As the old saying goes, April showers bring May binge-watching, and you have plenty to choose from this month. From the sweeping gangster epic Boardwalk Empire now on DVD to the zippy tech drama Halt and Catch Fire returning for season two, you can be sure to never glimpse a single petal of those May flowers!
What it is: At the dawn of Prohibition in 1920, Atlantic City treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) finds a new way to make a quick buck — bootlegging. Not one to do things on a small scale, Nucky builds a criminal empire that stretches from the shores of Atlantic City to Boston, New York and even Chicago — leaving piles of bodies, stacks of cash, wrecked lives, and bottles of booze in his wake.
Why you should watch it: With the final season — and complete series — out on DVD & Blu-ray, as well as on streaming services, now is the perfect time to catch up on one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the last decade.
Commitment: 50 hours.
What it is: Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as William H. Masters and Virginia Johnson in this biographical series on the pioneers of sex science. Dr. Masters’ highly controversial study relies on volunteers willing to have sex while being monitored. Virginia Johnson is a former nightclub singer and university student who becomes his assistant. Soon, they become enthusiastic participants in their own research.
Why you should watch it: Season two comes out on DVD on May 5, so you have plenty of time to get caught up before season three returns to Showtime on July 12. Both Michael Sheen and Lizzie Caplan are captivating in their roles of Masters and Johnson. There are also stand-out performances by the supporting players, including an especially moving subplot featuring Beau Bridges and Allison Janney.
Where to watch: Both seasons are streaming on Showtime Anytime, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, PlayStation, Xbox Video, and Vudu. Season one is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and season two will drop May 5.
Commitment: 24 hours.
What it is: Following a genocidal attack by a robotic race known as the Cylons, the last remaining humans in a distant star system set out to find a lost planet known as Earth in order to resettle.
Why you should watch it: If you never caught this deeply thoughtful sci-fi drama during its original run, you’re in luck because the entire series comes out on Blu-ray on May 12. Battlestar not only benefits from its eye-catching outer space setting but also tackles complicated philosophical issues, and its clever writing and strong cast translate into a much more grown-up experience than the original 1978 series that inspired it.
Where to watch: A new complete series Blu-ray box set will be available at your local retailers on May 12, but if you can’t wait, you can rent episodes on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.
Commitment: 80 hours.
What it is: El Paso Police detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) teams up with Ciudad Juárez detective Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir) to solve a bizarre murder along the U.S.-Mexico border. She’s got Asperger syndrome, he’s got a host of personal problems, and they each have very different approaches to law enforcement.
Why you should watch it: A police procedural loaded with haunting atmosphere and a fantastic collection of odd personalities on various sides of the drug trade, The Bridge overcame its intriguing-but-uneven first season to become one of TV’s weirdest cop shows — maybe a little too weird, since it was cancelled after its second season aired. Season two hits DVD and Blu-ray May 5, and if you’re in the mood for a different type of crime thriller, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything quite as off-kilter and darkly funny as this.
Commitment: 26 hours.
What it is: In 1983, a former IBM executive (Lee Pace) and his team are trying to grab a piece of the burgeoning PC market by building a knock-off of their own.
Why you should watch it: This Certified Fresh drama, returning to AMC for a second season on May 31, brings the ’80s to life with feisty performances by Pace, Mackenzie Davis, and Scoot McNairy, who elevate a dry subject to highly bingeable show. Plus, there are some pretty great period details — be on the look-out for digital watches, big glasses, and high-waisted pants!
Commitment: 10 hours.
What it is: Supernatural events begin to spook a small town’s residents when a giant transparent dome suddenly appears overhead and traps them within.
Why you should watch it: It’s based on a Stephen King novel and produced by Steven Spielberg, so it boasts a pretty hefty pedigree. If you like survival stories and examinations of the human condition, you’ll want to catch up on this series before it returns for its third season on June 25.
Commitment: 26 hours.
What it is: Criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) assists the FBI in apprehending serial killers, but as the job begins to eat away at his mental health, he starts meeting with therapist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a cannibal who murders rude people and serves them at fancy dinner parties.
Why you should watch it: Season three of the critically acclaimed show is back June 4 on NBC and there isn’t anything quite like Hannibal on television. It’s a crime procedural and a psychological thriller, filled with horror and just the right dash of romance and comedy.
Commitment: 18 hours.
What it is: Former baseball pitcher and alcoholic Sam Malone (Ted Danson) takes ownership of Cheers, a neighborhood Boston bar, working with and serving some of Boston’s funniest personalities.
Why you should watch it: Cheers is a sitcom favorite that ran 11 seasons long (and spun off into Frasier for another 11 years). At the time, its fresh and sarcastic brand of comedy amused fans consistently while its lovable cast of characters became household names throughout its long, successful run. Cheers still holds up today as one of America’s best long-running sitcoms.
Where to watch: The entire series is being released on DVD/Blu-Ray on May 5. Each season is available for streaming on Hulu Plus, Netflix, iTunes and Vudu. Seasons one through nine can be found on Amazon Instant Video, while Xfinity has made the first season available.
Commitment: Approximately 115 hours (including a couple of anniversary specials).
What it is: A young midwife in the 1950s joins an order of nursing nuns at Nonnatus House, a clinic in London’s East End. With an assignment she wasn’t expecting, Nurse Jenny Lee jumps in with both feet (and many receiving blankets), attending to destitute mothers and parents-to-be within harrowing surroundings.
Why you should watch it: Vanessa Redgrave’s narrative voice-over as the elder version of Jenny Lee hooks us immediately. What keeps us on that hook are the midwives, who do amazing, surprising, life-changing work without recognition. It’s extra exciting to remember that these stories are based on true memoirs. As an engaging period presentation with lighthearted humor and heavyhearted drama, Midwife delivers.
Where to watch: All four seasons of Call the Midwife can be seen on Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes. Vudu has seasons two through four and seasons one through three are up on Netflix, while season four is available on the PBS website after each episode airs. Season four is currently airing on PBS and concludes May 17. Seasons one through three are available on DVD/Blu-Ray, and season four is being released on May 19.
Commitment: 33 hours, as well as three Christmas specials.
What it is: Comedian and podcast king Marc Maron plays a lightly fictionalized version of himself, a painfully honest, hopefully neurotic funnyman.
Why you should watch it: Maron is the perfect follow-up for those who have watched Louie, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The lengthy roster of guest stars that includes Sarah Silverman, Conan O’Brien, David Cross, Amy Poehler, and Denis Leary, is pretty great too. And with new episodes coming to IFC May 14, now is the perfect time to watch seasons one and two (and also check out Maron’s WTF podcast).
Commitment: 12 hours.
Which of these shows would you recommend to a friend? Let us know in the comments section below!
Remakes can be a tricky business. Often times, the original material casts a long shadow, and a lot of remakes never get a chance to establish their own identity. But every once in a while, you get that rarest of gems: a remake that almost completely eclipses its original inspiration. The “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica was one of those rare gems.
What’s the premise? In a distant star system, the whole of humanity now numbers less than 50,000 after a genocidal attack by the robotic Cylons. The survivors have banded together, fleeing their home worlds in a mismatched collection of passenger liners, cargo ships, and an old, obsolete warship with a second-rate crew, named Galactica. These refugees need a new home, and they pin all their hopes on the finding a legendary lost world called Earth. But the Cylons are still out there, on the hunt. And some of them look just like humans.
What’s it like? Battlestar Galactica tells a long-ranging story full of twists and turns, similar to Lost or Game of Thrones. The original series was meant to capitalize on the hunger for anything that looked like Star Wars (at least from a network standpoint) and so that meant it was relatively kid-friendly. The updated show isn’t; there are a lot of adult themes here and we never see the kid and the robot-dog who were central to the old show. Instead we get the sexiest androids this side of Blade Runner. And, although this is a sci-fi show about spaceships and robots, it’s also deeply philosophical. At its best, sci-fi raises questions about society, religion, or what it means to be human, and the writers of Battlestar Galactica embraced those opportunities. The show isn’t afraid to tackle a lot of the complicated issues that came up in the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — most notably, the balance of security versus democracy.
How long will it take? If you go all-in with the original mini-series and TV movies, you’re looking at almost 80 hours of viewing. So if you were to do nothing but watch TV all day, you could finish this in a week. To be clear, we don’t recommend this. Like most of us, you’ll have to balance annoyances like a job and a social life, so watching all of Battlestar Galactica will likely take a least a couple of months.
What do the critics think? The critics were very impressed with the introductory mini-series and the first two seasons of the show. In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara called it “not just a cult hit but a significant piece of television.” Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune praised the series for being “full of political allegories and fascinating, multifaceted characters.” But for some critics, the love didn’t last. Some said that the show started to lose its way in the third season. Charlie Jane Anders of io9.com wrote, “By the time the show ended, its mystique was somewhat tarnished, and its ending remains controversial to this day.”
Why should I watch this? Battlestar Galactica did something very unusual; Ronald D. Moore and his creative team took a cult favorite and made it better. The basic mythology from the original show is here, but it’s only a jumping-off point. If you know the old show, you’ll recognize some of the character names but the writers have their own spin. Sure, Apollo’s still the straight-arrow son of the Commander, and Starbuck is still the rowdy gambler, but recasting Starbuck as a female drastically changes the dynamic of their friendship. Adama, Tigh, Baltar, and Boomer all get updates, and frankly it makes the show a lot richer than the source material. The cast is anchored by veteran actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, with the rest of the cast rounded out mostly by relative newcomers. We’ve continued to see Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, and Grace Park in movies or TV shows, and BSG is what put them on the map. Battlestar Galactica was telling smarter stories and featured better developed characters than almost anything on TV at the time, and it was one of the few shows to take a frank (and almost real-time) look at how the War on Terror was playing out after 9/11. And though the later seasons of the show were disappointing, emotional investment in the characters kept many fans coming back to the very end.
What’s my next step? There’s a fair amount of material set in the BSG universe. After Battlestar Galactica wrapped, Moore created a prequel series called Caprica, set almost 60 years before the events of Galactica. In spite of critical acclaim, the show didn’t find enough of an audience to get a second season. But if you want some more back story in that universe, Caprica fits the bill. There is also a prequel movie called Blood & Chrome, which covers an early mission for a young William Adama. And of course there’s the original 1979 series (which holds up okay) and Galactica 1980 (which doesn’t hold up well at all). On the other hand, if you find you like Ron Moore’s writing, he’s currently involved with Helix on SyFy and Outlander on Starz. And you might consider giving his Star Trek work a try. As a writer, Moore cut his teeth on Star Trek: The Next Generation and had an increasing level of supervision over Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, starting in that show’s third season.
Are you ready to catch up on Battlestar Galactica? Tell us why!
Variety brings news of an actor/director combo that should properly intrigue the action fans out there. Aging (yet still cool) action star Bruce Willis will get to work with director Richard Donner ("Superman," "Maverick") on "16 Blocks," which tells the tale of "an aging cop who escorts a witness to the nearby courthouse and the adventure that takes place during their brief walk." The high-concept script was written by Richard Wenk, who most recently acted as co-producer on last year’s "The Girl Next Door."