What to Watch: TV chat with Hank Stuever

Aug 21, 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 "Masters of Sex," "The Strain" and "American Ninja Warrior."

Welcome, chatters. I know it doesn't seem possible, but the Primetime Emmy Awards are only four days away -- feel free to opine and predict here.

Other than that, it's the calm before the storm. I have a review running tomorrow of Netflix's new animated series "BoJack Horseman," which I like. Also reviewing BBC America's "Intruders," which, well, not so much. And as all "Doctor Who" fans know, Saturday night the new season with the New Doctor.

What else ya got?


I haven't watched an HBO/Cinemax/Showtime series since the Sopranos. If you only had time to watch one that came out after the Sopranos started, which series would you choose?

Are you intent on limiting it only to HBO/Cinemax/Showtime? (Why is that? Because you've had cable all this time, but no premium channels?) Because I think most of us would agree that the can't-miss series of the last decade is "Breaking Bad," which was on AMC. The binge benefit there is that each episode is 44 minutes or so (since it aired originally with commercials), which makes the total time spent seem a little less daunting.

Also, it sounds as though you missed "The Wire," so there's that. And probably you should see what all the fuss was about with "Mad Men." (Again, that's AMC.)

In the end, I'm going to recommend that you climb on board with "Game of Thrones," which seems like a genre-specific show ill-suited for people who don't dig fantasy/medieval/dragons-n-dwarfs stuff, but is, in fact, one of the best television shows of the last decade.


Last week, a visiting relative introduced me to this great new show: TYRANT on FX. After binge watching all of the previous episodes, so that I could catch up to the show in real time; I learned that the season finale is next week. Do you think it has any chance of remaining on the air? Any insight as to how seasons work on FX.

I'm afraid I can't share your enthusiasm. I think "Tyrant" is a terrible TV show -- badly conceived, too soapy, too violent, too pointless and the performances are dreadful. And with the way things have been going in the Middle East all summer, up to and including this week's horrifying execution of an American journalist, I'm just not in the mood for its hard-to-swallow makebelieve. The show has taken a drubbing from other critics. During the summer press tour, FX brought in a panel of experts who'd advised the show on its portrayals and verisimilitude and, frankly, none of them made a very convincing case that "Tyrant" has anything to add culturally or conversationally.

All of which is to say, I've not seen any announcements of a renewal from the network, which should have come by now. (FX has already renwed "The Strain," which premiered the same week, for example.)

Hello Mr. Stuever: I see that there's a new show coming this fall called "Stalker". Is this going to be just another excuse for the networks to revel in gratuitous violence against women a la SVU, CSI, Criminal Minds and the rest of their wretched ilk? Seriously, I think the people who create and write these shows are major sickos. And the excuse that "it's just a TV show" doesn't cut it. When you attend the network meetings, does anyone ever challenge, or even question the powers-that-be about the propriety of putting such trash on the air? I'd appreciate your thoughts on this subject. Thank you.

Yes, it's more of that pointless (and only occasionally plausible) violence, and when challenged on this point during the summer TV press tour (by The Washington Post's own Alyssa Rosenberg, among others), "Stalker's" tetchy creator Kevin Williamson said that people who don't like it can change the channel. Lame answer.

Definitely one of my favorite shows of the Summer. It's about a NYC Hospital in 1900 with all of its myriad of problems. Lots of rich characters in it, including Clive Owen as a cocaine-addicted Chief of Surgery. Are you liking it?

I think it looks right and is well made and I'm a Clive Owen fan and I watched seven episodes and just got more and more bored. In case you don't want to follow the link and read my review (it's below the "Outlander" review; they ran on the same day), I just feel like it's your basic, garden-variety premium cable period drama -- full of gross stuff and awful people. What else does it have to offer? What's new about it?

This is one of those chats where I seem to be yucking everyone's yum. Sorry about this! Let's move on.

I know this show is supposed to be about the Police Chief's Family and the Guilty Remanants, but the best episodes were those concentrating on a single character like Rev. Matt and his sister Nora. How many episodes are left this season?

There's an episode this Sunday (Aug. 24) and then a break (Aug. 31 -- Labor Day weekend) and then the season finale on Sept. 7. It's been renewed for another season. I agree with you -- the story is better when it branches out in other directions.

Absolutely "Masters of Sex" - thought-provoking, well-acted and well-written, and great set design. Oh, and entertaining as hell. If not on premium cable, I suggest the OP go back and watch "The Good Wife" from start through season 5 (and if you dropped out before season 5, re-enlist). This show demonstrates it is possible to have highly entertaining and sexy television that has great acting and writing without the "freedom" of cable.

I like both those recommendations, except for someone who says he/she hasn't watched anything high-falutin' since "The Sopranos" and is asking for just one (just one!) television show to take in and considering himself/herself caught up on American popular culture. For someone like that, who is intentionally or otherwise implying a very high bar, I'm afraid both of those shows are going to come up short.

Hankster, are you a fan of the USA Network shows? Last night's Suits finale was off the charts. And I've taken a strong liking to both Rush and Satisfaction. It seems like this network's shows are undervalued and never really discussed much. So allow me to publicly declare my love for this channel. Thank you USA Network for countless hours of entertainment.

I'm not gonna yuck this yum. USA will eat your note up with a spoon, and I'm sure many readers agree.

HI Hank -- I'm well into the second season of OITNB and while I think it's a fantastic show, a comedy it's not. Will that hurt its chances at the Emmys? And what's the likelihood we'll see a new category next time around?

I think we're a ways off from seeing a new category just for dramadies, but I think you're correct -- the time has come. My reason for not wanting to see "Orange Is the New Black" in that category is purely techincal -- I think of comedies as being a half-hour long, which it isn't.

I would think a time-travelling story set in Scotland would be ideal for me, but I can't get into it. The lead female character is just too ready to dump her modern English Husband for the theif in the kilt. How does it look to you?

See the link to my review above, in the question about "The Knick." My "Outlander" review ran in the same piece. I like the show. I liked its seriousness and pace. And come on, the guy in the kilt is a zillion times hotter.

I recently binged on Royal Pains on Netflix, since it kept recommending it to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the first couple of seasons and then it got a little contrived (yes, even more so than the original premise) and started throwing in pivotal moment cliff-hangers at the end of episodes, which is not necessarily what I look for in my summer fluff-watching. Does anyone know if it's worth tracking down the current season?


I'm interested in watching, but I don't see how it can continue on after maybe 6 episodes. Have you seen any episodes? If so, what do you think?

I've seen the pilot and I think the Shonda Rhimes camp knows exactly how to do what they do. Since when, on her other shows, have any of the writers or actors ever worried about painting their plots into a ridiculous corner?

That said, your point is more than valid. But I remember thinking that "Scandal" was going to burn off its potential stories pretty quick in the first few episodes -- and it just keeps burning.

I think it's brilliant. I have my DVR set for my favorite episodes (The Monorail, The Prohibition, The Cape Fear). Any others you can think of?

The Variety Show. The "Streetcar!" musical of "Streetcar Named Desire," which is probably coming up pretty quick -- it was an early episode. Whichever one where Mr. Burns became Howard Hughes.

If you think the marathon is big fun, wait until you see the new app they're bringing out for PCs and tablets and mobile. Never again will anyone ever hunt around for their favorite "Simpsons" line.

Bryan Cranston or Matthew McConaughey? I'm fearing another "AllRightAllRightAllRight"

Me too.

Oh well, worse things have happened. I'd rather see McConaughey get it than Kevin Spacey. Nuff said.

Totally not interested in watching it. Love Clive Owen, but I agree, YUCK!

Ha - He hopes they even bother to tune in so that they can change the channel. I predict that one's DOA. I haven't seen anything that persuades me to watch, and the concept just offends me. It also amazes me that no one in Hollywood thought it was a bad idea given all the stalker problems celebs have. On the other hand, I've been enjoying the Knick. Not the fastest paced show, but the historical touches are pretty great, and Clive Owen's .... Clive Owen.

I know you'll be writing loads about this, but have you discovered any can't-miss (as if) shows on the fall schedule? I keep seeing ads for Madam Secretary and as someone who works indirectly in the cesspool of Washington politics a few blocks from Capitol Hill, I am about as excited about another fictional political show as I am about catching Ebola.

Overall, I will say this year's fall shows are better than last year's fall shows, but when you put it like that, I'm hard pressed to come up with any "can't-miss" recommendations. And you're right -- I'll have a lot more to say about this in a few weeks. I hate to start trashing something when there's still a chance that I can see another episode or two before I let loose.

I'm intrigued by your comment that "Game of Thrones" is the one of the best TV shows of the last decade. I've avoided it because I don't typically watch dragons & dwarfs shows (as far as I'm concerned, nobody can beat Tolkien at his own game), but your comment makes me think that GoT might be worth a shot. What makes you think it's such a great show? Thanks.

Did you see the link I included in that answer? It takes you to my 2013 review of the show (when season 3 was beginning) where I made the case that it's good television, even for people who aren't interested in the genre. I'm sorry to answer with a reading assignment, but this chat is only an hour long and I'd rather answer more questions than write abstracts of old reviews.

Is is dead yet? I mean, really, really dead?

This Sunday.

I watched it this week and it was really making long circles over the runway. And it kind of got past its own nonsense for a minute there -- the nonsense that has made the show essentially unwatchable for a few seasons now.

But let me add: "True Blood" is still highly rated. I took a glance at the live + same-day ratings for Sunday night and "True Blood" had something like twice the viewers of "The Leftovers," which followed it.

Yay or nay?

I haven't watch a full episode yet, but I enjoyed what I saw at the press tour and thought the cast and creators were saying really smart things about making the show.

Hard for me to work up any motivation for watching Primetime Emmy Awards when a show like Orphan Black with the incredible Tatiana Maslany is basically ignored. Maybe I"m wrong or maybe the only reason I would watch is to see the Robin Williams tribute by Billy Crystal.

Over on my end of the sofa we're still griping about the dearth of nominations for "The Americans," so ... I feel ya.

The Wire's probably the best choice if the OP liked Sopranos - Or they could try Boardwalk Empire (more in the criminal vein). I'm loving Masters of Sex on Showtime this year - but I'm not sure it fulfills a Sopranos slot.

I like the "Boardwalk Empire" recommendation too -- and since this will be the last season, the OP can watch a contained series that doesn't drag on too many seasons. Screeners just arrived in my mailbox for the new and final season, which starts Sept. 7.

Also, in case you missed it yesterday, Showtime announced that it's picked up "Masters of Sex" for a third season. ("Ray Donovan" too -- whatevs.)

This sounds like a reality show on the Food Network. May I suggest "Chopped" instead?

Homeland and The Americans (I haven't seen the latter, but the buzz has been good).

Just discovered this 2 season gem on Netflix. It's quirky and smart--have you watched it and what did you think? It has joined Terriers, Freaks and Geeks and FIrefly atop my list of shows cancelled-too-soon.

I remember liking the show (especially Jay Harrington's performance), but it began airing in my former life, before I was anointed a TV critic. I'd have to go back and watch it to see how it holds up.

Meanwhile, I like your list.

I know everyone was MEH on Welcome to Sweden, but still having cousins in the old country, I checked it out with low, low expectations. It's not Shakespeare, but it's cute and harmless, better than I thought it would be. I only wish they wouldn't use white subtitles that disappear into the background for the Swedish parts of the dialogue.

I thought it was sweet and cute and boring beyond compare, but who cares what a TV critic thinks? NBC just renewed it for next summer. Which wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the creator/star is Amy Poehler's brother.

I watch Spanish-language telenovelas to keep up with my Spanish and learn some new slang. (The best thing about telenovelas is that they always end, instead of dragging on for years and years.) Usually, they're just as schlocky as American soaps, so you can watch five days' worth on your DVR in about an hour and a half, fast-forwarding the boring parts. However, there's been a spate of good ones lately, starting with the Colombian show La Viuda Negra several months ago, and now Metástasis, the Colombian remake of Breaking Bad. Since those shows are of high quality, you actually have to (and want to) pay attention to them, instead of speeding through them like usual. Hank, it's killing me trying to keep up with these. I eventually gave up on La Viuda Negra because I got so far behind, but I missed the Breaking Bad craze here in the US and I'll be damned if I'm gonna miss the Spanish version. (It's so good! Now I know what I was missing the past five years!) In short, I'm over 20 episodes behind, my DVR is bursting, and even Hulu is timing out episodes before I can catch up. If anybody from Univisión reads this, can we start a new thing where the crappy novelas can still run five nights a week, but the actual *good* shows run once a week like US shows do?

I'm exhausted.

Is there any point in watching Gracepoint if you've already seen Broadchurch? Is it going to be the exact same story but with American accents?

I'm going to be writing about this at considerable length in the fall TV issue (Sept. 21), but I was interested in how the producers dealt with this during the TV tour where we pelted them with this question over and over. They said there are other suspects. They said it will end surprisingly. But they also said that basically "nobody" in the U.S. watched the British version. Which offended me on behalf of all of us who did.

The episode I've seen is line-for-line and even sometimes moment-for-moment like the original, only it's American. I suppose there is deviation later as it goes along, but for now, I can't say for sure.

If you can find FXX on your cable dial, it is showing all 552 episodes of "The Sipsons" including the movie from today until Sept 1. What are your favorite Episodes?

Yeah, we know.

I don't actually possess the steel-trap memory of "Simpsons" episodes the way some people do. If you jog my memory, I'll catch on, but I couldn't make and rank a list of them without serious Internet assistance.

Is that the regular Emmy Awards? Or do they really have a separate category for primetime? Does that mean there's a Daytime Emmy thing too? Sorry to display my TV ignorance.

Does Christina Hendricks or Anna Gunn have a chance in the Supporting Actress - Drama category? Or will Dame Maggie Smith win it and not bother showing up (again!)

I think Anna Gunn has a good chance.

You will never write a comment that long! Exhausted? I agree!

Does Silicon Valley have a chance? Or is it yet another lock for "Modern Family"?

Too soon for "Silicon Valley," and "Modern Family" isn't its only competition. "Veep" and "OITNB" are worthy (and "Louie" is sorta worthy), but "Big Bang Theory" is in there too. Which means the category might just default to "Modern Family" again, perhaps as a wedding present to Mitch and Cam?.

Marge vs. the Monorail - "Were you sent here by the Devil?"

Bet that line offended BBC America more than you... bet their sales reps loved it, too.

Thought the cast of "Downton Abbey" did a classy thing, turning the kerfuffle over the anachronistic plastic water bottle left on the mantel in a publicity photo for the show into an opportunity to support a clean water charity: Link: http://www.starpulse.com/news/Markus_A_Larr/2014/08/17/downton_abby_pokes_fun_at_waterbottleg Not sure if US shows would've had that much class in the face of a faux pas. Can you think of any examples? I can't.

Yes, good for them.

That said, everyone in the first world should be drinking tap, including on the set of "Downton Abbey!" I drink gallons of good ol' Washington, DC, tap water every day -- lead counts be damned. Those plastic bottles are an eco disaster.

Should we break it to this poster about the Creative Emmy Awards? My BIL got one for Lighting Design on an A&E show once.

I can't stand for Modern Family to win any more Emmys! Seriously!

I know we're all for inclusion here, but I'm still confused that multi-platform on-demand shows on NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. can qualify for prime-time Emy consideration. They don't *air* during prime-time -- they air anytime -- and would seem just as ineligible for prime-time Emmy consideration as an afternoon soap opera vying for best drama. I realiize this seems like nit-picking, and, regardless of my personal feelings for House of Cards or OITNB, may seem like I'm lobbying to keep them out of contention, but I'm just confused as to how the "definition" of prime-time has been massaged by TPTB at the Academy or whateverever it is that runs that Emmies to allow for the eligibility of shows that by definition don't qualify for their category, but are popular enough that they'd be in for an full-fledged internet pitchforks & torches brigade if they were "snubbed".

Friend, we're living in a mass media renaissance. Just hold tight to your pitchfork in case you need it.

Maggie Smith can NOT show up to whatever event she wants!!

OP here. Agree totally re tap water, although when I'm served water in a plastic bottle somewhere (i.e., where I have no choice other than thirst), I save the bottle so I can refill it repeatedly with tap water!

Hank I love that you didn't even respond to that ! LOVE LOVE LOVE!

The list of shows to binge-watch begins and ends with "Breaking Bad." All other shows are second-tier at best. (Except Game of Thrones, which is Tier 1.5)

Have they selected anyone to succeed Kevin Reilly yet?

Yes, they did that back in July. There are two people in charge of Fox network primetime programming now and watch as I try to get this right without going to look it up on Google (something you could do on your own, btw). This will be my last trick for today's show:

They took the person in charge of Fox's TV-show studio (which has been selling TV shows to other networks but also Fox) and the person in charge of, um, something else having to do with Fox and streamlined their entire operation, which will mean a potential increase in shows that Fox makes that could air on Fox.

Ta-dahh! Crystal clear, right? (Like I said: Google it.)

I expect to see all of you on Emmy night. I'll be writing a live review and mouthing off a little on Twitter, @hankstuever, if you want to follow or chime in. And The Post will of course have an array of live blogging, reactions, red-carpet fashion galleries with the insights of Ms. Robin Givhan and all that, so we hope you'll include us in your viewing/surfing/Tweeting experience on Monday night.

And I'll be back to chat next Thursday at noon.


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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