What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Nov 16, 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."

We're back. I'm interested to hear what you're watching these days and why you like it. And, of course, we can talk about all the depressing accounts of showbizzy men harassing and assaulting or inappropriately behaving with women -- I see Al Franken is the one coming under fire today. Here's what I wrote last Friday about Louis C.K. ("Now that Louis C.K. has admitted he's a pig, can we keep him? The answer is still no.")

With that, let's chat!

Should they try a season without Jeffery Tambor, or just close it all together?

For those who aren't up to speed on this (because it's hard to keep ahead on all these harassment stories), Amazon is investigating a harassment complaint against Jeffrey Tambor. There aren't many concrete details here yet, so it's a wait and see thing.

But "Transparent's" writers must act now to be prepared for the loss of their main character (Maura Pfefferman, the trans woman played so very, very well by Tambor). Season 5 was ordered, so it's their job to produce scripts and proceed. Amazon can always call the whole thing off, and if they did, I would say -- as a loyal, enthusiastic viewer of the series -- that season 4 was ending enough, with the Pfefferman family's cathartic journey to Israel. Maura seemed more at peace than anyone else.

It is interesting though that the show ended on a kind of transitional note that focused on Ali (Gaby Hoffman), who  is in the process of defining her (their?) own gender. She chose to stay behind in Israel, so that's at least one way to shift the show in another direction.

Another possibility is to recast Maura -- this time with a trans woman actor. Soap operas used to do it all the time ("the role of Maura will now be played by ..."), and it would make Tambor's most recent Emmy speech, in which he hoped aloud that he would be the last cisgender person to play a transgender role, somewhat prophetic.

Still, like any fan of the show, I find it hard to imagine any stories that don't involve Maura, someway, somehow. There is also another solution -- kill her off. In which case, I'd rather they just cancel season 5 and leave it where it beautifully exists.

Do you watch this? It's my laundry folding show. Even as a casual viewer I can spot some sloppy story-editing errors. For example, a character who was supposed to be gay per previous story line now appears straight. In the last episode Tea Leoni's character was groggily getting out of bed...but already had shoes on. What gives? I would think a major network show would not be so sloppy.

Not sure which gay/now-straight character you're referring to, but the fact that you noticed the shoes-in-bed thing makes me wonder just how neatly (or quickly) your laundry is getting folded.

Truth be told, I gave up on "Madam Secretary" last year and have been quietly yet remorselessly deleting this season's episodes from my DVR, unwatched. I don't feel like I'm missing anything, and by moving her to a later slot on Sunday night, she doesn't stand a prayer against more alluring choices.

This show, to me at least, has gotten pretty darn good in its second season. Are the ratings there so that it gets to stick around?

If I were TNT, I'd be quite pleased with "Good Behavior's" live +3 rating, which puts it among the top dramas on cable TV. Among its peers (again, just cable scripted shows) it's doing fine.

I've enjoyed this season of American Horror Story more than I thought I would, given how awful both Hotel and Roanoke were. However, I found this week's finale weak and lacking. Yes, some loose ends were wrapped up, but it all happened far too quickly and I found it borderline boring. Thoughts? Also, what's in store for the next AHS franchise (if you know). Love your chats.

I agree that the finale for "Cult" (the current season, the one that started off with Trump's election last November) left a whole lot to be desired -- I won't go into detail, so as not to spoil it for those who are saving it for later. Suffice to say that the final moments were really just the most trite sort of irony, and definitely the cheapest way out. It was yet again another case of AHS starting off strong, meandering for a few too many episodes, and then grasping for an ending.

But fans seem to really stick with it, so ...

All I know about the future for the series is that FX has already ordered seasons 8 and 9. We usually don't get an inkling of what the next one's about until spring.

Was the series worth it?

Tediously strung out, I thought, but I confess that I lost interest about five episodes ago.

No question, just a comment about Riverdale. I know you've soured on the show with the second season, but I just finished the first season and man was that wild. Felt like Twin Peaks meets the original 90210 with a little gothic horror thrown in the mix. Thoroughly enjoyed it, but a little hesitant to keep going as I'm not too interested in the parents. Heck of a 13 episode ride!

Season 2 is basically more of the same. More crimes (who shot Fred?) and biker gangs. Maybe a chatter who is watching it (not YOU, Riverdale Perv) can bring us up to speed and tell us if season 2 is worth catching up on.

"For example, a character who was supposed to be gay per previous story line now appears straight." I'm three episodes behind (schedule, not lack of enthusiasm) but if this is a reference to staff assistant Blake (played by Erick Bergen), he's technically bi, not gay. Which is disappointing because I want him on MY team!

Really, they made that guy bi? (Mmmkay, whatever.) But you saying you wanted him on YOUR team (whichever team that is) just goes to show how little respect the bisexual people have always gotten, from all corners. Setting aside that the character is make-believe, if he's bi, then he IS on your team.

You're not missing much. I was just musing last night about how the show has very much swiveled from the soap opera assassination intrigue of the first season to the current routine of a somewhat treacherous situation being deftly and humorously resolved by Madam Secretary by the end of the episode. But personally, I kind of like that. I'm into so many heavy shows, it's nice to have something light and--because I work in foreign affairs--relatable. (My colleagues and I are actually pretty impressed by its verisimilitude. Obviously things take longer to resolve than that, but compared to other shows, the day-to-day operations ring pretty true.) Also, Tea Leoni and Tim Daly have great chemistry--something that usually isn't true with real-life couples. All of which is to say that you're not missing anything if none of this interests you.

Thanks for the clarity. I enjoyed it for a full two seasons and part of a third. One of the things about watching TV anymore is to know when you've had your fill. I think we too often tell ourselves that we have to keep watching shows just because we've been there from season 1. It's the perfect "it's-not-you-it's-me" breakup scenario, letting a show goes its own way without you.

Do you still stand behind your statement that only a small percentage of men are guilty of such things and shunning them will free up spots for new equally creative voices? Its starting to feel like a deluge to me. And on a different note -Al Franken! -I'm crushed.

I have no idea how deep this goes or how common it is. But, what are we up to now, in terms of showbiz-affiliated culprits, including all the ones who merit barely a blip in Hollywood Reporter and Variety? Twenty dudes? More? I still count many thousands of stars and off-camera people who (as of this writing) weren't assaulting or harassing their female colleagues.

Hank, I enjoy your weekly chats, and I'm wondering what online source(s) you would recommend for people like me who are wondering how their favorite shows are doing. Prime-time shows, of course, but also late-night shows as well as network daytime shows and major syndicated shows, assuming they are readily available online. Thanks!

The Google search bar is your best bet. Try simple combos like: "Riverdale ratings" or "Jimmy Kimmel ratings" and then pay attention to the dates on the results. Pick a recent one. Many times this will take you to a website called TV by the Numbers, which presents ratings in a way that's easy enough for a beginner to understand. I find it hard to search for stuff on their site, so that's why I start with Google.

I agree that it would be difficult to continue without him, but there so many other good actors in the series (the children and Judith Light) it seems unfair to not at least try another season and let them have their due even if Tambor isn't in it. And Ali's storyline is the most interesting anyway. Just my two cents.

Which is pretty much what I was saying, but I think the basic options for answers to the question "Where is Maura?" (Oh, she's on a fellowship in Tahiti, Oh, she moved to New York, Oh she DIED) are all pretty clumsy.

And I want to say, in case I didn't make it clear, that from my reading of this situation, this is being handled as an HR complaint within Amazon, rather than being aired in the media (i.e., six women come forward and tell reliably similar and documented accounts of being harassed by him), so it may very well end up that he'll remain on the show. That could all change before this chat is over, of course, given today's news cycles.

Excited for this show to return in December.

Okay, but why?

This show is getting better in its final season. Where do you think its actors should land?

I don't care.

Not to sound callous, but I look at the work at hand: story, character, tone, writing, performance, consistency -- everything but what the actors have appeared in before or what they'll do in the future. What happens next for them is for their agents to worry about, and maybe some of their die-hard fans.

That said, I'll go ahead and guess that the next thing for any of them is ... a sitcom.

I watched the first season and really enjoyed it . I was a fan of the comic books when I was a kid in the 90s and enjoyed the new tweak they gave to that universe. I'm still watching the second season and I'm still interested in finding who is trying to kill everyone, but I think the show is now too focused on the parents and their stories are not really interesting. In the first season, the parents had flaws but also their good side, now almost all of them have just big flaws, are very predictable and don't really seem to care for their children. I'm more on the fence for the second season...

I would be interested in "Riverdale" again if they would just turn all the adult roles in to Charlie Brown-style adults, who appear only occasionally and very briefly as warped dialogue.

I recently stumbled upon "Stan Against Evil". On IFC, stars John C. McGinley, about a retired sheriff fighting evil spirits. Completely stupid show -- but it is has been great for me after doing paperwork at night to turn my brain off and wind down before bed. Do you have any favorite mindless shows?

Probably the best example of this right now (better than "Stan Against Evil," even) is Hulu's just-premiered "Future Man," which I recommended in my Fall TV picks way back in September.

Is it ever coming back?

Yes. Since it premiered last February, I would think that late winter/early spring would be a likely place to find a premiere date, when they announce one. (They haven't.) In other words, hold yer horses.

It's fun, light-hearted escapism with a cast that enjoys their roles. A little bit of sci-fi/fantasy, but not overly CGI'd, so it's almost a throwback to earlier eras of TV. Reminds me a little of Eureka, another show that I enjoyed for similar reasons.

Okay, thanks very much. I like it when people explain themselves.

I agreed with you about the beginning of season 2, but the most recent 2 episodes were really good - more on the teens, less on the adults. I'm hooked again!

I am not the OP. But sorry that you don't care. Most of the shows discussed on this chat are on premium channels or streaming services. There are many of us who only have basic cable. The Middle is funny and quirky. I wonder why the same sitcoms(Modern Family) get Emmy nods, while this show never did. But you probably don't care!

I didn't say I didn't care about the show. I said I didn't care about what happens to the cast after it wraps up this season.

That's still ON??

Not sure if you're still watching this, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has veered from an offbeat musical/comedy to something much darker, as the title character spirals downward. I've actually liked it a lot throughout its three seasons, but now I'm almost afraid to watch what happens next. With its miniscule ratings, the show can't last much longer in any event, unfortunately.

Out with a bang, I suppose.

OP here. I was actually referring to Alexander. Remember, Henry got him to turn on the Russians because he was gay. Now they are alluding to a romance between him and Stevie. I mean, maybe he will shut her down, but he seems to reciprocate.

Ah. Well, as you can see, we went off in our own direction.

Dated question: why was Chrissy Metz nominated as a supporting actress at the Emmys, but her male castmates were nominated as lead actors?

I believe the network makes that decision, which is my way of saying I dunno.

Speaking of which, Justin Hartley sure was reaching hard for his Emmy this week, wasn't he? ("I'm in PAIIIIINNNNNNN.")

I was falling out of love with Riverdale as well, and then my DVR erased itself and I lost all my backed up shows, so I had to watch live tv again. I've only watched last week and last night, and I'm re-thrilled with the show. Much more on the kids, lots of Cheryl, Archie actually making some good choices, and some bonkers Alice Cooper (not that Alice Cooper). Give it a whirl! It's still a fun show.

Although you sound a little like a publicist, I will dip in on the Tawdry Archies at some point before season's end.

"To the moon Alice" Shaking a fist..."someday, Alice, Someday, bang, zoom...to the moon Alice" So, would those once classic lines be edited out today?

I first encountered that show as a kid/teenager in the late 1970s/80s, when we were already hip to spousal abuse, and even then it seemed disturbing that he spent so much time threatening his wife. (Though I'm sure fans would hasten to add: He never hit her, though!)

I don't think they'd be edited out. And if you notice, "Cosby Show" reruns have already quietly come back. Like others, I think a lot of this stuff needs to be labeled "archival interest," as a reminder of what we once accepted as entertainment, even if it may have offended others or subconsciously affirmed bad behavior.

Thank you for the review and recommendation. I never would have picked it out of a line up otherwise. I thought it was a Sy-Fy kind of show. The Golden Age of Television is not easy to navigate.

Ain't that the truth. I'm glad I was able help to you find the series.

Since next Thursday is Thanksgiving seems an appropriate time to ask what your favorite Thanksgiving TV shows are. WKRP in Cincinnati is still up there with the Les Nesman turkeys can fly episode, and I liked the NCIS episode where DiNozzo's dad helps cook the turkey. This year haven't had an standouts -at least that I've seen thus far.

Nothing comes to mind, though I am fond of Les and the turkey drop. Other than that, when a TV show stops to celebrate Thanksgiving, I just chalk it up to November sweeps. To me Thanksgiving = the sound of a televised football game (always way too loud) in one room and the sound of an electric carving knife in the kitchen.

It was Alexander's FRIEND who was discovered to be gay and killed, giving him more reason to be Henry's spy.

Okay, there it is, and I thank you for stepping in.

I never know WHERE this chat is headed when I first sign on.

Just an overly enthusiastic 38 year old. I have to edit all my exclamation points out at work, and overdo it in real life...


I mean, HAHAHA!!!!

I love this show - one of very few I watch each week. Will it be impacted by the Louis C.K. scandal??

It's been renewed for season 3 and it is very, very much Pamela Adlon's show. His role as producer was probably only nominal at this point. She issued a very brief statement last week expressing utter hurt and sympathy for the women and asked that she be given more time and privacy to think about what else she has to say about all this. I personally am a huge fan of "Better Things" and have every confidence that it will be okay. Meanwhile, FX has severed its relationship with CK. So at the very least, his name won't be on "Better Things" next season.

It's good to have this show back. I am sorry to see the story arc of Debbie, who at one time seemed to be the character who was the voice of reason. I am not saying that her actions are unrealistic -- I mean, look at her role models -- but just kind of sad.

Yeah, I have written about this before. I think the overall arc is that Gallaghers gotta Gallagher.

Thanks THAT GUY! That actually helps me feel better about the show. And yeah, my laundry isn't folded that great.

Looks like we settled this right on the nose at 1 o'clock. Lemme take one more pass through the questions and we'll wrap this baby up. Or fold it and put it in the drawer.

I watched and enjoyed all eight episodes, but I can't help but wonder: how accurate was it? Was Judge Weinberg really the son of a b***h that he seemed to be in the show? He was nasty, short tempered, sarcastic, and very biased against the defense. Were there no repercussions?

For the answer to that, you're going to have to do your own deep dive into the reported accounts of the Menendez brothers' trial. My interest in the topic was next to nil at the time it was going on, and even less now. I did enjoy Edie Falco's performance as Leslie Abramson, but not much else.

I thought the premise of the show looked interesting, so I gave it a try for the first 2 episodes. Meh. Does it get any better, or is it a one season show?

My review was based on three episodes, so all I can say with any authority is that if it's not working for you, then maybe it's not for you. I was also less than thrilled by it -- seemed very much to me as more of the same.

Other than Season 1? Something about Music Copyrights or something?

I don't know the answer to this. But in just a little bit of Googling it for you, I found six episodes of season 2 on YouTube and much, much more, although the viewing is not optimal.

Although not exactly mainstream, I have encountered a number of people who are really into watching foreign shows through Virtual Private Networks. Especially popular are Nordic Thrillers like "Bron/Broen" (The Bridge) and the incredibly bizarre "Jordskott." Although I know you probably have plenty to do as it is, I was curious if there were any plans to take a look at these.

We have around 500 scripted shows (dramas and comedies) currently in production for the American market. So you are correct, those take priority for me over the endless choices of streaming foreign content. Much of it makes its way to me anyhow, as when American networks (PBS, BBC America, HBO) import or co-produce foreign shows for our market. Some of it also comes our way in the form of American remakes ("Bron/Broen" became "The Bridge" on FX).

But I also don't like to yuck someone else's yum. If foreign television (and subtitles) are your thing, there are, as you note, more than enough ways to knock yourself out. My one request is that fans of foreign shows don't condescend to people who mostly stick with American TV. I have watched plenty of foreign TV and often it's the same kind of stuff, maybe a little more artful. I think for American viewers, foreign TV helps salve a yearning to travel or live in another country.

"I look at the work at hand: story, character, tone, writing, performance, consistency. .." That's why I think Berlin Station is a great show. It has all of those elements. What say you?

I say I think you could do better. But if it works for you, then keep at it.

And with that, we've run out of time.

No chat next week -- it's THANKSGIVING.

So I guess that means I'll chat with you next on Thursday, Nov. 30.

Thanks for all the questions and comments.

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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