Fascism, racism, class conflicts, feminists vs anti-feminists and a constellation of star-dense adaptations of big books—the next couple of months are chock-full of must-see dramas.
Here are nine to add to your streaming calendar.
The Plot Against America (HBO, March 16)
Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004), is reinvented for TV–and maximum present-moment resonance. Roth’s novel conceived of an alternate U.S. history in which Hitler-appreciator Charles Lindbergh is president in 1940, not FDR. The series, adapted by The Wire’s David Simon and Ed Burns, appears to hew faithfully to Roth’s story. Under Lindbergh, the U.S. is flirting with the same fascism and anti-Semitism bringing Europe to boil. The zeitgeist-y miniseries features John Turturro as a Lindbergh-supporting rabbi and Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan as Jewish sisters with radically differing ideas about what’s going on in their native land.
Little Fires Everywhere (Canadian date and broadcaster TBD)
Race and class conflicts raise the temp to HIGH on already-simmering back stories in this limited series adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestselling novel of the same name. Fresh off her Big Little Lies success, Reese Witherspoon, also the show’s executive producer, dons a twinset and Stepford-esque headband to play picture-perfect matriarch Elana Richardson. Scandal’s Kerry Washington, who is also exec-producing, plays the enigmatic single parent Mia Warren. Just as in the novel, gut reactions will be undermined as the sands of sympathy shift frequently.
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Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (Netflix, March 20)
The daughter of recently emancipated slaves, Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, was the 19th-century Black community’s Vidal Sassoon/Avon lady—and so much more. Walker created some of the first haircare products specifically formulated for Black women, as well as a makeup line, employed tens of thousands of Black men and women and eventually became one of the U.S.’s first female entrepreneurs. Her contribution was as political as it was commercial. She filled a void in the market and provided a corrective to a white-dominated beauty culture that had other notions. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer brings Madam Walker to life in this limited series, which also features Tiffany Haddish.
Normal People (Hulu/BBC, Spring TBD)
Daisy Edgar-Jones and newcomer Paul Mescal star as the young, conflicted lovers Marianne and Connell swirling at the centre of Irish writer Sally Rooney’s bestselling 2017 novel Normal People. A BBC production, Rooney adapted her novel for TV with playwright Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe. The series, which was filmed in Dublin, Sligo and Italy, has something of the dreamy, passionate energy that made the book so beloved. Bring on the class-conscious Irish lovers!
Run (HBO, April 12)
Writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and frequent collaborator Vicky Jones co-wrote this zippy, romantic comedy starring Merrit Wever and Domhnall Gleeson as former high school amours. Ruby (Wever) and Billy (Gleeson) once made a pact that should one text the other the word “RUN” they would drop whatever they were doing, meet in Grand Central Station and take a train around the U.S. Nearly two decades later, one of them presses SEND—chaos and frantic packing ensues. Romantic road trip or colossal mistake in judgment? Prepare for both.
The Undoing (HBO, May 10)
A domestic drama that plays out like a suspenseful thriller? Sounds like must-see TV to me. Nicole Kidman stars as a marriage therapist whose upmarket private life goes kablooey after an acquaintance is murdered at precisely the same time as her husband, played by Hugh Grant, goes missing. Big Little Lies’ David E. Kelley adapted the story for TV (it’s based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 literary thriller You Should Have Known) and Birdbox’s Susanne Bier directs, so expect a punchy, suspenseful drama that takes pleasure in peeling back the dark layers within the moneyed upper echelons.
Hollywood (Netflix, May 1)
Details are scarce on Ryan Murphy’s latest limited series for the streaming network. However, the show is rumoured to centre on a stable of young actors trying to make it in post WWII Hollywood. Making it may be a cute retro euphemism for what that entails. Variety reports that the storyline pivots around a crafty gas station operator who decides to run an illicit sex ring that specializes in servicing the rich, famous and closeted. The cast includes a mix of familiar faces including Darren Criss, Samara Weaving, Patti Lupone, Dylan McDermott and Ernie Hudson.
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Quiz (AMC, May)
A skillfully crafted English drama about a not-so-skilful real-life English drama, Quiz dramatizes a Noughties cheating scandal. In 2001, a husband and wife team conspired with a contestant to win Who Wants to Be a Millionare? The complicit duo, who sat in the audience, gave their accomplice the correct answers by coughing. This three-parter has a lot going for it. Scripted by James Graham (Brexit: An Uncivil War) and directed by Stephen Frears, who also helmed last year’s fantastic A Very British Scandal, the cast features Michael Sheen as the show’s host and Sian Clifford (Fleabag) and Matthew Macfayden (Succession) as the devious spouses.
Mrs. America (FX, April 15)
Women’s ongoing struggle for equal rights does not always divide along gender lines. Life–and politics—gets a lot messier than that. The new FX series Mrs. America brings that complex reality home. The series centres on a pitched battle that took place between feminists seeking to have the Equal Rights Amendment ratified in the U.S. in the early 1970s and a vocal group of conservative anti-feminists led by charismatic conservative Phyllis Schafly. Cate Blanchett plays Schafly in the series, and with a kind of demonic luminousness that speaks to how powerfully Schlafly used charisma to galvanize conservatives. Balancing out Blanchett’s star power is Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan and Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug. Oh, yeah. Can’t wait for this one.