March was a fantastic month for TV debuts. There were so many interesting ones that I cut a number of other shows that might have merited a shoutout.
What’s more, the shows listed below — five brand new programs (OK, four brand new programs and a second season show where the second season is wildly different from the first) and seven returning shows worth checking out — run the gamut from prestige dramas to genre wackiness to traditional sitcoms. As always, we’ve put star ratings on shows where we’ve seen enough to feel like we can give a fair rating.
So here are the best TV shows that debuted new seasons in March, and if you can’t find something to watch here, probably just choose some other program at random. The odds are good it will be at least interesting. (Or you could check out our roundups of the best TV of February and January.)
NBC’s Abby’s isn’t all there yet, but with this cast and these writers, it has plenty of room to grow
You should know, from the top, that I was in the tank for Abby’s before I saw so much as a frame.
For starters, it’s a multi-camera sitcom — meaning it’s filmed before a live studio audience — and I love multi-camera sitcoms. Second, it stars Natalie Morales (of The Middleman and Parks & Recreation) and Neil Flynn (of Scrubs and The Middle), two of those actors who are terrific every time they pop up, but who tend to be a little undervalued. And finally, it’s filmed in front of a live audience, yes, but it’s filmed in front of them outside!!! Why aren’t more shows filmed outside?!
Abby (Morales) has opened a bar in her backyard in an attempt to take some degree of control over her life and to hang out with the readymade friends that come with all made-for-TV bars. When her new landlord, Bill (a fussily funny Nelson Franklin), shows up to inquire why there’s a bar in the backyard of the house he inherited from his aunt, complications ensue.
Like many multi-camera sitcoms in the early going, Abby’s will need to grow a bit to become its best self. The first episode sweats a little to set up the show’s premise, and the show’s punchlines can be a little soft. But creator Josh Malmuth cut his teeth on New Girl and Superstore (two of my recent favorites), and comedy mastermind Michael Schur (Parks & Recreation, The Good Place) is an executive producer. Pamela Fryman, the terrific director who helmed nearly every episode of How I Met Your Mother, ably keeps the show clipping along.
By the second episode, Abby’s settles into a nice rhythm that suggests after a handful of episodes, it could be as good as any sitcom shot outdoors could possibly be (which is to say, very good, because shooting a sitcom outdoors is a great idea).
Watch Abby’s if you like: Cheers (this is a gimme), Happy Endings, Rescue Me
Hulu’s The Act is incredibly gutting, but it finds something beautiful in toxic intimacy
Here’s an excerpt from my earlier piece on The Act, Hulu’s new limited series about the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard:
At the core of the series is a warped and deeply broken mother-daughter relationship. Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) deeply loves her daughter, Gypsy Rose (Joey King), but Gypsy is very, very sick, and Dee Dee has sacrificed or abandoned everything about herself that isn’t caring for Gypsy’s every need.
To its credit, The Act doesn’t hide that Gypsy isn’t actually sick and that Dee Dee is creating her daughter’s ailments for reasons impossible to explain, as anyone who’s familiar with this story from an earlier Buzzfeed article that The Act is based on — or with HBO’s true-crime documentary about Dee Dee and Gypsy, Mommy Dead and Dearest, or Lifetime’s TV movie version of this story — will recall.
King, who is terrific, speaks in a high-pitched near-squeal, so Gypsy constantly seems vulnerable, allowing Dee Dee to better obfuscate everything about her daughter, from Gypsy’s physical well-being to even her age. And Arquette, who knows a thing or two about playing women driven by some unexplained dark urge within themselves, is so good at nailing the moment during every doctor’s visit, during every stopover at a friend’s house, during every social encounter, in which Dee Dee flips the power dynamic on a dime and demands that Gypsy re-surrender to her control before others catch on to what’s happening.
Watch The Act if you like: American Crime Story, The Handmaid’s Tale, all iterations of Grey Gardens
Where to watch: New episodes debut Wednesdays on Hulu.
Netflix’s The OA takes a dive into an alternate universe in a potentially alienating, actually kinda awesome season 2
Here is a complete summation of my thoughts on The OA’s second season: jasdghjalqughsafdl;kj;lkbvnghabnh[oier!!! zbsbnafngafjbha;sgh;1 zHban;lsghasgl;ah!!!! aghghghghasdj;fahsd;ljhag!
This is to say that The OA, which has always defied explanation, defies explanation even more than usual in season two, which is a kind of film noir spin on the show. This season, the OA (co-creator Brit Marling) has been sucked into another universe’s version of San Francisco, where a detective is trying to figure out the mystery surrounding her, the mysterious Hap (Jason Isaacs) and the even more mysterious “movements,” which have been gifted to the OA and a handful of others because they keep dying, getting new movements from beings that live in the afterlife, then being forcibly resurrected.
The movements can maybe save the world. Or maybe bestow people with superpowers. Or maybe just allow people to travel between universes. They definitely stopped a school shooting in season one. Oh. Shit. I haven’t even talked about the Tree Internet. Or the giant octopus god-thingy. I mean, you wanna watch this show now, right?
Look: I gave the first season of this show an excoriating review, but over time, I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. And thinking about it. Until I convinced myself that The OA is kind of genius, while simultaneously being incredibly silly. And you know what? I love it! I love its goofy, loopy vibe. And I love how it’s not like anything else, in a TV environment where there are so many shows that every show is like something else. Not The OA! The OA is only like The OA!
Oh, yeah, at least watch this show so you can see the ending of season two, which. Is. Bonkers.
Watch The OA season 2 if you like: The OA season one, Twin Peaks season three, any YouTube video where somebody tries to prove reptilian aliens exist and have infiltrated the highest levels of power in the US government, John from Cincinnati
Where to watch: The OA is streaming on Netflix.
Hulu’s Shrill is a warm and funny look at living life as a fat woman, based on Lindy West’s bestselling book and starring Aidy Bryant
Here’s an excerpt from Constance Grady’s earlier, four-star review of Hulu’s new comedy Shrill, which is based on the book of the same name by Lindy West and which stars Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant:
Shrill, the new Hulu series based on the 2016 memoir by Lindy West, is anything but shrill. It’s a quiet, gentle show, suffused with a kind of tender restraint. In this world, a dinner at a strip club becomes a low-key conversation over hushed music about the importance of grooming and how good the shrimp is. An abortion is over and done with in a single nervous, intimate montage. Against the warm grays of Shrill’s color palette, our heroine’s candy-striped pink dresses glow like scoops of sorbet.
The heroine in question is Annie (Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant), and she is careful about being quiet and gentle and warm, about never doing anything that might be described as “shrill.” She’s fat, and she has no desire to be on the receiving end of the special sort of hatred reserved for fat women when they get loud and angry, or when they appear confident.
Shrill’s first season runs for six half-hour episodes — each co-written by Bryant, West, and showrunner Ali Rushfield — and its project is to teach Annie that it is okay if other people think that she’s shrill. It’s okay if they call her a fat bitch. What is most important is that she stop spending her life apologizing to those people for existing.
Watch Shrill if you like: Better Things, Fleabag, Enlightened
Where to watch: Shrill is streaming on Hulu.
FX’s What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious riff on the cult classic movie comedy about deathless vampires who are so irritated by each other
Though the movie version of What We Do in the Shadows (released in 2015) never achieved a major US release, it drew steady amounts of love from fans who subsequently discovered it through internet memes and word of mouth. The things that made it a bit of a hard sell in the cinema — its reportedly tiny budget, its combination of several tired film genres (horror-comedy, vampires, mockumentaries), and, above all, its emphasis on situational comedy skits over any kind of plot — all worked wonderfully together online, where the film could be packaged and distributed as a series of hilarious jokes, all in GIF-size, easily digestible format.
The primary delight of FX’s episodic comedy version of What We Do in the Shadows is how closely it hews to the formula set by its equally delightful predecessor. In their story of a hilariously milquetoast modern vampire coven, co-creators Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) served up a comedic formula rooted equally in reverence and irreverence: love for 150-plus years of vampire mythos mingling with a cheeky fondness for horror tropes, Twilight, and awkward roommate situations.
But chopped into weekly 22-minute chunks, the concept of a demotivated vampire coven battling ancient curses, the local city council, and a slight werewolf infestation seems like rich laugh material, entertaining enough to deliver satisfying joke setups without losing its novelty.
Watch What We Do in the Shadows if you like: Flight of the Conchords, BoJack Horseman, The Vampire Diaries
Where to watch: New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 pm Eastern on FX. Previous episodes are available on FX’s streaming platforms.
7 returning shows that you should really check out
That’s right. Seven. Seven shows came back in March that I at least like — and some I adore. It’s partly March, April, and May being TV’s version of awards season, but also, I’m just glad to have a bunch of TV I enjoy airing.
- I’m genuinely surprised Barry (HBO, Sundays at 10:30 pm Eastern) was able to come up with a second season. The comedy about a hitman (Bill Hader) turned actor brilliantly skewered Hollywood pretension in its first season, winning Hader and Henry Winkler Emmys. Season two is somehow just as good — and might make my year-end best of TV list, if it can keep up the quality.
- Meanwhile, Billions (Showtime, Sundays at 9 pm Eastern) remains one of TV’s juiciest treats, and the fourth season, featuring the show’s two leads (Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis) finally working toward a common goal, offers the kind of toxic masculinity that makes for fun television, as the show’s poisonous boy’s club turns everything it touches to ash, while everybody spits acidic one-liners.
- I wrote more about the fourth and final season of Catastrophe (streaming on Amazon Video) in this piece about its series finale, which is note perfect. The rest of the season isn’t quite on that level, but it’s still a moving and funny look at what happens when you fall in love and have to reconfigure your entire life for some other person.
- At some point, I’ll catch up on The Good Fight (new episodes Wednesdays on CBS All Access), but for now, I’ll point you to all of the praise from my critical colleagues about this Good Wife spinoff that, if nothing else, keeps the marvelous Christine Baranski employed by quality television.
- Similarly, I haven’t begun season two of Good Girls (NBC, Sundays at 10 pm Eastern), because I’m slowly catching up on season one on Netflix. But the crime caper starring Christina Hendricks, Retta, and Mae Whitman ably straddles the line between comedy and drama and has tons of breezy fun along the way.
- To say literally anything about the first few episodes of the final season of Jane the Virgin (The CW, Wednesdays at 9 pm Eastern) would be spoiling a pretty big plot twist. But TV’s purest, most wholesome entertainment is firing on all cylinders as it heads into its final run, and you should get caught up (on Netflix) immediately.
- Also, it’s been a while (like… almost two years a while) since Veep (HBO, Sundays at 10 pm Eastern) was with us, thanks to star Julia Louis Dreyfus’s battle with cancer. But what a relief to have one of the strongest comedic ensembles in TV history back on the air — led by Louis Dreyfus giving one of the strongest comedic performances in TV history. The final season is just seven episodes, so enjoy this one while you can.
That’s all for March! In April, FX will have its new prestige miniseries about Bob Fosse, CBS All Access brings The Twilight Zone back with new host Jordan Peele, and HBO brings back a little show you might have heard of called Game of Thrones. Big month!