What to Watch: TV Chat with Hank Stuever

Jul 11, 2019

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." Lately he's been digging "Pose," "Big Little Lies" "Years and Years," "Baskets" and hanging out at the Starcourt Mall.

After what seems like AGES, we are back for another TV Chat. I hope you're all having a fab summer. I was on a nice, long vacation, so I have but two things to offer for your enjoyment and edification:

My "Stranger Things" review -- I stand by my read on this season, that it's too convoluted, too long, but I do love the effort that went into Starcourt Mall and I'm delighted that Winona Ryder has finally decided to earn her paycheck again. I see plenty of you have some thoughts too, so let's just put a general Spoiler Alert out there...

I just posted a rant (a well-reasoned one), based off some of the big Netflix, Comcast, AT&T news of late, that is already generating some feedback (pleasant and un-), but I feel it needed to be said: "Do you really want to live in a world where 'Friends' and 'The Office' are TV's most valuable shows?"

I really enjoyed your review of the new season, especially the Georgia O'Keefe reference. We watched the whole season over the long holiday weekend. True, it isn't as good as the first season was, but it was still really entertaining. I like how they had moments of humor mixed in with the frights. The last episode in particular gave us a good laugh. Lucas's little sister Erica is absolutely great this season. But who did Steve piss off that they made him wear a silly sailor suit for an entire season?!

I love Steve's Scoops Ahoy uniform. Also I think the actor, Joe Keery, really ran away with a lot of the season -- a great, committed performance in a show where the dialogue doesn't really hold up to scrutiny. Maya Hawke also very good.

Welcome back! We missed you. Great review of Stranger Things. The question it raises in me is what, exactly, are the Duffer brothers trying to accomplish? If the show is intended to be a delivery vehicle for Reagan-era nostalgia, it certainly seems to succeed. In fact, this season was more effective for me than the earlier two because it was set in the larger world of summertime. And if they are simply trying to create a memory-album of old movies, they are also succeeding, if not quite as well. But I am still struggling with what this is *really* about. I like your reference to Freud (remember the Poltergeist portal?) and there are certainly themes of growing up and change. Still, there seems to be something deeper hidden here that the Duffers haven't fully figured out how to express.

I'm right there with you -- and I keep getting lectured from readers who say I just don't know how to sit back and have a good time. (One woman wrote to me and said I must be a very sad person -- I'm not sure she read the parts of my review where I praised the show.) Like you, I feel that there must be something more to it than just homage and popcorn, but maybe there's not.

Second seasons are almost always disappointing, and I didn't even understand why there was a second season to Big Little Lies. But so far it's been just great. Better than the first season, I think. Adding Meryl Streep probably never hurts, though Laura Dern is my favorite. I like how it always feels like she's about to explode.

My only worry is they only have, what, two episodes left? I feel like it just got started.

Any additional thoughts on where BLL is heading? The focus on child custody, Bonnie's mother, and the other soap-opera elements seem like a weird distraction to the central concept of how a lie can unravel.

Another death? That's my only guess. I do have this coming Sunday's episode, but I'm saving it.

I'm sticking with Handmaid's Tale, I guess because I've come this far, but I can't recall another show that is harder to watch. It would be a stretch to say I "enjoy" watching. It's so, so bleak. Curious if other readers are sticking with it or have a lot of you given up?

It was always hard to watch, but something about this season has become a chore. I wrote about that. I feel as though I'm several episodes ahead of what's been released so far -- I think I've watched 10 or 11? I'm glad they finally did a little backstory on Aunt Lydia -- I would watch several episodes just of Ann Dowd. Overall, though, I feel it's become tepid.

Have you seen the new show The Walking Dead? What did you think?

I think my arm just fell off, but also your brain looks delicious.

Sorry if this is a naive question, but do you get a lot of rage mail in which a poor review has been taken personally?

Um, YES.

They went back to 8 episodes (last season was 9) and all but the last episode were about 50 minutes. The last one was 70 minutes. Perhaps they just felt much longer to you.

Mmm, I demand a recount on your episode lengths. I remember at least one other than clocked over an hour. But long, as you point out, is just as much as feel as it is about the counter.

do you hopefully respond with an explanation about why their poor taste is not your fault? And specify that you're not living in their cable box banning the viewing of bad shows?

I try to reply to all my email, but this year I finally realized that I don't necessarily need to -- especially if someone is venting. If their manners are bad, I have been known to write back and asked where their manners have gone.

My husband and I finally watched both seasons on a mini-binge, and I just have to say: THE PRIEST! I need to lay down even just thinking about it all. It's amazing how good TV can be when it's good, and how much it can make you think. The accumulated force of Fleabag has been washing over me since last night and I'm more impressed the more I think about it.

Now that's an endorsement.

Another death? Mary Louise? That would make sense. Loved that convo with Laura Dern in the "where's the furniture" room. You're right, only 2 episodes left don't seem like enough. I guess there will be a season 3?

No word about that yet, but I would assume they want everyone to see what happens in this season before they start ginning up another.

I know this isn't a TV Question (except for their MADtv show that went on for a while), but you're the only one I could chat with about it. Is Western Civilization about to end?

No, but humor has changed. What you need is this very excellent David Von Drehle column, which ran in The Post a few days ago. It will help you process the end of "Mad."

I get what you're saying, but this isn't really new, it's just different. People used to tape or rewatch Cheers/MASH/Brady Bunch reruns all the time. Entire channels were dedicated to reruns of no longer on the air shows. Streaming just makes it easier and therefore it will be a harder blow for people who love watching them. In addition, what new shows exist on streaming platforms/TV that are anywhere near as good as Friends, the Office? Obsession should be earned, not given because Netflix green lit a lot of mediocrity (looking at you Friends from College, as just once example)

Did you read the whole piece? I'm only asking because near the end I distinguish between ironic watching and prolongment (Brady Bunch) and inert habitual watching.

Will you be reviewing the final season? I just read one that trashed it.

I've got a lot else on my plate that interests me more around that date (July 26), so it's not looking likely.

They can't announce a season 3 yet because then we'd know the cast--and thus, who they're about to kill off! (I have no inside knowledge. Just an idea. Anyone else think Madeleine's husband is going to finally lose it and get rid of Bonnie's husband? What a douche that guy is.)

Oh, I hope they can do better than THAT. (Really, between those two, I keep hoping it's sexual tension.)

What I like is that they took the time to get GOOD child actors, which is pretty hard (cough, George Lucas, cough). Especially Millie Bobby Brown -- it's difficult to pull off shy and doe eyed. I hope she has a long career ahead of her.

Agreed, mostly -- in her case, certainly.

A great actor. I think he followed Leslie Neilsen's example of "Play Comedy like a straight Drama" when he came to Television. Did you ever get to interview him?

Not that I recall, though I've been in a lot of crowded parties and red carpets in my day and he could have wafted by. His brilliant turn on Larry Sanders was wayyyy before I became a TV critic.

The last two (three? four?) seasons were just awful. I don't know why anyone would watch them repeatedly. Heck, I regret watching them once.

Agreed. On the occasions that I have landed on a "Friends" rerun on cable (anything can happen!), I find that I really don't watch any of their episodes after about 1998. It was that way in real life, too.

Gets one more Season. Is this worth looking over the previous seasons?

I didn't look much past Season 1, which was pretty good -- at least in my memory. Others may have better advice here for you.

Just read your "rant" and agree in principle, but still understand the attachment to these shows. They are warm, sticky, gobs of cinnamon-encrusted baked dough that remind us of happier times.

Lazy. Live in this century, this new decade that's coming.

Pretty sure he meant Rip Torn. Geez........ If you can catch a wrench, you can catch a dodgeball.

Didn't even notice the typo. Sorry

I read this week that there's a third planned series in this franchise in addition to the forthcoming Rick Grimes movies. Why? I feel like people are getting tired of the whole zombie thing. Ratings have to be down. I've largely given up on the original and I don't know how much longer I'll stick with Fear.

Parent spent the last 5 years watching lots of MASH reruns. We should have known that this was the beginning signs of Alzheimer's. When you are starting to lose it mentally, it's much easier to follow a story that you have seen many times before.

I remember when ALL our parents watched "M*A*S*H" reruns after the local news, circa 1980, choosing them even over Carson. Every single night. I don't remember why it stopped or what they moved on to.

Pretty sure the poster meant Rip Torn. AFAIK Rip Taylor, a DC native or resident is still with us!!!

Again, I should have read closer. Hard to win a 1-hour speed-typing contest.

Haven't seen episode 8 yet, but I agree that Joe Keery and Maya Hawke stole the show. They have great comic timing, and although I haven't been a teen for many decades, their joking and teasing relationship within a crummy summer job seems so true to life!

How long will be before people get saying "the 20s" is about the Jazz Age, but the present-day?

The first hurdle will be to get all these people who say the years as "two-thousand nineteen" to say "twenty-twenty." (And "twenty-twenty-one" and so forth.)  I guarantee many people won't.

Speaking of that, What's with all the MASH re-runs on WGN? They've been running them for over two years now.

See above: They're trying to give people Alzheimer's.

if the zombies fade and Better Call Saul 'meets the Chemistry Teacher' what does it have left?

"Lodge 49" -- Season 2 starts Aug. 12. Check it out. It's not anyone's idea of a network-saver, but it's highly enjoyable.

If anyone missed this informative and moving three-part documentary on PBS covering the US's space program through Apollo 17 (but with particular attention to the lead-up to the first manned landing on the Moon a half-century ago this month), it's definitely worth seeking out if it's available on other platforms. Also do you know whether it's eligible for the Emmys (or Oscars, if it counts as a film)?

I've seen parts of it and what feels like a SQUILLION other moon documentaries that started airing in the last couple of months, leading up to the big 50th anniversary on July 20. I'm kind of mooned out.

To answer your question about the Emmys, I'm not sure -- "Chasing the Moon" is airing after the May 31 close of the eligibility period, but maybe it's eligible some other way. I agree that, of all of them, "Chasing the Moon" is up there near the top. "Apollo 11," which played in theaters earlier this year and is now in heavy rotation on CNN, is still the best of them.

"Chasing the Moon" sent me on an Internet search to find out why everyone pronounced "Gemini" as "jiminy." Apparently NASA put out a memo in the mid-1960s insisting on the second pronunciation. WHY? Not sure. I guess you learn something every time the lunar landing anniversary comes around.

The headline is "A Texas man was missing for weeks. Then police found human remains in the feces of his dogs." I think I just need a nice pleasant hour of debating the silly things in life. Cheers or MASH? Jeff Glor or Norah O'Donnell? And keep up with the snark. Thanks so much for doing these chats.

A:

M*A*S*H, despite the obvious Alzheimer's risk.

and SCOTT PELLEY.

We finally took the plunge and binged both seasons! What a surprise how much we loved it. So funny and just loved the quirky essence of the entire show. But we can truly understand why there will not be another season. That look on Fleabag’s face after the priest walked away from her, well that said it all. Just a fun ride, enjoyed it so much. We thank you for keeping that one front and center for a while. BTW....hope you had a relaxing and enjoyable vacation!

Thank you,

And, again, a great option. Fleabag > Friends reruns.

and so far we have not been disappointed. It's not a completely surprising show but among the many, many dramedies out there, I'd put it near the top.

Agreed. Here's my review from April, in case you missed it. "Ramy" is just one excellent thing people could be streaming instead of more "Office" reruns.

...is killing it again in BLL, as is Laura Dern. With two more episodes to go, though, I'm still not sure I get what Meryl Streep is doing there. Hank, or anyone else, can you please enlighten me?

In the most ancient definitions of theater, I believe she is the antagonist? Which she is clearly LOVING every minute of.

Hank, I'm not a TV person. I watch a couple of news programs and a couple of dramas and that's it. I'm also a dinosaur. I remember well when TV was "The Idiot Box," and you turned the dial to the right to turn it on and to navigate among the 3 available stations. OK, that sets the stage - I've never put ANY effort into television, thinking of it as a true idiot box. But now .... I have an expensive cable package. There are lots of programs out there from present and past. BUT I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO START. I haven't heard of a single program you mentioned above. Sometimes Comcast suggests programs, but they usually don't appeal. I've got to put more effort into it (somehow, I resent that sentence in connection with televsion!) But I don't even know where to start!

I could try to answer this question, but first I have to ask: Do you even want to watch? Why/how did you get an expensive cable package? I ask, because I think I need to know what you hope to gain -- pure relaxation? Intellectual stimulation? A feeling a participating in peak TV?

Thank you for your review! I ignored it, and started watching, but after the second episode, all I could think of was how right you were -- I found I was getting bored and fighting the urge to skip ahead.

The essential problem, as I noted, is that "Stranger Things" both honors and mimics a movie form, but those movies were mostly 90 minutes long. It's hard to sustain through a series -- but most people seem to really dig it, so you and I can just wait over there.

We both enjoy early 'The Simpsons" but are there any shows that the chatters can endorse to watch with your teenager?

"Euphoria." HAHA KIDDING. DO NOT.

Hank, you are a gem. I was sick this weekend, and feeling down in the dumps to boot, and I needed a binge. But I needed something diverting but popcorn-y, and the stuff in my queue is too serious (I really need to fix that). And then I remembered you mentioning Below Deck Med, and wow, that was just what the doctor ordered. It's better luxury porn than Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous because it's mixed with some spite and resentment of the people on the charters. I wish it focused a little less (just a little!) on the below deck drama, but other than that, it's exactly what I needed. And am now addicted to.

Come aboard, we're expecting youuuuuuu.

I can't understand why the writers thought we'd believe that government leaders would co-opt the majesty and symbolism of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the National Mall for some kinda propaganda event. Oh, wait...

Right.

Did you watch any TV? Or do you not take work with you on vacation?

We/I watched "Below Deck Mediterranean" (because duh) and "The Amazing Race" finale and something I only ever get to watch on vacation: network nightly news. Lester Holt, David Muir with weird huir, and pinch-hitters on CBS. As my colleague Margaret Sullivan notes, 20 million people get their news this way. It's a great way to get the news when you're trying to stay unplugged all day.

I really enjoyed your Friends/Office rant. And it reminded me of various questions from previous chats about "comfort" tv--when people want to watch something kind of easy and mindless, maybe if they're too busy/distracted/sad/tired to deal with watching a new and/or deep and thoughtful show. And then this thought reminded me of how I went back and watched all however many seasons of the West Wing on my phone when my daughter spent nearly her first year waking up several times a night for 45 minutes at a time. (I also got thru several other entire series then, but that was the most memorable.) I'd loved the show when it aired, but I'd forgotten what a pompous ass Josh was (of course it's aged in other ways as well, but he was the most grating). Anyway, I know you have no time (and probably no desire) to go back and watch old shows, but if you did have the time or inclination, is there any show from your childhood or young adulthood that you you might want to watch a rerun or two of because you think it probably aged decently (or at least not horribly)?

I think I answered this question not so long ago and surmised that I might be inclined to go back and watch "Lost" someday, but for now, something like that would be out of the question.

I'm glad to see it's coming back - one of my favorites from last year! Kurt and Goldie's kid is perfect for the lead. He kills it and the rest of cast is great too.

Agreed!

I say there 3 Programs in the last 2 decades that could nearly be called ART: Veep, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. Start with those, then move to the zombies and dragons.

I was reluctant to even start recommending without knowing who we're dealing with here. It sounds like they have a lot of pent-up resentment toward the medium, which would make "Veep," with it's expert-level foul-mouthedness, might not be the thing.

Did we ever figure out a name for the decade between 2000 to 2009? The Aughty Auts? The Decade of Fear? Bush & Obama? B&O Railroad? The decade of Nil?

I settled on the Aughts, and so can you.

Enjoyed your piece. I know I'm An Old now because I offered to loan my colleague a movie she wanted to see, and she replied, "How would I watch it? I don't have a DVD player!" But do the people who are upset about these shows know they can purchase them (for less than a year of streaming, probably) and watch them anytime they want? Not sure about Friends, but I would bet they can even purchase them digitally, and not even have to get up to change the disc.

But that would involve owning an object. Have you met these kids? They are light packers.

So do I, and I thing I can assure you is that TV has gotten much better. There still is crap... we will never get away from that... but there are plenty of TV shows that feel more like movies in terms of the quality of acting, production, etc... especially if you have HBO. Start reading Hank's reviews regularly for ideas on what to watch. No, I'm not his mother.

My mother actually still refers to TV as the Idiot Box.

I liked the challenges at the end, but I was disappointed with Colin winning. There is an Arc of Redemption, but I could never forget his "MY OX IS BROKEN" back in the Phillipines!

I gotta hand it to them, though -- not only did they play well, but they really, really sold the zen marriage concept. They hardly ever broke their shtick, except when he shot her a look when she was bitching at the cab driver near the end. I am convinced that they are reformed, at peace and that the sex if off the charts.

Hank, that is a good response. Here are my goals - 1) I have tried but have not succeeded in understanding cable-cutting options. (e.g. I have an old but perfectly fine TV. Would it even work? What about my little kitchen TV. Streaming on my laptop is not what I'm after. 2) I need something to watch daily at home during Treadmill Time that will keep me interested and not watching the clock. And Treadmill Time is early, so I have to "store" the program somehow. 3) I like reasonably (not necessarily totally) accurate historical dramas, not too much hacking and cutting.

I'm going to take a week and think this through and post a response next week, okay? Will you come back?

Disagree, go ahead and do it. They will be way ahead of you. Parents who want to teach their kids about the dangers of drug life will be surprised to hear "Oh yeah, this is the one where Rue takes Fentanyl on the knife of the drug dealer. Not one of the good ones."

Sadly true.

We managed in the 1990s, referring to the 1890s. For 2001-2010, there's always "the turn of the new century." And I agree that starting with 2010, we should call them twenty-ten, twenty-eleven, etc.

That show is scarier than Slasher Films in my day! (Or course that puts a date on me)

The most recent episode -- the county fair, with the bombastic musical score that approximated the utter hormone storm that dictates teenage life -- was, I thought, fairly artful. But I am still very cautious about recommending the show to anyone.

The Winslows will show up again, right? You generally can get a feel on stories by the relative prominence of the guest stars, and it seems like Elizabeth Reaser would get more than the few lines she had in the DC episode. (Like at the end of the second season, we knew Bradley Whitford would be coming back big.) Or maybe she just likes the show so much she was happy with the cameo?

Oh no, there's more of them ahead.

There was a study in the 1950s to see how most people would say the year 2001 as either "twenty-o-one" or "two thousand one" and found that people said neither, but the even longer "two thousand and one"

Growing up, I remember how people kept referring to "the year 2000." Luckily we got a niftier word for it (and a faux crisis) with "Y2K"

I think the third season on Netflix is a big improvement from when it was on ABC. The characters and story lines are more interesting, and President Kirkman is less of that soft spoken saint-like character from the first seasons.

Still haven't seen it. Thanks for the update.

thx!

"Dead to Me" on Netflix?

Isn't it kind of a dress-up and "prestige" version of an after-school special? I mean is anything in there any worst than Helen Hunt taking angel dust and they jumping through a second-story glass window? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083822/ Shocker teens have sex in high school. Another shocker teens also don't have sex in high school.

Yes, it very much is like that. Teen problems for today's teens.

Some months ago, I cursed you and blessed you in equal measure for bringing Below Deck to my attention. Now I am completely hooked. There is so much to love this season: the homophobic Russian chef who couldn't cook; the nasally dittzy second stew Asha; the allergic-to-work deck hand Jack, he of the challenging hair; the lovable dweeb Colin; the newly adult-acting Hannah and Joao. As we say here in the South, Captain Sandy, bless your heart!

I am you had a good trip. Speaking of trip, I’m enjoying Euphoria more than I thought I would. It does get a little too heavy-handed at times… parts seemed to be aimed directly at parents hoping for a wide-eyed hand-over-mouth-in-horror reaction. Also the exchange between Rue and Jules that went “Rue, promise me you’ll never do drugs again.” “Okay Jules I promise” brought an eye-roll… like it was from a daring 1980’s After School Special than the edgy story it wants to be. I do like the creativity; there’s a lot of different story telling styles (such as when Rue is stumbling down a hallway, but it’s depicted as her walking semi-normal but the hallway itself is rotating around her). Some of these work, some don’t, but again I like the creativity.

It is watchable, for sure.

Based on the promo I see for the upcoming season, the storyline seems to be that someone is making a movie from that great book Noah wrote. So it’s a story about a story we’ve already seen. Art imitates art. Showtime needs to put The Affair ( and Shameless and Ray Donovan) out to pasture. Or out to stud in Noah’s case.

This will be the last season, they've already said.

Legion? That second season was so bloated and self-indulgent and, jeez, confusing that I barely made it through. But this third season has been much sharper -- it moves faster and it's more interesting and (most importantly) it's actually coherent. Maybe the reality that they've been cancelled, and this season will be the last, has focused the show writers' minds on the end...

Not sure I'm going to make it back to "Legion" before it's done.

Early is usually where I watch the Seth Meyters, TDS, or Colbert recorded from the night before. Usually the monologue and "A Closer Look" before deciding if I'm interested in hearing any of the interviews later. . . Also the first 19 minutes of the CBS Morning Show are uninterrupted News before it devolves into Celebrity Pop-Culture Crap they get off the internet.

This may not help the OP, but I like it as an organizing principle. I also start my day off making sure I didn't miss something Really Big on last night's late-night shows.

Yes, I'll come back. I recognize that there are riches in TV and I must work harder - but "working hard" at TV doesn't come naturally, and that's why I don't know where to start.

Yes, it shouldn't feel like too much work for a viewer. That's MY job.

Will there be another season of The Sinner?

Yes, but it's not scheduled yet -- not that I've seen. Matt Bomer is going to be in it and Bill Pullman returns.

My dad fought in the Korean War. He loved watching MASH re-runs even though he knew it was really infused with anger over Vietnam.

And took place in the hills near Malibu.

Only a faux crisis because a lot of work was done to prevent it from being a real crisis.

All right, all right. That is true.

I agree with the previous poster about this final season. They squandered a lot of good will in Season Two but they have me curious - and cautiously optimistic - about how they'll tie everything up.

John Adams. I've watched it three times.

Great idea -- if it's easily available on-demand.

Looking for a replacement for The Office or Friends? Try "Twenty Twelve" (pronounced, of course, "twenty-twelve") a BBC comedy about the run-up to the London Olympics. A workplace comedy narrated by David Tennant and staring Hugh Bonneville and Olivia Colman, with all the absurd shenanigans of prepping for a world-wide sports spectacle. The scene about a (analog) countdown clock to the Opening Ceremonies is especially brilliant, but the whole thing is great.

Oh, that was a terrible show.

I thought it was filmed up I-5 near Santa Clarita.

Okay. Somewhere, you know, out there with the mountain lions and Neverland.

Will you be chatting with us again next week?

I will, thank you for the out! July 18 at noon.

And thanks, everyone -- my apologies that we've run out of time and I didn't get to all the questions/comments.

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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