What to Watch: TV Chat with Hank Stuever

Oct 10, 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 "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance," "Unbelievable," "Lodge 49" "Succession," "The Affair" and "On Becoming a God in Central Florida."

Another TV Chat is upon us.

Let's just get down on it, shall we?

Whatcha watchin'?

Toby from Season One had a"to hell with dieting and exercising, I love being fat" attitude which was a bit at the center of his and Kate's initial conflict. Looks like that Toby is long gone now. I kind of miss him.

Yeah, but as he pointed out, he did have heart attack at 38. We all saw it. Whether Kate gets offended or not.

Overall, I think the point is pretty much always this: Toby is barely hanging on by a thread, but hanging on counts.

Hi Hank -- while the Noah POV was actually quite sweet (the dress business) and funny (poison ivy!) in parts (until he finds out he's being accused of sexual harassment, of course), the Joanie segment with the return of Ben...I don't even know where to begin. What a mess, with enough holes that you could drive a truck through. Disappointing that they are wasting what precious time is left in this final season with that. Give somebody, anybody else a POV! One of the other kids! Helen's mom! Okay, I'm done.

I was talking with an editor here who watches the show (there are, like, three of us left in the whole newsroom, I think) and we both really wanted the same thing: After the Noah segment (where Noah is always a stand-up guy in Noah's perception), we would have loved to seen Whitney's version of the same trip -- if nothing else to show that Whitney has inherited her mother's ability to see Noah through a completely different lens than Noah sees himself. That would be the best way to get us to the end of "The Affair." I could also do without Joanie in "Cold Case." We don't have much farther to go for a finale -- two more? Three?

Whitney been making a fuss about having a proper wedding ceremony for months yet done zilch to get ready? I feel like if you told me today to plan a wedding for this weekend, I'd be a prepared to do as Whitney was.

Again, this episode would have been much better if the second half had been Whitney's take on the wedding-planning trip, instead of Joanie the Future Sleuth.

It's not at all my usual kind of show, but Cobie Smulders can do anything and it's a lot of fun! Bonus points for Jake Johnson, who was great on New Girl. Anything else I should put on my list while I anxiously await the Crown next month?

Per last week's chat, I believe we are now referring to her as COBY SMOTHERS.

(I kid.)

As for anything else you should be watching, did you keep my FALL TV PREVIEW handy? 12 shows to watch and 5 to skip? Ring any bells?

Are you going to review it?

Yes, but it hasn't been made available to me in advance, so it'll be a deadline review. Will watch after Netflix releases it and then start writing; hope to post something by Friday (tomorrow) afternoon.

How likely would a "Team America - World Police" puppet sex-like scene show up on "Bojack Horseman" with his human girlfriend? Would cable draw the line on explicit cartoon bestiality?

It's not on cable, for starters, and that's not really a question I could answer.

This is for the all the chatters. How do you know when to call it quits on a show? I really enjoyed "The Terror" season 1 and tried to give season a try but after 4 or 5 episodes i'm just not feeling it to the point that my DVR has a few new episodes that I probably won't get to.

I would say that's when you know.

It's supposed to be "entertainment." It's supposed to be a diverting way to spend some downtime. There's no tangible ROI here, other than your pleasure. It is not a homework assignment. You're not being graded or paid. (I'm being paid, but even I quit shows. Lots of them.)

Did you watch the funeral for Fred Andrews?

I thought they pulled off a pretty effective goodbye to Luke Perry/Fred last night. I didn't think they had it in 'em.

I just finished The Politician. I almost bailed on it early on, but kept watching for the great veterans Jessica Lange, Judith Light & Bette Midler. I just couldn't buy Ben Pratt as a high schooler and his election team was annoying and precocious. He should stick to Broadway. His singing was great albeit gratuitous.

I believe that there are 5 medical shows on network television: The Resident, The Good Doctor, New Amsterdam, Gray's Anatomy, and Chicago Med. I don't watch the last two, but I do watch the other three regularly. I rate them in the order in which they are listed. I like The Resident best because of the cast, especially Bruce Greenwood, Jane Leeves, Emily Van Camp, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, and new addition Morris Chestnut, and because a nurse is one of the main characters. I'm wondering what other viewers think. If I were to give up one, it would be New Amsterdam. I love Ryan Eggold, but I think it's just an iota away from unbelievable.

Anyone care to jump in? There's no co-pay.

Oh man this show is drek! I lasted about 5 minutes with it. My friend says she watched two episodes because she wanted to give it a second chance. As she said "that's an hour of my life I can't get back."

That's what a lot of people say about something they didn't like. Seems they all have those hours to spare, though.

As someone close to your age whose 1st "chapter book" was "Secret of the old clock", I was looking forward to The CW "Nancy Drew" until I read your review. I've even watched both the 70s and 90s previous television versions of the teenage detective, and I do not recognize your description of her Bess, and George as the book characters. My question is when you get screeners, how many episodes (or % of ep) do you usually watch before you determine whether the show is a hit or a miss?

My first determination when watching anything is what general stack to put it in, based on whether or not I am going to write a full review (or save it for some other big-picture commentary). The three general categories are: "PASS" "CONSIDER" or "FIRM YES." A great deal of my work day is about this sort of air-traffic control -- queing up a screener episode long enough to decide where it goes. I can usually make that decision in as fast as 10 minutes or a few episodes -- it really depends what we're talking about. But any time I watch more than one episode is a strong indicator that I feel my criticism will be useful here; otherwise that half hour or one hour is better spent on watching another show. Of course, there are a great number of programs that just have to be reviewed, because of their pedigree or all the advance buzz, or because they're a big event. This "El Camino" thing on Netflix ("A Breaking Bad Movie") is a good example. I have no choice; sight unseen, I am expected to review it.

We have a nice little Clubhouse here with a Robin in the corner in a cage. But I did like Donal Logue getting some work.

Yes! How long has it been since I last mourned the cancellation of "Terriers"? It happened almost a decade ago and I'm still peeved.

I watched the finale "American Horror Story: Coven" where the all the clues from the whole season of who was the next Supreme was suppose to be relieved and it had "Everybody loses, but then everybody wins" ending that was kind of junk, but okay. Then I watched the finale of "The Americans" where Jared was relieved as the killer and it was such a good relieved that I realized I had forgotten what a satisfying solution was and was kind way too kind too AHS. I haven't watched AHS since.

You know, you are allowed to proofread these things before you hit send?

I keep seeing the promos for their sitcoms with old sitcoms visiting. Ok, I get the Drew Carey cast being on American Housewife, but why are the Cheers cast on The Goldberg's? Holy crap they look so old.

I dunno -- I'm sure there's a connection that's so obvious I'm overlooking it (a chatter will soon weigh in), but my best guess is that the Goldbergs are in the 1980s and so was Cheers (mostly)?

My husband and I have one more episode of Veep. I'm dreading the ending not just because we've enjoyed the show, but because finishing it means we'll have to agree upon another series -- a nearly Herculean task. Recently we've both enjoyed: Glow, Game of Thrones, Godless and Mindhunter. These series have basically nothing in common except for the fact that you've recommended them, so, can you set us off on another path? Husband gets bored with the crime genre and Britishy stuff (I was on my own for Unbelievable and The Crown); I get bored with Family Dynasties Doing Bad Things (Husband is on his own for Succession and Peaky Blinders). We've agreed to abide by whatever you suggest for at least three episodes.

It really is like marriage counseling.  While it's impossible to know what you've already watched (or tried) together, I'll throw in some suggestions:

"Fleabag," "Barry," "Silicon Valley," "Catastrophe," "Ramy" and "Russian Doll."

Also: "Catch-22," "Years and Years" (Britishy, but takes place in the near future), "On Becoming a God in Central Florida" and, although you don't like despicable families, you might make an exception for the Gallaghers in the early years of "Shameless"? Also I don't see "The Americans" on here, so ... that too.

Catching up on "Homeland" and something I'm wondering about is how famous is Nicholas Brody within their universe? He's a P.O.W. who becomes a congressman and frontrunning for VP nod who betrays the U.S.A. to the Iranians and killed a bunch of world leaders so he must kind of famous? I guess also how many people know about his and Carrie's romantic relationship because it seems so obvious that her daughter is Brody's lovechild, but than again, who even know those two knew each, let alone were in love. It's just sort of weird nobody in the show from Saul to Carrie's big sister to the Russian bad guys to anybody else ever remarking how Carrie had the lovechild of this world famous terrorist.

So are ya liking the show or ...?

Honestly, it's been many years and many TV shows since I've had to think about Brody, but trust me, at the time, it all seemed plausible enough to keep us entertained. That may be one problem with watching something this late -- you're alone in your bafflement, but it sounds to me like the characters are minding their manners rather than rubbing Carrie's face in it? If you keep watching, that baby (and who provides care for her, and if she's safe or not in Carrie's care) becomes a bigger issue.

Finding Emergence to be disappointing. Allison Tolman good but I think her banter (particularly w/ the reporter) detracts from any attempt to create a scary, tense story line. Her character isn't believable as a professional authority figure. Do you think the show is getting off track?

What, you don't like ROBOT GUARD DOGS?

I happen to think the show is staying exactly on track, and I like how Tolman's character is written and how she plays it.

Are we still allowed to talk about "Country"? I finally finished it Monday night, and am recommending it right and left. I believe you failed to mention that Vince Gill and the whole segment on "Go Rest High on That Mountain" would leave any viewers with a heart weeping. And yeah, remembering time with my dad....

"Failed to mention" = it's a 16.5-hour documentary. I failed to mention quite a lot of it.

Hi, Hank. Your joint review of "Batwoman" and "Nancy Drew" was, as usual, a helpful prelude to watching the former (haven't gotten to the latter yet). But maybe because my expectations were a bit lower, I actually found "Batwoman" pretty solid, though I wish there had been a bit more camp. The main reason I'm writing, however, is this line: “Supergirl,” launched with such satisfying vim four years ago on CBS, migrated to CW, where it has fluttered and flattened out to almost nothing." I acknowledge that opinions are just that, but speaking as someone who admires the deft way the show has addressed real-world issues like immigration, demagoguery and journalism, I found that dismissal astonishing. Would I be correct in guessing that you bailed on the show two or three seasons back?

Not bailed completely, but yeah, I only check in occasionally (a few episodes here and there) and it's not the show I once so strongly praised.

So, I have a deep and abiding love for Big Mouth on Netflix. If only such a show had existed when I was in 7th grade (and I had been allowed to watch it—separate issue!), I might have been a much happier child. I don’t know if you watch any of it, but I love some of the adjustments they made for season 3. Less of the grating and one-note Coach Steve, a more nuanced take on Jay, and more places for Matthew to shine and show a non-hetero adolescent experience. I hope they keep this show around long enough for all the characters to escape the nightmare that is middle school and find fresh new ways to feel ashamed and embarrassed of themselves in high school instead.

It would be surprising to me if they moved the characters forward in terms of age and setting. I have loved "Big Mouth" since season 1 (when I wrote this rave), but I always feel there are a few too many episodes each season. That said, I too am glad they're giving us a lot less Coach Steve. Frankly, if it was all Hormone-Monsters-all-the-time, I'd be fine.

This is for the chatter who is watching medical dramas. Starting last season, it seems that Chicago Med has tried to keep up with the pace of the show 9-1-1. I swear it is a like a finale every single week. If Chicago Med had not been set in Chicago, they would have tried the tsunami or earthquake episode 10 times by now. It is fun to watch the drama, but I find myself laughing at it more and more.

Listen, if they can't find a way to make Lake Michigan have a tsunami, then they just aren't trying hard enough. Maybe another cow could start another barn fire?

You know you can watch different shows on different TVs, right? You can also eat different foods. Restaurants are awesome for that.

Yes, but ... are you married or in a LTR? For some time now (at least since the dawn of streaming), a whole couples protocol has emerged about how/when/what to watch together, and it can involve cheating (watching ahead, watching with others) and I am here to tell you, couples everywhere are DYING for something they can watch together, with pleasurable results. I wrote about this when I reviewed "Masters of Sex" for its first season. Finding the right show together is like finding the G-spot.

I wanted to add to the conversation we've been having about rewatching shows when there's plenty of new good stuff out there. The thing that has prompted me to rewatch some shows, or watch older shows for the first time, is that there are now some pretty good podcasts out there revisiting and analyzing these shows. It can be fun to watch one old episode a week and then listen to a podcast where they address how it's aged, how it's still amazing TV, or even how it doesn't hold up well at all. It's also fun to hear how things worked behind the scenes, how actors got the job, etc. The West Wing Weekly is a great example - they address the treatment of women that you brought up last week. In fact, I think that podcast is probably the main reason that topic even hit your radar (unless you're also rewatching!). Obviously, there are podcasts for new shows, too, but they are more recaps or comparisons to source material (e.g., book that inspired the show). And, of course, supersized marketing and social media machines are a big contributor. I mean, Pottery Barn has a line of Friends furniture and accessories.

Again, an inordinate amount of effort (smart and engaging as it may be) going into fetishizing and combing through our recent past. Why not live forward? In this century? Give "Friends" and "The West Wing" a half century or so to stand the test of time, and if they do, bore down on them academically and obsessively.

Did you catch debut of the "Retro Report" on PBS this week? I confess that I really want to like this show, especially having been a fan of Celeste Headlee's radio work. But I wonder whether this history-in-my-lifetime series will attract the desired young audience (as opposed to us geezers just looking to feel smug during these strolls down memory lane). I also worry that normally hilarious (in print) Andy Borowitz isn't satirical enough on TV.

I worry that you find Andy Borowitz "normally hilarious" on any platform.

To answer your question, though, no I haven't seen it.

I saw one episode of "30 Rock" and thought, "meh, not isn't very funny, but maybe it's just an off episode." Later I watched an interview of Tiny Fey by Oprah Winfrey where it was usually stuff about how funny "30 Rock" is and then Oprah Winfrey cited the only episode I'd watched as an example of the show at its funniest and Tina Fey replied something along the lines of, "yeah, people often point to that episode as the funniest." I figured it that is the zenith of "30 Rock" comedy for its fans, it wasn't for me.

COBY SMOTHERS, meet TINY FEY.

Are you on site at The Wash Post watching all this content stream at your desk, or do you watch from home? Or both?

I try to watch all my screeners here at work, at my desk, upright, taking notes. 99 percent of the screeners I receive from networks now are sent via an encrypted link.

At home, like everyone, my watching is more casual, more of a catch-up nature, diving in and out of current TV episodes of a range of shows. Also I try to protect my better half from having to do my job with me, making sure to ask if he wants to watch something or not.

There's a thing in shows where they are set in a place and then the characters move on yet we keep following them so how it feels like we have a bunch of characters with zero connection to each other. The first season was primary about the street walkers, but how there's the porn star in Los Angeles and closeted mayoral aide and I don't even know what half the characters are doing and it's unlikely they'll never meet or anything connecting them.

Like a novel, I'd say. I think "The Deuce" is working fine, and always has, and like "Treme" before it, is kind of going out more on gracenotes than big drama.

Has any one watched Perfect Harmony? I haven't had a chance yet, but I like Bradley Whitfield. Hank, I haven't seen you comment on it. I guess you weren't impressed.

I make a brief mention of it here, as being an example of networks bringing perfectly adequate, serviceable content to the fall schedule.It's about as funny/good as "Sunnyside," and they're all sort of blending together with "Superstore" (and to a lesser extent, "The Good Place"), which is that medium-level friendly-snarky ensemble feel-good comedy.

Meanwhile: Bradley Whitfield? You guys are really bombing on names today.

I don't know which character is more incredible. The telekinetic, psychic, sometimes invisible girl, or the always nice and knowing the right thing to say Grandpa with the perfect gravelly voice!

Who, every time the little girl gazes at him, we know is DOOMED.

I stop watching when I realize that facing another episode seems more like a chore that needs to be checked of my to-do list, instead of something I've been looking forward to. The Walking Dead is one of many that hit that point with me.

Totally.

Thank you! We both loved Fleabag and Catastrophe, so your suggestions continue to be on-point enough that we'll give the others you mentioned a try. And for the other poster -- Pfffft. Believe it or not, we're actually a one-television household, so some of these shows, we really can't divide-and-conquer for. And, we -do- watch some things separately (I mentioned The Crown, Succession), but also...we like each other? We like being in the same room as each other? We like, after 10 hours at work, coming home and vegging out for 45 minutes by watching something we can talk about and hear each other's opinions on?

I am with you. I hope something in those suggestions helped -- if you're still stumped, try emailing me and we'll find something.

I gave up on The Wire after three or four episodes (however many were on the first DVD). Separately: Malcolm Jamal-Warner is on a show? Good for him. I always liked him on The Cosby Show.

More proof that even the best shows lose someone.

On your other observation, I could be wrong, but I have learned that hardly a television season goes by where Malcolm-Jamal Warner is not working.

Poor spelling and grammar skills aside, you know what those people meant. Are you one of those people who is forever correcting people? "Actually it's not Frankenstein. Frankenstein is the name of the creator. You mean Frankenstein's monster." You must be the life of the party.

No, but when you call him Frank Einstein, I might LOL.

So the little girl in "Emergence" is basically 11 from "Stranger Things"?

Nobody who wrote it or reviewed has said "Emergence" is oozing originality.

I hope this question makes sense. My wife and I watched all of season one and five episodes of season two, but are losing patience. While the occasional human moments and quirky humor have kept us watching so far, we're wondering whether the show ever coalesces into something more accessible (not sure that's the word I'm looking for.......maybe becomes more understandable?)

I'm not expecting it to really swerve into being something other than what it (magnificently) is. But, to our earlier posts today, sometimes you just know when you're done watching a show. Could this be that moment for you two and "Lodge 49"? As noted, it's perfectly okay to walk away sated.

You fall asleep while skipping through the commercials, wind up at the end, and you think that 20 minutes was enough of it.

It's like you're spying on me at home.

This speaks well for him in multiple ways. Are there other actors who have this same combination of work ethic and outstanding hire-ability?

Yes, tons.

To be fair about 11 and our new plane crash girl, it wasn't as if "Stranger Things" was oozing originality either.

So, so true.

advance looks at some shows, but not others? I presume that if they think their show is going to get eviscerated by critics, then why hand them ammo? But El Camino doesnt seem like it would fall into that category. I would be shocked if Vince Gilligan put out something that wasn't very good. Ditto (possibly) Mr. Robot, which didn't seem to garner many reviews ahead of Sunday's premiere, even though it's always been a favorite of critics. Ditto probably lots of other shows I'm not thinking of at the moment.

There are only 10 minutes left in today's chat, which is nowhere near enough time for me to hold forth on all my many theories about networks, their marketing strategies, and where screeners and critics do or not come into play there. For now I will just tell you that a great deal of my time is spent inquiring about the availability and ETA of screeners and playing pretty-please and sometimes signing NDAs and so forth. And yes, how and when they're available definitely determines whether or not a critic can or will write about them -- given the competition and number of shows.

Is it actually a small dark office with barriers to keep people from bothering you or something less....spectacular?

It's an office in a newsroom. I have a sliding glass door. I keep it dark in here (lamp light vs. overhead light) and, for the most part, am left alone if the door is shut and the headphones are on.

That is all.

Yeah, I'm enjoying it too.

My lovely wife and I are watching "Succession" together, and that's fine. However, she is now on the last season of "Americans," which didn't hold me at all. I'm normally reading in the same room while she watches, and I pretty much know what's going on, but it just got a little dreary for me. Next, we will likely move on to "Fleabag," because she liked PWB on SNL. Gotta know how to work together.

Give some to get some. You know the drill.

...when you can finally spell "Colby Smolders" without going to the internet!

I believe "Colby Smolders" works a different part of the internet.

I theorize that some Broadway stars -- like Nathan Lane and Kristin Chenoweth -- are too BIG in emoting and gestures and whatnot for the small screen. That's why both failed as sitcom stars, and did better in smaller roles (Lane on "Modern Family," Chenoweth on "Pushing Daisies"). Am I right about this? Or should I just stop thinking?

Excellent theory. And Ben Platt's performance in "The Politician" only bolsters it.

I feel like for this one, reviews don't really matter, or they certainly don't matter in advance. People who watched Breaking Bad and are eager for it will jump on the movie as soon as it drops whether it's or well-reviewed or not. People who are not eagerly anticipating it and stumble across it on Netflix MIGHT look for a review, but to them it won't matter whether it's dated today or next Monday.

Thanks for the confidence boost.

How do you think the season has progressed? I'm hooked and think it has some of the funniest lines on television (very black humored way, of course).

I love "Succession" but I am tired of being told how funny it is.

Because it is and it isn't and this whole "it's a satire" thing strikes me as far too facile.

OTOH, Kristin Chenoweth and John Lithgow did well on "Trial & Error," with their larger-than-life defendants.

Supporting roles.

Hate to say it but...it's Ben Platt, not Pratt.

See? It's rubbing off.

I'll go back and fix it.

When & where will season 2 of You drop?

I was told December and then I was told to forget I ever heard that, so I don't know.

It looks like Noah's about to get me too'd, so maybe the series will end where it began, with him on trial. The Joanie thing just makes me realize Joshua Jackson and Ruth Wilson are gone, and it looks like Ben didn't get comeuppance. There's plenty of material in the Solloway family without learning that Joanie ended up a mess too.

I've stalled out after the first four installments. I'm working up my energy for the rest but I hated PBS' firehose scheduling on this. A little breathing room to digest so much material would have been appreciated. The Netflix model isn't great for everything.

Can you record it and watch at your own pace? Or use an on-demand feature? The only thing in 2019 that keeps you beholden to their schedule is you.

So Kevin's "thing" this season is whether he and PTSD vet mom are going to hook up?

Many times I've wondered why they do so little with that character, choosing to just put him in obvious boxes. Maybe that's the point of that character. Everyone is so blase about the fact there is a MOVIE STAR IN OUR FAMILY.

I know you don't necessarily believe in re-watching old properties just because you loved them once/find them comforting. But I did recently listen to a podcast that recapped, broke down and discussed each episode of Terriers, and it sure was nice to have another (short) dip in that pool. I don't know why the guy who played Britt isn't more famous!

See, to me, this sounds like the perfect way to ruin a good feeling/memory.

I know there is a lot of hate for Noah, but I have always found him to be the most realistic & relatable character on the show. He's flaws are what make him interesting and make me cheer for him. Imagine being married to Helen and always knowing that she and her awful parents think you are beneath them. Not justifying his affair, but its certainly understandable. And while I love Maura Tierney's acting her "Helen House Beautiful" character [How many pieces of gorgeous real estate is one person entitled to inhabit--her parents ridiculous house; the brownstone with Noah; the California seaside mansion with Vic)] is a spoiled brat. It's as if she thinks the world owes her a life without difficulty. I'll take Noah and his shortcomings any day over her unrelenting sense of entitlement.

I plan to do that but it makes it feel a little like homework instead of entertainment. Plus you feel like you're missing out if everybody's finished their conversation long before you're caught up.

Believe me, with "Country Music," you've got all the time in the world.

The one show my husband and I agree on is Below Deck. :)

Yeah, because it's PERFECT.

Okay, gang, we've run over time and I'd like to check out before I start spelling even more names wrong. (Serves me right!)

Love ya, see ya,

HS

Maybe it's me, but is there any other show with a lineup of characters who are near-universally unlikeable? And I don't mean unlikeable-but-funny like on Arrested Development or something. More like wall-to-wall, these are characters for whom I have basically no sympathy. Even the ones where they occasionally try to hook us into identifying/sympathizing with them (Shiv, Tom, Greg, Kendall) - soon enough they'll do something to negate it. Are they written this way by design? I think the acting and show overall are great - I'm talking about how they are written and portrayed.

Yes, they are written that way by design.

That is why one of the best shows on television right now is also one of the most difficult shows on television right now. I urge you to get past the likeability thing -- not just on this show, but others. It's okay to not like a character and still be absorbed by their experience and what happens to them.

I got snarked at by Hank Stuever. Made my day.

Aaaaand scene.

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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