If it feels like you're drowning in TV content these days, that's because you probably are.
In January, researchers at the FX cable channel released a study showing 559 scripted original series aired across broadcast, cable and streaming last year. In 2022, it feels like the tally will be even higher, with series featuring loads of big names and high-profile projects debuting on top of each other like a great flood of vehicles jammed onto a single, endless highway.
Consider that, in the last month, we've seen new and returning TV series debut starring Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Sissy Spacek, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Andrew Garfield, Elisabeth Moss, Mike Myers, Colin Firth, Glenn Close, Jessica Biel, Martin Freeman, Tom Hiddleston, Claire Danes, Zac Efron and David Letterman. Reboots, revivals and reinventions have included a new Star Trek series, a new Star Wars series this week, a fresh version of The Man Who Fell to Earth, a series on the making of The Godfather, a new Firestarter movie, a new version of The Lincoln Lawyer and a new version of The Time Traveler's Wife.
Yeah. It's a lot.
So, in recognition of how tough it is to keep track of all this content, I'm offering a quick look at some worthy TV shows that may have flown under the radar. If you missed them, here's a chance to enjoy some interesting new shows; if you caught them already, it's just validation of how great your taste is.
Candy, on Hulu
This was a show that seemed a little hampered by its release schedule, which split the difference between binge-watching and episodic release, dropping an episode every day in one week, starting May 9. Jessica Biel is creepily compelling as Candy Montgomery, a suburban housewife accused of murdering a friend and fellow mom with an axe after having an affair with her buddy's husband – based on a real case from 1980 in Wylie, Texas. Viewers know upfront that Montgomery killed her friend Betty Gore — an awkward and sad woman played with sympathetic depth by Melanie Lynskey.
So the series focuses its energy on an exhaustive critique of a suburban culture which seems stuck in the '70s, with women pouring all their energy into looking like the perfect moms, their emotionally disconnected husbands unable to understand why their wives are still so unfulfilled. A certain pop star makes an interesting cameo as one of the police officers investigating the case. But what really intrigues is the series's look at how some pathological people can weaponize the mores of suburban culture to disguise and enable terrible behavior – and the awful cost which can come from feeling forced to live under such rigid social roles.
The Man Who Fell to Earth, on Showtime
For sci-fi nerds, there is nothing better than watching a great actor tackle the role of an alien outsider trying to learn the ways of earthlings. That's why I loved seeing Chiwetel Ejiofor as Faraday, an alien who comes to Earth in search of another being from his world who may have found the key to saving their planet and ours.
The limited series is a continuation of the 1976 film starring David Bowie, with an ace supporting cast that includes Bill Nighy as the character played by Bowie, Thomas Jerome Newton; Naomie Harris is a traumatized former scientist who helps Faraday, with other roles filled by similarly excellent performers like Rob Delaney, Jimmi Simpson, Clarke Peters and Martha Plimpton. Early on, we see Faraday as a smooth-talking tech mogul, but the juice of the series comes from seeing flashbacks of the character's journey — from his arrival as a naked oddball struggling with English to his ascendance as a master of commerce ready to revolutionize two worlds.
Under the Banner of Heaven, on FX and Hulu
This limited series based on Jon Krakauer's controversial 2003 nonfiction book gives star Andrew Garfield lots of room to shine as a devout Mormon police detective in 1984 pressed into investigating the murder of a young mother and her baby daughter. The hitch: the killing may be connected to an influential family in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Garfield's Jeb Pyre finds his faith shaken as it becomes increasingly apparent that a group of men with fundamentalist views of Mormonism may be involved in the slayings. Along the way, viewers get a close look at important tenets of the faith and their connection to American history.
The series can sometimes get lost in these depictions, leaving the viewer struggling a bit to understand how the distant past connects to murder in their present. But the program also asks powerful questions on maintaining religious piety in the face of disappointing facts, exploring issues of polygamy, toxic masculinity and the concept of "blood atonement." Ultimately, Pyre's journey highlights how a religion which provides comfort and a compass to some, can also help create a stifling prison filled with dangerous men for others.
I Love That for You, on Showtime
Saturday Night Live alum Vanessa Bayer co-created and stars in this series about an ambitious home shopping host who winds up lying to her co-workers and audience, telling them her childhood leukemia has returned in order to keep her job. Bayer gets a long overdue showcase as Joanna Gold, a plucky, socially awkward woman who spent much of her childhood in hospitals watching home shopping channels. When Gold lucks into her dream job as a host, only to see it nearly yanked away after a terrible on-camera flub, she tells the lie which propels the series and forces her into increasingly ridiculous efforts to compensate.
The not-so-hidden gems here are two ace supporting actors – Jenifer Lewis as Gold's hard-charging, merciless boss Patricia, and Molly Shannon as the channel's top host Jackie Stilton – a gently self-centered Queen Bee who seems to support Gold mostly because the newcomer idolizes her. Part TV satire, part showbiz satire and part social satire, this series sometimes strains to cover all the ground it's reaching for. But when the show clicks – combining Bayer's optimistic cluelessness with Lewis's hard-nosed Devil Wears Prada-style cynicism and Shannon's blithe entitlement – it offers truly entertaining viewing.
Made for Love, on HBO Max
This show also flew under the radar in its first season, which gave an impressive showcase to Cristin Milioti as the unfulfilled wife of a tech billionaire who discovers, after leaving their 10-year marriage, that he had her fitted with a chip that allows him to see through her eyes and have access to data on her emotions. In the second season, Milioti's Hazel Green has struck a devil's bargain with her husband Byron Gogol – played with a creepy entitlement by Billy Magnussen – living with him in his company's bizarrely secretive, high-tech fortress of a headquarters called The Hub, while Gogol and his employees secretly treat her father for cancer.
Ray Romano brings his sad sack charm to Herbert Green, a schlub who keeps a sex doll as a companion; as season two begins, Herbert doesn't realize he's actually living in an area of the Hub made to look like his desert home, where he is occasionally tranquilized and given medical therapies. It all adds up to a bizarrely sprawling tale that includes an FBI investigation, Gogol's ongoing attempts to force the world (and Hazel) to live by his rules, and the possibility of a digitally maintained afterlife. Truly a tale for our current times.