What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Feb 22, 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 "Seven Seconds," "The Good Fight," "This Is Us," "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Below Deck."

Hi, everyone.

After a brief lull in TV, it's been a very busy week of watching screeners and writing reviews for next week and into March. Believe me, the second those pesky Winter Olympics are over, the floodgates shall open.

Let's get down to it!

 

I don't take on a new series lightly, since it's a big commitment. I managed to force myself to watch episode 1 of "The Expanse" after reading about it on this chat. I had to immediately watch episode 2, because I could not wait to see what happens. Now I'm hooked. The mystery at the heart of the story is interesting, but I also love the (more) realistic depiction of life in space. No unlimited energy source, no holodeck, no utopian society. They have to mine ice to get air and water. It's "gritty, dirty" outer space, compared to the sanitized tech of Star Trek (which I also love). Is this show likely to go beyond a 3rd season? If it does, are they just going to stretch the main plot line as far as they have to to continue it? Or will they start a new story line?

I have no special insight into where "The Expanse" is headed or when it returns (other than what the Internet can tell you), but I'm glad you've found something you like. In a review I've just filed of Netflix's "Seven Seconds," which has absolutely nothing to do with "The Expanse," I write about the happy sensation of finding a show where you cannot wait for another episode (as opposed to the general sloth of bingeing, or duty-bound watching). "Seven Seconds" was like that for me -- I had to rearrange my viewing schedule for screeners so I could keep watching all 10-plus hours. For any viewer, that's still the surest measure that you're watching the right thing for you.

In all these chats, with people (especially those who like Brit shows) asking for binge watch suggestions, I have never seen "Derek" mentioned. I love this show. Ricky Gervais plays a simple, sweet man working in senior home. It is wryly funny, a little crude and has a lot to say about how we treat the vulnerable in society.

We did talk about "Derek" quite a bit back when it was new -- and I gave it a positive review (or two). As the Netflix library grows and grows, there will probably be a lot of slightly forgotten gems in there for viewers to "discover."

Boy, does it hold up to binge-watching. I was always a fan, but it's humor really stands up over a decade later. That's all.

I keep hearing about tweeagers (in the 10-12 age bracket) who have discovered "The Office" and are bingeing HARD on it. Jenna Fischer was one of the late-night shows recently (Conan, mebbe?) talking about how teenage boys come up to her in Target and tell her she looks like an older version of Pam. They don't believe when she says it IS her.

NBC REALLY wants us to watch Rise, judging by the number of promos I have seen so far during Olympics coverage. I saw a brief reference you made to it in a chat a couple of months ago (per the Googler); wondering if you have been able to preview any episodes.

Yes, I watched the first episode and little bit more back during the press tour in January. I have a stack of episodes now and will watch them in due time for a review (I have quite a few planes on my tarmac at the moment).

If I can recommend something in the meantime, I would say that if you're at all interested in the show, you should get a copy of the book that it's based on, "Drama High," by Michael Sokolove. It's the real story that inspired the show.

As usual (and understandably), NBC has been promoting the daylights out of new programs they'll be airing starting next week, after the Olympics have ended. Are any of them worth watching,?

"Good Girls" -- yes-ish.

"Rise" -- yes.

What else? "A.P. Bio"? You can skip that one.

I haven't watched "Champions" yet.

Hank, I did read your article and agreed with it. But I have nothing to add. Battlestar Galactica was an outlier. There is a ton of good source material (books,) but for some reason TV just cannot translate them into compelling shows - especially the SciFy channel which seems to deliberately make bad movies.

Syfy does seem to have limited ambitions, which might have something to do with limited budget. Thanks for the feedback. Anyone else want to read the piece? Here you go.

Hi Hank! Will you be tuning into unReal? I'm excited to see it back, mostly because of the fabulously twisted Quinn/Rachel dynamic, and hope it gets back to more of its season 1 sharpness (though I did not think season 2 was as terrible as some people believed). I'm curious to see if/how it continues to address possible repercussions for the domestic abuse w/ Jeremy, particularly since he tried to make amends--in a very bad, poorly thought out way--at the end of the season.

You know, I still haven't heard a peep from "UnReal" (other than the news that Caitlin FitzGerald has joined the cast) or seen a screener yet. I'll have to look for one once the chat is over. I do admit that "UnReal" lost me a while back, but I almost go back and check in with shows that hold (or held?) such a grip on the pop-culture psyche like "UnReal" did when it first premiered. Let few episodes air and then we'll know if it's showing us anything new worth talking about -- besides people being awful to one another, which does get old.

I have just started watching This Is Us on Hulu (yes, I know I am very late to the game). I had managed to avoid much reading about plot developments, etc. before starting. However, I had read enough to notice something interesting in the opening scene of the second episode of the first season. The scene features random shots of Jack and Rebecca’s kitchen, including a brief glimpse of a ...... crock pot. I am now hoping that future episodes feature increasingly dramatic shots of that kitchen appliance. Maybe I was just spoiled by the fine use of foreshadowing in Breaking Bad, a show I actually watched while it was running. (I have been enjoying This Is Us and see why it has received the acclaim it has).

That damn Crock Pot. It was there all along!

Have you seen the Doritos commercial entitled "Elephant in the Room"? (iSpot.TV ad ID#1591352) In it a white man is in the office break room with a bag of Doritos on the table. There is a big elephant standing next to him. A white woman sitting at the table tries to get a Dorito, and the elephant's trunk smacks her. Then an Asian and an African-American man come in, attempt to have a Dorito, and they get smacked, too. The woman gets hit a second time. Finally, a Hispanic man comes in, and is treated the same way. One of the men asks, "Are we gonna talk abut this?" The man smiles, and says, "No." He high-fives the elephant's trunk. Wow. This is quite a commercial for the continuation of white male privilege, don't you think? The white male, with the help of an elephant, keeps people of different genders or colors from accessing something that is in theory available to all. He approves of the elephant's actions. He smugly smiles, and is not going to enter into a conversation about it. The only thing that this ad is missing is Pepe the Frog. I sent an email about this to Pepsi/Frito-Lay (the parent company) and got a form response. "Customer opinions are very important to us and we appreciate knowing how you feel. Please know that your feedback will be shared with the appropriate teams here at Frito-Lay." How can I find out which ad company approved and produced this male white privilege ad? I want them to know how offensive it is. It never should have made it past the drawing board stage. If it is supposed to be humorous, it fails utterly. Or am I, a 66 year old white woman, seeing things?

This question feels like an escapee from Weingarten's chat, but I'll answer it. First of all, for everyone else, here's a link to the commercial in question. With the caveat that it is at least two years old, since this YouTube clip is timestamped November 2015.

You're not going to like my blunt answer, I'm afraid: You are overreacting. The commercial is actually a smart commentary on white male patriarchy. That is the elephant in the room. (Also a GOP metaphor, if you please.) He is oppressing them. It's not funny. They're not going to take it for much longer. In a way it was ahead of the curve.

If I were you, I'd drop it. Needless outrage isn't a very good look on anyone, and the commercial has been out far too long to get involved now.

Have you heard anything on when Elementary is coming back? It's been almost 10 months since the last new episode.

Yes, "Elementary" is on the schedule for Monday, April 30, with an episode order that will stretch well into the summer.

Wondering if you've any thoughts on The Terror? I'm curious to watch this because of Tobias Menzies.

My colleagues at the press tour all seemed quite stirred by it, but apparently they all read the novel. (I went in cold -- no pun intended -- because I had never even heard of it.)\

Premieres Monday, March 26, on AMC. (For those who don't know: 19th century, ships, sailors, polar ice caps, hopelessly stranded, paranoia, scary monsters, 10 episodes.)

I commented last week on how the children in H&N are a lot like the Pfefferman siblings (Transparent). But seeing what happened to Ashley in episode 2 was riveting. The emotion on her face while being stripped searched by the female police officer and then having to remove her wig was great acting. It added some much needed realness to her upper middle class, privileged character.

This show sucks. Don't get taken by its heavy-handed stabs at topicality.

I thought this was an amazing science fiction show for its time. There were a number of well-done alien races and fascinating human characters. They had a realistic way to deal with telepaths. A couple of Star Trek veterans showed up: Majel Barrett as a Centauri prophetess and Walter Koenig as a telepath with an agenda. Steven Furst, best known as Animal House's Flounder, was a Centauri based on I, Claudius to a great extent, and he also became involved in a Schindler's List plot line. J. Michael Straczynski had planned a 5-year series and, despite a possible ending in season 4, it went to 5 seasons and stopped. I'm sorry it's largely forgotten nowadays.

It was on 5 million years ago.

Interested in hearing more about why this appears on your favorites list.

I like reality shows where people have actual jobs to do.

I was going to ask when it starts, but then I actually googled it. Looking like later in 2018. I find myself hoping it will be good, and not another letdown like season two.

Gold-star for Googling it yourself!

I’m enjoying The Alienist even if it is the viewing equivalent of being buried alive— dark, oppressive, claustrophobic. Even its rare light-hearted moments are weighted with angst. But I’m confused by Teddy Roosevelt. Wasn’t he a fearless larger-than-life personality? I really feel they could more with him to make the show a little less tightly wound. Right now, he comes across like the mail boy who suddenly finds himself a middle manager and is afraid of a bad performance review.

From what I've seen, I agree, they weren't doing enough with young T.R. Maybe they have something in store.

Here and Now "That Show Sucks" - Hank Stuever

I'm sure there's something here that would be more eloquent...

Looked great, high production values, etc... which all got ruined when someone opened their mouth. Some of the worst writing in TV history.

Throwdown!

I like Jimmy Kimmel, but it seems as though with his opening monologue he is slowly morphing into Stephen Colbert. The first 25 minutes more social commentary/political commentary than real humor. Will this become the new normal for all late night hosts? I am aware the daily news provides the grist for this, but wonder if viewership will suffer.

Nothing new about them getting topical (at least not since about mid-2016), and I think "25 minutes" is a bit of an exaggeration in Kimmel's case (unless it's a really special topic), but, yes, at some point they'll have to pivot if their audiences drop off AND the reason appears to be news fatigue.

My 11 year old has seen every episode twice and can't understand why I don't remember all of the scenes...and the inevitable, "Daddy, who is the Dwight in your office?"

If I may generalize, it does seem like the millennials, who are now firmly ensconced in the American workplace, took "The Office" as a serious work of documentary (and why wouldn't they?) ... now the younger generation, too, is enjoying it but also absorbing its lessons about the workplace, not all of which are happy. But perhaps it's good training -- especially in terms of managing-up and coping with corporate capriciousness.

Do you ever have that feeling going into a new season review of a show you liked, or do you try to set that aside and do the "blank slate" type of approach?

Always hopeful, always as open-minded as I can be. I've sometimes stopped myself from watching a screener if I'm feeling too cranky or overworked, in order to not judge too harshly.

As much as I'm enjoying the series "Victoria" on PBS, I've become dismayed at some major factual errors I've discovered regarding recent episodes. E.g., some of the time-line for episodes is off by a few years, Mr. Drummond was much older than depicted in the who when he was assassinated, and Mr. Paget (the married father of 14 children) probably wasn't gay. In sum, I'm disappointed that the series couldn't have stuck to history, because it's compelling enough without any need for distortion.

File under "Oh Well"

The characters are real. They look and behave like normal people. Comedy Channel is showing re-runs. Pam’s declaration at the beach made me cry years ago and last week when I watched episode again.

While watching live coverage of the Olympics from South Korea, I got to wondering how long it takes for the signal from the event site to be transmitted to the TV set in my home. Seconds, or minutes?

I'll go with "seconds."

Do I win?

Re-watching from the beginnning. it is pretty darn awesome

Oh, I would dearly love to have time to do that.

Unfortunately, if you can't identify him, it's probably you.

Hank...do you have an opinion on episode recaps? I discovered them a few years ago and find that in some cases I really enjoy them. In some cases they make me think about the show in a different way; in others, they add some historical context (think Victoria or The Crown). And in some cases they’re just snarky good fun. But I’m a civilian; I’m curious about what a critic thinks.

The golden age of recaps ended a couple years ago, I think. For a while, many online sites were paying many people to file weekly recaps of many shows. Some of them with great personality and wit -- often more entertaining than the shows themselves. It was a great way for a lot of freelance writers to pick up an extra gig and use their noggins and write very freely (and quickly).

The thrill has subsided somewhat and a lot of those gigs have dried up.

As a critic, I've never had to write one for a full season, but I do find them useful when I need a refresher on a series and simply don't have time to watch an entire season's worth of episodes. I'm quietly grateful to the outlets and writers who still publish them.

"The characters are real." Then again, that was the precise reason I couldn't stand "The Office," and couldn't make it past the second episode of the first season.

There's always one.

Great book. Hope they can do it justice. Terrifying and true story. That is all.

Just because my stapler was in jello?

Years ago, my nephew jokingly said I was "Dwight", but since I hadn't seen "The Office" at that point, didn't really get it. Recently having binge-watched "The Office" for the first time, albeit long-retired, I'm enjoying channeling Dwight!

I can't help but feel a little bad for Dakota one of her sister Elle's cosmetics commercials appears during The Alienist. Elle is really made to look glamorous in these commercials, while poor Dakota has the severe clothing and hairstyle and no-makeup look on the show. At least on a couple of occasions she has been able to have a nice hairstyle and pretty dress, although no makeup.

Oh, honey, they're both feeling bad for YOU when payday rolls around.

I'm very excited for this show. Can you tell us anything?

Can I tell you closer to Feb. 28? In about 1,000 words?

Seconds, depending on what traffic the satellite has to handle. The distance isn't the issue - electrical signals travel at the speed of light - any delay is usually at the satellite link.

2 episodes into season 7 (!), and I'm just not feeling it. Have you watched any further, and if so what do you think?

I'm still watching, yes -- in real time on Sunday nights. I'm going to let it string us along a little further before I opine. This whole thing with the paranoid Democratic woman president and the taunting Alex Jones-type -- on the one hand, I feel like they're daring me NOT to write about it; on the other, I feel like DON'T TAKE THE BAIT.

I almost quit watching when Carrie decided to do sexy-time in online chat with the hacker. I just don't know what to do with this show anymore.

Your article is smart and incisive. And I agree there are lots of authors who could profitably be adapted for the small screen. (In addition to LeGuin, I'd like to see someone adapt Octavia Butler.) But I am not sure that you asked the right framing question. Star Trek TOS was set in space, sure, but it was also an adventure show, a show about discovering new situations and getting out of problems. That type of show isn't very fashionable these days, even when the setting is earthbound.

That's where "Discovery" excelled, I thought. Aside for one or two detours, it was mostly a season-long story arc, which made it feel like a current TV show.

I like your idea that The Office is giving tweens a sense of what corporate life is really like. A dash of (sad) reality for those who've had "do what you love" pushed at them every second. I'm very happy for friends who can do what they love, but it doesn't work for everyone. Sometimes you do what you love when you're not at work, and that can be just as good.

Absolutely.

Television Without Pity was the great recap site - it died after being bought out by some conglomerate some years ago. No one did snark like them. Ah, the good old days!

Also the Gawker recaps of "Real Housewives." Good lord, those were funny.

Now I have to find what Pam’s declaration at the beach was...

I just got hooked on it this season. I feel like it got a lot of buzz (which I ignored) the 1st season but now not so much. Just when I think Rebecca is really crazy she reined herself back to being somewhat relatable. Not that crazy isn't relatable.

You gonna go to the live concert?

The ones at the A. V. Club can be pretty good but TWoP was the best.

Vulture still does a good job on them too.

Our hour's up and I actually got to the bottom of the queue.

It hasn't posted yet, but I have a very favorable review posting today of Netflix's "Seven Seconds." Regina King is once again fantastic, as is the rest of the cast. It's almost as good (and maybe better?) as getting a new season of "American Crime." Watch it this weekend and tell me what you thought of it -- we'll chat next Thursday, March 1. (March 1? Already? That means I'll have to move my car. Waaah.)

Well, it was her only currency and it usually works swell with hackers like she encountered - I kept reminding myself as she walked into what looked like a dangerous situation, don't worry, Carrie is CIA-trained! I confess I really love this show, even when something irritates me or the episode is slow or silly.

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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