Best New TV Shows May 2022: What Our Critic Loved
MAy is a month of transition for TV, as was the case with 2022. While the last of the prestige-branded, celeb-stuffed docudramas squeaked in just before the Emmy cutoff—The Staircase, for one, actually deserves a few nominations—this month also brought the year’s first round of lighter summer shows. You can find the romantic escapist of Conversations with Friends A comedy show featuring the return of The Kids in the Hall, here are May’s best new TV titles.
Conversations with Friends (Hulu)
So much has been said about the young Irish author Sally Rooney that it’s hard to believe her debut novel, Conversations with FriendsThe first edition of, was published five years ago. Now, inevitably, that book is a Hulu series, from the same team that adapted Rooney’s Normal People For the streaming service in 2020. Twelve half-hour episodes of luxuriously-paced, high-quality content, produced in collaboration with BBC Three. Conversations Follows a couple of college-aged girls from Dublin, who fall in love with an attractive 30-year-old married couple. Simple in structure and staging but rich in psychological insight, the show took me back to a time—not so far in the past, but eons ago in discourse-years—before Rooney became a wedge issue, when she was just an intriguing new voice for the young, educated, and dreamy. [Read the full review.]
George Carlin’s American Dream (HBO)
It might sound hyperbolic to call George Carlin the Beatles of stand-up comedy, but Stephen Colbert makes a strong case in the first half of this two-part documentary: “At a certain point in his career, there’s this huge shift. He’s doing the comedic version of ‘Love Me Do’ for the first part of his career—and then, suddenly, he puts out the comedic White Album… He has this almost spiritual transformation.” The catalyst was the same, too: the rise of the ’60s counterculture in general and experimentation with psychedelics in particular.
George Carlin’s American Dream traces his evolution from talented variety-show comedian to anti-Establishment innovator to multigenerational icon through archival interviews, generous excerpts from Carlin’s varied performances, and new conversations with A-list admirers including Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Bette Midler, and Chris Rock. Judd (working in an identical vein to his HBO predecessor) Garry Shandling’s Zen Diaries) and Michael Bonfiglio (Jerry Before Seinfeld) don’t break new stylistic ground, but they do tell their subject’s story exceptionally well. Touching on everything from his obsession with language—one that put him at the center of controversies around obscenity for decades—to his significant shortcomings as a husband and father, this is a clear-eyed portrait that also delivers lots of laughs.
It’s a gift I love for you (Showtime)
Plenty of comedians mine their teen years for material, but it’s probably safe to assume that few had an adolescence quite like that of Vanessa Bayer. An adult survivor of childhood leukemia, Bayer. SNL An alumna spent much time in her post-operative period watching QVC, indulging herself in QVC’s fantasies of an ideal life that would be achieved through the purchase moderately priced consumer products. You are in It’s a gift I love for you, a dark comedy she co-created with Jeremy Beiler, Bayer inhabits the alter ego of Joanna Gold—a woman with a similar history who has just realized her dream of becoming a home-shopping network host. But when Joanna’s new career is threatened, she saves herself by telling her employer and viewers the lie that her cancer has returned.
It’s an original and intriguing premise, even if Bayer’s performance feels a bit shallow; like so many of her SNL Joanna’s characters are unctuous and naive. She is also selfish, dementedly optimistic, and selfish. Fortunately, the show makes a pretty quick transition into a workplace sitcom set at a nontraditional office: the fictional network SVN’s studios. Jenifer Lewis, as the network’s glamorous, cutthroat chief executive, is the standout in a sharp ensemble. Also perfectly cast is Molly Shannon—who is, wonderfully, everywhere these days—as SVN’s longtime star host and Joanna’s childhood idol. And the competitive, sales-meets-showbiz work environment should offer more than enough material to fuel many seasons’ worth of character-driven comedy. [Read TIME’s interview with Vanessa Bayer.]
The Kids in the Hall (Amazon)
It’s been quite a month for comedy nerds, between the Carlin doc and the return of this beloved Canadian import. The sketch-comedy quintet of Dave Foley, Scott Thompson, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, and Mark McKinney has reunited several times since its eponymous show—a cult hit on HBO and CBS in the U.S.—went off the air, but the eight episodes that dropped in May comprise the first season of The Kids in the Hall Seit 1995. Is it a revival? Neue show? It’s not. Amazon categorizes it as such. That’s enough to me justify including it in this list.
More than a quarter-century later, the Kids aren’t exactly kids anymore. Their high-concept comedy has been embraced by two generations of comics, bringing their popularity from the fringes to the mainstream. Their new material proves they are the best at what they do, from checking-ins on fan favorite recurring characters to an incredibly filthy take on the modern scourge, accidental Zoom nudity. What set the Kids apart from so many other sketch institutions (including the NBC staple created by this show’s executive producer, Lorne Michaels) are scenarios that just keep spiraling into funnier and weirder territory, instead of simply beating the same joke to death. When, for example, the spirit of Shakespeare awakens in a mass-produced bust of the bard, that’s just the setup to a series of hilarious, expertly timed punchlines. As an added bonus, the new episodes include appearances by celebrity fans like Catherine O’Hara, Pete Davidson, and Tracee Ellis Ross.
The Staircase (HBO Max)
Don’t come to The Staircase Do not expect certainty. French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody-winning documentary series, which originally aired in 2004, with updates added in 2013 and 2018, is a study in ambiguity. It spans 13 episodes and traces Michael Peterson’s legal journey. He was charged with the murder of Kathleen Peterson in Durham, N.C. in December 2001. Peterson claims it was accidental. Combining vérité-style footage with one-on-one interviews, Lestrade depicts an American justice system so labyrinthine, inept, and corrupt that it might be incapable of establishing AnythingBeyond a reasonable doubt. Rather than inching closer to some definitive truth, he keeps circling around to the same impasse: Peterson couldn’t have done it, but he must have done it.
HBO Max’s The StaircaseThe Scripted Miniseries is a well-written miniseries. Every day is the Devil Antonio Campos, the filmmaker is also wary of simple answers. At first, as Campos restages the immediate aftermath of Kathleen’s death, it looks as though we’re in for yet another redundant docudrama that fictionalizes events that will already be familiar to most viewers. This documentary shows that there is much more to it than just what we see. Staircase, which not only revisits the Michael Peterson trial, but also encompasses the making of the documentary and explores aspects of the family’s story that never made it into that series. With additional context comes an even greater sense that no secondhand account of what happened on that staircase—whether generated by the prosecution, the defense, or Lestrade—will ever approach the objective truth. [Read the full review.]
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