What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Dec 19, 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."

We're back for another hour of gab about television. And so much to talk about!

1. "Duck Dynasty" woes. Whaddya think? Too harsh on him? Deserved? (Do you even watch it? Millions do. I was swamped out long ago ...)

2. "Saturday Night Live": Fallon and Timberlake host tomorrow. In today's Style section, I delivered an awfully long analysis of the season thus far (good and bad) and discuss the casting issues -- black-woman-to-be-named is reportedly on her way. What do you think of the season so far?

3. Best Of. On Dec. 8, we ran my list of best shows on 2013, alongside my biggest TV letdowns (I kept that list to only seven, coulda been 50). What's on your list? While you're thinking, check out this compendium from HitFix that gathers the top-10 list of just about every TV critic in the land, plus a list of all those critics' favorite NEW shows.

4. Finally, our last chat was only hours before the "Sound of Music Live" telecast, which I reviewed almost-as-live (filed around 11:30 p.m.). So I'd love to hear your thoughts about THAT, including what musicals you think we're going to see next. (Please, please: Beyonce in "The Wiz.")

Okay, go!


Hi Hank, just wanted to get your take on groups like GLAAD in their triumph of succesfully forcing A&E to fire a 65 year old man because he said he doesn't do jumping jacks over gay issues (did anyone expect a senior citizen from a rural area to do so) ... I love how A&E is willing to kill its highest rated show to comply with the PC police. Am I a Neanderthal for thinking this way?

I believe in free speech, but I guess my only feeling is the need to point out that a cable network is not necessarily a town square, and when Phil Robertson is promoting himself and his "Duck Dynasty" success, he is essentially acting as a network employee. He can say what he wants (and did) and they can run their network how they want (and do). He was not elected to television, he was hired. So it's really not about the PC police. It's more like it's about an employee handbook.


It's interesting that one of the most anticipated "TV" events of the year - the return of Arrested Development - made so little impact. I had to look up whether the release was even in 2013 (it just happened in May!). I have to admit I didn't make it all the way through the Netflix run, although I'm planning to try again. But any thoughts on why this didn't seem to get the hype it seemed like it would? Is Netflix still under the radar? Did it not live up to expectations? Did people not care as much as they thought they did?

A combination of all three. In all our joy about Netflix and streaming we forget just how many millions of people still don't watch TV that way. (It's also complicated by the fact that Netflix is clearly not into playing a ratings game and not willing to share data about how many of its customers download -- and finish -- any of its series.)

And in all the joy about "Arrested Development," well, fans have never been willing to believe that a small sliver of people share their feelings and anticipation for it. I think Entertainment Weekly and a few other outlets made it seem as if the return of AD was a much bigger pop culture deal than it might have actually been. I myself was never a huge watcher of "Arrested Development" (shocking, I know, but I believe in transparency about these things), which is why I begged Dan Zak to review it when the show was released.

And he did, marvelously.

I'm worried that I'm running out of TV shows on Netflix, believe it or not. This time of year I can *really* binge, and I don't think they're adding them as fast as I can watch them! So hoping you and others might have some favorites to suggest -- maybe the not as obvious ones (I'm almost done with Battlestar Galactica [I'm taking my time with it], just started season four of Dexter. Friday Night Lights I did long ago...) I tend to skew towards political thriller, sci-fi -- the kind of thing that doesn't make you think too much, but still is clever and the plot moves. I discovered Continuum on Netflix, for example, and really liked it. My favorite Netflix binge ever was The State Within, I sure wish there were more like that -- so good-looking British I seem to be a sucker for. I went cold turkey on MI-5 many seasons in (saving it for desperate times). Note that one problem are shows that are on Netflix, but got cancelled - happened to me recently with The Event, which I knew was one season, but pretty long and I thought it'd be a fun binge (it was), but then the last episode ended in a major cliffhanger. I get why it didn't make it past that season (silly silly), just wish I hadn't got caught up in it.... Help?

I'm still waiting for my first Diet Pepsi to kick in and the shows you've mentioned don't add up to an obvious suggestion. (You lost me at "doesn't make you think too much" because I obviously like thinking too much). Readers, do you have any ideas for this person? Imagine the horror of running out of shows to watch over the holidays! Let's help out someone in need, shall we?

Is there anything new to look forward to on TV in 2014?

Why yes. Before I leave for vacation at COB tomorrow, I'm dumping a massive MIDSEASON/SPRING guide that runs Jan. 5. But I'll tell what I know so far:

Klondike (on Discovery), a drama, looks possibly interesting -- 19th century gold rushers, starring the guy who played Robb Stark.

True Detective (on HBO) just arrived in my mailbox and I look forward to it. Stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey ...

I really like this new sci-fi CW drama (that's not a typo, I said CW) called "The 100" that starts in March ...

I love the look of "Turn" on AMC (there's a trailer online, which they showed after the Walking Dead episode on Dec. 9), which is about Revolutionary War spies

The Americans is back in February, Girls is back in January, Shameless is back in January, Justified too ... I'm also interested in watching "Looking," the new show on HBO that's about three gay guys in San Francisco.

What are you hoping for?

Hank, Hi. Some months ago you wrote that you took the train to Staunton, VA for a wedding. Since I live in Staunton, I was wondering if you have relatives nearby and if you visit often? BTW, if in Staunton, check on the Visulite Theatre. Locally owned and shows some good movies.

No, it was a friend's wedding. Is the Visulite the old movie theater on the main drag downtown? If so, I saw "Super 8" there ...

Best was the entire final season of Breaking Bad. The worst was probably the majority of Homeland season 3 and the final season of Dexter. Dexter really suffered in comparison to Breaking Bad. Masters of Sex is a pleasant surprise but I'm really looking forward to new Sherlock and Downton Abbey.

Yes, to all that.

So, I hate to play spoiler, but what'd you guys think of the Homeland finale? My eyes hurt from rolling, not crying.

2013 was the year I finally cut ties with a lot of shows I was watching out of obligation instead of enjoyment - Modern Family, Parks and Rec, Community, Once Upon a Time, Warehouse 13, The Walking Dead (and probably several others I can't remember) all left my Hulu/Amazon/Netflix queue at some point this year. I know not everyone will agree with my show choices, but may I at least recommend to others a new year's TV housecleaning? I have so much more free time now, and on the TV front I'm being forced to discover quirkier things that I like much more.

Well, don't hold back -- tell us what your new shows are!

And I think understand pretty much all of your decisions, though I think "Modern Family" is so easy-breezy-harmless fun. Sort of like why I read "For Better or For Worse" in the comics pages all those years. It was easier than NOT reading it.

Your take on how SNL was funniest whenever you went to college (or high school) is spot on. My question: why did they hire so many people that look/sound/act the same this season? And why haven't they given them any opportunity to shine? It seems like every skit stars Taran or Kenan or Bobby. We can't like them if they don't use them.

Well, having just rewatched the first half of the season, I think they've given those new five guys a lot more airtime than supporting players in the past -- bost mostly in the background. Beck Bennett has already had several good moments and so has Kyle Mooney. I'm more worried about the tall midwestern one (Brooks Wheelan) and the guy with big blue eyes (name please?). Oh, and the new young woman, Noel Wells (sp?) ... she just hasn't registered.

I can't imagine a worse feeling that getting on the cast of SNL and then never getting _on_ SNL, but they've all talked about that anxiety at length over the years.

Who would've thought that 2013 would be the year the MTV Video Music Awards became relevant again?

Relevant the way violent crime is relevant on the 11 o'clock news.

Tatiana Maslany (am I spelling that right?) from Orphan Black. The show itself was pretty good too, but her ability to transform herself into so many different characters, without any of them becoming cartoonish, was a masterclass in acting.

I agree. The TV critics almost unanimously adore her performance in that show. I'm eager for it to return this spring -- it's scheduled in April I think. (My master list of upcoming shows is in another file in another program -- I should take a minute and boot it up so I can have it handy for our chat.)

i find it disgusting that they are going out to find 'some black woman.' I find it demeaning. -- okay - you'll do , since you fit the bill. Is this really what we have come to? check some boxes, rather than find the best person, we need to find someone who fits in a box? ...as for the sound of music - why not leave well enough alone? it was painful.

The whole process has demonstrated how far behind SNL is, as well as American culture. We're still checking off boxes.

Best SNL moment so far: Boy Dance Party. We cried we were laughing so hard. All in all, this season really has been pretty good. I will say, though, everything Kate McKinnon touches turns to gold. That woman carries every sketch she's in. Fantastic.

I also love Kate McKinnon, back from when she was on Logo's "Big Gay Show" or whatever it was called. That's another box that's been quietly checked off at SNL, btw.

I thought it was, you know, fine. But my theatre friends were shocked and appalled. They said that, casting aside, the director had failed to correct people who were making bad acting choices. The other general consensus among my friends is that no one had ever seen the stage version of SOM before and it is way more tedious than the movie version. Is it time yet for an Oklahoma remake?

The ratings were so good, I wouldn't be surprised if NBC runs through the whole Rodgers & Hammerstein canon.

No need to post but thank you for your answer about Duck Dynasty. That's absolutely the best answer I've ever seen when issues like this come up. He is entitled to his opinion, but he is an employee, so basically it's an HR issue plain and simple.

I'm here to solve everyone's problems.

I think the problem is - well, the characters didn't interact so much in the netflix series. SO...it made it difficult to watch. and then each ep rehashed what had happened before. i understand why it was done, but it made it kind of annoying.

Do you agree that Homeland jumped the shark this season? It just seemed to take ludicrous turns, including Carrie wandering around unfettered in Tehran, watching Brody up close even to the point when he was hanged. Dying her hair was enough to make her look like a local and not arise suspicion? Don't the writers see how ridiculous it all is? A show I looked forward to is now unwatchable.

I do indeed. (I think the shark showed up somewhere last season.) There were some single Homeland episodes this season that I really liked, particularly that episode where Brody arrived at the Caracas slumscraper.

i hear you, and much to my delight netflix added season two of american horror story yesterday (or at least, that is when my obsessive checking noticed)

It sounds like our binger wants something a little more lite than AHS, but this is a good suggestion. Season two was too much for me -- too torture-y, too rapey, too anti-nun -- but oh well. I've come around to "Coven," which has been ridiculous, but much more my speed.

Was Homeland snubbed at this year's Golden Globes? Or did the 3rd season not qualify? I understand you felt frustrated with the story lines and that hideous basketball they put under Danne's blouse to appear pregnant. Agreed!

The awards-giving world has turned a cold shoulder to "Homeland." I guess we can direct our hopes at a season 4 reboot. (In Istanbul?)

And true, Carrie's pregnant tummy was hilariously spherical.

Hank, I keep reading about how great "The Good Wife" is. I missed the first couple of seasons and would love to catch up, but it's not on Netflix! Two questions -- first, do you know why that is and whether it might appear on Netflix sometime soon? And in the meantime, is it possible to find the first few seasons online anywhere? (I guess that's technically three questions.) Thanks so much -- I love your columns!

I had no idea that it's not there. What about iTunes? Amazon? Just stream it like so? (Or does it have to be Netflix?) Here's what we're all going to find as we ally with our streaming services: Distribution deals may not always play along. You need more than one service to be able to watch all the good stuff. I think you also still need TV and a DVR, but that's a whole other debate.

Tatiana Maslany got a well-deserved Golden Globes nomination. Finally! If only John Noble had got one, which he also well-deserved. Maybe he will for Sleepy Hollow?

Mmmm, who knows.

Can we please find a new word for "reality" TV? So A&E doesn't think the views of the real person depicted on the duck show reflect the actual views of the duck show?

One word that doesn't work, but we use a lot, is docu-series, but that's in the other direction from "DD."

I'm sure A&E wants (and maybe even contracted) its reality-show subjects to stick to the shtick. You know who does this pretty well? The Duggars. They keep it super light and only about having a big family, knowing full well their politics and social views would send the Internet into a fit.

So a lot of people were upset by the Homeland season finale. I was like, well, of course that's what would happen. It was a very logical conclusion and resolution to the season. Did not understand the outrage and the complaints.

Yeah, I don't get the outrage about the plot. I do get the outrage about the writing, the trajectories, the whiplash, the redundancy, the basketball-under-the-shirt.

Hank, I anxiously awaited that show and have watched it faithfully, but I will probably not pick it up after the holidays. I do not like the girl who plays Alice, and I do not believe that Lewis Carroll's Alice would have grown up to be anything like her. I do like the Knave of Hearts and, to a lesser extent Cyrus the Genie, but I don't know why the Red Queen is in Wonderland (she belongs in Looking Glass Land) and can't stand Jafar.

Sounds like they lost a potential fan. I don't think the show is doing so hot anyhow. Might not be long for Alice, et al

True Detective does sound good. However, you lost me on the return of Girls. The first season of that show was pretty good while the second season lost me after the 2nd episode.

Well, it could be a hate-watch.

For the Netflix binger. If you like good-looking Brits and sci-fi, maybe Being Human (UK)? It's more trite than BSG, but sucked me in for 5 seasons.

There you go. They also say the British version of "Tomorrow People" is much better than the American version.

After a painful-to-watch season, I just wanted to thank the entire Homeland team for a finale that totally eradicated any reason for me to tune in to next season. Thank you for giving me back an hour of my otherwise overly crowded Sunday night back.

Wait a minute... who ever said that the entertainment business, including television, was a meritocracy? How is "checking boxes" any worse than the nepotism and outright favoritism/lookism/personal preference-based decision making of who gets the prime job(s) in entertainment? I'm not condoning what the SNL "solution" says about racial/gender issues in our society, but, hey, it's no more offensive as a choice-mechanism than making a movie star out of Francis Ford Coppola's nephew or throwing darts at a board, for that matter.

Point taken.

Is that available anywhere? My son's looking for a realistic cop show



Current Season, yay or nay? Notwithstanidng the indecipherable fascination with witches being demonstrated in the current TV season (cf. Witches of East End, et al. -- did "The Secret Circle" not teach TV execs anything?), can we all agree that the problem with this season is that it's just not scary? Creepy, yes, but not scary....

We are witched out, to be sure. I thought "Coven" was boring in episode 1 and then it hooked me in episode 2. Then it flailed a bit in the middle (when Marie Laveau sent over zombies for Halloween) and it's picked up again. Kathy Bates has been marvelous in it; so has Angela Bassett.

I think many SNL viewers forget, or are too young to have known, that the show's cast used to be called the "Not Ready For Prime Time Players." There was good reason for this -- namely that the show was intended to give up-and-coming comic actors a stage on which to hone their craft and build their fame, then graduate to bigger things, e.g., prime time TV (like Jane Curtin), or movies (like Chevy Chase, Bill Murray). Cast turnover was built in to the show from the outset.

Why do you think people don't know that? It's like one of the easiest Trivial Pursuit questions around.

It may have been built in, but I can remember the shock and surprise in 1980 when the entire cast left and was replaced. Even Lorne left. I was in 7th grade and remember that 1980-81-82-83 new cast with fondness. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eddie Murphy, Mary Gross, Tim Kazurinsky, etc.

Lost amongst the finales of Walter White and Dexter was the end of another great anti-hero: Kenny Eff'n Powers. I'm going to miss Eastbound and Down more than I care to admit. Any idea what HBO will pair with Hello, Ladies, assuming it gets a second season?

Speaking of reality shows and shark-jumping -- any thoughts on "The Real World" trying to go all "Bad Girls/Boys Club" this coming season? The desparate attempt to turn the grand-daddy of all reality shows into a standard conflict-centric "reality" show is kind of disheartening. I wish Bunim-Murray had just retired the show before it descended to this....

I completely agree. Once in a while they show the first couple of seasons (1992, 1993, 1994) and it's like we're watching a group house full of Rhodes Scholars -- even Puck. They have things to do. They talk in complete sentences. It was a social-study. So sad what's happened to it since then. I would watch a more pure "Real World" if it was still on -- a house full of mostly nice kids trying to get their careers started in something other than appearing on TV. But we shouldn't be too sentimental about RW, should we?

Since the OP likes sci-fi, they might like the several series from the SYFY channel that are on Netflix. Eureka, Warehouse 13, and Lost Girl are all fun. For good British drama, check out the Inspector Lynley Mysteries or A Touch of Frost. And the original series the Top of the Lake was terrific.

I was surprised to see it on your favorites. True, the final few episodes of this past season were great but the majority of seasons 3 & 4 were bloated and boring. I was very close to giving up on it but am glad I stuck with it. Poor Richard Harrow, one of my faves.

Um, it didn't make my Top 10 this year. (Did it make the top 10 on the HitFix list?) I would put in my top 20, though. Still good. Still a trudge, though.

I still haven't recovered from that mid-90s Cinderella thing that happened to us.

are all on amazon and hulu plus

Thoughts on the FCC's announcement that they would oppose blackouts to football games that aren't sold out? Can you shed some light into how the blackout policy works and what led to the shift in FCC views?

Boy, I sure can't.


Actually, Brody in a leather jacket on waterskis would have been vastly more entertaining than most of the junk they ended up broadcvasting this season....

I think that's the name of the new show on Monday nights. I've been pleasantly surprised. Thoughts? PS For the first time I'm making it a plan to watch SNL since I was in high school this weekend.

I think "Almost Human" is awfully derivitive of everything else. Here's my review from the fall season guide. Probably will sound too harsh. Has it improved? (My sense is it's not doing so well.)

Always heard how good The Good Wife is but I just caught all four season via Amazon Prime. Yes, this is a really well written/acted show. Interesting that Julianna Margulies was on a previous TV show playing a defense attorney in Canterbury's Law. But I guess this show did not make it as I only see six (6) shows.

I'm so with you on being over every show's attempts to out-gore its predecessors. Or out-shock its predecessors. It's that symptom of, "Oh X show is popular and it does Y, so every other show needs to do Y." But it's not just Y, but how Y is sewn seamlessly into a smart, creative, interesting product.

Does SNL have binders of black women?

My sense is it's more like a Mead pocket folder with one sheet of loose-leaf in it.

Go back to the early years, and a watch a full episode. You'd be amazed at how many terrible sketches there are. Really, the ratio of good to bad sketches hasn't changed much since then.

Yes! Go back to anything and look at a whole episode. I tell people this when they tell me how great the Washington Post was in the 1970s. Okay, pal, here's the microfilm of a random date. Start on page A1. I'll come back and check on you in an hour.

why is it that most of the NetFlix commenters appear to beleive that the platform is only designed for TV binge-watching? A double feature of 2 good sci-fi movies equals 4-5 episodes (almost a half season) of a sci-fi TV series, folks...

How are the ratings for the latest iteration of NBC's "The Sing-Off"? (Much tie-in with "The Voice"?). Anecdotally, I seem to be the only person I know who's watching it, even though all the groups competing are excellent. I wish this little show got more love.

I loved it when it first ran, but I do get a little rashy around a cappella. Glad you're enjoying it. I watched a little bit the other night and it's still kinda sweet. And also fast, I recall -- it's over almost as soon it begins, instead of being drawn out for weeks.

Well, we seem to be pretty much just down to the Wallander and Poirot questions, so I'm going to sign off (and Sing Off!) and wish you the happiest of holidays and a great new year. We'll skip the Jan. 2 chat timeslot, so I'll be back Jan. 16, when we will have a lot of new shows to talk about. Til 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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