Succession is over and—with apologies to anyone who was actually craving more real-estate reality shows or curious to hear Zooey Deschanel answer the question What Am I Eating?—HBO Max’s transformation into Max wasn’t exactly a masterclass in rebranding. But still, our televisual cup runneth over. Wrapping up this year’s pre-Emmy prestige season, May 2023 offered small-screen gems ranging from a historical drama about the woman who helped Anne Frank’s family hide from the Nazis to a semi-autobiographical comedy about what it’s like to be Pete Davidson. Here are the best of a big, diverse bunch.
A Small Light (Nat Geo)
Miep Gies did not realize, when she started working as a secretary for pectin manufacturer Opekta, that she was destined for heroism. Twenty-four and directionless, the Austrian-born Gies still lived with the Dutch family that had adopted her as a sick child. But the man who hired Gies to be his secretary, in 1933, was Otto Frank, who had just moved his family from Germany to Amsterdam to escape Hitler. Nearly a decade later, when the Nazis marched into the city and started rounding up Jews, she helped the Franks hide, for more than two years, in a secret annex above the Opekta offices. When the Nazis finally raided the place and deported the eight people living there to concentration camps, Gies saved Anne Frank’s diary. A Small Light tells her story—a bracing, emotional but not excessively sentimental account of a regular woman’s resistance to fascism. [Read the full review.]
“People think I’m, like, a joke for some reason,” Pete Davidson complains to his grandfather in the series premiere of Bupkis, a Peacock comedy that casts the SNL alum and tabloid magnet as a version of himself. Grandpa Joe, played by the semi-reclusive Joe Pesci in his first role since The Irishman, doesn’t flinch. “They see you as a joke because you are a joke,” he replies. “You run around like a kid, and you’re not a kid anymore. You’re a man.” What’s more: “You’re unhappy because all you do is try to make yourself happy. You should try to make somebody else happy once in a while.” Then he reveals he’s dying of cancer, the two vow to spend more time together, and Pete takes that promise as a hint that he should hire a sex worker for Joe.
It’s a silly episode—broad, sophomoric, and bookended by two stupid gags that place the star in cringe-worthy sexual situations involving members of his family. In other words, it’s precisely the kind of disappointment that viewers who already assume the worst of Davidson, with his chaotic presence in the celebrity news cycle, might have expected. The thing is, Davidson also has a talent for subverting expectations formed on the basis of a persona he can’t fully control. Like comedians from Richard Pryor to Larry David, he’s at his best when riffing on his public image. And, happily, the premiere is the weakest of Bupkis’ eight episodes. As the show progresses, it evolves into something as distinctive and authentic as it is messy. [Read the full review.]
Platonic (Apple TV+)
Can men and women be friends? It’s an ancient rom-com question, the one from When Harry Met Sally, and one that screenwriters will apparently never stop posing despite the ample real-world evidence that, yes, people can enjoy each other’s company across a largely illusory gender binary without sex coming into the equation. (Also, queer people exist.) Platonic, an Apple TV+ comedy series that reunites Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and their Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller, at least modifies the inquiry a bit. OK, it allows, maybe men and women can be friends. But can those relationships survive one or both of the pals’ marriage to another person?
It still isn’t an especially fresh premise, and characters who initially come across as types more than individuals don’t help distinguish the show, which premieres with a three-episode drop on May 24, from so many we’ve all seen before. But, like a crush on someone you thought you could never fall for, Platonic sneaks up on you. Each half-hour episode moves at a punchy pace. The dialogue is mostly sharp. Best of all, Byrne and Rogen are hilarious together—and the sense that they’re having a great time makes their misadventures a lot of fun to watch. [Read the full review.]
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (Netflix)
Inspired by the real Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a German duke’s daughter who married King George III in 1761 and who may or may not have had African ancestors, the show makes no attempt to avoid its heroine’s race. Star India Amarteifio—like Golda Rosheuvel, who plays Bridgerton’s older version of Charlotte and also appears in flash-forwards within this series—is of mixed racial heritage. And in Rhimes’ telling, Charlotte’s wedding to George (Corey Mylchreest) brings about a “Great Experiment” in integration that results in those diverse ball scenes we often see in Bridgerton. One beneficiary of this project is Lady Danbury (played by Arsema Thomas as a young woman and Adjoa Andoh in later years), a shrewd Black noblewoman who was marginalized before Charlotte’s arrival and who leverages her relationship with the queen to secure her family’s place in society.
It’s a neat explanation—and one that works well thematically, if not historically. Regardless of where and when they’re set, all stories worth telling have something to say about the time and place in which their creator and audience live; Rhimes’ reimagined 18th century England has much in common with the contemporary U.S. It’s a multicultural society, but one that is in the midst of a painful transformation. [Read the full essay: “How Queen Charlotte Fixes What Was Broken About Bridgerton“]
Silo (Apple TV+)
Sci-fi fans might have a new favorite show in this thoughtful Apple TV+ adaptation of the books by Hugh Howey. In a silo-shaped underground city that houses the last 10,000 people on Earth, it’s taken as an article of faith that the outside world is toxic to humans. That assumption comes into question when the wife (Rashida Jones) of the community’s sheriff (David Oyelowo) finds evidence that suggests powerful forces within the silo are hiding something major. At once a portrait of a dystopian society and a mystery investigated by a fascinating detective (Rebecca Ferguson), Silo is smart sci-fi grounded in skillful world-building and solid character development.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.