If the TV landscape has seemed even more crowded than usual this past month, it’s not just your imagination. Emmy season is upon us; the deadline for 2023 premieres is May 31, and awards-hungry platforms are once again rushing out all their most prestigious titles. I have a tendency to get frustrated with these shows—not just because they come packed into an overwhelming six-week package, but because they often sound a lot better on paper than they turn out to be on the screen.
But this year has been a pleasant surprise. Unlike the great docudrama-rama of 2022, this spring has brought a wide variety of star-studded, high-concept, brand-name-creator TV. Some of these shows, like Mrs. Davis and Dead Ringers, are actually pretty great. BEEF belongs in this category too, though I’d be remiss not to note the troubling controversy surrounding one of its cast members, David Choe. Meanwhile, with so much to watch—and Succession still dominating the weekly news cycle—some wonderful shows are falling through the cracks. Read about all of the above and more in my roundup of the five—actually, sorry, six—best new TV releases of April 2023.
Am I Being Unreasonable? (Hulu)
We don’t deserve two Daisy May Cooper shows in the space of just two months, but I’m certainly not complaining. Am I Being Unreasonable? isn’t on quite the same level as the truly outstanding Rain Dogs, which cast her as a poverty-stricken aspiring writer and peepshow dancer with an adorable little girl and a toxic gay best friend. Even so, this bracingly brief puzzle-box black comedy from creators and co-stars Cooper and Selin Hizli is sure to hit the spot for fans of series like Dead to Me and Fleabag, in which extremely relatable women wrestle with extremely dark secrets.
Cooper’s Nic is a married, middle-class mum in small-town England. She adores her mischievous, disabled little boy, Ollie (scene stealer Lenny Rush), and kind of hates her husband, Dan (Dustin Demri-Burns). And she’s mourning the man she considers to be the real love of her life; their affair ended with sudden, shocking death. Nic begins to emerge from her funk when she meets Jen (Hizli), who just moved to the area with a son Ollie’s age. Unlike the other, terminally un-fun school mothers, Jen is down to drink, party, and share secrets. But when Nic starts to get the impression that her new friend isn’t quite who she says she is, the show becomes an unsparing yet non-judgmental exploration of the lies people tell each other—and themselves—in order to live.
Implicit in every viral road rage video is the same question: What is wrong with these people? BEEF, a wild black comedy from first-time creator Lee Sung Jin, delves deep into the sources and fallout of two L.A. motorists’ fury. Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) is a struggling contractor wracked with guilt over his immigrant parents’ involuntary return to Korea. Amy Lau (Ali Wong) longs to sell her thriving houseplant business and stay home with her husband George (Joseph Lee) and young daughter June (Remy Holt). Their parking-lot showdown leads to a ridiculous chase through suburbia—and then months of ever-escalating attempts to ruin each other’s lives.
At first, this simple yet amusing premise seems better suited to a 90-minute feature than a 10-episode Netflix series. But it soon becomes apparent that Lee is doing more than just a live-action Looney Tunes bit. In between all the vicious pranks, we get insights into both characters’ unhappiness. [Read the full review.]
Dead Ringers (Amazon)
Amazon’s Dead Ringers should have been terrible. Yet somehow, this reboot of David Cronenberg’s 1988 cult class works spectacularly. In fact, it feels even more subversive than the original, a ripped-from-the-headlines psychosexual horror odyssey about identical-twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle—played by Jeremy Irons, in a chilling dual performance—and the woman who threatens to tear them apart. Executive producer and showrunner Alice Birch, whose impressive list of credits includes Succession, Conversations with Friends, and Normal People as well as the films Lady Macbeth and The Wonder, recasts the Mantles (without changing their names) as women. But this is no trendy, girl-power gender flip. It’s an inspired choice, in part because it allows Birch to cast the versatile Rachel Weisz as the twins and in part because it submerges the story in the bloody realities of women’s bodies, appetites, and ambitions to an extent that couldn’t be done with male doctors. [Read the full review.]
Dear Mama (FX)
More than 26 years have passed since Tupac Shakur was murdered at the horrifyingly young age of 25. One of the most brilliant rappers of all time, he also—even after so many posthumous albums, publications, and, yes, documentaries—remains something of an enigma. Is it even possible to reconcile all the disparate facets of his personality and legacy—the visionary poet, the righteous activist, the gentle lover, the self-proclaimed thug, the man who served time for sexual assault, the martyr?
Allen Hughes (The Defiant Ones) makes a compelling attempt in Dear Mama, a five-part documentary that braids together Tupac’s biography and that of his fraught relationship with his equally complicated mother, Black Panther Party leader Afeni Shakur. Loosely chronological in its retelling of Tupac’s life story, the series also delves deep into the Panthers’ often-misrepresented beliefs, Afeni’s estimable accomplishments within and on behalf of a movement controlled by men, and her fears about raising a Black boy in a country whose racism she understood more completely than just about anyone. Her internal contradictions illuminate his own, and vice versa. Paired with intimate reflections and philosophical insights from the Shakurs’ closest relatives as well as peers in hip-hop and activism, it adds up to one of the most thorough, sensitive portraits I’ve seen of an artist who has by now been eulogized for longer than he was alive—and of the remarkable woman who created him.
Mrs. Davis (Peacock)
Damon Lindelof has, over the past two decades, become one of the most distinctive voices in television. Mrs. Davis, the captivating new sci-fi drama he created with The Big Bang Theory alum Tara Hernandez, might be the most prototypically Damon Lindelof show of his career. Like Watchmen, it balances cosmic themes and emotional storytelling with playful pop-culture references, cartoonish violence, and absurd humor. Like Lost, it carefully metes out puzzle-box backstory and can get tangled in its own shaggy-dog sensibility. And like both of the above, but especially Lindelof’s masterpiece, The Leftovers, it’s concerned with the ways in which faith and morality persist in a world that has largely replaced organized religion with other forms of belief.
Slip (Roku Channel)
A cool original show on Roku Channel—the free streaming service best known for buying up an armload of Quibi originals after the market roundly rejected that platform? Believe it. Zoe Lister-Jones, the multihyphenate actor and filmmaker behind indie dramedies Band Aid and How It All Ends, wrote, directed, executive produced, served as showrunner on, and stars in this delightful lo-fi multiverse show about a woman in her 30s whose marriage has stagnated. Fresh off a fight with her husband, Elijah (Whitmer Thomas), Lister-Jones’ Mae sleeps with a famous musician (Amar Chadha-Patel)… and wakes up the morning after in a parallel universe where she’s married to him instead. A subsequent string of confused hookups offers glimpses into other lives she could be living; in another, she’s a queer mom raising a young daughter with a character played by Emily Hampshire from Schitt’s Creek. Russian Doll and Search Party are more ambitious, audacious shows; Broad City is more laugh-out-loud funny. But Slip slots in comfortably among them as a lighter example of the same New York City surrealist sensibility.
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