What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Jul 03, 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 once gave "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" a good review. Lately he's been digging "The Leftovers," "Fargo" and "Silicon Valley."

Back for more on a gross, humid, patriotic Washington day. If you're at work, look busy by submitting lots of questions to this chat. I think we may be a little light today.

What's to talk about?

I called Stephen King a hack in my "Under the Dome" review. I hope you haven't come here to get me to take that back. Do you watch the show? D'ya like it?

A week from today are Emmy nominations. If you've sorted any of that out in your head, please share. We'll probably use a lot of our chat time next week to discuss the nominations, which will be fresh news.

Which reminds me: I'll be chatting to you next week from Beverly Hills, where it's once again time for the TV Critics Association summer press tour. This is a three-week annual thing where the networks (cable, broadcast, streaming) present their newest stuff in the months ahead to critics and the Reporters Who Cover Television, including the fall season. It's where I start to make up my mind about what looks good and what looks terrible.

Let's chat.


Oy, why is this show so infuriating? I want to like it, but the writing is so bad! Donna is great and completely underused. What's the deal with the boss man sleeping at the office? Why is Joe such a complete ass? I guess we're supposed to think he's deep, but the writers have given us no reason to like/care about him. I was shocked when I realized the last episode was only #5, I feel like I've been slogging through this forever. I haven't stopped watching yet, but I will soon if it doesn't get better.

Yeah, I'm not really enjoying it either. And where is it all headed anyhow? Will they spend next season (1984-ish) trying to duplicate the mouse? Maybe they can change the title to "Click and Drag."

I always like the marathons of "The Twilight Zone" that the Sci-Fi -er- Syfy Channel runs. Are they doing that again this year? What's your favorite episode?

Yes, here's the schedule!


What's the one where the guy in post-apocalypse but loses his glasses and can't see? That's my biggest fear when I imagine any end-of-the-world scenario. Wandering up New York Avenue with the staggering masses, covered in dirty-bomb dust, with no contact lens solution to be found.

Very depressing, but decent. It looked like Prayer in Schools came back because of the mini-rapture and a Cult of Cigarettes sprung up. The Pope disappeared, but so did Gary Busey. Does the show get more intereting in future episodes?

It does pick up a bit in episode 3 (I think it's 3?) in which the whacked-out church pastor goes to desperate means to keep the bank from selling his church. It takes on the quality of a nail-biter for a few minutes. But the tone is set: depressing, often burdesome-ly so. ICYMI (as they say), here's my initial "Leftovers" review that ran in our June 15 Summer TV preview.

Is there a glitch, or did you just forget to chat?

Fixed it, thanks!

Hi Hank -- So far I haven't gotten on the bandwagon for either of these online only shows, but I had to pick one to binge on over the long weekend, which would you recommend?

Well, that depends entirely on what kind of shows you like to spend your time watching. My answer as a critic is that "Orange Is the New Black" is far and away a superior show, in every regard. But, if you live in Washington and have the usual concerns about status and partaking in the chatter, then I suppose "House of Cards" is in order. I happen to think "House of Cards" has received an amount of press around here that it doesn't quite deserve.

Chatters? Which would you pick? (Apparently this reader has time for only one show.)

I watched it last weekend. I found it oddly compelling if a bit slow. Will the pace pick up? Should I be paying attention to anything in particular like the deer?

At this point, I'd just let it all wash over you. The animal symbology, in particular, is as much a mystery as me as I assume it is for other viewers. I've seen four episodes, and no, the pace doesn't really pick up from what I can tell. What I think the show is lacking is the wry edge that usually comes with a Tom Perrotta novel. (On which the show is based; Perrotta is also intimately involved in the producing and writing.) That's why everyone in the great TV commentariat zoomed in on the moment on the TV news where they were commemorating the celebrities and newsmakers who'd vanished in the Sudden Departure. It was the only thing to really have fun with in the show.

Did you see the last episode or two? What did you think?

Haven't had time -- sorry. I moved on to some new stuff from Showtime, including new "Ray Donovan" episodes and some truly excellent new episodes from "Masters of Sex." Both shows return Sunday, July 13.

I actually own the all of The Twilight Zone episodes on DVD, but I still watch the July 4th marathon. No, it makes no sense. I guess it's a carry-over from the early days of over-the-air, no-schedule TV when you were thrilled to stumble upon a film or show that you liked that just happened to be on the air. Now, with on-screen guides, DVRs, and on-demand shows, there's nothing serendipitous about TV watching.

I totally get it. It's like those holidays where I wind up "Star Wars" movies with commercials -- when a perfectly good box set of Episodes I-VI is sitting right there in the cabinet.

I am also trying to choose one to binge watch (not for lack of time, but out of respect for the fact that life must be more than Netflix marathons). I'm going OITNB. It feels like it's going to be a more well-rounded mix of humor+drama.

Yes, and more satisfying.

Fave Twilight Zone: Another end of the world ep...is it getting hotter? Or colder? The Leftovers: Not sure how long I can watch this one...seems one note.

Too bad they never made a "Twilight Zone" about the ironies and interpersonal disputes over office air-conditioning.

Lots of hoopla over the 25th anniversary. I never found it that compelling--what was the apparently long-lived appeal of a bunch of self-absorbed urban twits whining and kvetching?

There's always one, isn't there.

This is getting too much into Lost territory. "The Dome doesn't want you to kill" and all that. Did the ratings take a hit?

Ratings were pretty strong.

I didn't check with chatters last week to see if anyone watched Rizzoli & Isles. I thought the show did a good job of honoring Mr. Young and his character Barold Frost. Frost had such a warm smile that I always thought it had to be the actor's and not just for the character.

My SO is about to go out of town for a few of weeks which means the tv is mine, all mine! I'm already planning to finally watch the most recent season of Downton Abbey which I'm not even all that excited about, but it is taking up valuable DVR space. Next I'm considering tackling Season 1 of Rectify, The Fall, or Broadchurch. Any thoughts?

Sounds like a plan to me. The latest "Downton" series wasn't the worst, wasn't the best either. "Broadchurch" is excellent (though I think it fumbled the endinga bit). I didn't watch enough of "The Fall" to really say and I thought "Rectify" started off really well and then kind of got tangled up in its own languor in the last episode or two. (It's back for another season, btw. Has anyone watched it?)

The books got less compelling and more outlandish as the series wound down (and the author appeared bored). I fear the same is true of the TV version.

Oh, it's practically unwatchable now, even from a kinder campier perspective.

Just finished watching, and I found it a great season of television from start to finish. I really think this season will get The Good Wife back to the Outstanding Drama category and Julianna Margulies to Lead Actress, but with the lack of wins recently for network dramas, do you think either have a shot to win?

Dunno! Honestly, I don't even try to make sense of Emmys until a nomination list is in hand -- and even then I make lousy predictions.

He was wonderful on "Designing Women" (and not half bad on "Dave's World," either). TV will be the poorer without him.

Will you see and visit with our beloved Pookie/Lisa? If so can you tell her we all miss her?

Yes and yes.

YES! I do this too. And I even have the VHS box set that I like better because it predates the editing that happened because of Episodes I-III. There's something about it showing up on TV that feels more exciting - maybe the serendipity of it.

I'm so old, I remember when HBO got the rights to show Episode IV, around 1982 or so. It was rather exciting to see it on the living room television for some ineffable reason.

I have many, but A Stop at Willoughby is one.

Are you excited about the new detective show with Tori Spelling and Jenni Garth? Instant classic?

I honestly haven't watched it, but god bless 'em.

Is The Strain (FX) your type of show? Have you seen any episodes? I'm hoping it scares my pants off.

I watched the first four episodes this weekend and I liked it a lot. It's just a very direct, fairly scary show with some inventive takes on viral and vampirical terror. I plan to write a good review.

I've always watched it for the camp aspects, but the "big bad" this season is laughable. Roving, diseased vampires? I don't get it....stay in your house at night, don't invite them in, and then everybody will be safe. I miss Russell.

True that.

Orange is the New Black in a heartbeat. Agree with Hank that HOC is overrated, though I do watch some of it.

Read the book and found it oddly enjoyable, but your comments make me uninterested in watching the screen version.

The Bewitchin' Pool. Even more disturbing to me now as a parent.

I so wanted to love, or even just to like, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi's new Britcom "Vicious," because I'm a huge fan of the work of both actors -- and I was hoping you'd been unjustly vicious in your assessment of it -- but after the pilot I fear its one-note treatment of older gay men is more stereotype than I can bear. Is there any chance the show will improve in later episodes, or is it just going be more of the same each week? Do you think the show's creators might take such criticism to heart and improve it in the second season? Unless the stars are earning obscenely huge amounts of money for the show, I'd think they'd weary of it soon, too.

I've seen six episodes and they do not deviate from the pattern set forth in episode 1. One thing I didn't get to in my review (it was a short one) is the idea that "Vicious" and its creators are delivering, in a subliminal way, a satire of British comedies and the formulaic nature of them; also, by pummeling the stereotype, they are offering commentary (again, subliminal) on a stereotype. I'm not sure I buy any of that.

If you could pick one show to binge watch this weekend what would it be?

If you haven't seen it, "The Americans" season 1 and 2.

Also, today's chatters are very much behind the idea of binging all weekend on "Orange Is the New Black" seasons 1 and 2.


I've been reading Stephen King since I was 12. I've read a lot of literary classics too and generally prefer those, although sometimes there's some comfort in his writing. Like I'll dine at all the hotspots on 14th Street but sometimes I just want the simple reminder of childhood that Cracker Barrel brings. So yeah, I watched Under the Dome even though the writing was terrible (somehow all screen adaptations of his books are lacking something). Maybe he's a hack, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

No, it's not a bad thing. Like you, I started reading Stephen King as a kid, during summer vacations. There's a lot of up and down there, particularly when it comes to film and TV adaptations.

Neither. Orphan Black if you haven't seen it yet.

Maybe, depending on what sort of shows you like to begin with. If sci-fi action/thriller is not your thing, "Orphan Black" could seem quite noisy and pointless. (Don't get mad! I love it!)

Is next season the last one? Where can they go from here?

They renew it a season at a time, so let's wait and see! This recent season was the best so far, I think. Now that Jackie has bottomed out, there are so many places to take it.

Orange by a knockout punch. House of Cards was so over the top and unrealistic it made me sigh through every episode.

YAY! Holmes and Watson will be back, even if it is just for three eps and a "special" treat.


I missed last week's chat but read the transcript later. If you want to pinpoint which episodes of a series have a particular actor (going back to the "Good Wife"/"watch the ones with Alan Cumming" discussion) -- we don't need a Pied Piper. Go to IMDB! Not only does it have specific info on shows by the episode, but you can go to the actor and find exactly which eps s/he is credited for. (The info isn't entirely perfect, but it's pretty good. I spot-tested it for Cumming (82 episodes) and Gary Cole (only 8).)

Well, see, in the "Silicon Valley" spirit of disruption, you're only partway there, because the consumer still has to do all the work, and you know how today's tech consumer can't be bothered to do anything. The data is there on IMDB, but you have to sort it out yourself. Why not an app that sorts it for you and queues up only those episodes? That way, we can make the world a better place.

What did you think of the end of Silicon Valley? I know you were liking that show (as was I) and the elaborate penis joke was pretty incredible. But I was disappointed in the really cliched turn of events where he lands the hot girl at the end. With all the other biting commentary that happened throughout the season, that seemed really lazy to me.

First of all, I don't think he "landed" her (I'm not a fan of  conquest verbs to describe what happens when a woman returns the attention of a man, or vice-versa) and it was far from the center of the narrative in terms of What Does the Lead Character Want? I spent no time in that show wondering whether the nerd man was going to get (there it goes again) the confident businesswoman. The show wasn't built around that at all.

I thought the ending was satisfying and the whole series far exceeded expectations. There was so much smart satirical commentary in it about our shared culture (and nightmare) of technology. And one thing you might not have considered is that the writers maybe wanted to wrap things up somewhat conclusively, on the very off-chance that the show bombed and HBO decided not to pick up another season. Happily, that is not the case. They left themselves in a really good place to pick up the story next year.

When can we expect new episodes?

Absent any info (that I've seen) I'd guess sometime early next year.

Has there been any date given for when the Letterman transition to Colbert is going to take place? Or for that matter the many other late-night changes?


Watched Endeavor on Sunday. One of the characters took a call from "Lane at SCDP on the East Coast." So cool!

"To Serve Man" "The Invaders (with Agnes Moorhead)" and "The Obsolete Man"

How are the ratings for Longmire? Looking good for another season? I love that show

Ratings are kind of in the middle, right where I'd expect to find them. So it really depends on what A&E thinks of those numbers. I'd have to really study it to make any kind of prediction (which would be an amateur guess anyhow), but my instinct is that a cable show in its third season should be able to get a fourth, if all parties are willing.

Hello, my name is *** and I am a Big Brother addict. Okay, there, I admit it, I like the show. There must be plenty of folks like me out there that are entertained by this show but would likely never admit it in public.

I'm sure you're among friends here. In the Style section rely on the intrepid and discerning Emily Yahr (a known BB fan) to keep us informed on any major developments.

How will COMMUNITY on Yahoo work? Do they already have a subscription service like Netflix?

The cast will stand on a mountain and yodel each episode to you. (Which is to say: I don't know.) (Or wait, I should say: Search me!) (Get it?)

I watched "Endeavour" last Sunday too, but don't know what that line means -- please explain, kind sir.

It's a "Mad Men" reference.

Do you have any TV memorabilia? Which of it is worth collecting?

There's a Jan Brady magnet on our refrigerator, if that counts. Also, I have a Josie and the Pussycats mug that came with a container of Top Job floor cleaner that my mother (at my toddler-aged insistence) bought at the grocery store in 1972 or so. The dog chewed the handle off, but I still have it. It makes me think of breakfast and preschool and whole lot of other Proustian triggers. Here's a nice one on eBay worth all of $9.99.

Personally, I am baffled why people pay thousands of dollars for old pop culture memorabilia (as opposed to tens of dollars, which seems more sane). It's one thing to find something dear and quirky from the recent (or now distant) past at a garage sale, but I sure don't understand the economy of high-dollar memorabilia. I remember at a TCA panel a couple of summers ago when some cable network brought out a show about such collectors. It was right in the middle of the recession and everyone was spooked about the economy and jobs and deficit spending -- and yet there was a market for all this Hollywood memorabilia?

Between True Blood, The Leftovers, The Last Ship, Falling Skies, John Oliver, and Rising Star, not to mention if the World Cup goes into extra time, my Sundays are too crowded. Could you please tell these folks to move their original programs to other nights?

Well, see, it's a competition.

Also, no offense to the shows you listed, but I happen to think Sunday nights just got a little freer.

I'll keep the questions open and keep posting til 1:15 since I neglected to push the "go live" button at the beginning of today's chat. So keep them coming.

They are showing all of the episodes again from start to finish. Will they be finished by the time the second season starts on Oct 22?

If they can count, everything will be fine.

"Four Actors in search of an Exit". aka The Seinfeld Finale

If you have to resort to literary deconstructionist language to explain it, probably it's not much fun to watch.

Hey, we all take fun where we can find it.

So I've gotten into the habit of reading a (good) recap before I watch a new episode of certain shows (GoT, SoA, True Detective...) I started doing this because I was afraid they were going to kill off my favorite characters and I wanted to be emotionally prepared. My husband finds this bizarre and occassionally worries that I am too emotionally invested. What do you think? Should I be concerned about my emotional health?

In other words, you want to know what's in the closet before you open the door. Words (recaps) aren't as big of a blow as the visuals would be. I think it's understandable, but I think you're being a chicken. Still, it sounds like you have a healthy sense of what works for you.

I think it's clear that Tatiana Maslany has put on an acting workshop in Orphan Black, but I'm guessing that she doesn't stand a real chance of getting nominated or winning. Tell me I'm wrong?

I think there's some real chance, but I don't know much of a chance.

Really? Two anti-Seinfeld comments? Not that it needs a defender, but c'mon people!

If you see Andrew Marlow, trip him. The season finale was awful. Hoping that is not an indicator for the upcoming season.

This would never work outside of the Summer

Any hints yet as to what Lorne Michaels will do to pare down the supporting cast? On the SNL website they have short clips of each actor talking about their highlights from Season 39. All are solo except Kyle and Beck who did theirs together--not sure if that is good or bad or just them being quirky.

It's still a bit early yet for rumors, etc.

I also loathed SEINFELD. And it's not that I have bad taste. I am the same person who last chat recommended JOHN ADAMS as ideal for July 4 binge watching. You concurred.

Don't be ashamed you like that show - we all have our secret shows we watch. I don't watch Big Brother but I will admit that I like the ID channel and Lifetime movies a little too much.

Thank you for validating our love of this show. And hi from ABQ!!

I think he's brilliant!

I like John Oliver okay.

I don't know if this is a real thing or I'm imposing a bias on things, but it seems to me that British comedy still gets humor out of gay stereotypes in a way US comedy has largely moved past. Like, the really effeminate gay character or the straight male characters being placed in gay situations. I still see this in recent British shows but not so much in American ones (although to be fair I don't watch the American shows most likely to resort to this type of humor)

Any opinions on the upcoming crop of superhero shows - FLASH, GOTHAM, etc.?

Oh, gosh, I just can't wait for more superhero shows. We're so under-served in that regard.

When is it coming back?

Sometime this fall, I think?

John Adams poster: we're not doing it for July 4th because we watched it over this week. It was great!

I never liked Seinfeld. MASH is/was so superior I don't know how the critics rate it lower than Seinfeld.

I loathed "Seinfeld" too!

Okay, this is getting out of hand.

Any previews on this one? Is Halle Berry turning in a good performance, or is she just 'phoning it in' again?

I have a review running Sunday, which should be online soon. It's not half bad -- based on the one episode they sent. Halle Berry does this weird thing, though, in scenes where she's supposed to frightened. It looks like lockjaw. Thus (to steal a line from my own review) I have rechristened her spaceship the Tetanus.

We'd like to know what you'll be doing tomorrow, TV or no TV? Firing up the BBQ?

Writing reviews in advance that will run while I'm busy at the press tour.

Hi Hank, Could you do a themed chat, maybe with a guest from the movies section, to talk about what is worth watching on Netflix and Amazon -- would be great to get your opinion on what's worth watching from the streaming content providers. Thanks and happy 4th!

Can I just come over and mow your lawn instead?

Is there another season of "Doc Martin" in production (or better yet, completed)? I can only watch reruns so many times...

This is close enough to a "Poirot" question that I'm going to halt-and-catch-fire this chat.

Everyone have a safe and fun holiday. I'll see you next Thursday.

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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