What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Apr 24, 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 "The Americans," "Turn" and "Silicon Valley."

Another Thursday, another What-to-Watch chat -- are you in the weekly habit of it yet? I think I am.

What's going on? So much good stuff on right now: "Silicon Valley," "The Americans," "Fargo," "Veep," "Game of Thrones." Even "Mad Men" relocated its groove (somewhat) on Sunday.


"Scandal" finale -- remarks, anyone? (Here's Bethonie Butler's recap.)

Colbert's "normal" appearance on Letterman's "Late Show" Tuesday night? Thoughts? (Here's Emily Yahr's write-up.)

"Orphan Black"? (My review here.)

And that blaring siren you hear is my warning about two really, really bad shows premiering tonight, which I reviewed in today's paper: ABC's "Black Box" and CBS's "Bad Teacher."

From the "Black Box" review:

"Her psychiatrist (played by Vanessa Redgrave?! Darling, how on Earth did you end up in this awful show? Let’s get you out of here — grab your shawl) emphatically disagrees, talking Catherine off ledges both literal and figurative."

Haha. And, it being late April, all sorts of cancellation anxieties are going around, for which there are no effective meds. I'll try to answer what I can in that regard, if you'll keep in mind that I have no telepathic access to the minds of network execs.

Okay, let's press play >>>>

I'm enjoying the show, but I have to ask. Is there an unprecedented amount of commercial time during this program. My wife and I are dinosaurs, still living in the land of appointment viewing, and it is almost unbearable to sit through the constant barrage of ads and promos. Also, why is it called Fargo if it all seems to take place in Minnesota?

"Fargo," like most one-hour cable dramas on networks like AMC and FX and History, etc., follows the format of front-loading a satisfyingly good chunk of show at the beginning, with the back half-hour almost torturously loaded up with ad breaks. The only way to beat this (without waiting months for the entire season to be released on a streaming, pay-per-view or subscriber format) is to get yourself a DVR and start watching the show 15 minutes after it begins. Then you can FFwd through the breaks and end up just about in real-time when it's over.

And I believe the answer to your second question -- why is it called "Fargo" when it takes place in Minnesota -- has to do with vague references throughout. Someone is coming from Fargo. Someone is waiting for something to be delivered from Fargo. Fargo, not so far away, just on the state line with North Dakota, is refered to as an entity ("Fargo is not happy"). Also, the meaning is figurative -- Fargo is a noun standing in for vast emptiness? Harsh winters? Frozen souls?

Can a real, hardcore "Fargo" or Coen Bros. fan answer this more eleoquently for us, please? I don't have time during a live chat to put on goggles and Google it deep.

Loved your Orphan Black review. I too find myself wondering what it is that I like about this show when I really dislike so many that are so similar to it. I don't actually care too much about the plot (I realized while watching the new episode - Dyad, religious cult, new baddies, meh), so I think it's just that Maslany's performance is so captivating. Where did this girl come from? She's so good that I can't believe no one discovered her before.

She's from Fargo! (Kidding! In fact, she's soooo Canadian -- Saskatchewan, mebbe? -- that it's a wonder we ever got a chance to know her.)

Posting early b/c of client lunch. I'm so done w/ this show. And you might, correctly, question my judgment in staying with it this far, but it used to be craptastic. Now it's just crap. The writers either suffer from a lack of imagination or talent, maybe both, as they keep plagiarizing their plot, (spoiler alert) e.g. Olivia's mother is not dead, again, and is imprisoned, again, by Olivia's father; likeable character is killed for shock value... Here's a suggestion to the writers: if you're going to use retreaded plots, why not "take them from the headlines?" For example, how about Olivia rehabilitating the reputation of a "Carlos Danger" character, or a senator caught in a "wide stance" in an obscure Midwestern airport bathroom? Both would be more interesting than the silliness this show has devolved into. I'm deleting it from my DVR list.

We here at What-to-Watch are happy to accept any and all declarations of being completely fed-up with a show and announcements that you are no longer watching it. Bonus points for suggesting ways to fix it!

I read something that said Parenthood may not return. Is that true?

It's teetering, but the latest conventional wisdom/numbers analysis I looked at a couple of days ago seems to think that NBC will probably renew "Parenthood" (and cancel "Revolution").

Other NBC shows still waiting for renewal/cancel word, last I checked: "Hannibal," "Dracula," "Community," "Crisis," "Believe." Those are all in the sick ward, some a lot sicker than others.

NBC has already renewed "The Blacklist," Chicago-centric "Fire" and "PD," "Parks & Recreation," "Grimm" ...

Any indication on a season 6 yet? I thought season 5, while not its best and containing some real "huh?" moments (GIJoe?), was better than 4, and am thankful to have Harmon back. Would really like to see them have a chance to really wrap things up, not faux wrap themup like they did in the season finale.

Still no word. See above.

I am fully addicted to the weekly habit of What to Watch. Thank you for chatting with us on weekly basis. I look forward to the chats every week. What do you think of Those Who Kill? I really like it and think Chloe and James work well together. Unfortunately I don't see it lasting past season one. What do you think.

Well, I didn't give such a hot review. And after it premiered on A&E, the ratings were so alarming that (as you know, since you've apparently followed it), it was quietly moved over to another channel LMN (Lifetime Movie Network) in the same family, which, as you're already on to, doesn't bode well for a renewal.

Too bad -- Chloe Sevingy could use a good series. I always thought they mitght make a series out of that mini-series she did a while back ("Hit and Miss?" "Hit or Miss?" -- lousy title, either way) where she played a hired killer who is transgender.

So, his appearance on Letterman suggested that he basically wants to just do Letterman's same show when he's the host. That seems like a mistake, right?

I didn't quite interpret it that way. A big mistake would be to come on "Late Show" and show his hand and talk about all the new things he's going to do, more than 12 months before it will even happen.

If anybody is pining for Alias, just watch the show it was ripped off from..La Femme Nikita, or the updated Nikita. I am a fan of the second two, and upon watching Alias's pilot and second episode couldn't stop laughing at how bad a ripoff it was. Tatiana Maslany is from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada btw.

Something tells me the new "Nikita" (which lingered well past its sell-by date, imo) is not going to do it for "Alias" fans. Because it's not _only_ about a need to see women jump, kick, run and change their looks.

Have all of last weeks outraged viewers with the vapors ever WATCHED this show before? They realize Cersei is a degenerate monster, right? With bonus points for birthing even worse monsters? What could they do to her that she wouldn't deserve?

We call this Cerseishaming.

The earlier post about being done with Scandal is EXACTLY how I feel about Revenge. Is it a coincidence that these are both ABC shows that have devolved to sub-telenovela quality in the matter of a few seasons?

Probably not a coincidence. "Nashville," too. To their credit, ABC has tried to release dramas that have a sharper, less soapy focus (a la "The Good Wife," just not as good) and they fall flat in the ratings.

Ten points to you. Maslany is from Regina, Saskatchewan.

I'm kinda liking Turn. How many episodes are there? When would we hear if it would be picked up?

I like it too and want it to get better. So far there have been three episodes, which is all that I was shown back when I visited the show's Richmond-based set for this story.

I think AMC will give it every chance to succeed, even though it's not generating a lot of buzz that it will need to keep going. But look at the patience AMC has showed "Hell on Wheels." (And don't look at how quickly they canceled "Rubicon.")

I've noticed more and more shows & networks going to unusual seasons. Some just seem to start/stop randomly. I thought ratings (and advertising money) were based on the spring/fall sweeps periods. Has that changed? How are sponsors adapting? thanks

Everything's changing -- E V E R Y T H I N G: The movie industry, the music industry, the publishing industry, the media industry, the TV industry. Everyone's doing their best to adapt and shift gears on a daily basis.

Sweeps periods (the old February/May/November model) still matter very much to local affiliates, but it's rarer to even hear the word anymore when you're talking about new network and cable shows. We still like cycles though -- fall, midseason, summer. Though it's not hard to imagine a future in the TV industry where those distinctions no longer matter. And with a little more climate change, maybe it will all just be summer TV.

A previous poster suggests that Revenge has become over-the-top bad, and I have to say, that's why I love it. It started almost plausible and now is richly crazy. I couldn't take too many of these shows (I don't watch Scandal), but Revenge is my Sunday night guilty pleasure.

All of a sudden it seems like most of the must-watch new shows are on premium channels again - HBO, Showtime, etc. I remember back in the Sopranos-era heyday when that was the case and us non-subscribers just had to feel left out. And then F/X and those types of channels really stepped it up. Now I once again feel like I'm missing all the good stuff - GoT, Veep, Silicon Valley, John Oliver's new thing. I guess that's not a question. Just saying that I feel le sad and le left out.

Well, you don't have to be. Do you only watch TV shows on real-time TV? Much of what you're missing can be had, for a smaller and more individulalized price, through a streaming device or tablet or computer or phone. HBO just signed a new agreement to make a lot of its library available through Amazon Prime. (Insert here my obligation to note that Amazon and The Washington Post are owned by the same guy.)

So far, I think that this season of VEEP is far below the quality of the show's earlier seasons. The episode about abortion politics just made me wince. Your views? And is there any chance that the Jonah character can star in a spin-off? He's the funniest character of the lot.

I have seen the first five episodes this season and on the day I was going to write a short review, Stephen Colbert got David Letterman's job, which meant I had to write about that instead. (Poor planning on my part.)

I hope to come back around and write something about this "Veep" season before this season is over. I think the show is straining a bit because the focus has broadened so much with Selina running for president. "Veep" works best on an intimate scale, not a national-campaign size of scale. That said, however, there's a really great episode coming this Sunday when she visits a kind of Facebook-like company in Silicon Valley. With absolutely no crossover to HBO's "Silicon Valley," "Veep" manages to achieve a slightly more scathing portrayal of Silicon culture in a mere half hour.

So it very much still has its moments. I loved this last week's episode with the ever-changing array of "real people" on her platform during her official campaign launch.

Also, I agree about Timothy Simons's work as Jonah -- just fantastic.

"HBO just signed a new agreement to make a lot of its library available through Amazon Prime." <-- The agreement covers older stuff. Three years after air it will come to Prime, I think is what I read. I wish HBO would do HBO Go standalone subscriptions. Don't know why they balk at that - it seems to make so much sense!

Right, but this person was reminiscing about feeling left out when "The Sopranos." Working back from 2011 or 2012 or so covers a LOT of HBO.

Dunno what to tell you about HBO GO. The millennials all steal it from mom and dad.

In the movie only the opening scene took place in Fargo, the rest was in Minnesota. So I guess Fargo is just a cooler name for a show than, say, Detroit Lakes.

Or "Up Brainerd."

I don't think it's so much that people think Cersei is an awesome person. I think it's more that a) it wasn't in the books, and b) that rape is an overused plot device. It's also more painful for what it means for Jamie's character arc.

This is entering Alyssa Rosenberg's territory. Read her on this very subject if you haven't already. (Also, while we're at it, read my editor David Malitz's weekly recaps -- great, detailed breakdowns of each new episode from a non-book-reader perspective.)

The Coen Brothers named the film "Fargo" because it sounded more interesting than "Brainerd" which is where most of the film takes place. And the first scene with dialogue occurs in a bar in Fargo ND.

Why are TV shows being made of films that were made years if not decades ago? I enjoyed both films, but I wouldn't want to (and don't) watch a TV show of the films, whether it includes the old characters or not, years and years later. What's going on here that I'm missing?

So it's a no on "Bad Teacher," then?

is it staying or going, do you know? I love Cheryl Hines and enjoy her as Dallas, but feel the story may have played itself out? They added a foster child and now have Tess and Dahlia mentoring the next generation of nice but awkward or mean but not evil girls.

I think "Suburgatory" will get renewed (ABC hasn't said yet), and since I don't watch it very often, I will take your word that it's getting a little played out.

I love my DVR, it's worth every penny of the monthly fee, especially since I go to bed at 10:00pm and a lot of good shows are on at 10:00pm. I get to skip all the commercials. And Hank, please say something nice about Elementary. That is the only show that my sons and I sit down and watch together every week. I even stay up till 11:00pm on Thursday for it.

"Something nice about 'Elementary.'"

I am definitely not done with Scandal - in fact I wish the season hadn't ended so soon. I think the earlier poster is taking the show too seriously - I think all the weird plot twists are part of the fun!

I long ago decided that if I have to force myself to watch the next episode of a show or if I forget to watch and don't really care, then I am forever done with that show. Recent drops include: Parks and Rec (sorry Amy! I still love you), Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Being Human (US version) and Once Upon a Time.

That's actually a pretty intuitive way to go. Think of all the time you save.

Aside from sports events and news, virtually everything I watch is via the DVR. This allows quick forwarding through commercials without losing the context of the show. I do note that many network On Demand services do not allow you to forward through the commercials.

On Demand is handy for catching up to things you don't have the space to record (and a godsend to TV critics, I must say), but yes, you wind up with just as many commercial breaks and LESS variety of commercials, and no ability to FFwd.

Dancing with the Stars is my guilty mindless pleasure again thanks to Erin Andrews! I think she is far better the Brooke Burke. I had given it up because I could no longer watch Brooke struggle to talk. Erin makes it looks so effortless. She is much better on her feet the Brooke. I just wanted to say that. thanks.

One of Subway's commercials shows L.A. Angel Mike Trout sending in his order by batting baseballs through the window. And the owner seems to be okay with it. Doesn't anyone think this is ridiculous? When he comes to pick up his sandwich, he should be handed a bill for the window--a big bill! There are just so many ridiculous commercials on television nowadays. I am really bummed by car insurance commercials which make it look as if a person's insurance will pay for damage that is obviously someone else's fault--especially the truck backing up that turns a car into an accordion! Does anyone else feel his or her intelligence is being insulted?

The commercials got more ridiculous and absurd (even surreal -- my favorite right now is the Sprint "framily" headed by a hamster, in which "SNL's" Kyle Mooney plays a framily member) once the ad people caught on that we're scooting through the ads with the DVR on 2x, 4x, 8x -- as fast as we can. But if we see something blip by that looks outrageous (or somehow celebrilicious, including sports figures) we might stop and actuall take in the ad. Sounds like it worked on you in the case of the Subway ad? In a reverse psychology sort of way?


I've got to say, the last 3-5 minutes of last night's show were very well done, and utterly shocking. And no, I don't just watch the show for the abs (of which there were not enough last night, but I'm not complaining, just stating a fact).

Well, I won't make you tell us what happened. Guess I'll go look it up for myself. Not that you asked, but I liked that show when it first started; a few months ago I watched an episode and was amazed at how stilted it has become. But that's just me.

I wasn't going to watch it, based simply on the ads. Now I definitely won't.


The writing is on the walls that this show will be canceled. Please tell me one day I'll get a cool Sci-Fi or Future World show to watch. Over the years I've lost FireFly, Terra Nova, Sarah Connor Chronicles, etc. Anything on now that I don't know about?

"The 100" -- have you tried it? I think you might like it.

So I got the impression you didn't care much for this show. I like Christopher Meloni so I watched the first episode and I was hooked. I love that the parents get along. I love that the dad doesn't take any [guff] and I love that the teenage boy is not abnormally short, yet still excel in basketball (yes, I know this plays baseball, but I'm sick of seeing tiny boys be the star of the basketball team in every sitcom). Besides the teenage daughter, who isn't all that awful, there isn't much I don't like about this show.

I think the teenage boy is particularly good at playing almost-cool and still-awkward. But he's stuck in a bad show.

Nine minutes left and we're down to crumbs here -- just some further thoughts from "Alias" and "Nikita" fans that I will post only if we get desperate.

C'mon, people, don't make me answer a "Poirot" question!

FRAMILY! That commercial drives me UP. THE. WALL. What is going on? How did someone pitch this idea? How did an ad exec hear the pitch and think it was amazing? Why is the word Framily now on posters in the windows of physical stores like it is a thing that makes sense? Just no.

Or on the other hand -- yes.

I mean, really: The dad is a HAMSTER. (Or is he gerbil? Petco loiterers, weigh in!)

I have to say, I'll watch Kyle Mooney do just about anything. He is every bit as deserving of a hit series of cell phone commercials as his pal Beck Bennett, who had those AT&T ads with the little kids at the table.

I saw this when it was called "Awake." And it stunk then too.

No, no not "Awake" (I mean, sorta "Awake"), but the show about the surgeon with split personality ... last year on NBC, lasted about a minute.

Hey, I want to pitch show now called "Sorta Awake."

Wait until you all are as old as I am. You'll appreciate the commercials more as they give you the chance to go to the bathroom without missing anything.

I'm there!

What is with the Poirot? There must be one chat regular who is obsessed. I'll ask you an All Creatures Great and Small question if we're desperate for random old British shows

Dead or on life-support?

Life-support. The papers are signed. Don't waste too many candles on a vigil.

What do you think are the chances that Matthew Rhys and/or Keri Russell receive Emmy love for their work on The Americans?

All I can say is THEY BETTA.

Also let's you keep up with any live tweeting, and prevents social media based spoilers! Oh wait, if you don't have a DVR, you probably aren't also live tweeting or into social media. #burn

And just what is wrong with Poirot?

The car salesman character in the movie drove to Fargo to meet with the hit men.

Now that The Mentalist has finished its makeover, will it actually be around another season?

Everyone smart about these things thinks CBS is going to cancel it.

How do you think BBT will fare once the cast moves into middle age? Young nerds and sexy girl obviously was a winner, but old nerds?

In real life, evidence would suggest that nerds never grow out it, especially Gen X nerds. I don't think it'll be a problem -- the show will be around as long as everyone in it agrees to keep doing it.

has that horrid mustache and the bowler hat. Don't understand why that show still gets rerun.

I can imagine no finer exit cue than this.

Thanks everyone, we'll answer all your "Poirot" questions next Thursday on "What to Watch Besides 'Poirot.'"

See ya.

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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