What to Watch: TV Chat with Hank Stuever

Feb 27, 2020

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: "Barry," "Better Things," "Below Deck," "This Is Us" and "Insecure." His top shows for 2019 included "Watchmen," "When They See Us," "Unbelievable," "Succession" and "Gentleman Jack."

Greetings, TV-lings. Take me to your leader.

Oh, wait, I am your leader.

Another Thursday, another chat.

All I have to add to the pile this week is a take for Sunday's Arts & Style section on how all the aughties reality shows ("Biggest Loser," "Wife Swap," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Supernanny") are enjoying a sort of gentler afterlife as reboots on cable TV. Have you noticed? Read on ...

Other than that, let's chat!


I'm guessing that not revealing the therapist's face until the end of the episode was supposed to parallel Randall overcoming his resistance to therapy, but it sort of came off as "Surprise -- look who it is!" Although, as a fan of hers, I suppose I should have recognized the voice.

I actually gasped, which is sometimes my highest form of praise.

Is Kevin a barrel of laughs? Maybe that isn't the right wording, but this "Kevin, your irreverence is so great" seems kind of knew? I don't mind it and Kevin have a "thing" isn't bad, but has he been this bright spot of fun on cloudy day?

If I'm Rebecca and those are my three children, then Kevin's the fun one, yes.

At first I didn't realize what that noise was suppose to be, but I'm on Randall's side and just be a professional and turn off your coffeemaker madam. Also was kind expecting a bigger reveal on the therapist since we don't see her face throughout the episode. I guess it's to keep the focus on Randall, but was expecting some "This Is Us" big twist about her. Maybe the importance of mental health storyline isn't the place for it, but I feel like we haven't a really good twist in some time.

The house next to the cabin was a nice twist, I thought -- but I don't keep spreadsheets charting the magnitude of the show's twists.

I just finished the recent three-episode arc of This is Us, and I was thinking about how in the set-up, Rebecca is sick, the kids are going through something scary and they have to rely on Jack. In the present day, Rebecca is sick, the kids are going through difficulties without Jack to rely on... but then they find the recording and they get him back, if just for a few minutes. Also, don't want to spoil anything from this week, but OMG the therapist! Hank, it was everything.

Long ago, I decided this was a show about a family that never properly grieved, and probably never will. So whenever Jack reaches from the beyond (even on tape) and "guides" their choices or actions, I just kind of sigh.

It's not an all-"This Is Us" chat today, I promise.

This Is Us question. Although I did kind of like the moment for showing the positive side of celebrity and also celebrities are fully aware and exploit their celebrity when they want to as well, but if you were the property owner of a schmancy house in Laurel Canyon once owned by Joni Mitchell, would you really be awed if the star of cheesy sitcom like "The Manny" came to your gate? Sorry, the ex-star of "The Manny"?

Who went on to have roles in a couple of well-regarded films with big directors? Uh, yes. Have you been to Hollywood? Up close, I mean? Everyone is nice to everyone, generally.

Meanwhile, if there really is such a house (I dunno), I hope this doesn't encourage the hordes to press the buzzer.

Jessica is the absolute worst. That is all.

"Love Is Blind" has us all in its grip. I was just over at NPR yesterday being interviewed about it for a show that will air this weekend. I'll share a link next week if I made the cut!

The programming sucks and 99% of it is repeats from 15 years ago. Pledge weeks must be banned. I would donate if they had regular programming 365 days a year and no pledge programming.

So you're not giving them money because they ask for money. Welcome to the chat, Ayn Rand.

Seriously, though: You have soooo many ways to watch PBS on your own terms, online/streaming, for FREE last time I checked. If there are a couple of pledge weeks on your local affiliate (which, trust me, desperately needs the money and doesn't like pledge week either), then just use an alternate platform. It's 2020. You have so much else to get worked up about.

While I remain a fan, I must say I'm glad the half-season premiere has come and gone just so we can be done with that creepy video of the cop in a barrel. I had "Dream a Little Dream of Me" running through my head all week long!

Who is this "Rookie" of which you speak? A new character on "This Is Us"?

(I'm kidding.)

I'm wondering if Kate's bff who slept with Kevin will be the mother of the boy we saw in last season's finale.

It's definitely a piece of red yarn for the crazy-fan's bulletin board.

Glad to see it back on. And it looks like we finally have movement to an ending. Jimmy is fulling embracing his Saul Goodman, but I bet Kim doesn't want to use the shower in that House they were looking at. Also Mike yells at his Granddaughter? Say it ain't so!

Oh, right, Saul. Is he going by the name Saul yet? I think this has become one of those shows I might watch someday when I'm no longer a TV critic and have time to watch pots boil.

Hi, Hank. I notice that nearly every week, someone writes in looking in for a show that is pleasant and suitable for many different audiences and moods. I have no connection to CBS whatsoever (truly), but I'd encourage those chatters to check out "All Rise." It's that rare prime-time show centered on lawyers and the justice system that isn't about villains and criminals as much as how we all get along. It has an appealing, diverse cast, mostly fresh faces. And it's already been renewed for a second season, so it's worth investing one's time in.

Thanks -- I agree that the show is above-average primetime legal/courtroom fare.

I hear viewers are up in arms about the unhappy ending. Frankly, I'm a sucker for shows and movies where they wear funny hats but I just found this one tedious and gave up during episode two. It seemed like the main characters, Charlotte and Sidney, had the same conversation about six times in those two episodes. She: Makes observation about third character He: "Once again you have misjudged the situation Miss Heywood!" Rinse, repeat. I realize this was essentially a Regency soap opera riffing off Jane Austen's unfinished novel, but it definitely seemed to lack any real narrative drive (although that rotten pineapple was a droll touch!) I hear the producers were setting it up for a second season that will apparently never arrive. Do you think there's any real prospect that another production company will pick up the ball?

I have to tell you something. I think you do kind of like the show. You're quoting it, playfully mocking it and alert to news of its chances of renewal. At minimum, you're depriving yourself of a delicious hate-watch by stopping at episode 2. (And really, I'm not sure I believe that you stopped there.)

To answer your question, though, there is no news on the "Sanditon" renewal front. Fans are circulating petitions online -- I think you should sign it, but not get any real hopes up for more.

My wife was totally convinced by the voice of the therapist that it was Akwafina. I told her there was no way Akwafina was randomly showing up on This is Us. Well, I won and I was right but took no joy from that, because she was actually very disappointed it wasn't (she loves Akwafina).

I would have gasped at that reveal too!

I finally got around to watching the Below Deck reunion, and I can't for the life of me figure out Kate's popularity. On Watch What Happens several weeks ago, there was an audience poll, and the responses to every question went overwhelmingly in Kate's favor. But she's just an awful, awful person. (Just because you're not friends, it's totally fine for you to make a play for the boyfriend of one of the two people you supervise?? And Captain Lee really doesn't care that she throws laundry on the floor right in front of him and just periodically stalks off the boat in a huff? Her plastic surgery is so extreme that it actually gives her a speech impediment? [She didn't have it in earlier seasons, but to be fair, I am loathe to criticize female stars for plastic surgery because expectations of their appearances are execrably unrealistic.] Et al.) I'm new to this kind of reality show. The only ones I've watched have been competitions, like Top Chef and Project Runway. So maybe that's the thing? Everyone loves the WORST person on the show?

You can't have been immune to this phenomenon in your competition shows -- c'mon, now. Both "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" have seen their own conniving characters -- that malicious caprice, the boo-hiss from viewers. But yes, in a narrative-realty show, the editing is as tight as it is so as to heighten flaws (and heroics) and sort characters into good and bad and bystander.

I am also glad to get past the Lucy-in-a-barrel storyline. I remember on another Cop Show "Hunter" where Stephanie Kramer had to complain about her character getting raped for the third time so that Fred Dryer had an episode to submit to the Emmys. Just have Nathan Fillon deal with things a Rookie cop in LA deals with.

Does anyone else watch Good Girls? I'm really enjoying it, it has that same unique quality that The Good Place had. Mae Whitman cracks me up with her frankness.


So, I've never watched this show and this chat is reinforcing my decision! It sounds absolutely bonkers. But, I'm dying to know: who WAS the therapist??

Google it.

I think she is going professionally by her real name, Nora Lum, now?

Did she announce that? I don't see anything to that effect. And, to kill a typo in its tracks, the OP spelled it wrong. It's Awkwafina. Like awkward.

I liked it but did think the ending was kind of half-baked. I realize it's an unfinished manuscript but all the resolutions seemed rushed and crammed into the final installment. But I didn't mind the swerve at the end. The oldest brother was REALLY a big jackass, though.

Thanks for rounding those up -- I still think it's shocking that they brought back the Biggest Loser! For all the reasons you cite... And of course, remember that the show is called "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" because the original was a crazy weight loss and plastic surgery show! Good times.

Yes, so many good times back in the double-Ohs.

I used to work for a local PBS station and we were all mystified by the success of the pledge specials, too! But they are very successful for fundraising! And then one day I was at the doctor, and he asked where I worked, I told him, and he was like, "I love your shows! The doo-wop one, the Peter, Paul & Mary, the stuff about the brain...." he literally named a list of pledge specials, not Antiques Roadshow or Nova, etc!

That must have been both galling and informative.

Not the OP but also a This is Us virgin. I did Google it. Turns out the therapist was played by a moderately well known actress. And that was a jaw-drop moment because...?

Because it was. Don't yuck our yum.

I asked you one time if you could reboot a show, what would you chose? You said "Thirtysomething." Now, it is supposedly happening. Do you have any preliminary thoughts on what you've heard thus far?

No, and someone asked this a couple of weeks ago. I'm more than busy enough having thoughts about the TV shows that do exist. Until I see them, I keep an open (as possible) mind about everything.

Am I the only one who has never seen or heard of the actor before? I was expecting a big reveal (not Awkwafina, though) and rather than 'gasp' it was 'who's that?"

Well, go watch her show. You've missed a boat worth catching.

Every few months I give it a try & bail out after a few minutes, it's just not well written & far too much is absurd.

Sometimes British TV shows get remade over here (The Office, Coupling) but hardly ever any mysteries, like Inspector Morse, Foyle's War, Midsomer Murders. Are they just too quintessentially British to transfer to the US?

I certainly hope so.

It's perfect Sunday night viewing - doesn't get me all riled up (like John Oliver half hour later) and makes me laugh at the absurdity of it.

Despite his merits and commitment, John Oliver's show is a terrible way to get ready for bed and the week ahead.

Did anyone else find the whole 'sex with Carly' arc extremely cringeworthy? I understand that we could be learning what it's like for someone who is autistic to become intimate, but the whole thing was just awful.

Awful how? (I didn't watch, but I guess I'm curious!)

Yes. I do watch it. The plot lines are heavy handed and ridiculous, but the characters are so loveable. I loved the juxtaposition of Beth always stating she is a mother as her excuse for EVERYTHING whileRio is a father and you never even know for the longest time!

I recognized the therapist immediately and while I'm a big fan--it's hard for my brain to transport her from her own show. Love her, but I focused on her more than Randal. Rebecca is a better parent than I---if my kid told me someone else's parent was more fun in order to get their way, I would have said, "Then get [other parent] to get your freaking baseball cards!" I also like The Rookie--but the glistening ring in the dessert was a bridge too far. Good Girls--LOVE Manny Montana in it--worth it for him alone. (Personally think Mae Whitman character is annoying as crap, but that's probably the point.)

I was upset by the ending. Even if there is a Season 2, how could Charlotte ever go back to Sidney after he dumped her for the rich ex, even if it was to save his terrible brother's fortune

Because she's hot for his bod, dear.

800 quality shows out there streaming and on cable and we're filling Hank's hour with actor identities of secondary characters on actual network shows.

I had to give up on the idea that we'd have deep talks here about the best TV shows. It is what it is. I happen to like just surfing along on whatever the chatters are watching -- that was always the goal, for y'all to talk about the shows you are watching. The rest of my job remains trying to get to watch stuff you've never heard of.

Speaking of which, the number of you weighing in to say that you've never watched "Better Things" or heard of Pamela Adlon (okay, I spoiled it) is astonishing and tragic to me.

Her show is pretty terrific. And it's nice to see B.D. Wong play something other than a serial-killer's psychologist. Plus I remember the grandmother from her Roseanne days, playing Iris in the beauty salon. She had and continues to have some excellent zingers and one-liners.

In my review, I deemed it pretty hit-or-miss. But glad you're enjoying it.

I don't watch it, but ABC promotes it enough that the ads for that sex story arc were cringe worthy enough!

I think we may be in agreement. I think it is now in Ray Donovan territory where it seems like a show that should have ended 2 years ago becomes like a zombie and just will not die. You don't think there is a spinoff of this dreck in the future do you?

I don't know. And let me be clear, I do think "Better Call Saul" is generally excellent at what it's trying to do, which is tell a story from the "Breaking Bad" world in a different way, about a character whose back story just doesn't happen to interest me very much. As a critic, I officially observed that the plot was slow, and realized that I wasn't adding anything to the conversation if I just came back and said that each season. It's not my job to stand in a show's way, regardless of its pace.

What is so bad about "This Is Us" besides some snobbery in that post about network?

Nothing! I think the OP was just observing how the chat's gravitational pull was acting opposite from what we're constantly told about network TV, that no one watches it, which I (and Nielsen) both know isn't true. Plenty of people watch.

Speaking as someone who has never seen even a moment of Breaking Bad (yeah, yeah, I know, it's been on the watch list forever, and as a dedicated BCS watcher I figured I may as well wait until that show ends before trying BB) the pacing of BCS is fine. It's not *fast*, but it's not slow at all to someone who is only familiar with BCS. What is annoying is the inability to watch or discuss BCS without someone announcing 'oh yeah, that guy gets murdered in season 2', etc.

I'm just catching up on all the Q&A here, but I want to say to everyone who doesn't recognize PA: Drop what you're doing and start binging "Better Things" Just do it.

I like the rerun of the Les Miz concert version at the O2 in London. I used to volunteer on a show at a public radio station. During pledge week we reran some of what we considered our most interesting interviews. And begged some famous people (mostly writers) to agree to show up for live interviews that week even though it meant sitting through the pledging half way through their spot. But we were unburdened by actual statistics on what worked vs. what didn't work, so we weren't forced to air things the producer didn't like.

Leslie Jones was the best guest judge ever. She actually said out loud what you assume all the guest judges are hoping for, "That dress is mine. I want that dress." Loved her. I think she should be a guest judge on all the shows where people do things they are at least moderately, sometimes very, good at. Runway, Top Chef, et al.

What to make of two legendary female singers being eliminated early while off-key male contestants get the audience votes? And with the identities of those two legends being obvious due to their inimitable voices, isn’t being cut kind of an insult to them?

I guess, but the people have voted and those are the results. (As far as any of us know.)

If you want full access to PBS shows, you have to spring for a $60/year subscription (min) to their Passport program. Some episodes of some shows are on Amazon Prime and Kanopy (watched FRONTLINE's program on Harvey Weinstein there last night). And weirdly, an old episode of NATURE about wolverines is on Amazon Prime but with all the NATURE identifiers removed. Anyway, PBS is not free.

What's so bad about $60 a year. I see a lot of effort here to hunt down PBS stuff all over the streaming internet. What if you just give yourself (and give PBS) the gift of that subscription?

Damien sucks, too, btw.


I wasn't being snobby about This is Us, which I watch every week, or the networks. It was just such a departure from the normal discussion that I thought it was noteworthy. This chat usually doesn't go into that level of granularity about one particular show.


My significant other is going through a rough patch and needs some easy-to-watch, not-at-all stressful shows. We've kind of gone though everything on our list. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Things we've enjoyed recently: The Good Place, The Crown, Brooklyn 99, Marvelous Ms. Maisel, Super Store

This is where I wish I had one of those Carolyn Hax-style searchable archives, because this is one of THE most-asked (and usually answered, in collaboration with the chatters) questions: A viewer who cannot take any stressful television shows and has run through all the l0w-stakes/high-snark half-hour shows of good quality, but for some reason just can't go the dramedy route ("Transparent," "Girls," "Shameless," "Insecure," "Better Things," "Fleabag," "Catastrophe"), where so many very good, often funny shows exist.

Will there be a season 2? I enjoyed it, but it probably wasn't one of HBO's more viewed shows.

I'm happy to say that "Gentleman Jack" was renewed sometime back, but I don't know of a premiere date yet.

thank you Hank- your responses often make me laugh and when HR can laugh at work, it's a very good day

Because I already pay for: cable premium cable (HBO, Showtime) TCM Disney+ CBSAllAccess Starz Amazon Prime Netflix also federal taxes which support PBS/CPB THAT's why.

Go look up how much federal money goes to the CPB and follow that through PBS and down to local affiliates. It's a drop in the bucket. Donations (pledge week, for one example) are vital.

"Young Sheldon" (Thursdays, 8 PM ET). PBS's "Nature," "Nova," "American Masters," "American Experience" and performance shows (like "Live from Lincoln Center").

Thanks for trying. I am willing to bet "NOVA" is not the answer the OP is hoping for.

It's been a great season so far. I thought the past several episodes have been masterclasses in weaving storylines together for the emotional payback at the end of each episode. It gets all the feels right.

Me too!

Not a PBS employee, but PLEASE, dear people: support your local PBS station. Even $5 a month a matters.

How did a show about Modern Society being satired using Feudal times get such a terrible name? Is it something about WTBS programming.?

Well, the title worked better in the first season, which was about heaven.

I can't be the only one who feels like they're on a psychedelic trip when watching the opening and closing credits of this show. Plus I had to tell my 70 year old, very Catholic mother that this show is not what she thinks it's about (Pope Benedict). That was not a fun conversation.

I hope you've arranged to stream "The Two Popes" on Netflix with her, which is a very good movie (I actually saw a movie!) and will satisfy her need for Benedict narrative.

I wouldn't torture people with "The New Pope" who are not willing and even eager to watch it. It was such a letdown from the first series.

Maybe they need to amp up the guilt. I'd love it if they knew who wasn't contributing so they could say "No thanks to viewers like you!"

Okay, the clock says our time is up!

We'll pick this up where we left off next Thursday, March 5.

Thanks, everyone!

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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