What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Dec 05, 2013

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."

Hi everyone -- I apologize to those of you who tuned in last time (Nov. 21) and were treated to a system-wide meltdown (ours, not yours) and a hastily cancelled chat. I'm feeling better tech vibes today, aren't you?

Let's get to it. There's so much TV out there to talk about. (There always is.) Since we last chatted, I've reviewed several shows ("Kirstie," "Mob City," "Getting On," "Ja'mie: Private School Girl" and more -- I'll link to them as we go along, or you could just start here) and I'm eager for any feedback. Also, there's been a lot going on with some popular faves -- "Homeland," "The Walking Dead," "American Horror Story: Coven." (Please be mindful of spoilers if you want to weigh in, though I'm not too picky about that, we do want to be kind to those who aren't fully caught up.)

Also, we've got that whole "Sound of Music Live" thing tonight, in which the entire nation will act as skeptical television critics. I'll be on deadline for that -- my review should be up on the WaPo website by midnight.

Also, I've filed my picks for "Best TV of 2013" for this Sunday's Style section. I think that's going up online tomorrow, but I'm happy to reveal some of it. (I also did "Worst," only I labeled it "letdowns")

What else is going on? What are you watching? We're heading into the dry season for TV -- three whole weeks. Then everything kicks up in January. I'm halfway through my "Downton Abbey" screeners (begins Jan. 5 on PBS) and not exactly wowed.

Diving into your questions now.

I'm sorry if this doesn't read well, but what makes your opinion of TV shows any more valid than anyone else? Again, I'm not trying to knock you, but aren't television shows more geared to personal tastes? When you critique a show, are you looking at it from your personal perspective or are you looking at it based on your view of how it will be received by the general public? Again, I'm not trying to be argumentative; just trying to understand what your thought process is. Thanks.

The short answer rests in the first rule of criticism, which is to ask: Is this TV show (or book or painting or play or movie or whatever) good at _what is it attempting to be or do?_ It's of no use for a critic to come at a piece of work based only on her or his personal likes; instead we come at it from a place of looking at the genre and the attempt and the result. I would say my opinion is valid (not more or less, but valid) because I put in the work to understand (as best it can be understood, beyond desires for success) the motivation of the show's creators. Because I look at it like a reporter. Because I'm not just watching TV in a prone, passive position. I don't know if that answer reads any better than your question, but it's a good way to start the chat! Thanks.

Thanks for having the Chat this week -- As a Nielsen TV log keeper, I was surprised that one of my favorite shows (PERSON OF INTEREST) had a serious turn (SPOILER ALERT) with the shooting death of its major female character (portrayed by Taraji Henson) -- Detective Carter. Will the show's creator and producers move on to different projects next fall? Very, very curious.

Taraji Henson has said in interviews that she only ever wanted to be on the show for a couple of seasons at most, and the producers knew this all along and had built in her character's demise. I don't think that means new work for anybody else involved with the show. It goes on without her.

I watched all 10 episodes of Full Circle and have started watching Black Mirror on DirectTv's Audience Channel. Full Circle had some very good actors but was rather bizarre; Black Mirror, of which only the first episode has been shown so far, is really bizarre, and I understand it gets even more so. I'm looking forward to the new seasons of Poirot and Sherlock (although I like Elementary much better than Sherlock!). Question: Husband & I have watched the first two seasons of Wallander (Kenneth Branagh's version), but I'm leery about season 3 because Tom Hiddleston is not on, as he was playing Prince Hal/Henry V in The Hollow Crown at the time. Is it worth watching without Magnus? We are appalled at what a slob Wallander is and at the casual dress of the Swedish police. No suits and ties like American detectives!

I've watched some "Wallander" and think it's all very good, but your question is at such a depth, that I'm going to throw it out to the audience and see if someone is ahead of you and can more properly advise.

I watched some of "Full Circle" but didn't review. Sometimes I have to make a choice based on delivery-system. I still don't know where I stand on giving full reviews to shows that are native only to the provider, like DirecTV, as opposed to shows we can all (in theory) access via Netflix, Hulu, et al.

Just wanted to say I always enjoy your articles.

Thank you. I just want to say that I always enjoy being told that. (When it happens, that is.)

Who's your favorite Doctor from Doctor Who? I'm not really concerned about your opinion of actual physicians.

This question was (happily) saved when our last chat crashed and I had just written about the 50th anniversary of "Doctor Who."

My answer is Tom Baker, because that's when I was watching "Doctor Who," as a boy, back in the late 1970s early 1980s, on OETA, the PBS station in Oklahoma City.

I'm really disappointed with BBC America. While I'm really enjoying the current Dr. Who extravaganza all too often it's nothing but endless hours of Star Trek, Next Generation or other American-produced programming. Why don't they show more British content?

Well, if you look at it from BBC America's perspective, their goal is not simply be an American simulcast of BBC, which would open a whole can of worms in terms of licensing, legal rights and probably initiate an apocalyptic war with PBS. BBC America is producing more and more original stuff (like the excellent "Orphan Black"), but, like just about every cable network, has a lot of grid to fill. I think they're coming along well -- my big beef is the commercial breaks, which seem excessive, but I never begrudge anyone a business model.

I think the Mindy Project might be sort of bad, and not very funny. But I just find her so adorable and endearing that I have fallen in love with that show. From a critic's perspective, is it actually good or am I blinded by her awesomeness?

A tricky diagnosis. I think "The Mindy Project" flails about more than it succeeds. What I prescribe is letting the episodes pile up in a DVR queue and then zipping through them. I can usually tell within the first few minutes if this is going to be a "good" episode of "Mindy Project" or not. Then zip along at xx2 or xx4 or so and see if anything funny-lookin' passes by. If so, pause and check it out. If not, move onto the next episode. You can watch SO MUCH TV this way.

I was disappointed in your Doctor Who article in that it didn't mention Craig Ferguson's superb explanation of the series through song and dance... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9P4SxtphJ4

Well, the casing only holds so much sausage, so let's just enjoy it here and now. Thanks for the link.

Does WaPo ever ask you to review these gems? I confess I've played more than a few games of Christmas-movie-bingo with a bottle or two of a warming beverage. Maybe you could nudge them to, er, give you an extra assignment at this time of year...

I did a review of some Christmas movies in one piece a few years back ... here's the link. And here's the lead from it, which still stands:

There's a reason I should be banned from watching anything with "Hallmark" in the title or production notes this time of year, and here it is: I am the person who cannot help but notice the obvious seam on the bald cap worn by the teary little actress in the hospital bed. And once I see it, there's no going back.

I just haven't had time to watch any of them this year -- I went too deep and too long into JFK Assassination stuff and also the Doctor Who stuff. When you review a bunch of holiday TV movies at once, it winds up looking like a mass murder.

That project looks like a disaster in the making. At least Julie Andrews is an actress as well as a singer. I have no loyalty to the original - in fact, I'm one of the the people that cannot stand that movie - yes, we exist! No way I'm wasting time watching the live production tonight.

Aw, come on. Not even as a drinking game or something? America is gathering for it, and America never gathers anymore, except for football.

I have a theory about TV: It works fine when it's unrealistic vis-a-vis reality but not vis-a-vis itself. For instance, Kalinda on "The Good Wife" can find out anything from anyone, she's invincible, and everyone (male and female) is sexually attracted to her. Okay, that's her character. But when the show messes with her character -- like when suddenly she's suddenly written to have an skeevy, abusive husband who makes her clueless and ineffective -- that's unrealistic *within the rules of the show.* (Or what others might call character assassination.)

Yes and fans react viciously when a character is, as you say, assassinated in a way that deviates from canon or stipulation. Thanks for the explanation.

I was the one that posed the first question you answered - the one about judging TV. Thanks for taking my question the way it was intended. I appreciate the answer given and it will help me understand all sorts of critiques more fully.

We're here to help.

Hi! I have last night's Mob City in my DVR. Will I make it through 2 hours? Or give up 10 minutes in?

I don't know ya, but I wish I could have given up 10 minutes in. But my darn ethics about keeping an open mind kept me watching the whole screener. It's pretty to look at, in parts, if blood is pretty. In my review, I said that you really need to 1.) have a limitless appetite, as Frank Darabont apparently does, for mob-related stuff in high-genre fashion; and 2.) love that cheesy, bad dialogue. I thought it was a big bore, but I have a bit of blind spot when it comes to tales of organized crime.

Does Mob City begin and end in three weeks? I'm not much into the Mob/gangster thing but I am interested in a format where I know when the story will conclude. I'm sick of spending 5 years (I'm looking at you Lost) to find out, or not, how a story will end. I hope more to see more of this on TV.

"Limited series" are a bit of a  mini-trend right now and more are coming. As I understand it, it does begin and end in its six hours (that's 2 hours every Wednesday until Dec. 18), but, of course, they'll bring it back if it's a success. My favorite little riff of a show right now is HBO's "Getting On," which is six episodes, concluding Dec. 29. I think all three women in it are absolutely great -- Alex Borstein, Laurie Metcalfe and Niecy Nash. (I didn't see the British version; I'm sure someone will inform me how much better it was...)

Here's my review of "Getting On." ("Ja'mie" was surprisingly memorable too.)

I just discovered Parks and Recreation. What a fantastic show! Not only is it hysterical, but the characters are totally real yet still endearing in their wondefully flawed ways. But I wish the TV powers-that-be would realize that instead of making me go to Amazon or Netflx to catch up on past seasons, I would gladly do it through my cable TV and would even sit through commercials while doing so. But hey, if you'd rather I did it elsewhere...

There's a long business reason why you can't access full seasons forever and ever via your cable or satellite provider's on-demand services. But I'm glad you're enjoying P&R. It's not like you're that late -- it's still on! I still have people telling me about this neat, new show they've discovered called "The Wire."

Who's the best Doctor, and why is it obviously Colin Baker? Kidding (although CB deserves way more love than he gets) - question is: From your review it sounded like you were of two minds about the show - like maybe the personal you loves it but the critic you sees its flaws. Is that right, or am I reading too much into your review? If it is right, how do you deal with that as a critic - when your personal preferences are "wrong" from a critical perspective?

Tom Baker, you mean? Anyway, I'm not sure how to answer your question. I tried to be plain in the piece about "Doctor Who" -- it is an acquired taste and I don't quite have the taste for it, but, sort of like the answer I gave at the top of the today's chat, it's hardly ever only about my taste. It's about what the show meant to do and what it actually achieves. With something like "Doctor Who" you're dealing with five decades of attachment, evolution, etc.

I understand what you're getting at when you ask what happens when my personal preferences are "wrong" from a critical perspective. One way I get around that is that I never read other critics in real time, while I'm also working on reviewing the same show. I do, however, go back and read them when there's a safe distance and I've long-since filed my review. I like to see if I was with the crowd consensus or not. One great way to do that is through Metacritic.

Your earlier comment about tonight's version of "The Sound of Music" makes me wonder if you have already partially made up your mind to hate it. I've played in the orchestra for several community theater productions of TSoM, and it's immensely popular. It's really a classic Broadway musical with timeless songs. I hope that you can approach it with an open mind, and not turn your review into some petty skewering-bordering-on bullying a la Tom Shales on Kathie Lee Griffin. I had to stop reading his reviews because of his meanness. Thank you.

I assure I have not. If anything, I'm probably rooting more for "Sound of Music Live" to be a pleasing and fascinating affair for all who tune in. (It may come as a surprise to network execs and producers, but this is what I and most critics ALWAYS hope for in television programs.) But, like you, I'm intrigued by the pre-backlash, the idea that SoM (the movie version) is sacred.

The person you are thinking of who came under such legendary skewering by my predecessor is Kathie Lee Gifford, not Griffin. Let's not shed too many tears for her; she seems to be getting along just fine.

Lisa de Moraes long ago explained that TV advertisers' most coveted viewers were males between the ages of 18 and 34. So why do we see commercials on, e.g., pro football, for expensive cars that most of those young men couldn't possibly afford?

Aspiration. If you don't implant it in their minds young, they'll never reach midlife crazies and buy a luxury vehicle.

Okay, I can't answer the Wallander question, although now that I know Tom Hiddleston was in it I will be seeking that out. BUT, how is it possible to like Elementary better than Sherlock? Surely blasphemy by someone who otherwise sounds like a lovely person :)

To each her own.

Acquired taste? How so?

You sound like someone who just made a third trip to the all-you-can-eat "Doctor Who" buffet. It's a beloved show and it's a good show, especially _for those who find it good._ But that is not everyone. That is how I define acquired taste.

Based on the lede you posted regarding the lady wearing the bald cap, you should be forced to watch (and review) every Hallmark special ever made! Well done.

Then I can safely decline based on a lifelong diagnosis of "demand resistance."

But, as ever, I am solution-oriented! How would you like to read 95,000 words by me on the subject of modern Christmas in America? Here you go.

Spent Thanksgiving setting up the parents' new Wireless Blu-Ray and a Netflix account (fun!!!), then spent the weekend binge-watching House of Cards. Am I the only one who doesn't get the "brilliance" of this show? Entertaining, okay, but, seriously, as far as I can tell, this show is just "Scandal" re-told from the POV of the offending Congressman. And don't get me started on the annoying reporter....

No, you're not alone. I think it's incredibly mediocre and overpraised. Here's proof!

Meanwhile, godbleshya for helping your parents get into streaming TV. A few times a week, I talk to some of my beloved, older readers and slowly explain the concept, that TV could come through the wifi signal, and what I really wish is that they had a son like me who would come over and set it up.

I'm in dire need of a new binge-watch. Do you or the chatters have any recommendations for the type of Netflix marathon where suddenly you realize it's 2am and you haven't gotten off the couch since noon? For what it's worth, I typically prefer sci-fi and comedy to heavy drama.

We have six minutes to help this person, who has unfortunately not told us what he/she has already binged. Readers, what do you suggest?

So what if they sandwich a few episodes of ST:TNG between Gordon Ramsey shows? a) I get the good Top Gear, so what's to complain about, and, more importantly, b) it's not like they've totally abandoned their mission statement (providing Anglophilic programming to the US masses) in the same way that a Bravo or a TLC has. All in all, I'd say BBC America has probably hewed the most closely to their original programming mantra of all the basic cable channels; I mean, even the Weather Channel and Smithsonian Channel can go a little off-script every now & then.

Hear, hear!

Because "Elementary" took HUGE risks in, e.g., moving Holmes to NYC, making him an admitted addict in recovery, making Dr. Watson female, having Holmes accord Watson a modicum of respect, even in the choice of casting (because either lead actor could've sunk the series)...

A spirited defense.

I'm going to a free "preview" of the first episode as part of a fundraiser for the local PBS affiliate but having read the Brit reviews along with feedback from a few Brits, it seems as though Lord Grantham should have strapped on the water skis for the show's Shark Jump after the first season.

Haha. I've seen four parts now of Season 4 and really it's mostly just "normal" Downton Abbey. There is one egregiously shocking storyline that I don't understand at all. Review tk. I say you should totally go and hobnob at the affliate preview party.

The 18-34 thing is a little overrated these days, since so many of them are still living at home with lousy jobs and lousier prospects. 35-54 is where the money is at the moment, and football delivers that audience.


I think it's entirely possible to like Elementary over Sherlock. While I like both, Sherlock has a lot excessive shine that can hide some mediocre qualities. Plus, of course it's easy to look nearly flawless when you only have to commit three ideas. But, you know, to each his own.

Yes, and a good point: Enjoy both.

1. New York 2. Loved Jonny Lee Miller since life Stone Also like Lucy Lieu and Side Quinn ,3. One jo ur ,4 Plots not so convoluted

Garbled in No. 3, I think, but another defense.

In your years of reviewing, which TV show did you recognize immediately for its greatness, which it then continued to achieve over the years? And which did you misjudge the most that turned out to be great despite your initial negative impression?

Hoo boy, there have been a lot of shows where I've actually gone back and re-reviewed because my opinions changed so much. The show I misjudged the most has to be "Game of Thrones," which I now love. There, I said it. (And wrote it.)

At some point I intend to explore the "mea culpa" aspect of my four-plus years on the TV critic beat in a longer piece in which I look at how I was wrong in both directions -- praised a show that quickly turned awful, or panned a show that was in fact great.

But right now I intend to go grab some lunch. Thanks, chatters. I'll be back on Thursday, Dec. 19.

I started binge-watching Sons of Anarchy and love it! For reference I am a mid-20s female.

Here's one. (But the OP said he/she doesn't like heavy drama, so ...)

Breaking Bad! or Dexter.

Battlestar Galactia in case you missed that before

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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