What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Jun 12, 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."

We're back on a schvitzy summer day here in DC, talkin' TV. What's new?

If only I could share with you my ginormous Summer TV preview, which is running in Sunday's paper and will start showing up online tomorrow. It has a big review of "The Leftovers," HBO's new drama premiering June 29, which I think is fascinating and, alas, super depressing. (Like, more depressing than it has to be.)

The summer guide also takes a look at some comedies -- "Almost Royal" on BBC America, "Welcome to Sweden" on NBC (starring/created by Amy Poehler's brother), TNT's "Last Ship" (Michael Bay-produced) and "Legends" (starring Sean Bean) ... and much more. Sorry to tease. Let's call it marketing.

Some of you have already watched ALL of season of "Orange Is the New Black." I still have seven episodes to go (here's my review that ran last week; critics were given the first six episodes in advance). I'd love to hear what you think, but keep in mind all your fellow chatters who may not be as far along in it as you are. Spoiler etiquette gets very tricky when Netflix gives us an entire season at once. What do you think about that? What's the proper amount of time to wait before you start blabbin'?

Now to your questions and comments ...

Hi Hank! This weekend I gave "Halt and Catch Fire" a go, and it was a valiant struggle between my love for Lee Pace and boredom (boredom won). The show did get me thinking about the current state of AMC. I know that they got Mad Men because HBO declined on it (in part) because they felt they were making too many period pieces at the time and needed to do something different. Do you think AMC's in a similar rut? On the one hand, having "classic" in their name does make it seem like a good genre to monopolize, but I feel like people are getting bored with period settings and the shows have not been catching on. (The fact that it's all conflicted white male protagonists all the time over there isn't helping)

There was a moment in the second episode of "Halt and Catch Fire" where I thought my harsh review might have been too harsh, but then it fell apart again, so I'm not sure how much more of it I'm going to force myself to watch.

I always find that any time I declare one of the more ambitious networks to be "in a rut," it's only a few weeks or months before they come back with something pretty great. (I thought FX was in a bit of a rut, but as soon as I said it, the second season of The Americans, the "Coven" episodes of American Horror Story, the return of "Louie" and the greatness of "Fargo" pretty much blew that away.

Any discussion of "AMC" and "rut" is forgetting the phenomenal success of "The Walking Dead," with some pretty great performances from women, especially Melissa McBride. It's not easy to make great television. It's a whole lot easier to make a lot of mediocre television.

What did you think of the Turn finale? Will it make it to 1778?

I thought the finale exhibited both the good and the bad of the entire series. There's a lot of heart in the series and some good acting -- particularly from the redcoats, including Samuel Roukin as Capt. Simcoe and Burn Gorman as Major Hewlett. But the storytelling had problems that I think chased more than a few willing viewers off, leaving mostly just the history buffs, which is a dangerous thing, because you can chase them off too if you stray too far from the known record. There's a chunkiness there that never got smoothed out, despite some perfectly fine episodes.

All that said, I hope that AMC brings it back and gives it a chance to improve. I have no idea if they will; there's been no announcement so far.

OMG, I can't bear another loss since losing True Detective. Will it (Fargo) return in some iteration?

It's just been great, hasn't it? I've watched the finale and think it was all just about perfect. (I could have maybe done without the middle storyline with Oliver Platt as the grocery store owner, except it establishes Malvo's talent for being evil...)

No news about a second go-around.

I've been loving this season of 24. I think that the compressed timeframe is really helping as there are not as many extraneous plots. How's it doing in the ratings? I haven't heard much of a buzz about the show so I'm curious if this is a one and done or if we may have some more Jack Bauer in our future.

The ratings are okay -- Jack was up against Diane Sawyer's interview with Hillary Clinton and they were about even. (Six million viewers or so.)

I don't think Fox will ever completely retire Jack. If Kiefer ever gets tired of doing it, they can always take a page from the film biz and recast/reboot the franchise.

Is it still on?

Didn't they just bring out a new season of it a couple of months ago?

Robot fans? Chicken fans? Do you know?

So "Leftovers" is about the folks who didn't get the rapture. Do the ones that did show up on "Ressurection" on ABC?

It's a whole lot less "rapture"-y than you'd expect. And it's far sadder than any of the "Resurrection"-y shows, except maybe that French "Returned" series, which was pretty dour.

Can't wait for the Summer Guide--sneak peek into whether Masters of Sex is worth watching this summer?

Showtime has not sent me any "Masters of Sex" screeners yet, but I'm quite anxious to see some. It's one of my favorite shows from last year.

Liked the book and could see how it could make for interesting TV, sorry, HBO is not TV. Have you seen any episodes yet?

Yes, as I sad in my intro, I have a long review of "Leftovers" running in this Sunday's Post as part of a big Summer TV issue. It should be up online Friday. I've seen episodes 1-3 and also episode 5. (They weren't ready to show critics episode 4.) It's very heavy and depressing, I think. But I mean that in a good way, mostly.

I liked the book too, but not as much as I've liked some of Perrotta's other novels. Are you on Goodreads? Here's my review there of the novel. (Yes, I review books that I've read. Not for work, for pleasure.)


The 9th Episode of a season is always their best one. That was an excellent staging of the fight at the wall with archers, hammers, dire wolves, giants, and wolly mammoths. If George RR Martin doesn't finish up in time, can they just go off on their own?

I thought it was a good episode too -- it's nice sometimes to just settle in with one piece of the epic. (Here are our usual weekly dueling/dovetailing recaps from Malitz and Rosenberg.)

The approaching army and giants and mammoths gave me a slight Naboo/Gungan/CGI feeling, but it was fun to watch all the same.

A follow-up from last week. Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz wanted Carol Martin, the future Carol Brady, to be a divorcee, but ABC nixed the idea. (Remember, this is still a year before CBS refused to allow Mary Richards to be a divorcee.) But Schwartz didn't want to give up entirely, so while he never mentioned an ex-husband, he also never specifically stated that she was a widow. You may now resume the regularly scheduled chat.

That's pretty much what I remembered reading in an interview with Schwartz at some point. So those of us who think Carol was divorced are right, in the most technical sort of way.

Which reminds me: Did anyone read David Gilbert's short story called "Here's the Story" in the latest issue of the New Yorker? Completely unrelated to Ann B. Davis's recent passing, it's a fictional "prequel" of sorts in which the original Mr. Martin (Carol's husband, father of three very lovely girls) has a random and fateful encounter with the original Mrs. Brady. Clearly Gilbert thinks they BOTH died.

Am I correct in understanding GOT is good for at least two more years? Now that this season is finishing up, I can look forward to reading the 3rd book of the series and re-reading 1 and 2. I'm one of those who want to keep being surprised . . .

"Game of Thrones" is HBO's biggest success in years, phenomenally successful (and a critical and cultural hit, too, which means a lot to HBO) and it will be around as long as it takes to wrap up the saga, ideally with Martin's novels guiding the way, or, if he never finished them, working from his notes. Or something. It's unstoppable at this point.

What was your take on Season 1 of The Bridge? It started out strong but then veered into ridiculous territory and I dropped it. People who stuck with it assure me that it finished strong. Worth catching up and starting Season 2?

Not quite as dismissive as yours, but similar -- I thought it started out strong, then stayed in those middle episodes where so many TV shows start to lose their way, then came around for a strong-ish finish. Without spoiling too much, something happened to one of the characters at the end of season 1 that I think will be difficult to get past and get on with in making a compelling season 2, but, as always, I won't judge until I see it -- and FX hasn't sent screeners yet.

And yup, we are a pedantic and easily-scared-away bunch. Plus, I hate to say it, but the costumes in Turn are just horrible. Fun fact: beards were incredibly unstylish in the late 1700s, seriously. No one wore them except for members of a couple religious sects. Also, both boy and girl babies wore dresses through toddlerhood. (See? Pedantic.) I guess what really bothers me about glaring historical inaccuracies in TV and movies is how unnecessary it is. The research is not hard to find and there was more than enough weirdness back then to keep any TV show interesting.

When I visited the set of "Turn" back in January, my most fascinating chat was with Donna Zakowska, the show's hardworking costume designer. (She won an Emmy for her work on HBO's "John Adams.") If you saw her office there, you would see how much historical research goes into the costumes. But, as she noted, there is a point of departure where historical accuracy gives way to imagination and good storytelling. And yes, they all know that Caleb Brewster and Roger Roberts (or is it Robert Rogers? I can never remember) wouldn't have beards. But they do. It works for the character. Choices are made, but not out of ignorance.

I actually like the idea of single seasons. It's really a bummer when a show you once liked so much starts to get boring or when they introduce characters or story lines that you really don't like. True Detective was really entertaining, but I'm fine that I won't see those characters again. Same with Fargo, which I think has just been so great!

After I watched the last episode of "Fargo" (which airs next week), I got to thinkin' that if they did a second series, maybe they should set it in the way-back. Like in the 1940s or '50s? Or a century ago? (Hmmm. Maybe it could involve Laura Ingalls Wilder?)

I find that the more I rely on my DVR to watch TV, the less I actually know about what is on TV. I don't have a lot of time to sit around watching TV. My DVR records a variety of programs and whenever I have the time, I either pick something that is 30 or 60 minutes long. I fast forward through most commercials. As a result, I don't learn about other shows and really have no idea when the shows I do watch are actually on. Often, I am watching a show several weeks after it aired on TV and can watch several episodes of the same show in a week. I feel like I might be missing something because I don't have the time to channel surf like I once did. Is there an easy way to continue to find new shows that I might like?

It sounds like you need a subscription to The Washington Post. Or you should at least buy Sunday's paper, with an amazing Summer TV listings guide that will get you through August.

Do you have any insight on whether Orphan Black will be renewed for a third season or when the decision will be announced?

They haven't said anything yet about season 3, which I find weird, given all the buzz.

If Tatiana Maslany isn't nominated for Best Actress in a Drama for Orphan Black, there is no justice. I can't believe John Noble was never nominated for his amazing work in Fringe, especially when he played two Walters in the two dimensions. I also think that for this year Allison Tolman and Martin Freeman deserve nominations for their outstanding performances in Fargo.

Hank, I have a problem. I think I'm over "Louie." This is the first time I've said it out loud - it feels good to admit it. I was iffy on the Amia storyline but powered through. But I couldn't finish the 90 minute pot flashback episode. I was just - *gasp, I know* - bored by it. Is there something wrong with me? Do I have to find a log cabin somewhere and renounce my place in society now?

I'll bet you're not alone.

Would you believe I have been so busy watching television professionally that I haven't even had time to watch the extra-long "Louie" yet?

What did everyone else think?

And is this person free to go and not feel ashamed for leaving "Louie" behind? (I say yes. Life is too short to watch a TV show just because everyone else is.)

Yup! New season is airing right now. Also, Netflix streaming has early seasons (yay)

No question - just a proclamation for my new favorite TV character - Felix from Orphan Black (BBC America). Such a great character and a great actor as well!

Hi Hank (what part of Oklahoma are you from?) I know this might be outside the viewing stuff but could find out why only cable gets the emergency alerts and why we are having multiple tests. One week there were at least three, including two during an Obama speech. Now we are getting alerts whenever we have a thunderstorm somewhere in the area. I can understand tornado stuff but in the summer thunderstorms are a regular occurrence. What's going on and why is there never any interruptions of broadcast transmissions?

I was born and raised in Oklahoma City (northwest side, Lake Hefner, etc).

Call you provider and ask why so many tests of the EBS (or why they're using it for thunderstorms; I thought it was only for, like, nuclear war or zombie apocalypse and such). I've only ever noticed the tests during the middle of the day when I happen to be home with the TV on. (Fun fact: I do almost all of my watching and reviewing here at the newsroom, where tornadoes are frequent.)

How much cable news do you take in? It is apparent to me that the medium is dying. Fox and MSNBC are just a bunch of talking heads agreeing with the host, and CNN is irrelevant.

I take in relatively little, since The Post's Erik Wemple watches so much of it with expert scrutiny.

Should they just already make the statuette for Bryan Cranston right now? Also, will Mad Men get any love this year, or will it only be for the next 1/2 season?

I'd actually like to see the awards move on from both "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," even though "Breaking Bad" did have a finale that will be forever remembered. Nominations are July 10. The show I really, really need to see on the nominations list is "The Americans."

A word of thanks for syndication stations. Because of them I got a chance to see the first 10 years of Law & Order, which I'd never seen. Now fully enjoying The Closer, another show I never saw the first time -- it's my "new" favorite!

I had a similar reaction but I did power through to the end. The whole thing had a whiff of "Afternoon Special" about it. This is the first full season I've watched; I thought it lost momentum in the second half.

Are "The Americans" finally going to get some love? Last season was better than the first.


HaHaHaHaHa... Remember - these are the same people who can't be bothered to research the geographic realities of the actual place and time in which they live! To ask questions that could be answered with a quick phone call. So we end up wtih DC to Quantico in 15 minutes...

Fine, but raise if your hand if you want a show about someone who spent an hour stuck on the Beltway.

Beautiful, underrated city. Go Thunder!

I find it very strange (and yes, gratifying) to see Oklahoma City acquire some coolness cred.

My only peeve about Carol being divorced is that Mike didn't have any trouble adopting the girls. It couldn't have been that easy if she wasn't a widow.

Are TV reporters way more smart and observant than the rest of us, or do you have some help? I love reading recaps of the shows I enjoy, but I read them in part because I know I've missed something or misunderstood something or -- wait, was that the same guy? Or WHAT is she doing? You know. Or maybe you don't. But the recaps seems to perfectly recount all that happened. Do you get press kits on individual episodes or do you just instinctively "get" it all?

Indeed, writing a good, knowledgeable recap on deadline is a lot harder than it looks, particularly with a complicated show. I can tell you that in almost every case, the recaps you are reading on The Post's website are written in real time and that the writers are not getting the episodes in advance.

As critic, I often get screeners in advance of new shows (or encrypted access to episodes, which I am not allowed to share with anyone else), but for the really buzzy, highly-rated, very spoiler-filled premium channel dramas, TV critics/recappers generally don't get shows in advance once the season is up and running.

Have you been watching "In the Flesh" on BBC America? It's a zombie thing, which is usually not my jam, but it is fabulous. It goes a little heavy-handed on the dangers of religion and prejudice and intolerance, but overall I'm really loving it. S2 just ended and S3 can't arrive soon enough for me!

I gave a good review to season 1 and am sorry to say I've only watched a little bit of season 2. I got kind of bored with it, but I plan to take another look.

Personally, I'd watch a Felix and Allison spin-off show. The combination of those two characters elevates the whole show.

Sherwood was just way ahead of his time.

This chatter wins the Internet today.

And on that note, I must also go poof and vanish into some more work. It's been a pleasure as always.

Speaking of the here-and-gone, there will be NO CHAT next Thursday, June 19, but I will be back June 26.

See you then.

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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