What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

May 08, 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."

Well, gang, it's a sobering day here at What the What to Watch. Cancellation fever is in the air! Yesterday Fox quietly took "Enlisted," "Dads" and a couple others out back and shot them. More to come today and tomorrow -- the networks never really send out formal announcements of the carnage. It's too negative and they are psyching themselves up with positivity for the upfronts next week, where they'll unveil their new 2014-15 schedules to advertisers with relentless optimism  and sunshine. The news about what's NOT on the schedule just becomes ... obvious, but corporately unmentionable.

So we'll mention it here! The only herbal salve for grief in TV criticism is, of course, snark. Let's also help one another cope next week once we know for sure what's been offed. For now, the speculation is almost as fun.

Meanwhile, SORRY about last week's chat cancellation. We switched servers for the chat tool that morning (dig my tech-talk) and that went just swimmingly. Some of the questions you submitted were rescued (thanks to Jessica Stahl) and I answered them as a blog post, because it seemed like the right thing to do. Here they are. You can read them during any lulls in today's chat.

Other stuff we could be talking about today, if it pleases you:

Louie is back!

Jack Bauer is back! (Chloe, too? Chloe, too. The Chloe with the Dragon Tattoo.)

John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" show on HBO -- whaddya think?

Emily Yahr raises an interesting point about "The Mindy Project's" too-perfect finale.

And so much else to discuss: "Mad Men's" getting kind of good again (at last). "Game of Thrones." "Vikings" finale. "The Americans," which has not missed a beat this season -- sooo good. And I've got reviews coming out tomorrow (online; will run in Sunday's paper) of the new "Rosemary's Baby" remake and Showtime's new series called "Penny Dreadful."

Let's chat about all that and more.



Don was a fool to take their demands! They're just setting him up to fail. How has this abbreviated season been doing in the ratings?

I dunno -- isn't that what makes Don happiest (in relative terms)? Scraping up from the bottom? Reinvention? The challenge? The opportunity to claw his way up?

Ratings: Not so great, but it's hard to remember a time (if there ever was) when "Mad Men's" ratings aligned with the amount of ink and online fascination it generates. Last I saw, "Game of Thrones" was getting something like 7 million on Sunday nights and "Mad Men" was settling for 2 million-ish.

Hi Hank! LOVE your chats and I'm hoping you can answer a question I've been wondering about for a while. When Almost Human was canceled last week, a couple of articles mentioned that its episodes were aired out of order. I know that happens often. What's the network rationale for doing that? It seems like it's only ever mentioned as a negative factor for a show, and is usally cited as a reason for cancellation. Has there ever been a case where that worked?

As I recall, that happened early on in the show, which pretty much indicated that the show was more of a procedural than a developing story; the showrunner tried to quell fan worries that reordering the early episodes' air dates was of any dire consequence. (As I also recall, I disliked the pilot so much that I never watched it again or gave it much thought, so I might not be the expert witness here.)

But today is a day (actually, this week is a week) of sharing our grief over cancelled shows that we liked, even if we knew they were doomed and/or mediocre. What's yours from the 2013-14 season? (Mine's probably "Enlisted." I'm also pre-grieving "Trophy Wife," a little bit, even though it's not technically dead yet.)

How is AMC's Turn doing ratings-wise? I find that I'm finally enjoying an espionage-based show on TV but worry that it may not have caught on as much as other AMC shows have, or other spy dramas for that matter. I mean, you don't see Jamie Bell all decked out in his Revolutionary finery on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.

"Turn" started out okay with about 2 million viewers for its April 6 premiere and is now glub-glubbing in the icy Delaware River with fewer and fewer viewers each week. (1.2 million-ish is one number I saw this week.)

And I have to say, as someone who was as critically optimistic as one could be, the show is losing my interest each week.

Should this be the last season for it? Maybe they should bring back the original judges and all of the Runner-ups and have a big ending where they beat up Simon for two hours striaght!

They just renewed it. I do think there will be a day in the near future where it's just not on anymore. (Or it's on late Saturday mornings and once again called "Star Search.") And then, even longer from now, during documentaries about the early 21st century, "Idol" will factor in very prominently and someone will revive it.

Is there any word yet if Parenthood will be back for a sixth season?

I sense that we will know very soon -- sometime this week, maybe even before this chat is over. I think it's got a pretty good chance.

Maron and Comedy Bang Bang on IFC. Big fan of both. Maron is no Louie (what is?) but it has its own charms. And Comedy Bang Bang must be one of the weirdest things on TV that's not on Cartoon Network but I love the heck out of it! And a huge pickup - 40 eps or something like that.

Although you sound a little too much like an IFC publicist, we'll all smile and raise our glasses to your happiness.

You know, if I worked in an office and they told me that Jack Bauer was coming in, I'd find some way to leave very quickly. My Neice in New York has a toothache, or my car is on fire, or I accidentally ate some 4 day old tuna or something to get out of there. I could just see Admiral Ackbar yelling "It's a Trap!"


We found Turn to be boring and hard to follow. Only watched 20 minutes of this week's show and then took it out of my DVR's to be recorded list. Also took John Oliver's new show out of the list too.

I get the "Turn" part -- why no Oliver? (I mean, I think Oliver is doing a bang-up job, but I feel that I won't be watching his show as it airs. I just don't want to come down from the Sunday-night TV jitters with a dose of political/media outrage. Which is precisely why I would keep it as a DVR recording, for later.)

I still find Turn confusing, though I want to like it. How come Abe's father and wife speak using their American accents? I find that distracting while everyone else in 1777 uses the British accent.

The cast is from EVERYWHERE (Australia, England, Scotland). The creators/actors all say it's because America was still working out its own melting-pot accent, therefore the American characters lean toward different accents. And "Turn" still is confusing, yes. They should have worked that out by now.

I know, I know. If it helps, I hate that they have commercials in their movies now (I feel like they didn't always do that), and most of the movies they show stretch the term "independent" to its absolute limits. So it ain't all alt comedy roses. There, satisfied?

Will NBC finally forget about 2 hours of Thursday comedies next season, or will they keep beating the dead Peacock? Do any of their comedy pilots look funny?

I have not seen any of their pilots, nor do I know anything about their schedule -- upfronts are next week, which will come with a few sizzle reels of new shows. The real pilots won't get to critics until June. Ask me then.

Do you think that there will ever be a time when we can order the cable stations we actually watch rather having to buy packages of stations the majority of which we don't want and won't watch?

I don't know, but I just read this morning somewhere that ESPN gets something like five dollars a month from each of us (I think that's right?), far and away more than the share of my cable bill that other non-premium channels get, and all I could think about was how many people I know (women, gay men, sometimes even straight men) who never, ever, ever watch any ESPN, and if we had a choice not to pay for it ... well, what would happen then?

Say it ain't so. I find that I really enjoy this show, even if it does suffer from Cougar Town-itis. And RIP Enlisted, you were fun while you lasted.


So happy these chats are weekly now! I am home on maternity leave and have been watching A LOT of tv. It is embarrassing how low the bar is set for what I will watch - I blame it on sleep deprivation! And along those lines, I have been watching Mixology each week. What happens to a show like this that has a "1 night" premise after season 1? Do they move on to the following day next season? Will there be a next season? Also, truly enjoying American Dream Builders. How is that show doing? Thanks!

Renewal prospects for "Mixology" aren't good at all, but we'll probably know the answer for sure today or tomorrow. (You don't have to go home "Mixology," but you can't stay here.) But, for the sake of parallel universes where it got renewed, I suppose they could have started over in another on another night with another cast? Or given the cast they have new roles? (Por ejemplo:  Make the creepy ginger bearded guy the bartender in a much dive-ier bar. One of my issues with "Mixology" is what the hell kind of bar was that, besides a boring one? Did it all take place in a Marriott Marquis?)

"American Dream Builders," meanwhile, is getting predictably clobbered in its Sunday-night timeslot, where it's 2 million or so viewership is up against "60 Minutes" (10-ish million) and "AFV" (6-ish million). To be honest, I've never watched it or watched out for any cancellation/renewal news there.

I'm bummed Almost Human wasn't picked up, I really liked it and thought the main characters had great chemistry. Are there any episodes left to burn off?

I'm sorry for your loss. (I might be using that line a lot over the next few days.) It looks like the last episode (#13) that aired on March 3 was all there is.

Have you been invited to any of the upfronts, or are you relegated to seeing it "Streaming". This makes no sense. Wouldn't you want as much buzz as possible for your new schedules?

I'm invited to many of the New York upfronts (and could probably get in to the ones I'm not yet formally invited to), but I've never been and only plan to check in a little via streaming, right here from the comfort of my office.

Pookie used to go, because her column covered the news of the TV industry. Upfronts are such a business-end affair, designed to sell the new season to advertisers. For TV critics (that's me), it's really just a very elaborate way of letting us know how busy we're going to be writing reviews in August/September. Once I've seen the schedule, there's very little else to say, critically. The more-polished versions of the pilots will start coming to me in June-ish, in advance of the summer press tour in Beverly Hills. Now that's where I get a lot of work done, getting ready to write about 30 or so new scripted fall and midseason shows (dramas, comedies) on broadcast, cable and streaming and God-only-knows how many non-scripted shows. Worry not -- whatever news comes out of upfronts will find its way to Washingtonpost.com.

All I can say is wow, he did an amazing job covering a very difficult subject, and I don't mean those tiny burritos. I wish more people were able to see his segment on capital punishment - he managed to capture the perfect pathos to appeal to people to rethink their thoughts on the death penalty. Well done.

I admit I still need to go back and watch Sunday's episode -- here it is Thursday. People who love this show are really loving it.

I was very disappointed to read that it not been renewed. I like Karl Urban in this almost as much as I like him as Dr. "Bones" McCoy in the Star Trek movies, and I thought it was a very well-done show. I also feel bad for poor Geoff Stults, who lost The Finder, Happy Town (both of which I really enjoyed), and now Enlisted.

Geoff Stults shall rise again.

I saw the preview, and can we ask the cinematographer to put on some light? It's like an old episode of CSI in there!

Hahaha. I watched it on a TV screen and thought it looked fine -- and I'm one of those people who has been to known to yell my lighting requests at the screen, and even start fiddling the carefully calibrated contrast menus on the remote, in a vain attempt to become a cinematographer.

Listen, "Penny Dreadful's" problem is not the lighting, okay?

Love the "Oregon Die-Off" Song. My only problem is the show is too short. Maybe he should add a Wednesday Edition.

The show is too short? Man, compared to "The Daily Show," which has commercial breaks and celebrity guests, "Last Week" seems epic in length to me. I don't know if I could take it for a full hour.

If I haven't seen the finale, should I read it? I'm not a spoiler-phobe, but if there's something big I'd love to go in blind...

No, don't read it til you've seen it, silly. Don't read about anything that says "finale" in the headline until you're sure you're ready.

We missed this one last week. Who's going to replace him?

You know who I want to do it? You're gonna hate this answer, but:


I'm actually enjoying it a lot. I wasn't a big Billy Bob Thornton fan, but he's amazing in the show. I also like Colin Hanks & the female deputy (sorry, I forget her name), and I'm rooting for them to eventually get together. I also love Bilbo/Dr. Watson (I forget his name, too), who is amazing. I think the only one I'm not crazy about is Oliver Platt.

Allison Tolman! (As Deputy Molly Solverson.)

I have been loving "Fargo" too, for the reasons you state, but I've seen episode 5 and found myself really drumming my fingers and wondering if they were already out of juice. Maybe it was because I was watching it on my computer screen at work. The mood is sometimes wrong for patient, relaxed TV watching.


Yes, I hated your answer. I can just see Anderson Cooper there 4 nights out of the Week!

How come you didn't spell "Anderson" as "Andersen," to make it match with your strange stylebook on TV names?

I watched the first season of House of Cards on a three-year-old flat screen. When my husband and I moved and bought a 55-inch Sharp, we re-watched the first season in preparation for the second. It was like watching a different show. I could actually SEE the nighttime car scenes! I haven't seen Penny Dreadful, but maybe it's the TV you're watching it on?

It really can make a difference.

It finally got good once they put in the Hydra potline. Are there one or two episodes left?

The finale is Tuesday, May 13, so my answer is going to be one. One episode left.

Fanboys, fangirls, feel free to correct that.

So disappointed that it got cancelled while it was starting to get good. It's not its fault that "American Idol" has been dying!

This is an example of what the Cancellation Bear on Twitter calls "Fan-excuse Bingo" -- but I understand the impulse as a stage of TV-show grief: They put it on the wrong night. ... They didn't promote it enough. (There are a million of them.)

GOT is veering away from the books. I don't have an opinion as to whether this is good or bad, just different. But my question is--why? Is it purely because the TV producers/writers think the story would be better this way on TV, or is it because of fear George R.R. Martin will never finish the books, so they've come up with an alternate ending?

As someone who never read (and never will have the time to read) the GoT books, I'm all for the TV showrunners doing what they have to do to maintain the standard of excellence they've achieved. I trust them to streamline, edit and, if it comes to it, leave Martin in the dust. I really do.

I just remembered it's Martin Freeman, and he is great in the show. You can't help but feel for poor Lester. He does a fine job.

Well of COURSE it wasn't go to do well on Fridays! The X-Files has cursed Fox Fridays for decades now. Can a showrunner abandon shop when you get a horrible slot like that?

As I was saying ...

So what was the deal that Dick Wolf made to keep it going? Is Mariska Harigitay taking a pay cut? Are cast members leaving? Is Dick Wolf himself <gasp> taking less money per episode?

These questions are all more exciting than the last episode of SVU that I watched.

thought it was pretty good, they put it on a bad night (Friday). There is no justice that it is gone and Two and 1/2 Men lives on.

Another example, sort of in the vein "Why does God let good people die," which goes: Why was the show I liked cancelled while the show I can't stand goes on and on and on ...

Why did no one get into this smart, funny show? I'm so sad it's almost certainly over.

Another one: Why weren't people smart like I am and watch this?

This show is definitely fleshing out it's characters and finding humor in places. I wonder what I would do if I got a job with no assignements for 5 years until my stock options got activated. Is it true the actor who plays the Steve Jobs character died?

The show is really very good -- better than it has to be, when you consider how easy it is to make jokes about the tech world. Sadly it's true that Christopher Evan Welch (who plays Pied Piper's idiosyncratic genius investor) died, last December.

I watched the first two episode and your review was spot on. The second was especially entertaining. Louie shows up to a Hamptons' fundraiser unprepared, sleeps with model and somehow finds himself being sued by multimillionaires. Was that whole episode supposed to be a dream?

That's how "Louie" has evolved -- no episode is dependent on any other. You are not, for example, obligated to think in a future episode that poor Louie is still paying that family $5,000 a month. As a show, it's become this wonderful dry-erase board.

Newest one: This show was too smart for Network TV. Had it been on HBO, it would have succeeded!

Trophy Wife needed a better time slot! It should have gone in-between The Middle and Modern Family

Now we're cookin'!

May I add that "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" was originally going to bridge the fall and spring runs of the original, but Paul Lee rushed it too quickly to be ready in the fall.

There ya go!

I still hate it. That is all.

But all of us in the framily love you.

Kill it. Horrible, horrible show. I watched the first episode and it was jaw-droppingly bad. I even tried to watch a couple more episodes, and didn't last 10 minutes.

It did well in number of viwers. Had it been on CBS, they wouldn't have cared about the Demo.

So is "The Mentalist" going to be killed by CBS just because it's not from CBS Studios? It's still getting good ratings. If CBS cancels it, ABC should pick it up and show it in the exact same time slot.

Did you see this on the Big Bang Theory's popularity? http://www.vulture.com/2014/05/big-bang-theory-ratings.html - I had no idea just how popular it was. It outstrips the competition by miles if I'm reading the graphs here properly. I'm not saying I don't get why people like it, but they like it THAT MUCH more than everything else? It's sort of incredible.

And lots of people eat at McDonald's and Taco Bell and shop at Walmart. Cue Neil Diamond's "America."

I do not want Oliver's show to be an hour. In fact, I think maybe I do more like the 22-minute version. I don't know that it's really the length, I think it's missing having bigger break between segments to change gears (even if that's just me fast forwarding through commercials... maybe I'll just hit pause for 30 seconds after each segment!).

How much of a different DOES it make, in your opinion? Can a great show fail just because it's in the wrong slot or a really mediocre show succeed in the right one? Or is that really just something we tell ourselves when shows really succeed or fail on their merits?

Well, we seem to only complain about time slots when shows that we (very particularly) like don't succeed there. It's all in perception. Of course there are bad time slots on television. But I still think that if a show is really good and has the right sort of broad appeal it stands a good chance anywhere. But a show that's objectively (or subjectively, as the case my be in my line of work) a C or C-plus (or worse), it's going to struggle no matter what. Even if it has your favorite new actor in it. Even if they guy who wrote it wrote your favorite show from 1998.

My poor show was airing against "the Walking Dead" I blame zombies for killing it!

"It was getting a lot of talk on twitter and other social media. It was just on a night where the Demo is not at home."

How can an series be launched when the actress playing the main character is so breathtakingly bad? Doesn't anyone else see that the story could have a chance with someone who can act

Well, I wound up getting a ration of it from one of her greatest fans after my review appeared. But I agree -- weirdo actress playing weirdo character, with nothing to like, standing around ledges, it's hard not to yell "jump!"

I'm not saying it's dumb TV or people are dumb. I'm just shocked that it outstrips so many other things that are also popular and targeted at the same general demo. And surprised that I was unaware. I mean, when Friends was popular, it was everywhere. I don't feel like I'm hearing about BBT everywhere and yet it apparently is watched by pretty much everyone.

There was a piece on the Atlantic this week, by one of those writers who think data is every last important and relevant thing, trying to figure out why more TV critics and writers aren't writing constantly about BBT, because that's where the numbers clearly are.

To which I just sigh.

The Show just needed more attention from thosse influential TV Critics!

It's not my show. It's because Disney doesn't give a mouse's posterior about ABC!

I keep thinking "Oliver could use some Bill Maher" and "Bill Maher needs some Oliver". Maybe if they put short breaks in-between segments of the other.

One episode left, and while I'm pleased with the direction it's gone in, I wish they would pick a tone and stick with it. I understand they've got the unholy trio of Disney, ABC, and Marvel all giving them notes, but I've been watching it with my elementary school age nephews and find that it veers too much between being a fun action/adventure show and being really dark (a dog got shot! At 8:00 on a Tuesday!) It's whiplash-inducing.

Now that the TV show has decided to completely ignore the books, do we need to worry about "spoiling" those whiney TV only watchers?

Boy, I asked for that with my last respone, didn't I?

No, please! One of my favorite things about people who've read all of the Martin books is how polite they've show themselves to be while the rest of the world catches up. In this day and age, that is truly remarkable.

Okay, gang -- we've used up our hour and then something.

Come lets compare notes on new shows and cancelled shows next week during the upfront hubub.

See you then -- and THANKS.



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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