What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Sep 13, 2018

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 "Shameless" Lately he's been digging "The Sinner," "Kidding" and "Insecure."

I know it doesn't feel like fall (at least not in muggy D.C., where I just took a warm shower on my walk to work), but IT'S FALL, at least TV-wise. Our FALL TV PREVIEW is up online. Let me provide some links:

>>10 NEW FALL SHOWS TO WATCH (and some you can totally skip)

>> The best shows these days are the sad ones.

>> Premiere dates for scads of returning shows, with my recommendations.

My colleague Lisa Bonos's report from the New York set of the revived "Murphy Brown" ...

And some recent reviews you may have missed:

"The Deuce" is always better when the dudes aren't in the frame. The women on this show are far more interesting characters.

"You" on Lifetime is loads of stalker-y fun.

"Kidding" on Showtime -- I think even Mister Rogers might approve.

Okay, that's a lot. If you're looking for my review of Sean Penn-goes-to-Mars-only-where's-the-Mars-part? (aka Hulu's "The First"), we're holding it for a day ... check here tomorrow.

With SO MUCH of that, let's chat!

 

 

I just saved myself a question about NBC's Manifest by reading your latest column this morning. "Totally skip" is crystal clear advice. Thanks.

The "Manifest" pilot was dreadful, off-note and just plain tedious. (I admit, the concept is enticing. But they blew it.)

 

Hi Hank -- thanks for taking questions today. Forgive me if I just missed a review, but curious to know what you think of the latest installment. I happened upon it last night and while Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates (that haircut!) are a hoot, I bailed out after 30 minutes...I sort of lost interest in the whole venture once Jessica Lange left (though I guess she's coming back for an appearance or two?)

FX did not send critics advanced screeners for this season, which is certainly their prerogative, and has happened before. Though not recently -- last year's "Cult" came ahead of time and I duly reviewed it.

Had they sent it, I would have found the time. But when it aired last night, guess where I was? Here at my office, working on another review of another TV show, and closing a very labor-intensive Fall TV Preview section for Sunday.

So, who knows when I'll find the time to go back and watch "American Horror Story: Apocalypse." I'll try. But FX, which is usually very conscientious of critics' workloads these days, ought to know that the last thing critics have time to do is actually sit down and watch a show at the appointed premiere hour.

Anyhow -- thanks for your thoughts. I'm curious to hear what others who watched it thought? And what's it really about??? The network was really coy about it at the press tour -- is it biblical apocalypse or nuclear war or what?

I lost interest after Lange left. Any preview on this "Apocalypse" season -- which apparently tries to meld the first season and the witch/New Orleans season? When Ryan Murphy is on, he is on (Feud, Versace) but sometimes overstays his welcome with some shows and seems to lose creativity around season 4 (AHS, Glee).

Again, I haven't seen it. I tend to agree about Murphy, who does TV-series conception and launch like no one else, but then sometimes sort of drifts away, like a kid after Christmas grows tired of the new toys. (But, to extend that metaphor, will come rushing back with renewed enthusiasm if he senses you're about to set the toys out on the curb.) That's why the anthology format is so perfect for him -- a new plot/setting to work with, while retaining beloved actors.

Any thoughts on the new season? Okay, now seriously: why did they have to have two roles for one (annoying) actor? Couldn't they just have had one role, and incorporate some of the others story-line? The "bad" brother is tiresome. Otherwise the show is pretty good as you say.

Given that Franco was in the #MeToo's movement's tractor beam for a while, I'm sure HBO sweated it out as to whether or not to keep Vinnie/Frankie in the series as it jumped forward in time. Now that we're in it, I still think they could keep Vinnie and lose Frankie. But, if you read my piece above, I think the real answer to the show's lack of buzz is to make it front-and-center a show about women during the rise of porn.

Missing from both your watch and don't watch lists. Did you get a sneak peek and have a lukewarm reaction? I am curious enough to watch the first episode but am wondering why this theme now? I know re-boots are in vogue but the reverse discrimination thing has been done. The Jeffersons in the 1970s and '80s. The short-lived Married People in the 1990s, among them. Wondering what fresh spin this show will take on this topic ... if any.

It's very flat. Some of the jokes are funny and I don't doubt that America could use a good sitcom right now about black people's mistrust of gentrifying whites, but this one came across as too feeble to do the job. Maybe it will improve.

Reviewers are being very cagey about the plot of "Forever". Is there a reason for that and should I make sure to watch it before everybody starts discussing ot?

Yes, don't wait, because the cat won't stay in the bag.

Hank -- I gave up Westworld's second season when I felt like I couldn't even go to the kitchen to get a drink without missing an entire plot. I appreciate complex drama very much, but is this one worth going back to commit to?

Did you get as far as the Native American episode? If not, keep going, and for gosh sakes, discover the pause button for your drink breaks.

Maybe I'm alone in this or maybe not, but I find The Deuce kind of hard to follow. Maybe my confusion is also a symptom of not really really caring about the plot lines or the characters.

I drift when it's mob-related, but that's no surprise. And I become very, very attuned to it when it's about Lori or Darlene or Candy.

Which show should I quit watching in order to make room for these new shows? Assume I am already watching everything in your boilerplate chat blurb about what you watch.

I have no idea how many shows you've got in that thing, but two thoughts come to mind:

1. VOD (video on-demand). Why not use your provider's on-demand service, or watch some of these shows on Hulu or Amazon?

2. UPGRADE. My most recent box from Xfinity holds a whole lot more than my old DVR. It's rarely above 50 percent full, even when I neglect it for weeks.

Would you elaborate on why it is on the "miss" list? On another website, many critics loved it and raved about the cast. I'm trying to reconcile the different in opinions about many tv critics that I respect.

Dumb humor.

Just read your "10 to Watch", I really appreciate it. A few are going on the list -- not more as I guess I'm opposite of what these producers think we want. Everything is so depressing lately, I want my tv to be an escape to rainbow land. Anyway. And belated thank you as years ago you gave Season 1 of Jane the Virgin a strong grade. I wouldn't never watched it without your review. I still really like the show (see escape mentioned above).

Glad I could help, though I don't agree that all watching should be escapist.

Now that you've previewed new shows, what returning shows are you excited to see coming back? What are the Don't Miss established series?

If you'll go to the "returning shows" link in my intro at the top of the chat and click on it, you'll see a really easy-to-read alphabetical list of returning shows and premiere dates. And that I put a star by the ones that I recommend.

Good, bad, or meh?

No screeners for critics yet, so I can't say.

I'm thinking of cutting the cord after Football Season. What should I keep it for?

The Post has done several guides to making this decision and how to replace it, including this handy one here.

Sorry, but I've retired from the tech/counseling (should-I-or-shouldn't-I-cut-the-cord?) business. It's your wallet, your choice.

I remember a show on Fox called "Living in Captivity" which had a bunch of neighbors living in a Gated Community which brought the question "Who did I decide to to be stuck with?". Do you remember it?

Nope!

Recently finished season 2 of Ozark. While I thought it was really gripping and intense, it was so dark at points I started to long for the lighthearted romp that was Breaking Bad (okay, not quite). Did love any scene where Laura Linney gets to be gangsta, though.

It's on my list of shows to catch up on.

...was never a PSA for safe sex, but the latest episode suggests STDs from rampant sex can be solved by an afternoon on intravenous Amoxicillin. If only it were that easy. I enjoy "Shameless" immensely, but indiscriminate and unsafe sex is not a good message for the youngsters. Presumably the adults know better.

I thought that episode was uncharacteristically and badly misguided in two regards: The scene you mentioned about STDs and also the scene where Ian is brokering a union deal for the "bottoms" in the prison. (In fact, it's been sort of heartbreaking to watch "Shameless" veer so suddenly in such a wrong direction on Ian -- that whole "gay Jesus" storyline from last season, including its outdated approach to religious bigotry, was just a big misfire.)

Back to your point, I have praised "Shameless" in the past for its twisted but useful take on sex-positivity. But now the show is very much adrift -- which is funny, because it finally found a big audience, thanks mainly to binge-watchers who found it on streaming services.

I am a big fan of "American Gods", "Preacher" and "The Magicians". Is there anything else I should be looking out for, either new or already out there? I normally dislike vampires or zombies but these shows for some reason appeal to me.

You might like Hulu's "Into the Dark," which premieres Oct. 5. My hunch is you'll probably find Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" (from the folks at "Riverdale") too childish, but maybe that? Other than that, I can't think of anything.

Should they just re-tune this with Les Moonves and Jeff Fager in prison?

Yeowch.

I found it interesting that only 4 of the shows are on a traditional big 3 network + PBS. It seems like each year fewer shows appear on these four networks. Do you think that number will continue to decline, and the cable channels will soon rule on anything worth watching, with the one or two exceptions each year? Until I read your review, I had forgotten just how few shows I watch on the big 3 networks on a regular basis.

Frankly, I had to be very conscientious about including as many as I did -- 40 percent of my 10-shows-to-watch. If you think that's low, I promise you it would have been lower if I'd just gone with my gut instead of taking the time to watch EVERYTHING I could get my hands on and deeply consider the breadth of the TV audience, not all of whom can afford to subscribe to every single streaming service there is.

To your point, I don't think future lists by me or other critics will be cable OR broadcast heavy. They'll be streaming-heavy.

 

Glad it made your list of shows to still check out. I've been a fan of Nathan Fillion for a while, so I'm looking forward to it. Not at all surprised by your list of must-skips, based on commercials I've already seen. But thank you for confirming.

"The Rookie" was much, much better than I expected it to be. Keep in mind that I recently celebrated a significant round-number birthday, so I might be predisposed to a story about a guy Fillion's age trying to start over as a cop. But even with that, I found it to be quite good at what it was trying to do. "Magnum P.I.," on the other hand, was a complete mess.

Is Progressive Insurance going to need to re-name the character it has on all of its commercials?

Big Jim aka Jamie, this is your moment.

Streaming, or Cable or Network TV?

Amazon Prime. Streaming.

Margaret Sullivan's opinion piece on the "What would have been?" hypotheticals if sexual abusers hadn't been running television is enlightening and depressing. How will the changing of the guard affect CBS? Will they continue to cater to the old white conservative male demographic (which seems to have served them well but makes them the butt of jokes) or will they course correct and try to be more inclusive? Does anything on there Fall line-up give any hints either direction?

Too early to tell. This is a question for Fall 2019. TV schedules and the shows on them aren't made in real time.

We kept cable for so long because of sports and kids programming. When our cable company refused to let us keep the price of our cable (that I successfully negotiated for 8 years prior), we finally cut the cord. We don't miss it at all. We got an antenna so that we could keep up with local news (and ANW...Hank, we agree it might be time to stop) and PBS Kids. Other than that, we've been able to get by with Amazon and Netflix. If there's a big game on, we end up seeing it with friends, which gives us the added bonus of being social. For a family of introverts, it's a big deal!

Similar to accounts I hear all the time. The cable business is far from dead, though.

Should I return with "New Phone. Who dis?"

Or "block."

Should I, if I watch this show?

Even as a "diverse" show, it could not be more basic.

Loved the first episode. It is quiet and sad and beautiful at the same time and very touching in a different way. Your review was spot on. Thanks.

Thanks for chiming in. I'm eager to see the rest of the series (I'm four episodes in.)

So I just googled Forever. Wow, critics really ARE keeping the spoiler quiet. I can't find a thing!

That's gonna last for another 24 hours or less -- once the show goes up on Amazon.

But I do think this is one case where critics would have agreed that a viewer need to see it for themselves.

I feel that was a really heartwarming story. He was working in a Trader Joe's because he had no acting jobs, but someone "shamed" him on social media. I don't know why; it was honest work to support his family. Anyway, Tyler Perry has given him a part on his show, and he will be appearing on an NCIS: New Orleans. I'm very happy for him, and I appreciate the Perry and the NCIS people for the support.

As soon as it blew up I knew it would end in some good gigs for him -- which, by the way, he's been doing all along. But acting is a tough, tough business and, for most, does not pay as well as everyone assumes.

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the creator of Designing Women, claims she had a years-long battle with ousted CBS chief Les Moonves, and that he effectively banned her from the network even after she created hits for them. Should she get some of the $110 million in Les Moonves golden parachute?

I'm not cutting the check, so I'm not sure what answer you want from me. She was treated terribly, it sounds like. I'm not sure how she goes about getting justice for it -- but she's certainly a victor in the court of public opinion.

I see they are re-playing some of the Season 2 episodes tonight. Is this a "Best of" or a "You'll need these episodes to understand the references we put in Season 3"?

Can it be both?

At midnight! Thank goodness for DVR.

You recommend "Forever" to people contemplating marriage, presumably to talk them out of it. Is there a risk for couples who have been married 30 years if they watch it together?

Maybe, but I think you read me wrong. I think all couples need as much input as they can get about this decision before the wedding bananas take over the cereal bowl.

Keri Russell deserves that Emmy. The Americans' last season was complex, exciting and exceedingly satisfying. I think that Elizabeth Jennings story was the heart of the series. While I love Handmaids Tale and appreciate all that it does, this year -- I really think Russell's work was extraordinary and would love to see the show cap off a stellar finale with recognition for her work in particular. That's all.

I don't disagree.

Hi Hank. Thanks for chatting with us. I look forward to you and the other chatters every week. Does anyone watch Snowfall than my boyfriend and me. We love this show. It is so much better than Power. I like the story is unfolding slowly. That it shows the downs along with the ups of entering the drug game, and also a look inside the government's hand in the onset of the crack epidemic. I know its an old story, but it seems to be told from a new perspective. I don't hear any buzz around it though.

Well, I admit I've peeled off and didn't keep up with it. And I have cautioned viewers from accepting, whole-hog, "Snowfall's" depiction of the government-sponsored crack epidemic theory, which is riddled with holes in real life.

Harvey Weinstein's wife dumped him, and seems to have salvaged her career (co-proprietor of Marchesa design house). If Julie Chen stays married to Les Moonves, how soon is her TV career toast? (Yes, I know, "Big Brother" is still running).

Sometimes I just want to let a Magic 8-Ball take over the chat answers.

I watched the 10 minute intro they made available a couple of weeks ago. I was intrigued by the commercials (and watched Lost all the way through). The writing was so bad, as was the lead actress. So glad it was only 10 minutes of my life that I couldn't get back.

I gave it a whole episode.

I know that this show isn't one that you cover regularly now, but honestly, how long can they keep it up once the protagonist is gone? (I assume that the ratings will answer that question.) Are there good examples you can think of from the past of shows that survived for more than a season or two once the main character departed?

Since my brain is not technically a TV database, no, I can't.

I do plan, however, to nose back in to "The Walking Dead" a see what's in store from the new showrunner. If any show can shed characters -- even the lead one -- and keep on going, it would be this one.

I watched a clip of Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Colbert where Colbert asked JGL "I notice you're wearing different colored socks?" and JGL said "you know no one's ever asked me that" and launched into a touching speech about his dead brother. JGL and Colbert are two of the smoothest people on the planet so they made this all seem natural, but I feel like it's just too much of a coincidence that Colbert knew this was the exact question that would open up JGL to tell a good story. Is everything on these talk shows authentic?

It varies widely, but having been a guest on a few national talk shows (both morning shows and late-night), I will tell you that segment producers work really, really hard pre-interviewing guests and drawing up a rough plan (kind of like a script outline) on those little blue cards. They will talk to the guest several times before they go on stage. Sometimes the host follows the talking points and sometimes you wing it -- especially when the guest is an old hand at jabbering.

The situation you describe sounds more to me like something the star would tell the producer he really wants to talk about and they make sure to add it in.

It could very well have been spontaneous, but like you, I doubt it. But I also know that a lot of prep work goes into those casual chats.

When I Googled, I got no answers. What shows has he been in?

The OP meant Geoffrey OWENS and I forgot to correct them in my answer. Sorry.

Will my favorite show get the critical recognition it deserves, and then become a huge popular hit, with ratings that echo the bad old three-network days, bringing families together to watch it, and restoring trust in democracy and America?

But what will happen if the network president resigns in scandal? And what about his wife? And how much exactly is he getting paid to leave. What are you hearing? What do you know about it, exactly, since you watch TV for living in a dark room 200-plus miles away from the network's corporate offices?

I know that Hulu is a lot more like "regular" television in that it has commercials (if one doesn't pay extra to avoid them), but it was so jarring to see Senate and governor ads for my state while using the service recently. Great idea for the campaigns that have the money to do it so they can ensure they really are reaching everyone, but I had just been smugly saying how happy I was I didn't have to deal with them since I cut the cord...

For just a few dollars more, you could have it ad-free...

I usually look forward to this as my Sunday night watch. Mondays are tougher due to work, commute etc. Is this a permanent change? Has Sunday become too competitive? -Puzzled in PNW

The Emmys move around a bit. Sometimes late August, usually mid-September, sometimes Sunday, sometimes Monday. Maybe because the networks pass them around as a duty from year to year. I dunno. But they do tend to end on time, not long past 11.

I gotta split. We'll chat again next Thursday, Sept. 20 -- save your Emmy gripes for the group!

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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