What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

May 22, 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."

Welcome back to What the What to Watch. Although we've been told in every way that it no longer matters what the calendar says, that good TV can happen any time, regardless of the official "season," doesn't it just feel like a slow period anyhow?

As a newscreature of habit, I'm gearing up for a big Summer TV issue that will run on Sunday, June 15. (It will go up online a couple of days before that.) There's quite a bit out there headed our way -- anything grab you? I'm still sorting through screeners and just trying to nail down the premiere dates, etc. If there's a show in particular you're interested in, let me know. I also have a ton of premiere dates for returning shows.

"The Normal Heart" airs on HBO this Sunday. My review runs in Sunday's paper should go up online soon. Bring some Kleenex and tune in Sunday night, but I'm not sure you'll need the whole box.

"Gang Related" is new tonight on Fox and ya know what? It's not half bad. If you stick with it until episode 3, you'll see some refreshingly good acting/writing, smack in the middle of noisy, gunfire/explosions/cop show stuff.

Season finales galore -- thoughts?

Also, we still have some lingering cancellation grief to work through, I suspect.

Now to your questions ...

Hank, don't know if you keep up with Nurse Jackie at all, but two observations. One is that Jackie is becoming so unlikeable as a person that I wish she would just OD already and they would change the show to Nurse Zoey. Because I would watch that every single day. Second, how good of an actress is Edie Falco that after watching this show for a few seasons, I have forgotten that she was ever Carmela Soprano? That's how well she has defined this character.

So glad you asked! Last week I put in the current season that Showtime sent me and watched the entire thing, all 12 episodes, in two sittings. Voluntarily, not as an assignment. I can't remember the last time I binge-watched a show in my office only because I wanted to and not because I was on a deadline. (I paid the price later and had to stay at work until almost midnight finishing the thing I had planned to do.) This season of "Nurse Jackie" is superior -- maybe its best, I think. The entire cast has been great.

I agree with you, it's difficult to watch Jackie bottom out once more; the lies and misbehavior will get worse before they get better. And you're right: She has so fully inhabited this role that Carmela is just a faint memory.

I admit, I still like to watch Survivor. On last night's live finale, Jeff Probst kept raving about how this was the best season ever, the best cast ever. It felt so fake. Is Survivor sinking badly in viewership? (FWIW, I thought that it was a boring season and a disappointing end.)

It got edged out barely by "American Idol" last night, but close to 10 million viewers, which is still strong. I confess I don't watch it. Anybody else want to weigh in?

Hank - Are any of the summer network shows worth my time investment?

Yes, depending on what you want out of a summer show. "Masters of Sex" is returning July 13 on Showtime. I'm eager to get a look at "The Leftovers" as soon as HBO sends it over. I'm also interested in a BBC America comedy called "Almost Royal" and, although I wasn't blown completely away, there was something intriguing about TNT's "The Last Ship" (produced by Michael Bay) that I'm still thinking about. I need to watch "Halt and Catch Fire" again, because I just wasn't sure what to think about it on the first pass, which usually isn't a good sign (premieres on AMC on June 1, but you can watch the first episode online now if you Google it, I hear). I'm eager to see two new show from FX -- "Tyrant," about the son of a Middle Eastern dictator who returns home and "The Strain," which (exhausted but nevertheless optimistic sigh) is about vampires. And FX has a comedy called "Married" that I hope is good. There's also "Extant," on CBS, aka "Halle Berry, Your Baby is an Alien!"

And the usual array of cable crime procedurals which I've not sorted through yet. And lots of dopey-sounding reality shows. And a new season of "American Ninja Warrior" for me and probably three other people who still like it.

The show sounds horrific and soul-destroying and just sad for everyone involved. BUT. The recaps I've been reading online have been hilarious. So at least it has been good for something.

Let's hear for English degrees.

Pleasant viewing as a one-off, but not sure I'd watch on a regular basis. She is a fascinating talent, but her male guest stars (if that's how you bill them?) weren't nearly as gifted. Though I did like the silly lullaby she sang with Chris Parnell. D'ya think this show has any future at NBC?

The ratings were strong enough (it beat "The Bachelorette," I read) that NBC is probably considering the possibility.

I watched it and felt like it was a long SNL sketch about a variety show. I think it would have been gutsier to do it without all the wink-wink.

Hank, I gotta give the gal kudos for trying to revive the lost art of the variety show, a la Carol Burnett. There were a few cringe inducing moments, but overall I'd give her a B+ and an A for effort. Did you watch?

See above.

I thought the first few episodes this season were slow/boring -- but the last two or three have been pretty darn good. I agree with the OP, it's hard to like Jackie...but the show is good.

The last two episodes of this season are AMAZING and that's all I'll say. It's been a hell of a downward spiral for the character, but great for fans/viewers.

We thought this season was pretty good. But the reunion show is paced too fast and has become the Jeff Probst show. I read they're already filming and/or planned the next two installments.

You'll be happy to know that it makes me think of you every time.

Last week I saw an uptick in Poirot press releases in my inbox, mere hours after the chat.

I asked this last week but you didn't answer. I do think it's relevant. What summer shows look good to you? I'm looking forward to Murder in the First, Motive, Suits, Rizzoli & Isles, and Food Network Star. What else should I check in on? I do not get any premium cable channels.


I'm sorry I didn't answer your question last week. The fact is, I'm still sorting through everything I've got facing me for the Summer TV issue, which I hope you'll read on June 15. See my above answer (it's not all premium channels). It seems like you've got quite a few detective shows lined up -- to which you might want to add CBS's "Reckless" on June 29, but I've not seen it, so that's just a guess ...

Good Afternoon, Hank! For some reason, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett has been taken off the network, but there has been no reason given by Fox News as to why he was removed. What has happened to my favorite television journalist? Many thanks, Loyal in Leesburg

I dunno, but does this factor in?

Do you think a variety show could still work in this day and age? A real, non-winking one. Weren't there reports that Neil Patrick Harris was interested in something like that? (Maybe it wasn't him, but I feel like I heard that when he was rumored for the Letterman spot)

Honestly, for a lot of reasons, most of which have to do with the fact that it isn't 1972, I don't think it can work without the wink-wink. Which is why I'd let Maya do one and then be done. Who wants that wink-wink every week?

A friend said the first show is on AMC's web site. He watched and says he came away with mixed feelings. So it may be a clunker...

Indeed. I haven't decided what I think about it. It's one of those shows where I'll write a few paragraphs and then discover what I think about it. What I really need are two more episodes. Viewers have had a lot of shows lately where we've been told to "give it time." I'm not convinced that's a winning marketing pitch.

Will PBS be airing anything new this summer worth watching?

Yes -- including a raft of Independent Lens and POV documentaries. I'm still sorting out what's coming, but the biggie is David Tennant in "The Escape Artist" on June 15 (Masterpiece Mystery -- two parts). Also a comedy called "Vicious" starring Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi as gay partners who've been together for 50 years. (Sunday, June 29)

Hearing different things about this show and wondering if you got into it or not?

Here's my glowing review from a few weeks ago. It's a very well-made show if that genre (sci-fi, espionage, slick-euro thriller) is a flavor you already enjoy. From a purely objective standpoint, it might seem a bit ridiculous. But Tatiana Maslany, who plays all of the clones, is the whole reason to watch. And, really, it's not a difficult show to watch, in terms of commitment or time-investment. It seems to just fly by. If you're running dry on shows to watch, check it out.

didn't see that coming, though maybe i should have. wow.

I can't remember what week we're on, but I think I know what you're talking about. Let's not spoil it. I have episode 7 in my inbox, which I haven't watched yet.

I love me some show about good-looking young South Californian White people with problems and TV has really moved away from fulfilling that niche.

We're about due for a new one, aren't we? I wonder if it could involve wildfires and drought? It could be called "Fire and Rain."

For these chats. They are fun and informative.

Thanks for saying so!

It was never "great" or anything, but I can't tell if this past season was actually worst or I'm just getting older.

Possibly both. I tried to work out some issues with "SNL" at the midway point this season, back in December. Here's a link. "SNL" is always imperfect in some way, because really all it is is an attempt to be topically funny in front of a live audience, which is part of why we've spent decades watching it together as a culture, so we can analyze its problems.

It's always had a lot of sex (that can get graphic as all get-out) and nudity and did I say sex already? But the Dany and Daario storyline last week just...didn't fit. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, because Michiel Huisman can disrobe anytime, anywhere he wants, but the humor was just a bit too cheeky. (Heh!)

And they didn't even show them having sex!


Nice of you and your colleagues at the Post to have a good laugh at Gregg Jarrett's expense (I guess that the fact that he works at Fox News is why), but if you and the person who wrote the article about his arrest had done a MINIMUM amount of reporting, you would have known that he ALREADY wasn't working at Fox because he had asked for and been granted leave for serious personal issues. But go ahead and kick him when he's done just because you assume that he vote differently than you do. All that shows is the lousy reporting that is dominates the Post. And remember that karma will get you.

You read a lot into one link.

Did you stick with it past the third or fourth episode, which was when (I think) you said the narrative took a surprising and more fulfilling (I think) turn? I think it's gotten leaps and bounds better over the course of just six episodes, and I'm really enjoying it - it's now the sort of show that makes me want to go back and watch it all over again to see if there are any clues or little motifs I may have missed (like the fish poster in Lester's basement)- I love all of the visual cues and little nods. Coming out of one of the ad breaks, the standard FX disclaimer screen about "viewer discretion is advised" showed a couple of locusts flitting across the screen really quickly- hee hee! Anyway, I'm digging it - are you still?

I've been with it the whole way. (See above.) Getting ready to watch next week's episode this afternoon. And I agree -- it's done just enough to keep the momentum going.

Beyond NYC posing as DC stuff (doing about as good a job as The X-Files folks did with BC as DC), I do like "The Americans" but also totally get why it's an off-putting show that people wouldn't either enjoy or get into. It's very dark and so many times the leads do something horrible, are called out for it and yet kind of get off consequence free with is pretty alienating.

Hmmm. I watch it with a feeling that Philip and Elizabeth are eventually going to really, really suffer. There's a sense of doom wrapped up in ... comeuppance, I guess? That "The Americans" gives us such conflicted feelings and responses is why it's so good.

I think Season 2 was perfect in every way, THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION, except for 2 song cues: Paige would not have been listening to "I Melt With You" in January 1982 unless she had just returned from London or had a secret new-wave boyfriend sending her mix tapes from across the pond. (The song was popular here in the US about a year later.) Same goes for Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone" (used as background music, I seem to recall?)

But you do not want to get into a persnickety match with me about the pop charts in the early 1980s, especially when it comes to UK/US crossovers.

II really enjoyed this show and am very sorry it got cancelled. Any other good sci-fi out there these days?

Orphan Black ... Falling Skies ... The 100 ...


missed it last night, any thoughts? Was it satisfying?

I thought it was a bit too manic, but they brought it around and it was satisfying.

Or do you spend so much time watching tv that there is no time left? Do you watch tv shows on your computer or on a regular tv--and do you think that makes a difference in your ultimate verdict?

I used to go to the movies all the time, but it really fell off once I got this job in 2009. By the time I'm ready for leisure, the last thing I want to do is watch more scripted material. Now I find myself rather delighted when movies come on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc., because I haven't seen them yet.

I try to watch TV on an actual TV screen as much as I can. But quite a bit of it happens on my computer screen. I think there's something different about the intimacy. A PC or laptop or tablet is closer to your face; a television is in the room with you. Where I notice this most is with scary stuff, like "Walking Dead" or something very real and simply intense ("Breaking Bad.") I love those shows and don't love having them too close to my physical space. But ultimately, I'll watch anything, anywhere, anyhow. One thing I do try to do is watch as much as I can at the office. That keeps it professional. I take a lot of notes while I watch new shows; very little of my on-the-job watching is a passive, prone experience.

I've been recording season 2, but do I need to watch season 1 first or can I jump right in?

Depends on what kind of person you are. There are a lot of shows where I think you can jump right in and then, if you really loved it, going back and watching the beginning is like a little prequel treat. Other people feel more orthodox about starting from the beginning. I'm tempted to tell you to just jump right into "Orphan Black."

Beyond the high concept and all that, it's very watchable which something a lot of shows are lacking t's much more on the serialized then episodic side so kind of hard to jump in the middle of it.

I will assume this person is referencing California Dreams, which can only be described as the best TV show ever created ever.

I loved AMC's show RUBICON which got cancelled (stupidly IMHO) after 1 season. I think if it happened now it would be a prime candidate for Netflix or Amazon to pick up. My wife has told me to give it up and move on, but is there any hope for it to ever come back? It would thrive on BBC America also. to dream...the impossible dream...

Listen to your wife.

Is the title of one show or two?

Just the one. It's a computer language term.

I have no clue if my husband and I are the only people watching this show or not, but we rather like it. Is it going to get another season (I couldn't find any mention of it on the interwebs) or is it going the way of the dodo? Thank you for these chats, BTW, they make Thursdays bearable.

No news yet, and there's still a lot about the show that I like.

I don't know if this fits a strict definition of science fiction but "Black Mirror" is a terrific show about the pervasive influence of technology and social media (the first episode, "The National Anthem," won't be easy to forget). Out of six episodes, only one struck me as a real dud (the last one). They're supposedly filming three more episodes too.

Those 20-somethings-who-are-supposed-to-be-kids are dying off like crazy. Will next season be "The 78" or something like that?

Maybe they'll send down a fresh 22.

Are there genres of TV that just bore you to death? If so, is it difficult to review those shows, or are you able to separate your personal lack of interest and identify them as good or bad for that genre?

God, yes.

1. Cooking shows.

2. Cooking competition shows.

3. Reality shows about celebrities and their crazy lives.

The list goes on ... BUT, even now, jaded as I am after five full seasons of TV reviewing, I still try to give everything that comes to this office a looksee. I spend a lot of time watching preview clips from publicists and networks. I spend a lot of time making sure I'm not missing something really special from the digital-only providers. I like to think my mind is open to surprises. And no matter what I take on and decide to write a full review of, I always try to judge on whether or not it's doing a good job of what it's trying to be, not what I personally wish it had tried to be.

I enjoyed last nights episode, but I feel the show has really gone down this year. What are your thoughts?

Wow - Ian McKellan AND Derek Jacobi? That's great to hear!

First Michiel Huisman was in vaguely Toronto or American city filmed in Toronto and poorly disguised (see: Police Academy) joining the Clone Club on "Orphan Black" and now he doing the morning-after walk of shame on "Game of Thrones" Good year for him. Somebody has a good agent.

My husband and I make up the other half of the four people that watch!! I like it, I don't love it, I could deal if it went away. But I think its a good show and reminds me how little I know of my country's history.

Huh? How did "The Killing" survive? It's SO bad.

Netflix swooped in and ordered six episodes, which it will release in August. Strange times we live in.

Hank - Just a heads up on the second "series" of the Endeavour Morse prequel at the end of June. I caught the first "movie" and subsequent ITV series on Netflix just recently. The story lines are great set in 1960's England and the acting has been very good I think!


Did you do a stint as a guest professor at the University of Iowa School of Journalism a while back? I seem to recall my DIL raving about what a great teacher you were.

Yes, wow, I did. I was brought there for a week (just a week) in September 2006 and had a really great time and met a ton of journalism students and professors. Tell her I said hi.

Last week's show certainly didn't help us sort out the fates of the many secondary white male players. With the parade of SNL alums who came to play with Andy Samberg, the newbies barely got any face time. How will Lorne Michaels decide who goes and who gets another shot? Collateral question: Why do we never see Jason Sudeikis in these reunions? He was an excellent utility player and did not receive a send-off like the others who departed the show at the same time.

Now that Lorne-world encompasses "The Tonight Show" and the "Late Night" show, there's sort of this constant back-rubbing and clubbiness going on that seems less interested in entertaining us and more up propping up careers of the "SNL"-affiliated. The other night, David Letterman was having an actual conversation with Barbara Walters, while, on NBC, Jimmy Fallon and Maya Rudolph were making strange noises at one another and not saying anything about anything, other than the fact that she had that variety show (more Lorne-world and SNL log-rolling) coming up.

Sorry, what was your question? Not sure what happens with SNL B-team rotation. Often we don't know for sure until just a few weeks before the show starts up again. And I'm not up on any known or rumored rift with Sudeikis. There's always the possibility that all is well, but he's got better things to do.

How many sharks has "The Mentalist" jumped this season? Will it even be renewed, or is it dead in the water?

Renewed for season 7, which will be its last, CBS says. And just 13 episodes.

Hey, if I'm answering "Mentalist" questions, that means our hour is up.

I'll be here next week (May 29), same time, BUT I am NOT going to be able to do a chat on Thursday, June 5, for those of you who mark your calendars and surround my name in hearts.

Thanks everyone -- and my usual apologies for unanswered questions.

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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