What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Sep 04, 2014

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," "House Hunters," "The Amazing Race," "The Suze Orman Show." And he once gave "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a good review. Lately he's been digging "Masters of Sex," "The Strain" and "American Ninja Warrior."

Welcome back, everyone. This week is kind of the calm before the fall TV storm. I spent most of Labor Day weekend re-watching and writing reviews of 26 new dramas and comedies (coming in our Fall TV preview, which should go up online on Friday, Sept. 19 and be in your Sunday paper on Sept. 21). It's kind of nice feeling to know exactly where I stand on all the new stuff.

But that conversation is still a few weeks off -- most of the new shows premiere after Sept. 21 and I'm sure you'll have lots to say about them.

Meanwhile, plenty else to talk about. Let's go...

Are you going to do a guide to new shows we should catch, and those we should skip (or watch so that we can say we witnessed the disaster)? I don't think I've seen a guide on WaPo.... or anywhere, actually, now that TWOP hsa folded. I'm knee deep in toddler land and need the decisions outsourced!

See above.

What's this about Fox wanting to do a reboot of the series? Didn't they learn the lesson from "The Bionic Woman"?

Yes, there was a report that Fox might be considering a reboot of "Greatest American Hero." (Believe it or not...) The "Bionic Woman" reboot in 2006 was NBC's problem. These shows will keep coming back round and round, because sometimes you get a hit ("Hawaii Five-O") even though you get a lot of duds ("Charlie's Angels," "Ironside") ... I'll bet there's not a single show from the '80s or '90s that doesn't have a reboot rattling around in development or pitch meetings somewhere. Reincarnation is just part of television's circle of life.

So how does this "Utopia" on Fox look? You really can't tell how good these reality Shows are by the trailers.

It starts this weekend and I think it's all happening more or less in real time (via web cams), kind of on a "Big Brother"-like schedule. They brought some of the would-be Utopians to the summer press tour in July and my impression was that we are going to see a lot of right-wing people arguing with left-wing people about whether or not this new civilization should be based on Biblical principles and all that. I feel like we fight enough about those sorts of issues enough here in the United States of Dystopia, so I'm not super eager to watch people do that for an hour a week as a form of entertainment. The survivalist stuff, though, might be interesting to those of us who can't resist shows like "Naked and Afraid," etc. (Utopians are clothed, I believe. What were the producers thinking???)

Because trhe Pro Football seaspon starts! Is SNF still the most popular show every week?

Yes, the game with the ball with pointy ends is still the most popular thing on television.

Have you seen any episodes from the new season? I had just about given up on the show but those last few episodes from season 4 were electric. Hope they can carry it into the final season and give Nucky a proper sendoff (or at least be better than Dexter's final season).

I've watched the first three episodes of the new season and have decided to wait until we're a little further along to write what will somewhat sadly be my last "Boardwalk Empire" review. Although I was talking to someone yesterday about the show and we agreed that it's had a nice, full run -- it's a contained story. I think binge watchers will continue to discover it years from now and wonder why they waited so long to try it.

I'll share a little bit of what's ahead (don't look if you want to remain entirely spoiler-free): The show has jumped several years ahead to 1931. Prohibition is dying. Nucky is in Florida, preparing to corner the rum market. Chalky White is on a prison work line. Gillian is doing time in an asylum. And you'll still need extrasensory skills of TV character perception to tell the difference between all the guys who work for Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, etc. (Which I think was one subliminal reason some viewers peeled away from the show after a season or so -- to many mob men in suits and hats.)

As I wait for the arrival of new shows, I've been going back and watching the first episodes of shows I have loved over the years. I've done Game of Thrones, The Wire, The West Wing, True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Friday Night Lights. What else would be fun to see again before I get swept up in a whole new set of first episodes?

I'm sometimes amazed at how different comedies are from their first episode to the point where they hit a groove. "30 Rock" leaps to mind.

Hi Hank. Love love love this chat!! I'm sure you've answered this a million times, but will you let us know a couple of your guilty tv pleasures. Like something that we would NEVER expect you to watch. Mine is Royal Pains on the USA Network. For some reason that show just makes me smile on the inside. Inquiring minds want to know!

We did a Sunday Arts & Style section with the theme of "guilty pleasures" a few months ago. Mine was "Renovation Realities." Lately it's been "Naked & Afraid," which I ignored when it started and now find myself watching a few episodes at a time. I probably feel guiltiest about the fact that given the choice of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I will still often opt for a "Friends" rerun, depending on what season it is (earlier = better). It lulls me to sleep with pleasant thoughts of being in my 20s in the 1990s again... ("I'll be there for youuuuuuu.")

It was one of those shows where the theme song was better than the other 59 minutes? Kind of like "Hawaii 5-0".

What do you think? Yay or nay?

It's a very classy sort of pilot, with just the right touch of romance and supernatural, setting itself to be a procedural. It's perfectly fine, sort of blah and (if I my issue a prediction) TOTALLY DOOMED.

I'm looking forward to your Fall TV Preview! This week Vulture has been doing a retrospective of the fall '94 season and its insanity (the debut of Friends and ER, bonkers seasons of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210, launch of Party of Five). The '04 fall season also gets a lot of love for Lost, Desperate Housewives, and one of my all-time faves, Veronica Mars. Maybe 2014 will be magic too? Maybe? A little bit? Something?

I don't think 2014 will be all that, but the shows are noticeably better than they were last fall. We're still talking about gradations of mediocrity, mostly.

I'd watch the first Episode of "Survivor" where Richard Hatch has pretty much panned by everyone, and he wound up winning the $1million.

Maybe Bionic Woman, etc don't work as TV series reboots but there does seem to be a market for movie versions of old TV shows. Just read today about a potential CHIPS movie--if they can remake 21 Jumpstreet, why not Chips?

Yeah, people complain about this kind of thing a lot, and then some of those movies really rake in the box office receipts.

I think the thing that made people disappear that day is because at that Exact Moment, someone wanted that person to be gone. From Laurie's Fetus, to Kevin's Trollip, to the crying kid in the backseat, to the Pope to Gary Busey, to the cast of "Perfect Stranger", to Nora's husband and two kids who were driving her nuts. They all had someone at that moment who wanted them gone. Is that the reason?

We've been told by the creators (Damon Lindelof and the original book author Tom Perrotta) to not expect to ever know why the Sudden Departure occurred. We are to be as confused as the characters. But I admire that you're trying.

Because this chat is anonymous, I will gladly admit to loving The Trailer Park Boys. Any show with an episode entitled "a weed trailer is no place for a kitty" is worth 22 minutes every now and then.

It actually runs better the second time around. When are new eps coming back?

Wednesday, Oct. 22 is what I have on my list.

It didn't seem funny, there's no chamistry, and it just reminded me of the celeb phone hacking scandal. I think the Cancellation Ax willl fall on it first!

It's awful when shows have no chamistry.

I'm not sure West Wing would hold up--that first season with Moira Kelly was really bad--it wasn't until season 2 that Sorkin caught fire.

No slaggin' on Moira Kelly here! (Toe-pick!)

Which summer shows did well enough to return next season?

"The Leftovers," "The Strain" ... probably most everything on cable with a detective or a lawyer in it (but not a Wyoming sheriff) ... and would you believe "Halt and Catch Fire?" Surprised not to have heard anything (someone correct me if I'm wrong) about FX's "Married" and "You're the Worst."

Well, I am sad. Think it will get picked up by another?

There's certainly a lot of hope from fans that "Longmire" could be one of those shows that gets "rescued" by a smaller, streaming outfit looking to add to its roster of original programming. Warner Horizon, which makes "Longmire" is reportedly shopping the series around to a new outlet, but I haven't read or heard anything definite yet.

when a network HEAVILY advertises a new show (I see non-stop adds for CBS's Scorpion show), what are they really doing? Is it because they fear it won't do well (so it needs all the help it can get), it's a 50/50 show that could go either way (so a little promotion goes a long way), or are they just down right proud of it? In the case of CBS, I couldn't tell you what their other new fall shows are, but I certainly know about Scorpion.

And I will go ahead and tell you that "Scorpion" is easily one of the worst, dumbest shows that CBS is bringing out this fall. (And "Madam Secretary" is one of the best.) I think the networks go way too overboard on the ads for new shows, beginning in summer. By the time it gets here, a viewer has a built-in bias against it, just because of the relentless ad campaign. Premium cable channels are often much better at creating a sense of mystery with their promos -- just enough to make you curious and not so much that you get sick of it.

You just made my entire day. Thank you.

Such a great question. Like, which show that you loved, if you were to watch the pilot today, would you never have stuck with and which ones are just as god. Parks and Rec I would have give up on - that was a slow burn until it got really good. The West Wing still has one of the best pilots ever. POTUS!

I watched the pilot of "Selfie" strictly for Karen Gillian (Amy Pond!) but wow, it was terrible. Why is she trying to make it in Hollywood? She could do very well if she stuck to higher quality programming in the UK.

My (not so) guilty pleasure comes back October 14th!!! Chrisley Knows Best!

Ooooh, you should very guilty about that. That family gives me the hives.

Have you had a chance to see "Breathless" on Masterpiece Mystery? I couldn't figure out what was so mysterious about it.

I thought it was boring, so I didn't review it.

How many episodes will it last before CBS replaces it with Mike & Molly and Mom?

"Mom" already has a return date -- Monday, Sept. 29 -- and "Mike and Molly" is waiting in the wings for midseason, last I checked.

When is the Good Wife back? It's the only show I watch during the actual broadcast anymore, and I miss it!

Sunday, Sept. 21. (As a fan, you know to not trust the sportsball games to end on time.)

I strongly suggest you check out "Madam Secretary," which premieres right before "Good Wife" on the 21st. It seems tailor-made to be an appetizer for Alicia Florrick & co., but it's good on its own too. At least, the pilot is. In my opinion.

I know I should get over it, but I'm still sad about Revolution getting the ax. Do you think another network will pick it up? Maybe SyFy?

I think if someone was going to, they would have by now.

So this is for the chatters here who are. PETER CAPALDI, amirite?!?

Any word on the Divide? I thought it was surprisingly good for a network with no other original programming - better than most of the TNT crime shows. Will it be back?

I have seen firm confirmation that it's been renewed, but there are some reports that it has. You think it's great, but there's another reader in here who hated the ending. Stand by ...

I watched every episode of this show and really enjoyed it up until the final episode. That was absolutely horrible. If you go to the IMDb message boards, you'll see that most people thought it was poorly written and made no sense, as if they just had to end it as fast as possible. Not only were there a lot of unanswered questions, but characters acted out of character to the point of being downright stupid. I just had to vent about this.

So, I'll just let you two work it out.

Recently got an HBOgo account. I've seen all the big HBO series (Wire, Sopranos, Six Feet Under) but am wondering what lesser known series are worth watching? Bored to Death and Flight of the Conchords were recommended. What about Rome? The best thing on HBO currently appears to be John Oliver.

I would say "Rome" definitely. And what about "Deadwood"? "Big Love"? "Enlightened." "Looking." The original season of "The Comeback." The early years of "Entourage." "The Pacific." "Boardwalk Empire." The first six episodes of "Getting On." Readers will have more suggestions, I'm sure. (Heck, the documentaries. Far too many great documentaries to name.)

I know I have to wait a couple weeks, but I am so anxious for your preview guide. I watch so much cable and Netflix in the summer, I have no idea what is on tap for network tv in the fall. Scorpion? Never heard of it. Forever? Nope. Utopia? Huh. This is why we need you Hank!!

It's coming, it's coming. It will be out in time enough for you to not miss anything!

Chances that it gets renewed? I gave up on it 1/2 way through this season after I realized I hadn't DVR'd or watched it for 3 weeks in a row. Are the ratings OK?

It has been renewed for one final season next summer.

I wasn't here last week, but what is the consensus on Seth Meyers as a host? I think he played it too safe and left us all wondering why NBC didn't get TIna Fey and Amy Poeler.

He was fine. Upstaged a little by all the other late-night personalities who were presenting or accepting -- Fallon, Kimmel, Colbert -- but he was a total mensch about it and seemed relieved to have anyone else on stage.

I love it for probably the strangest reason. I lost a close family member quite suddenly and without warning so the grief they're experiencing, the anger, the confusion, even the survivor guilt in the form of the Guilty Remnant, all hits very close to home in a very bittersweet way. I guess re-living the pain of losing that person through a TV show makes me feel close to them again somehow. I also loved LOST and never needed to know its answers.

That's a fascinating reason. Thanks for sharing that.

At least CBS is now kind enough to give us the start times for the primetime shows, now. It still stinks if you want to DVR the shows involved, but it's better than nothing.

I had a series subscription programmed into my DVR for "The Mentalist," which I never watched, but helped guarantee I'd get all of "60 Minutes" and "Amazing Race" and, if I was lucky, "Good Wife."

I don't like football or schlock, but I'm running out of shows to stream on Netflix. Would I like still like Friday Night Lights?

People who love "Friday Night Lights" swear up and down that anyone and everyone will love "Friday Night Lights" too. (My dirty little secret? I never watched the last season or so of "Friday Night Lights." Mostly because I was too busy, but also because, well, let's not get into it.)

I've been watching The Goldbergs this summer in re-runs, a show I never watched during the year. My expectations were low, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it formulaic but fun. Whether I'll watch new shows this fall depends on what it's up against.

It's moving to Wednesdays, where it will be followed by The Middle, Modern Family and Black-ish. Not sure what it's up against -- I need my grid and you need a DVR.

I guess my guilty pleasure would be The Cutting Edge. Um, and that was a hockey movie, not a figure skating movie, right?

You're safe here.

What do you think?

It's getting a B- in the Fall TV section.

It's just so stupid, and all the characters are idiots (except Boris), and every plot line is predictable, and yet I keep watching. My favorite part is when Hank turns into McGyver every week and performs surgery with a dinner fork and a novelty balloon and a dog leash. Or something like that.

Well, I blew a lot of time watching the Simpsons ultra marathon on FXX, but it was totally worth it for one reality show whose title came up as Homer channel surfed: Wheelchair Thieves of Beverly Hills. Someone call E or Bravo, stat.

Yay or nay?


Still doesn't fill David Tenant's shoes!

So I finally watched Season 1 of GAME OF THRONES (we don't get HBO so have not been watching in anything close to real time). I expected to be blown away, to be considering it next to the 2 best shows in my mind, THE WIRE and THE SOPRANOS. I must say that I have been very underwhelmed. Not that it is not good, it has high productive values, great acting, and interesting scenery, but I'm just not all that into the stories yet. I have some real problems with how purely evil many of the characters are, yet they have devoted followers (who of course continue to be treated badly...duh). Do you think the show gets better as it goes on or am I likely to find my enjoyment level being pretty much the same through seasons 2-4?

It gets better with Season 2. I had to write a whole mea-culpa in season 3 because I had been so blah toward the show in season 1. I'd provide links to those reviews but it's kind of humiliating. Google it yourself.

I had never seen an episode of Doctor Who prior to the Capaldi introduction a couple of weeks ago. LOVED IT.

Band of Brothers, From the Earth to the Moon, Rome is good (just be aware it wil end in two seasons), and get started with Game of Thrones to find out what everyone is talking about.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming Reboot? I'm a little excited for Aunt Sassy!

I'm afraid I'm too excited and you know what that leads to. It's not a reboot so much as a catch-up. It's a six-episode run. It's 10 years later and the setup is that it's a "behind the scenes" documentary project about a show that Valerie might do with HBO. Or something like that? All I know is it will be a happy day indeed when the screener copy arrives in my mailbox.

Which female-blonde-breaking-rules-in-Washington will make it to a Second season? Or will both be "Terminated with extreme prejudice"?

I think "Madam Secretary" delivers one of the sturdiest pilots of the season and I look forward to more. I've always liked Tea Leoni.

And you know what about "State of Affairs?" It's far better than I expected it to be and no more ludicrous that most of the shows action/espionage/anti-terror we already watch.

I think both shows stand a good chance.

What do you think? The name alone gives me a spot of trepidation. But the clips I've seen have been kinda funny.

I think it's pretty good and I think it's broad enough to attract a diverse audience.

Hank, thanks for helping me feel better about my bizarre enjoyment of this show...though I drew the line at the "venomous snakes" edition that recently aired, and the episode where someone actually did get bitten (a crew member) was way more that I could bear and made wish very much that I could unsee it.

It definitely gets better as the seasons go by. Although, I was hooked from the second I started. I will confess that I don't know half of the people's names on the show.

Hank, it was you who advised me to stick with The Comeback when I was feeling meh after the first episode. So glad I did. I'm also waiting excitedly for new episodes! Speaking of comebacks, there are rumors around that Flight of the Conchords is doing some new episodes as well. Hope that turns out to be true.

Thanks, all. Sorry if I didn't get to your questions. See you next Thursday, Sept. 11 at noon.

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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