What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Sep 28, 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," "Loudermilk," "Transparent" and "Better Things."

The fall season is in full swing (and it sounds like even the weather might start playing along). There's much TV-ness to talk about.

Such as Megyn Kelly's terrible new morning show?

Such as the return of "Will & Grace"?

Such as "Law & Order's" attempt to go all true-crime on us with the (boring) Menendez Brothers?

What else? I'm here, you're here -- let's go.

Have you seen the mockumentary American Vandal on Netflix? I went in very skeptical but given that it was not a significant time investment I thought I'd give it a shot. I had no idea how they would be able to sustain the plot over 8 episodes but they really pulled it off. It's a great recommendation for a binge if you're home sick (provided you have a somewhat dirty sense of humor).

I did watch this and it was on the list of contenders for my "10 New Shows to Watch this Fall" list, but it fell off as I narrowed things down. You're right -- the show is better than it looks and very funny in parts. Not everyone will get all the way through it, is my guess.

Hi Hank, this may be a new type of question for you...my 90-year old mother is coming to visit in a few weeks. Last year, we watched "The Crown" together. Any ideas on what we can watch/stream this time around? I was thinking maybe "Anne with an E". Flashbacks and too many characters are confusing for my mother, and no violence is a requirement. "The Crown" was good because we were able to discuss it afterwards as my mother remembered many of those events. On her own, my mother regularly watches the movies on the Hallmark channel. (Also we've already watched "Downton Abbey" together.) Many thanks for any ideas that you may have!

Oh, I really wish the second season of "The Crown" was available for her visit (it comes out Dec. 8), and I'll bet you do too. I'm afraid I didn't do "Anne With an E," but I heard some good-to-mixed things about it. (Maybe a chatter here can tell us.) It's really difficult to think of a series, even on PBS, that is completely violence-free, and since you say that you watched "Downton Abbey" together (which did, after all, have some war scenes and a rape in it), I wonder if you saw "Home Fires," which ran for two seasons on PBS? I liked it. My other go-to here would be the early seasons of "Call the Midwife," if you haven't seen that already. I've also enjoyed "Poldark" (the new version). But I am certain that some of our chatters will have some excellent ideas to add to this, so I'm going to hand it over to them...

Are there any demographic breakdowns on who is watching the Vietnam show on PBS? I know many of my contemporaries, of the age when we lived through it, are, but is there a younger audience?

I don't have any data like that in front of me, but anectdotally I know of a lot of people my age or younger who are doing their level best to watch each part.

So I'm a couple of eps behind. I'm curious, do they focus at all about the women who served in Vietnam? 7 eps in and so far a big fat nothing except for one North Vietnamese woman truck driver (which was an important inclusion).

I can't remember episode-by-episode, but there is a sequence about women who served, especially in medical fields. They follow one woman who is a lieutenant and nurse, who is featured several times. But I feel like that happens by episode 7; did you miss it? Or maybe it's in 8?

I know you can! There was an Amazon or Netflix show a few months back. It was just the pilot episode and from that, it was picked up for 2 years. It was about a Jewish female comic in NYC in the early 60s (I think 60s). I thought Ray Romano played the dad, but his IMDB doesn't show it. It was an incredible pilot. I believe it was picked up for 2 years, and all I want to do is watch it, but I'm guessing they're filming now and it won't come out for a while. I feel certain you have all the answers. Thank you!

You're thinking of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" on Amazon, a new series from Amy Sherman-Palladino ("Gilmore Girls"), which has been picked up for 2 seasons by Amazon. Amazon released the pilot episode last spring (that's part of their process -- release a bunch of pilots, see what the response is, and decide which ones to order). The actor you're thinking of isn't Romano, it's Tony Shalhoub.

Do I have to turn in my Gay Card after admitting that I was never really a fan of Will and Grace the first time around? Is there any reason to tune in this time if I didn't care much for the original?

No, and no.

Listen, I have LOL'd at "Will & Grace" plenty and I like this bring-back fine (see link to review above in the intro), but I was never on board with all the GLAAD-style genuflecton before it and crediting it with paving any path other than a path to a lot of guys doing their impression of Jack doing Cher.

My bf and I are halfway through and let me say...wow. It is such an incredibly moving and powerful documentary. I sob at least once an ep. The pain of the Gold Star family, the marine from Roxbury who could not get a cab bc he was black, Johnson’s pitiful attempts to justify US involvement: it all seems so current and modern and unbelievable to have occurred 50 yrs ago.

I find that it's also a good reminder to those of who think that the world is falling apart in some new, horrible way every hour -- imagine the '60s. The riots, the arguments, the broken families. And the assassinations, my God. (Not to say that things aren't overheated now, but ...)

I've enjoyed Amazon's Transparent til now, especially the lead character/actor. But, the other night when I started watching the premiere of the new season, after 10-15 minutes I realized almost everyone in the show is so unlikable that I don't want to spend my time with them. To be fair, they've been unlikable from the start, it just seems to have continually amped up. Have you watched this latest season? Is it worth trying again? I tend to think shows you have to try to like aren't worth wasting the time on.

I have watched the latest season, and I think each season is better than the last, though season 4 might not be quite as good as season 3. I'm writing a piece having to do with the new season which should post next week.

As for the likability thing, I thought we were past that -- especially with this show? I despised the Pfefferman children in season 1, but I've come to understand them differently as things have gone on, which is a real testament to how the show is written and performed and how it has evolved. You haven't? Is it possible you're just not in the mood and need to save this season for later?

Also, if you have any tender feelings at all for the "Jesus Christ Superstar" soundtrack, you owe it to yourself to keep going -- at least through episode 2.

I am not worried about you spoiling how the series ends, since it was part of my life, but based on what you see and hear, are most viewers (like me) stacking the episodes up on the DVR? It seems to me that if you have any kind of life, you are not able to watch each episode the night it runs. Also, how long before the "healing" we heard about begins?

Well, let's not make judgments about who does and doesn't have any kind of life. I have been telling people that they can watch "The Vietnam War" at whatever pace suits them. It's basically like an 800-page book. It might take you the rest of the year to finish that, so it's the same with all 18 hour of Vietnam.

Also curious about this "healing" that you heard about. I guess episode 10 has some of that, including the impact of Maya Lin's beautiful and meaningful memorial in D.C.

My 89 year old mother hates anything with violence, swearing, and/or sex. She loves Doc Martin, for some reason, so that's an option.

"Doc Martin," of course. Or as I call it, television for people who can't stand television.

I finally got around to watching the first episode, and my initial reaction--meh. I loved Boardwalk Empire, and even liked Vinyl, because there was a sneering sense of humor to both, probably due to Terence Winter. And while I wanted to like it--I grew up in New York in the 70s--it just didn't get me enough to commit to watch it every week.

Not everything's for everybody. You don't have to watch it. But you've already seen 1/8th of it, so maybe try a couple more episodes? I thought it got better as the characters begin to jell.

The nurse is featured in Episode 8. I'm watching it (41, female, immigrant if we're talking about demographics) and am stunned by so many similarities between what happened then and what's happening now in our country. I suppose Burns and Novick won't be around to make a series about our current wars, but I hope someone else will pick up the mantle.

An interesting thought -- who will be Burns and Novick after Burns and Novick? There are a lot of documentary filmmakers out there, that's for sure. I feel as if there was a point in the 2000s where "I'm studying to be a documentary filmmaker" was the new "I'm hoping to write the new great American novel."

Op here, ok, since I love Jesus Christ Superstar, I'll give it another go. Maybe over the weekend, when I'm more patient.

I don't do Hulu, Netflix etc so I don't know the answer. Can you get the first season of Victoria starring Jenna Coleman? Don't know what Hank's take was but I thought it was enjoyable.

I didn't completely love "Victoria" (review here), but, yes, that might suit Mom's visit. (Especially if you treat it as a prequel of sorts to "The Crown.")

I am Star Trek fan and I really like Michelle Yeoh so I wanted very badly to like the pilot, but I just didn't. Part of my problem may have been the pacing (I don't know if I am just too used to streaming but it felt like there were commercials every ten minutes). I also felt like the episode had a lot of awkward exposition dumps. I think it could be better once it gets into it a standard swing, but I don't think that is enough to justify the money. Any buzz on how the typical planet-of-the-week episodes will be?

I am in a state of wait-and-see on "Star Trek: Discovery," and might write something in another week or two. There definitely was something very clunky about that first episode. Also, visually, I had a hard time focusing on it, and I was watching it on the biggest, sharpest TV in the house.

Anyone else? Thoughts on STD? (And is that the shorthand? STD? Haha.)

You mentioned a lot of dramas, but, what about Great British Bake Off/Baking Show? It is a competition show but notorious for being one where everyone is extremely nice.

I thought of that, too, but OP did seem to be asking for a scripted drama.

Would something from the past do? It's been a few years since my last viewing but I remember really liking ELIZABETH R with Glenda Jackson and its predecessor, SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII. I don't know if that pushes the sex and violence boundaries, though. And there's always the proto-DOWNTOWN, UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS.

Passing these along ...

I'll preface all my inquiries to Hank from now on with "What's the buzz, tell me whats a-happening?"

And some days my answers really do read like:

WHY SHOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW, DON'T YOU MIND ABOUT THE FUTURE. Don't worry about what's on tomorrow, watch what's on today instead.

Okay, I am grooving in my chair now.

For those in the DC area, WETA is showing the Burns/Novick film again next month at the rate of roughly one episode a week on Tuesday evenings. (They show the first two episodes the first week.) That might be easier for some folks to handle in both time and emotions.

Good to know. Thanks.

My mom loves movies and shows from when she was younger. She watches films on TCM and Retroplex and is a huge fan of TVLand and Antenna, which show classic TV shows such as All in the Family, Maude, M*A*S*H, etc.

You could try Doctor Thorne. It's on amazon prime and seems to mesh with what you guys have enjoyed before

My old parents watch reruns and reruns of MASH every night on MeTV and whenever they miss, they DVR them. It must be like having an old blanket that they can't get rid of. Whenever I visit, I have to bring reading material.

I remember a period in my early teen years, about the time M*A*S*H was ending, when the grownups in my life were obsessed with it -- it was on after the local news (before ABC or CBS had talk shows to compete with Carson). Those first few guitar notes of the theme song meant it was time to at least pretend I'd gone to bed.

I really want to like it. Sonequa Martin-Green is always great. I'm hating CBS for the whole "watch the second episode on our proprietary streaming service" crap. Also, my boyfriend has Vulcan-like hearing and had a really hard time listening to the episode. Like the dialogue was overshadowed by the music.

Yes, the sound mix seemed off, as did the effects. For something that has so much time to get its act together (it's been delayed a couple times since CBS trumpeted "Star Trek's" return) the whole thing seemed not-quite-ready.

Bearing in mind I'm generally Switzerland on Star Trek (don't mind it, don't love it), I liked the first episode. But...I didn't like it nearly enough to pay to watch the rest. If it was on broadcast - even banished to Friday/Saturday - I'd watch it, but it's not worth extra money or effort to me. Given the early numbers on how much the show's being pirated, it's a common feeling.

CBS sent out a very proud press release saying it had seen record sign-ups to the All Access streaming service (no exact numbers provided), but one thought I've had is: Do you really want to test the hacking skills of "Star Trek" fans like this? Because they will find a way to watch it for free, of that I am certain.

Just read your excellent review of the Will and Grace return and only had one quibble. You mention that the show was lauded as the first with an openly gay main character. Doesn't "Ellen" hold that distinction, or do I have my timelines confused?

I think the asterisk there is that we had several seasons of "Not-Gay Ellen" that aired before it became "Gay Ellen." And there was also a shower of bouquets and accolades for her courage, but to a lot of us, her coming-out seemed painfully belated.

Timeline-wise you may still be correct, but Will Truman started out gay. (Played by a straight man, but that's another matter. On that subject? Remember the painful charade of Sean Hayes claiming for years that his sexual orientation was a private matter?)

I'm learning so much every episode. From the Wednesday night ep -the Veteran's against the war group, and how John Kerry's testimony struck a cord for some vets, but his detailing of atrocities angered others. Also the extreme cynicism and lying of Nixon and Kissinger -just wow. So glad we have the tapes, although horrified by their deceit.

Agreed.

DSC is what most of the blogs are going with (probably better than STD or DIS). It was clunky, but those title credits are gorgeous.

Yes, I thought the style of the title credits was an interesting choice, given that they don't show outer-space scenes.

As an African-American, I am currently having a great time watching TV. There are more shows than ever that star, feature, or tell stories about black people in a diverse, nuanced light. I'm especially liking Queen Sugar, Atlanta, the new Star Trek, and Big Freedia. Being Mary Jane also has a special place in my heart. Where do you see diversity going in television in the future? It seems like this is the beginning of a golden age of representation for minorities on the small screen, or do you see it as just a phase?

Most of the shows you mention (save for "Star Trek") are from African American creators and writers, and I would say that behind-the-scenes is the most crucial area in diversity right now. Networks have mastered the idea that they ought to include minority roles in ensemble casts, which has made prime time look a little more diverse. But the real diversity, the authentic range of stories and experiences, will only come when minorities are the creators, showrunners, writers, directors -- and let's not forget network executives. And there has been real progress here, with much yet to go. You can see where it's headed in terms of Donald Glover/"Atlanta" or Issa Rae/"Insecure," but I would say the next big step will be when it's a show that everybody watches and talks about constantly.

Do you have any opinion on this? I watched last year's story, Candle Cove, which was weird and creepy. This year's, The No-End House, is also disturbing. I'm not sure if I want to stick with it after seeing episode 1 last week. I'll probably watch episode 2 tonight before I decide.

I haven't watched the new season; the last one felt pretty gimmicky to me, but I never issued a TV-critic opinion on it.

I see its next episode isn't until November, yet it has already gotten a second season. Is CBS head Les Moonves in a state that allows Rec. Marijuana?

The first episode got 16 million overnight viewers (or something like that), so ...

I can't believe I didn't think of that first. I liked the first episode, but count me in as one of those who will wait until the all the episodes are up and the will pay one month only of CBS Streaming.

I went downtown to a conference with lots of Millennials. I was surprised when I brought up the Vietnam War, one said she was definitely going to watch it all because it was Ken Burns. We agreed that "Ken Burns" was a "quality brand." I'm looking forward to a new Gotham and the return of Fox's Lucifer.

The ep with the women medics is ep 8 (which is where I'm at in viewing; I'm watching each ep the next day). Like you, I'm a Gen Xer, and I know of a few others who are also watching because while it was technically during our lifetime, we only know about the fallout from it, not the event itself. It's been (depressingly) educational. I had no idea Nixon interfered with the peace talks to get elected. I didn't know students were also killed at Jackson State, not just Kent. And it all seems way too similar to present times. (BTW, second your recommendation of Call the Midwife for the mother)

I was a big fan of this show during its first season, however, after watching the first episode, I'm thinking that the show will quite rapidly fall into the trap of contrived story lines and uninteresting characters who no longer have anything interesting to say or do. As an example, was I the only one who saw the burned out house at the end of the episode and said, no way...that story just got played in Manchester By the Sea.....are they already out of story ideas?

I'm not sure I agree with any of this, but I'm sure a backlash will soon present itself (if it hasn't already). There can only be so much praise before the tide turns.

Was it just me, or did they not give us the intro "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories. DAT-DAT!" or even the Mike Post Title Sequence? No wonder its so boring!

The "dun-dun," as others call it was employed, but no, not the pro-forma intro. And although I saw episode 2, I don't really remember an intro or opening-credit style.

Really, whenever Edie Falco wasn't on the screen, I found it difficult to stay interested.

SOAP had a gay main character decades before either Ellen or Will & Grace.

Not the star, not the title character, and not exactly a step forward either.

Thank you for putting your finger on it. This show was quite good when it tried to be funny, and not good when it tried to be important. I only hope we can let it be good rather than rooting for it to be important.

We'll see. NBC already loves it so much that they ordered another batch of episodes for a second season.

Wasn't Tony Randall's character in this the first openly gay leading character in a series?

"Openly?" Ha. Maybe in circa 1980 terms, but there was nothing openly gay about Sidney.

I had exactly the same reaction about Manchester by the Sea. But I'm still in until they do something worse.

I have the TV tastes of a 90 year old woman, so I may have some helpful suggestions. If your mom can't handle flashbacks or violence, she may not like Anne with an E, which has both. I second the recommendations for Call the Midwife and Great British Bakeoff, both of which are available on Netflix and are my go-to feel good tv shows. If you want to get slightly but safely edgy, you could try Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, though be warned that it acknowledges the existence of sex (and murder, but in a totally non-violent way), or Last Tango in Halifax. If you'd like to try something more contemporary, you could try the Gilmore Girls or Planet Earth

Good suggestions, thanks.

Was dark, miserable and not at all Anne- like... and I say that as someone who adores everything about Green Gables and was really looking forward to the series. I watched one episode and hated it and haven't watched another since.

Hopefully, OP will see this.

Watching M*A*S*H's treatment of Margaret"Hot Lips" Houlihan change from the earlier seasons to the later one is like watching history change before your eyes. She initially was mocked as an uptight prude who hypocritically had an affair with a married man , but later became a valuable member of the medical team as viewers objected to the stereotypes of her character. Fascinating to see the changes the show runners made in the character.

I just wanted to say thanks for letting us all know about the limited run series, the Sinner. I wish more shows could completely wrap things up after a really good short run, but I guess that is not how the big money is made. (I was disappointed when I had naively thought that The Man in the High Castle was only going to be one season and would completely wrap things up at the end of the first and only season.) Thanks again.

You're welcome -- and yes, let's hear it for the one-and-done approach. I honestly think a lot of shows would be hailed as classics if they'd kept things to one terrific, fully-conclusive season.

Not good enough. Pass!

Agreed. I'm not sure how it doesn't wind up being the same thing over and over. Maybe that'll suit the needs of other viewers, though.

Will we ever see confirmation that there is actually a Good Place?

Perhaps? Maybe? If and when it suits them to show it to us?

 

Although I was not a huge fan of the original Will and Grace, at least the writers worked snarky humor deftly into the dialogue. I was watching Hulu's Difficult People and it really seems as if the writers start with a list of snarky comments about current pop culture and then come up with a weak plot on which to hang the jokes.

Sounds like a method.

May I suggest The Doctor Blake Mysteries? The first three seasons are on Netflix.

How many Doc mysteries are there, fer cryin' out loud.

No question -- just want to say that American Vandal is some of the best and most creative and funniest television I've watched in several years.

Second the recommendation for Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - it's worth it for the costumes alone. I also enjoyed "Escape to the Country," which is available on Netflix. British people shopping for country homes, and exploring the history and activities in rural England. It's like a very wholesome, non-cranky version of House Hunters.

So, real talk: The only answer for this poor 90-year-old woman and her daughter is that they have to watch British television?

It's really hard to go wrong with PBS. In addition to the ones mentioned, I'd include Last Tango in Halifax and My Mother and Other Strangers for comedy/drama. I've heard good things about Indian Summers and Framed, but I haven't watched them. I also enjoy some of the history/reality shows like Finding Your Roots and the British Antiques Roadshow (mostly for the locations). Also, I know you don't care for it, but I enjoy Doc Martin!

What would you recommend I watch?

Hard to answer since I don't know what you have watched already in the HBO family or what you like. As far as Cinemax goes, I really loved "Quarry." (Speaking of one-and-done seasons.)

Hey, I suggested TCM, Retroplex, TVLand, etc. for some good old AMERICAN shows!

Yes, but based on the fact that they'd enjoyed "The Crown," it sounds like they'd like something besides old movies and reruns. And I would like to affirm the idea that a nonagenarian might like to see something made in the 21st century.

Okay, when I started this chat, I had no idea so much of it would be consumed trying to get a 90-year-old lady to watch Doc Martin, but you guys always keep me guessing.

Ciao for now -- we'll chat again next week, Thursday, Oct. 5.

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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