What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Oct 11, 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 "You," "Kidding" and "The Haunting of Hill House."

Time to TV Chat! While I get some of your questions answered (or comments replied to) and posted, feel free to busy yourselves with my review of Matthew Weiner's "The Romanoffs," the show everyone (at least everyone in elite TV world) has been so eager to see.

Let's do it to it.

After your positive review, I have been watching and enjoying this show (thank you). But, they really are stretching out this business with the gas stove -- the last two episodes have ended with this as a cliffhanger. (On the other hand, this show is only 30 minutes, so maybe this really isn't such a stretch).

Also, unless I've missed something, the present-day plot has only stretched a few days (weeks?).

Also, in case you didn't see the good news this week, Showtime has renewed "Kidding" for another season.

So when HBO gets Danny Strong or whoever else to script their "Gamechange" or "Recount" version of the U.S. Senate election in Texas, who do they cast as Beto O'Rourke and who do they cast as Ted Cruz?

Of all the things they could choose to make a movie of based on the events of 2018 (so far), you think that's the plot they're going to pick? Because my real answer to this question is Laura Linney as Christine Blasey Ford.

I've watched every episode so far, and I love it. I hope it lasts a while. I hadn't planned to watch Single Parents, but I did. I love Taran Killam, and I enjoy seeing Leighton Meester in an adult role. The kids are cute, too.

Passing this along to the readers.

Missed the first episode for this season, that is, the final season for Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead. Worth it to continue with the series until the end? Also, not sure when it's coming back on but any thoughts on Showtime's "Homeland" after Carrie's meltdown?

I wrote my "I'm giving up on 'The Walking Dead'" piece a couple of years ago. I did watch Sunday's premiere just to make sure I stand by that decision, which do. The ratings seem to be in agreement. Although 6 million viewers is impressive, it used to be twice that.

"Homeland" -- still good, in my opinion, and I thought the most recent season was very "Homeland," in that it got a lot better as the season went on, which is usually the case. Not sure what "meltdown" your question refers to ... the (spoiler alert) fact that she spent all that time in Russian prison without meds? Or a hairbrush?

I came across Norsemen on Netflix last weekend. What silly fun! Have you seen it? I normally like thinking while watching, but I found it amusing nevertheless.

Well, you're reading subtitles, right? That's not exactly mindlessly passive viewing.

I'm sorry to say (once more) that my workload leaves me little time to also keep up on foreign/imported shows.

I stuck with this show this year, but I have now quit. The last couple of episodes were beyond stupid - and the season was not that great to start with. I realize that The Rock is a big time star, but do you think HBO will get rid of this junk and run a decent show in its place going forward?

I don't know. I never got into it, but I would like to hear from people who do enjoy the show (and the pro-football business milieu, which I consider the biggest barrier to entry). Has it gotten better from season to season? Tell us about it.

Have you seen The Conners? Or is it under wraps?

As of a day or so ago, there still weren't any screeners queued up. I haven't read my email today, so an episode may yet surface in time for a review tied to Tuesday's premiere. If not, it can wait.

Your headline said it all: "‘The Romanoffs’ is a lavish-but-empty return to TV from Matthew Weiner" - emphasis on empty. Safe to skip this one, thanks.

Well, I do hope you read past the headline, which I find to be a little more blunt than the one I had originally written. (Yes, folks, reporters DO write digital headlines; print-edition headlines are still written by the artists formerly known as copy editors.)

If you do read the review, you might find some reasons to check it out. For one, it's PRETTY. And it's gentle on the brain, which people are always asking for: Give me a show that won't depress me, upset me, make me think too hard, etc.

Hi Hank, Have you watched "Camping" (HBO)?

Yes. For my early thoughts (based on episodes 1 and 2), check the Fall TV Preview here. For a longer review (which I haven't finished writing yet), check back tomorrow or Saturday.

"Call My Agent" - I admit I love it and I hope they are making another season. It's the perfect show to watch when you need a break from all those overly violent British cop murder shows (which I confess to sometimes like) and want something fun to watch. Have you seen it?

Another import. (See "Norsemen" question/comment above.) Happy to pass along your recommendations, but my focus remains on the 500 or so scripted shows (plus another 700 reality and documentary programs) released in the American viewing market.

I really enjoyed Season Four and I hope they don't make us wait over a year for Season Five. The ultimate payoff was obvious, but it still felt well earned after four seasons. Rainer Bock was excellent, though (SPOILER ALERT) he won't be back for Season Five. Overall, I remain impressed that the show simultaneously pleases Breaking Bad fans while continuing to stand on its own.

It will probably be a year, though, and I hope you understand why. Everything you love about the show takes time to conceive, write and film.

I don't watch a lot of network TV but some new show on ABC was being heavily promoted and it looked like a large ensemble melodrama. Is that now a genre and if so, what are the best of breeds in it?

You missed my (sadly untrademarked) name for this phenomenon: The treacle-down theory.

And actually, it's an old genre -- the deeply moving family drama. The only thing new about it is the gliding flashback structure.

Work backwards to find the "best of the breed," starting with the Herskovitz/Zwick shows: "My So-Called Life," "thirtysomething," "Once and Again."

Have you reviewed it yet? --KIDDING! I'm sorry to read that it's such a disappointment. I was really looking forward to it. I'll probably still watch it because Matthew Weiner makes such pretty images, but maybe I'll turn off the sound and listen to NPR instead. Question: I know you're a critic and not a Hollywood reporter, but do you think any actor turned a role on this show down because they thought the script was bad? Or do people just not turn down the chance to work with Matthew Weiner, regardless of the material, like every actor during the pre-creepy, post-talent era of Woody Allen movies? ("I'm so glad I was finally able to work with him! He's such a genius!")

I don't know -- I guess people are reading my review as more of a pan than it is. I would totally have done one of these episodes if I was an actor and had the chance to do it -- and sure, it's a prestige project, and not terribly time-consuming (since each episode is a contained story), so all the better. The scripts aren't bad, they are just surprisingly simple. Heck, I'd do it for the location shoots alone.

So "The Crown" it is not. I like "Mad Men" okay, but totally understand why it had bad ratings. Remember one Thanksgiving watching an episode and explaining the plot to my sister and as I said, it seems kind of dumb. SISTER: So what happened when his wife finds out that he using a fake I.D. ME: Not much. Then she leaves him after JFK assassination because... I don't know, her and America's innocence and belief in old ways are gone. Or something... Are the episodes really their own stories or some kind of throwline?

If by "throwline" you mean "throughline," I suspect (as I wrote in my review) that may be some hint of an overall architecture, but it's impossible to say without seeing all eight episodes. (I've only seen 1-3.) Meanwhile, I love it when communal watching means we're meant to recap and/or explain a series aloud. It can be a very revealing moment -- oh, there's really not much of a show here at all, just a lot of THINKING about what is there.

The arc that seems to play out every year (and I'm a fan of the show) is that The Rock's character always has to outdo whatever he seems to be getting into. He started out as just a player agent, then he had to take over the agency. Once he took over the agency, he then had to move a sports team against the league's wishes by taking on the owners. This year, he's taking on the NCAA. The fault of the show is that it never seems to resolve the past year's obstacle. The intriguing part of the show though is how on top of the current NFL it is, in that every year's obstacle seems to be in front of the current league's issues. The sports agency thing is akin to Rockafella entertainment getting into agency. Moving the football team was akin to moving the Rams to LA or Raiders to Vegas. And I like how the show is written by a former player (Rashard Mendenhall). If you follow the NFL, then I think you get more of the insiderness of it.

This was helpful, thank you.

Now: Is the show good or not?

For some reason lately I'm noticing more and more characters on TV shows smoking. Do you think these are real cigarettes, or props? On Shameless, for instance, the actors are lighting up every 30 seconds it seems. That's a lot of potential lung damage being done there.

If I'm remembering this correctly, there are union regulations long in effect (having to do with second-hand smoke dangers in the workplace) that require use of fake cigarettes that somehow don't kill everyone. Or is that a myth? Some chatter will know for certain. This came up a lot during the "Mad Men" years.

I've noticed smoking, too, but what I've noticed is that is now almost entirely a character trait or part of a period piece (when everyone smoked). In "Shameless's" case, smoking is a vice of the working-class poor.

Maybe this is an odd criticism given Better Call Saul's generally leisurely pace, but I found Jimmy's descent this season into Saul a little abrupt. It seemed like the writers were so determined to make this season the real, actual transition between Jimmy and Saul that it seemed like there were these pivot points that didn't really ring true -- like at the very end, where Jimmy declares out of the blue he's going to start lawyering under the name of Saul Goodman or, at the very beginning of this season, when Jimmy cheerfully tells Howard, when he thinks he's responsible for Chuck's decline, "well that's your cross to bear." There were a bunch of other moments this season like those that just seemed a little forced and out of character. I should say that I love Better Call Saul. It is my favorite show on television right now. Maybe I've been spoiled by its incremental pace.

If you hunt around, I'm pretty sure you'll find a very recent analysis of the show written by a prominent East Coast newspaper TV critic (not me) who, I believe, is right in line with your observations. You can find it without me having to link it. I'm sorry but I just never found the time for Saul this season. Maybe someday.

Hi Hank! I read your review of the Romanoffs (which pushed me over into the "unless a friend I really trust tells me to check it out, I'll pass" category for the show) and was curious about what makes a review a review. You noted that you were embargoed from reviewing the third episode until next week, but gave a brief plot summary of the episode. From that, I'm guessing that a description of what happens in the episode is not a review, but giving an opinion on it would be?

Yes, sort of, but you may notice that I also was being playful with the silliness of the overabundance of caution. Weiner was sort of a pioneer of that in the "Mad Men" days, when season premieres of the show would come at the very last minute and with a long list of what we couldn't write about.

Please know, however, that I take embargoes very seriously, whether I find them reasonable or not. To my knowledge, I've only ever truly messed that up once, and believe me, I caught holy hell for it (and a turn in the penalty box) from the aggrieved network.

Since it was made during the production of "The Apprentice," wondering what ever became of that tape of the President using the n-word?

This, along with the so-called "pee tapes" is one of the hidden pieces that so transfix the Trump resistance. So far, Mark Burnett and others have not shared access to all the outtakes from "The Apprentice." Maybe someday the Trump Presidential Library will have them and share them. If all of this interests you, I assume you're watching Tom Arnold's "Hunt for the Trump Tapes" on Viceland?

I didn't think your review was a pan at all. Mad Men was just so incredible that was hoping for another homerun, and I'm disappointed to hear that it's so middle-of-the-road. But I know that back-to-back homers are hard to do, even for the most talented people, so I will drown my sorrows in the 396 other homerun series at my disposal. (But who am I kidding--I'll still watch the Romanoffs.)

Please do and share your thoughts in next week's chat. That goes for the rest of you, too!

I read somewhere that basic cable shows (and especially streaming series) are really pushing the envelope on previously forbidden words to the point where f-bombs aren't common. Meanwhile on network television a music awards show must frazzle the nerves of the guy running the silence button because every pop song seems to include lots of wirty dirds. Is this putting broadcast television at a competitive disadvantage or will they eventually follow suit?

I don't know, but it will all seem very silly when the planet runs out of drinking water.

Even after reading your review I decided to try it, because I like a couple of the actors. Oy vey. We're just three episodes in and they've already overloaded the plot with soooooo many things: 1) Main character killing himself (we knew that, though) 2) Second main character stopped in the midst of killing himself -- literally a mouthful of pills when he gets the call about #1 3) Third main character with male breast cancer, which will of course factor in somewhere 4) Fourth main character a) trying to get the courage to leave his domineering wife because b) he's in love c) with the wife of #1, which d) might have been why he killed himself. Meanwhile, we have the wife of #1 also involved in this affair, their kid who is leaning homosexual and afraid THAT is why his dad killed himself, a new love interest of #3 who has a) run away from her life in Chicago and b) is hiding the return of HER cancer, and finally the secretary of #1 who is emphasizing the word SECRET. Again: All in three episodes. Really feels like they're trying to hit you over the head with things. I get that you have to introduce the characters, but take some TIME with the development!

Thank you for this, because, yes, now that we've seen a couple more episodes, it's time to declare this one is probably a stinker. I'm not ready to say I'm sorry that it made it on my fall list (which the network is using to blurb the show in ads), but, well -- look over there! [Critic darts for the exit.]

It's not winning Emmy's, but it's good entertainment. And considering it has a player's voice behind its writing, I like the approach it's taking in its episodes on issues like PED and CTE.

Have you seen it? Thoughts?

Yes (and yes and yes).

Ya Google broke?

I heard that they have to use fake herbal cigarettes as well. If I remember correctly, John Hamm said they were postitively disgusting, which probably helped him maintain his constant, slightly nauseated grimace throughout Mad Men.

Yes, my recollection is same and that "Mad Men" caused a lot related stories about all the smoking in it and the use of fake cigarettes and how they were made and what's in them and oh, I don't care.

I'm one of those dinosaurs still watching the flagship NCIS, but I've noticed a shift in tone this year. It's become remarkably grisly. Yes, I know there's a murder every week, but the gore is overwhelming to the point of being gratuitous. Is it just that they think they need some kind of shock value to keep viewers now that most of the fan favorites have departed except for Mark Harmon, or is this some kind of a trend?

Well, the world is ending, so maybe "NCIS" wants you to know that it's aware of that.

(That is a most excellent turn of phrase.) Brothers and Sisters was also a Heartfelt Family Drama that I remembered liking at the time so decided to check out again when it showed up on Hulu, and wow, that is just not at all a good show.

I loved Murphy Brown back in the day, but I couldn't get through the second episode of the reboot. It seems forced and just one liners. Maybe it's also that have a hard time watching sitcoms with laugh track/ studio audiences after years of watching shows like The Office and Parks and Rec.

Yes, some people have told me that it's a real struggle to go back to multi-cam (laugh track/studio audience/old-school sitcom) after so many years of excellent single-cam. I still find a lot about the old format to like.

I agree that "Murphy" is a lot of one-liners, but if you go back, that's exactly what it was back then too.

I watched the first episode Murphy Brown and got the feeling the actors thought they were on stage as the dialog seemed very loud and forced, not natural. Does it get better? I was a fan of the original show but I'm not certain about this one.

I haven't seen more than what's already aired -- it's a 13-episode order, which may well suffice, in so far as they got their digs in resistance-wise, got a chance to update some beloved characters, and had fun while doing it.

I was so looking forward to Season Two of Big Mouth and after two episodes it's clear they're going all in on a Coach Steve storyline, which will bore me to tears. But the rest of the show is so good, especially Maya Rudolph saying "bubble bath." I'm contemplating skipping through all the Steve scenes--good idea or setting myself up for further frustration?

You know what, I'm with you. I don't watch that show for the adult storylines, I watch it for the agony of puberty storylines. And I don't like that character either.

The previous commenter forgot to mention that the affair has already been discovered -- just three eps in -- and now the group will begin to deal with the aftermath. Oh, and that #1 created a deal before his death that gifted a restaurant to the wife of #2, co-owned with his widow, the interior designer. Who, of course, was just revealed to be cheating on her husband with friend #4. A Million Little Things apparently means how many plot points they'll be throwing at us this year.

So we're not liking it.

I do have some good news, if you can find access to it (DirecTV) -- "Loudermilk" returns for another season next week and Ron Livingston is really great in it as a Gen X grouch. Go find season 1 if you can -- surely it's out there somewhere.

Hey Hank, we come to your chat to ask questions, even if we might not have read every word you've ever written. I don't make a list of questions to Google What Hank Thinks before chatting. Isn't this part of your job to share your stories here? Sheesh.

The LMGTFY shtick is a value-added feature of this chat, a recurring bit, which is a bit irony because of all the links I do supply. Also, I pick on the ones who ONLY ask a "have you seen" and bring nothing else to the conversation, not even a reason why they're asking or if they like the show or any hint if they've watched it.

You are totally free to go back to whatever you were doing if it doesn't work for you.

Haha. Thanks for the laughs. For a question, do you sometimes have an opposite experience, where you reviewed a show with a very bad start but it eventually became very good. Do you start watching it again to give it an updated review?

Yes, often.

Is the time limit for Forever spoilers expired because it sure was anti-climactic especially since the entire premise was set up in the first two episodes. And then, unlike The Good Place which is wildly inventive and fast pace, they did nothing with it.

Yeah, but come on, we are talking about two very, very different kinds of shows, starting with tone. "Forever" is self-contained love story told very slowly and deliberately and thoughtfully. "The Good Place" is a philosophical Mobius strip that moves at 95 mph.

Haven't thought about that show in years...remembering what a shock it was when Gary died. Once and Again, too...finding love in the drop off line at school! Great shows.

I wrote a piece that you might enjoy, which was time to the 25th anniversary of the night the Gary character died in February 1991 -- here's a link.

The Coach Steve storyline was off in tone but at least it led into the Planned Parenthood Very Special Episode/Infomercial. Friends of mine found out the hard way that this series is tough to watch with a teenaged-son. It's just too real.

Omg, I can only imagine. (Although, to be honest, I would have loved to have had this show available to me around age 13 or so.)

What is it with Amazon/Hulu/Netflix calling something an "Original" when it's been on in a different country. For example, Harlots, which I ADORE and really hope has a 3rd season, came from the British iTV, but Hulu passes it off as a "Hulu Original." What gives?

I'm not sure -- maybe it's about the money, production-wise?

I'm actually enjoying it, though I do see what other posters are saying about all the different plots. But it doesn't seem overwhelming to me...Seems like they're establishing all the situations, and it'll even out in a few episodes. I also like some big things happen right away without a lot of easing in--that's what happens in real life, when you're knocked sideways by something at a time you didn't expect. And I like the touches of humor. What I'm hoping DOESN'T happen is a mystery with the secretary, secret business dealings, etc.

I might be the only one who likes this show. Which is a sure sign it'll be cancelled before the original run ... And yes, there's lots of crap happening. It's almost as if the writers want to throw everything to the wall, see what sticks, and then plot out future episodes.

I guess I am old school, in that I have AT&T u-verse, and not all of the streaming services. I do have a budget, and somewhat limited time to watch television. From what you hear from your readers and participants in these chats, which I do enjoy, do you think it might be time to do 2 a week, and divide them into streaming and regular television segments? I wonder how many people actually watch both regularly.

From my end, there wouldn't be enough questions/comments submitted about what's on broadcast or public TV to sustain a "cheap/free TV chat" vs. a "streaming/cable TV chat." We're all in this mess together.

And it's another nice time to remind readers that eventually, many of these prestige shows wind up on DVD (new and used prices) and accessible through your public library.

Forgot what a hottie he was. Thanks for the eye candy. ;-)

Oh, yes, back in the day -- the swooning over Peter Horton!

Not sure where this is going this season. I still love it, but at the moment the most interesting character is little Liam.

Agreed.

I know a lot of viewers came very late to "Shameless" once it found big success as a streaming show, but for those of us who've been watching since day 1, the show is feeling mighty tired.

I had the opposite reaction - I was excited for the Romanoffs, and now can't wait to watch it! Mad Men is still one of my favorite shows of all time, but boy, could I use something smart and pretty right now (like me).

That's the spirit! Write back next week and tell us what you thought of it.

I'm a big NFL fan. Ballers stinks. It makes Entourage look like The Larry Sanders Show.

You've reminded me that when "Ballers" first started I tried to appreciate it as an educational opportunity, that I might learn something about a world I generally avoid -- just as "Entourage" taught us something about Hollyweird. But I had the same reaction -- this show wasn't giving me anything to work with or meeting me halfway.

You really shouldn't have provided the links so that the OP was forced to google "Stuever Forever"

Love.

I wavered on whether to watch, my opinion on last season was that some episodes were pretty good, but on average they were fair to rather bad. But I really liked last week's episode, with the storyline of Grace and the curmudgeon-troll David Swimmer. Funny but on point for our time.

David Swimmer. Also love.

This is the only reason I have a Netflix DVD account. I watch all the great shows you talk about a year later (The Young Pope, The Affair, etc.)

"What I'm hoping DOESN'T happen is a mystery with the secretary, secret business dealings, etc." But of course that's what's going to happen. And the guy killed himself because he was in deep with the bad guys in the mystery and needed to protect everyone.

The hair in the photo accompanying your piece is magnificent. Also, I can't believe I'm now ten years older than them.

Believe me, you're gonna get even older.

I read the chat for the snark. Otherwise, what's the point?

Well, in that case, let's do it again next week!

Sorry I was kind of slow this week and was not able to get to some very good questions -- I didn't have time this morning to get in here and answer some in advance before we started. Don't give up!

See you here next Thursday, Oct. 18 at noon.

Thanks for everything!

 

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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