The 5 Best New TV Shows of May 2024

7 minute read

With the Emmys eligibility deadline looming on the 31st, May tends to be a big month for TV. But 2024 has borne the brunt of 2023’s Hollywood strikes, so the number of prestige projects sliding in before the cutoff has been conspicuously low. Sure, this month’s highlights include Benedict Cumberbatch as a Jim Henson wannabe on the verge of a nervous breakdown and an action thriller whose hero is an icon of Black radical politics. But, from a temporary talk show to a new twist on the fashion-competition format to a docuseries about an influential record label, most of May’s best new shows look nothing like Emmy bait. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  

The Big Cigar (Apple TV+)

Huey P. Newton would have been skeptical of The Big Cigar, a miniseries that dramatizes his flight from the U.S. to Cuba in 1974—and the show is the first to admit it. “The story I’m about to tell you is true,” says the Black Panther Party co-founder (played by Moonlight and The Knick star André Holland) in a voiceover that prefaces the electrifying, six-part series, which premieres May 17 on Apple TV+. “But it is coming through the lens of Hollywood, so let’s see how much of my story they’re really willing to show.” That Newton’s wariness of mass culture frames the story from the very beginning is a sign that viewers are in for something much smarter, bolder, and more challenging than the entertainment industry’s typical, sanitized take on radical politics. [Read the full review.]

Eric (Netflix)

The morning after a particularly painful confrontation, busy bickering with his long-suffering wife (Gaby Hoffmann’s Cassie), prickly children television creator Vincent (Benedict Cumberbatch) instructs his 9-year-old son Edgar to walk to school by himself. On one hand, it’s only a few blocks away; on the other, this is 1980s New York, and danger is everywhere. So, of course, Cassie panics when she receives word that Edgar never made it to class. She spends all day trying to reach Vincent with the terrifying news, but he’s too busy waging war on the suits demanding changes to his show Good Day Sunshine to call her back. It’s only that night that the weight of his error falls on Vincent, who soon becomes obsessed with the idea that he can convince his son, who’s likely to be dead in a ditch, to come home by building Eric—a big, blue monster character that Edgar has been sketching—and putting him on TV. At the same time, Vincent starts hallucinating a gruff, foulmouthed, tough-love version of Eric who orders him to “get your sh-t together.” Our hero is also, you see, an alcoholic with a history of mental illness.

This is already a lot of premise, and a lot of pathos, for a single, six-episode series to take on. But it’s only the quirkier half of Eric, an unfocused, inconsistently written, and wonderfully acted show whose ambition is admirable and originality rare in an increasingly formulaic crime genre, even if creator Abi Morgan (The Hour) never manages to reconcile its tonal dissonance. What holds it all together, albeit like a plastic bag tearing under the heft of its contents, is the parallel Morgan draws between a world overpopulated with bad dads and a patriarchy—one that, in the city, encompasses the police, real estate, and politics—that is rotting from the inside. [Read the full review.]

John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in L.A. (Netflix)

Let’s get one thing straight: John Mulaney is not angling to become the full-time host of a late-night show. He confirmed as much in the monologue that opened his six-night stint at the helm of John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in L.A., the Netflix talk show that ran concurrently with the streaming giant’s annual L.A.-based comedy event, Netflix Is a Joke Fest, and is now available to stream on the platform. “No matter what happens this week, we’re done May 10th,” he told the studio audience and viewers around the world. “Which is awesome. Because there is nothing I like being more than done.”

Fair enough. The Everybody’s in L.A. concept—Chicago native Mulaney and a panel of Netflix-affiliated comics and thematically appropriate guests dissect a different aspect of Los Angeles life each night—is too specific (not to mention too dependent on everybody actually being in L.A.) to fuel an indefinite run. But the four episodes that have aired so far prove that Mulaney’s acclaimed gigs hosting the Spirit Awards and, this past January, the Oscars’ low-key Governors Awards weren’t flukes. As much as I hate to have to admit this about yet another white guy with a J-name, he has everything it takes to be the best late-night personality of his generation, at a time when the format seems more desperate than ever for a savior. [Read the full review.]

OMG Fashun (E!)

Project Runway is a reality TV classic—one whose influence has only been reinforced by the emergence of shameless yet watchable ripoffs like Making the Cut and Next in Fashion. We certainly don’t need another Runway dupe, so it’s exciting that E!’s OMG Fashun feels like something genuinely fresh in the fashion-competition category. In blissfully brief episodes edited at the brisk pace of ’90s MTV, multi-hyphenate It Girl Julia Fox challenges trios of designers to make themed ensembles suited to her own outré aesthetics; prepare yourself for plastic tampon applicators, BDSM gear, and, er, actual blood. Visionary stylist Law Roach co-hosts, colorfully comparing one garment to “Oscar de la Renta on fentanyl” (it was a compliment). While Fox’s incessant repetition of the word disruptor can grate, the show packs more creativity, wit, and transgression into each half-hour than Runway and its imitators have mustered in years.

Stax: Soulsville U.S.A. (HBO)

When Jim Stewart hit up his sister Estelle Axton for funds to start Satellite Records, in 1957, the white producer and fiddle player envisioned a country music label, along with a record store that would keep the company connected to music fans in its home base of Memphis. But by 1961, Satellite had become Stax, and the many Black musicians who frequented the shop—one of few businesses in what was then a segregated city that didn’t discriminate—were pioneering a sound that would come to be known as Southern soul. Among Stax’s most influential early artists were Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, and “Soul Man” duo Sam & Dave.

It’s a remarkable story, recounted with insight and nuance in the four-part docuseries Stax: Soulsville U.S.A., from Ailey director Jamila Wignot. Through interviews with Stewart (who died in 2022), Booker T. Jones, the ingenious executive Al Bell, and other crucial characters, Wignot weaves Stax’s tumultuous history into the fabric of a society—and particularly an American South—in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement that was just starting to integrate. Redding’s breakthrough performance for thousands of white hippies at Monterey Pop, masterminded by Bell; Stax musicians’ eye-opening tours of Europe, where they were treated like stars rather than second-class citizens; and the label’s blaxploitation-era revival with Isaac HayesShaft soundtrack are just a few of the series’ fascinating vignettes. But Wignot also acknowledges that Stax was no post-racial utopia, making space for Jones and other alums to reflect on their frustrations with white colleagues who rarely seemed to consider the Black community’s plight.   

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