What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Feb 15, 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," "Better Things" "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Shameless" Lately he's been digging (or at least dutifully watching) "The Chi" "This Is Us," "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Below Deck."

Let's just get right to it, shall we?

My kids and I discovered A Series of Unfortunate Events recently on Netflix. I knew of the book series but had missed this 2017 TV adaptation. It is beautifully done and I was shocked to find out it hasn't even been nominated for awards. The acting, sets, costumes, and design are so far beyond children's show fare. Why is this show not receiving more recognition? We are counting down the days till Season 2 starts!

Which would be Friday, March 30, for those who don't know.

There is a massive amount of programming aimed at children, from tiny little babies to tweens and teenagers and a lot of it goes unreviewed by critics because, well, because there's so much aimed at the grownup market and we never get to all of THAT. Also, reviewing children's programming is tricky -- even that which is "so far beyond children's show fare -- because you're not sure whom you're writing the review for. (Parents? Kids? The network?)

So it tends to go overlooked and find its loyal audience anyhow, which it has. I encourage you to keep enjoying it and would only caution you to be aware of leading yourself into a game of Fan Excuse Bingo, where you start building a grudge list of excuses of why "nobody" is paying attention to your favorite show. That usually kicks in after something gets canceled.

 

Hi Hank...Not so much a question but an observation - I finally got around to watching The Leftovers, and MAN that is one depressing show from start to finish. It was certainly well done and acted, but I don't think I would have watched it had I known just how bleak and hopeless it really was. And this is coming from someone who enjoys dark comedy/drama.

Yes, it was a morose experience for all. Some loved it more than others. I found the last half of the final season to be the most intriguing. I still think the novel is way better.

Any idea if 9-1-1 is going to get any less melodramatic as the show goes on? I'm enjoying the show for it's escapist tendencies (and I like Peter Krause and Connie Britton's hair), but it's even a bit ridiculous for me.

No, I think that's the tone and pace for the duration -- and it's been renewed for season 2.

Your view of The Cartoon President? I thought it was boring, with not much new humor, even though I am no fan of the current president. Will they drop it if it does not improve? And when does The Circus return there? I enjoyed that show.

It was actually a little better than I expected, based on the premiere episode that was on YouTube. You can read what I wrote about it in the second half of this piece that posted on Jan. 31.

Any thoughts on NBC's decision to mispronounce the name of the Olympic host city as a matter of policy? Apparently the people running the show at NBC have decreed that their on-air staff must pronounce it with a long a instead of the correct short a because they think it sounds better for some reason.

Americans. Nothing can be done about them.

I read somewhere that it has not in fact been canceled? One last season is coming! Also - these last two episodes of Versace have been only so-so. The show is definitely better when set in Miami and when it includes Donatella and Co.

"New Girl" was always slated for a final wrap-up season, which is coming April 10.

As for "Versace," I love it even less than the when I watched episodes 1-8 for this review last month. The more I think about it, the more it seems neither here nor there. And as for Donatella and Gianni, I think the show really struggles with their story. It's just a lot of arguing and accents.

...Posts from a Publicist. I am not so sure the first questioner was playing Fan Excuse Bingo as much as they were playing "creative ways to get a PR plug on Hank's chat!"

Well, in any event, they didn't exactly get what they wanted, did they?

I don't know that I've ever approached a season with such commingled anticipation and dread. I'm thrilled that it's almost back, but dreading not having it return. That said, kudos to the writers for knowing that you shouldn't drag out a show for 10 mediocre seasons when you can do six really good ones.

Yes, but last season was a letdown and felt like it was biding time. But, having seen the first VERY GOOD episode of the new season, I am also giddy with anticipation.

I guess this might not be your department, but I was struck yesterday afternoon that all of the DC local channels had live constant coverage of the situation in Florida. I was wondering why this particular shooting received this coverage while other such events in recent months haven't. Is it just because there were helicopter visuals that were compelling? (Or does this happen more often than I think since I happened to be home yesterday but am not always?)

I'm hesitant to overthink it (because what's the point anymore if our elected leaders don't care), but perhaps one angle you aren't considering: It's children.

Awaiting your response to one of the patented questions that says something like, "Hey, can you tell me what date Show X will be coming back? I have no knowledge of Google or IMDB or network web sites, and the only source of information on television that I am aware of is this chat."

Nobody's asked that today. Maybe I finally chased everyone off?

I've stuck with this show, despite the annoying structure (reverse chronology). As a 75 yo female, of course I had an intellectual understanding of prejudice but after the latest episode, I could really *feel* the absolute cruelty our society has inflicted on gay people. Ryan Murphy is amazing, no?!

In this case? No. That might be the message he's trying to send, but I think it's so muddled at this point that the show is kind of all over the place. Andrew Cunanan's deranged, self-absorbed killing spree just does not translate very firmly into a passion play about gay rights. That's not to say it doesn't give us something to think about.

Why are some networks coy as to when a show returns? HBO yanks our chain as to when Game of Thrones returns, for example. Amazon doesn't clearly spell out when The Man in High Castle returns. Plenty of other examples out there.

Here are some reasons:

The production is not yet underway or is only barely underway. Once you announce a date, it is very hard to undo it, from a marketing perspective. The internet searches, for example, will come back with two premiere dates, one of them wrong.

Competition. Especially with cable, I find that the networks are very hesitant to lock in and publicize a premiere date until they see what else is going to be on the schedule. Many times a publicist will let a few members of the press know, off the record, what a premiere date is so that we can plan ahead for things like Fall TV Previews, but they are careful to put the date under strict embargo.

Timing. If you announce that your show is coming back on a specific date that is still many months away -- like, more than four or five months away -- you spend some of your hype capital and it's very difficult to resuscitate hype and anticipation. If you play it right, you can announce a return date with a viral video clip of the new season and do it, say, during Super Bowl, like HBO did with "Westworld."

Trust me, they're not doing it just to annoy us. That's simply a fringe benefit!

they get so much criticism, wanted to say this west coast resident is very pleased they finally entered the 21st century (at least nominally) and stopped having the evening Olympic coverage be time-delayed for "prime-time" viewing. I come home at 6 and the events are in full swing.

This year I am really struck by how much TV has left the traditional "big" fall premiere format. Almost EVERY show I am looking forward to is premiering in the spring: The Looming Tower, Atlanta, The Americans, Handmaid's Tale, Legion, Westworld, Silicon Valley. It is almost too much to keep track of, so my hat's off to you. After a disappointing fall, I think spring is looking up! So, for a question, do you plan to do a full review of the Looming Tower? The blurb from your Spring Preview earlier this year made it sound promising.

Yes, a big review of "Looming Tower" is coming.

Weird as it is, I'm actually enjoying it. I don't suppose it's attracted much of an audience.

It's doing very well for cable numbers -- last week it was the #1 scripted cable series (Live + 3-day Nielsens), with more than 3 million viewers.

Just started watching--should I keep going?

According to fans of the show you should definitely keep going. While you do, add an "L" to "Blinders."

Viewership might have been hurt by the fact that the guy in the Netflix thumbnail looks like Jim Carrey. At least for me, that's a disqualifying factor. I might watch it now that I know it's NPH!

Marketing is such an inexact science, isn't it?

I watched the plane crash episode last night (as I was Olympic-ed out and did not want to watch the news). I liked it. But there's only so many disasters they can chalk up before they wind up with a meteor hitting LA or the dinosaurs in the La Brea tar pits reanimating. And Connie Britton is so so good.

Plus her hair!

I know a few weeks ago, you mentioned that the new season of the X-Files was for fans only. I was a huge fan of the original run of the series, but I watched the first revival in its entirety and regretted it, with the exception of one episode. So this year, I think I've decided on my new rule of thumb: watch the episodes written by Darin Morgan. He was the writer of 4 standouts from the original run, and the best episodes by far from last season (episode 3) and the current season (episode 4). I would recommend those to anyone who enjoyed the series at any point. Both are funny and bittersweet, deconstructing the X-Files and warmly pointing out the foibles of humanity. More importantly, they don't require a nuanced knowledge of the current mythology of the show, because who can keep that up anymore? Anyway, I thought I'd share in case anyone else finds that helpful.

Thanks.

Hey, Hank. I usually am in pretty good sync with a lot of your choices, but my wife and I gave up on Young Pope after 3 episodes. I was trying to apply your mantra of "is this show good at what it is trying to do," but just could never figure out what it was trying to do other than be House of Cardinals. Anyway, it all worked out, because we finally took the high dive and started in on Game of Thrones from scratch. 6 episodes down, 61 to go!

Oh, I'm sorry it didn't work for you. ("House of Cardinals" is a wee bit reductive.) But, if it's that or "Game of Thrones," I would definitely say that "GoT" is far more essential viewing.

In last week's chat, there was discussion about how Shameless, a show I am a fan of, sort of went off the rails this season with some of the plots. I agree. It's interesting that in interviews about the show, producer John Wells said he vetoed the suggestion to set the show in the South because he wanted to avoid the stereotype that anybody living in poverty lives there. Yet, one of the worst plot lines this season featured a visit to a very stereotypical South. Another sign that maybe the show is just running out of ideas?

Pretty much all shows mess up when they try to do the South.

Hi Hank -- by way of full disclosure, I was flipping back and forth between Versace and figure skating, so my take on the latest episode is probably a bit skewed. Again, though, I don't feel like I'm learning much at all about A Cunanan, and plenty about the people he murdered. That's an interesting way to tell a story, but I feel like it's only going to take you so far because you start to wonder why anyone bothered to make a miniseries about him. Here's hoping that the remaining episodes take us somewhere to explain Cunanan...or maybe the point is he can't be explained? Right now he's just really irritating.

What I could never understand is why people were so accepting of Cunanan's constant lying, tall tales, exaggerations, broken promises, creepy behavior. Who wants a friend like that? Even as they show us that two of his victims were trying to extricate themselves from him, he still had their phone numbers and addresses. In the '90s, when it was sooo much easier to break things off with people you never wanted to hear from again.

I'm from Chicago and my understanding was that there was zero evidence connecting any Miglin to Andrew Cunanan, and that the police decided Miglin was out working in his garage and it was a crime of opportunity. Clearly the series went another direction, but is there some evidence out there that wasn't given publicly?

Whatever fact and rumors exist in that regard are dealt with quite thoroughly in Maureen Orth's book "Vulgar Favors," from which the FX draws on quite heavily. FX sent a copy of the book recently and I've been thumbing through it to see what kind of facts/sources Orth had.

I have watched all the episodes so far and am thoroughly enjoying it. The sets, costumes, props, vehicles, etc., are amazingly well done. The storyline, solving a crime with little forensic evidence and a lot of profiling, is excellent, especially to someone who has watched so much Law & Order and C.S.I. One side note--it was interesting to see Sean Young again, and, if I hadn't looked the cast up on IMDb, I would NOT have recognized her. And Luke Evans is very attractive!

Have you read the book(s)?

Ads for the new FX show Trust about the Getty family look interesting. Have you seen it and if so, what did you think?

I watched the pilot episode during the press tour and wasn't really in the mood, so I'll try again with it closer to its March 25 premiere. It's also unfortunate timing that this was all dealt with in the recent movie "All the Money in the World."

How do you think news organizations should report on Olympic wins? I really wish the headlines wouldn't shout who's won what since it takes a lot of the fun out of watching it after I get home from work. But on the other hand, it's news, and they don't have a responsibility to cater to my need for suspenseful entertainment timed around my (and tens of millions of other Americans') office hours. Still I wish I didn't know that Chloe Kim won before I saw it.

Too bad, it's news.

I have been watching this show because I had really enjoyed reading the book back in the 90's. After the first episode though I went back and have reread the book. A couple of objections; the relationship between Roosevelt and the other main characters is not as strained as it is in the TV show and 2nd there is a lot of gratuitous sex in the TV show that is not in the book. I guess that is added to sell it to TV. Otherwise love the period costumes and the acting. Am wondering though if it is going to follow the same search for the serial killer as the book. Just an observation. (Love your Chat and your reviews!)

Thanks for chiming in!

Could you please elaborate?----this Northerner is curious.

"True Blood" for starters. All tropes and twangs.

Chatters can hailp with this, I'm sure.

I'm really enjoying Star Trek Discovery, I just watched the season finale. It's amazing how they resolved the major season 1 story lines, and set the stage for the next season, and they even seemed to be sending a message to Trekkies about what Star Trek is really about. Sort of "reclaiming" the franchise from the movies, which strayed from the "ideals" of the Federation, into generic space adventures. And it even resonates with what our country is facing today in terms of reaffirming and defending our founding principals, or replacing them with xenophobia and militarism. But of course the big question is "who will be the new Captain!!!?" Can you give us any insights?

I have no insights on a second season (other than there is going to be one), but, like you, I really enjoyed its overall arc and its twists -- and yes, plenty of contemporary references to our present political state. I wrote about the show in Sunday's paper in a big piece that nobody read.

I know this is a TV chat, but I have a book question. Do you ever keep reading a book, knowing its awful but wanting to see if it either has some redeeming value or if it gets even worse? I just finished a book like this, and can't believe I read the whole thing. Do I need help?

I definitely do not do that. I give a book 60 pages and then I re-evaluate. And if I'm not feeling it, I decide what to do next: skim it? Read another 60 pp? Toss it? Life is too short to force-feed yourself a book, unless it's essential to your education and elevation as a human being.

I think the TV equivalent of 60 pages is about three episodes. If you're not feeling it by then, for heaven's sake, move on to something better.

Reading your comments on timing and spending hype capital I can't help but glare in Hulu's direction. They are playing the heck out of the snippets of Castle Rock that they have, and I am dumbly excited and simultaneously annoyed that I have to wait for summer. (Excited because it actually looks good? Ish? Maybe? and dumbly so because I know it will disappoint me, I'm just not sure how.)

In Hulu's case, I think they're just trying to convince everyone that they have more than "The Handmaid's Tale" and more on the way, so, yeah, they've jumped the gun a little.

My red flag on "Castle Rock" is "from Stephen King AND J.J. Abrams," both of whom are highly regarded and also capable of real stinkers.

I thought Bloodline did a really nice job. I guess maybe the Florida Keys is kind of not really the South South, though.

It's its own kind of South and I will agree with you that "Bloodline" totally achieved a sense of place-as-character that struck me as authentic (although I've never been to the Keys). It was the plot that had all the problems.

Just how did the dropping of anything related to Louis CK affect this show? Is it done? Will they get a new producer? The lead roles are done by men who are very talented, but does that save it?

Doesn't seem to have affected "Baskets" at all -- are you noticing any change? Louis C.K. was nominally a producer to a lot of shows (as was Harvey Weinstein) that can function quite well without him. No word on a renewal yet, though -- maybe in a few weeks.

As a tv fanatic raised in the south, I agree with your assessment. One show that I think has done a pretty good job recently is Good Behavior (set in North Carolina).

Agreed!

Well, both are prolific, meaning that they produce a lot of good stuff as well, but some stinkers also in the mix. The alternative is someone like Stanley Kubrick, who wasn't nearly so prolific over the course of a career. Which do you think is preferable?

I've always been a less-is-more kind of guy.

I am really loving this series. Cunanan is the least important/least interesting character, but why shouldn't it be that way? The stories of his victims are compelling and heartbreaking. Seeing Jeff Trail dealing with so much emotional pain, and realizing that this was not unusual 20 years ago, was really hard to watch and makes one grateful for recent strides. I appreciate the reminder.

I think that's one of the points the producers had in mind, so that's good.

You hit the nail on the whiny children's head with the comparison of the Here and Now kids being Pfefferman plus plus. And I can say that having just watched Episode 7 of Transparent's 4th season (visit to the settlement in Israel). I'll give H&N another watch or two to see where this is heading. If nothing, it's like watching a Benetton ad for the 21st century.

Why thank you!

I was sent four episodes of "Here and Now" and one thing I forgot to say in my review was that I definitely watched them all in quick order. So perhaps I should have give then show credit as a potential "hate watch."

"Transparent," on the other hand, has always been a love-watch for me (never enough episodes, and too short!), but I did have to work really hard to love all the Pfefferman kids and their many flaws as people.

King of the Hill. All the thousands of think pieces about "Trump's America" could've been skipped by watching that show.

It was that good, I agree.

It's sad to imagine Peggy voting a straight GOP ticket, however. Although the data doesn't lie -- she was demographically likely to be one of those women who voted for Trump! Would have been a good episode. And a reminder of why the coming "Roseanne" revival feels very relevant.

You almost never, if ever, see a person from the south in a television show who happens to have an accent, from Mississippi to Texas, that has anything beyond a fifth grade education. Believe it or not, there are some wonderful educational institutions (again, never shown) and very smart people who have lived their entire life in the south, and frankly have no interest in leaving.

Hart of Dixie had some fun with the tropes, like football and beer and rednecks. But it never looked down on the townspeople, and emphasized good points about Southern small town life. Like the ways people looked out for each other, and how they handled each other gently because they were always going to be in one another's orbits. I mean, it's not the most intellectually stimulating show, but there's a lot it got right.

Our hour is up, sadly. I have lots of screeners to watch so I'll leave it here. Thanks as always for the questions/comments.

Let's do it again next Thursday, Feb. 22, 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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