jokes, Emily Yahr had a great piece on the show's final bow. And, in case you missed it, Robin Givhan had a smart analysis of "Project Runway's" decade of making-it-work and its impact -- if any -- on fashion.

The rest is up to you -- let's chat the hour away and get that much closer to our weekends...

I've long been a fan, but this season -- eh. Nothing new to see here. Same old, same old. I think it lost something when Michael Kors left as a judge. But Lifetime seems to be sticking with it. Are the ratings for it still that good?

It's been getting a little more than a million watchers in live/same-day ratings, which is perfectly acceptable in cable-reality land. I meant to make this the season that I checked in with "Project Runway" to see if it still holds up, but once again I've just been too busy keeping up with the new stuff. Chatters -- do you agree? Is it rote?

Is Guy Fieri really so popular that viewers want to watch him for hours on end? Food Network used to be so much better but now it's about obnoxious personalities and endless hours of silly competitions. Is this type of programming bringing in the viewers? I find that I'm turning to other channels when I want to watch intelligent and/or truly entertaining shows about food.

I can only presume that, yes, the Food Network has ratings data and market research that shows a tolerance (and perhaps even appreciation) for Guy Fieri that you don't possess, and I don't possess, and I would think most sentient creatures wouldn't possess, no matter what they like to eat. I agree with you -- it's been a long time since I channel surfed past the Food Network and was tempted to stop. It used to have a more tranquil and appetizing quality. I'm having a harder time distinguishing its content from other shows and I could be fine without ever watching another show that tours the country and discovers gloppy diner food. (Don't get me wrong: carbs and I go way back.)

This thought randomly entered my brain while walking in to work this morning - How will they handle Christopher Evan Welch's character now that he's sadly passed? Seriously, this is what concerns me even with horrible things happening HOURLY. But really, kill him in show, just make him shadowy background figure who communicates through the attractive assistant? I'm worried, I love that show so much. Thank you, resume normal people activities now.

I think a fitting satirical tribute would be to have the character die and enter a Steve Jobs-like phases of techno-deification. It seems the easiest solution to a regrettable loss. One of the first season's best scenes was when his tech guru had an assistant go out an order one of everything from Burger King and then made a killing in sesame-seed futures.

Once Poirot is gone, who is going to be the archenemy of this chat?

I'm on the lookout for a new one -- some show that some reader(s) ask about every week, where my only answer is to shrug so hard that my shoulders hurt. Any suggestions?

Any intel on whether Longmire will be renewed? Last year, I recall A&E took their sweet precious time deciding. I don't understand why they wait when many other networks announce quickly during or immediately after the season.

I don't have any fresh intel, sorry. I think a couple of weeks back we chatted about this and I said it's chances were fairly good, considering the field.

They have to eliminate the hopeless designers like the ones that can't sew properly and the ones that have no control over their nerves. This year has an interesting dynamic with a woman who has won two challeges but nearly all the rest of the contestants don't like her stuff at all and she doesn't play all that well with others in a group situation. If you aren't happy, wait a few weeks and then come back and see if you like it better.

Twas ever thus, right?

My husband and I are looking for a show to watch together. Neither of us has ever been a big TV watcher, but it turns out that's a relaxing way to spend time together. We have enjoyed: Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Orphan Black, and Doctor Who. I love The Americans, but my husband lost interest after a few episodes when he concluded that the show is really just about relationships. Do you have any recommendations for us - current or not?

I'm going to turn this to chatters. What I get from the question is that you both like sci/fi-ish, action-ish, but husband bails when it gets too real or ooky on the relationship stuff.

What do we think?

I'll start: "Game of Thrones," "Falling Skies," "The Strain" ...

Your esteemed predecessor, Ms. de Moraes, had a distinct aversion to Ryan Seacrest, whom she referred to as Seabiscuit (which was an unfortunate slur on a remarkable horse).

I gained a new appreciation after watching the "Being Poirot" special, which showed how much respect and enthusiasm David Suchet has for the role. And Belgians really are crazy about him! I guess that in small countries, you take what you can get.

We just finished off the last two series of HOUSE OF CARDS from the BBC. I like the Netflix version a lot but the character of Francis just works so much better as a refined Brit instead of a smarmy Southerner. The late Ian Richardson was just delicious in that role. And they only took 4 episodes to get to the point where the Netflix version is now after 20.

I think that at some point in season 3, people will just stop comparing the two. Maybe.

As someone who grew up when Mork and Mindy was on the air -- I still recall my mom refusing to let us watch the episode with Rachel Welch because she thought it'd be too sexual -- I've long been a fan of Robin Williams. One thing in all the memories these past few days struck me -- a number of comments implying that it was sad or depressing that he "had" to return to TV with The Crazy Ones last year. Is TV really seen as that disastrous a thing? (And for the record, I thought TCO was awesome!)

I must have missed those comments/theories. When "The Crazy Ones" was rolled out last year, Williams himself talked at great length about wanting to do TV and finding a way to balance it with his still-ample film work. More and more, television is seen as a fine place for film actors to find better and challenging work. The stigma is pretty much all but washed away, particularly if you can get a role in an ambitious series -- and not just on HBO or Showtime. Look at the line of film actresses who found great work in the "American Horror Story" franchise on FX, for example.

It's probably a little too soon (and irrelevant) to go over "The Crazy Ones" with a fine-tooth comb to pinpoint why it didn't quite work -- including the fact that it was a tonal shift from what CBS usually considers a comedy. It was an admirable miss.

I thought Conan's reaction (finding out during the show taping) was the most immediate, sincere, and heartfelt. Jimmy Fallon's response was odd. The band had a shout out, Fallon proceeded with his monologue, then a segment in he got serious, then emotional, then tried to perform a William's like bit, with a "Captain, my captain" pledge on top of his desk. It lacked gravitas and maturity. I guess he is too young? I am also struck by Billy and Whoopie exclaiming "No words". Seems like they would add even more to the "great comedian, better person" theme. Perhaps seeing him struggle with depression was too sad to comment on.

There's an immediacy factor here that not everyone has figured out in the 24-7 Twitter age, compounded with brutal punishment from the mob if one says the wrong thing. I don't blame celebs for deciding to say "there are no words" rather than unintentionally land on the wrong words. (In fact, I'll bet publicists are now instructing their clients to keep it short and simple, especially where social networks are involved.)

When you say "I guess [Fallon] is too young?" as a way to explain why he can't do serious very well, I can only sigh and point out that the man is FORTY years old.

I think the sadness there is that someone as successful as Robin Williams still "had to" work because of financial difficulties. He apparently made some comments to that effect. At the same time, it's hard to imagine Williams hurting for opportunities, and hard to imagine him whiling away the days on a pool float. That man liked to work.

Celebrity finances are far more complicated than you or I can comprehend. It's why people who come into serious money quickly (athletes, pop stars, lottery winners) usually lose most of it.

I'm not familiar with what Robin Williams said about his current financial state, but I do love one of his famous quips: Carpe per diem! Which he very loosely translated to "seize the check!"

My impression is that work was solace. You don't have to be very much of a workaholic to totally understand.

My wife introduced me to a great bit that Williams had on the Carol Burnett show. He played an inappropriate guest at a wake. They first did it as scripted, then repeated a performance with Robin going well off script. Amazing stuff.

I don't think comments were implying that returning to tv was such a sad thing, but an "unsuccessful" return to tv was sad. The show got canceled after one season - I could see how a movie star like Robin Williams could find that depressing.

I think Robin Williams was well acquainted with the concept of a bomb -- go back and look at his IMDB filmography. Depression is sooo much deeper than being bummed about a TV show being cancelled or a movie not bringing in the box office. In fact, what little I know of depression is that it can be impervious to both the ups and downs of one's external circumstances. Certainly family and career can at times be either a drag or a support. Point is, we just don't know.

The Post resurfaced Tom Shales's original review of Mork and Mindy from the 70s to commemorate Robin Williams. I was baffled to see that in it he very confidently spelled out the traditional Orkan phrase as, "Nonno, Nonno!" It's like reading Middle English and getting a peek into a time when the English language hadn't yet standardized.

Yes -- it sometimes takes a while for popular culture's neologisms to arrive at their mutually-agreed-upon spellings. Nowadays, we get there a lot faster. On Oscar night, for example, we all struggled on deadline to arrive at a standard spelling for "Adela Dazim." Twitter solved it pretty quick, I seem to recall, but I might still be spelling it "wrong."

Follow the showrunners. You can get plenty lost in other shows in the Whedonverse ("Angel," "Firefly," "Dollhouse") or the Whoverse ("Torchwood," "Sarah Jane Adventures"), but you can also try Moffat & Gatiss's "Sherlock" or Jane Espenson's "Warehouse 13." Also, my spouse & I love the TV comfort food that is -- er, was -- "Psych."

I like this solution, except that you wind up watching a lot of their failures too.

Thank you. I had never heard of Falling Skies or The Strain. We'll give those a shot. Re: Game of Thrones - I should have mentioned that I am averse to violence and depravity and so barely made it through the pilot of this show. The trick, I think, is to find a show with a good enough story about people (for me) that also has enough action (for him). I just remembered another one that we liked: Lost.

Hmmm, so maybe not "The Strain."

I'm still thinkin' ...

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. , Firefly, Continuum

I actually thought they had the most genuine response with their "No Words" comment to Robin Williams death. As much as Whoopi loves to talk, their silence speaks volume about how much they were affected by their friend's death.

Where do you rank LOST on a top 100 TV series list?

Lower third.

I think it's coming around. Episode 6 was excellent and Episode 7 moved along some major plot points that, due to Damon's past, I wasn't sure we'd see movement on for another season or two. Have you stuck with it?

I need to catch up with it (I think I'm up to episode 5) and intend to do so this afternoon, if the relative quiet holds.

Husband and I are loving Going Deep with David Rees on National Geographic Channel. Funny and informative. Have you seen it? What do you think?

I'm always glad when someone can find something new that they like in the dead of summer.

So as to not yuck your yum, I will now not type up a long paragraph about how annoying I find David Rees.

Enjoy!

Wait, am I reading this correctly? People think his depression, and possibly his suicide, had something to do with his show being cancelled? Please, please, educate yourself about depression. Everything in your life can be PERFECT and you can still be depressed.

That's what I was trying to say and you said so much better. Thanks.

Say, did you know that there is an American version of "The Office"?

Funniest thing I've seen on TV in quite a while.

With all the really funny stuff out there? You sure about that?

Spending the summer binge-watching The Good Wife, trying to catch up for the fall. I love that episode titles are the same number of words as the season number. (ie, S1 titles = 1 word. S2 titles = 2 words, etc). This pattern goes thru S1-S4. Then in S5, they go down to 3 words. Are they working their way back down, so that S7 is one word titles again and will be the last season (Possible ending titles? Fin. End. Bye. Thoughts?)

I have no idea! Did you simply notice this or were you tipped off? I had never heard this, but then, I so rarely pay attention to episode titles.

People will never stop comparing British and American shows, and always finding the American versions worse. One of these days, I am going to snap and force the next anglophile who goes on about the superiority of BBC shows to watch the British adaptation of Jersey Shore.

I actually strung someone along at a party once who was "informing" me about a show called "The Wire" by telling him that the original British version was so much better.

I've got the last two eps of Masters of Sex DVRed but haven't summoned the enthusiasm to watch yet. Season One was no laugh riot but it wasn't the persistent downer Season Two seems to be. Should I stick around for better things to come?

MoS fans, a little help, please? Which episode this season has Masters and Johnson in the hotel room watching the boxing match? Is it episode four? It is brilliant. If you haven't come that far yet, keep going. I'm sorry my schedule is so wonky -- I can't remember what's aired yet and what hasn't. Of all the downers on TV right now, I find MoS kind of peppy. Maybe that's just a reflection of much darkness I'm exposed to by reviewing so many serious dramas.

Totally works for me. In one aspect, even outdid the book - in establishing her relationship with Frank before she goes through the stones, you get a better understanding of why she's so keen to get back to modern times. Book didn't handle it as well. And Jamie... well. Jamie.

Oh, yes, he's quite fine. I was hoping he'd pass muster with the hardcore fans. I noticed all the pictures they'd drawn of him he tended to have Fabio-like tresses, which would have been bad.

I can totally see how one could find him annoying, but I'm kind of embracing the silly pretentiousness. One of the NASA guys said of him: "Who wears a smock int he desert?" I think that kinda covers it.

No one tipped me off - I just noticed. So much easier to notice though, when you're watching on a platform like Amazon Prime, and all the titles are listed in one place, in order. If I was watching on tv/dvr, I likely wouldn't have noticed. Either way, I just love the cleverness of it

Well, I'm seriously impressed that you noticed. I guess we'll see if there's a new pattern when "Good Wife" returns this fall.

Shirley you jest.

My tween daughter and I watch "The Dick Van Dyke Show" on Hulu. We are still in Season 2 but I have plans for things to show her next ("Mary Tyler Moore," "All in the Family," etc.). But I'm wondering whether our culture is reaching a point where it's impossible to assume that everyone has seen everything, the way that you can always count on an "I Love Lucy" reference to land. Any advice for us parents who care about our children's TV literacy?

I think we're past the point of a common pop-cultural literacy, especially when we consider all the cultures that television neglected to portray for so long. I wouldn't worry about it -- particularly because young women and men who want to become more pop-culture literate will do so on their own.

I don't have children, but I've always thought that I wouldn't burden them with "my" TV and music nostalgia. I think it's just as important to let them tell you what's relevant and interesting in present-day pop culture and give them some feedback on what it reminds you of -- particularly since there are so many remakes in TV, movies and film.

I could go on, but we're out of time! Already! August is half-over. I'll be here next Thursday at noon, which, believe it or not, is our last chat BEFORE the Emmys. Hope to see you then.

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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