What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Oct 16, 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."

Once more into the chat. Some possible topics for us this week:

"Boardwalk Empire" is really going out of its way to make sure we remember it once it's gone. Anyone else watch on Sunday night? Holy moly.

"Saturday Night Live" alum Jan Hooks died. She was a great one, who helped pull the show out of a real low point and also served as an important bridge between the Gilda Radner era and the Tina Fey era.

"The Walking Dead" is back with 17 gazillion viewers for the season premiere last Sunday, or something like that. What'd you think?

HBO announced that it is going to start offering direct online subscriptions, circumventing the basic-cable set-up. Cord-cutters everywhere did the victory strut, BUT they haven't seen the pricing model yet. I predict it will cost more than the HBO fee on your cable or satellite bill. And not to be outdone, CBS announced today that you can have all the CBS you want, including a vast library of "classics," for $5.99 a month. This could be where we're headed, folks -- monthly bills for online access to your favorite channels. It's the "a la carte" plan that disgruntled cable subscribers always dreamed of -- and it might total up to a higher bill than basic cable. AND you'll still have to pay for broadband internet. (And imagine the drain on broadband capabilities once everyone is streaming.)

Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the Oscars in February. That's a safe, sure choice -- in line with the well-received return of Ellen DeGeneres to the hosting job last year.

That's what's on my mind; what are you watching?




I liked Entertainment Weekly's comment ... "the real mystery is why 10 million people are watching." Does the show seem to have a foothold? I can't be the only one who finds it one of the worst things on TV. And I've seen Dance Moms.

Is that number accurate?

Any new info on whether there will be a season 3? I love Demian Bichir as Marco Ruiz.

No news yet. I went back and looked and last year, FX had renewed by this stage of the game. I'm sure it's a hard choice to make -- it's a beautiful and complicated show that took some real chances with its narrative this season and perhaps did not generate the sort of buzz among elite TV fans that the network may have hoped. Other FX shows from the summer have been renewed -- "The Strain" and "Tyrant"; "You're the Worst" and "Married" -- and we've known that for some time. So I don't know what to tell ya.

Hey "Bridge" fans -- am I out of some news loop? Is there any word about a season 3 renewal?

Any news on whether any networks are interested in picking it up? I know we fall in the dreaded older demographics, but, there are a lot of us Longmire fans, and we spend money, too!

There is no news to report on this front as of this morning. A few days ago, one of the cast members tweeted out to "Longmire" fans to not give up hope completely that another network or streaming service will pick up the drama (which A&E canceled) for another season, pointing out one good reason: The cast is still under contract with the production company until February. If true, that leaves four months to work out a new deal.

I was the original geek who kept writing last week. I loved the premiere, I think it was one of the best episodes of the entire series. It makes me both excited and scared for this season.

The season premiere!!!! Amazeballs! Did you love it too?

Light spoiler alert for this answer! Look away now!

I did like it a lot, mostly because I've become such a Melissa McBride fan. I was dreading the idea that the show would spend most of the season in that boxcar at Terminus. Turns out I didn't have to worry so much about that.

So now the ensemble is back together. I liked them so much better when they were apart last season; we learned so much more about them and the actors really got a chance to spread their wings. (Fat lot of good it did them, as far as Emmy nominations went.) The scary thing about them reunited is that someone is going to have to go. Hope the actors have been setting aside some of those paychecks into retirement accounts, etc.

What's wrong with Dance Moms? That show can be oddly spellbinding.

Indeed. I found myself genuinely wondering what our Pulitzer-winning dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, might have said about "Amber Alert."

Hi Hank -- Even though I watched the premiere last week, I found myself dipping in and out of last night's episode (not a smart thing to do if you really want to know what's going on, which is difficult even if you are glued to the whole thing). I'm not sure what it is, but it might just be too out there for me, even though I think Jessica Lange is riveting. What do you think? Am I better off trying out one of the earlier seasons on Netflix?

I kind of get into the merits of past seasons vs. "Freak Show" in the review I wrote last week. You can find it and all my recent reviews here.

Maybe, like me, you're a little bored with the initial premise for "Freak Show," which feels like well-trod territory. But I didn't like "Coven" so much in the beginning (same problem -- I was bored with the idea of witches) and then it sort of perked up there for several episodes before it ran out of juice.

Chatters? Any more thoughts?

Hank, getting ready to switch cable providers. Company "V" is offering a special - get free either HBO or Showtime. Based on what series are playing now (or might be returning/coming up in the next 6 months), which channel would you take?

This is a tough one. You want an answer only in terms of series, between now and April? With HBO you'll get "The Comeback" comeback and the very good "Getting On," the six-episode wrap-up of "The Newsroom" plus the "Olive Kitteridge" miniseries with Frances McDormand; in January you'd have "Girls"; I don't have a firm date yet for "True Detective," but it's on the way; and before your freebie subscription expires you might get in the very beginning of "Game of Thrones," "Veep" and "Silicon Valley."

With Showtime, between now and April you'd get "Shameless" and "Episodes" in January and you could start in now on "The Affair" (I have finally received three more episodes of that, but haven't had time to watch them) and the current season of "Homeland."

It's a toss-up, unless we factor in a few other things. Do you like documentaries? HBO has the superior documentary department, thanks to decades of fine work in that field by Sheila Nevins and her crew. But Showtime has come a long way with its documentaries in recent years and isn't afraid to sweep up some surprising docs that were otherwise not going to make it to air -- especially in the rockumentary category.

HBO has "Real Time With Bill Maher," "Last Week With John Oliver" and the "Vice" series -- depending on your politics and media tastes, these might be of added value.

You might also consider sports programming -- the news shows, the in-depth reporting, the boxing matches. Compare HBO to Showtime, both of which offer a lot of that, if any of it matters one whit to you. I don't think I've ever watched more than a minute of all those boxing matches.

And don't forget the thing we almost never talk about when it comes to premium networks: the movies. Before you make your choice, flip through the guide on your screen and just randomly compare what the HBO and Showtime stations (I'm assuming you'll get the full array of either network's east/west channels, etc.) are offering at that particular moment in terms of movies. Try this at several different times of day. Because of licensing agreements, they don't show all the same movies. See which one more frequently is offering a movie you might like to watch.

Also (and this is a lot of advice, I know), consider what you'll have access to with On Demand. (Ask the provider.) If either HBO or Showtime had a recent series that you were interested in but didn't get to see ("Boardwalk Empire?" "Masters of Sex?"), now would be a good time to binge for free, if it's in the archive and you have access to it.

Six months will go by pretty fast.

Chatters -- especially those of you with HBO and Showtime -- what do you recommend?

**Spoiler alert** I was hoping they wouldn't be in the boxcar for long too! And yes Carol ROCKED that epidsode. Now can we find out what's up with Beth?

Oh, right -- Beth.

Like many others, I do sample various new shows to decide whether they would be worth watching for the long haul. Although it still clogs my DVR, I am giving up on Gotham because the mythology may be too tough to deal with and also on Scorpion because I think it is the same show every week with a different McGuffin.

Episode 3 of "Gotham" left me thinking I've got much better uses of my TV-watching time. The sheen of it rubbed off pretty fast.

"Scorpion" -- agree, totally.

The ending sort of left it in limbo where it could be an ending or it could be the beginning of a new start. I see lots of different directions that they could go if they have a Season 3. I hope they bring it back, it was very well done.

HBO. Because they get better movies. Which I realize is not the point, but they still get better movies.

I think the movie choice is very much a good point to keep in mind, which is why I recommended scanning the grids of the schedules and see how often you'd rather watch HBO's movies than Showtime's. Movies take up the bulk of their programming grids.

Do you really think this is where its going? Cause if so, I'll likely be forced off TV altogether, no way I could afford to pay for each channel separately.

In the long view, I don't think anyone knows where there is all headed. But it's not difficult to see how all of this could add up to the equivalent of a cable/internet bill.

How is Gracepoint doing ratings-wise? Have you heard anything?

It's a flop.

Emmy nominations question. Is the nomination process generally based on talent, or do some production companies make it a priority for their shows and actors while others do not? I think of someone like Charles Estin in Nashville--such a revelation that this guy known for improv comedy is such a gifted dramatic actor--but there have been others that have left me wondering "where's the Emmy love?" How much is behind the scenes machinations, at least for the nomination part, assuming it's talent that wins on Emmy night itself?

I think the competition is just so much greater, quantity-wise, than its ever been. These soapy network dramas are fun for viewers and indeed do feature some great acting (I mean, think of how hard it is to perform some of "Nashville's" story lines and keep a straight face), but they just don't stand a chance when lined up against some of today's artistically provocative, deeply felt performances. In every category, where there used be a few dozen potential entries for nominations, there are now sometimes hundreds.

And yes, do factor in all the behind-the-scenes scenarios, real or imagined.

I think Starz has the best movies out of all the movie channels.

Often, I agree. Also Cinemax.

And with Starz, you get all those Encore movie channels too. I was home sick the other day and watched "Valley Girl" (the 1983 movie) from start to finish on one of the Encore channels. A pleasant surprise.

I'm still watching Gotham, although I'm not sure if I could tell you why I'm committed to it. I really like everyone in it (especially Jada Pinkett Smith, who I don't usually like but is clearly having a ball), and each week has good Hey It's That Guy sitings. But it's not engaging me at all, and I can't put my finger on why it isn't working for me (/most everyone else who watches it. I've yet to find anyone who feels strongly about it).

I'm hearing similar from other fans and in the Twittersphere. It was such a strong pilot -- mostly because it was like a movie. That's hard to sustain every week, maybe?

I vote for Showtime simply because "Homeland" is my favorite of all the shows on either HBO or Showtime. Does anybody still watch "Girls"? I was surprised to see you mention that show.

Yes, HBO gets way better movies than Showtime. It also seems like they end up getting all of Cinemax's big movies eventually, so you don't have to purchase Cinemax.

More often it's the reverse, I've noticed -- HBO movies drift over to Cinemax.

Unmentioned so far is that both Starz and Cinemax are upping their games in terms of original series: "The Knick," for example (Cinemax) and I really liked Starz's "Survivor's Remorse," which is on now.

Do you think it will last the whole season? I don't want to start watching and they don't even give it a whole season. That would suck

Things are so dismal at Fox right now that I can't imagine why they won't go ahead an air all 10 episodes of "Gracepoint." They might move it to another night or something, but they already paid for it. Go ahead and DVR them all.

Or better yet, which so many of us have been saying ALL ALONG: Watch "Broadchurch" instead, which is coming back for another season in 2015.

And with Starz you get Outlander. And Sam Heughan. :-)

Of course! I can't believe I forgot to mention "Outlander."

Also, while out sick this week, I confess that I watched a few more episodes of "The Chair," Starz's attempt at a "Project Greenlight"-style docuseries. I got hooked.

if you ever watch movies on TV at all. There is no comparison.

Is there anyway to find out if Newhart will be available on the new CBS streaming option? (And I mean the Newhart show set in the Vermont B&B with Larry, Darryl, and Darryl as the neighbors). It's awfully hard to find more than one season of this classic show anywhere. I'm hoping that the CBS streaming option will make it available. Thanks.

It was not touted in their press release this morning. Try going to the web site and nosing around.

So sad to lose this gifted, charming actress at such a young age. Vaya con Dios, Elizabeth.


The show's always had a high body count (probably comparable to The Sopranos or Breaking Bad), but I'm wondering if there will be anyone left when it's over. (Well, Nucky will be, but anyone else is fair game.) I'm hoping that Gillian will come back -- her scene chewing is almost as good as that of Jessica Lange!

It's not only a bloodbath, though. I've been struck by the precision and care they've put into these final episodes. I plan to write something about it next week.

I have had to cut all my premium channels in order to afford cable at all, but I do subscribe to Amazon Prime. I've watched some great HBO series that way. Most recently The Americans. Wasn't a huge fan of either lead until now, but I love the show. Is there any way to know when Amazon will make season 2 available for Prime members?

"The Americans" is an FX series, not HBO, and I'm glad to hear people are finding it wherever they're finding it.

I have no special insight into how/when Amazon Prime gets the rights to stream recent seasons of broadcast or cable shows. Based on marketing habits, though, it seems like they come available just as a new season is about to air. Trust me, you will love season 2.

I disagree that it's the worst show on TV. It's no "The Good Wife" but parts of it are okay. To me, the reality shows are the worst shows on TV- totally made up, set up and with people I wouldn't want to ride the Metro with, most of them. Toxic.

I also don't think "Mysteries of Laura" is that bad. Here's what's bad from the new fall season: "Scorpion," "Stalker," "Red Band Society."


I love this guy in everything--from Party Down to the final season of Eastbound and Down. Marry Me must be worth a look, right?

Oh, totally.

Speaking of Showtime shows, I liked The Affair pilot. It can be a little slow at times but has a good plot so far.

I really have to watch these new episodes in order to decide what I really think about it. The pilot was pretty riveting.

I do enjoy The Flash a lot. It's good to see Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin again, and Grant Gustin is adorable. I can't watch A to Z because I'm watching Scandal and recording Reign (or vice versa). I enjoy How to Get Away with Murder and Selfie, mostly because of John "Sulu" Cho. Manhattan Love Story is okay, but Annaleigh Tipton is adorable (you're right). I think Modern Family is getting stale; this should be its last year.

Hi, Hank. Posting early to make sure I congratulate you for recommending "Jane the Virgin" so enthusiastically--the premiere on Monday was delightful! Also, belated thanks for endorsing "The 100" when it started last spring. It's equally satisfying, albeit with a very different mood.

What, exactly, is Blackish supposed to be about? Other than a few moments with the white teacher last night, which had a few somewhat biting racial overtones, it seems to be yet another entry in the angst-of-the-affluent-parent-played-for-laughs category, with the now-standard "All About Jim," any Tim Allen role, husband-as-buffoon/classy-long-suffering-wife characters. Is there any reason to keep watching? Because I didn't see one last night.

It's still finding its way, but I like a lot of what I'm seeing. Last night's episode, with the Harriet Tubman performer visiting the class, seemed as though it could be almost as great as the time Gwyneth Paltrow played Mary Todd Lincoln as a substitute history teacher on "Glee," but then it veered immediately into the more hammy, blunt sort of comedy that "Black-ish" appears to be more comfortable with.

They were doing a very stale sitcom trope last night -- Dad finds out how hard Mom has it when they switch roles and responsibilities. But I still think the show is showing a remarkable (for network television) ease with dialogue about race.

Please, please tell me that the ratings for Marry Me were really, really abysmal! I couldn't believe a show that bad could ever see the light of day. But then what do I know, I hated, hated, hated Scorpion & for some sick reason, it's a hit. ARRRRRRGGGGGGHH!

Sorry, but I think "Happy Endings" fans are pretty jazzed to see creator David Caspe's "Marry Me." We like that sort of dialogue and absurdity. We like Casey Wilson.

As for "Scorpion," agreed.

My first thought was this is a slam dunk, go HBO. But it really does take some consideration. I'd still lean that way if I had to choose but Showtime has definitely upped its game.

Surely, Alicia will end up not running for state's attorney - just when she's started her new firm and is finally Diane's peer. Plus all that grief that will be dumped upon her and her family. I was amused by the focus on the wine label - over at the NYT, they seem to think she's drinking expensive stuff because you could see "Margaux" on the label - but Margaux is also an appellation and the name of the chateau was either made-up or soooo far down the scale towards cru bourgeois that I'd never heard of it and I'm a wino! Love the show though.

How dreadful was it for oenophiles to watch her brother pour his (very full) glass down the drain?


Is another solid nod in favor of HBO over Showtime. His show is good and getting better. The expose on Miss America from a couple weeks ago was excellent.

Agreed, but can I just take this opportunity to point out something? People have been the very same complaints and asking the very same questions about the Miss America pageant for decades. Decades. And then I noticed John Oliver fans have been given him credit for blowing the lid off police seizures of cash from detained motorists (aka "civil forfeiture"), which has been deeply reported by news outlets including The Washington Post.

Between the "Why is This Still a Thing?" reports on Miss America report and Ayn Rand, it's as if John Oliver and company are going through old issues of Spy magazine to find their material.

It drives me a little bonkers because viewers then turn around and credit John Oliver with reporting the stories that "no one else" reports. When even John Oliver would probably tell you that what he and his writers are doing is reading newspapers and online news sites and watching investigative news broadcasts to put a show together. Same with Jon Stewart, Colbert, etc.

End of rant.

... as seeing the glass overfilled to begin with - winos pour small pours!

Everyone on TV pours huge glasses of wine. Carrie Mathison and her Chardonnays. Alicia Florrick and her robust reds. (What was Jules's name for her giant wine glass on "Cougar Town?" Big Joe?)

Have you watched "How We Got to Now" on PBS? How's it doing in the ratings? (I realize that Steven Johnson's no Ken Burns). Some of the links that Johnson makes seem a bit far-fetched, although it reminds me of the long-ago series by Jacob Bronowski which also drew connections between seemingly disparate events.

It put me to sleep.

I totally had to google that word.

Learning! It's what we do.

Incredible writing, great acting, sad to see it go. And Michael Shannon's body of work over five seasons of that show is just astonishing. What's interesting is that in the last few episodes, he was even playing very very dark comedy, alongside Nucky's brother Eli--they were the Laurel and Hardy of inept gangsters.

Agreed. Such a great character.

I completely agree, I feel like HBO is really trying to tie up all those loose ends. Remember when Nucky renovated and then torched his childhood home many seasons ago? I am beginning to understand why now... I love Steve Buscemi, wonder where else HBO will use him? (He was on Sopranos, too, remember?? The masseuse?

God help me, I watched Sunday -- and laughed quite a bit. I really dig his style. Did ratings improve at all, or is this doooooomed?

Everyone's saying it's doomed.

But why get HBO to watch John Oliver, when his 10-15 weekly rant is on Youtube?


Watched the series première of "Christela" -- would actually like it better were it not for the annoying laugh track, as the title character is a keeper, IMHO!

Does this mean that Gracepoint will be canceled without resolution of the crime?

No, there's a resolution in episode 10 and I predict Fox will air them all.

Admittedly we never saw "Broadchurch," but thus far "Gracepoint" is holding our attention, so we anticipate watching the entire 10 epis. Or does "Gracepoint" go downhill from here?

If you're enjoying it, keep going.

Survivor's Remorse is excellent! I am trying to convince everyone I know to watch it. I cannot believe it is written by one of my favorite character actors, Mike O'Malley (Glee, Yes Dear). As an African American woman, I am surprised at just how well he writes for these Black characters.


The people who credit John Oliver for his stories are probably young people who don't read real news and rely on entertainment news similar to Colbert and Stewart. At least they are getting informed somehow.

Sigh. That's true. But in the same breath they cheerfully and (seemingly) knowledgeably will inform you of all the media's shortcomings.

Why, please tell me why, have we come to use DVR as a verb, as in I am DVRing that show, or you should DVR it. It's recording for *@@( sake! So, jus say I am recording that show. When we had VCRs, no one said I am going to VCR that movie.

Listen, I'm still trying to get people to say "twenty-fourteen" when they mean 2014 instead of "two-thouuuuusand fourteen."

I have both, and enjoy various series on both. But your answer was too limited -- with that subscription comes access to HBOGo or Showtime Anytime -- which will allow the chatter to stream back episodes of EVERYTHING. So don't choose based on what's showing in the next 6 months -- choose based on what you want to binge watch during that time. Sopranos? The Wire? Sex & the City? Game of Thrones? Or -- Dexter? Episodes? Masters of Sex? Homeland? Etc.

I covered that possibility in my answer.

Is really just another way of saying "before I heard this, I didn't know this because I'm not well read and don't regularly follow news sources that do any in-depth reporting." It shows their laziness more than anything.... Or, perhaps they're only 12 years old, in which case I'm giving them a pass.

It no way I can watch that! My aunt sent me a pic of Twisty the Clown. Lord have mercy he's scary! I don't even like watching commercials on FX for fear of seeing him!

Thanks, all, for soooo many questions and comments. I tried to post as many as I could without comment. Please don't take that to mean I didn't have anything to say in reply; I just want to get as many voices in as I can.

See you next week -- Thursday, Oct. 23, 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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