What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Jan 24, 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 Outlander," "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "Escape at Dannemora."

Zoinks! It's high noon already and my spurs aren't even on. Hold tight while I sort through some of the early-bird questions and get some answers going.

Meanwhile, I notice people are really starting to talk about the dueling Fyre Festival documentaries -- in my review I recommend watching both. Which one did you watch? What did you think?

Here's my review of Showtime's "Black Monday" -- I found it lacking. Anybody else?

I just filed a review of the first two nights of the back-from-hiatus "Conan" show -- which so far only seems SHORTER and not much else in the way of late-night innovation. If the review posts during our hour together, I'll link to it. Anybody else? Thoughts?

With that, let's chat!



I know some viewers/chatter have complained about this, but I'm 'enjoying' it, although that's not the right word. I watched (most, I think all?) of Ken Burns' Vietnam documentary last year and there are so many Nicky Pearsons out there who we don't know about. They are quiet, they are in secluded trailers and apartments and they probably can't talk about what happened to them over there. I applaud This is Us for trying, in a fictionalized way, to tell the story of a horrible war. And I've loved Michael Angarano since his teen years on Will & Grace and in Seabiscuit. Griffin Dunne was terrific this week. And Vietnam was horrible.

I see your point (I mean, I guess there's no counterpoint to "Vietnam was horrible"), and they've done okay with it, but I'm not sure their take on Vietnam holds up so well for an audience that has seen just about every cinematic or TV endeavor to dramatize the war and its impact. It feels rote to me.

It's been a trying season for that show -- as far as ME trying to stay interested. The combo of Vietnam/missing uncle AND running for city council has been a giant snooze. What I've liked most from this season is the glimpse of Miguel's family (his mean kids) and the cross-country road trip that Rebecca and Jack took in the early '70s.

I enjoyed watching "Bodyguard," although I understand why you consider it British Good © . Toss out the accents and use of "Mum" and it loses some of its power. I also noticed a number of continuity flaws--such as the changing color of his shirt in the early episodes--that surprised me. As a professional critic, are continuity flaws something you take special note of? Or, in general, how much do the technical aspects of a show (such as consistent sound levels and the like) affect your overall assessment?

It's tricky to criticize technical things like sound and darkness/light levels because it may be different from TV to TV. I will tell you that screeners come with all sorts obsessive ALL-CAPS notes on them like "THIS ISN'T THE FINAL CUT" because they're worried we'll notice and/or karp about picture quality, finished visual effects, sound, color and they don't want to be judged on it. Believe me, that's the last thing I'm going to take time to criticize.

As for continuity, it has to be really egregious for me to consider pointing it out in a review. You don't want to be the person who can't see the forest for the trees. Sure, I notice -- and it's a combination of irritation and self-congratulating for noticing -- but not over a shirt color, no. Mine would be hairstyles; I don't like it when they're not consistent from scene to scene.

I'm new to your chat, but I love it! Two things I wanted to share & ask about: does anyone else like The Shield? I think it is one of the best "cop" shows ever. Michael Chiklis is incredible - very different from the family man he played in The Commish. Also, I love the recommendations on this site, but I think people are missing out by only going to netflix, hulu, etc. I use my local library - The Prince George's Memorial Library - and it is wonderful! I get dvds/blurays of tv series, and I stream a lot of series thru their website. This includes Kanopy and Acorn - more media than I could ever consume in a lifetime! And it's all free! This way I can hold my own Sopranos marathon party when I want, without PAYING for the series!

Hi and welcome to the chat. We have talked about "The Shield" before, even though it concluded years ago, even before I became the TV critic. I included "The Shield's" final episode on a list of "top finale episodes since 2005" that we published last spring, as "The Americans" was wrapping up.

And there are plenty of chatters, I know, who find all kinds of stuff to watch via their library. I try to keep it in mind when I get one of those "I'm broke, how can I watch prestige TV without paying" kind of questions.

Thanks for chiming in!

There's a bunch of shows that I really liked at first that I am less enthusiastic about as they enter their second (or third) seasons. I loved Marvelous Mrs. Maisel the first time around, but this second season feels mostly like a rehash of the first season. Ditto Patriot. Ditto GLOW. I made it to the third season of Narcos before starting to lose interest. Maybe some shows run out of gas sooner than others? Or just me?

This is why I often argue for the one-and-done approach. What's so wrong with a "limited series" that stays limited, especially if it tells a full story?

Of the shows you've mentioned (setting aside "Narcos," which I don't watch), it seems like they all had more story to tell, so a second season is plenty necessary.

Third seasons are the real test of faith, I think.

But always remember: You're not obligated (unless you have a job like mine). Watch as much of it as you like, and stop when you don't like it anymore.

Do you think if Conan had to do it all over again, he'd just stick with the Tonight Show and moved the time slot until midnight? Seems better than slipping into obsolescence on basic cable.

Nope. Remember how badly Conan was treated in that whole "Tonight Show" deal. He was right to tell NBC to shove it. And his cable show has had a nice run (eight years!), entertaining many who watch every night or occasionally. Ratings are lower and lower, and that's how it goes.

Weird, right? I like it, mostly because it's so odd. Have you seen?

I watched enough of it to feel like I was still outside someone's inside joke.

We had never heard of it, before it won a Golden Globe, so we gave it a try. We turned it off after about 15 minutes. It was just stupid. It reminded me of a 1980s sitcom. Does it get better? Did we give up too soon?

I don't know, do you like reading about TV? If you do, you might have already known that Chuck Lorre IS a producer of hit sitcoms and that "Kominsky Method" (which I reviewed here, favorably) was a creative departure for him. (I'm not sure why it feels like an '80s sitcom to you, because back in the '80s, all sitcoms were studio-audience sitcoms with multi-camera angles, and "Kominksy" is shot single-cam, not on a stage before an audience.)

Overall, though? It sounds like it's just not your thing. "Does it get better after [x number of episodes]" is a difficult question for a critic to answer, when it seems like the viewer has already decided they don't like it.

I finally finished it and I was a bit underwhelmed at the ending. But it made me wonder when the "Feud: Charles and Di" season is scheduled to arrive.

Sorry to be the one to tell you the not-very-new news -- there is not going to be a "Feud: Charles and Diana." And there's been nary a peep lately about the "Feud" franchise. I expect the folks from FX will get asked about soon at the TV critics winter press tour, which begins next week.

This season is feeling rather slow to me. I'm a big fan of the books and feel like they have left a lot out in order to waste time on long scenes in which nothing happens (like Brianna walking through the woods). I know you haven't read the books, so I'm curious how it feels to you.

Season 4 has been my favorite season since the first season -- and maybe even better. As you may have read, I like the mature relationship between Jamie and Claire. I think Brianna has been a disaster as a visitor to the 18th century and ought to head home, wee bairn or no wee bairn. I've liked Roger's sad storyline with the Mohicans, though I gather others have found it a tedious trek.

In any event, I've enjoyed the pace and plot and can say it's one of the shows I would now watch willingly and not just for work.

I googled you first and could not find comments on the new season. Have you watched at all? Any opinion?

I've tried to have opinions about Brooklyn Nine-Nine and it doesn't seem there are many to have, other than it's good at what it's trying to do and it seems to bring people pleasure, so ... yeah.

What would you say about it?

He was treated badly by NBC, but got $40 M reasons to get over it.

Wow, it's gone up. I remember when it was just $34 million. He DESERVED IT. And I'm glad he got paid again by TBS.

I love that Narcos started a whole new story in the most recent season. It's connected to the first seasons, but a different plot, location, and cast. Not sure I liked it quite as much as the first season, but I was happy they didn't try to drag out the Colombia story.

...because of it raised its fees (again). I know it probably won't stop them, but at least I did something! On to the Hulu Free Trial!

I expect that once they feel they have everyone in their grip, the price will just always go up. Like cable.

I tried to watch both docs, but found the Netflix effort lacking after watching Hulu's first. I blame two things - (1) the Fyre Festival story might not be interesting enough for me to watch two documentaries; and (2) Hulu's (paid for) Billy MacFarland interview was riveting. The Hulu Fyre documentary also led me to a documentary on The Dana Carvey Show, which I found more interesting than both Fyre films.

I disagree that the Billy McFarland was riveting -- it was evasive and well-lit and that's about all. BUT, the reason I liked the Hulu doc better was that it took a step back and put the Fyre debacle in context of the world around us, where everyone is getting scammed, up to and including the American voter.

Where is it? The LA Hilton? Are you going?

I'm going. The winter one is usually in Pasadena and that's all I'm saying because you're weirding me out, Penn Badgley.

Conan's final Tonight Show was great. I recall him pretending to spend a ton of NBC's money and just slamming the network. Hilarious and awkward TV - Conan's specialty.

I've forgotten it, but it sounds familiar. I probably reviewed it!

It does what it means to do: Bring a Cop Comedy with 2010's techniques, like the 3-second flash scenes. I find the best jokes are the ones involving Andre Braugher playing a joke completely straight. Kind of like Leslie Neilsen in Airplane! (...and stop calling me Shirley!)

That's sort of what I said, it just is what it is and good at being that.

The first three episodes of season 3 have been really good. How is the rest of the season going to come out? Once a week? A bunch at a time? Have you had a chance to watch it? Two thumbs up.

Here's my review. (Not good.)

He threatened to leave NBC unless given the Tonight Show, then tanked the ratings. Leno returned and the ratings improved. It was a business decision networks make all the time. Conan was no victim.

At that pay grade, no, it's not about victimhood. But the network handled everything badly. You forget to include the Leno at 10 p.m. part.

While I agree that Mrs Maisel season 2 missed a little bit of the season one magic, I actually found Season 2 of Patriot to be even more bizarrely fun than season 1. It was full-on "Wes Anderson directing a Bond movie" and I loved it.

I loved, loved the first season of "Patriot" and could not get past an episode and a half of the second season. But I'm glad it found its viewer.

Hank - thanks for beating the drum for "Barry." My wife and I were looking for a new show to binge that wouldn't be too long of an investment, and I said we should give it a try since My Man Hank was so high on it. If we hated it, we could just throw in the towel after an episode or two. Well, we loved it. I didn't know what to expect at all, but Bill Hader and everyone else really surprised me. And I swear Henry Winkler is making a run at National Treasure status (not there yet, but stay tuned).

Excellent news -- my favorite thing to hear from a reader.

Thank you. Would never have selected it without your review.

Another one! Yay.

Why are the Pearsons so incredulous to even the notion of Jack ever lying let alone about his kid brother's death when they all already know Jack lied for years about his father being dead when he was actually living across town in a nursing home Jack was secretly paying for?

THIS is the scene we need from Rebecca -- to finally get mad at good ol' dead Jack about all his macho compartmentalizing.

Michael Douglas isn't even the best actor in The Kominsky Method. Is he just being rewarded for trying TV? Henry Winkler and Bill Hader were robbed. Also, Escape at Dannemora was super, super slow; did you find it slow but rewarding nonetheless?

Skipping to the Dannemora question, I did not find it at all slow and praised it to the moon and stars and put it on my list of best shows of 2018 -- if you'd like to read (or re-read) my review, here it is.

Hi Hank, Will we see seasons 2 of Good Girls and Lodge 49?

Yes -- "Good Girls" returns March 3 on NBC. "Lodge 49" was renewed by AMC but I'm sure the second season is a ways off (maybe summer?); nothing scheduled yet.

I snow day binged watched the Kominsky Method (Netflix). I was skeptical, and in complete agreement with your take of the Golden Globes: more white men. But I always liked Michael Douglas so gave it a go. And surprise: it is charming. Besides the funny, yet deeply sweet relationship between the leads, the secondary characters are diverse, well cast and very talented. And thank you Lisa Edelstein for the final scene at rehab. Would recommend to the over 40 crowd looking for a comedy (and a few deeper moments).

Even when I think they've used up any available plot, they're able to switch up the storyline. Now they're going back to "The Good Place" with four more ordinary "bad" humans. Please tell me there are more episodes after tonight's.

There'll be another season, but that's all for now.

I'm not suggesting that Seth MacFarlane has produced the best shows of all time, but it seems like critics have it out for him. They veer more towards political correctness these days and MacFarlane has never been that, but I think from what I can gather, MacFarlane seems like a considerate, highly democratic (which should go over as well), thoughtful, and well-educated person. I know that TV critics go to press conferences twice a year to interview the major TV people, so I'm just curious how aggressive do you get with him? I've heard accounts that when a show runner (like the guy who created "2 Broke Girls") runs afowl of critics, they let him have it at those conferences.

It's not all bad as you think. I can't really speak to his cartoon shows, which are review-proof anyhow and mostly predate my tenure as a critic. I thought his Oscar hosting ("We Saw Your Boobs") was an entertaining misfire, and I gave credit where credit is due on his admirable reboot of "Cosmos." I didn't like "Orville" but no more so than I've not liked other TV shows that aren't made by him. I think he's just one of those people who people assume critics don't like, when, in fact, we've often gone out of our way to acknowledge his talent. Sort of like a rapper becomes dependent on singing about his haters. 

I can't remember any testy exchanges at TV tours -- not for "Cosmos" or "The Orville" anyhow. Maybe they were testy and I just wasn't paying attention.

I saw Bandersnatch and kept going through to finad all the possible endings. It was addictive. Could this be the start of other "Choose Your Own Adventure" interactive shows on Streaming?

I read that the "Choose Your Own Adventure" people have sued Netflix, for stealing their one idea.

All I can say is that if I have to start reviewing that kind of stuff (and all its possible outcomes), you can just wheel me in the direction of the retirement home.

I watched the Netflix documentary last night and plan to watch the Hulu one tonight. Mostly, I just feel awful for the worker who went unpaid, particularly the restaurant owner. (But also, can we talk about Andy and that water?!?!? The fact that he was considering doing that...wow. And the cajones on Billy for being able to ASK that of someone.)

That was CRAZY.

Golden Globes and the Oscars are fine. But why does Hollywood think we'd be interested in seeing televised ceremonies of the critics choice awards as well as the SAG awards on top of that? It reeks of almost excessive self-congratulations. On top of that, there are dozens of critics groups, there's the broadcast film critics association, the AFI, the NBR, as well as a DGA, PGA, etc award. Considering many stars get producer credits, and the good ones are in the academy, many film critics are probably in the NBR or BFCA, there's probably an excessive amount of doubling and tripling up. Does anyone else wish we could streamline this whole process?

Unfortunately, it's a money-maker all around in L.A., not only a boost for ratings, but all kinds of industries: party planning, swag, fashion, styling, limo driving, PUBLICITY. I don't see an end to it but you could do what I do: Pay attention to only the ones you care about. Turn the others off.

Sounds like we need a documentary on Federal Employees during the Trump Shutdown!

I'm sure more than one person is making one.

Comng Back in March. Do they promise to make it less confusing this season?

I know they've cut a couple of characters. Would that help?

By Season 7, Jack will have a secret family if not multiple secret families? Also like Christopher on "The Sopranos," Kevin will have at least one addiction relapse per season.

She started out OK, but lately I think she's running off the rails after the Midterm Elections. Do you watch it?

I watched it last night because I was watching the new Conan ... I usually only see Bee's stuff in clip form online. I think of her and John Oliver about the same, in that a little of each of them goes a long way.

I think Rebecca is getting to the point where she's re-evaluating Super Jack. I'm saying this as someone who loves Super Jack. This is why I enjoy the show. I've thought for the longest Jack was too good for Rebecca, maybe he wasn't...


When do the Drangons, incestuous royals, and Ice Zombies come back?

Sunday, April 14. I thought this was already emblazoned in flame-font across the sky and everyone knew it.

Time to go. Thanks for the chat everyone. I feel pretty certain that we will chat next week, but I'll be on West Coast time and not yet sure of my schedule next Thursday. You'll know if you see me in the daily chat menu!

Until then (or later), thanks!


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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