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'Boardwalk Empire,' 'The Event' and more -- Fall TV preview with Hank Stuever

Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010; 12:00 PM

Post TV critic Hank Stuever was online Monday, Sept. 20 at noon ET to take your questions about what new shows and returning favorites you should set your DVR for and which shows aren't worth your time.

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Hank Stuever: Hello, TV watchers, and a special hello to you people who say "Oh, I never really watch TV." (Yet here you are.)

The fall TV season is underway, with the bulk of the new shows starting this week. And, of course, by "fall TV" I mostly mean the old-fashioned fall season for the big broadcast networks, the way we used to do it in olden times, when you'd buy that fat issue of TV Guide at the grocery checkout line and look for pictures of Greg Evigan from "B.J. and the Bear." Or maybe that's just MY recollection. Oh, well.

Point is, there IS STILL A FALL TELEVISION SEASON and they are still giving it everything they've got, hoping that you'll watch (those of you who still, you know, sit down, click ON and watch a TV) or you'll DVR or you'll call it up on Hulu (or some other site) or carry new shows around on your whatsyhoosit and maybe, in the circle of life, some of you will purchase box-set seasons of these shows.

That's a lot of iffin' and hopin' on their parts. Most of the new shows won't last past Christmas. In preparing this year's big Sunday fall TV issue of the Arts & Style section (did you read it? I hope so), I went back and looked at the past few years and was stunned to remember how many DOAs there are each season.

What I can tell you about Fall 2010: We don't have many (er, any?) breakouts or must-sees this time. Last year we got "Modern Family," "Glee" and "The Good Wife" plus some others, and I think we were super lucky. (I also still love "Cougar Town," not for what it started out being, but for its courage to become another kind of show in the process. "Cougar Town" is snarky AND sweet.)

There is NOTHING like that, that I've seen, coming our way in the next couple of weeks, but I'm here for counsel, thoughts, opinions, questions, rants, raves, and great expectations.

The subject is ALL OF TELEVISION -- not just the networks but cable too, not just fall but always -- which should occupy us for an hour or so, don't you think?

Let's do it to it.

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Seattle: I went to the fall TV preview on the Web site and was looking for a place where I could enter the show and see what you said. I can find videos for the shows, but not your comments, without reading through your whole story. Am I missing something?

washingtonpost.com: Hope this helps:

'The Event' is a head-scratcher, by design

Roly-poly rom-com 'Mike & Molly' wears a bit thin

'Lone Star' is a tale of one man's shuttle duplicity

"Outsourced": An unfunny step back toward the Kwik-E-Mart

"Hawaii Five-0": Surf's up again on a new, stylish island escape

'Boardwalk Empire' is no 'Sopranos,' but it's full of corrupt men we'll love to hate

Jimmy Smits's new NBC courtroom drama, 'Outlaw,' should be dismissed

In dusty Calif. landscapes, 'Terriers' and 'Sons of Anarchy' find fertile ground

Hank Stuever: Hi Seattle. Here's a list of links Prince Paul the Producer put together for us -- everything I've given a full review so far this month.

I would also go to the Fall TV page and click the main story, which has capsule reviews (briefies, li'l suckers, or, in homage to our classical musical critic _midgettes_!) for about 2 dozen of the new shows.

Should we link to that too?

I'll be filing more longer reviews of certain (not all) shows this week and next. Most of the new stuff debuts between tonight and about Oct. 1, with some stragglers in October. The networks really made into a pillow-whomp-to-the-face this time. No spreading out.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the new season of Saturday Night Live will take on the midterm elections in any memorable way? Why does Tina Fey come back to do Sarah Palin so reluctantly when it's such a hit?

Hank Stuever: I am certain that SNL will find enough to play with in the current political climate. I think the only challenge is how to make it look like a parody when it's already so ... bizarre. SNL's cold opens have been political since the founding fathers, so I'm sure it won't change. (Also there's a new cast member, Reliable Source wrote about him last week or so -- he might be the new Obama? Or not? Armisen works for me, but then, the politics stuff is not my favorite part of Saturday Night Live. Sacrilege, I know.)

As for Tina Fey, I dunno. I'm a big practitioner of "demand resistance" myself, so I gotta respect her for saving her Sarah Palin for very special occasions.

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East Lansing, Mich.: So I was curious what's your take on the upcoming new TV series on FOX titled "Lone Star" which stars James Wolk?

I watched actor Wolk play the lead role in a TV movie about Brad Cohen, a real life elementary school teach with Tourette syndrome. He was great in my humble opinion.

Hank Stuever: I love "Lone Star" and a link to my review today is in that list Paul just provided. I loved the pilot and I really wish Fox would have sent another episode or two so I could be more firm in my recommendation that people watch it.

I think it's almost too gentle and nuanced for primetime network TV. Nothing blows up. Scenes are full and deliberately pace. The "interstitial" stuff (camera angels on baggage claim carousels, indie rock ballads) make it more lovely.

And James Wolk is great.

Good luck to it. It might be doomed. Remember how much "Party of Five" (same producers) had to change from its original, in order to survive? They had to heap on more drama, etc.

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The Good Guys: I really enjoyed watching this show during the summer. Will it be returning on the fall schedule?

Hank Stuever: It's back this week, I believe. I wasn't so hot on the first few episodes in May/June, wrote a "meh" review, and dropped it from my "keep up" list. Should I check it out again? I got tired of watching Bradley Whitford work so hard and chew so much scenery. Ease up, man.

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Atlantic City, NJ: Is anyone else as underwhelmed by Boardwalk Empire as I was?

I was expecting to enjoy it a lot more than I did. Maybe the problem (for me) is that Buscemi does not have a strong presence. Or maybe it was the case of a first episode trying to cram in too much (including Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, and - surprise - a young Al Capone).

The heavy Italian who thankfully got rubbed out was a cartoon character.

Hank Stuever: Launching a series like that is a very advanced science. The good news is the typical HBO viewer, as serious as they come, so the stories can get really broad or really specific right away. I think "Boardwalk Empire" is lovely to look at; Buscemi could not be working any harder; and the women are more interesting than the men (again).

I've watched the first six. I like it, don't LOVE it; it can feel like elite-culture homework (and I think Scorsese was sort of riffing on his own style too much) but it's certainly worth everyone's time. Expectations are probably too high.

More Boardwalk thoughts from youse guys, I see, waiting in the inbox. I'll keep posting.

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Arlington, VA: How long did it take you to write all of these reviews? Should the Style section just be renamed the Stuever Section? Are they paying you OT?

Hank Stuever: Haha. I remember going to see Anna Quindlen speak one time and someone asked her how long it takes her to write her column (then twice a week in the NYT) and she answered: "As long as I've got."

I had all sorts of time to watch and consider the pilots, since about July, including a brain-numbing week at the Summer TV Press Tour in LA, and wouldn't you know I STILL PUT IT OFF TIL THE LAST MINUTE. Not quite the last minute, but let's just say last week's theme was "carpal tunnel syndrome, brought to you by the fine people at Diet Pepsi. 'Diet Pepsi, because drugs are illegal.'"

Thanks for noticing! (And reading!)

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Olney, MD: I have been looking forward to The Event, but I've found some mixed reactions to it. I loved Lost and FlashForward (which I miss very much), so I'm hoping it will be along those lines. I watched, but was very disappointed in, Persons Unknown for the same reasons.

I miss my summer shows: Drop Dead Diva, The Glades (although there's one episode left), Leverage, The Next Food Network Star (which came out right this time!), Rizzoli & Isles, & White Collar. Most of them were on the light-hearted side, even when there were actual murders (The Glades).

Hank Stuever: Hi Olney. Man, that's a lot of procedural crime there on your summer list.

Based on all this, I say you should definitely try "The Event" on for size. It in no way will appease bereaved Losties, but it sounds like you might enjoy it.

Do NOT read my review of it today. There's a spoiler in it. NBC has already politely chewed me out this morning about it, and perhaps deservedly so. Let me say this about that: TV critics don't "spoil" because we're jerks. We almost always do it in the name of consumer advocacy.

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Outlaw: I watched the premiere episode of Outlaw on Friday night, mainly because I used to like Jimmy Smits. I was surprised at the bad/over acting of the entire cast, not to mention the terrible story line. Does it get better?

Hank Stuever: Glazed ham.
No, I don't think it's going to get better. Check out my review. (Link above.) The plausibility problem is off the charts (beyond what we should be asked to bear) and the cast doesn't seem to even understand their lines. It's almost like phonetic acting, like what you see on Japanese TV done in English.

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Washington, DC: Is it just me, or is this one of the most lackluster slate of new fall TV shows in recent memory?

There are only two new shows that I'm interested in, and two of my favorite shows ended their runs last season. I guess my DVR won't be working very hard until the spring.

Hank Stuever: It is not just you.
In the dog days of August, when I was watching all this lackluster stuff, I'm afraid it really was just me, in a dark room here at the Post. Now it's all of us. We all know that there are no great standouts this fall.

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Hollywoodland : So, my gut tells me that "Hawaii Five-0" will be among this season's winners, and that CBS will remain in first place.

What say ye?

Hank Stuever: That's more of a Pookie question (for Lisa de Moraes, our TV Columnist who covers the industry, the ratings, the science of it all). But my CRITICAL take on H50 is that it is a harmless, big dumb bag of sexy fun, as well as being a fitting homage to the original and I wish it well.

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Boardwalk Empire: I watched last night and wasn't blown away, but figure plot and character development require a couple more (at least) viewings. BTW, I loved the conceit posed in recent article that some of us don't want to vacation to a particular locale, but rather to a historical or future "time/place." True that. Atlantic City boardwalk of 1920s -- real or imagined -- was a treat. Let's hope the series can make vacation possible.

Hank Stuever: Thanks. A 93-year-old reader called me about an hour ago to give me his thoughts. He was married on the boardwalk in 1939. He remembers the incubator babies, but doesn't think they were kept in a storefront window on the b'walk.

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Lone Star: I watched the Lone Star pilot past week. I really wanted to enjoy the show, but I didn't, so I was surprised to read how much you liked it. It has the much sought after pedigree of an A&E- or HBO-style drama, but not the execution. At one point, the father and son had one of those "butler and maid" conversations to inform us viewers what was going on. If you'd been paying attention, this was completely unnecessary, and felt like the kind of narrative condescension one should expect from run-of-the-mill network television. The premise, while eye-catching, defies all believability. As deliciously handsome as the lead actor is, that's not enough to sustain my interest.

Hank Stuever: Another opinion. Thanks.

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RE: The Good Guys: I'd say give it another shot. It didn't immediately draw me in either, but Colin Hanks was cute enough to keep me interested. And then I found myself liking it more and more as the summer continued -- even missing it when it was gone!

Hank Stuever: Okay.

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Washington, DC: While I enjoyed Boardwalk Empire immensely and will watch it religiously now, I don't believe it's quite at the level of Mad Men. It's still early, but I feel Mad Men's characters have more nuance and depth. Thoughts?

Hank Stuever: Well, the Post's archives do not lie: I am not a Mad Men fan, for what I think are good reasons. So I can't really answer this question in fewer than 1,000 words.

I do, however, like the Don Draper / Nucky Thompson comparison, which seems irrelevant, but in a lot of ways, the same story. Nucky wears all his insecurities on the outside; Don wears it inside. Nucky is all corruptive voracious appetite; Don is measured.

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Berkeley, Calif.: Honestly I admit I expected there to be a thousand and one new TV series this September about sexy shirtless vampires pretending to be high school students.

I admit that "The Vampire Diaries" is a guilty pleasure show that I watch although even its ratings are down this season.

Hank Stuever: Years from now, we'll all sort ourselves and our experience of the early 21st century by which vampire show we watched. With zombies being a variable factor.

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Fairfax, Virginia: Hank, even though you liked it, I'm still a little worried about Hawaii Five-O. I keep thinking that it is going to be like "New Coke." I mean, the original was so iconic and such a huge part of my television history, that anything different is going to strike me as wrong.

Hank Stuever: Was it really? "Hawaii Five-O" was only ever on in our house when there wasn't anything else on. I think my mother is still pining away for a "Streets of San Francisco" update.

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McLean, Virginia: Here's, I guess, a process question. When you review a show, are you more interested in determining if the show will be popular with the general viewing audience, or are you simply reporting your personal reaction?

Hank Stuever: This is a very good question. I've been the lead TV critic for a year now, so I'm still answering that question for myself from review to review. I definitely put the audience ahead of my own pleasure. If I only reviewed what I watch, I think you'd get sick of reading reviews of "Weeds," "Flipping Out" (viva la Zoila!) and "Renovation Realities." (I could care less about home renovation, but I love watching couples fight. I just do. I never side with the husband/boyfriend. NEVER.) Oh, and "Intervention."

How dull!

I take at least a look at almost everything, seriously, so my work watching is quite broad and omnivorous, and it's all for YOU.

Finally, what I'm really trying to bring to this work is the idea that the TV critic is simply writing about life and culture, as viewed through the prism of our TV and gadget screens. What does the show MEAN? What is it telling us about US? And most of all, should anyone watch it? Is it good?

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Annapolis, MD: Just read your review of "Lone Star" and saw you praise the actor David Keith. I agree he's good, but I admit I was hoping it was the actor Keith David. That's confusing. (Is knowing the difference between David Keith and Keith David one of the prerequisites for being a reviewer? You're a better man than I am, Hank Steuver.)

Hank Stuever: All right, I'll bite. Who is Keith David?
There's the wonderful thing I want to tell you about. It's called Google. It leads you to wonderful places (Wikipedia, IMDb.com, etc). We have heaps of bound "encyclopedias of television" gathering dust around here.

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Western Washington: I'm DVRing NBC's "The Event" tonight because I'm not going to get invested in another show with a multi-season arc, only to see it get canceled before the secret is revealed (see FlashForwrd, Persons Unknown, Jericho, etc). What kind of viewership would it need on the first episode to put it into "Lost" territory (at least for NBC)?

Hank Stuever: I dunno. I'm sure 7 million or so would be greeted warmly at the NBC offices. Warmly enough.

I like your plan: let the DVR collect "The Event" for you, wait for a 2-day flu, watch them en masse, and then see if you like it.

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Older Shows: Do you get to screen premiere episodes of returning shows? I'm still a "House" fan and am hoping the interest holds for yet another season. Have you seen tonight's premiere episode? Is it up to snuff?

Hank Stuever: The returning shows have all been sending screeners, yes, or most of them. I confess I haven't had time to get to them all. It's almost like we another body around here to write up a bunch of thoughts about returning shows.

"House" sent walking canes with the show's logo on them. Fox is nuts about sending trinkets, gadgets, gizmos. They sent a vat of Will Schuster hair gel the other day with the "Glee" screener...

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The heavy Italian who thankfully got rubbed out was a cartoon character.: Well that may be, but that was true to what really happened. Big Jim Colosimo was rubbed out by Capone and Torrio because he resisted getting into the liquor trade, and was happy from the money coming in from gambling. I thought the first episode was good. This show is like Mad Men and Sopranos in that it will unfold slowly, because it is supposed to. I was pretty happy with how the show (so far) has stayed true to reality.

Hank Stuever: About "Boardwalk Empire," we should note that historical fact-checkers are going to have a field day. The series is a fictional swirling of some 1920s crime history. Starting with Nucky, who is actually a composite. The series may work, but it's not going to stand up to a fact-checking process.

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Bethesda, MD: You DID say you were including cable, so do you know anything about Kelsey Nixon's upcoming show on the Cooking Channel?

Hank Stuever: Which one is it? They just sent a bunch of reminders. I remember them more by concept than the name of the cook.

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Re Hawaii 5-0: In our house this show was only ever on through the opening credits, for the theme song and the zoom on Jack Lord's hair. It's certainly ripe for a reboot.

Hank Stuever: See?

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Alexandria, VA: So if so many of these new shows are losers, which will be the first ones to be yanked? Is there anything in development waiting to be rushed in, to take the place of the fallen?

Hank Stuever: Come back Friday and ask Pookie de Moraes. She'll know.

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Athens, Ga.: Did you review AMC's "The Walking Dead" yet?

Love the trailer for it and the two songs, "Mr. Splitfoot" by Paris Motel and "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" by the Walker Brothers, fit great.

Hank Stuever: No, it hasn't come yet and I can't wait!

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Batting 0 for 2: Wow, "Outlaw" was horrid and "Boardwalk Empire" was surprisingly boring and cliched. I hope the dramas get better as the new season unfolds. I am looking foward to welcoming back "House" this evening and then to checking out "Lone Star" and "Hawaii 5-0." I have doubts about the newbies, but "House" always delivers the goods.

Hank Stuever: My favorite show of the season (well, it's a 13-episode cable show) is TERRIERS on FX.

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Norman, Okla.: Have you watch an episode of "Detroit 1-8-7" yet?

Seems like it wants to the new "The Wire" yet I don't think the creative team behind will go that far with the series and it was be a more by the numbers cop show.

Too bad since I really like Erin Cummings and she's playing a medical examiner.

Hank Stuever: It didn't do much for me -- especially since they went back and tinkered with the format (faux-doc, but not anymore). I hear tell that our critic emiritus may be writing about it in his column tomorrow.

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Baltimore, MD: Is there more to "Undercovers" than hot African-American spy couple taking on badies?

I want to like this show because it's produced by JJ Abrams, but there's nothing in the preview ads to suggest there's much substance to this show, like there was with "Alias."

Hank Stuever: I don't get a lot of J.J. Abrams from the show (except for Bad Robot logo at the end), but I thought it was light and larky and kicky. If you want that. Would like to see another two or three episodes to really know what I think, but NBC has only sent the one.

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Star Tannery, Va.: Did you just not review them, or are there really so few new reality shows in the fall lineup? (Or do they simply not start in the fall?) I have no shame in saying I'm into them-not just the yuppie-acceptable ones like Top Chef and Intervention but also the Bachelor and even Dating in the Dark. Anything I should keep my eye out for?

Hank Stuever: I tried to stick mainly to scripted or brand new. On network TV, the only new shows are "School Pride" and "Secret Millionaire." A lot of old favorites are returning. One of the very beautiful parts of my job is that I never have to pay much attention to the dancing and singing and Bachelorizing shows, because Lisa and our TV aide Emily Yahr are on top of that whole realm, every day, and sometimes even more people get involved, such as the Celebritologists.

I do swim deeply in cable's reality offerings and plan to do so this fall. That genre gets going more in October/November.

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Bornaga, IN: Are there any one hour dramas that are NOT crime and punishment or hospital related?

Doctors, cops, and lawyers is all we seem to get.

Hank Stuever: Right!

I was just thinking a few days ago that we have NO NEW HOSPITAL SHOWS this season, so it really is all crime and courts. Even Terriers, my favorite new show, is about two private investigators.

"Lone Star" is about a criminal, but it's probably the most unique scripted new drama on the fall grid.

It's funny how much crime there is on TV and yet the FBI stats every year so a real drop in crime. The murder rate is much worse on TV.

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Cumberland, MD: Re the new "5-0," Scot Caan is always more prominent in ads, but he is "Dano (Danno?)... His father was a so-so actor, after "Godfather"; will Scot carry the show? Thanks.

Hank Stuever: Scott is good on the show. I think he's always had a little spark, and this is the first role I've seen him in where he's not a SNAKE. He did some indie romantic comedy, but I never saw it. He really always gets the [nickname for Richard] parts and seems to like it.

His Danno, however, is tough and jaded but ethically pure. It's a departure. Plus, the man can really rock a ducktail.

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Mad Men: I do not understand the idol worshipping of Mad Man. I couldn't even get past the first 20 minutes of the first episode without nearly falling asleep. What is it that appeals so much, any ideas?

Hank Stuever: Oh, honey. Come sit by me. It'll just be the two of us, but at least we have each other.

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Annandale, VA: Can your producer link to your "Mad Men" review? I can't find it in the Hank Steuver archive, mostly because "Mad Men" is not in the title. Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: 'Mad Men': Is the Product Past Its Exasperation Date?

Hank Stuever: Also because you're struggling with the spelling of Stuever. Here it is!

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Tampa, FL: I'm just now getting introduced to Sons of Anarchy on FX. Am only in the middle of Season 1 (thanks to Netflix) and am curious as to your thoughts? Have you seen/watched any episodes from Season Three? Worth getting caught up on Season Two, et al? So far I'm loving the show and its cast, Katey Segal, who knew she could put in such a serious performance? (And one that I hear -- spoiler alert for those like me who are still getting WAY caught up -- gets even more serious in Season 2)

Hank Stuever: Love it. You are in for a real treat. You should get a four-day "flu" and just go for it, as quick as Netflix will provide them to you.

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Fairfax, VA: In your review of "Outlaw" you imply that the lack of realism annoyed you. But don't all popular shows have a certain degree of artificiality? Was it that this show was especially fake, or are you just especially sensitive to bogus lawyer shows.

Hank Stuever: Yes, and we viewers charitably go to so many outer reaches of suspended disbelief. It's our job as viewers. But it's THEIR jobs to not abuse that gift we've given them. Outlaw is abusively implausible. And bad.

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HBO: Two-part question:

1) Is "Boardwalk Empire" as good as it should be, given the people involved in it?

2) What did you think of the finale of "True Blood"?

Hank Stuever: 1. Yes-ish. In an odd way, "Boardwalk Empire" is exactly what it is because of its pedigree, but also, its pedigree kept it from being more surprising -- at least episode 1. I think it gets much better around the middle of ep. 3 and from 4 on I was much more into it. Two words: Kelly Macdonald.

2. I loved the entire season of "True Blood" but I stand by my June review: We need LESS of Jason Stackhouse (the whole Crystal Meth and the panther people storyline was deadly dull) and I could do with LESS of LuAnn's demon fetus and LESS of Sam and his bad-puppy brother. Basically, a scene in Merlotte's is my cue to refresh the glass of wine. Everything else was great -- loved Crispy Recipe Russell!

Oh, but I'm NOT loving the impending trip to Fairyland. I'm with Sookie, who said something like "I'm a FAIRY? How [bleepin'] lame!"

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Bremerton, WA: Call it a guilty pleasure, but I'm just loving "Nikita" so far. It's like "Alias" without all of the wigs. What are its chances of getting a back-order?

Hank Stuever: It's doing nicely for the CW and everyone seems pleased. Let me know if I should keep watching. The pilot left me chilly.

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Happy returns: Maybe there will be no break-outs, but I feel like there are so many returning shows to look forward to. The Good Wife and Modern Family as you noted. Also, Brothers and Sisters. I'm also excited about Community, which I got into over the summer. Also, 30 Rock. And my most favoritist show of all, Dexter is coming back. I'm so excited for that; it almost seems like the homecoming of an old friend. That's not pathetic is it?

Hank Stuever: It doesn't sound pathetic to me. The only thing I think is patehtic, where television is involved, is people who turn it on and leave it on and it just becomes noise. When people have a list and their reasons and their involvement in the material, it's now a quality of life thing. The discerning viewer has earned her TV time.

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Orono, Maine: Kind of weird to read that commentator refer to the two lead actors in NBC's "Undercovers" as African-American.

Boris Kodjoe is the son of Ghanian father and German mother and raised in Germany. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the daughter of South African father and English mother and raised in England.

Hank Stuever: Right you are. That's because people have become afraid of saying black, which served society well for a while (a huge improvement over other words) but then felt too general, and inaccurate as far as actual skin tone. (Whereas I really am white. Peachy or pink would be stretching things.)

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Southern Maryland: Hank, do you think television become like air travel, with major distinctions in service between first class and coach? Most of the quality series these days seem to be on the premium channels, with the broadcast networks and basic cable channels a vast wasteland of reality shows.

Maybe a better analogy would be a dinner at the Palm versus Hostess Ho-Hos and a chili cheese dog at 7-Eleven - I find reality TV to be only momentarily satisfying like a good dose of junk food.

Hank Stuever: Yes and yes and yes.

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Los Angeles: Why did Running Wilde turn out bad given the talent who created it? Should we watch it anyway just because we miss Felicity?

Hank Stuever: I don't know, but I'll try to answer that in tomorrow's review.

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Hank Stuever: Oh, TV people, we are reaching the end of our hour together. Thanks for all your questions, and I hope we can do it again as the TV season progresses and some cancellations have given us a clearer picture of what we're all actually watching.

I'm always delighted to hear from you -- about my reviews, and also about what you're watching and thinking about this strange beast who rules us. My e-mail is stueverh@washpost.com, and I try to reply to all of it.

Happy watching...

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