What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Mar 14, 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: "Game of Thrones," "Better Things" "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Insecure" Lately he's been digging "High Maintenance," "Russian Doll," "Better Things" and "Pen15."

Noon has crept up on me (let's face it, Thursday has crept up on me), but calendars and clocks don't lie and it is indeed time for some TV Chat. So let's just get right to it.

How will the charges against her affect the Hallmark Channels and her career?

Well, I wouldn't look for her to be on it much in the future, if I had to guess.

It's interesting -- when this scandal broke and Lori Loughlin was charged, the entire world shouted "No, not Aunt Becky!" in reference to "Full House." But the current gig is "When Calls the Heart" on Hallmark, a show I'll bet a lot of you have never watched, but it is routinely at the top of the ratings for scripted cable dramas, sometimes second only to "The Walking Dead."

Lori Loughlin fans -- weigh in! What do you think? And tell us something we need to know about "When Calls the Heart."

I would love to hear chatters take on this week’s episode. Was this supposed to show us how certain characters and relationships are unraveling? Remind us, deep-down, about each person’s true character—Randall is focused, Kevin is troubled, Kate is a daddy’s girl? You have mentioned in previous chats that you thought this was a slow season. To me, I would rather have one or two more strong seasons with a wrap-up than many drawn out or going-nowhere stories for many seasons. But, I know, it is actually a business.

As soon as Rebecca told the doctor that "We're a family that stays" [in hospital waiting rooms], we'd be in for some ugly sides of the characters. It was a slow season (election campaign; Vietnam flashbacks) but now we are in the present, with a good old-fashioned WILL THE BABY LIVE? storyline (backed with ALCOHOLISM/REHAB) that might see us through to the end, which is only, what, three more episodes?

Then what, you ask? I remain a fan of the show's architecture. I feel certain they will get one more season and likely more to go ahead and build it out. I dunno, six seasons feels right? Maybe just five? As you note, it's not really matter of suitability; it's about selling advertising.

I still love "This is Us" but there are a few details that drive me nuts. Why is it never snowy in the winter Pittsburgh flashback scenes? How are Randall and Beth supporting their family when both are un(der)employed? Who stayed with their girls when they flew to CA at a moment's notice? Bring back the high powered executive job for at least one of them.

I'm trying to remember a time when so many viewers fretted over a fictional couple's combined income. We keep pointing out that Randall's previous work entailed the sorts of bonuses and investment mojo that would make most of our heads spin -- not his retirement investments, mind you, but just the money he was earning as a point of pride. Do we really think they've run through it all? Granted, teleportation machines aren't cheap -- but is there a better way to get to L.A. when your sister is having a baby seven weeks early?

Are you going to review The Fix? It looks like it has potential. As for the college scandal, I don't care so much about LL (have you seen the video of her super shallow daughter? Ugh) but I am bummed about Felicity Huffman and William H Macy, as a fan of both, it's disappointing to see they paid $15K for a SAT test and then deducted it on their taxes. She's in deep do do. I don't get why he hasn't been charged yet.

He hasn't been charged because he didn't write the checks, find the consultant, arrange the fraudulent exam, etc. In other words, the usual marital dynamic: Mom has to do everything around here. Therefore it all traces to her? That's my best answer without really knowing.

I never have watched the Bachelor but your colleagues and their reviews of the last couple of episodes (guy jumping fence) really got me going. Is that stuff seriously not scripted?

"Not scripted" is the sort of existential problem that would take an entire semester to really cover (and involve a class discussion of seasons 1 and 2 of "UnREAL"), but I agree with you, my colleagues have done a rip-snortin' job of deconstructing this season.

We know the baby will live. Kate called upon Saint Jack to make sure of it.

I would agree, EXCEPT we spent significant time this season discovering that Jack wasn't always a saint.

Her character on WCTH is the voice of ethical reason, standing up to corruption in various storylines. I am a Hallmark fan, watch WCTH, and also like her Garage Sale mysteries series, and don't see how she can continue those roles, especially on a network that is built on the achingly sweet and wholesome genre, an off-shoot of a greeting card kingdom (hey, just because I enjoy watching that, doesn't mean I don't see it for what it is). She's made her fortune on playing the Miss Goody Two Shoes type, and I think that means this comes back to bite her harder than Huffman. Her daughter's statements and attitude aren't helping, you would have thought Aunt Becky wouldn't have raised such shallow entitled offspring.

Well put, and thank you so much for taking time to explain this more fully for the rest of us.

Who was watching Randall and Beth's girls while they teleported to LA? And is anyone feeding Kate and Toby's dog? Or did the dog teleport to the nebulous east coast area where they live to watch the girls?

This is exactly what happened.

I thought the same thing, that they were emphasizing each character's core. I don't mind the slow pace (maybe that's why I don't mind the pace on Better Call Saul, either), I enjoy the slow buildups and reveals. The show's been so dark this season, I expected something horrible with Kate and/or baby.

There's still time.

I have to admit, preemie/NICU stuff is hard for me, even though I have little personal experience with it. I can only imagine how fast viewers who have endured that experience would have to turn off their TVs.

I can't possibly be the only one who was a bit let down by the Shameless season finale. Yeah, I know - it wasn't likely Fiona was going to get hit by the L train. Still love the show, but wanted something *more.*

"Shameless" lost its mojo some time ago -- a show that was ready to wrap up many seasons ago, but found belated success as a streaming hit and so now we have too much of it for too long.

Not sure this totally on point or relevant for today's chat, but I teach at a large public midwestern university and couldn't wait to hear what my students had to say about this whole train wreck...it turns out very little, other than "tell me something I don't already know." While they had no idea who Lori Loughlin (or Felicity Huffman) was, they did know her daughter and her You Tube and Instagram presence very well where she is a paid spokesman for teeth aligning, make up, and everything else you need for a totally sick dorm room (I didn't hear actually say that, but I imagine it's something close). I found their blase attitude someone depressing...this is how the world works and we know that. I was at a loss for how to counteract their cynicism, so the discussion came to a very whimpery close.

Now I'm depressed, too! How unsatisfying.

Don't watch the show (not MY brand of trash TV) but the finale writeup in the Post was a riot - way more entertaining than the actual show can be.


I have to take a minute to do that think where I thank my lucky stars that Emily Yahr and other members of the pop-culture team so often suit up (imagine hazmat suits) and deal with "The Bachelor" and its ilk. They write about so much more satisfyingly that cranky old me would, with true wit and shrewd analysis. It is one of the great gifts of having my job and allows me to focus on the rest of TV (note that I did not say BETTER TV, just the rest of TV).

I'm predicting the final episode to be a Saint Elsewhere clone: Rebecca - suffering from dementia - who we find out had a psychiatric "break" when Jack died, just imagined all of this stuff in her head. It's either that or the Godfather Part3 where Michael Corleone dies after reliving his tortured life on a park bench.

What about a "Lost" ending? What if they ALL died in the Crock-Pot fire? (Brace yourselves, everyone, I'm about to say the P-word, which will set a lot of people off. P-puh-puh purgatory, where, once they get to the bottom of Jack's MANY sins, they can all go to the light.)

Very last scene of the very last episode of This Is Us will reveal it's all a novel written by William, Randall's "father." Kinda like the autistic boy Tommy Westphal in St Elsewhere.

Remember the Full House episode (Season 6, #15) when Jesse pulled a fast one trying to get the twins into an exclusive pre-school? Karma's a b, Aunt Becky.

You're joking, I hope.

I get that you are tired of this topic but I think people question it so much because the show basically makes it impossible not to. It's not just that they're both essentially unemployed. They BOUGHT a BUILDING. They ran a campaign for city council with apparently at least one paid staff member. It just seems so far outside the realm of the plausible that I think people can't help but think/ask about it.

Awright, awright -- BUT. In Tuesday's episode, there was that unseemly moment when Kevin informed the doctor that he has lots of money and can get a better doctor/hospitals if that what it takes and I found myself wondering why we don't wish to know more about account balances. Where was the money talk with Kate and Toby's extraordinary measures to have their own biological child?

It's time schools bring back civics class. Kids need to learn how the world works, teach ethics, etc.

Media literacy, too, if there's time.

I'm deadly serious. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0584106/?ref_=ttep_ep15

I had a feeling you were.

Hi, Hank-- I've always admired her acting, so much so that even though she played at least partly unethical characters (Desperate Housewives, American Crime Story) I felt she retained an inner core of integrity. The news that she appears to be a real-life criminal is disheartening, but for some reason I want to take another look at her work on DH and see whether this new knowledge affects my appreciation of her skills. Does that reaction make sense to you, or am I warped?

A lit-tle warped, if you must know. Acting is a job. I doubt you'll see much more than a actor doing good work on a hit series that significantly raised her income and perhaps put her in a world where that money could start solving problems you didn't even know you had, and can also help you cut corners that seem entirely cut-able.

That Full Episode of trying to con their toddlers' way into pre-school is real, although Loughlin's character is the one who came clean and quashed the fraud. I will say that I saw the always smiling mask slip very briefly when she was doing an online interview during the WCTH drama over Jack being killed off. She ever so briefly went all snarky on some fan comments, then caught herself and put the smile back in place. Was interesting to see, though.

I have an ongoing discussion with my husband that using the word "ilk" is a way of saying "the same" but always with a quasi negative connotation - he thinks you can always use it to describe something similar regardless of connotation. I think your quote is another example of a negative connotation. You weren't being kind to the Bachelor when you said that. I'd like to resolve this ongoing discussion once and for all and I'm turning to you as the judge because... why not?

I'm with you in that it's mainly seen in pejorative use (and usually written, not spoken), but our friend the dictionary is of no help here, since mine does not denote "ilk" as a pejorative. I guess the battle rages on. Sorry.

I don't admire too many actors, but I did like both of these women and William Macy. A lot. I also know tons of people do these kinds of things and watch(ed) it happen and there are other worse/bad examples out there. All I can say that for me, I will not watch any of them again. Shame on them for teaching their kids this is okay.

There was a whole craze of 1940s weeper movies with titles like that starring Kay Francis or Norma Shearer that show up on TCM at 3 in the morning. I need to sleep more.

Finally got around to watching "Hill House", fully expecting, as a huge fan of the book and the first movie, not to like it, but was drawn in quickly by the interesting characters and the re-imagined house. Sadly, you were right about the ending: "Whatever walks there, walks with a huge crowd of friends and family." Sheez, Shirley must be doing 10000 RPM in the grave.

They've announced a whole other new chapter/season (different family, different house, believed to be loosely based on a short story Henry James wrote in the 1890s), so I hope they've heard the RESOUNDING CHORUS OF BOOS that they got for the first season's sugary, cop-out ending.

Just wanted to give a heads up to other fans of "Miracle Workers" that the reviews talk about how the show is based on a book called "What in God's Name" that Simon Rich wrote. I went to find the book in kindle and under books Simon Rich wrote, I only found one called "Miracle Workers." I suspect the name of the book was changed to the show title so that it could be more sellable? I hope they didn't change anything else about it. So far it mirrors the events of the show too closely to be worth the price if anyone's curious

Yes, that happens sometimes when a book gets adapted to film or TV with a new title. The original hardcover edition is still listed at Amazon here with the original title. Nothing wrong with trying to sell a few more books from the TV tie-in.

And speaking of miracles, the show seems to have found a loyal audience -- the live + three-days ratings put it pretty high up the list of original cable dramas/comedies, within the top 10.

We were rattling around the Netflix interface the other day trying and failing to find something good to watch, and we got to talking about whether the bigger problem was that there were too many good shows we hadn't seen, or that too many of those shows require a big commitment which seems discouraging, or that there aren't enough of those shows that fit into the genres we like ("why are these classic shows all dramas? why aren't there more warm-smart comedies?"), or that there just actually aren't that many good shows. I think we ended by saying that they're all problems -- and all first-world problems, to be sure -- but we couldn't tell which was the biggest. Do you have any thoughts about this?

I think sometimes this paralysis is about too many choices -- so many, that you can't choose. And I get that it sometimes feels daunting to click on Season 1, Episode 1 of a drama when you know that there are six whole seasons to go.

As far as distinguishing the good from the bad, I have a splendid idea: Read more TV criticism.

Also, stop worrying about and quantifying the end game. Just click on something and watch one episode. Does it make you want to watch another? Then do so. Repeat until bored. Quit anytime. So what if you don't finish it? That's on the people who made it, not you.

And one final thought: The way you're describing this admittedly first-world problem, it sounds like maybe you don't want to watch TV at all. Maybe movies are more your thing? Maybe books? Maybe long walks with the glorious arrival of Daylight Saving Time? Just a thought.

Felicity Huffman spending 15K to get her kid better SAT scores is pretty terrible, but Loughlin and Mossimo bribing the coach, faking photos, etc., and doing it twice for both their daughters is way way worse. Especially considering how her kid has absolutely no interest in actually getting an education. Watching the Olivia Jade videos honestly makes me appreciate all the smart, dedicated kids our local public schools are churning out.

An article I read on Google said that there was a lot of dislike for Miguel after this last episode of This Is Us. I thought his game was a little inane, but I couldn't blame him for wanting to give them a little distraction. I did understand how he felt when he talked to Madison (I can't believe the way Kevin talked to her!). I like Miguel (some of which is a carryover from Castle, I know), and I wish someone other than Rebecca appreciated him more.

I am down for SO MUCH MORE backstory on Miguel.

Have we ever seen Miguel's kids he had with his ex-wife or is that Season 6 running-on-empty plotline?

Heck yeah we saw them -- last Thanksgiving? It was a present-day thing and they treated him like crap and he finally called them on it.

I was reading TV Line and I was appalled by all the hatred for Felicity Huffman and even more for Lori Laughlin. So many people want them to go to prison! I do want them punished, but a fine and lots of community service (as well as all the roles they will lose) would do it for me. I think prison is for (a) violent criminals and (b) those who prey on the weak, the poor, and the elderly, and (c) people like Madoff who rob people of their savings/retirements.

Wondering...When long time TV series end on TV, but get revived as a "movie", thinking Downton Abbey, do you go see the movie just out of curiousity? Or do you "leave it there" when the TV show ended?

I leave it alone because movies are not my beat. I hardly go out to movies anymore (I once saw EVERYTHING in theaters), but most days I can't consider it a leisure activity to cram MORE scripted material into my poor head, at the real risk of getting a movie confused with something I'm considering/watching for review. I generally see movies when they get to premium cable or more preferably on airplanes, where something (the altitude? A cocktail?) makes them seem harmless and purely diverting.

Don't you DARE say that. Apologize to TV right now!

Because making very rich people just pay a fine is somewhat ridiculous.

“I'm trying to remember a time when so many viewers fretted over a fictional couple's combined income.” I think it was Monica and Rachel.

As I recall, it took a while for the cultural backlash to start seriously questioning "sitcom apartments" of allegedly struggling characters. "Friends" was very smart to build in the grandma/rent-control part of that story, which warded off the trenchant analysis of sitcom characters and their ridiculous apartments/houses that would come.

am wondering if you have any idea if this doc will have a lasting impact. It seemed a big deal last week, but has faded so quickly. Guess I'm wondering if Jackson's music will retain its popularity, even if his rep is permanently trashed.

We'll just have to wait and see.

It faded quickly because that's how it is now. We are assaulted with new information and new stories to get outraged about every day. This week is college admissions fraud of the rich and famous.

Lori's acts were deplorable. But Felicity is going to have IRS problems because she committed fraud by writing it off as a donation.

What about paying the bribe to the shell corporation/charity and then deducting the "donation" on your tax return like Huffman did? That's chutzpah! (and tax fraud)

I enjoyed the show last year, but this year, I am just not seeing the same quality. I can appreciated the shift in tone and story, but ugh. You still on board with it?

Very on board, sorry. But I've also seen a lot more episodes than you have. My advice is stick with it.

Have you seen the documentary on HBO about Congressman O'Rourke's run for U.S. Senate? Interesting or informercial or both or neither?

I haven't -- it doesn't air until May.

Wondering if you've seen it yet? Not sure if Ray Romano is worth watching in something like this or not.

It's a movie. I review shows and series made for television.

Review here: https://therealfullhousereviewed.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/season-6-episode-15-be-true-to-your-preschool/

Their crimes weren't victimless. Qualified, hard working students were deprived of a slot at those schools. And, I think people are tired of seeing rich people buy their way into things and buy their way out of trouble.

If John Ridley is able to get ABC to order another season, he has his topic for Felicity Huffman's ensemble character! (Wonderful series, so sadly underwetched.)

Maybe THIS could be part of her community service plea? Because I am so there. You are a genius. Ridley would GO TO TOWN with this story line, which of course involves white people complaining about affirmative action.

My youngest daughter (an attorney) said that there will be lots of civil suits by people whose kids didn't get into USC and other colleges that are involved, and, I assume, against Lori Laughlin & her husband and Felicity Huffman.

Really? Sort of seems a stretch, but I ain't got the law degree.

At our house we started streaming Rescue Me powerful, and in the beginning it was "let's watch another one", now we've hit the wall at about Season 5. Sometimes it's difficult to pay attention to even one episode. We are seriously considering just playing the last 2 or 3 episodes to just be done with it. Seems like most of these shows just drag on a little too long.

I fully endorse this decision. Skip ahead to the end -- why not? It's not a crime.

Re Aidy Bryant's new series "Shrill," on a promo for her interview on today's "Fresh Air," I thought I heard Terry Gross say that the series would be SCREAMED on Hulu (which would've been great wordplay). After my morning coffee, I heard the promo again and realized she'd said "streamed."


And thanks for reminding me -- while we've been chatting, my review of Hulu's "Shrill," paired with a review Netflix's "Turn Up Charlie" has posted to the site. I wasn't overly impressed with "Shrill," but "Turn Up Charlie" (the Idris Elba dramedy) was a lot worse.

The first ones have been filed. So far just against colleges.

My mom would do this with books all the time. Suspect that if she were still with us she'd do the same with TV shows.

As I recall (I watched it when it first aired) season 5 was a bit of a slog but it picked up again in season six so go ahead and skip to it.

Loved him a little more with his good-natures half-smile after Toby said he was kidding about wanting to see Miguel first. I fell for it too.

I see that a new season is now streaming. I love this show - do you watch it? Season one was filmed before the 2016 election so it only showed Diane Lockhart freaking out watching the election returns at the beginning. But season two fully embraced "the thinking liberal's response to the Trump crisis" issue and was a total hoot. Do you watch it? If so, have you seen the new season? Thoughts?

I did watch most of Season 2 and have not yet watched any of Season 3. My thoughts are pretty much that the show has all the thoughts already laid out for you, so my 2 cents aren't even worth that.

On the second season of ABC's "American Crime," Felicity Huffman played a compromised (if not downright corrupt) high school principal. She's also played other compromised characters (e.g., on "Desperate Housewives'). Do you think this will help her in fighting the charges, in a way that "wholesome" Lori Loughlin's characters are at odds with the allegations she now faces?

I hope you're talking about the court of public opinion...

I actually like Nadia but Alan is extremely self-involved and has no sense of boundaries with his girlfriend. I don't think he admits he's sick. His girlfriend, Beatriz, is extremely unapolagetic about cheating on him and doesn't say something like "hey, I love you but you need help, let me give you these resources, no please, go do that and leave" and the guy she's cheating on is like the worst human being alive. Also Shifra at the Yeshiva is extremely rude to Nadia because she's single.

Imagine, a show seeking to reclaim the grittier side of New York and a very unique self-identity crisis would have "unlikable" characters in it. From your description, it feels as if you're describing human beings. Somehow we have to work through this collective notion that TV shows (and books and movies) should be filled with people we like, doing only things we approve of. That way lies boring fluff, I'm just saying.

Say it ain't so - what a handsome man

Well he IS in it, sometimes shirtless, so if that's all you want, my review does note that you will get some.

Sooo looking forward to the returns of Barry and Veep though I was bummed to see that Crashing had been cancelled. Did you like Crashing? It wasn't quite as good as Barry or Veep (or even Insecure) but at least it's not Ballers (which is somehow on its fifth season).

I came around to "Crashing" a little bit, and did enjoy its season finale, which served nicely as a series finale. I do, however, stand by my initial reaction, which is that we need less shows about how hard it is to be a comedian.

I confess to being a bit of a Pollyanna, but I always hope that series like these will be great, and attract deservedly large audiences. It's disappointing when they aren't.

Well, at least your investment is only emotional, not financial.

Not sure I get what you are trying to say here - help please.

Just that it's a show that is so direct and concise about what it's trying to say and leaves so little to interpretation. What else can I say, but, it's a good, well-made show and it'll cost you extra money to watch it. The paywall serves yet another function: It leaves critics with the burden of having to tell readers whether or not the show is worth the extra $10 a month or whatever, which is really more of a personal decision.

If I'm being misunderstood, it must be after 1 o'clock. And look at that, it's WAY past 1 now.

There will be NO chat next week, as I will be off. We'll do this again on Thursday, March 28.

Thanks all, for the many, many comments. You have a lot of thoughts about Huffman and Loughlin, that's for certain.

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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