What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Jun 26, 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, my lovely couch 'taters. Let's talk about TV -- we're into the summer season and there's plenty coming.

Did you see our Summer TV issue on June 15? You can poke around in it here.

Some recent reviews from yours truly:

HBO's "The Leftovers": Exceedingly dour but fascinating.

FX's "Tyrant": Cliched and clumsy. Disappointing.

SyFy's "Dominion": Not terrible, but got me thinking about SyFy's resolute commitment to middle-of-the-road. Is that a principle of science-fiction? The cheapness? Discuss.

HBO's doc "The Case Against 8": Wants to be a triumphant portrait of gay rights victory, but feels more like a heavily-managed exercise in public relations. And The Post's Alyssa Rosenberg has even more to say about that -- a worthwhile read.

"The Escape Artist" on PBS: Fairly good 2-parter "Masterpiece Mystery!" event starring David Tennant. The hard part was finding the sucker. MPT aired it at zero-dark-thirty on Mondays. WHUT did a little better.

Okay, you're caught up -- let's chat.


Now we will see where people's loyalties lie.

No soccer talk here.

The finale of Orphan Black. I OMG-ed out loud. But I'm nervous about next season and whether it can deal with this twist without losing the magic.

Eeeep, I haven't watched the finale yet.

But for those of you who want to know (or discuss), or don't care but would read about it anyhow, here's Emily Yahr's recap.

That ending!

We were just saying!

Hi Hank, I've heard so many raves about The Good Wife that I put it in my Netflix queue so I'll be caught up by fall. I'm about halfway through the first season, and so far, I am not impressed. I get that the first several episodes need to establish the backstory and let us see various characters interact. But each episode seems to come back to the same theme: rookie lawyer Julianna Margulies, not being taken seriously by her peers or management, somehow cleverly deduces the resolution of a crime. So far, I'm not finding any of the supporting cast all that compelling. The sleazy husband and Perry Mason endings can get old fast. Is it worth sticking with it for at least one season? And, sorry to sound shallow, because I loved her in ER, but she looks disconcertingly like Michael Jackson in his later years.

It sounds like the show isn't going to be for you, because, yes, something that's been lost in the recent huzzahs and dramatic turns for "The Good Wife" is that it is a legal procedural series.

Also, you're dealing with what -- 100 or so episodes in all? That's a lot of TV time for something you're feeling initially blah about.

I'm curious what other readers would recommend in this case.

I'd recommend getting on the express train. Skip ahead to the season 1 finale and then watch the first few of season 2, pick a random episode midway, then skip ahead to the finale. (Use a wiki-style episode guide to help you fill in any blanks.) Repeat for season 3, but at some point in season 4 I would slow it down and start watching them all; season 5 is pretty great. If you're still not feeling it, then let it go.

And I completely disagree with your opinion of Juliana Margulies appearance.

And work blocked all websites that stream the world cup while matches are being played. Any suggestions for TV pre and post-fireworks for 4th of July? We're hosting a party and want something on for those people who come early and late to avoid traffic. TV will compete with some board games, if that changes any suggestions.

Thanks for your unwavering support! I'm curious by what you mean about pre- and post-fireworks group TV watching ... do you mean live or something you can queue up and stream during? The Fourth of July is usually a wasteland on TV, but some networks usually throw up a marathon of episodes of something. And don't forget about "A Capitol Fourth" on PBS -- they go down to the National Mall so you don't have to.

Anybody else got suggestions? For some sick reason, I think you should treat your guests to "Orange is the New Black" or "House of Cards." But I think the best answer is to watch "Turn," which should be still available On Demand on AMC. It's not as boring as everyone says it is (it's only half as boring as everyone says it is), and it did just get renewed for season 2 next year; plus, what could be more appropriate to Independence Day?

Am I the only human being not watching (or caring) about the World Cup? More of a validation needed than question answered.

You've come to the right place. Welcome.

If legal dramas aren't for you, or if you're just not feeling it, bail. I like the show, but not every show is for everyone and 100 hours is A LOT of time.

So - Am I the only person watching this show, and where on Earth are they going with this? It really feels like it's starting to wander off into a stew of "every supernatural trope you can think of" gumbo.

It wraps up this Sunday and you aren't the only person watching it, but I'm sure it feels that way. I quit after episode 4.

Same ratings as last year? Or will viewers not appreciate being strung along?

Did you watch the "catch-up" one-hour special on Monday? Gosh, but I wish they would do that for every TV show. I've watched the first episode of season 2 and will write a review that will run on Monday. I don't get it -- anything about it. The Stephen King hackery, the ratings, the plot, the groove. So I'm trying to look at it with a more open mind this time. (Not having very much luck with that, so far.)

Was anyone else disappointed in how Fargo ended? I'll avoid spoilers even though it was two weeks ago (I'd have brought it up last week, but you weren't here), but letting Gus get the "glory" as it were seemed a bit anticlimactic. Also: how will they come back and do this again next year? Will Molly still be there? Or hasn't this little town suffered enough bloodshed for a while? It was such a perfect season, but the finale felt a bit...off. Which was a bummer.

D'heck d'ya mean? I thought the finale was fine -- but yes, I will also admit, it was not as boffo as the rest of the series was -- especially that Las Vegas episode. I still consider it all a smashing success.

As for what's next, FX labeled "Fargo" a "limited series" in the beginning, and they've yet to announce plans for a Season 2, so they're not obligated to renew it. But if they do, I'm happy to throw out this pitch as a bit of free advice: Set it in the 1940s or '50s, with a new set of characters. I don't know why I think that, except that I think it would be good.

Live or streaming options are fine. I like the suggestion of Turn though! Of course the Capitol Fourth will be on during primetime fireworks; we're extremely lucky to have a view that people can see them live in the heat or on the TV with AC.

Sounds like a party.

The view of the mall fireworks from our balcony gets increasingly blocked each year by new condos, office buildings, etc. Stupid, stupid progress.

I really enjoyed the premise, but it got old fairly quickly. Maybe it's just one of those things you need to take in small doses?

Yeah, I also thought it lacked follow-through and gets old pretty quick. Too bad -- I loved the concept.

I hate commercials for medicines, especially the ED ones. My 7 year old granddaughter asked me "what is erectile dysfunction grampa".... what would your answer be???

Tinker Toys. Architectural/structural principles. Physics. It's a pill to help you figure out how to build things that won't fall down.

They could also set it in 1979 when the Keith Carridine character had that incident that he talked about.

There ya go!

I can't get past the "Didn't they make a Simpsons Movie about this?" problem.

The Twilight Zone Marathon on the SyFy Channel. Present for your approval Time Enough at last To Serve Man to the Monsters on Maple Street. It's a nice place to visit.

I like this idea a lot.

I don't know whether you like Longmire (as a male baby boomer who grew up on Westerns, I love it), but maybe you can answer a question about the business. A&E long ago gave up being about arts and entertainment, contenting itself with things like reruns of CSI Miami and hoarder programs. How did a show like Longmire, with its major location shoots and high end production values, wind up on the network instead of at AMC or TNT where it would be a much better programming fit. Thanks.

I do like "Longmire" okay, but not enough that I watch it regularly. I think it's a sturdy show that hits a particular node.

About the A&E thing, all I can tell you is that you are about the eight-zillionth person to note that TV networks no longer adhere to the original mission set forth in their brand name (History channel, MTV, Bravo, TLC). It's an old complaint people have been making for years. That said, "Longmire" strikes me as a relatively inexpensive (note: relatively) drama to produce; "Bates Motel," also on A&E, seems a little more costly. Both of those shows seem like a good fit for A&E.

I really like Suits. They are in Season 4 now and a viewer could easily catch up over a weekend or two. And there's just enough snark and funny moments that you really have to pay attention to what's going on.

Will the fifth season be aired in September at the same time as it does in Great Britain or PBS still sticking with January 2015?

PBS is sticking with January 2015. Not merely to annoy you and send you scurrying for illegal streaming alternatives online so you don't have to wait; this is a licensing arrangement.

I thought Linda Holmes over at NPR had an interesting take on the finale: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2014/06/18/323186493/the-work-of-the-devil . Maybe the final episode was supposed to be a little off.

Thanks for sharing this. Linda's take on things is always very smart.

Have you ever noticed that every program on The Learning Channel is counter-productive to learning anything?

Have you noticed that it stopped calling itself "The Learning Channel" eons ago? See "Longmire"/A&E answer above.

The last two episodes really revved up the story motor. The first half of the series was way draggy but I think they may have figured things out. Even Hartnett woke up.

Maybe I'll go have a look. Thanks.

Read the profile in the New Yorker, and now feel like I know so much about the two leads that I don't need to watch. Your thoughts?

The profile made the show seem so much better than it is. I say trust your instincts -- you're now fully aware of "Broad City" and can move on to other things.

I would say to watch all episodes where Alan Cummings appears. Also, ignore the children Zach and Grace since they're just plot fodder. Be sure to see any episodes that involve the following: Ballistics expert played by Gary Cole, Presidential Suites, and NPR reporter Neal Conan.

This calls for a disruption! Some techie out there (maybe at Pied Piper) needs to invent a screening app that tells you which of these 100 episodes would fit exact criteria like yours.

Hank, the more previews I see, the more I'm thinking I need to watch this show. Any insider intel you can share about this new series?

I have not see a screener yet, so I can't say. Like you, I've only seen trailers and read descriptions so far.

Cause for turning in your letter of resignation, I think. Next you'll tell us they're blocking Pandora.

I never watched "Big Love" when it was new, but then Amazon made it available, so now I'm watching it. I don't find it all that good, yet I thought there was a lot of hype over this show. Am I missing something?

The "Big Love" reviews ran from good to mixed back in the day; you may be remembering a lot of hype for two reasons -- 1., it was HBO, which gets extra attention for all its dramas and 2., the first season was pretty good. But it didn't hold up. From the Hank Stuever archives (January 2010) by season 4 the show was getting wobblier and melodramatic:

"Big Love" asks a lot -- too much -- as the polygamist family drama begins a fourth season Sunday night. It's one of those shows you always mean to catch up to, but Heavenly Father help you if you start now.

Playful disorder is fine if you want a show that rapidly evolves and convolutes itself like some highbrow, irony-laced telenovela, with subplot piled upon subplot, deaf to all the story-line bombshells that relentlessly keep detonating around the characters. (And then what happens? And then this happened! And then what? And now what?) After all, we watch these boutique cable dramas not only for their alacrity but their power to confound. We admire their sharpness, their swift pace.

But enough. American television writing now needs its own equivalent of the slow-food movement, an antidote to all the OMG! pills we've swallowed each time someone turns up dead or divulges some sordid secret. What exactly is the rush? (Fear of boredom? Which leads to cancellation?)

Not especially interested, but someone should tell joan Collins that Julie Chen has stolen her wardrobe from 1978.

I saw you were recommending giving this one a look. I gather it's the companion to Jam'e (Jam'ie? Ja'mie?) Private School Girl. I have to admit, I didn't get Jam'e when I tried it. Am I missing the Aussie humor? Is Jonah different/better?

I hear you. I didn't dig "Summer Heights High," but for reasons you can read about here, I liked "Ja'mie" as a work of comic portraiture. So that's why I'm at least hoping good things for Jonah.

I liked the first episode. Good summer TV, makes you think, but not too much.

Makes you think about what? It made me think about how bad it was.

What's the real scoop on this? She's not that close to retirement, is she? Did she get forced out because Brian Williams keeps winning the ratings?

More importantly: David Muir's hair. (Strange, is it not?)

I think I remember watching a rebroadcast of Kenneth Clark's Civilization on Bravo. Things change. 'Nuff said.

Thank you.

Any word on his plans after December? Some kind of game show? I'm really going to miss his show but it'll be one less thing to lose sleep (or DVR space) on. Especially since I've now gotten hooked on @Midnight.

I've not heard what he'll do. More worried about Geoff and the horse.

Stick with Big Love through season 3. "Come, Ye Saints" is a fantastic hour of television. No real need to watch seasons 4 and 5 unless you're really into the show by that point.

Your answers frequently make me chuckle. Soccer makes me yawn.

Is there a vault in the basement of the WaPo Building specifically for this?

You say "vault," I say "Hey, that's my office."

As they say on reddit: I understood that reference.

Are you a fan of Bravo's Watch What Happens Live? I get that Andy Cohen is trying to cross promote that network's shows (The Real Housewives of WhereEver) and in the beginning I enjoyed the show. But if I have to see one more face pulled, self absorbed twit appear and ramble on for 22 minutes about themselves ... wait, I just answered my own question. I simply don't care anymore.

You got there without my help. I'm proud.

To answer: I have a hard time watching Andy Cohen in any context.

When is it coming back?

It's renewed and, last I checked, the CW has it on the fall schedule on Wednesday nights, even though it was a midseason show. Good news all around.

I get the compulsion to keep going to figure out what happens next (like a page turner book), but 100 hours? Don't these people have to eat or sleep or bathe?

Yeah, it gets pretty gross.

Until CBS bought the rights and ruined it, a number of years ago the entire Boston Pops concert on the Fourth was broadcast (as I recall without commercials--A&E? HGTV?--a cable channel). The concert was a great way to spend the 4th. Now all we get is an abridged concert and the 1812. As for the fireworks, I wish (and this goes for other events) the producers/camera people? would stop showing faces of the crowd and let us see and hear the fireworks.

If I wanted to watch past episodes of a TV show that's on a premium cable channel that I don't subscribe to (let's say, Showtime), what would be the most economical way to view the shows? Thanks.

Readers? Advice?

I would check first if you can stream it from Amazon or iTunes, etc.

I would also consider boxed DVD sets -- either as rentals (Netflix) or used on Amazon or ebay.


Wasn't it aired on PBS?

I got to see the first season through Amazon. Am I going to be able to watch the second one as well? Do you have any idea when it would be made available? Because I'm dying to see it. And that Fargo ending? Awesome!

I'm sure season 2 will be made available the same way, but no, I don't know release dates.

I'm always happy to watch musicals such as "1776" on the Fourth. Bonus points (drinks) for guests who know the words and sing along (which I can do, if anybody wants to invite me over).

In our household it now stands for the "Trainwreck Life Channel"

Didn't realize it (used to) stand for The Learning Channel. I think of TLC as meaning tender loving care --not that either are a great name for a channel.

JOHN ADAMS. Nothing better.

Excellent. I would love to watch that miniseries again, someday.

When do I get to see more "The Returned" ? And when can I actually meet anyone (in person, this chat doesn't count) who watches it and will discuss with me??

Season 2 is in production and will eventually wend its way here. Meanwhile, A&E is making an American version, so maybe you'll find other people who want to talk about it then?

Are you chatting or are you on vacay?

I'll be here if you'll be here.

Which seems like a good opportunity to wrap up our hour today. See you next Thursday, July 3, at noon. Bring your own fireworks and beer.

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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