What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Nov 19, 2015

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 "The Walking Dead." Lately he's been digging "The Affair," "You're the Worst," "Fargo," "Casual" and "Supergirl."

We gaaaattthher together for another TV Chat ...

My recent toils: A review of AMC's "Into the Badlands" and a longer review of Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle," which I had reviewed in the fall TV preview and given a B+ for the pilot episode, but with five more episodes to watch, I came to some different impressions of whether or not the show is good. (My new grade would be more like a B-/C+, but it's still worth a look for those of you who have Amazon Prime subscriptions.)

Also, Bethonie Butler reviewed Esquire's new drama (and its first scripted show), "Spotless."

Bethonie is the new player on Team TV -- she'll be writing stories about TV and occasional reviews. (The day finally came where the paper's powers that be realized that one guy can't review all the TV shows -- hooray!) I'm delighted to have Bethonie on board -- you can get acquainted with her recent ouevre here on her bio page, including her "Empire" recaps.

In other news, it's time to make my list of the Best TV Shows of 2015. I have already pretty much decided what they are and in what order to put them. I won't reveal them yet, but I'm willing to be lobbied if you're so inclined. What would your list look like?

Speaking of exhausted TV critics, the chat is going on vacation next week and the week after. (Next Thursday is Thanksgiving and I also won't be here on Thursday, Dec. 3.)

Okay, enough housekeeping -- let's do it to it.

Hi Hank. I'm not sure if this is a question or more of a rant. I watch the morning news on NBC. I don't understand why they use the term/intro "Breaking News" for items that aren't really breaking, i.e. the traffic, rain, things i would consider simply news, not so much "breaking". Usually when i hear that term I'm expecting some sort of immediate tragedy, such as 911, or maybe the 2004 tsunami, Ronald Reagan being shot. What gives? Do you think that term is overused? Do other chatters agree?

This is an oft-heard complaint about local news tactics -- the abuse of the BREAKING NEWS banner and lots of ambulance-red backgrounds on things that aren't all that dire.

What they really mean, I guess, is "top of the news," or "lead story" or maybe they could try, as I've seen others do, something like "happening now." I think the problem is that to them, all this stuff is breaking news, because it's breaking and they're on it and they want you to know they're on it -- standing-by outside the scene, microphone ready. It's quite the feat t0 get a truck through traffic and a reporter queued up and ready to gab knowingly on live TV. They don't want you to change the channel or anything -- so that's why the hyperbole.

Also: Ronald Reagan? If someone were to shoot Ronald Reagan today, I'd give that a BREAKING NEWS.

BREAKING NEWS: DEAD AGAIN.

For the purposes of reviewing the show, do they send you the whole season? Have you seen all the episodes of season 2?

Right now I have watched up through Episode 8. I'm sure they'll be a little more circumspect about sending the last two episodes, so as not to risk spoiling the ending. This season of "Fargo" has been as good -- in some ways better -- than the first. It's a strong contender for my Best of 2015 list.

Holy yah y’betcha! Just when I think last week's episode was amazing, along comes another one mind-blowing week. By far, this is my favorite show this season.

What was last night, episode 6? Seven? In either case, HECK YAH.

Hey Hank. I cant believe how intense the second season of Fargo has been. We will see how they pull off the ending, but so far this season is even better than the first for me. What do you think?

See above!

All the rest of you: Why aren't you watching this show?

The Limitless homage episode to Ferris Bueller's Day Off was awesome!

Oh, I had no idea this had happened. I'm going to have to go back and watch this. Thanks.

Season 2?

Season 2, another six episodes, just aired in Britain and will come to Amazon ... I don't believe I've seen a date yet. Has anyone else?

Looks like it got the ax - apparently by Sutter himself? He said he "didn't want to make a show no one is (bleeping) watching". Kind of a shame, not so much for the show, but for the fact that it might scare networks off from making other (hopefully more fun to watch) shows set in medieval times.

This is all sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy though, because it was the of FX, John Landgraf, who got everyone talking this summer about the pitfalls of "peak TV," where the number of decent, high-quality shows on TV and streaming had exceeded the viewers' ability to know about them or watch them in significant enough numbers to sustain production. Seems to me like Sutter is acknowledging, in his dramatic way, that viewers were too busy to go back to the 14th century with him.

I realize the time-machine hops around quite a bit and the 9th century is not exactly the same as the 14th, but if you're just looking for something sort of Dark Ages-y, there's still "The Last Kingdom" on BBC America and, of course, History's "Vikings."

I have this pet theory that there about 300 actors in the UK who work as peasant-extras on all of these shows. Lots of fires to build, goats to herd, grog to gurgle, etc.

Galavant returns on January 3!!

Kind of amazing, isn't it?

I just snorted Diet Coke all over my keyboard! My IT department is going to be very angry with you. :-)

Diet Coke is bad enough in the mouth; worse in the nostrils. (Diet Pepsi drinker here, yes, still sticking with it even in the aspartame-free era.)

Anyhow, I apologize!

I can easily put together a Best New Fall 2015 ("Grinder," "Supergirl," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend") but I've already forgotten the things that came out earlier in the year. (Example: Which season of "The Americans" aired in 2015 and when? What if I didn't see "Transparent" until 2015? How about Season 4 of "Arrested Development"? What's the statute of limitations?) The last season of "Parks and Recreation" was great. Can I nominate "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for sustained excellence? I guess if I were you I would know that I'm keeping a running list, but... once again, let me offer you praise for bearing your burdens, for our sake.

Never forget that I am paid for my troubles!

Yes, it's hard sometimes to remember what happened in the technical calendar year ... It was season 3 of "The Americans" by the way. Maybe I can jog your memory by recalling that terrific episode that guest-starred Lois Smith as the woman working late upstairs in the machine-repair warehouse ... Still chilling.

We welcome a new face of snark to our recaps, reviews and chats. :-)

Another vote. I am really enjoying this show. It feels fresh. Just when I think an episode is going one way, it goes somewhere else -- often with action figures, a music video, or amusing translation captions thrown in.

I agree -- I was caught up through episode 4 and sounds like I need to keep going.

The article I read said it got 5 million viewers "which is good for a Sunday night." Is it? Or is that just puffery?

No, actually that is pretty good, if it's accurate. I gave the show a good review and a GREAT headline ("Gladdest knight and the quips") -- gosh that seems like eons ago, but it wasn't.

I have always thought that "breaking news" meant that "we interrupt this story with very, very important stuff" (like a hurricane, earthquake, 9/11, prison break so lock your doors, explosion, etc.). It means something earth shattering, not "this is our lead story".

I agree. But by now they've cried wolf so many times that "breaking news" is fairly easy to ignore, isn't it? When it's a really huge breaking-news story they give it a logo and a name and a sad little orchestra theme.

I probably would have tried "the Bastard Executioner" if I hadn't heard that "the Last Kingdom" was so much better!

Haha. I stand by it!

If that happened, would Bruce Campbell play Zombie President Reagan? And would he, playing Ash, fight against himself? I'd pay good money to watch that.

Good money or just a little money?

I heard she's the first sexually active super-hero. Is the series worth subscribing to Netflix?

I don't know but I'm looking forward to reading Bethonie Butler's review of it the minute it goes up!

It needs a Helicopter.

Haha!

Not feeling it. Just seems like an average TV show to me. My 10/13 year old daughters love it, but they're an easy room!

Daughters win.

I just check the first 5 minutes of the hour. to see if there really is anything. Having Brian Williams do this isn't helping fix his reputation. Control yourself, MSNBC!

What have you heard about the second season of American Crime? I'm looking forward to it. Also do you know when Rizzoli and Isles will be back?

I loved the first season of "American Crime"-- another very strong contender for my Top 10 TV shows of 2015 list, which will be published in a couple of weeks.

As for season 2: The premiere date is Wednesday, Jan. 6. Some months ago, the word was that the setting for season 2 is education, with private school and public school issues as a backdrop and the crime is a sexual assault. The season was shot in Austin, but I've heard the story is set in Indianapolis. (In other words, Austin is playing the role of Indianapol-ish. It might have been interesting to set the show in Austin, except that Texas has done such a good job of making sure the rest of the country can only relate to it -- even Austin -- in terms of a set of pat images and self-perpetuating stereotypes. Seems like if you were making a show about the nuances of the criminal justice system and social attitudes, you'd have to work with a whole lot of extra layers in Texas. Florida, too.)

I've got nothing for you on Rizzoli and Isles -- it's not really on my radar. Maybe someone else knows. I thought that was more of a summertime show?

Hi Hank! When is New Girl coming back on the air? Has American Horror Story been picked up for a Season 6? I must say...I like the "look and feel" of this HOTEL series of AHS. Finally - did Quantico crash and burn? How can they make a 2nd season out of this show? Thanks!

"New Girl" returns on Tuesday, Jan. 5.

And, yes, Fox has ordered a sixth season of "American Horror Story" for next fall.

"Quantico" is doing all right in the ratings -- it's not in any red-hot danger of cancellation, as far as I can tell. What to do with season 2 (if it comes) is the writers' problem, and trust me, they'd probably rather deal with that problem than look for a new job.

I've been recording the AHS series and I watched the first episode, because I adore Lady Gaga. But it was so gory and disgusting, I don't know if I can watch another. A plot started to develop at the end of the episode. What do you think? Is the story line good enough to make up for the extreme gore?

It seems like we get this question every week, doesn't it?

I keep giving the same answer: "American Horror Story: Hotel," for me, was stylish but boring. And yes, gory, but that's to be expected from AHS. I guess the mash-up of boring and gory is "bory." I quit watching it and so can you!

I was a little surprised to see your retweet earlier in the week regarding bailing out on The Leftovers. I was not a huge fan of the first season but have really enjoyed this season and it seems like a lot of the TV critics (especially Andy Greenwald) have changed their opinion on the show. I'm not sure if a retweet is representative of your opinion but what is your biggest complaint about the show? I'll also add that I'm in total agreement with you on The Affair, along with Fargo, it may be my favorite show of the year.

I too have noticed that "The Leftovers" has a little more slobber on it, courtesy of a few of my TV-critic sistren and brethren.

But I am still not impressed. I think the show is jerking viewers around and the people who are enjoying that just enjoy being jerked around, in the most punishing, depressing way there is. I don't think "The Leftovers" rewards the work it requires of viewers. I don't think the opacity of it is working artistically. I don't think it's doing a very good job of the thing it's attempting to do. I don't even buy it as a work of catharsis. Sorry, I just don't have that hour on Sunday nights to spare any more on this. (Visually interesting? Yes, often. Performances worth watching? A few, yes. Full of itself? Completely.)

First show to be cancelled! Did you guys have a pool in your office?

If we had such a pool, I would have really lost. I thought it would be "Rosewood" (Fox ordered a full season) or "Blood & Oil." But I disliked "Wicked City" so much that I'll happily accept this news.

I am the prime demographic for this show (son of 1st immagrants). After watching the first two episodes, I thought it was OK. While many of the situations are relatable (Parents episode), the rigid acting has left me kinda "meh" about the show. Aziz is fine, but he seems to be doing a comedy sketch rather than truly acting. Does the show improve? Do you feel the same watching it?

Here is my review. I loved it -- all 10 episodes -- even its slight flaws.

Slowly dying, or just adjusting?

Or maybe the hype is self-correcting to the show that is actually there? I will say, it's a strong contender for my best-of list.

Consider this an official lobbying for "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" - fun, funny, topical, and with Tina Fey leaving NBC for Netflix, spoke to a larger story going on inside the industry

I noticed Winter is Coming and I was wondering if HBO has announced when the Ice Zombies will be back.

No official date yet, but the assumption is April.

HBO is premiering "Vinyl" on Feb. 21; new seasons of "Girls" and "Togetherness" premiere Feb. 14. Depending on the number of episodes for each and factoring in spring returns for "Veep" and "Silicon Valley," you can sort of get an idea of where "GoT" will land. Unless they hold it a bit and let it play longer into the June schedule.

By this time last year Selfie and Manhattan Love Story were cancelled. How are the new shows in their slot doing?

A lot better.

OK. I will start watching tonight. Do you recommend seeing the first season first, or does it not matter? I assume both seasons are available streaming VOD? Thanks!

Actually, someone I know here at work is frustrated because season 1 is no longer available on the cable provider's on-demand options. (He'd have to buy episodes of season 1 -- still worth it, I told him!)

You can watch season 2 without having seen season 1, though there is an overall mythology that speaks to the original movie and seasons 1 and 2. If all of the current episodes are still available on-demand, I'd get busy on season 2 and put season 1 on your Christmas wish-list.

If Aaron Sorokin ever tries another drama in a newsroom, he should name it that.

I could look at that picture of Noël Wells all day. Just sayin'

Just treated myself to an Amazon Prime membership and binge watched all of Transparent season 1. So good! When will Season 2 be out? Thanks.

Dec. 4!

I have received new episodes and am eager to start watching them -- maybe tonight -- because I need to decide if the show will remain on my top-10 list. (It was definitely on it in 2014.)

I know for me, the American Horror Story franchise = Jessica Lange. Without her this season, it just doesn't seem to get it. And I'm not getting Wes Bentley either.

One thing about anthology series is that there's probably going to be a season that doesn't work for everybody. But they always get a chance to start over. I don't mind getting a break from Jessica Lange (or, more importantly, her getting a break from the show), but the concept and feel just didn't grab me this time. I remain open to future iterations. I like the anthology concept. I wish more shows would do it. Long ago, I always thought "24" should have been an anthology series that adhered to the 24-hour storytelling format, but not always about terrorism and national security, with Kiefer, et al, switching the kinds of roles they played -- good guys, bad guys, in-between.

So my wife floated a theory, not meant to be comprehensive of course, that what separates the truly great television (THE AMERICANS e.g.) from good tv (QUANTICO let's say), is that you can usually predict where the good show is going whereas the great shows constantly surprise you and challenge your expectations. The corollary I would add would be the blandness of the stock characters in good shows (bad boy in need of redemption, crazy neighbor, etc.). What do you think?

I agree. Your wife has discovered predictability.

Does WaPo pay for any of your subscriptions to Streaming, or are you at the mercy at whatever Netmazon/Yahulu gives you?

I pay for it all -- and I mean all of it -- and take a non-compensated work-related expense deduction on my taxes.

I've been meaning to ask my superiors if I'm allowed to avail myself of certain things that show up in my mail -- Netflix sent a free member pass and Hulu Plus sent one recently, good for a year. I dunno. Seems like I should pay for it -- which is why I do.

But I do get lots of links to advance screeners, which helps, but there's no way I could do my job without the full-on cable subscription (plus premium channels) and subscriptions. Right now I have Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu Plus. (And, to be paranoid, I keep those under different names, just in case they are checking to see what the critics watch. You can never be too sure!)

You can start season 2 without seeing season 1, but do not do not do not start watching in the middle of a season... Fargo has a very strong story and coming in cold will spoil it (IMHO).

I think I'm watching it only for the lead actress. Am I turning into Jeb Bush?

Gosh, I hope not.

So far I've been VERY impressed with their guest stars. How are they able to get such great cameos?

They're owned by Disney.

Since you're doing the Best of 2015, who would you nominate to take Best Drama Actor/Actress now that Jon Hamm and Brian Cranston are out of the way?

I don't know because I don't really like to arrange shows by best performances. That's why Emmy season is kind of a chore for me. Unlike movies, where it's easier to decide who was the best performance, a TV show goes up and down, including characters/portrayals.

Is it true that The Soup has been cancelled? Where will I get my weekly dose of snark about Television?

Yes, it's true, sadly. Last episode is Dec. 18. I think I'll have to write some kind of ode to it.

Way back when (fall of 2008), I went out there and watched them tape and episode and interviewed Joel McHale. Here's that story.

Hi. Is there any way to watch the parade, and only the parade? I have two small boys who I think would actually like the parade if not for all the performances and talking heads. Is there a channel that just has a single camera posted in a single spot and doesn't do extra stuff? Thanks!

Not that I know of (there are definitely issues of broadcast rights), but you might see if some spectator with a decent view (and a decent phone plan) is Periscoping it or something? Chatters -- any other ideas? Is there a raw-feed Thanksgiving Day parade channel that I don't know about? And can I eat all this Chex Mix or are we savin' it for comp'ny?

Slowly getting better after that icebath we got when Gretchen admitted she is clinically depressed.

Did you see it this week? It was extremely gory, on a scale with Walking Dead or American Horrible Story

Sorry, I didn't. (I mean, I'm not sorry I didn't.) Was the gore completely out of context and tone with the show? It's always been pretty dark.

Would this be 60's Pro-Medicare Reagan or 80's Pro-Bombing Reagan? What would Nancy do?

I don't know if that would be any different that regular Ronald Reagan.

I'm still a fan of the show so this is like pennies from heaven to hear. And Bruce Springsteen as the musical guest? It doesn't get any more A-list than this!

Merrrrry Christmas!

They're trying to get that 'ER' vibe so much it hurt. How did it do in the ratings?

2.2/7, 8.6 million viewers on Tuesday.

CBS's NCIS: New Orleans won the timeslot.

But you realize this is all an increasingly old-school way to look at how a TV show did?

I still watch the old specials. How's the 3-D movie?

What's a movie?

check your local library, should be there!

You know, that's why I love our chatters.

This is a really smart answer -- and in some libraries, true.

What the hell?

A much shorter review -- three words! I should have thought of that!

Do ratings attempt to factor in DVR viewing?

Yes, Nielsen has concentrated all its powers on measuring this -- when you look up ratings (anyone can do it -- simply Google a show title + ratings) you'll see DVR and time-shifting represented by plus symbols followed by how many days later Nielsen viewers watched shows that they've DVR'd -- +1, +2, +3 -- the networks have been touting viewership numbers as high as +7 and +14.

Think he will get an emmy nom for his Reagan role?

That's be nice, wouldn't it?

Lots of people are owned by Disney, though ...

Darth Vader, Spider-Man, Indiana Jones, Miss Piggy -- the Mouse House keeps adding more space.

What do you watch on Thanksgiving?

Books.

I hope its on your top of 2105 list. When is it back?

Haha -- love the idea of a 2105 list. By then, they will have completely forgotten what television ever was.

"Saul" is kind of in the 11-20 list for me. Great, but not top-10.

Okay, before I break any more hearts, it's time to go. I'll see you back here on Dec. 10. (Three weeks from today.)

Thanks, everyone!

PS: In answer to that last question, season 2 of "Better Call Saul" premieres on Monday, Feb. 15!

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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