May’s TV premieres travel to Hollywood, Central Park, and the afterlife

Clockwise from left: Hollywood (Photo: Saeed Adyani/Netflix), Solar Opposites (Image: Hulu), The Great (Photo: Hulu), Stargirl (Photo: The CW), Snowpiercer (Photo: Justina Mintz/TNT)
Clockwise from left: Hollywood (Photo: Saeed Adyani/Netflix), Solar Opposites (Image: Hulu), The Great (Photo: Hulu), Stargirl (Photo: The CW), Snowpiercer (Photo: Justina Mintz/TNT)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

We might not be able to enjoy the May flowers at the moment, but we can partake of the month’s other bounty: TV premieres. The pandemic’s impact on productions means that streamers like Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon, and Hulu—not to mention the soon-to-launch HBO Max—dominate the schedule, ready to deploy stories about Tinseltown, comedy specials from marquee names, and an ersatz Hamilton mini-reunion in animated form. But networks like TNT, HBO, The CW, and yes, even PBS still have plenty of appealing options. Let The A.V. Club’s monthly preview guide you from Hollywood to Central Park and, for the especially brave of heart (or just fans of Greg Daniels), the afterlife.

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Hollywood (Netflix): premieres May 1

Ryan Murphy’s latest Netflix series Hollywood views its subject matter through rose-colored glasses, imagining a post-war Hollywood where people of color could have prominent film careers and gay actors weren’t stuck in the closet for decades. Like his previous meticulous look at this time period and setting, Feud, Murphy’s affection for his subject matter is obvious, as his take (along with co-creator Ian Brennan) on this ahead-of-its-time Hollywood studio veers into didactic declarations about how movies can change the world. Fans of Hollywood’s golden age may appreciate seeing names they recognize, like Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) and his notorious agent Henry Willson (Jim Parsons, chomping the scenery), Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah), alongside fictionalized but gorgeous young upstarts (Jeremy Pope, Laura Harrier, David Corenswet) and Murphy mainstays like Darren Criss and Dylan McDermott (the latter in a particularly inspired character performance). Murphy’s progressive “Dreamland” seems fantastical at times, but that’s the whole point: A perfect world would have already embraced Hollywood’s message of acceptance. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Trying (Apple TV+): premieres May 1

Apple TV+ heads overseas for Trying, the first European production for the streamer. The series stars Rafe Spall and Esther Smith (both alums of Black Mirror’s “White Christmas,” among other things) as, respectively, Jason and Nikki, a working-class, London-based couple ready for the next stage in their relationship. They’ve already passed such milestones as cohabitation and “finding sex with each other reliable, but not really exciting anymore,” so Jason and Nikki make plans to have a baby. When they have trouble conceiving, the couple begins to consider adoption, only to find themselves gazing into the maw of bureaucracy. But navigating the adoption process does more to fortify Jason and Nikki’s relationship than undermine it, as the expansion of their family drives them to recommit to each other. This dramedy from Andy Wolton—who, as an adoptee, wanted to explore the process’ hurdles in a series—is one of the more intimate projects for Apple TV+. But while Trying doesn’t come with the same fanfare as say, The Morning Show or Defending Jacob, its wit and heart speak volumes. [Danette Chavez]

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Betty (HBO): premieres May 1

Crystal Moselle’s skater girl indie Skate Kitchen—inspired by the real-life all-female skateboard collective of the same name—was an understated hit thanks, in large part, to the untouchably cool group of girls at its center. With lived-in performances that contributed to an almost documentary-style tone, the breezy slice-of-life film laid the foundation for a series tasked with little more than just (seemingly) letting the cameras roll and catching kickflips and drama organically. Betty, Moselle’s worthy serialized follow-up, is the result. The first season naturally emits the charm of its predecessor while continuing to broaden the look of a culture that has been largely dominated by white men. But Betty—a reference to a pejorative term often used against girls to insinuate a disingenuous interest in skater culture—doesn’t focus on the inherent rebellion of their existence. It just allows them to exist, intercutting cool skate tricks with the everyday trials of growing up. Whether you’re a skating pro or flailing novice, these girls are your new friends. [Shannon Miller]

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Upload (Amazon): premieres May 1

TV MVP Greg Daniels—creator of Parks & Recreation, the American version of The Office, King Of The Hill—returns to the sitcom world with Upload, his most high-concept project yet. Sort of a strange admixture of The Good Place and The Matrix, the sci-fi comedy is set some time in the future, when people are able to upload themselves into the afterlife of their choosing upon their passing. We follow Nathan (The Flash’s Robbie Amell) as his early death sends him into this digital afterlife, where he learns how to process living in his strange new reality and deals with being away from those he loved. Helping him on his journey in eternity is Nora (Andy Allo), his still-very-alive handler who manages Nathan’s afterlife. The trailer suggests a bubbly sense of humor with plenty of Good Place-style visual gags, but—as always with Daniels’ work—expect a deep vein of heartfelt pathos to run through the entire thing. [Alex McLevy]

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Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian (Disney+): premieres May 4

Sure, amazing technical wizardry and the hard work of hundreds of skilled craftspeople went into the first live-action TV series to come out of the Star Wars universe. But to quote Werner Herzog as inscrutable Imperial sympathizer The Client: “I would like to see the baby.” And fans of The Child, a.k.a. Baby Yoda, will get to spend more time with the meme-able little guy, as well as Mando, Cara Dune, Greef Karga, and the rest, as Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian goes behind the scenes of the show’s first season. This is Disney celebrating Disney, so expect plenty of self-mythologizing in the docuseries’ eight episodes, each themed around a different aspect of production. But given that The Mandalorian actually had the storytelling chops—and the creative team—to back up its hype, Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian should be significantly more tolerable than your average promotional video. Plus, we’ve been promised footage of Herzog directing The Child, a pop-cultural moment surreal enough that we can overlook the branding, at least for a little while. [Katie Rife]

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Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours To Kill (Netflix): premieres May 5

Despite the shelter-in-place orders that apply to even the rich and famous, the title of Jerry Seinfeld’s latest Netflix comedy special, 23 Hours To Kill, wasn’t inspired by recent pandemic-related events. It’s actually a reference to one of Seinfeld’s observations about the life of a stand-up comedian, who takes the stage for a single hour and spends the rest of the day in anticipation of that time. This is one of a few familiar Seinfeld ruminations you’ll find in 23 Hours To Kill, along with the bit about bathroom stall doors that are much too short and allow for way too much insight into someone’s public pooping habits. The first teaser doesn’t reveal much more of what we can expect, but you’ve got the time to watch 23 Hours To Kill and then maybe the toilet-centric episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm season 10. [Danette Chavez]

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Becoming (Netflix): premieres May 6

In the two years since its inception, Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions has established a solid track record for gripping and affecting documentaries, garnering an Oscar for Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory and a warm critical reception for 2020’s Crip Camp. Becoming looks to be just as moving a project, though the film, directed by Nadia Hallgren (DP on Girl Rising and Trouble The Water), has a most extraordinary subject: former First Lady Michelle Obama. The documentary takes its name from the attorney and advocate’s bestselling memoir, which was published in 2018. Hallgren followed Obama on her 34-city book tour, where she opened up about how calling the last four years of her life a “return to private life” isn’t quite accurate. This isn’t Hallgren’s first time collaborating with the Becoming author—she was also the DP on When We Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission To Educate Girls Around The World. Prepare for a candid and insightful look at Michelle Obama’s life after the White House. [Danette Chavez]

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The Eddy (Netflix): premieres May 8

Even in the best and most-outdoors of times, bingeing a Netflix series directed by Damien Chazelle and starring André Holland wouldn’t require the hard sell. Created by Jack Thorne (most recently of HBO’s His Dark Materials adaptation), The Eddy is a musical drama set in Paris, where Elliot Udo (Holland), a famed but retired jazz pianist, struggles to make a name for his club—from which the show borrows its title—and house band. People try to lure Elliot back onto the stage throughout, but adoring fans aren’t the only source of conflict for this talented artist. Elliot struggles with keeping the business afloat, which leads to some backroom dealing for Elliot’s associate and friend Farid (Tahar Rahim); in the premiere, he must also contend with the arrival of his daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg), a willful teen who nonetheless wants to rebuild their relationship. Holland is in typically fine form, providing a wonderful emotional anchor for The Eddy’s swirl of culture, language (this is a French, English, and Arabic production), and Chazelle’s shaky, vérité style filming. [Danette Chavez]

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Solar Opposites (Hulu)

Solar Opposites, the new animated series from Rick And Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, flips the script on his hit show’s formula. Instead of a family of everyday folks (and one super-genius) venturing out into the universe for alien adventures, here the aliens come to us: A family of advanced aliens arrive on earth as refugees, square in middle America, and unleash their own comic misadventures among the population. Roiland will be pulling double-duty between this and his other series (along with fellow exec producer, Rick And Morty writer Mike McMahan) and will voice one of the leads, joined by Thomas Middleditch, Mary Mack, and Sean Giambroni. It doesn’t look as though the creative pair strayed too far from their Adult Swim program’s comic sensibility of blending erudition and outrageousness, though we’ll see how successful that recipe is this time around—it’s been in development for at least five years, first at Fox and now with a two-season order from streaming service Hulu. [Alex McLevy]

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I Know This Much Is True (HBO): moved from April 26 to May 10

It might be a limited series, but Derek Cianfrance’s adaptation of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True has all the gut-wrenching potential of network tearjerkers like This Is Us. Mark Ruffalo stars opposite himself as Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, twin brothers who try desperately to cling to each other even as family trauma and mental illness threaten to tear them apart. It’s a tale of “betrayal, sacrifice, and forgiveness” that also stars Melissa Leo—as the twins’ mother—Kathryn Hahn, Archie Panjabi, Rosie O’Donnell, Imogen Poots, and Juliette Lewis. If you couldn’t already tell from that description, don’t expect the cast or Cianfrance, who directed 2010’s Blue Valentine, to take it easy on your emotions. [Danette Chavez]

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Trial By Media (Netflix): premieres May 11

The newest true-crime offering from the streaming juggernaut fuses together the sensationalism found in exploring some of the most famous trials of the recent past with a critical spotlight on the media’s role in each. From the earliest cases of TV-covered murders to 21st-century political scandals, the six-part series will explore the ways the press has shaped (and distorted) public perception of controversial courtroom dramatics. Stories include the shooting of Amadou Diallo by the NYPD and the downfall of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, and with a sharp eye on the way victims, defendants, and prosecutors are depicted in the media, this program might just serve as a sober judge in its own right. [Alex McLevy]

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Asian Americans (PBS): premieres May 11

Airing across two nights on PBS, Asian Americans is a moving, in-depth exploration of the contributions and tribulations of what the 2010 census determined is the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States. This groundbreaking five-part docuseries shines a light on several chapters in Asian American history, including immigration, internment, and anti-Asian laws. Asian Americans’ filmmaking team includes producer Renee Tajima-Peña, and counts Hari Kondabolu, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, and author Erika Lee among its many participants. But the series, narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, is just as focused on more intimate storytelling as on tales of success and the role of Asian Americans on political and cultural issues. Like PBS’s Native America, Asian Americans offers a new lens through which to view this country’s history. [Danette Chavez]

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend interactive special (Netflix): premieres May 12

In these dark times, it’s hard to imagine anything more welcome than a new Kimmy Schmidt special, especially an interactive one. In Kimmy Vs. The Reverend, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) has apparently finally found true love with Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe). But just days before her wedding, Kimmy finds out that the evil Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), who kept her captive for so many years, may have another bunker full of mole women, who of course she must now try to save. It’s all up to you and your interactive choices, thanks to the same technology used in the 2018 Black Mirror special “Bandersnatch” (and yes, there are do-overs). Do you want Kimmy and Frederick to make out or wedding plan? Should Kimmy and Titus (Tituss Burgess) wait 4,000 minutes for an Uber or just walk? We suspect we will be taking some very strange plot paths on the way to Kimmy’s wedding/mole women rescue, an ideally inventive return for the Unbreakable character. [Gwen Ihnat]

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The Great (Hulu): premieres May 15

History is pretty funny, right? Well, that’s at least part of the premise of The Great, a Hulu show from The Favourite writer Tony McNamara that repositions the rise of Russia’s Catherine The Great as a bit of a wacky female-empowerment comedy. Starring Elle Fanning as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as her dope of a doomed husband, Peter III, the show also acts like some kind of anti-rom-com, where young Catherine dreams of the fabulous life she’ll have with Russia’s royal family only to be immediately confronted with the grim lack of any kind of romance and the undeniable fact that her husband straight-up sucks. Hulu bills The Great as a “comedic drama,” which hints at some darkness beyond throwing a dog with a parachute off of a balcony, but any real drama is evidently being saved for the final product. Of course, depending on how far into the story this goes, we might see plenty of drama between Catherine and Peter. [Sam Barsanti]

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Snowpiercer (TNT): premieres May 17

Emerging from a notoriously troubled development that saw both showrunner Josh Friedman and pilot director Scott Derrickson depart over “creative differences” with TNT, Snowpiercer, the cable network’s expanded adaptation of Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 sci-fi dystopia, is pulling out of the station at last. Set, like the film, on an eternally circling super-train that’s humanity’s last respite from an apocalyptic global freeze, the series stars Daveed Diggs, Jennifer Connolly, and Mickey Sumner as three passengers living at three very different points of the Snowpiercer’s rigidly stratified class structure. Already renewed for a second season, the series’ pace will hopefully offer an extensively fleshed-out picture of train-based society, along with a de-rigeur season-long mystery plot to entice any viewers for whom “humanity’s last survivors play out bloody class warfare on a massive train while the world freezes around them” somehow wasn’t compelling enough. [William Hughes]

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Stargirl: available May 18 on DC Universe, premieres May 19 on The CW )

Stargirl, based on the DC Comics character of the same name, is about a teen girl named Courtney (Brec Bassinger) who finds a “cosmic staff” that once belonged to a superhero named Starman and allows her to fly and shoot laser blasts. It turns out that her stepfather (Luke Wilson) was the hero’s sidekick and a member of classic DC super-team The Justice Society Of America, and under his guidance she takes up Starman’s mantle and joins the fight against The Injustice Society. Bassinger’s Stargirl will even be putting together a new JSA of other young heroes, plus her stepfather in a mech suit called S.T.R.I.P.E. (which sounds worryingly cool for a show with a CW/DC Universe budget). A different version of Stargirl and the JSA appeared on The CW’s Legends Of Tomorrow a few years ago, but this appears to be a much more YA-friendly take on the characters with no direct connection to the Arrowverse—though anything’s possible after Crisis On Infinite Earths. [Sam Barsanti]

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Illustration for article titled May’s TV premieres travel to iHollywood/i, iCentral Park/i, and the afterlife

Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything (Netflix): May 19

Patton Oswalt is one of the most incisive and agreeable comedians out there, making his Netflix specials a sure thing. Despite not having the usual 30- or 60-second promotional clip (the trailer wasn’t available at the time of this writing), we think we can assume that’s also the case for Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything, his latest hourlong trip into his personal history. The Emmy- and Grammy-winning comic opens up about enjoying his 50s, a time in which he’s had to choose his daughter’s grade-school art show over nerding out inside a full-scale Millennium Falcon. We know that’s not much to go on, but because Oswalt has built his act on enthusiasm and empathy as much as navel-gazing and commentary, we look forward to watching him effuse over, well, everything. [Danette Chavez]

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Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (Netflix): May 26

Netflix goes for the comedy special hat trick with Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas, another searing set from the Australian stand-up comic whose first special dominated the comedy conversation in 2018, winning a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Variety Special. Gadsby toured internationally in 2019 with Douglas, which Netflix called “a tour from the dog park to the renaissance and back guided by one of comedy’s most sparkling and surprising minds” in a press release. Though that’s a nebulous description, no promos could have prepared us for the fury and poignancy of Nanette, so perhaps it’s best that we also approach Douglas with little idea of what’s in store for us beyond Gadsby’s lacerating wit and candor. [Danette Chavez]

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Illustration for article titled May’s TV premieres travel to iHollywood/i, iCentral Park/i, and the afterlife
Photo: Netflix

Space Force (Netflix): premieres May 29

Birthed into existence, pretty much out of whole cloth, by a notoriously stupid presidential Tweet-turned-policy-idea, Netflix’s new comedy series Space Force hopes to answer what happens to someone after they get unexpectedly placed in charge of “the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces,” whatever the hell that actually entails. Reuniting The Office’s Greg Daniels and Steve Carell—the latter also starring as the hapless general forced to make this loosely defined “Space Force” function—the series probably has more talent on hand than the actual governmental body, with Tawny Newsome, Ben Schwartz, Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy O. Yang, Fred Willard, and John Malkovich all on board to play key “Spacemen” and their ground-based support. It’s not easy to out-absurd reality right now, but from the glimpses we’ve seen, the show’s 10-episode first season looks to be giving it the old Space Force try. [William Hughes]

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Central Park (Apple TV+): premieres May 29

Animator Loren Bouchard is no stranger to a spirited musical number. As the co-creator of Bob’s Burgers and Home Movies, some of his best work can be found in the more melodious episodes of each (as evidenced by both Bob’s Burger’s “Topsy” and Home Movies’ “Bye Bye, Greasy”). As he takes his talents over to Apple TV+, Bouchard is fully leaning into these inclinations with his new animated musical series, Central Park, a tale about a passionate community of New Yorkers who aim to protect the beloved park from an enterprising, dog-wearing heel voiced by Stanley Tucci. Between a familiar aesthetic and a cast packed with Broadway heavy-hitters (including a small, yet indulgent Hamilton reunion with Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr.), Central Park isn’t exactly a hard sell for theater enthusiasts and/or enamored fans of Bouchard’s 10-seasons-and-counting Fox hit. For those who aren’t necessarily fans of either, they might just be lured by an ostensibly bright show about believing in something. [Shannon Miller]

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Quiz (AMC): premieres May 31

Not to be confused with the series of scandals back in the ’50s that inspired the 1994 movie Quiz Show, three-part miniseries Quiz dramatizes a more recent disgrace to the good name of TV game shows: the story of Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen), the British man who was accused of cheating his way to £1,000,000 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? In 2001. The ripped-from-the-headlines premise is reminiscent of Ryan Murphy and his American Crime Story series on FX, but AMC is playing host to this particular take, which co-stars Michael Sheen as Millionaire host Chris Tarrant. Early stills showing Sheen mugging for the camera with a fake tan and a fake smile seem to promise a pointed, irreverent take on the material, as does the involvement of A Very English Scandal’s Stephen Frears. But writer James Graham (The Crown) says that he took a balanced approach, adding that “we do the classic Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ask the audience” to allow viewers to make up their own minds. Even that will probably be a bit cheeky, though—this is the British we’re talking about. [Katie Rife]

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Laurel Canyon (Epix): premieres May 31

From the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s, California’s Laurel Canyon attracted a diverse community “of musicians and long-haired weirdos,” a lengthy list including Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Byrds, The Eagles, The Doors, The Mamas And The Papas, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, even The Monkees. This new Epix two-part docuseries explores the “bubble of creativity and friendship” that helped inspire so much music in that era, promising “rare and newly unearthed footage and audio recordings,” as well as new interviews with Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Michelle Phillips, Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and Roger McGuinn. Music fans should enjoy this trip back to hanging out at Joni Mitchell’s house on Lookout Mountain, learning how Stephen Stills influenced his roommate Peter Tork’s music career, or how Henley and Glenn Frey went from being Linda Ronstadt’s backup singers to forming The Eagles during the era now considered as creatively prosperous as Paris in the ’20s. [Gwen Ihnat]

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She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power
She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power
Image: Netflix

Returning

Billions season five, Rick And Morty spring premiere (5/3); She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power fifth and final season (5/15); Homecoming season two (5/22); Ramy season two (5/29)

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