What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Oct 09, 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."

We're back and in the fullness of fall. Or emptiness of fall, if none of the shows are grabbing you. Quick hits on my recent reviews:

"American Horror Story: Freak Show": A worn-out setting (circus sideshow freaks) and a bored cast, so far. But, oh, that killer clown... What did you think?

"Homeland": Refreshed, yes, but still on probation as far as I'm concerned. What did you think?

Any "Star Wars" fans out there? What did you think of "Rebels?" I liked it -- TIE fighters, Star Destroyers, real stormtroopers. That's the stuff.

Poor "Mulaney," right? Any other thoughts? Looks like it's headed for cancelville. Lots of other shows look headed there as well -- I see we already have some questions along those lines, so let's get to it...


Hello Hank. There are several new shows out this season that I'd like to watch, but honestly I barely have enough time some weeks to keep up with the old favorites. Now that we're a few weeks in, if you had to pick one to start watching, which would you recommend? How to Get Away with Murder? Stalker? The Mysteries of Laura? (These were selected because they piqued my interest early on.)

My answer to that question always depends on what the questioner already likes. It sounds like you want to add a one-hour drama. My top two broadcast dramas this fall are "Gotham" (I'd pick that far, far ahead of the inhumanely violent "Stalker") and "Madam Secretary," though that show entered a kind of ho-hum territory last week that I hope doesn't continue. If you're already inclined to watch "How to Get Away With Murder," well, you'd certainly be keeping up with the buzz at least.

Have you reviewed it? Should we watch?

Yes, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but I worked my rear-end off on the Fall TV Preview, in which I reviewed just about every new drama and comedy for the season.

Critics have only been given the first episode of "The Affair." I always felt like I'd be able to give a better review when I saw episodes 2 and 3 (and maybe more), but for some reason (spoilers? worry?) Showtime has not sent anymore. So the review I've linked you to is based on the one episode that now anyone can watch for free. You'll see what I mean once you watch it -- viewers just need to know more before we can commit to it.

How are things looking for Gotham's future? I've watched the first two episodes OnDemand and enjoyed them. Do I dare get into the show, or will I just get annoyed and frustrated when it's canceled before the end of the season?

Considering how things have been going at Fox, I think you can safely consider "Gotham" as part of the lineup for now.

Which shows are surprising you with higher ratings than you'd expect, and which are surprising you with lower ratings than you expected?

"Scorpion" is a hit, I'm hearing -- I thought everyone would have dropped it like a stone after that dreadful pilot.

The second two episodes have gotten better!

Or is that better-ish?

Which show is better and why?

They're both superhero shows but they're very different -- starting with the fact that "Gotham" doesn't have a superhero; the once and future Batman is still a little (fabulously wealthy) orphan boy. "Flash" is more recognizable as something that might have come out of a comic book; "Gotham" is clearly more of a graphic novel. I think "Gotham" is the better written, better acted, better conceived show, but "Flash" has some charms. I gave "Gotham" a B+ in the fall guide and "Flash" got a C+, so there you go, in terms of scoring the two.

I've watched a few episodes mostly because I got the impression (from this chat) that it would be canceled soon. Yeah, it's pretty preachy, and yeah, I'm getting tired of seeing that nice young man die (he'll give Sean Bean a run for his money), but the scarves are nice. Why do *you* think it's slated (gulp) for an early death?

The ratings are low.

My wife really wants to watch American Horror Story, but can't stay up late to watch it. What alternatives other than buying a DVR are available? The show is not on VZ OnDemand.

It only aired last night -- are you sure it's not going to be on your provider's (Verizon?) on-demand feature? Sometimes it takes a day or so.

Since you don't want to shell out for a DVR (why not?), I suppose you'd be turned off by paying $2.99 per episode on iTunes, too?

Readers -- any suggestions for these folks?

or has nothing been cancelled yet? (Utopia doesn't count.) Isn't that a little surprising?

Nothing yet, but plenty of shows are getting very close. Top losers include nearly ALL (or all?) the new rom-coms: "Selfie," "Manhattan Love Story," "A to Z."

"Forever" is not looking so hot and "Red Band Society" has a do-not-resuscitate form taped next to its door.

Somewhat tragically, the new CBS crime dramas -- "Scorpion," "Stalker" and "NCIS: New Orleans" -- are doing well.

If TV schadenfreude is your favorite thing, then you need to follow The Cancellation Bear on Twitter: @TheCancelBear

I don't subscribe to Showtime, but I saw the first episode on line. It did not make me want to spend the money to subscribe. Ruth Wilson and Dominic West are good actors, but neither is particularly attractive; he is to Clive Owen what William Mapother is to Tom Cruise (the much less attractive cousin!). Maura Tierney's character is more likable than Wilson's. There is a mystery going on, but, aside from the fact that both Wilson and West are being questioned by the police at some time in the future, we don't know what it is. It's basically a better written, better acted (except for James Cromwell and Henry Thomas) Betrayal.

is the campaign doing any good? are the networks listening to fans?

I don't think there's much hope in getting TNT to reverse its decision on "Dallas," which had a pretty good run for three seasons. I thought the first season was a whole lot more fun and interesting than most reboots and I really admired how they handled Larry Hagman's death and a funeral for J.R. Ewing. But I admit I had not been watching much since then, and almost none of season 3. I wasn't alone -- viewership fell considerably toward the end. The #SaveDallas fans should probably focus on bringing their cause to fledgling but deep-pocketed outfits that are looking for more shows to add to their streaming line-up -- Yahoo, maybe? AOL?

That said, success in streamingville is about buzz and cachet and the wired youth ("Community," for example, is a good example of a cancelled broadcast/cable show that could work online only), and I don't know that "Dallas" can bring that hipster demographic.

That's it. Sorry.

I'm just as excited as you are, though I'm sorry to see them all trapped like mice in yet another dystopian community. The show is no need of publicity or critical support, which sadly means that there hasn't been an advanced screener, at least not for this TV critic. I keep hoping for an email with a link.

Can we perhaps combine The Affair and Stalker to get a show where someone has an affair and is then stalked by their now-former mistress? Any other TV shows you think would make a good combination? Maybe if Mulaney regularly bought cupcakes from a certain bakery ...

I think a lot of shows might last longer if they would just as "Naked and ..." to their title. (Or append "Naked" to the end of the title.) Try it and see.


Hank - read your guide, programmed my DVR accordingly, and have been very pleased with the results. Thanks!


I'm giving up on it. The two hours were painful to watch

I don't blame you really.

"Naked and Meet the Press." Nope, don't think so.

The table hides (most) everything.

So are you still sure this is one of the better shows of the season? Do Post reporters really behave like the one portrayed in last Sunday's episode?

I'm wavering a bit on "Madam Secretary," which had such a smooth pilot.

That reporter works for the "Washington Chronicle." And you know how they can be. Their TV critic is THE WORST.

I was just a kid when the show came out back in 1990, I remember the hype at the time but never watched it. I see it's on Netflix, what did you think of the show? Is it worth watching?

I was a senior in college when it came out and we were BANANAS for it. It premiered in April and would have made a very great mini-series if it had resolved itself six weeks later.

So, the summer of 1990 goes by, the hype just got hypier (I think every single young actor and actress in it was on the cover of a magazine that summer) and David Lynch released an unrelated but very hotly anticipated film in August called "Wild at Heart" that was something of a letdown, mainly because of all the "Twin Peaks" mania. And then, in September, when the show came back ... well ... I'm speaking as here as someone who was not only alive and technically an adult, it was just not as good. People moved on. ABC kept moving it around -- Saturday nights, Thursday nights, I can't remember which nights offhand -- and then it went on hiatus, and then they burned off the episodes in early summer of 1991.

But there were always hardcore fans who defended it long past the point of reasonable defense, when no one was watching it anymore but them. All along, there were great memories of the visuals and some of the characters. And the music and mood -- there was a reason it captured our attention.

But I just want everyone to remember -- happy as we may be that Showtime is bringing the show back -- how easy it was to lose interest in it. I say this even as a person who paid good money in 1992 to see "Fire Walk With Me" in the theaters. (Yes, a "Twin Peaks" movie!)

So is it worth watching, that was your question. My answer is that "Twin Peaks" is worth watching from the beginning up to and a little bit past the point that you are bored out of your mind with it. If that happens to be all the episodes, then good for you.

Do you guys swap notes? Is there a Cabal of Critics?

Not really. Many of us are members of the Television Critics Association and see each other at the summer and winter press tours in LA, but I think, in all honesty, we're way too busy and too self-absorbed to pay close attention to what other critics are writing. UNLESS, of course, one of us messes up royally and writes something really awful, then it's a dogpile.

Aside from the inaccuracies that were throughout the show, I thought it was fun. I know it's doing well, but how do the future episodes look. As for Star Wars - Rebels, my kids enjoyed it, but were annoyed at the commercials. They've been spoiled by The Clone Wars on Netflix. My die-hard SW fan husband thought it looked to "Disney" to be as good as he hoped.

Has Letterman set a date for his last show?


As in Larry Hagman-kind of dead? Dang, how did I miss that? I enjoyed the revival and was waiting for the next season.

Much better show, on the strength of having a strong comedian as the host. The Joan Rivers appreciation was risky but worked. Stronger material, better featuring of cast talent. Darrell Hammond still hasn't found his announcer voice (or volume).

I'm guessing you don't really do much of a review for a 6th season anyway. But can I expect to read something next week or should we discuss here. I love reading a review of yours where we both agree.

I will probably file something once we're several episodes in. We're doing so many recaps now -- I feel fairly certain that someone at the Post will be recapping it? I'd go ask, but my hands are glued to this keyboard.

I know I'm years behind, but I just binge watched The League over the last week or so and laughed my butt off. You never mention off-beat shows like this one. How do you decide which shows to review and discuss?

I mention offbeat shows all the time, what are you talking about? I will admit that "The League" does nothing for me and we haven't run a review since it premiered (and that review wasn't by me).

How I decide: Carefully and not often to my personal taste.

I'm such a cliche. Wondering what you thought of it when it first aired. I was (am?) exactly Rory's age and like every girl my age was obsessed with it. When I watch it now, it's still enjoyable in a warm, safe kind of way. And I'm wondering if that was always the appeal - that there's nothing real or hard about it. Bad things happen and no one gets truly hurt or sad, they just get quippier.

It aired long before my dark reign as TV critic began, so I've only ever seen drips and drabs of it -- enough to appreciate its ear for dialogue and notice how much impact it had on TV that followed. If I had a parallel life in which I could only watch TV shows that aired years ago, I might get into it.

The big reveal about who killed Laura Palmer is one of the scariest moments I can recall on TV. And I'm the same age as you, Hank. No blood, no gore just downright frightening. Loved the show, rewatched it a couple of years ago and yes, it does start to drift, but those episodes up to the big reveal were damn fine television!

Do you think they help or hurt a show's viewership? I confess that I'd rather read Jen Chaney's recaps of Parenthood than watch the show.

I think they help. Some people use recaps as an alternative to watching (and that's often a wise decision) but some people consider them an enhancement to their experience. And I agree about reading Jen on "Parenthood" instead of actually watching it!

That show has hit the comedy sweet spot. They really have it working! I wonder if their small roles in Fargo was a confidence builder?

My take on K&P is that when they nail it, it is totally nailed. And when they start off on a tedious note, it is going to be a tedious four or five minutes until that sketch is finished. And it's always GREAT or UGH, ENOUGH and very little of their work is in between, to a larger degree, I think that some other sketch comedy shows. I adore them when they're hilarious and sometimes admire the effort when they aren't.

"Scandal" has calmed down this season. It's less a new puppy or a five-year-old off Ritalin, so I'm more inclined to watch. But if Ms. Rhimes goes bonkers and loads it up with ridiculousness again like last season, I'll just give up.

So did you like The Strain all the way to the end? I'm looking forward to season 2 already.

I did like it all the way through. It remained somewhat uncomplicated and unburdened, as horror/sci-fi/end-of-the-world goes. I think they waited to long to acquaint us with this assassin team of vampire brethren or whatever they are. I'm still bummed out that Cory Stoll has to wear a wig in it. He's got such a great pate!

I totally need a recap of EVERY single show I watch and I say it EVERY season. I can never remember what happened the previous season. Sons of Anarchy, I feel like I need to go back and watch ALL of season 6.

Hank - like many people, sometimes I forget to DVR shows or maybe sometimes a football game pushes a show later and the DVR isn't smart enough to push the record time up as well. What's a girl to do but go online and try to stream a show. Here's my question: why in the world do networks (not just the big three) quarentine programming and either make you sign in with your cable provider or only post a clip or make you wait a week or two? It's so annoying and only makes viewers frustrated and angry.

If you have a cable provider, do you also have on-demand? Sounds like you'd do better with that than with streaming.

I haven't spent too much time using my Xfinity account access to stream regular network shows to a device, so I'm sorry I can't offer more advice there.

But I can tell you something that we all tend to forget in this hyperwired age: These shows we like? They cost money to make. They are copyrighted properties owned by corporations that shelled out a considerable sum to make them and would like to recoup some of their investment and gosh, even make a profit. Their existence is the result of layers and layers of business agreements and contracts. It's a nice idea that any of us could watch any of it, however we like and whenever we like and then skip out on the tab, but that, alas, is not a permanent business model. When people run into barriers (i.e., they're making me log on!; they're making me a watch a commercial), I just kind of wonder where they think the money comes from to pay that per-episode cost to the cast of "The Big Bang Theory," for one tiny example.

Hate hate hate that wig! What is the point of it in your opinion?

I don't know -- has anyone read the books? Does Eph eventually get turned? (DON'T TELL US!) But maybe if he does, he'd need to be a bald vampire, so that would be easy. Sorry -- just a theory. Not rooted in any special advanced knowledge.

True story: I sat in front of "Bob" at the premiere of "Fire: Walk with Me." It was incredibly creepy.

That's probably the most 1990s thing any of us are going to hear all day!

Did you submit that to Michelle Singletary's chat by accident or on purpose? I'm cracking up seeing it in both chats.

Are you telling me Ms. Singletary is over there having her own kind of TV chat?

In which case, I will now take your questions about mortgages! Big Mama says pay it off!

Is there an actual reason they gave him a wig. My aunt and I are totally vexed by it. It stares at us and makes us feel uncomfortable...

I was so into it in the first season. It's hilarious in a similar way to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (bad people getting themselves into dumb situations). The last season or two I think it's gone off the rails a bit though. The scenarios are not at all believable anymore and it feels like everyone's just trying to one-up each other as they improv.

Barely watch any TV, so would love to know, is this show appropriate for young (9yo) boys who love Star Wars (and Star Wars Legos)?


You say in your Mulaney article that you'd give the show a C+ instead of a C now. Are there any other shows that you'd adjust the grade for -- either up or down -- now that you've seen more?

Might take "Madam Secretary" down to a B from the A-minus I gave it based on the pilot. Probably would have to adjust "Gracepoint" from B-minus to a C.

Other than that, standing firm.

I know Jada Pinkett's character is supposed to give us "something" in Gotham, but that voice of her's really irritates me!!

Honestly, you and Michelle Singletary combine for the best chats on Thursday - kind of like Shondaland on Thurs. nights.

I think you're right.

And with that, it's after 1, so it's time for me to sign off and get back to the TV watchin'.

See you next Thursday, Oct. 16, at noon. Thanks, all.

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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