2014, The Washington Post. Every Thursday, Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever hosts an online chat on all things TV. On the minds of readers this week: last Sunday’s “Walking Dead” season premiere; how to decide between HBO and Showtime; and the fate of “Gracepoint.”
“The Walking Dead”: The season premiere!!!! Amazeballs! Did you love it too?
Stuever: Light spoiler alert for this answer! Look away now!
I did like it a lot, mostly because I’ve become such a Melissa McBride (Carol) fan. I was dreading the idea that the show would spend most of the season in that boxcar at Terminus. Turns out I didn’t have to worry so much about that.
So now the ensemble is back together. I liked them so much better when they were apart last season; we learned more about them and the actors got a chance to spread their wings. (Fat lot of good it did them, as far as Emmy nominations went.) The scary thing about them reunited is that someone is going to have to go. Hope the actors have been setting aside some of those paychecks into retirement accounts, etc.
HBO vs. Showtime: Getting ready to switch cable providers. Company “V” is offering a special — get free HBO or Showtime. Based on what series are playing now (or might be returning/coming up in the next six months), which channel would you take?
Stuever: This is a tough one. You want an answer only in terms of series, between now and April? With HBO in November you’ll get “The Comeback’s” comeback, the very good “Getting On,” the six-episode wrap-up of “The Newsroom” plus the “Olive Kitteridge” miniseries with Frances McDormand; in January you’d have “Girls”; I don’t have a firm date yet for “True Detective,” but it’s on the way; and before your freebie subscription expires you might get in on the very beginning of “Game of Thrones,” “Veep” and “Silicon Valley.”
With Showtime, between now and April you’d get “Shameless” and “Episodes” in January and you could start in now on “The Affair” and the current season of “Homeland.”
It’s a toss-up, unless we factor in a few other things. Do you like documentaries? HBO has the superior documentary department, thanks to decades of fine work in that field by Sheila Nevins and her crew. But Showtime has come a long way with its documentaries in recent years and isn’t afraid to sweep up some surprising docs that were otherwise not going to make it to air — especially in the rockumentary category.
HBO has “Real Time With Bill Maher,” “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and the “Vice” series.
You might also consider sports programming — the news shows, the in-depth reporting, the boxing matches. Compare HBO to Showtime, both of which offer a lot of sports, if any of it matters one whit to you. I don’t think I’ve ever watched more than a minute of all those boxing matches.
And don’t forget the thing we almost never talk about when it comes to premium networks: the movies. Before you make your choice, flip through the guide on your screen and just randomly compare what the HBO and Showtime stations are offering at that particular moment in terms of movies. Try this at several different times of day. Because of licensing agreements, they don’t show all the same movies. See which is offering a movie you might like to watch with the most frequency.
Also (and this is a lot of advice, I know), consider what you’ll have access to with On Demand. (Ask the provider.) If either HBO or Showtime had a recent series that you were interested in but didn’t get to see (“Boardwalk Empire?” “Masters of Sex?”), now would be a good time to binge for free, if it’s in the archive and you have access to it. Six months will go by pretty fast.
John Oliver: He is another solid nod in favor of HBO over Showtime. His show is good and getting better. The exposé on Miss America from a couple of weeks ago was excellent.
Stuever: Agreed, but can I just take this opportunity to point out something? Critics of the Miss America pageant have been voicing the very same complaints and asking the very same questions for decades. Decades. I also noticed John Oliver fans have been giving him credit for blowing the lid off police seizures of cash from detained motorists (aka “civil forfeiture”), which has been deeply reported by news outlets including The Washington Post.
Between “why is this still a thing?” reports on Miss America and the continued appeal of Ayn Rand, it’s as if Oliver and company are going through old issues of Spy magazine to find their material.
It drives me a little bonkers because viewers then turn around and credit Oliver with reporting the stories that “no one else” reports, when even Oliver would probably tell you that what he and his writers are doing is reading newspapers and online news sites and watching investigative news broadcasts in order to put their show together. Same with Jon Stewart, Colbert, etc.
End of rant.
“Gracepoint”: Do you think it will last the whole season? I don’t want to start watching and they don’t even give it a whole season. That would suck.
Stuever: Things are so dismal at Fox right now that I can’t imagine why they won’t go ahead and air all 10 episodes of “Gracepoint.” They might move it to another night or something, but they already paid for it. Go ahead and DVR them all.
Or better yet, which so many of us have been saying all along: Watch “Broadchurch” instead, which is coming back for another season in 2015.