What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Dec 06, 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 Outlander," "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "Escape at Dannemora."

Lots to kvetch and kvell about today, as Midge Maisel (or maybe her parents) might say ...

Golden Globe noms are out. The Post's pop-culture squad has it all for you ... Remember, pretty please, that this is a chat about TELEVISION, so I won't be taking any questions/comments about the movie nominations.

My list of the 10 best TV shows of 2018 is out. Feel free to make your own list and share it here. There is no "right" answer.

My review/thoughts on Season 2 of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (based on the first five episodes) and the positive uses of obnoxiousness. What do you think of the season so far?

 

I was up until nearly 3 a.m. binge watching the second season, which I loved. Do you know if there already is a set number of seasons the writers and producers are working toward, or is it still in the season-to-season status? I particularly was noticing how the show has the look and feel of a late 1950s Technicolor movie, but not the knowledge nor skills to explain that observation. Only that that's part of what makes the program so much fun to watch. That said, some of the music is later than the 1958-59 time period. I read in an interview with Amy Sherman-Palladino that's deliberate in order to include music which helps to enhance a certain mood, which I agree it does. Any thoughts on that? Until reading that I had been comparing the program to Mad Men with its attention to historic detail.

I haven't heard how many seasons Sherman-Palladino has in mind, if she has a number in mind at all. My hunch is she'll do as many as they'll give her, which I wouldn't worry about for a long while.

I mentioned the anachronistic music cues in my review (the opening Streisand number came out 10 years after the scene its enhancing), but I don't really have an opinion on that. If she suddenly drops some Duran Duran in there, then we have issues.

I am getting tomorrow off. Has the Second Season Arrived on Amazon Prime yet?

Are you trying to win the award for dumbest let-me-Google-that-for-you chat question? Because I will warn you, the competition has been stiff all year.

Do you think "the Americans" will win in its final season?

Probably not.

I have seen half the shows on your list, and agree with you about their inclusion. I have not seen Killing Eve, but it has just been added to Hulu and so I am looking forward to that.

Yes, I imagine "Killing Eve" will be quite popular for the Hulu customers.

I am really enjoying this; thanks for the recommendation. The acting and direction are great, and, with the regional accents and the frigid climate, it can hold us over until the next season of Fargo. (Just kidding; I know the similarities are superficial, and this actually IS a true story).

Oooh, I really like that comparison, though. There is a lot about it that's Fargo-esque.

Is there any bigger snub than Atlanta? I find it hard to believe that after seeing how the second season was even more amazing than the first, all of those other shows were THAT much better. But the snubs are part of awards shows, as is the fashion. Geez, entertainment really is so much about gossip, isn't it?

Snubs are subjective. Is it surprising that "Atlanta" didn't get a comedy nom? Yes, but also no. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (it's like, 90 people, some of whom are legit journalists and some of whom ... are sorta) has very peculiar tastes as a nominating body.

Also, sometimes the snub is addressed in another category -- note that Donald Glover is up in the best actor/comedy category.

Hi, Hank-- Would I be correct in guessing that overall, you think this year's batch of TV nominees for Golden Globes is pretty strong? Any big surprises (either shows/performers who were overlooked or ones that should have been)?

I'm sorry, I just rarely have strong thoughts about awards nominations. At first glance, I do think there's way too much "Assassination of Gianni Versace" on there -- a show that clearly failed at what it was trying to do, even though it tried.

Okay, so I've been seeing how much all the cool kids like this show but gave up after trying the first couple of episodes because Kristen Bell was "unlikable". But all the cool kids (including you) kept talking it up, and I did love Parks and Rec which Michael Schur also had a hand in, so I gave it another shot and...I'm in. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is up next.

That's good to hear. I do wonder if your issues with "the cool kids" is getting in the way of your purer enjoyment of television? I believe the clinical term that applies is "demand resistance": The more we all tell you that you have to watch something, the more your fold your arms.

I think Kidding should win the Golden Globe over Barry and Mrs. Maisel. Your thoughts?

See my list of Best TV Shows of 2018 to see exactly how I would order those three shows.

I was going to say "Not a lot of love for Netflix" until I looked back at the list and saw they got 10 nominations (not to mention the movie ones for Roma). But Bodyguard was a BBC production they got the rights to, and The Kominsky Method wasn't particularly buzzy, and Seven Seconds has already been canceled...I'm sure no one at Netflix HQ is going to turn their noses up at ten nominations, but none of them feel like they were for Netflix projects people were really excited about. Do you think this is just how the chips fell this year and next year might be different, or is Netflix moving their awards ambitions more towards movies and is fine if their really popular shows aren't awards fare? (Or am I totally wrong and Netflix is doing just fine on the awards:popularity ratio?)

All I can tell you is that not one Netflix show made it to my year-end list, and if one had, it would have been "GLOW." Since we have no firm idea of how many people are watching their shows (and watching them all the way to the end), it's all just speculation. The popular opinion tide, meanwhile, seems to be saying that Netflix needs to heed some of the less-is-more criticism that it's been getting. (See last week's SNL spoof for example.)

I know it's not regular TV, but a shout out to NBC for their coverage yesterday of President Bush's funeral service in DC. They didn't talk over anyone, they added in clips of relevant people while the speakers were giving their eulogies. I know we will never see another state funeral like this one again in our lifetime - Obama might run a close second when his time comes. RIP GHWB.

Two words for you, friend: JIMMY and CARTER. Forty years and counting of selfless work for his fellow humans. He'll get a saint's sendoff. Naysayers on the right will surely sneer, but they've already demonstrated that they're totally comfortable being the a-holes at any event.

I sat through the entire series on your recommendation, but after the final episode all I could think was I wanted the time I spent watching it back. Does HBO keep track of viewership, or do they just look at it as something they can plug into the schedule when they need a filler at 2 a.m. on Wednesday?

I know -- me too -- and sorry about that. I recommended "Camping" in my Fall TV preview, largely on the strength of Juliette Lewis's 100% Juliette Lewis performance, but that thing just got uglier and duller as it went. Lousy conclusion. Let's pretend it didn't happen.

I noticed that a frequent comment/question in your live chats are how this or that is unrealistic i.e. Is Pittsburgh now in New Jersey in the This-is-us-o-verse? Yet one we in the audience just accept is a total lack of family resemblance in TV. Maybe I've missed it, but has it ever come up in your chat? Beyond "vaguely," do Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley REALLY look like they could be the biological offspring of Mandy Moore and Ventimiglia? It's almost startling when you see real life family members cast in TV shows.

I agree -- and if this is your particular peeve, then it can quickly seem like ALL offspring and siblings in TV and movies are miscast. I'm sure casting directors would tell us that it's far (far) more important to get a good actor in the role than a genetic lookalike. Close is close enough.

One thing I think "This Is Us" did get right, however, was in their casting of the younger versions of the Pearson kids. They seem to track really well with the grown-up characters. Yes? (No?)

Oh no! I am usually right in step with the cool kids, maybe with a few exceptions due to personal taste (scary or violent). This was just a show that I seemed to confusingly veer from them on. Turns out I just had to stick with it.

I diverge from the cool TV critics quite frequently -- which I only discover after the fact, when I take a look back at their reviews of shows. (I don't read the other critics while I'm working on a review. I wait until some time has passed.)

Thank you for including this excellent documentary series in your list of Top 10. Last month I met two reporters of my local paper (Orlando Sentinel) and asked what they thought of it. Neither had heard of it. I wholeheartedly second your wish that this reaches an audience beyond the Beltway.

I am pretty surprised the Orlando Sentinel reporters hadn't heard of it -- must have been some of those "I never really watch TV" types. Our newsroom has a few.

My heart just grew three times for you, Hank, with this comment about my favorite ex-President. I promise to always Google before I ask questions from here on.

Yay.

I get why people are irritated when a personal favorite doesn't make a "best of" list, but to me that's entirely the wrong approach. I use those to spot things I might have missed and decide whether it's worth a watch. Sometimes I find gold. There's no way I would have checked out "Mrs. Maisel" if not for the reviews (including yours), but my wife and I laugh like loons when it's on.

I love it when it works out.

What ever became of the HBO show about our current world except the Confederacy won the Civil War from Benioff & Weiss, the two men currently running "Game of Thrones."

As recently the summer TV press tour, HBO said it was still in development, where it always was. Since the first announcement and resulting blow-up over it, Benioff & Weiss were supposed to be coming up with a Star Wars spinoff movie (or three). So, really, who knows.

The lesson remains, however, though I'm not sure networks really absorbed it, which is not to put the cart too far ahead of the horse. Announcing "Confederacy" (and its unsettling concept) invited all sorts of blowback and the worst kind of criticism, which is to criticize something before it even gets made. It's also bizarre for HBO to announce anything that early in the process, given how demanding the network can be -- it has been known to film pilots and even many episodes of a series and then decide that it doesn't work and shelve it. The only reason to have announced "Confederacy," it seems, is to keep the producers happy by hyping their ideas as pre-greatness. I know that as a professional TV-watcher, I prefer to stick to those shows that actually exist, of which there are more than plenty. Why argue and fight over one that hasn't even been made, and may never see the light of day?

Second season of Westworld, right?

Not by a long shot -- trust me, there is stuff that is only marginally worse and then there's a ton of stuff that is much, much, much worse than Season 2 of "Westworld," which I would say, started strong and even had one amazing episode (you know the one; told from the Native American perspective), even if, overall, the season leaned a little too hard on viewers' patience and commitment levels.

I just found Jim Carrey's character bewildering. I didnt understand how he could possibly be so simpleminded, and I didnt understand his relationships with anyone. I didnt get why no one else in his family seemed to care all that much about the child who died, or why [spoiler alert] Carrey had these spasms of violence. I know it was supposed to be a portrait of someone grieving but it just seemed kinda random and weird. I guess I didnt buy it.

I like the show for a lot of reasons, but one of them is because I am still not sure what level of reality we're in and to what degree Jeff is being coddled/deceived by those around him. Without knowing what's ahead, I would not at all be surprised to discover in season 2 that much of what we've seen is not quite as it seems? That could be exasperating, but it also helped me watch the rest of Season 1 on the show's terms, rather than mine. If that makes sense.

The only mention of a Netflix show is an "also ran"?! Is Netflix losing its magic touch to the other streaming services?

I won't say for certain, but I can tell you that many times this year I reviewed Netflix shows that were pretty good ("Maniac," "The Haunting of Hill House") but not fully realized. There's a distinct lack of discipline -- usually found in the back third of a Netflix series.

Is she the favorite for the "Best Actress - Limited Series" category?

What am I, a bookie? I don't know who is or how to determine the "favorite," but my vote goes to Patricia Arquette for "Escape at Dannemora." There's just a whole lot more acting going on there. Amy Adams was good in "Sharp Objects," but that was not a very demanding role for her, really.

It's the only show on your top 10 that I've watched, so that's lucky for me that it's your top show of the year. One of the unexpected thing about Hader's character is that going in, I thought they would make him a bungling assassin. However, it's great that they made him an extremely competent assassin, but bungling normal person. The show definitely took a darker turn in the last two episodes, so I'm interested in seeing how S2 will play out.

For me, it's about meeting expectations. I was so bummed watching the movie "Bridesmaids" because I expected it to be FREAKING HILARIOUS, LIKE ROLLING AROUND ON THE FLOOR HILARIOUS THE ENTIRE MOVIE!!!!! It was funny but after hearing from everyone how extremely hilarious it was supposed to be, I was kinda disappointed. If I had had no expectations beforehand, however, I'm sure I would have been delighted. I wonder if you have any experience with that though, given that you get the first glance at most things TV-wise.

Yes, I do have that experience. Every Thursday at noon, I get this long list of submissions and a lot of them are people informing how good a show is and how I should watch it.

She won the Emmy, but do you think the HFPA will award her a Globe too?

Why not?

How about a list of your Best NETWORK TV shows of 2018, please? For those of us who have over-the-air only. Thanks, Hank!

I'm sorry, but it is my job as television critic to go where the best TV is, not the cheapest. You can choose not to go there, but I can't.

And I do watch network TV and noted two shows that almost made my list -- "The Good Place" and "This Is Us." Every fall and midseason I immerse myself in what the networks are offering. But as the years go by, the majority of those shows are just completely left in the dust by the creativity and drive of cable, premium and streaming choices.

So, how about you upgrade?

I agree with you as I've found most of their original content to be just OK. Even the shows I really liked (Stranger Things, Glow) were binge-able in a kind of popcorn/feel-good way vs. life-changing art. I mainly use it as a platform to stream older movies.

What do you mean by that? And about the lack of discipline? I guess I thought it was pretty good and well developed. Does it relate to the fact that you didn't like the ending? Or do you think it was too busy story-wise?

In "Hill House's" case, it really was all about that very crappy last episode, which marred the entire experience. It was quite good up to that point and if the ending had done the rest of the series justice, it would have easily made my top-10 list.

I loved this show but I notice someone said it was already cancelled. How can a story that ties up every loose end and has nothing left to move on with be "cancelled"? It just came to its natural end , right? Kind of like "Safe" on Netflix with Michael C. Hall? Is a movie "cancelled" if it doesn't get a sequel?

That's a very good point, and I tend to agree. However, I think they left some very good potential behind with "Seven Seconds" in the characters of the good cop and the alcoholic prosecutor.

I recall you mentioning Ryan Murphy was going to start shooting in the fall so any updates?

I've lost track -- they announced so many Ryan Murphy things. So I went and Googled it for ya. (And me.) The "Feud: Charles and Diana" season was called off, as was the "American Crime Story" season that was going to be about Linda Tripp tape-recording Monica Lewinsky. Maybe when we see FX at the winter press tour, they can give us a status report on the future of the "Feud" or "ACS" franchises. I think also "Katrina" might be kaput -- haven't heard about it in a long while.

You too?? I can't hear that without thinking of the end of The Americans either. Don't Dream, It's Over also keeps eliciting memories of the first episode of the last season. And there's We Do What We're Told, In the Air Tonight... Whoever chose and edited the music for that series is amazingly talented.

Agreed.

Sasha Baron Cohen over Ted Danson was surprising and disappointing. That said, I can respect the effort it takes for Baron Cohen to get into his many roles. I just don't think any of them are as funny or clever as what Ted Danson brings to The Good Place.

I'm disappointed to see Sacha Baron Cohen on the list, too, as I thought "Who Is America" was regressively cruel and not needed at this particular moment of fake news, imposter political attacks, etc.

What's with all of the nods for The Assassination of Gianni Versace? I thought it was fine, but nowhere near the level of OJ Simpson. I also have to admit that one of my first thoughts after seeing all of the nominations was that Andrew Cunanan would be proud. On the plus side, I'm looking forward to the Katrina season about Dr. Anna Pou. I'm also disappointed that the Clinton/Lewinsky season was scrapped.

Here are my top five: (5) Mrs. Maisel (4) GLOW (3) Timeless (2) The Good Place (1) The Americans. When I think about what they have in common, besides the fact that you recommended them, it's this: vivid and distinctive characters, who we care about rapidly if not immediately, facing high stakes (personal, global, or both). Then I realized I just said, in essence, "I like TV shows that are works of art." I'm going to keep my day job.

Haha.

I disagreed with your positive take on this series until Episode 3, which I really enjoyed. My only criticism of that episode is that I wish a little less time had been spent sawing and a little more time with Patricia Arquette or David Morse.

Keep watching. The next to last episode is amazingly well done.

I've read your reviews and chats and have recently finished "Homecoming," "The Americans," and "Forever." You've mentioned some shows on Showtime that I'd like to watch but haven't gotten around to getting that subscription (and to be honest, am trying to save a bit of money too). Any suggestions for what I should watch next? I'm thinking "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" since my parents love that too, but it feels a bit old timey (I only watched the first episode though). Do I just need to keep going and it'll get better?

I mean, I say yes, but I can't force you to like it. Neither can your parents, which I suspect their enjoyment of it may be a factor in your skepticism toward it. Just saying.

I've watched two or three episodes and have no idea what's going on, except for "one thing after another". I'm guessing it took you about five minutes into episode one when you checked out. Close?

About 20 minutes. What a piece of junk.

Rumor has it the next race, recorded last summer, won't be on again until May. Is this true and what is CBS communicating by the LONG wait? Last year it filled the space between Survivor seasons in winter and that seemed to work well. Does CBS even care about AR fans?

Yes, tis true, CBS doesn't have the Race on the schedule until May 22, which means they'd like for it to carry some of the summer load -- which, if memory serves, it used to do quite well. I would say the fact that they are still filming a new season every year (regardless of when they air it) shows that they still care about the viewers who like the show. It could (and probably should) have been canceled some time ago -- that way they could already be bringing it back with the usual revival ballyhoo.

I loved, loved, loved him in 'Review.' And then the show suddenly ended, because (presumably) he was moving on to bigger and better things. But I think the only thing I've seen him in since are those CarMax commercials. What happened?

Whether in "Review" or the CarMax ads or in occasional appearances as Richard's inept primary-care doctor in "Silicon Valley," Andy Daly can be quite funny and ... quite one-note. I'm not sure I ever thought "Review" (which I did like very much) would lead him to bigger and better things; after all, maybe "Review" was the bigger and better thing for an actor like that, a comedian who pretty much plays himself or a type of himself in everything he does. There's no shame in it -- lots of funny folks have persisted quite comfortably in those hey-it's-that-guy parts.

I wanted to like it, but I had a hard time getting through it. I thought it was boring, and not very well thought out. I think it was supposed to be about marriages, but it seemed like it was really about a marriage where neither partner has any friends, any work, any children, any hobbies or anything *at all* to do. How is that a TV show? It seemed like they had part of an idea for a TV show.

It's supposed to be about marriage and commitment, so you did get that part right.

And let's be honest, we didn't really get a good or long look at what the characters' lives were like before they (spoiler alert, although I feel the grace period has expired) passed on to their afterlife. We are also deliberately kept in the dark about the intent of their afterlife -- is it meant to be monotonous? Is that punishment or reward? What you cal boring, I would call deliberate. Have you never heard of relationships so insular that they lack "any friends, any work, any children [that particular criticism is sort of mean, my friend, as if a show about childless couples would be lacking], any hobbies or anything _at all_"? I certainly have.

I also wonder -- how far did you get? All the way through? Far enough to meet the skateboarder kid? Or the Catherine Keener character? It's not like the show was devoid of other characters. Did you at least get to the episode about the real-estate agents? (Which was the best episode in my opinion.)

I found it fully-realized (and conclusive) and tonally impressive. But, as I wrote in my Best of 2018 list, it's not for people who were expecting a quick, LOL-filled comedy.

Oops. I just spent too much time trying to convince a naysayer. Should have just left it at: It's not for everyone.

Aw, I'm bummed to hear that was called off. I'm sure The Crown will cover it, but I was looking forward to Feud since I knew it would explain the more tabloid-y/popular culture aspects of that relationship. I'm almost 30, so I was alive but not cognizant during a lot of it, and I was hoping that Murphy could explain references to that relationship I see a lot but are so ingrained for people who lived it that they don't fully explain it (much in the same way People v. OJ Simpson did. Like, Wikipedia can tell me that Marcia Clark got a haircut, but it didn't capture why it was A Thing like the show did - Murphy should get more credit for Explaining The 80s And 90s to Millennials)

Well, yes, that's one benefit.

Funny, when I try to explain the 80s and 90s to millennials, they tune out completely.

How is it some genius hasn't brought us a new "Gilligan's Island"? Think of the potential for exploring class structure and sexual politics.

You need to go read one of my favorite novels ever: "Gilligan's Wake" by Tom Carson.

I agree they did a fantastic job finding actors who look amazingly like their other ages. But yeah, they don't look much like their parents or siblings.

THANK YOU for your regular recommendation of The Good Place. I watched the first couple of episodes when it first came out and liked it but--blame peak TV--kind of forgot it was there and by the time I remembered, didn't want to start again with the second season. But I digress... I had a really, really awful week at work last week, and by the time I got home Friday was desperate for laughs and thought What Would Hank Do? Watch The Good Place, of course, and oh man, did that ever do the trick. It somehow manages to be light and funny but still very smart. I didn't need to turn my brain off to watch it. Great to see Ted Danson again; the last thing I watched him in was Damages, and I guess I'd forgotten what a talented comedic actor he is. And Janet is officially my new favorite TV character.

I'm glad things are looking up!

 

I just saw the first episode of season 2, and was impressed with how Midge conveyed vulnerability and love without being cloying. I binged the Romanoffs. I thought the last one was excellent. What do I do now besides finish season two of MMM?

I finished "The Romanoffs" this week (finally) and was just left shrugging. That last episode was particularly trite and painful. Always pretty to look at, though.

As for your next show, if we're strictly sticking to Amazon? "Homecoming?" "Forever?"

I didn't read last week's chat in time to give my take on the criticism over the Pearson kids not researching their uncle's death and not finding any record of it prior to Kevin going to Viet Nam. Makes sense to me. They trusted their father and would have no reason to question his account. Kevin was there to learn more about his father and finding out that his uncle did not die there was an incidental by-product.

I disagree. In this Google-it world we live in? Ancestry and 23andMe and all that? People are looking stuff up. Always. Or, if they have "Manny" royalties and are starring in a buzzy new war movie, they have their freakin' assistants look it up and prepare a dossier. Also, the documentary-making girlfriend would have looked. It. Up.

I liked it a lot, but couldn't help noticing that the dominating story arc was Alan Arkin's, not Michael Douglas's. It seemed they threw in the prostate cancer scare (which was then forgotten) and the tax problem to give Douglas something to do, rather than just react to Arkin's problems. I wonder if it was first conceived as the agent's story, and then Douglas came on and it had to shift to accommodate him.

You totally forgot the Nancy Travis love-interest character in your assessment. And his teaching. And the secret of the Kominsky method. 

Honestly, I wish TV shows would stop with the reboots of old TV shows and continue the fast and ever growing trend of basing TV shows off of books. I read so much and it's really fun to see the differences and/or changes they make in the shows vs. the books.

Agreed.

How many people write stuff to you in your chat that you can easily google? Sometimes people are just lazy. And honestly, Kevin gives off that lazy kind of vibe sometimes. It matches his personality. Can give you credit for his girlfriend looking it up argument though. That part doesn't really pan out.

Okay, I did what I could. Left a lot of questions unanswered, but I did read them all.

Let's do it all over again next Thursday, Dec. 13. Thanks, everyone.

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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