What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Apr 18, 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 "Barry," "Veep," "Ramy," "Killing Eve," and "What We Do In the Shadows."

You're here, I'm here, "Game of Thrones" is back, so let's chat!

For those who've not seen the first episode of Season 8 of GoT (and especially for those who don't care), I'll group the comments/questions together in clumps so you can skip them for whatever reason (spoilers, lack of interest, etc.)...

 

I find I'm not digging the current season of Veep the way I have previous ones. The show has always relied on insult humor but had something smart to say at the same time -- now I feel like it's all insults, all the time. None of the characters have any redeeming characteristics and -- even worse -- they're all incompetent buffoons. It used to be possible to see how Selina and her team could be successful. They were terrible people but they were sometimes good at their jobs. Now I feel like they are all just caricatures of their former selves. So disappointing.

I don't like to tell people that they're watching a show wrong, but ...

It was always all-insults-all-the-time; any benevolence or political win was almost always accidental or the unintended result; they were always, always incompetent buffoons. Are you sure you're remembering past seasons correctly? Are you sure some Aaron Sorkin schmaltz didn't somehow ooze its way onto your impressions of the show? (That stuff is hard to wash off.)

Stipulated: These characters have indeed been around long enough to morph into caricatures of their usual selves. It's one more sign that a show is on its way out, having accomplished all it can.

is the best-written comedy on television and the best-written comedy on television in a long time, possibly since the heyday of the Simpsons. SO I DECLARE. Seriously, this season is fantastic.

I've praised it in print so many times I've run out of ways to do so. In that regard ONLY, I'm glad to see it hit the road.

Any thoughts on Sterling K. Brown joining the cast?

Other than he's proven himself to be a great actor and that it sure wouldn't hurt that show to broaden its character base three seasons in, I try very hard not to have "thoughts" about casting decisions and anything else that's in a pre-production stage. As a critic, I like to focus on the television that has actually been made, including cast and performance.

Bets on what network will create a dramatization about it first? HBO and FX come to mind first.

Well, it would seem to be HBO's thing, but everyone should wait and see how much Mueller will factor in overall to the story of the Trump presidency. I'm not sure anyone wants to watch a costly dramatization of events that are still happening.

Here comes some "Game of Thrones" stuff ...

I’m conflicted. Jon and Daenerys riding the dragons was technically stunning. I am an aeronautical engineer and like to think that I know how things fly, and they got those details perfectly… the dragon moved correctly when flapping its wings and seemed to gain lift in time with the wing beats. It really seemed like they were flying. I replayed it many times. However, as a GOT fan, that scene – as my thirteen year old would say – was so stoo-pid. I understand Jon’s connection with Targaryen (the one he rode) but the whole thing had a giggle tee-hee feel that really didn’t belong in GOT. And the line “We could stay here, forever” sounded like lazy romantic-comedy style writing.

I also found myself admiring the dragon CGI this time, as those big wing struggle to lift those bottom-heavy dragons. (No fat-shaming!)

The waterfall/flying scene brought forth all sorts of comparisons from the GoT viewer army, most of them negative -- "Aladdin," etc. I was reminded of how cringey the love scenes were in the Star Wars prequels (Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman).

My diagnosis involves two (actually three) problems:

1. Chemistry. I'm not sure it ever occurred to anyone back in 2011 that these two actors would have to find some ineffable spark of romance between their characters, but it's just not there. Oh well.

2. That's sort of a DNA problem with GoT anywhere, where love stories are pretty much in short supply ...

3. There's no getting around the accidental incest angle. Even if someone on the GoT writing staff had extensive experience in writing love/sex scenes.

It actually felt like a Reunion Special after the show has been off the air for a long time. But its good that Jon Snow got to have yet another boink by a Waterfall (with the Dragons watching) before he found out She's Your Aunt! Wasn't there a Bastard Son of King Baratheon who was left in a Pie shop? My money's on Pie Boy to be the eventual King of a smoldering 7 kingdoms.

It's been too many seasons and too many branches on family trees for me to validate or debunk your theory, but I know plenty of people who could.

Here's something that I thought was interesting. You have an intellectual academic (Samwell) making an statement with huge implication based on his research. I would love to hear Dani and her supporters go all "Fake News" on this. Maybe accuse Samwell of being in the pocket of the Targaryen Conspiracy.

I wouldn't put it past the writers at this point -- certainly this news, whatever the source, is going to disrupt the alliance.

How about that medieval-y fighting stuff that happened? With the dragons? And the blue zombie guys? Those guys are cool. Ok, I don't watch it. Loved that Wall Street Journal story the other day on people who never got into Game of Thrones reckoning with a new season.

Oh, yes, you poor dears, having to suffer for six weeks of a pop-culture moment.

Maybe not in all cases, but did it feel in in some of the meetings with characters with interconnecting backstories that rather than making the show feel layers or this is complex word, it felt more perfunctory?

I think your fingers/thumbs got ahead of your brain here. Proofread this and resubmit it in a way that I and others can better understand what you're trying to say?

I realize that when you don’t review a show that this sometimes IS a review, but I was wondering if you have seen The Act with Patricia Arquette. I have not yet tried it, but she was so great in Escape at Dannemora and The Act seems to be receiving critical praise.

I watched enough of it to realize that I was not interested enough in that particular story (the young woman who murdered her mother after a particularly long and abusive stretch of Munchasen's-by-proxy) to see it dragged out at length and dramatized. Mostly because we just had a sufficient HBO documentary about the real case. Also because I found "The Act" to be a bit too lurid, in a way that felt more personal than professionally critical, which is to say, I didn't think I could give it a fair shake. So, faced with a dozen other shows to watch and possibly review (and a sense that even Patricia Arquette has reached her limit of playing oddball criminals), I let it pass. It was one of those instances where it would be extraordinarily helpful to have more than one critic on the job. If you get around to watching it (or if anybody else here has watched it), let me know what I missed.

should i invest and start watching Got?

As I've said before, it is the show of the decade, for better and for worse. Intentionally or not, it can reflect a lot back on the viewer, in terms of how stories/fantasies tell us about the human condition. But it is complicated, violent and gory and the barrier to entry (genre, complexity) turned away many in the first season. The key to it, I think, is to stick with it until you feel it sort of take you away. My answer is yes.

Have you (or anyone in this chat) been watching this show? I wanted to like it because two Broadway favorites of mine are in it, but I'm mostly just annoyed with it. They are using pretty much every possible sentimental tearjerker storyline and right off the bat, rather than letting us get to know the characters first and let the emotion feel earned...

It is a hideously bad show and you should find something better to watch.

How many episodes of GOT do I have to watch before rape becomes a trivial afterthought?

Two seasons.

Or is it just me? I was fine with the first season, though I thought it was a little overrated -- it seemed too focused on fish-out-of-water type stuff. But this season seems so much more subtle and interesting and funny-but-dramatic and, I don't know, maybe it's just me but I like this season a lot more.

I like it as much as much I loved last season -- I think everyone was worried/wondering if they could match it. The idea that they've topped it ... well, I see that HBO has sent me a few more episodes, so I won't issue a judgement on that yet.

Didn't see a review of this show from you -- do you think you'll review this one? Or do you consider this to be a foreign show since it focuses on the disappearance of a British girl?

I'm reviewing a British-made drama right now (albeit one produced in cahoots with an American network, which is distributing it), but I have to say the Madeleine McCann documentary did not cross my path -- Netflix didn't send releases or promote it. That's sort of a crucial step in the process.

Anyway, why do you ask? Have you watched it? Care to share any impressions?

I don’t know if you have been watching the current episodes, but as much fun as it is to watch Michael Sheen devour the scenery, this character seems out of place on this show. Both The Good Fight and its predecessor have had their share of eccentric characters, but this just seems a bit over the top.

I admit I'm behind -- I'm starting to think of CBS All Access as a nagging presence on my shoulder, reminding me of all the "Star Trek: Discovery," "Good Fight" and "Twilight Zone" episodes I'm NOT watching. I get CBS All Access as an add-on to my Amazon Prime account. Their method of sharing digital screeners with critics is, of all the ways they could be doing it, the most complicated. I'll bet a lot of critics are behind just because of that.

We've only seen the first two episodes so far, but: really good. Also, MORE 15 MINUTES SHOWS PLEASE! Love these 30 minute-and-less shows. Pretty soon, I am not going to be able to watch an hour-long show without an intermission or without stretching it over several days.

The creator/star has said in interviews that he hopes a second season will be half-hour episodes. He didn't like it shorter.

I thought "Special" was cute (bordering on cutesy, which sanded off all its more interesting sharp edges) and, in places, appealingly provocative, but it really could have used some more thought, more development and more help in realizing its potential. But my sense with Netflix is that a lot of shows get to us before they're fully baked. The center is still raw and doughy.

hi - just looking for some suggestions about series to binge. I have enjoyed Ozarks, Big Little Lies, A Million Little Things, the Crown, Mrs Maisel, (just ok with This is Us, I get tired of them sometimes) I also love documentaries and will watch anything Ken Burns..... any suggestions?

Since you mentioned documentaries, I highly recommend PBS's "Reconstruction," which just concluded Tuesday night. And I don't know how much of the Ken Burns oeuvre you're caught up on, but of his work in the last decade, I'm still quite partial to "The Roosevelts." Also, if you have an HBO subscription (cable or otherwise), I'm pretty sure you can get into their documentary archive, which is quite a lush garden. Some of my more recent favorites there were "Elvis Presley: The Searcher" and "Bright Lights," about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

As for a new series for you, I'm a bit stumped by the math formula you presented -- Ozark + Big Little Lies divided by The Crown x the square root of Mrs. Maisel, so I'm going to open it up to the chatters, if they're willing to hew to the parameters: Gang, sounds like this reader has Netflix and Amazon and keeps up with broadcast too. My suggestion is "The Handmaid's Tale" (if Hulu is an option). What else?

 

Oh realllyyyy? I might be available for that second job position. Lol

Don't hold your breath.

I have been saying for years that there is NO chemistry between Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke. They are both fine actors but there is absolutely no spark.

I see that Amazon has adapted another uber-violent graphic novel into a show. Haven't heard much buzz about "The Boys" but the trailer was pretty NSFW and that fits with what I recall of the books. Do these shows do well? I can't think of one that was a hit with critics but maybe the audience is there regardless of reviews. Preacher is probably the most mainstream adaptation and it has it's moments. Happy was unwatchable and HBO is rolling out another attempt at Watchmen.

With a premiere date of July 26, "The Boys" is still a ways off for my thought-processor (though I do have a vague memory of attending a panel for it at the winter press tour). I think in general, you're onto something -- these properties start off as niche products, snatched up by producers who happen to also be fanboys. It makes it difficult to reach people when repackaged as broad entertainment.

I found myself with some chill time in front of the TV this weekend and a SATC marathon. I was a little surprised at how little - nostalgia? fondness? - I had for the show. It was fun to re-watch a bit, but it seemed like less of a cultural phenom than when I watched it in my 20s. I guess I was thinking it would be more of what I hear about MTMShow (which my mom showed me and I loved). What do you think?

I think it's entirely possible that "Sex and the City" will not stand up to rigorous scrutiny when viewed as an artifact, but the truth is, so little does. Once you pay cursory homage to whatever a show accomplished in its moment, most things just look outdated. And opinions vary, because nostalgia is so personal.

It sounds to me like the show stayed where it was and you grew out of whatever response you (and everyone else) was having circa 1999.

Sorry! Probably should have put that in my initial question. I just finished watching it yesterday. It was really good. It starts out with the disappearance of the little girl on vacation, and goes into detail about the media storm, and the disappearance of other children, etc. It was eye opening. Towards the end, it dragged on a bit (don't think they should have done 8 episodes--6 would have been better). I thought it was a good documentary, though it's not as exciting of course as probably a murder mystery documentary.

Thanks. (I hope the poster looking for a new binge saw this -- sounds like he/she might watch it?)

It's like they're related or something. Thanks; I'll be here all week.

Did you watch the Beyonce doc on Netflix and if you did, what did you think? I'm also wondering: how do you decide what you're going to review? Is there a hard genre cut off for you? I read Chris Richards' review this morning and am wondering if he got to take it because it's more of a concert film. Thanks!

Yes, Chris would be the right person for the Beyonce doc -- here's proof. In that particular case, no one asked me, but I still would have said that Chris should do it. There is no hard genre cutoff. There's just too much of everything and plenty to go around.

 

Has this VEEP critic watched the news or read a paper in the last two years? There's a real-life version where NONE of the characters are good at their jobs.

Bill Heder is so expressive and exceptional as Barry but I LOVE every scene with NoHo Hank. I hope he'll get some consideration for best supporting actor because he elevates what is an already exceptional cast.

Agree!

I've watched it twice now: original airing on PBS and on library DVD. Still moved by it. One cannot compare everything to the current political climate, but it really seems this family, incredibly wealthy, were more interested in the greater good. Flawed, certainly, and many mistakes made, but their service to the country was beyond reproach. The idea that someone who couldn't walk led this nation through some terribly dark times is remarkable.

"I'm reviewing a British-made drama right now (albeit one produced in cahoots with an American network, which is distributing it)..." Does this mean you're going to give us a look at Gentleman Jack? Please say yes!

Yes.

Just posted my review of a show I recommend: "Ramy," premiering tomorrow on Hulu. Watch it (it's 10 half-hour episodes) and come back next week and tell me what you think.

Sex and City was ruined for me by the series finale. The show was mainly about women who struggle to be independent but they all ended up with a long-term mate. Because that's apparently the only type of happy ending a gal can have. That seemed to kind of miss the entire point of the series (or at least the point I took from it) and really soured me on it when I tried to re-watch it.

I just mistakenly asked Michelle Singletary about a TV show and she answered it. Can you answer some financial questions to balance the workload?

Try me!

I wish some of his shorter documentaries were more readily available. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Quakers, and (my favorite) Lewis and Clark all clocked in at under four hours but were still outstanding. Don't get me wrong, his long documentaries are great too, but these shorter pieces don't get as much love as they should (and don't require a month to watch through).

I know they are running out of time, but I hope GOT spends less time on the Jon/Dany angsts the rest of the way out and more on Tyrion and his ilk plotting in the giant rooms. My favorite part of the first show was when Tyrion said something about his sister giving her word and I said out loud at the exact time as Sansa, "And you believed her?" The plotting and the battles are what makes this show. Leave the melodrama to This Is Us.

The plotting and the battles are PART of what makes that show. If it had only been an endless game of Risk, viewers would have checked out ages ago.

If you think Sex and City was ruined by the series finale, you OBVIOUSLY never saw the second movie.

Bosch on Amazon - I like it and I pretty much liked everything they said they watched.

Good one, thanks.

HA! I saw that question and immediately thought that's what happened. So did you pay more or less in taxes this year?

I got a much smaller refund, which is supposed to be ideal, but doesn't feel that way.

Michelle Williams is wonderful! She is truly channeling the amazing Gwen Verdon. I predict an Emmy.

A nomination, at the very least. Agreed.

Looks like we got to most of the interesting stuff and I need to cut out promptly at 1 today.

Let's chat next week -- Thursday, April 25. See you then and thanks as always for all the comments/questions.

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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