What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Nov 08, 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 "Insecure" Lately he's been digging "You," "Kidding" and "The Haunting of Hill House."

Hi everyone, hello, how are you and all that -- busy afternoon ahead for me, so let's just get down to it, shall we?

Hi Hank. I stumbled upon Wanderlust on Netflix last week and couldn't stop watching. Needless to say I've already finished the season. I laughed, I cried, I......well so many feels. The show seems under the radar. Did you review? I can't imagine I wouldn't have seen your opinion on the show. And before you get me, I did google "Hank Stuever Wanderlust Review" and "Wanderlust, Hank Stuever" with no results. Have you watched? If so, what did you think. The ending was so on point in my opinion. Have any other chatters watched? Curious on your thoughts as well.

I did watch it and considered a review, but it lost me midway through. I was at first very encouraged that we were finally going to get a story about open marriage/open relationship that seemed real and not judgy, but I thought it just really lost itself and wound up being an argument against any option to monogamy. Also, the more I thought about, the less good it seemed, despite the valiant effort of Toni Collette and [co-star, don't have time to look it up].

But, yes, let's open it up (haha) to chatters: What did you guys think of "Wanderlust?"

I would call it British Very Good! Richard Madden is great in it - all that clenched jaw acting really worked for me. The last episode felt rushed in the gotta-tie-it-all-up way, but it was a satisfying watch over all. And a short, 6 episode series means it's not a long commitment. Easy to binge but so much better to do one episode a night.

Another one where the middle episodes were just so off-the-rails, plot wise -- sort of like any season of "Homeland" but without the two or three episodes of recovery/expert landing at the end. Also, I just can't get behind ALL the negative portrayals of Muslims.

Hank! I'm eager to hear your take on the first few episodes of Outlander (if you've seen them). Following the premier on Sunday, I'm sorry to say I was underwhelmed, although it's wonderful to spend time with the leads again. Can you offer some context or knowledge? I find Outlander unique in that it centers around two aging characters who are committed and loving. The story doesn't rely on any 'will they wont they' to drive it. Can you think of other stories that are similar?

I'm three episodes in and have another three to watch and expect at some point to write about the season while it's in progress. I loved the first episode -- I always like the shift in locale and perspective and I thought (without spoilers), it did a nice job of portraying the potential of America as well as its potential for violence and lawlessness. I thought the music was a nice touch -- both the Americanized alteration to the theme song and the "America the Beautiful" song cue at the end.

As for your other question, where will they or won't they hangs in the balance (like "X-Files," I guess you mean), no, I can't think of any offhand, but I probably wouldn't be assessing a show on that anyhow.

I hope they don't Hill House the ending of an otherwise fantastic first season. I've finally realized that Kidding is basically a good version of Death to Smoochy (and I mean that as a compliment). Whereas Smoochy hit the pedal too hard on the dark and too lightly on the humor, Kidding has found a much better balance. Plus, the acting has been phenomenal, including the supporting case (Pickles-san, Derrell, Lapinskis). Kidding and Barry are my two favorite half hour shows so far this year.

I'm not sure I can allow "Kidding" being even remotely compared to "Death to Smoochy," even in a complimentary way.

Spoiler alert: About to take a question about Amazon's "Homecoming" (the very good Julia Roberts drama directed by "Mr. Robot's" Sam Esmail) that contains an out-of-context spoiler, but nevertheless is a spoiler, so avert your eyes if you haven't watched yet.

OMG! I need someone to talk to. I loved this show and had no trouble understanding what was happening. AND then, in the last 2 minutes, I was gobsmacked! What was the significance of the silverware being moved in the diner. Did I miss something in an earlier episode? Also, I thought it was obvious that Julia's character was way too old for a romantic involvement with Walter, but I felt that the series was hinting at the possibility. Did anyone else get that?

I can answer this, but did you try Googling it, where it has been widely discussed, even with the show's creators? You did?

There are a couple of schools of thought: 1. is that he did that to her silverware to signal to her that he's totally aware of who she is and what happened, and, since he was always doing it to the pens she kept so neatly aligned on her desk, she would get it. That, or, 2., it's a sign that his prankish nature is intact and he's fine and oblivious and needs to be left alone to be happy. Or 3., it means something else entirely and tune in for season 2, which has already been ordered.

I love literally everything about it (including the Mr. Robot reference in the third episode). Also, if you're a television executive reading this: MORE HALF-HOUR DRAMAS PLEASE!

It's very good, but I've already settled on my show of the year, and it's not "Homecoming," which is a strong contender for the rest of my annual top-10 list. Other than that, we seem to be in agreement, especially about the format. ("What's more enticing than Julia Roberts in a TV drama? How about half-hour episodes?")

Bleh. The first couple of episodes were weird but then it got a bit better so we kept watching. But then it got really weird and bad once Jonah Hill became the gangster with the braids. WTF? We're done with it.

I enjoyed it all the way through, but I thought it was stronger at the beginning than at the end, true.

I started reading your chats about a year ago, and I decided to finally watch The Americans on maternity leave after how you rave about it. I cannot thank you enough! This show is amazing— in the season 2 finale, I shouted “WHAT?!?!?” so loudly that I woke my infant daughter (oops!) Just wanted to say thank you for this chat and the great recommendations you make. Now I keep finding myself googling old chats so I can see what you and the other readers were saying about these episodes in real time!

I had to go back and look up the season 2 finale synopsis to remember -- which plot point did you shout at? Glad you're enjoying it and I hope your maternity leave is long enough to get through the entire series -- and then some!

I'll definitely give you that. I think they tried to balance it with other "brown" people being the "good guys" and throwing doubt on so many others but it was an easy crutch for the plot to hinge on.

I finally started "You" on Ep 09 based on comments here, which led to your review. The premise that the justice system just let Candace's disappearance go, as well as her lover agent is laughable. Describing Penn Badgley as a "pretty package" with those beady brown eyes, well, to each his own. Sure, it's sick fun, primarily because "Beck" is so attractive, and incorporates an interesting dramatic device ("Joe's" interior monologue), so I'll happily watch the finale, but really have no interest in ever rehashing Eps. 01-08. I'm usually perfectly aligned with your aesthetic and sensibilities, but I'm really scratching my head over this one. Did you have access to all 10 episodes when you wrote your review? In any case, you're still the best Hank.

Your typing is difficult to follow -- you started watching at episode 9? But haven't watched from the beginning? But you have all these opinions -- and need to know how many episodes I had seen when I reviewed it (five is the answer)? My review speaks for itself -- I like (very much like) the way "You" has subverted and played with the ol' Lifetime trope of the stalker boyfriend, giving us a victim about whom we can be very conflicted, up to the point of rooting against her and rooting for him. It seems like you're just driving by it real quick and tossing some eggs at its door.

I watched two episodes and couldn't take anymore. I just figured was either not weird enough or too dumb to get it. Either way........hated it! Not even Hank can make me go back!

So I petered out on this show in season 2 (first season was okay but as it went on, it felt like not that Underwood was that clever but that everyone around him was just terminally dumb). But I did read that spoiler filled article by a colleague of yours discussing the ending and... Yeah. Looks like I made the right choice to bail. That show went crazypants.

At this point, it almost seems like they're just being obstinate. Everyone else has stepped up their game, and is fully participating in the Golden Age of Television. Except the big networks, which seem determined to continue putting out stupid shows. Amazon, which last I checked is a mail-order company, has more quality programming than ABC, NBC and CBS combined. It's weird, right?

This is a common conclusion/misperception -- that the networks willfully decide not to become HBO or Netflix (or even FX or AMC) purely because they want to make mediocre television. That's wrong on a few points and I feel like I try to explain this once a quarter or so in the TV Chat. But, here goes, again:

The networks are in the business of selling advertising, not subscriptions. ABC would look very different if it were commercial-free, not beholden to federal communications rules and cost $18 a month. Instead, networks like ABC are selling advertising space with the intent to bring in the broadest and most lucrative demographics. Niche programming -- which would include, say, a very expensive drama about dragons -- would not be good for the bottom line.

Let me skip over several other points to get to the most important one: Not everyone is just like you. What you think is good television might not work for someone else. What you can afford to pay for might not be available to everyone else. Network TV may not be to your taste, but trust me, it suits millions and millions casual viewers just fine.

"Stupid shows," just so we're clear, equals "The Good Place," "This Is Us," "Black-ish" and, recent classics like "The Good Wife," "Parks & Recreation" and "American Crime"?

 

Storm of Suspicion on the Weather Channel. It's a lot like something you'd see on Investigation Discovery, except they go into the science of how the weather affected the commission and/or the solving of the crime. I enjoy it so much that I watch it live and record Supergirl (which I'm not enjoying as much this season).

Haha -- "Storm of Suspicion." I was about to go look it up to make sure you're not pulling my leg, but then I thought, no, I don't want to know if it's real or not. It's hilarious either way.

I'm not sure if this is possible, but do you know if the "SUBMIT YOUR QUESTION" link can move with the scrolling of the chat? I hate hate hate having to scroll all the way back to the top of the page to submit and having to find my place again afterwards. I know, first world problems, but I thought I'd ask. Thanks!

As Mr. Pickles might say, can we use a better word than hate?

Sorry, no, that sort of question is one for the engineers, who I doubt read the chat.

No. I never even thought of it. I figured I was the only one who didn't get it. :( I did go back and watch a few parts where I thought I may have missed a clue.

Trust me, if you Google it (something like "what's the meaning of the silverware at the end of Amazon's Homecoming?"), you'll find plenty to chew on -- more than I can give you in a live typing contest.

What happened to his show? Has it been canceled? Why didn't he accept ABC's $14 million dollar offer many years ago to replace Jimmy Kimmel?

Emily Yahr had a story a while back that will answer most of your questions.

As for the Kimmel part of it, boy, I'm glad Conan didn't. (I don't even remember such a deal -- it must have been long ago.) Kimmel has more than earned his place.

Are any of the new shows on the verge of being shown the door?

I just keep seeing press releases in my inbox of full-season orders and renewals. Has anything been canceled yet? Chatters?

I really liked the show and watched all the episodes within a few days. I had read a very short description of the show that included the ultimate purpose of the Homecoming organization in a matter-of-fact description. It wasn't listed as a spoiler or anything and I imagine many other reviews or synopses also explained it. While I imagine it would have been easy to figure out, or at least make a good guess at, I feel like it would have been much more enjoyable to slowly piece it together over the course of the season. As the creators seemed to be wanting us to do. What do you think?

I think if they wanted us to puzzle over things all season, they would have come up with a story and structure that didn't make it all so very obvious. I mean, if you're coming to "Homecoming" for a complicated mystery to chew on, this ain't it. It's more about the unfolding of it, the slow dawning of a bunch of people who were/are being duped, including the DoD investigator. This show is more about style and structure, not a mystery.

Close to Cancellation: The Alec Baldwin Talk Show is being moved from Prime Sundays to Purgatory Saturdays.

I don't even know what they were thinking with putting that in a prime-time slot.

So there's one.

Any scripted-show cancellations? Or close-to-cancellations?

Is it good? I think it starts tomorrow.

I loved season 1. I started to watch season 2 and got to episode 3 and just gave up -- whatever had thrilled me the first time has just been sucked out of it. Maybe it's just the prolonging of season's 1 convoluted plot ... I just lost interest in it completely. So sad!

But maybe I wasn't in the mood. (Also? They needed to do a LOT more recapping at the first episode of the new season, because we've all watched A LOT of TV since then -- it's been almost two years!) When you watch it, write back and tell me I'm crazy and to stick with it. Or tell me if you agree.

I'm not sure if this is possible, but can the page scroll as I read? I hate hate hate having to turn the little scroll wheel myself.

[Snort]

I hear this one is (rightly) on the chopping block. Production halted???

Oh, that's a perfectly cancel-able show, yes. Of course. Not surprised.

Am I the only one that thinks it may be stronger with Barr gone? By the midpoint of ROSEANNE she'd developed into a pretty capable actress but the reboot put all her worst traits on display with bad line deliveries and mugging for the camera. I think they've got a shot without all her issues sucking the air out of the room.

I haven't heard much about it since the premiere. Someone ask that TV Chat guy how it's doing in the ratings.

Loving it! Jennifer Garner is simply fantastic. For anyone who needs 30 minutes of distraction away from the daily world, go watch. This endorsement was not sponsored by any PR people. :-)

Some say it's too ouchy, in terms of feelings and people being shitty to one another. Also I think it might be hard to watch for couples having intimacy problems. But those of us who are basically walking, bloomless thornbushes are loving it! Especially Juliette Lewis -- who is delivering lethal doses of Juliette Lewis-ness every episode.

Will it be TV or Theater?

What news has been confirmed around it seems to suggest it will be a TV movie, with Aaron Paul starring as post-finale Jesse.

I am trying to stay with it, but it is losing me. I have come to the conclusion that the original series ran when national politics were not as thuggish as they are now, and the writers have been unable to adapt the series to that fact. And while I do not disagree with Murphy's end of show diatribes, it is just not interesting or good television. How much longer do you think this reboot will last?

Well, it was only ordered for 13 episodes, to conclude in December. It was very much a try-it-and-see proposition and presented as such to critics in the summer. If it works, they'll stick with it, if it doesn't, well, they got their licks in. That sort of thing.

Not strictly a television question, but I have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I trust Vince Gilligan and can't imagine him putting out something bad. On the other, you want to say, 'leave it alone.'

I always vote for "leave it alone."

True story: After the summer of 1977 and the start of 4th grade, my best friend very authoritatively told us all there was going to be a sequel to "Star Wars" and I was the lone dissenter. "They should just leave it at that" -- I honestly said this. Three years later, we're all dutifully lined up around the block for the sequel.

According to TV By the Numbers, it's in the top 12 with a 1.8 rating and about 2.3 million viewers (both in the 18-49 demo). So, better than Modern Family but not as well as The Simpsons. Go figure.

You get the job!

Yep, that's me. And now I'm making a t-shirt for myself with that phrase on it.

Wow! I'm not the original poster but I JUST finished season 2 as well and am starting on season 3. I was pretty shocked too--I imagine the OP was writing about the fact that Jared was the one who had killed his entire family rather than Larrick or someone like that. It was pretty shocking to me too--and the fact that the KGB had been recruiting Jared to be an operative! And that they might recruit Paige! Innocent Paige! I hope they leave her alone. But I'm sure everyone knows what actually happened since I'm so far behind haha.

Oh yeahhhhhhhhhhh. Oh man, that was a good season finale. Yes, yes, yes.

Is this one from last year being held in reserve for mid-season or was it canceled?

It was cancelled.

I don't know whether the show will be any good, but the trailer with "Take Me to the Pilot" has me pretty excited to find out. Have you seen the show yet?

I am four episodes in and really liking it (and writing a review next week).

For those who don't know, this is a Showtime miniseries premiering Nov. 18 about those two guys who escaped from that New York prison with the help of the prison employee they were both shtupping. It sounds like a sordid, made-for-TV thing but it works on several emotional levels. Patricia Arquette is terrific in it, as are Paul Dano, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Benicio del Toro.

I finally finished it--it was really good (as you mentioned earlier) but... the ending was weak. Some issues, such as [spoiler alert] the one-night stand, did not even really make sense. And the upbeat [spoiler again] conclusion of the couples getting back together seemed too forced.

I keep forgetting to mention one other huge problem I had with the final episode was the goes-nowhere subplot with the caretakers and the identical daughters. What? Why? Hunh? Who cares?

We were talking about the Good Place last week. I sometimes feel like Hollywood never can decide whether someone is mentally ill. Do you think Jason Mendoza would be excused from the Good Place/Bad Place dichotomy is he was bad for reasons not beyond his control? Do you agree that Mendoza is mentally deficient?

Eww, I don't really want to go there with that character, who I just view as a very exaggerated caricature of a layabout, under-educated, morally and intellectually bankrupt American, in the "Idiocracy" vein. Are you really reading him as mental disabled?

I guess maybe I'm not very discriminating, but I watch a lot of network TV. I just added up what I watch regularly by network per week in the evenings. ABC--4 hours (3 1 hour shows, 2 1/2 hour shows), CBS --4 hours, NBC--4 hours, Fox-- 2 1/2 hours, CW--1 hour, PBS--1 hour (5 episode miniseries The Woman in White), Cooking Channel --1/2 hour.

See, this proves my point. Plenty of people are well-served (even overserved!) by network TV. Which is why I always try to note when they come out with a good show.

What was a past tv show that you were (relatively) devastated to see cancelled?

I wanted to see more of "Getting On" from HBO. I wanted a second season of "Terriers" on FX. I wish ABC had continued on with "American Crime," though they did their best. And plenty of us would have done more seasons of HBO's "Rome."

There are surely more that I'm forgetting, but you understand me enough to have put "(relatively)" in your question. Because there are always more and more and more TV shows coming, it's not really worth getting hung up on one that's cancelled.

I was in from the start of this show, but it is beginning to look like a retread now. When it started, Ray was called in to protect an NFL player who killed his girlfriend in LA. Now, it is a female politician who killed a boyfriend, only in NYC. Is that a sign that it is finally out of gas?

Yes.

Thanks for mentioning "The Good Place". That show is crazy in all the good ways and takes a hard look at morality in a really interesting way. It doesn't get mentioned often but for all the silliness (multiple secret evil twins?) "Jane the Virgin" has had surprisingly smart looks at things like sexuality, immigration, and dealing with illness.

Awww, he's just dumb. The episode with his father answered a lot of questions about Jason.

It did, and it was funny. I'm with you.

If not Homecoming, WHAT?

You'll know in about four weeks!

Is why, while I loved the first season, I am skeptical of the second season of "Pretty Little Lies". It felt like a complete arc.

"Big Little Lies," you mean?

Rel and I Feel Bad, but it looks like they'll play out the 13 or however many episodes were originally contracted and then disappear. Doesn't look like anything is getting axed in advance this year.

The stakes are just lower these days. Oh for those seasons when a flop was a FLOP and the reporters who cover television would write about it like an actual disaster or a crime-scene investigation.

So I was excited to see its moving back to Bravo, but they got rid of Heidi Klum AND Tim Gunn. Thoughts? I will miss Tim Gunn for sure.

I'm not sure what I would be watching if it didn't have Tim Gunn in it.

I've never watched but the stories today about the dance/coming out episode looked pretty interesting. Did/do you watch?

They showed it to us at the press tour last summer and it seemed like a big deal to them and to others who had been watching that show all this time. But for those of us who never really watched it or got into it, it was all just kind of surreal.

"Especially Juliette Lewis -- who is delivering lethal doses of Juliette Lewis-ness every episode." I FEEL like you mean this as A Good Thing. But I'm not sure I can get behind that.

Well, no, it's a HORRIBLE thing, which happens to make it an AMAZING thing, that you just wallow in and get all dirty with it. Even -- or especially -- if you're coming to it with year of animus toward her.

I just finished S2 last night and I really enjoyed it, more so than a pretty good Season 1. Considering the subject matter and tone of the show, I would say the season ended with a happy ending (pun not intended)? The only big loss (SPOILER) is the death of Cici, while a despicable character, was acted extremely well.

I thought it was a very well done season and I'm so glad that focused as much as they did on the women characters, who are in every way superior and more interesting than any of the mob and pimp storylines.

on Cinemax. Even worse that it was cancelled by a such a lousy, no-account channel.

I was a big "Quarry" fan too. I'm surprised someone else didn't quietly pick it up.

My devastated to see cancelled from a long time ago was "The Education of Max Bickford." Richard Dryfuss was great and the show was warm without being cloying. At least that is my memory. Oh, and "Rubicon" on AMC but I think I'm the only person who missed that one.

+1 for "Rubicon."

Have you seen it? Agree with the tepid reviews?

This is a TV Chat, not a movie chat.

I assumed "Pretty Little Liars"

Well, that's why I have this job and you don't. I know what show people are talking about even when they can't remember the name of it or who's in it.

Anyhow, it's after 1 and I gotta split.

Also, please note: The chat is going on a two-week break. Next week (Nov. 15) I'll be on a serious deadline and the week after that (Nov. 22) is Thanksgiving Day, if you can even believe it.

So let's make a plan to meet back here on Thursday, Nov. 29.

Til then!

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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