What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Mar 02, 2017

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 "Big Little Lies," "Riverdale," "The Good Fight," "Billions" and "Feud: Bette and Joan."

Welcome back!

I have a "Feud: Bette and Joan" review posting later today, and we just posted a Sunday feature I've written (for this Sunday's paper) about a set visit to "The Americans."

Also, Oscar night, with its last-minute snafu for the ages. What fun! Unless you were on a very, very tight print deadline.

And: Who's watching "Patriot?" It's grown on me a little more since this review. I have one episode left to watch.

With that, let's chat!

I'm trying to rein in my jealousy over your apparent visit to the sets of "The Americans," and not doing it very well. Nicely written piece that makes me really, really feel ready for Tuesday night.

I've seen the first three episodes and they are marv.

I saw something online about Allison Janney saying it's time to bring back West Wing. What do you think about a West Wing/Americans crossover show -- perhaps some years after those particular shows took place -- maybe around 2017?

That would be a hard pass from me. Baby, I'm your agent, so listen to me when I tell you that you're just trying a little too hard.

Have you seen any of it? Is it worth watching? Thanks.

I have seen five episodes (out of the total eight) of "Feud: Bette and Joan" and have written a huge slobbery rave review of it that's now making its way through the editors and should be up online today (and in Friday's paper). Don't miss it. It's soooo much fun to watch.

And fer cryin' out loud it's BETTE, not Betty.

And btw, Ryan Murphy and FX have already announced the next chapter of "Feud." It's Charles and Diana. Can't wait for that.

Hi, Hank-- I appreciate that you and your colleagues can't review everything, but I was still struck by the fact that the ABC miniseries "When We Rise" got only a cursory mention in the Post. (The NY Times reviewed it, among others.) While I won't claim it's great TV, it is well crafted, has a strong cast and an important message. If you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, I encourage you to do so.

I did watch and it put me to sleep, over and over. Boring, clumsy, self-important -- all the things you don't want to be when telling the great gay American story. I know we're SUPPOSED to watch it, but there is such a thing as gaysplaining, and I can't imagine why ABC thought four nights of that was a good idea. My time this week, both as a gay American and as a TV critic, was better spent reviewing the Oscars and the extra-incredibly fabulous "Feud: Bette and Joan." Sorry -- choices have to be made.

Will Togetherness and The Girlfriend Experience be returning, and if so, when? Any word on Quarry and Good Behavior?

"Togetherness" ended after two seasons, so no.

"The Girlfriend Experience" is a yes, but a ways off yet. Starz has said there's a season 2 coming, but with an all different cast/storyline.

"Quarry" -- never a peep out of HBO/Cinemax about it, so I think it's safe to say we should not expect any more.

"Good Behavior" has been renewed.

 

Episode 2 even better than the first. More than ever, I am appreciating the struggles, heartache and pain these folks went through. And having Sylvester in the plot line was a bonus! However, has anyone else noticed how difficult it is at times to hear the dialog over the music?

I liked the nod to Sylvester, but if you really want to enjoy a story about Sylvester's life, I very highly recommend "The Fabulous Sylvester" by Joshua Gamson, by far one of the best-written biographies I've ever read, which should have been made into a very good movie. (Someone still could.)

So, I've got a whole season's worth of episodes of Baskets and Timeless on my DVR. I had planned to watch one of them soon. Which do I choose?

Those shows are wildly different and suited to wildly different moods -- who told you that you could only watch one?

"Baskets" will go by faster, I guess. (Half-hour show.)

Hi Hank -- Things that I'm tired of when it comes to the Oscars: bringing in everyday snacks for the elite (Junior Mints, pizza, etc); selfies, either with the stars getting together like regular folks for a snapshot, or stars with the commoners (can you tell I thought the tour bus routine was a bit contrived?); banter between presenters which maybe works 1 in 10 times; I'm sure I can think of others. I think there should be more envelope mixups in future shows, because at least it was spontaneous and created some excitement. And give Viola Davis a lot more Oscars, too. Okay, I'm done.

Thanks.

I accidentally discovered a show called "Trapped" on the Viceland channel. It's a murder mystery, filmed in Iceland, with most of the dialogue in Icelandic, subtitled in English. It's extremely well done, and the atmosphere and characters remind me "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo".

Is it good? I might check it out. Viceland sort of dropped it on critics right in the middle of a very busy time, with just a few days warning to watch all the episodes (10, I think?). Although, I have to say, even when the schedule is a little bit more sane, I rarely have time to review imports even though I know how much people love their subtitled murder mysteries in Nordic/Icelandic climes.

So thank you for reviewing it for us here. I'm sure you've helped some others who had no idea it was on and might otherwise not have Viceland on their channel-surf.

Any word on Timeless getting another season? I have a bad feeling that the show is just too intellectual for a lot of people, as it involves actual knowledge about history, even though Abigail Spencer's Lucy does explain things.

No "Timeless" news since last week's chat. I'll repeat what I said before, that we may have to wait a bit to see how some other new NBC dramas ("Taken" and the "Blacklist" spinoff) do in the ratings, as well as what the network has ordered up for fall and midseason pilots. It might be May or somewhere close to upfronts before they cancel (or renew! maybe!) "Timeless."

Meanwhile, you've landed yourself a prominent square on what Screener TV's "Cancel Bear" long ago termed "Fan Excuse Bingo," the widely-swept generalizations fans provide when shows they like are cancelled. "It was too intellectual for a lot of people" is one of the more condescending. I know it's painful when a show you like gets cancelled, but that doesn't mean everyone else is an ignoramus.

Have to disagree with you on your assessment of the miniseries. I'm a straight, white male and I'm enjoying it immensely. Of course, I'm a history geek, too. But this is one of the advantages of how much good television there is right now. If you like it, great. If not, there's almost always something else.

Fair enough.

Please explain. Thanks.

Because they do pretty well in the ratings. Because Dick Wolf and his gang are very good at making one-hour dramas on time and within budget.

Hi Hank -- I am thoroughly enjoying Big Little Lies, especially because the casting plays so well to each actor's strengths: there's Reese doing her best Tracy Flick; Nicole Kidman displaying her brittle strength; Alexander Skarsgard doing his Nordic glowering ; Shailene Woodley playing Shailene Woodley; Adam Scott as the American Everyman; and Laura Dern perfectly turning her vulnerability into chaos. Or maybe I've thought way too much about it...

Yes, good breakdown.

About halfway through the episodes, I had a passing thought (which I don't think I included in my review) that it might have been slightly more interesting if Kidman and Witherspoon had switched roles. Then again, because they're both playing to their strengths, it's just that much stronger as it is.

And this is the first time I've not had a negative reaction to Adam Scott, which I consider real progress! (For me.)

Thanks to the other chatter for the tip on this show. I know Iceland has a healthy film industry, but, have never checked out their TV offerings. It makes sense, though. When I visited Iceland, my guide told me that because the Winter is so long, "the only things to do are watch movies, and make more humans."

Haha.

I'm a little depressed that a show about a feud between two women is, in 2017, even being made. All it does is feed into the myth that professional women can't help but be catty toward each other. Joan Crawford's image already went through the wringer with "Mommie Dearest," another show about how "crazy" she supposedly was is too much for me. I hope TCM does a Crawford marathon the night Feud debuts so I can watch that instead.

For this very reason I encourage you to try "Bette and Joan" because it is very highly attuned to the problems you raise. Bette and Joan were encouraged to fight by the men who controlled Hollywood and some of the women who controlled Hollywood gossip. There's a whole lot of context here, as there was with "People v. O.J." You should watch it, maybe while your high horse is busy eating hay?

Most at fault?? PwC accountants Warren Beatty Faye Dunaway Oscar producers Miscellaneous stage hands

The accountants, who have already taken the blame and who will not be back next year, according to the Academy.

There's a trend of having a flawed/dysfunctional/antihero protagonist on television, but with a catch – he's usually male. After watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I was looking for something else with a similarly dysfunctional female main character.

Who also sings?

That's a tough order, other than the big flashing sign in front of our faces that says FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN.

I'm not sure if you want a drama or a comedy or something in between, but I would try "Good Behavior" starring Michelle Dockery, which ran recently on TNT. Also wondering if you're on the "Orange Is the New Black" train?

Chatters? Do we have other suggestions?

I am SO excited for the return of The Americans, and your great piece today just made me more so! Question about that: I know you try to approach shows with a removed, analytical perspective. Is it harder to do that with ones that you really like? I mean, since you're a fan of The Americans, did you find yourself wanting to go a little fanboy when you interviewed Rhys and Russell and toured the set? I have no doubt that I would have, but then I don't have your steely professionalism.

I kept it in check (I hope), but they all know I'm a big fan based on my reviews and best-of lists. So I usually just try to get it out of the way when we first sit down or shake hands -- yes I'm here to lavish more love on the show, but let's talk. That might be a little bit harder when, as soon as I arrive, the publicist presents me with a flap-eared, fleece-lined winter hat with the show's logo on it, but I've been doing this kind of thing for a while. No one has ever accused me of being too in-the-tank for anything.

on-line? Something I might find in the unknown wilds of my Comcast line up? $30 a month extra no matter what I have access too?

It's in your cable or satellite line up. In the space formerly occupied by H2, the other History channel.

They didn't have the lawyers yet. But the last part with the Justice story was not promising. It felt so disjointed. While the Chicagos are not quite the L&O franchise they will have to do better for Justice to survive.

Noted! Thanks for the review!

Guys, our chat system just crashed but seems to be back up -- sorry for the long pause. I also lost an answer was typing, so let's get back at it. I'll push a little past 1 p.m. to make up for lost time.

I don't subscribe to cable or streaming services (20 year old TV with rabbit ears) but am taking advantage of a free trial. Looking at my StueverList, I picked 11.22.63. Thank you! I've only seen James Franco in Milk and he's surprisingly good and Chris Cooper is just one of my all-time favs! Probably won't keep the service but this was definitely worth it. Thanks again!

Oh, I'm glad you liked it. There were mixed reviews for "11/22/63" (people who loved the book felt like it was too streamlined), but I was a fan. One reason you might want to keep Hulu (I assume you're trying Hulu here) is "The Handmaid's Tale" series, which comes April 26. Not that I'm trying to sell you anything...

GIRLS

Wait, you think they're dysfunctional? (Kidding.)

We just got amazon prime, and I just started watching The Americans and just finished season 2. It is so awesome.

Cool.

I guess I will check it out since it looks like American Crime Story will not be coming back anytime soon.

"Katrina," the second "Amercian Crime Story" is in production. They just Matthew Broderick as Michael ("heckuva job, Brownie") Brown. My best guess is this fall or early 2018. They have other ones lined up and in production -- after that is (reportedly) the Gianni Versace murder and Ryan Murphy has been going around saying the fourth season will somehow involve the 2016 election, though he might want to wait and see how all this Russian stuff plays out...

The obvious one they need to do, I think, is Patty Hearst.

Insecure? Veep?

Yes! Yes!

Do you find it harder to remain objective when you've met the cast and spent time on the set?

I think I answered this above. I'm a good reporter. I'm fair and inquisitive. I ask what I think anyone would want to know. I don't let publicists tell me what to ask. I think it would be dumb to be "objective" on a TV set. How would that work, for everything they say, I get on the phone and interview someone who doesn't think the show is any good?

How about SJP on Divorce? Come to think of it, I like seeing all these shows with "real" characters. It beats the flawed characters on reality TV.

I liked "Divorce" a lot, but never heard anyone say much about it. Another one I just thought of, which I really liked: "Enlightened" with Laura Dern.

Here in Pittsburgh our PBS station re-ran all of the episodes to date of "Victoria," which I watched in a back-to-back binge on Sunday. The good news is that they're worth watching again (better than I realized the first time), PLUS now some of the confusion in the early episodes re who's who has now been cleared up in my mind. I'm looking forward to the season finale this weekend, as well as the second season next year!

You watched them TWICE? Once was hard enough for me.

How can fans of this show help save it? In the past, I have been part of groups emailing, calling and letter-writing networks to influence their decisions but all of the shows for which I have strongly advocated were canceled anyway. Makes me wonder what the secret to saving a show is. These included American Dreams, Ed, Moonlight and Joan of Arcadia.

I would add up your past failures and realize there's nothing you can do. These are business decisions, not how-many-hearfelt-letters-on-lavender-stationery-did-we-receive? decisions. A couple of summers ago, the fans of "The Borgias" tried to guilt Showtime into renewal during the press tour, even hiring an airplane to fly a banner around Beverly Hills for an afternoon. Didn't work.

Aside from randomly becoming a Nielsen household, where your vote really might matter, the secret to saving a show now is for there to be high enough rerun/binge potential for someone like Netflix or Hulu to pick it up, but my hunch is these streaming networks want to be known for their amazing originality, not for keeping other networks' discarded shows on life support for a group of fans.

I'm sounding too stern, I know, but I think you really just have to enjoy a show that you like for as long you have it.

How do you think they would feel, having been 'washed up' at fifty-something, if they knew they were being played by two seventy-ish year old actresses?

I think the math would definitely trouble them, but I think they'd also have appointments to see all the best doctors in order to avail themselves of some 21st century magic.

Listen, it was the booze (gallons of it every day) and the cigarettes.

2nd that one -- If anyone here gets HBO/HBO Go - Watch it... It really sticks with you. And, while that character was flawed, at least she wasn't toting around a child like a handbag (yes Carrie on Homeland... I mean you). That woman pays less attention to the security of her child than most people do to their carry on baggage.

I totally agree and now want to unpack some of the sexism (not yours but television's) ... When a female main character has a baby, viewers tend feel saddled. But a male character can impregnate someone and still be free to prevent the end of the world.

I know you're a critic, not a ratings guy, but I was home sick recently, binge-watching old Law & Order reruns in the middle of the day on Ovation or whatever and wondered--what are the ratings for these types of broadcasts? Thousands? Tens of thousands? I like L&O when I'm sick because I've seen every episode of the first ten seasons about 15 times and it's comforting and not challenging to me. Am I an outlier, or are a significant number of other people actually tuning in to tired afternoon reruns?

Someone somewhere measures those ratings, because a price (however low it is) must be set for the reverse-mortgage and mesothelioma ads that you're also watching with those reruns. But I'm sure I even know how to dive that deeply into whatever data exists.

Sorry to not be of any help. Hope you feel better.

Good motto for life, not just TV.

True!

Perhaps it was a good thing that both Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers had a first season to iron out the wrinkles in their network talk shows, so they've be in top form when we need their political satire most. I confess I thought some of Colbert's first season wasn't very good, but he seems to have hit his stride (as has Jon Batiste, or at least he's grown on me). I'm an unabashed Meyers fan, and think that most of his "A Closer Segments" have been right on target, thanks to his years of experience on SNL.

We have been watching Vera, the excellent series based on an excellent series of books. Each show is 90 minutes, so you actually cannot binge-one is enough-though it is tempting. Very wroth seeking out. Brenda Blethyn is perfect. There are 6 seasons. https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Depths/dp/B006UJVOPA/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1488475268&sr=1-1&keywords=vera+season+1

It's the world at large. That's why we're still having the endless conversation about if women can "have it all" but we NEVER have that conversation about men.

Yes, but here, we just try to solve TV's problems.

 

Thanks a million for this recommendation! I watched a few episodes this weekend and love how quirky it is. Never thought about it before, but usually undercover government workers have it all together and seem impervious to life's little disasters. This guy is so hampered by incompetent support, it is amazing he can get anything done!

It's absurd, isn't it? There's an amazing rock-papers-scissors sequence in episode 8 or 9 (can't recall which), that is truly one of the weirdest and most mesmerizing scenes I've watch on a TV show in months.

Mom, You're the Worst.

I didn't realize I could be any more excited about the new season of the Americans, but I just read your article and you made me moreso. And yes, you and Paige totally would have been besties.

Yes, right up until I start snooping around in their house!

I like Timeless, watched all episodes. But, please, it is an escapist time travel romp, not an exercise in intellectualism. You don't have to be a student of history or even like history to think Timeless is fun. Your TV watching habits do not show that you are *better* or *smarter* than anyone else. Just that you like watching certain TV shows that others may not.

I'm with you.

And speaking of timeless, I have to run. We'll meet back here next Thursday, March 9, at noon. Thanks for the great comments today -- and sorry about the short crash.

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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