Best TV shows to watch in May

Mike McCahill

From dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships to the dark and surreal depths of David Lynch's mind, Mike McCahill offers a handy guide to the exciting May batch of TV shows. Happy watching! 

Five Came Back

Netflix has a captive audience of movie lovers, so it makes sense that the company should start to generate the kind of arts programming now sorely lacking from terrestrial TV schedules.

This evocative three-part documentary series narrated by Meryl Streep bolsters critic Mark Harris’s non-fiction account of the Hollywood directors who shipped out to Europe during the Second World War with extraordinary archive material and insider analysis from today’s filmmakers-in-chief: Steven Spielberg ponders William Wyler’s bravery as a Jew flying over Nazi-occupied territory, while Guillermo del Toro considers fascism’s effect on fellow dreamer Frank Capra.

What is it? A sober, often deeply moving study of a period where American cinema lost its innocence, and its practitioners were changed forever.

Why should I tune in? To learn how LA..’s foremost purveyors of escapism came to wrestle with harsh new realities.

Best episode? They come as a set. “The Mission Begins” sketches a rich portrait of pre-War Hollywood; “Combat Zones” hovers over Nazified Europe; while “The Price of Victory” illustrates how concentration-camp imagery informed post-War cinema.

Best character? Even that roguish adventurer John Huston loses some of his twinkle discussing his war years—but archive footage preserves his saltier anecdotes.

Watch on: Netflix.


Mom—Season 4 

This may be the most underrated entertainment on television right now. A smash hit in the US, yet punted around by nervy ITV2 schedulers, Mom feels very much like sitcom supremo Chuck Lorre making amends for the sporadic chauvinism of his earlier work (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory): as co-created with Gemma Baker, it’s as much heartfelt drama as snappy comedy, charting the ups and downs of a low-income mother-daughter partnership wrestling with the aftereffects of alcoholism—characters brought to zesty life by the tremendous Anna Faris-Allison Janney pairing.

What is it? The latest success of the US sitcom production line—but one unafraid of being emotional when it feels like it.

Why should I tune in? To marvel at the leads’ exquisite timing.

Where did we leave it? With the girls on relatively steady ground—but still living out of one another’s pockets.

Best episode? Some fun guest stars this season: “Bad Hand and British Royalty” (ep. 9) facilitates a West Wing reunion, with Janney fending off a boozy, lecherous Bradley Whitford, while “Good Karma and the Big Weird” (ep. 11) pairs up Faris with real-life hubby Chris Pratt.

Watch on: ITV2; ITV Hub.


Peter Kay’s Car Share—Series 2 

Just the four episodes this year, where the first series stretched to six—does that reflect slashed BBC budgets, or the rising cost of petrol? Either way, the formula remains the same, and a winning one: 30 minutes in-car observing huffy middle manager John (Kay) and adoring passenger Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) as they make their way between work commitments, getting a little closer to forming a partnership of their own.

It’s still beautifully played and scored, with Kay’s direction displaying an ever sharper eye for the amusingly banal details of commuter life.

What is it? Magic at drivetime: a romcom shot from the perspective of the rear-view mirror.

Why should I tune in? If you’re a Kay fan—although anecdotal evidence suggests this project has charmed even those who would recoil at the phrase “Garlic bread”.

Where did we leave it? With our fellow travellers seemingly going separate ways—or at least headed to different suburbs, with alternative transport links.

Best episode? Episode 3's safari-park diversion, proof positive that every entertainment can be improved with a monkey.

Best character? Gibson’s proved a real find: her Kayleigh’s a sweetly dippy, very recognisable girl-next-door.

Watch on: BBC iPlayer.


Sense8—Season 2 

In both its bold plotting and its we-are-all-one message, Season One of the Wachowskis’ jaw-droppingly sexy globetrotter laid claim to being the most radical show out there; after a Christmas special that caught latecomers up while feeling out new paths for exploration, we’re now back in the day-to-day lives of eight diverse individuals connected by some cosmic force (or just really good editing).

Buy into its thesis or not, this is the kind of show for which only a streaming service would have the budget—and, just perhaps, the tolerance.

What is it? Comic-book fantasy with a Masters in gender studies.

Why should I tune in? To watch two one-of-a-kind creatives grinding up against the boundaries of serial drama. Also: for the best opening credits ever.

Where did we leave it? With everybody licking serious battle wounds—which, in the Sense8-verse, means licking one another’s wounds.

Best character? This depends heavily upon your position on the Kinsey scale—but it’s a testament to the Wachowskis’ all-seeing eye that where Tina Desai passed barely noticed through two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, Sense8 positions her as something like a ninth wonder of the world.

Watch on: Netflix, from 5 May.


Twin Peaks 

“I’ll see you again in 25 years,” spoke a spectral Laura Palmer to Special Agent Dale Cooper towards the fateful end of 1991’s second series of the cult murder-mystery. Well, close enough.

No tentative X-Files/Prison Break-style nine-episode revival this; we’re getting a full 18 episodes, every last one directed by David Lynch, with a cast extending beyond the returning regulars to include Monica Bellucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh and rocker Eddie Vedder.

Narrative clues have been thin on the ground, so best stock up on coffee and doughnuts, and ready the message boards.  

What is it? The year’s most awaited televisual event: a new emission from the foremost surrealist artist of our times.

Why should I tune in? Because Lynch doesn’t seem the type to give into lazy nostalgia or craven fan service.

Where did we leave it? With around about 25 years’ worth of cliffhangers to resolve—Cooper’s descent into murderous madness, bombshell Audrey Horne finally going off, the striking down of her father Ben, secretary Lucy’s baby…

Best character? Many who’ve survived the quarter-century hiatus are back: keep a particular eye out for the return of David Duchovny’s cross-dressing detective Denise.

Watch on: Sky Atlantic, from 22 May. 

Read more: 10 Freakiest David Lynch moments


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