What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Jan 18, 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," "The Americans," "The Amazing Race" and "Shameless" Lately he's been digging (or at least dutifully watching) "The Chi" "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story," "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "The Crown" and "Below Deck."

Hello again, chatters.

Other than my reviews of "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story," "Black Lightning," and my harsh but necessary review of Letterman's new thing on Netflix, I've got little else to foist upon you today, so let's get to it.

Hi Hank -- thanks for taking questions today and for your review. I have to say I was underwhelmed by the first episode and found myself wondering how they are going to get eight more episodes out it. Criss is a very good actor, but I guess I don't find Cunanan the person all that interesting, at least so far. I also thought Ricky Martin was very good in the brief scenes he had, but to be honest I had a difficult time understanding Penelope Cruz (as in what she was saying); and overall her performance just struck me as a little "remote," for lack of a better word. As an aside, I'm a gay man living in the Twin Cities I remember well that period in 1997 when he was here and Trail and Madson were murdered...it seemed like everybody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew the victims (or claimed to have seen Cunanan himself around town). Because of that, I'll be particularly interested in the episodes set here...it was a scary time to be gay in Mpls/St. Paul.

Thanks for the analysis. I'm sorry to say that episode 1 is pretty much what you're gonna get from here on out -- a series that has a surprisingly difficult time with coherence, theme and just saying what it wants to say about Cunanan and all that. As for understand Donatella, most of her lines are just something along the lines of "Gianni! Listen to me!"

Why was this show released on the 29th of December? Was it able to make critic's top 10 lists and get Emmy consideration that late in the game. It seems like the mid-December water cooler discussion that so many of us enjoy felt incomplete knowing one of the most promising shows (and IMO one that delivered and ended up making my top 10) hadn't yet come.

Careful, you sound like you're starting to mark off spaces on a Fan-Excuse Bingo card.

As a critic who makes a Top 10 list, I for one can say that "Black Mirror" wouldn't be on it even if it had a September release date. If I recall correctly, the screeners arrived in plenty of time for me to include the show on my list if I'd felt compelled to. As for Emmy consideration, the calendar cycle for consideration there is June 1 to May 31, so "Black Mirror" is pretty much in the center of the game. I realize people who love it really do love it and I don't see any reason why they shouldn't expect to see more of it.

As a Jew growing up in Northern Virginia (an area of few Jews), I've always been semi-conscious of how a lot of people think of Jews as stingy, nebbish and cliquey ppl who are usually more brains than brawn. My family's sephardic (middle east or Spain) and the MMM is generally portraying ashkenazi Jews (Eastern Europe). Do you think that MMM could showcase a wider array of Jews?

Well, without knowing more about the contours of the chips on your personal shoulder, I will point out that "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is by no means the first show to marinate happily in New York Jewish family customs and culture in the way you deem broad stereotype. I grew up Catholic in Oklahoma and everything I know about Jews -- besides what we studied in school, which was considerable; imagine a roomful of parochial school sixth-graders having a Seder with Sister Joan Mary -- came from television and movies. Mrs. Maisel is no better or worse, in terms of stereotype, as some of Woody Allen's more sentimental, familial fare, or dozens of other Jewish filmmakers' attempts to bring forth their childhood stories and memories. And you're right -- nearly all of them -- "Fiddler on the Roof," "Yentl" -- have been Eastern European. I'd like to know from you what a more ashkenazi-like sitcom or drama on TV might look like.

Goy that I am, I'm not afraid of this subject at all. I wrote a piece last fall comparing and contrasting "9JKL," the terrible CBS sitcom, to the most recent season of Amazon's "Transparent," trying to get at some of the ways stereotypes (or let's call it common culture, or something else) can be subverted and become more meaningful.

Chatters -- any thoughts? Starting with: Did you think "Mrs. Maisel" was too stereotypical? Or lovingly so?

So - I've finished the Crown and Mrs. Maisel, attempted but did not enjoy Alias Grace or Black Mirror and don't have network television or cable. I do have Amazon Prime and Netflix. I tend to prefer drama over comedy but I need something a little lighter than Wolf Hall is proving to be. Any suggestions? PS - I had the perk of being able to turn off Letterman's Obama episode it was so lousy - I'm sorry you didn't!

You would not believe how much angry email I got for deigning to criticize Letterman and/or Obama. So thanks for the affirm!

Now ... what shall you watch next. You sound like someone who is mostly caught up, so I hesitate to go back into the archives several months ... but ... did you watch "Patriot" on Amazon yet? Did you try "Godless" on Netflix? ("Castastrophe," "Fleabag," "American Vandal?" All that?)

Watching Versace later today; halfway through Electric Dreams (like most anthologies, a mixed bag); and I enjoyed Black Lightning, it goes on the record list. If any of your readers know what the jazzy song playing over the scenes near the end was, I'd love to know, I liked it.

Did you try the Shazam app while watching it? That's how I find out what all the songs are.

Finally got into Man in the High Castle, thanks in part to the chat here. Really nicely done. Well-paced, and does a pretty solid job of juggling a large ensemble cast.

People either like it or don't. I had to bail out after season 1. I never got into all the hopping around -- east coast, west coast, Colorado, then Berlin, etc.

Good Pilot, fell off quickly. You're better off not watching.

How shocking.

I already miss The Crown, but I do get some sort of monarchal enjoyment out of Victoria Season 2. Although I was surprised by the review in that NYC paper that praised it over The Crown. Really? On another note -- was it my imagination or are they laying grounds for a same-sex affair between two of the male workers at Buckingham Palace?

Yeah I saw only the headline on the NY paper's piece and thought, hmmm, someone's trying to start a fight.

Sorry to say I have not checked out any of "Victoria's" second season yet. Not sure that even the hint of same-sex affairs in the palace may get me back. Do keep us posted, though.

It sounds a lot like The Good Doctor, so I wonder if it's worth the time, but I AM a big Bruce Greenwood fan. . .He sounds a little like the antagonist though.

The RESIDENT.

I chortled through the whole pilot, which is just more of the same. Hospital shows are really, really hard to launch successfully. I'm still not sold on "The Good Doctor" either (I still have problems with magical autism). In "The Resident," Greenwood plays a dirty doctor who is breaking rules in order to hide the fact that he's got the shakes and can't be trusted to do surgery. Matt Czuchry from "The Good Wife" plays a good guy disguised as a jerk -- same as before, sorta.

When I was growing up, my best friend was Jewish. I recognize so much of his mom on that show. I think the writers are using slight exaggerations to give a feeling of the time, place and community. The test I use is whether I'm laughing at the characters or with them, and that show makes me laugh with them.

That's a good way to think of it, thanks.

I enjoyed the first episode. It's interesting that he has a enemy from his past who will come back on him now that he's reappeared. However, I'm worried at his confrontations with the police. Yes, thecops are in the wrong, but most of us are not taser-proof!

I think the most interesting about him is the thing that's talked about the least: He's in his late 40s and dang near close to 50. Watching him do all that I lost track of how many Aleve I'd have to take the next day.

I do understand the flurish to show the future Prince Phillip build that wall to get over his grief, but there is no way that a teenager built a masonry wall including mixing the mortar IN THE DRIVING RAIN and have it come out right. Was there a bit of dramatic license there? Or did the wall need to be replaced the next year?

We all have our own Google research holes to go down when it comes to watching "The Crown" and I dare say you have found yours. Call up the school and ask!

I think this show has run its course. The last few episodes have just been so bad. I think it is time to go cold turkey and take this off my DVR. Do you think it will continue to get renewed?

I think most chatters agree with you. A couple of years ago, it seemed like every other question/comment was how sick and tired everyone was of "Modern Family," to which I could only give my usual response: Don't watch it.

As I recall, the current contract for the cast runs out in 2019. (I could be wrong about that.) Renewing the show past then, if the network wants to, will be expensive, but doable. It has been extraordinarily successful in syndication, to a degree that few shows get to enjoy anymore.

I subscribe to Comcast/Xfinity TV with all Prime channels, 2 telephone lines and the highest speed internet that they have. If subscribed to Netflix for a couple of months. What surprises me is how many Netflix programs are recommended over cable and broadcast. Why is that? Thank you.

Not sure I understand the question. Recommended by whom and to whom? By critics to their readers?

I've read that a third season of "The Durrells in Corfu" was being filmed last year. Any word of when it will air on PBS? I adore not only the characters but also the scenery, which is an additional star of the show.

It was on last fall, so my best guess would be this fall.

I think it was reported at showrunner Steve Leviathan was talking about ending the show after 2019....but with a possible spin-off. Which character should be the Frasier in this ensemble?

Sitting here thinking about it, but the cursor's just blinking with no answer. I don't see any of the kids being able to carry a show.

I agree with the " magical autism" problem. I like the actor and think he is doing a great job, but I think the rest of the cast is not very convincing.

Because it's become the surprise hit of the year, I should probably get over it, watch a ton of episodes, and see if I form a new opinion. But so far, yeah, I agree with you about the rest of the cast.

Will NBC be sending Leslie Jones to the South Korean Olympics next month? She was great at the 2016 Rio games.

I haven't heard that they are, but I did see they've rehired Katie Couric to do the opening ceremony show on Feb. 9.

I think this show has lost its way and needs a creative overhaul. Is it likely to be renewed?

Very likely to be renewed, yes.

Think it will happen?

Nah. Unless she's suddenly decided that what she really wants in her life is an aggressive press corps, looking into every last thing abotu Oprah world. And I mean every last thing.

It was actually good and then it got cancelled. Any chance that Disney is planning to send it to Fox?

Disagree on the "actually good" part.

The Disney/Fox deal is going to take a loooong time to sort itself out. I don't think we'll see the effects of it on the TV landscaped for a year at least and more like two years. By then, no one will remember what "The Mayor" was -- I dare say most have already fogotten.

Hi Hank, Just wanted your opinion on the upcoming Shows: Alienist and Waco. Not sure if it is worth the time. Thanks.

"The Alienist": Well-made but clunkily written (bad dialogue) that makes it difficult for the cast to really get down to business. (I've seen two episodes, review coming in Monday's paper.)

"Waco": Giant yawn. The only people who need to watch this are people who still think there's anything interesting about that whole incident. Taylor Kitsch tries to hard as Koresh. And Michael Shannon is in everything it seems, always playing the role of Michael Shannon.

 

Am I wrong to secretly hope that an Alien Conspiracy is the reason why Donald Trump is President?

Not wrong, just not very creative.

Odds that President Trump will present a State of the Union address this winter? What would networks do if he "goes off script" in terms of needing to bleep bad language, or making bigoted dog-whistles? There's nothing in the Constitution requiring it to be a speech, just a report (which for many decades was merely a written document sent from the White House to Congress).

According to my calendar, it's on (not like Donkey Kong) for Jan. 30. And Colbert is planning to do something live and immediate right after it.

I think? Did I dream all this?

The Chi reminds me a bit of Treme. It can't escape The Wire comparisons, and overall I don't enjoy it as much as The Wire. Yet it's still a decent show on its own with compelling characters and I'll likely stick with it in hopes it improves into something even better.

I also pulled out a "Treme" comparison and I think you're right. It's because "The Chi" is more intent on showing us aspects of a community rather than aspects of crime. The crime story that "The Chi" has put in the center of its tale, is really not all that compelling of a case, I don't think. But the scenes of South Side life and characters are the whole reason to watch.

I've been a fan of his through Angel, Close to Home, Leverage, and now The Librarians. Evidently Detroit Tigers pitcher James McCann and his wife are fans, too. Their twin sons, born December 7, are Christian Thomas and Kane Timothy!

For some reason I see a house full of bulletin boards covered in news clippings connected by color-coded yarn.

How are they going to keep up this pace on 911? This week a suicide attempt by the daughter of one of the main characters, and a fireman in a car accident with re-bar through the brain. Next week, a passenger jet goes down in the water near LA. I'm okay with the action, but this is just going to get comical very soon.

It's nuts! I keep hoping that at some point we learn that this show was just wrapping paper, like a disguise for a whole other Ryan Murphy show. Maybe about TV showrunner whose latest project was "9-1-1?" Like at some point, he yells "CUT" and then we start following him and the cast members home into their real lives?

I dunno, whaddya think?

Is fox doing this so they'll keep Ryan Murphy for awhile? This show is turning me off of Connie Britton!

Well for Pete's sake don't ever get turn away from Connie Britton.

Any idea of the Disney/Fox deal with revive Last Man Standing. Perhaps new episodes can be slotted in on Fox News to settle things down anytime a host gets fired for inappropriate behavior?

The Disney/Fox deal does not include Fox News. Murdoch is keeping it.

Have you seen I, Tonya? I must admit I am intrigued... will wait for HBO though.

I saw "I, Tonya" over Christmas and it was hands down my favorite movie of the year. (Caveat: I see about six movies a year in the theater, most of them on Christmas break.) It was just terrific -- relentlessly energetic, spittin' mad and so much fun. (Also: sad, yes.) I also saw "Dunkirk" on the plane home from L.A. on Monday and loved it much, much more than I ever thought I would.

BTW, the Ashkenazim are from Eastern and Central Europe, which most New York Jews at that time were. (Sephardim are from Spain, Portugal and northern Africa.) That said, Mrs Maisel caught the New York 50s sensibility so much, they even used my mother's Corningware patterns!

Thanks for the input. A follow up from the OP was even less helpful to their original point, so I'm going to leave it as is.

I agree to some extent, but the bounce house hanging off the edge of a cliff (who would have thought!) was intense. I'll never let my grandkids in one again!

It's definitely a great show for Fox to have to let its affiliates jump in right afterward with the latest news of which everyday items are GOING TO KILL YOUR CHILDREN.

Each time I see him in something (Joan's boyfriend on Mad Men; Gil Garcetti in in OJ American Crime Story; Robert McNamara in The Post), I find myself thinking, man, what a great actor and there is just something about him. And then I realize it's Bruce Greenwood.

I'm going to see how many paragraphs I can end today with "And then I realize it's Bruce Greenwood."

Elephant in the room. Has his career been annihilated or is this the end of #metoo?

I think they should just call this one a truce.

 

I was shocked to see how Diana Rigg looked as Lady Olenna in Game of Thrones. I was even MORE shocked to realize that Marietta Hartley is playing Connie Britton's Alzheimer-afflicted mother in 9-1-1. I honestly didn't recognize her.

Ryan Murphy seems to have a thing for calling up his favorite TV stars from when he was a kid and asking them if they'd play a part in his new thing. Wait til you see Mike Farrell in "Assassination of Gianni Versace." He's great!

Is it television? I think it's television. Or maybe it's Bruce Greenwood's television.

You get it.

What *is* it about? Are they trying to find Jack the Ripper in old New York?

It was a novel in the mid-1990s -- a big, huge bestseller. Maybe reading the description will help, but, yes, it's about a psychiatrist (then known as "alienists") in 1896 who offers his help in profiling a serial killer of children in New York, where Teddy Roosevelt just happens to be the police commish.

Did you see Rigg in the season première episode of "Victoria"? I wouldn't have recognized her, had I not seen her name in the opening credits.

Uhhhh, yeah, because I've been watching her in "Game of Thrones?" She looks basically the same, minus the headdress.

Betty White turned 96 years old this week. Think she'll ever do another series, or host another SNL? Hope so.

I kind of hope she doesn't -- that she's resting and being happy. I think her appearances have tapered off a bit and that's completely okay. She is under no contractual obligation to be our pop-cultural grandma forever. Her last, belated round of success was a lot of fun (including getting her to host SNL), but we need to respect her enough to not demand she play along every time. And I join you in wishing her a happy birthday, hopefully with a shot of vodka and a hot-dog (reportedly her favorites).

And that does it for us for another hour, gang. We'll chat next Thursday at noon!

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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