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The 5 Best New TV Shows of April 2024




April is to TV as November is to movies, with the Emmy eligibility deadline a month away and—hey, wait a second. Didn’t we just do the Emmys? Well, yes, the most recent Emmy Awards ceremony happened in January, but only because the actors’ and writers’ strikes delayed an event that was originally slated to happen in September 2023. Now we’re looking ahead to this September, when a second 2024 ceremony will honor series released between last June and this May. The upshot is that prestige television season is once again upon us.

The best shows that debuted in April reflect that glut, featuring A-listers like Robert Downey Jr. in Park Chan-wook’s The Sympathizer, Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine in Mary & George, and Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough in Under the Bridge. But it isn’t just the big names that deserve attention. This month’s highlights also include a surprisingly insightful surprise Netflix hit and an intimate dramedy to watch for free on Tubi, both imported from the UK.  

Baby Reindeer (Netflix)

A woman walks into a London bar, crying softly, her eyes on the floor. She claims to be a powerful lawyer, but she also says she can’t afford a cup of tea. So the bartender, intrigued by this suddenly chatty enigma, gives her one on the house. This isn’t the setup for a joke, though the bartender happens to moonlight as a comedian. It’s an encounter that will soon escalate into the woman, Martha (Jessica Gunning), stalking the bartender, Donny (Richard Gadd). Their relationship forms the foundation of Netflix’s Baby Reindeer, a darkly comedic psychological thriller based on Gadd’s real-life ordeal and adapted from his award-winning one-man show.

At first, it seems as though we’re in for a type of TV series that has become far too popular in the streaming era: a true-crime drama, and more specifically one about a regular person who has their life ruined by some kind of monster with a human face. (See also: The Thing About Pam, Dirty John, A Friend of the Family.) In the premiere, Martha is made to look as dumpy and pathetic—and then as unhinged—as possible. I started to despair at the thought of yet another hit show that mined mental illness for cheap horror-comedy thrills. But Baby Reindeer turns out to be a murkier, more insightful, and sadder show than early scenes let on. It’s a Trojan Horse of sorts, drawing in viewers with the promise of schlock, then starting serious conversations, instead, about sexuality, abuse, shame, and how unprocessed trauma can poison even Healthy relationships. [Read the full review.]

Big Mood (Tubi)

Tubi isn’t exactly known for high-quality original programming, but its recent foray into licensing British TV is beginning to change that. In March, the FAST platform brought us Boarders, a wonderful teen drama that follows a cohort of Black scholarship students brought in to diversify a posh boarding school. This month it’s joined by Big Mood, a Channel 4 dramedy that casts two great young actresses—Bridgerton and Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan and It’s a Sin breakout Lydia West—as codependent best friends fumbling their way through their early 30s.

Coughlan’s Maggie is the big personality, a playwright with bipolar disorder who’s prone to go off her medication because she’s convinced it kills her creativity. That makes Eddie (West) the patient, if increasingly frustrated, caretaker, doing her best to support Maggie while struggling to keep the bar her late father left to her open. Big Mood touches on plenty of themes that have been well represented on TV in the past several years, from mental illness to female friendship. But it’s inventive enough to feel fresh, with many laugh-out-loud funny scenes; a standout episode takes Maggie and Eddie to a pagan gathering in the woods. Best of all is the chemistry between Coughlan and West, as two very different women whose bond makes perfect sense.

Mary & George (Starz)

Lest you worry that TV’s streaming-era surplus of original scripted programming is no more, know that April delivered two all-star period dramas about clever, ambitious queer men who scheme their way up the socioeconomic ladder. Netflix’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation Ripley might’ve been the higher-profile of the pair, squandering Andrew Scott’s nuanced lead performance as lethal con man Tom Ripley and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography from Robert Elswit on a series so languid as to be fully enervating. Mary & George, from horny historical fiction hub Starz, makes no pretense of being high art—which makes it a hell of a lot more fun.

The setting is 17th century England, and the eponymous characters, drawn from real life, are a minor aristocrat named Mary Villiers (the great Julianne Moore) and her unfeasibly handsome son George (Red, White & Royal Blue heartthrob Nicholas Galitzine). A cutthroat survivor, Mary has connived her way to a comfortable life and is counting on her precious boy to elevate the family to the highest echelons of power. That means seducing King James I, who brazenly indulges his same-sex desires with a coterie of fiercely comPetitive young noblemen. George is extremely down for this dangerous Game, and his adventures—with Mary exerting pressure and bedding madams in the background—yield seven episodes of delightfully pulpy Entertainment.  

See where Mary & George lands in TIME’s list of TV dramas about British royals, ranked by salaciousness.

The Sympathizer (HBO)

When you hear that Hollywood is adapting a book like Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, you worry. Published to raves in 2015, the searing debut novel set in the immediate aftermath of what Americans call the Vietnam War—but that, as Nguyen and the new HBO series both remind us, Vietnamese know as the American War—won a Pulitzer for what the committee described as “a layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a ‘man of two minds’—and two countries.” It’s a psychological thriller, a war story, a political satire, a cri de coeur, and an investigation of identity, sifted through a mesh of framing devices and unfolding largely within the fractured interiority of a man who has yet to discover who he is or what he believes.

How lucky we are, then, that the adaptation was entrusted to Park Chan-wook. The South Korean filMMAker behind international hits including Oldboy, The Handmaiden, and Decision to Leave has spent decades making movies that commingle beauty and ugliness, genre tropes and literary layers, grindhouse depravity and arthouse imagination to profound effect. He also, in 2018, directed a slow-burning BBC-AMC adaptation of the John le Carré spy thriller The Little Drummer Girl. Working alongside co-showrunner Don McKellar (of the underrated Canadian series Sensitive Skin), Park has crafted a vibrant, faithful yet often audacious Sympathizer that matches executive producer Nguyen’s brilliant novel in both ambition and execution. [Read the full review.]

Under the Bridge (Hulu)

There are so many cop shows. So many murder shows. So many shows about innocent dead girls who turn out to be less innocent than they looked. Most are pointless wallows in the suffering of others, real or fictional. A precious few—Twin Peaks, Sharp Objects—transcend the clichés of an overplayed genre through artful storytelling and thematic depth. Hulu’s Under the Bridge doesn’t reach the latter series’ heights. But thoughtful, empathetic writing and excellent performances make it more than just another dead-girl show. [Read the full review.]