What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Apr 17, 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 recently gave "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a good review. Lately he's been digging "Masters of Sex," "Boardwalk Empire" and "Time of Death."

Welcome back. So much went on in the last week: Colbert is replacing Letterman in 2015 ... Somebody got all choked up at the Purple Wedding ... Don Draper took a flight to LA and then took the red-eye home with Julia Salinger!! ... all this and much more to chat about. Join us, won't you?

(And just a reminder: Please, in your questions, be somewhat vague when it comes to plot spoilers. We're not here to upset one another.)

The show is back Saturday, and while I'm excited for new episodes, I'm also slightly nervous. The first season was one of my favorite pieces of tv last year, but the show burns through plot so quickly that I'm afraid it's inevitably going to crash and burn before too long. The few reviews I'm seeing for the new season are very positive, though, so I'll just enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. There's too little good sci-fi out there right now.

I've watched the first four episodes of season 2 and will finish writing my review today -- it should be up online tonight and in tomorrow's paper. And I think you and I are on the same page, pretty much: There's so much that's good in "Orphan Black," but it burns so brightly that it sometimes feels like the show will just collapse in on itself. (Sorry, "Cosmos" fans -- I need a better star/energy/matter analogy.)

Does last week's GOOD WIFE mean we've seen the last of Jason O' Mara's legal leprechaun? Did anybody find him as engaging as he was supposed to be? And is he the heir to Ted McGinley's show killer crown?

Yeah, that scene seemed like the more traditional way of showing a character the door, didn't it? (As opposed to killing him off.) It makes sense to edit some characters out of there -- they've got a lot to deal with on that show between now and the finale, mainly making room for another Michael J. Fox story arc and also the (very interesting, I think) ASA played by Matthew Goode.

I'm still befuddled by Disney reneweing their contract with ABC head Paul Lee. He's taken the #2 network and sunk it down to #3 or #4. None of his programs were a hit this year, even the dsure-fire-can't-miss "Marvel's Ageants of SHIELD". Meanwhile he's ruined promising shows like "Revenge", "Nashville", and "Ressurection" which seems to suffer from the same always tease disease that "Lost" had. And "the Middle" and "Modern Family" are slowly going down in the ratings. Why oh why did Disney not fire him, let alone give him a contract extension?

I find that unless you're inside the network or its corporate owner and being paid a heap of money to think these things through (which you very well may be), life is better if you pay minimal attention to the hirings and firings at the executive level of TV Land. Though it does lead back to the things you as a viewer can care about: what gets cancelled/renewed, what show takes a nose-dive in quality ...

Hank, I actually haven't watched ORPHAN BLACK yet (there is so much to watch these days) but I think the concern of the chatter which you echoed speaks to something I've thought for a while. For many shows, in fact maybe for most, they would benefit by being a single season mini-series with a pre-defined start and end rather than ongoing shows. I love a lot of the BBC series that worked this way and often see the US versions of those shows drop that idea. Obviously the production companies and networks want long term, ongoing shows, but it does create the second season problem for a lot of inventive shows. I call it TWIN PEAKS disease after one of the prime examples of the problem.

Well, even if "Orpahn Black" had announced itself as a single-season miniseries, we all know what would have happened: The critics would still have raved about it, the fans would have adored it and lo, the network would announce a SECOND miniseries.

But yes, I think your concept is being put to practice more and more -- and would help a lot of shows figure out their narrative intent if they didn't have the pressure to launch a series into infinity and syndication -- which remains an incredibly lucrative goal.

"Fargo," which is very good, has been promoted as a "limited" series all along, but the reviews have been so stellar that I wouldn't be surprised at all to see it come back for another "limited" series of episodes.

Had some good parts, had some dull part, had some gross parts. Does it get better with the season?

Yes, it gets a lot better with/around episode 3, I think.

Remember when NBC used to show Zefirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" for the whole week before Easter, and that there were no commercials after the Last Supper? Can I blame Mel Gibson for this not happening anymore?

You just gave me a parochial school flashback -- one of the first times I remember our class getting to use the VCR instead of the movie projector. (Robert Powell as Jesus -- sigh. Them's was good Fridays.)

I think you're really funny and want to read your chats. But there are pretty much no TV shows I'm interested in watching. Help.

Read any books lately?

Is ABC re-showing this on Easter? I need some shirtless Yul Brynner!

Who knows the answer to this? (To save me from pawing through the schedules the old-fashioned way, which I'm not above doing, but I'm hoping someone already has commanded their DVR to part that particular sea.)

And while we're on the subject, is TCM showing "Godspell" this April?

I have to admit that I am not looking forward to Mad Men's final season as much as I thought I would. I did not think last season was that good. But I am also getting the feeling that Weiner would rather make some "artistic" statement than give the fans anything close to a happy or even satisfying ending to the series. I see Don Draper ending up a used car salesman in 1970's Tennessee wearing a cheap blazer or some other depressing fate. Do you get a feeling what direction the show is going at the end? And have you noticed a decline in interest in the show?

Well, I don't think Weiner ever intended a "happy" ending, but maybe we can still hope for a satisfying one? I agree with you -- last season was the pits and this first episode (the only one they'll ever give me in advance) felt like more of the same; too murky, too hazy. I even think the plane ride conversation home with Neve Campbell felt hallucinatory, imagined, all in his head. One entertaining rumor going around now is that Don Draper will go out as D.B. Cooper!

Poor Peggy can't catch a break! SPOILERS! It was bad enough trying to move upward under Don and Ted, now she's being smacked down by the new guy. Don's not telling Megan he's essentially fired. Megan's probably having an affair. Roger's running his own commune. And Joan's trying to keep clients while one-eyed Ken's become a total douche! Only Pete is happy in LA being the world's first preppie with his own Betty. ICan everyone else get their groove back?

It definitely seems on this show that if you're still in New York in 1969, you're nothin'.

To the person who isn't interested in any TV shows - assuming you're not uninterested in TV in general (in which case, yes, books! they are still a thing) ... what kinds of things do you like? Maybe the group here can think of some older shows or less-known shows that you could get into?

If you need to buy a new Camero Z28, you may not be the best Soviet Spy there is! This show is going great! Are they going to get the Emmy they deserve?

I sure hope they do. In just-as-good-news FX announced yesterday that season 3 is a go. (Vrrrroooom.)

Does that mean that (without giving away your whole review) it doesn't crash and burn within those episodes that you saw? Because I have the same fear, espeically since the last thing that happened last season was basically introducing a whole new set of characters/bad guys.

I will say that I think it advances itself nicely (adequately), with the same frenetic energy of season 1. But it is really chewing through plot as fast as it can, which can be draining for all but hardcore fans.

Love me some Neve Campbell. During the closing credits, I saw that not only was she the first name listed, but that she had a first and last name. My guess is you don't give a character any name without some additional face time. Hopefully she'll be back?

Yes, probably. I'm just saying that their encounter/conversation felt so unreal -- beyond "Mad Men's" usual style for unrealness.

Hi Hank! Love your witty reviews and articles! I'm still watching "Resurrection." Are you? There are details every week that drive me bonkers. Last week, the minister walking into his packed church, from the side - candles on the altar unlit, no choir, music, etc. Have these writers/directors ever been in a church service? This stuff will likely drive me away from the show, even though I'm curious about the plot.

I'm so far behind on Resurrection and not at all surprised to hear that it drives someone bonkers. Interesting question about church -- I've noticed that most TV shows (and movies, often) gravitate toward a sort of everydenomination idea of what church looks like, somewhere between Catholic/Epsicopalian and Protestant megachurch, with lots of "wha-hunh?" details that are wrong to those of us who've gone to more than one kind of church in our lifetimes.

Is it a rerun of the movie? A continuation of the movie? Nothing to do with the movie?

You could read my review (or anyone's review), but to answer your question, it's not a continuation of the movie, nor is it a rerun/remake of the movie. It's inspired-by. The movie was set in 1988; this is set in 2006. Different characters. Though there are little knowing details/surprises for observant fans of the movie along the way.

I was confused by the first episode. Did it get more understandable with the Second?

Yes. And even moreso this week with the third. Like all good dramas, it's laying out a lot of plot at first, but the characters do gel. I've seen three episodes and look forward to seeing the rest of the season. But the overwhelming thing I'm hearing from readers is that they find it hard to follow.

Dear Hank, I am also a big fan of yours who does not watch a lot of TV (I have little kids.) But I was really interested in the new Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon because I think he is very funny even though I agree with you that he is overly sycophantic. I have been catching up with his show online. One of his routines that I am tired of is the making-white-people-say-rap-lyrics thing. In particular I was dismayed at his bit with Anne Hathaway where they turned rap lyrics into showtunes. I get it, rap is funny! They say ridiculous things, har har. But often music lyrics are ridiculous when translated into another form. I think it is bordering on racist - though because Jimmy Fallon is such a fan of everything he makes it seem like homage. What do you think about this?

I think that's an interesting observation -- also with the (extremely meticulous) clips of Brian Williams and Lester Holt rapping from outtakes of their newscasts. I suppose if we were to unpack this fully, I could easily arrive at some sort of post-racial argument in which enough American adults in 2014 (of all races) grew up with foundational hip-hop and rap that we are now mutually free to explore our utter whiteness in contrast to its utter blackness? Or something like that? At a PhD level, I mean?

Let's watch it with the Camaro spoilers from "The Americans", some of us haven't watched our DVRs from last night! Seriously though, am I the only one who is bothered by "the Soviets always win" mentality of this show. I mean, 10 years prior in their timeline, the President of the U.S. couldn't manage to get professional thiefs to break into a hotel without getting caught, yet every week these guys have no trouble breaking into the most secure facilities in all of DC (and occasionally Norfolk & Baltimore). I know I need to suspend disbelief here, but, really?!?!?!?

I think history would have gone very differently if the Watergate burglars had the right wigs.

Thank you for your offer to help! I have enjoyed Top Chef but feel it's run its course. I liked Project Runway until GrannyPants Gretchen won. I like the Bob Newhart Show. I watch Magnum PI reruns on Thursdays. And lots of sports.

Well, so there you have it, gang. That's what he/she watches. I got nuthin'!

Nationally, ABC is showing it Saturday evening from 7pm-11:44pm, so that they can show "It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown" on Sunday from 7pm-7:30pm. Back in my day, we had a healthy serving of TC with Easter dinner... *grumblegrumble*

Maybe WaPo could have someone do a recap for us? Television without Pity is gone, and that hole needs to be filled!

It's an idea, but we tend to not recap a show unless we're sure it has buzz. And "Turn" is seriously hurtin' for some buzz.

Alicia definitely needs some therapy. And her kids know it! Also, does it look to you like Dianne's going to forced out of the firm (again) and she's wind up with Alicia?

They seem to want us to think that's what's going to happen.

I've almost completely forgotten that Alicia has kids.

Really?!?!?!? Does Craig Ferguson's demo skew so old that CBS needs to try this potentially divisive hail mary? Or is this just the conjunction of slow entertainment news day and shrewd self-promotion via social media?

Um, not sure what you mean here about the divisive Hail Mary, but CBS said pretty definitively the other day that Chelsea Handler is not being considered for Craig's job.

So is he going to be the "Real" Steven on Letterman or will he be in that "Rush O'Hannity" mode?

It has been made quite clear by Stephen Colbert himself that he is retiring his Comedy Central "Colbert Report" character. He'll be himself. And we can get a glimpse of that on April 22, when he's a guest on Letterman.

This show isn't half-bad. Some adult finally landed and got the teenagers to work! How do its renewal prospects look?

Haha -- yes. But what I liked about it when I first reviewed it was that these teenagers are pretty take-charge and a little bit counter-millennial to the kind of young'uns we see portrayed so often. (I mean, can you imagine Hannah Horvath as #101?) Renewal prospects seem fairly good, from what I've read.

There seems to be a lot of "life after death" shows this season -- has anyone written anything on this phenomenon and what it may say about viwership tastes/beliefs. I get that programming follows trends, and there has yet to be a bandwagon upon which the networks won't jump, but I think this trend says something about us as a nation, I'm just not sure what....

Yes, someone has written about this a little bit. I wonder who.

Hey! Grace Florrik is #4 on the "Hot Political Daughters" web page. But yes, they've been seriously ignored this season. Speaking of which, I saw Josh "Dead Will" Charles on "Inside Amy Schumer" doing a dead-on Aaron Sorkin Parody. Is this why he left TGW?

The fast-food sketch on "Inside Amy Schumer" was a great parody of Sorkin's hack work (Google it if you haven't seen it), but no, Josh Charles did not leave "The Good Wife" to make a single sketch on a comedy show. He left because he was tired of the part.

Is Craig Ferguson leaving?

Almost certainly yes. (Since CBS is issuing comments about who will or won't replace him.)

Is Amy Peoler pregnant In Real Life? Because a pregnancy storyline reeks of desperation!

Any of you gossippeuses out there got this?

If one reality TV "star" can have another one arrested for a "brawl" that takes place on stage during a reunion special, can the aggrieved party also claim that the producers and/or reunion show host aided & abetted the crime by creating the environment for said assault? Please find me a jurisdiction where the answer is yes, because I'm really looking for a way to get Andy Cohen behind bars. And does this create a precedent that endangers the future of The Jerry Springer Show? Again, please say yes.

Wishfully speaking, I'll say yes!

One of the only good impressions I do is of Edward G. Robinson saying "Where's your Moses now, see". It's actually quite good.

Can we talk about what happened Sunday? Beacuse SPOILERS! I really liked how Jesus came in on the back of a donkey.

I thought alicia at the end of last week's ep was sort of out of character, but i guess they are showing the grief. her husband was like: wha? what are you saying? as he seemingly wants to work on the marriage. I mean - why don't they just divorce? In any event, it's getting a little weird on the show. is the whole case by the govt gone now? do they have nothing?

How long before it comes back? I'm getting Zombie pangs!


(I have to say, the back half of this season was so good, all up to the point -- SPOILER ALERT -- that they discovered Terminus was a sicko all-you-can-eat buffet. Another utopian promise down the drain.)

They previously hide her real pregnancy on the show and shortened a season because of it.

When will they be this year? Who's up first? And will WaPo send you out to cover them?

They're in May, as usual, and I'm not planning to go. We'll have coverage of what the networks announce in terms of new shows and scheduling. I go to the TV critics summer press tour in Beverly Hills in July, where I get a much, much better and deeper idea (as TV critic) of what's ahead. Upfronts are really more about the business of television, and not really a good place to tell if the shows are good or not.

Personally, I loved how things worked out last Sunday, and I'm secretly hoping that either (a) Sansa had something to do with it or (b) the victim wasn't the intended victim... Although, let's face it, just about everyone in Westros was waiting/hoping for that to happen.

I'm totally late to the game today, but......is anyone excited about the return of Jack Bauer. I know it's a bit cheesy, but I can't wait. Any other fans out there?

I personally don't feel like it's been a long enough absence to really miss Jack Bauer, but I am eager to see the screener and write about it.

Can we please call a moratorium on ridiculous "Mad Men" theories (e.g., Sharon Tate, D.B. Cooper)? The show is not and never has been "Lost." The obsession with turning every little detail into SOMETHING (which never pans out) is ridiculous. Enough.

We probably wouldn't be doing the wild speculating if the show was giving us a little more to actually discuss. I agree it's ridiculous, but it's because fans are getting served. They're turning into writers of fanfic, in a more (they probably think) erudite way.

Divisive bacause she's one of those personalities that people either love or hate. Hail mary because it seems like a desparation play to attempt to appeal to younger/hipper viewers that has a low percentage of success.

But she's not up for the job.

It seems as though she has too. It seems like every week another "reality" show pops up on every channel. How real do you think they are? Things like Mystery Diners, Bar Rescue for example?

For workplace comedies you could try Parks & Rec, VEEP or The Mindy Project. They both have the odd cast of characters - but there is a fair bit of "Bridget Jones" to it, so if RomCom aspects turn you off that might not be a good choice. Personally, I'm loving VEEP right now - lots of sarcasm and great writing and acting all around. For mysteries with good looking people, you could try Castle - That's a pretty classic style mystery show. Think Heart to Hart meets Magnum, but set in New York.

Is it dead yet? I heard they're not even going to the High School anymore.

It's true. I watched it the other night, just b'cause. They're all in New York, makin' their way, singing '80s songs to whomever will listen. Season 6 will be the last.

Okay, we all know that Walking Dead isn't following the original graphic novels in terms of telling its TV story. Has this precedent had an impact on other adapted for TV material. I'm thinking particularly of Game of Thrones, since I feel like I've been waiting for a couple of reveals from the books that just. aren't. showing. up. in the TV series. Has Walking Dead messed with our sense of expectation in terms of story direction?

I heard from someone who's read the Game of Thrones books that they covered, like, 300 pages in just the last episode.

All I can say is I'm glad I'm too busy to have read all this stuff before (or while) it becomes a hit TV series.

Here you go - What did you think of all the inside/outside window symbolism in last week's episode: Discuss -

I think at last English majors everywhere are getting something from those student loan payments.

Mystery Diners and Restaurant Fakeout - err, Stakeout - are notoriously fake. Plenty of easily Google-able postings looking for actors to play waiters for both of them.

You don't say!

That's how Pookie used to do it

Nope, gotta split and finish this "Orphan Black" review by 4:30 or so. Also coming (already filed) on Sunday -- a review of "Salem," on WGN, which wants to do its own TV shows now.

Thanks all, for the questions and, in a lot of cases, the answers too! See you next Thursday.

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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