With the NFL still months away, we’ve seen a return of Sunday night as a premier night for weighty new cable series. But with so many options, how should you spend your time? Let this weekly column be your guide as I look at the pilot and second episode of new scripted series this Spring. Don’t see a new show listed below? Check previous weeks!
We Own This City, Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO (Premiered April 25)
About: David Simon has long created compelling series that take a hard look at the world. His epic classic is The Wire, but he’s continued that mission with other series in the years since. That is true of We Own This City, too. It’s a return to Baltimore, this time telling the true story of the corruption in the police department that led to the arrest and conviction of several members of the Gun Trace Task Force. Jon Bernthal leads a stellar cast, as the series takes a look back at how we got to the point of corruption and the long-term effect on the city. This has the same feel, pace and style of other Simon series, as he works with long-time collaborator George Pelecanos to lay out the story and the world. I have quite enjoyed the first two episodes and can’t wait to see how the rest of this limited series plays out. It’s great to have a Simon series back on TV.
Pilot Grade: B
Second Episode: B
The Offer, Now Streaming on Paramount TV+ (Premiered April 28)
About: The Godfather is a classic. Both the novel from Mario Puzo and the film from Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola thrilled audiences. But it didn’t always excite the made men whose lives it used as fictional fodder. The Offer, a new streaming series from Paramount+, tells the story of trying to get the film made. It is produced by Al Ruddy (Miles Teller), who served as a producer for the film. The first three episodes dropped Thursday, with subsequent episodes of this 10-episode series dropping weekly. I greatly enjoyed the first two episodes. There are elements of the making of the film I didn’t know and learned from the series, but I also enjoyed the journey to making a film I consider a personal favorite. Whether you’re a fan of The Godfather or not, The Offer is worth checking out.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: B-
Under The Banner of Heaven, Now Streaming on Hulu (Premiered April 28)
About: This latest limited series comes from Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for penning the film Milk. He was also raised as a Mormon, giving him some unique insight into the faith. That led him to work on the HBO series Big Love, and also makes him a fitting choice to adapt Under the Banner of Heaven, based on the book from Jon Krakauer. The series focuses on a brutal murder of a young mother and her child. The lead detective, Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield), is a devout Mormon whose faith is challenged as he explores this case and the murder’s ties to fundamentalist belief. The series is a seven-episode adaptation, with the first two released Thursday and subsequent episodes released weekly. It flies under the banner of FX but is exclusive to Hulu. It feels a bit like True Detective, both in subject matter and in the style it’s brought forth. There is an excellent cast, including Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sam Worthington and Wyatt Russell. The first two episodes build the world and mystery and feature some strong performances. I love Garfield in the lead role and what he’s building. But the first two were also slow, seemingly focusing on mood and style over substance in the story being told. Hopefully it’s building to something but the trap in this style story and format is getting to a meaningful payoff. For now, I’m on the fence.
Pilot Grade: C+
Second Episode: C
Shining Girls, Now Streaming on Apple TV+ (Premiered April 29)
About: Apple TV+ is quickly becoming a top flight producer of original content, offering a wide variety of different scripted series that offer rich journeys. That is the case with Shining Girls, a murder mystery of sorts. The first three episodes dropped Friday, with subsequent episodes of the eight-episode series dropping weekly. The series is adapted by Silka Luisa from the novel by Lauren Beukes. It features Elisabeth Moss as a woman who survived a brutal attack. When a body turns up, it seems like it might be the work of the same attacker. Moss, a researcher at a newspaper, teams with a veteran reporter (Wagner Moura) to dig into the case, uncovering a serial killer. That’s a fantastic set up, and Moss is perfect in these kinds of roles. Her ability to bring a sense of wounded rage to the screen has been compelling in several projects. She’s good here, and I enjoyed Moura as well. Jamie Bell, who plays a supporting role, is also quite good in the episodes I screened. The thing is, there is a twist to this plot that I won’t ruin here. Suffice to say I’m on the fence about where this is headed. I like the production and performances, while the basic idea is compelling. But it’s that twist that sets a high bar. Will the series clear it? That remains to be seen.
Pilot Grade: B-
Second Episode: C+
I Love That For You, Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Showtime (Premiered May 1)
About: Showtime has a packed Sunday night, launching its third original scripted series on the night in as many weeks. This one is a comedy from Vanessa Bayer, who stars as a child cancer survivor who seeks to fulfill her dream by appearing on a televised shopping network. It’s loosely based on her own journey as a cancer survivor, and pairs Bayer with Molly Shannon and a decent cast. The idea seems potentially amusing and I like Bayer as a performer but the pilot was something of a slog. It wasn’t as funny as it needs to be or as compelling as it’s trying to be. Sometimes it takes shows, particularly comedies, a few episodes to find the rhythm and pace. That might be the case here but the pilot wasn’t a great hook.
Pilot Grade: C
Gaslit, Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz (Premiered April 24)
About: This biopic series focuses on the Watergate break in and the scandal that brought down the Nixon administration. It features Sean Penn and Julia Roberts in the lead as John and Martha Mitchell, seeking to explore the time period, the re-election campaign and where everything went off the rails. I thought the idea was interesting and the casting certainly feels like a win, especially as Starz seeks to build its brand. The first episode was OK but the second episode felt even more rambling. We are familiar with the basics of the story but it didn’t feel like the series added much new or compelling to what we know so far. Perhaps that’s coming, but for now Gaslit feels like more of a high-profile miss.
Pilot Grade: C
Second Episode: C
The Man Who Fell to Earth, Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime (Premiered April 24)
About: This drama, based on the classic novel that was previously adapted into a film starring David Bowie, comes to Showtime’s new Sunday night. It’s a high-profile addition to the line, featuring a cast led by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomie Harris. But I thought the pilot was dull and confusing. The second episode honestly wasn’t much better. It sought to expand the mystery and featured some nice style in the shots but the series lacks a defined hook. In fact, it very much feels like a story that was expanded to series length but probably would work better as a stand-alone film. It’s a bit swing for Showtime but not one that works.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-
The Baby, Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO (Premiered April 24)
About: Another new half hour, one that’s likely supposed to be something of a dark comedy. This series, imported from England, is paired with the third season of Barry on HBO’s Sunday night lineup. It’s something of a horror story about a baby that clings to a woman who didn’t seem interested in children, terrorizing anyone that gets in its way. The pilot was awkward and difficult and the second episode didn’t do anything to make the story more appealing. This is a rare miss for me from HBO and a series that can be safely skipped.
Pilot Grade: C-
Second Episode: C-
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.