What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Sep 14, 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 "The Vietnam War," "The Deuce," "The Strain," "Twin Peaks:The Return" and "Better Things."

Greetings, gang!

My FALL TV PREVIEW is up, a little different this year, with three entry points:

1. 10 new shows to watch (and 5 you can totally skip)

2. Lots and lots of premiere dates for returning shows. (Hint: check here before asking me!)

3. Yes, America, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's astoundingly good 'The Vietnam War' is required viewing -- all 18 hours of it. My review.

Some other recent stuff:

'The Orville' is a deep-space dud.

Bethonie Butler on the new season of 'BoJack Horseman.'

Also from Bethonie, along with Style writer Krissah Thompson and Reliable Source columnist Helena Andrews-Dyer: 60 thoughts we had while watching the 'Insecure' finale.

My review last week of 'The Deuce," which by now some of you have watched and may have something to say about.

AND we have Emmy night coming up -- Sunday night.

With ALL of that, let's chat!

 

Clicking through channels on Monday night, I stumbled on a beautiful documentary on PBS about the love between an elderly Korean couple. I'd heard nothing about it but was blown way by the purity of the emotion portrayed in it. I figured since you're constantly getting asked for viewing recommendations, I'd send it your way. It's called "My love, Don't Cross That River" and well worth the hour. It's streaming on the PBS website.

Between POV, American Experience, American Masters and Independent Lens, PBS has an always-rotating trove of documentaries, many of them very, very good -- and always difficult to find on the schedule. Your suggestion to go find this one on PBS.org is a good solution.

Also, before things get too hectic in here, I want to point you guys to Alyssa Rosenberg's amazing project on the making of (and meanings of) Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's "The Vietnam War." It's an excellent companion piece or primer to the experience of watching the documentary.

I watched Ozark on recommendation and really enjoyed it. I see that it was picked up for a second season. Some of my favorite streaming shows seem like they were intended for one season (Stranger Things, Search Party, Handmaids Tale), then are popular and get picked up. I would imagine creatively it would be difficult to craft a good story with a beginning and end, with also the hope that you could take the characters further if there was renewal. I guess it's not a question ... just an observation. Carry on.

I think many shows seem that way as a pragmatic gesture, in case it really is just one season. That's certainly the case with "Stranger Things," which could totally keep to its one season, even though it leaves plenty to chew on and sequelize. Same goes for "Search Party."

I disagree that "The Handmaid's Tale" looked like a one-season proposition. They spent a lot of time expanding that story into a broader underground-revolution story that very obviously serves as a platform for further seasons. Sure, Offred/June still gets into that van not knowing her fate, but the difference now is that it felt like a cliffhanger, not a semi-ambiguous end. (I doubt that one of my favorite parts of the book will ever be seen in the show, which the epilogue that takes place at the academic conference many decades later.)

Anyway, I don't think any of this is very new -- all shows start off more or less on spec, leaving room for another season, if granted.

Not a question (but a quick thanks for doing these chats) and a little bit of information. Stumbled across this the other day and thought it might be of interest. Was one of the real treats to watch a couple years ago. http://www.fremantlemedia.com/filming-begins-on-deutschland-86/

Maybe the second season will grab me; I tried and failed with the first. It was well-made but just didn't interest me that much.

I know I am really late to the game on this one, but I started to watch this on Netflix and, wow, it is so good! I was surprised to like it as much as I do. I had already seen "Made in America," so I wasn't sure what I would get out of a dramatization of the trial, but the acting, writing, pacing is amazing. I am always impressed when writers/directors/actors can wring drama and tension out of a scenario when the viewer already knows what is going to happen. I watched the glove episode last night, and even knowing what was coming, I was right there on the edge of my seat. I really hope that the Versace ACS can be of this same quality.

I hope so too, and that you'll weigh in on it faster than 18 months. (Haha.)

Thanks, in advance, for any info you can get on this show. I too got lost in Google when I searched, and when I saw that season 2 had aired in Europe in the spring I figured I had missed it, but I couldn't find it on my on-demand or on the network's page. I checked your list of returning dates before I typed this and didn't see it, so I will wait for your well-placed sources to solve the mystery!

And I still have not heard anything, sorry. But I'm going to keep asking!

Maybe it's because AHS Roanoke was so bad, but so far so good with Cult! It's not dwelling on Trump like I feared it would. The clowns are great. Even Billie Lourde seems to be doing well in her role.

We have slightly different opinions -- I reviewed it based on the first three episodes and think that it gets old pretty quick, but we all remember seasons of AHS that would swerve and lurch in other directions midway through, so I hope they've got something up their sleeves besides Trump anxiety and clown anxiety.

Just wanted to tell you that I just finished reading your articles on the new fall TV season, and there's so much good information there that I can't think of a question to ask. Thanks!

Aw, thanks.

I saw the return date on your list but now I'm curious...why doesn't it get a critic recommends star? Has the quality really deteriorated that much?

I stopped recommending last season, I think? It just doesn't seem like a going thing anymore. The show really started to lose me when they turned Tim Daly into ActionMan. He's a theology professor! It was so much better when he was just a clear conscience who would pack the kids' lunches and wait for her in bed.

Here's another reason they lost me: SUNDAY FOOTBALL OVERRUNS. I know that a game running long is scientifically proven to boost the ratings of the Sunday primetime line-up, but not if "Madam Secretary" started running over into the bigger, better premium cable Sunday night shows.

God that stunk up the place. Who forgot to tell Seth his show needed to be funny? Thanks for trying to warn us, though.

I guess it's a vanity project? And Fox feels it owes him the leeway to make one?

I got some blowback from fans (Seth fans?) who really, really thought it was great. I think he also acquired some Star Trek fans who want "TNG" back so bad that they're willing to watch a facsimile of it?

From your review: "The old MacFarlane would have had a field day with jokes; here, the humor, such as it is, sticks to such a gentle and polite tone that a viewer will begin to wonder: Have aliens kidnapped MacFarlane and replaced him with a clone who doesn’t know how to make funny TV anymore?" Hank, I agree with your critiques most of the time and love reading them even when I don't. And I'm pretty sure "The Orville" is doomed for the reasons you lay out here. But with all due respect, what is wrong with an homage that employs gentle humor and doesn't go for big laughs? I am a lifelong "Star Trek" fan in all its incarnations, and the tone of the pilot seems very much in the tradition of "The Trouble with Tribbles," to take just one example. You wouldn't, I hope, criticize a police procedural for not being hilarious, or a sitcom for not being deep. Seth McFarlane is trying something that you didn't enjoy--fine! But please don't dump on him for his conception.

Ah, see? As I was saying just now ...

I'm REALLY late to the party on this one, but... I've never read the book. Is this a good choice for me to buy to watch on a long trip? Any other ideas? I'm running out of shows, devouring as I have most of your and others' recommendations (Americans, Insecure, Big Little Lies, Affair, Fargo, Good Fight, Wolf Hall, Homeland, Broadchurch, The Night Of) (wow, that's a lot of TV; maybe I just need to pick up a book) (no Game of Thrones, please).

Based on your viewing diet, I think you will really enjoy "The Handmaid's Tale" and you do not need to have read the book.

And going out on a limb here, but I think you might like "Good Behavior" (the Michelle Dockery show on TNT) as a sort of silly (but dramatic) pairing, that will take some of the dystopian edge off.

Any idea when we might get to see Strike in the US (BBC adaptation of Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling, novels)? I read that HBO bought the US rights. It's airing now in the UK.

No clue. Chatters?

Joanne Froggatt's character got raped on Downton Abbey and she gets raped in this series too! Isn't this like Heather Locklear's Character on "TJ Hooker" where she the writers kept doing it so it would create an acting Emmy opportunity for the Male Stars?

You know, for some reason, I watched "Liar" and never once thought, oh, she's playing a rape victim again. The stories/setting/tone are so very different.

And, sorry to say, I never watched "T.J. Hooker." (I was in high school. If it wasn't MTV, I wasn't watching it.)

Eh, I didn't much care for the first episode. The current state of politics in the DC metro area is enough of a horror story for me right now.

Like that 5th dentist, I'm good with 4 out of 5 of your recommendations. But c'mon, how can you pass up Dynasty? I'm not expecting it to be as good (and outrageous) as the original (I'm talking to you, Dallas reboot) but I'll give it a shot.

I didn't pass it up -- I watched it, as part of my combat duty. You have a choice and it sounds like you're going in. God bless.

Good, but very slow -placed. How many episodes are in this "Season"

What is "Duet?"

My Tivo didn't pick it up last night and couldn't find it all next week? Did it get consigned to H-E-double Hockey Sticks?

I'm still showing episode 7 this week (last night) and episode 8 next week. Is it a TiVo issue?

I'm an original Star Trek fan (I even wrote in when the show was initially cancelled), and I can tell you that The Orville is just horrible. I ended up shutting it off and reading Bill Shatner's twitter feed (he's absolutely hysterical). Maybe somebody can do a show based on Bill's tweets.

We can't count that show he did a few years back where he played the cranky dad? (S#*! My Dad Says?)

Wow, your viewing list is almost exactly the same as mine!! (except for The Affair, which completely lost me in the second season) I would really recommend "Good Behavior," it is well done, kinda funny and not too soapy.

"You" being WaPo. I need a way for subscriber-me to create a watch and read list for shows and books I find about in the Post and want to follow up on. If it also pushed a reminder a show I marked is coming on, that would be cool, too. I don't think WaPo has something like this (does it?). I often read about something I want to watch/read but then forget about.

Well, I can pass this on to our engineering department, which claims to always be looking for a new innovation.

In the meantime, there's this thing called paper and pen, where you could jot it down. (There's an app for that too.)

But this is a good idea. Unless it means more work for me, then it's a terrible idea.

I notice that you didn't give this one a star either. I really like the interplay among the characters and the quick but related storylines. YOU don't have to like it, of course, but is anything in particular bugging you about it?

In particular, I would pick the ATROCIOUS WRITING.

Do premium networks (HBO, Showtime, etc.) sometimes pick up series that other premium networks abandon? I know HBO has some dogs and was wondering if they, or maybe another one, might pick up a show like Quarry? It seems like there have been other series that were well done that just got dropped and were never seen again.

Well, "Quarry" was on Cinemax which I guess you don't know already IS part of HBO, so that seems unlikely.

To answer your question, I can't think of an instance where a show hopped from one premium network to a competitor.

But you are correct: There are plenty of good shows out there on premium cable that got dropped and were never seen again. Usually because no one watched them, or no one raved about them, or no one gave Emmys to them, or they wound up costing too much to make, or something better came along and they needed the space on the schedule. So many reasons.

Luckily, there's always something new.

I stopped watching when Henry became involved in all of the spy stuff. On Sunday I always check the football schedule and make adjustments for the Sunday CBS shows. What has become obvious is that CBS as well as other networks can stand having a female as a lead and had to bring in a male. From what I can tell no new shows have female leads. Apparently the networks aren't interested in 52% of the population. I have been reading more.

Can you think of a reason why Criminal Minds is still on the air? It strikes me that there comes a time when torturing women and children isn't a fun thing anymore.

Since it's on CBS, I would say the answer is that it gets exactly the ratings that CBS wants from it, in relation to what it costs to make it (divided by what syndication/rerun bucks are involved). I don't think there are a whole lot of moral qualms involved.

With all of the great TV out there, quite a bit is truly bad. Wondering: Is it only about ratings these days, or does more factor into whether a show that is circling the drain (i.e. social media buzz, how much people buy products from advertisers, etc.) is kept alive? Also wondering: For those shows at the bottom of the heap, do networks give any latitude for ones that struggle but show improvement in the ratings, or are they simply apt to pull the plug right away and move on to the next idea?

These are really broad questions and, to the extent that they could be answered, would be best answered by an actual network executive rather than a TV critic whose job it is to separate the good from the bad, regardless of ratings. Sorry.

I think the magic formula you're seeking for this sort of decision would probably take up the whole chalkboard and then the chalkboard next to it, like they do in those movies and TV shows about really, really smart but troubled people.

Like I don't have enough things in life to remind me I am getting old, but I really enjoyed some of the subtly in The Deuce, like the girl's description of her english class at NYU. Also the large number of VWs that were on the street in some of the scenes. Then I read your review of the Burns series on Vietnam, and it reminded me of the fact my son in law just a couple of weeks ago was asking about my Army experience during that war. I just foolishly assumed he would know what I was talking about. All that stuff really is ancient history for the younger crowd.

Well, it has been 50 years, give or take.

I hope your son-in-law gets into "The Vietnam War." I realize it's a giant assignment, but once you're hooked into it, you can't wait for another episode.

Once it starts airing, I hope chatters who come here every Thursday, will share their thoughts on it -- especially any of you with a personal connection to the Vietnam war.

I read that there were discussions (with Mike Judge) about bringing back King of the Hill. I know this is a long way from the show actually returning, but as someone who really enjoyed the original, I hope they don't do this. It had a great run; don't ruin it. It's not as if, as with Twin Peaks, there was some story that needed more exploration. (But, if David Lynch was involved in a KOH reboot, that might be something....).

I don't know about a "King of the Hill" reunion, HOWEVER, Judge has a very cool new animated series coming on Cinemax called "Mike Judge Presents Tales from the Tour Bus," which takes a different performer each week (Johnny Paycheck; Jerry Lee Lewis) and interviews roadies, bandmates in an oral-history style of backstage shenanigans. It can be quite funny and true-enough. I saw two episodes and enjoyed it. It starts airing Sept. 22.

"AT&T Audience Network"? That's a new one! I wouldn't even begin to know where to find that.

That is what they prefer to be called, but the answer you seek is DirecTV.

No word on when the final season of New Girl begins? Also, you didn't put a star next to Good Behavior. I thought you really enjoyed it (you recommend it in this chat, for example). Is the new season really not worth watching?

"Good Behavior" should have a star next to it, but something got lost there. I will have them fix it. Thanks for flagging.

"New Girl" comes back at midseason (winter/spring), I believe. It's not on the fall schedule.

Is it a 1/2 hour comedy or an hour drama or some sort of Dramedy with Jay Pharoah?

It is a half-hour dramedy.

When is the first Catfight?

About 4/5 of the way through the pilot. Right before a wedding.

Watched 3 of them over the weekend. Fully agree on The Orville (which I watched out of obligation as a Penny Johnson Jerald fan). It wasn't funny. At all. Not quite over the moon about The Deuce, but it's very good and very promising. Definitely on board. And for people who wanted amusing sci fi but didn't get it from The Orville, I took a chance on Amazon's The Tick. THAT was funny, and alive as a daisy. And short. Most movies are longer.

Excellent input, thanks!

So is any of the old cast going to show up? (Other than the late John Forsythe, or course)

Such stunt-cameos have not been part of the advertising campaign, so I dunno. That really depends on how committed the showrunners are to the present instead of the past, and/or how desperate they get. The problem is that the characters are essentially the same, so if an old cast member showed up (and for all I know, one of them is in there, seen briefly dusting furniture or something), they'd need a new character to play.

How big are the shoulder pads on the ladies?

It's set in the present, not in the '80s, therefore everyone wants to look like a skeleton, not a linebacker.

Started reading your review, then jumped over here to ask before you turn into a pumpkin: How does Vietnam rank in the Burns oeuvre? Civil War being number 1, and moving on down...

I think "Civil War" is still number 1, but I retained very little memory of having watched "Baseball" and "Jazz" even though I know I watched them. I loved "The War" and I loved "The Roosevelts." I was iffy on "Prohibition" and thought "National Parks" was too long.

Oh, I dunno, I don't like ranking things this way. I know our culture loves a list and loves to rank 'em, but with Ken Burns, who turns out such consistently earnest, consistently good material, it's sort of like ranking the Beatles songs.

My mom just asked me last week if I was going to watch it. I said it was a crazy time commitment so I don't know... She said she didn't know either, both because of the commitment and because she lived through it and didn't want to live through it again. But I'm going to send her your review, which I have no doubt will sway her. It swayed me! Thank you for making that decision for us!

Yes, everyone should watch it, but on their own terms and at their own pace. You could mete it out very slowly and spend all fall watching it, really.

I remember watching and enjoying it way back in he day but man! It does not hold up. Still fun watching Joan Collins chew the sets but for the rest - awful. I thought it was pretty interchangeable with Dallas but watching Dallas reruns doesn't make my teeth hurt (dream shower excepted).

I don't have time to go back and look, but I wonder what was on opposite "Dynasty?" Because it was of no interest whatsoever in our house. Either we watched something else or maybe that's one of the rare times I actually did my homework...

Wait, was it on Wednesday nights? If so, I was probably at church youth group meetings. (Yes, me.)

Is it still all about the Crude Oil, or have they moved on to Fracking? Is Alexis the best Fracker around?

They're an energy company, natch! I think there's even a reference to their good friends/rivals, the Koch Brothers. The gay Carrington son has been protesting their fracking, and so on. It's the easiest sort of 21st century updating...

When does McFarland get sued by the Roddenberry estate? "Humor" aside, he didn't bother to bring anything new to now classic concepts. Even GALAXY QUEST aimed higher than this.

I loved "Galaxy Quest."

I know you don't like the, but if you had ONE category to a performer/show that you would applaud loudly if they won, what would it be?

I don't have the list handy. I'll applaud when it happens (while I'm writing/filing my review of the telecast).

glad to see PBS is making it available online as well as broadcast -if I miss an episode, can go find it.

Yes. Also there will be a bazillion repeats.

Well, it's already past 1, so I guess this is it.

Let's meet back here next week and do it all over again. Thanks for the many comments/questions. I do see and read all of them!

Have a great weekend!

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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