Here comes summer TV! HBO’s got a doc on a world-class athlete on the docket, as well as two much-touted TV movies over the course of four weeks. Speaking of premium cable: Showtime’s ready to pull back the curtain on a nonfiction project from an Oscar nominee and an expensive-looking miniseries featuring a bona fide movie star. (Your time has come once more, Cumberbitches.) Even Starz is getting in on the action with a double-shot of envelope-pushers that put women first. Check out your best TV bets for May. (For your top streaming options, click here.)
Being Serena (HBO, May 2nd)
Serena Williams is, demonstrably and beyond debate, the greatest tennis player alive. (Sorry, Venus, but the numbers don’t lie.) This top-to-bottom bio-doc affirms Williams’ supremacy on the clay court while delving into her transition from winner to a champ who’s also a wife and a mother – to say nothing of the complex relationship with her sister, founded equally on love and competition. This feature provides fly-on-the-wall access to one of the biggest and most fascinating celebrities in any region of the sporting world, characterizing her as both a relatable human woman and a demigod walking among mere mortals.
Fahrenheit 451 (HBO, May 19th)
In the distant future, firemen don’t put out fires; they start them. In this sleek, brutalist adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s seminal dystopian novel, Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon are tasked with systematically incinerating all books to prevent the spread of dangerous ideas. Then the Black Panther star starts to harbor doubts about the moral purity of his mission, and soon links up with a fellow thought-rebel chafing under their authoritarian government. It’s a still-searing treatise on censorship, factionalism and the scarcity of truth under a fascist regime – and a project that bears no relevance to the modern day whatsoever, no siree.
The Fourth Estate (Showtime, May 27th)
It’s a big month for Liz Garbus, who’ll be dropping a doc on young boys with mental illness for HBO (A Dangerous Son) and kicking off her series detailing The New York Times‘ coverage of the Trump administration’s first year. With attempts to discredit the nation’s newspapers flying in every direction, the staff of the Grey Lady continued to put shoe-leather to pavement, asking questions and confirming intel. Assume that every episode will include scandals, accusations, loads of rage-tweets and the institution’s dogged attempts to create a bastion of truth in an age of misinformation.
Little Women (PBS, May 13th)
After two silent films, four talkies, three TV miniseries, two anime versions and one musical, Louisa May Alcott’s pastoral vision of Civil War-era femininity still has the juice to fuel a new adaptation. This BBC import takes a classicist tack to the text, busting out the frocks and sun-hats for a peek into the home of sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March as they wait for father to return home from the front. The cast pairs the usual gang of esteemed British thespians (Michael Gambon, Angela Lansbury, Emily Watson) with some flourishing young talents (Blockers star Kathryn Newton, Scream‘s Willa Fitzgerald, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s daughter Maya Hawke) for a thoroughly genteel family affair.
100 Code (WGN America, May 29th)
Cold cases are never colder than in the forbidding tundras of Scandinavia – something this Swedish coproduction underlines in ice and blood. Finally making the jump to U.S. television sets after a three-year delay, this Scandi-noir thriller pairs a herring-outta-water NYPD officer Tommy Conley (Lost‘s Dominic Monaghan) with Stockholm-based detective Mikael Eklund (the late Michael Nyqvist) for a serial killer investigation with a possible link to the States. The latter is deeply contemptuous of American culture and the epidemic of violence he sees the nation as spreading to the world; still, both men will have to learn to cooperate if they want to close the file with all their limbs intact. One procedural, well-chilled, coming right up.
Patrick Melrose (Showtime, May 12th)
He’s got an impeccable English accent, an eyepatch and one hell of a substance abuse problem – he’s Patrick Melrose, the main character in a series of popular novels from Edward St. Aubyn. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a decades-spanning performance as the quick-witted wastrel, stretching from the character’s youth in France to his drug-and-drink days in New York to family-style rehab back home in the U.K. But getting clean isn’t easy, and it only gets harder when you’re not sure you actually want to get better. It’s the role he was born to play, non-Sorcerer Supreme and/or deductive sleuth division.
Reverie (NBC, May 30th)
Network programming is about to get weird. In this high-concept sci-fi project, procedural vet Sarah Shahi is Mara Kint, an elite hostage negotiator specializing in psychological analysis of deviant behavior. Her specific set of skills make her the ideal operative for an unusual mission: a new virtual-reality dimension known as Reverie allows users to live out their wildest fantasies. Some have decided that they prefer their digital lives, of course, unaware that their comatose bodies are deteriorating as they game on. It’s on Kint to talk them back to real life, and who knows, maybe she’ll even sort out her own personal traumas along the way. Blindspot fandom, your time is now.
Sweetbitter (Starz, May 6th)
There’s no better place to be young, single, and hungry for success than New York – and Tess (Ella Purnell) is just happy to be one of the many searching for the perfect twentysomething Gotham experience. In this series expansion of Stephanie Danler’s loosely autobiographical novel, we watch as this fresh-faced Candide enters the culinary world courtesy of an elite downtown restaurant that provides her with more than a crash course in wine pairings. Think How to Be Single, plus five full courses of food porn.
The Tale (HBO, May 26th)
Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox’s first narrative feature may be scripted, but it’s far from fiction. Laura Dern takes on the role of an avatar for the filmmaker (one of several) who is spurred by the discovery of an old short story to reinvestigate a dark chapter from her girlhood. The film then splits itself between the golden-hued Seventies, when a young Jennifer was preyed on by an older man, and her present, as she burrows deeper and deeper into the repressed regions of her psyche. The reviews out of Sundance were breathless; Emmy nominations will undoubtedly follow.
Vida (Starz, May 6th)
Estranged siblings Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) have gone their separate ways in young adulthood. Then their mother passes, and the duo finds themselves dragged back to East Los Angeles and the Mexican-American culture that shaped them. Plus they’ve got to figure out what to do with the family bar – and a few major secrets that Mom kept from them. (Like, say, her same-sex partner.) It sounds, quite frankly, touching, moving and more than a little loca.