They say TV makes your brain ooze out of your ears, but this April, viewers can learn a little something about an eclectic array of topics. New nonfiction offerings this month will shed a little light on Elvis Presley’s inner life, whisk you on an odyssey through sci-fi with James Cameron and feature Wyatt Cenac fixing all of the world’s pressing issues. Plus Al Pacino takes on Joe Paterno, Tracy Morgan makes a profane-as-fuck comeback and John Legend fulfills his destiny by taking up the mantle of a singing Jesus Christ. Here’s what you’ll be tuning in to this month. (Your best streaming options can be found here.)
Elvis Presley: The Searcher (HBO, Apr. 14th)
We know the dewy eyes, the sneered lip, the swiveling hips. But this documentary peels back the layers of the King’s complicated public persona to locate the fragile, yearning man at the center of it all. From his days as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and dreamboat cultural ambassador to his latter bloated-Vegas version, Elvis captured the public imagination. With his beloved Priscilla’s blessing, this three-hour deep dive uses new archival footage to form a more detailed portrait of this singular figure as a thoughtful, philosophical artist. Better clean up those blue suede shoes.
Howards End (Starz, Apr. 8th)
Manchester by the Sea Oscar-winner Kenneth Lonergan brings new life to this BBC adaptation of the ol’ Merchant-Ivory production, which follows two sisters chafing under the upper crust’s repressive code of conduct. The fortunes of Helen and Margaret Schlegel (Philippa Coulthard and Hayley Atwell, respectively) change when they make the acquaintance of the rich Wilcox family of industrialists, leading to a re-examination of their principles and their place in the social food chain. For aficionados of the pearls-and-furs subgenre, this handsome costume drama is appointment viewing.
James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction (AMC, Apr. 30th)
Jim Cameron knows a thing or two about sci-fi. (Or, if we go by the grosses, a couple billion things.) Tthe director of the first two Terminators, Aliens, The Abyss and Avatar plays tour guide through the genre, with guest appearances from contemporaries and collaborators (Steven Spielberg! George Lucas! Ahnuld!), as well as big-picture questions like: at what point does a cyborg attain personhood? Are we really alone in this vast universe? And if time travel was possible, would Ridley Scott go back and kill baby Hitler? (That last one may or may not be wishful thinking.)
Jesus Christ Superstar Live! (NBC, Apr. 1st)
Yes, Jesus is black, and he’s got killer pipes. John Legend is the son of God in this live treatment of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock-opera rendering of the New Testament. Sara Bareilles is Mary Magdalene; Hamilton alum Brandon Victor Dixon is Judas Iscariot; do not think that Alice Cooper will not steal the show as King Herod. The same production crew that brought NBC hits with Hairspray, The Sound of Music and The Wiz goes Biblical for this real-time broadcast, with everything from the Last Supper to the resurrection springing to life in full prog-disco glory.
Killing Eve (BBC America, Apr. 8th)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge established herself as a comedian to watch with her bloody-good BBC series Fleabag; now her latest executive-produced project weaves her signature dry humor into the espionage genre. Sandra Oh takes the lead as Eve, a desk jockey for MI5 whose unsexy workday bears little resemblance to her fantasies of spy work. So naturally she can’t help but develop a fixation on Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a career killer living Eve’s dreams. A violent, psychological game of cat and mouse breaks out between the women, as envy and resentment and desire get bound up in one thoroughly twisted pas de deux.
The Last O.G. (TBS, Apr. 3rd)
A lot can change in 15 years, and in Brooklyn-time, that might as well be a millennium. When con-gone-straight Tray (Tracy Morgan) gets out of the clink after a decade and a half, he returns to find his block a gentrified caricature of the neighborhood he remembers. To make matters worse, his ex (Tiffany Haddish) has taken up with a new boyfriend … and never told the ex-con that he’s also a father. All he can do is get a job slinging overpriced coffee and start the long process of earning back his family’s trust. Created by Jordan Peele and featuring Morgan in a heartening comeback performance following his life-threatening car accident, this comedy starts as a fish-outta-water story and ends up a much funnier, deeper series than expected.
Legion, Season 2 (FX, Apr. 3rd)
At the close of this avant-superhero series’ smash debut season, unstable mutant David Haller (Dan Stevens) had staved off the nefarious Shadow King – only to be trapped in a small, mysterious orb and transported to god-knows-where. Noah Hawley’s superior superhero show dropped viewers into oddball musical numbers, psychedelic interludes of abstract color and sound and a host of freaky-deaky film references in Season 1; expect things to get even weirder as the show picks up from where it left off as Haller has to now “save” his nemesis. In other words: There will be masked monks, young women with mustaches, sensory-deprivation tanks and possibly the end of the world. And further musical numbers.
Paterno (HBO, Apr. 7th)
Following his Jack Kevorkian impression in You Don’t Know Jack and his take on history’s great unstable music producer in Phil Spector, Al Pacino is set to complete his trilogy of Barry Levinson-directed TV movies about controversial famous men. He dons a prosthetic schnoz and coke-bottle specs to portray the longtime Penn State football coach, a community favorite whose legacy was tarnished when an intrepid reporter (Riley Keough) uncovered his complicity in a sex abuse coverup. Part legal thriller and part investigative journalism procedural, this account covers a crumbling Paterno’s many trials, both in a proper court of law and the much thornier tribunal of public opinion.
Westworld, Season 2 (HBO, Apr. 22nd)
More sex-robots. More angry androids getting revenge. More player-piano covers of your favorite pop songs. The generously budgeted mega-hit returns to generate another season’s worth of wild-eyed conspiracy theories about the cybernetic cowpokes and the sinister scientists behind the scenes. The new episodes will force Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) to deal with the fallout of a shooting too shocking to spoil here, while her fellow “hosts” begin to see the puppet strings making them move. Are the odds in our hardwired heroes’ favor? And are those who deny the existence of robots, in fact, robots themselves?
Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas (HBO, Apr. 13th)
Everything’s gone right to hell in a hand basket, right? But former Daily Show correspondent and current People of Earth star Wyatt Cenac isn’t going to take it lying down. In this new HBO series, the humorist travels around the American countryside innovating solutions to the big challenges facing the nation, from the Californian water crisis to the widening chasm of wealth disparity and racism. The network has billed this series as a sincerely thoughtful hard-hitter that could be a companion piece to both Last Week Tonight (John Oliver is on board as a producer) and their Vice news program. We’re in.