What To Stream in May 2021
Here's the most anticipated original content coming to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, SHOWTIME, and more
May 2021 offers many promises: The new CDC rules for vaccinated Americans mean the return of a more normal social life, more activities, and less time spent indoors.
As more and more people get their doses of the vaccine (or as the TikTok kids call it, the Facui Ouchie) and count down the days until they are fully inoculated, there are some things that will be missed: sweatpants at all hours of the day, working from bed, and watching too much TV.
Some of us will be incorporating lots of these quarantine habits into our daily lives anyway and still taking the liberty to say no to plans, especially when there is so much good content coming to streaming platforms in May.
Streaming platforms have been stepping up their game for years, producing more and more original movies and TV shows that often beat larger production houses. And while theatres are tentatively reopening, many studios are still partnering with platforms to distribute their content, making the at-home watching experience better than ever.
And with awards season spotlighting streaming content in spades in 2021, giving big prizes to Hulu's Nomadland,amongst others, there's more than enough reason to stay in and turn on streaming.
Not everything is worth watching, though. Here's what is and why you should pay attention.
Ziwe (Showtime, May 9)
What we've all been waiting for: Ziwe's Showtime series with A24.
Many quarantine comedians came and went. From Jordan Firstman, who was famous for his impressions of things and people like "banana bread's publicist" and "money when it gets donated" and who was unseated from his early fame after being called out for (you guessed it) racist tweets, to cultural giants like Ellen, who was exposed for her workplace toxicity but actually suffered no repercussions, everyone seemed to be falling from grace.
But the brightest spot of Instagram humor was Ziwe Fumudoh's Instagram Live series, Baited. No one knows why her guests volunteered to be on the show, but they did and it was glorious. From problematic influencers like Caroline Calloway to national favorites like Bowen Yang, Ziwe's guestlist brought fans who stayed for her humor, her unflinching provocations, and her absolutely inimitable style of asking questions about issues like racism.
The former Desus & Mero writer is a New York-based comedian and performer, and her internet fame turned her into a verifiable star. While she uses words like "iconic" and "famously" to describe others, Ziwe has become the epitome of all of those things, and we wait with baited breath for what the A24 show will hold.
The variety show promises musical numbers, interviews, and sketches that are sure to make SNL more redundant than it already is. The early trailer shows guests like Fran Lebowitz, who Ziwe asks, "What bothers you more: racism or slow walkers?" On May 9th on Showtime, we'll find out the answer.
The Crime of the Century (HBO, May 10)
As we ask each other which vax we all got, and Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J become likened to prestige brands and almost feel like status symbols, The Crime of the Century feels impeccably timed.
The new HBO documentary aims to expose how the opioid crisis was a windfall for big pharma. According to the press release, the two-part documentary explores how the drug was born, how it proliferated, and how it spread through culture, described as a "searing indictment of Big Pharma and the political operatives and government regulations that enable overproduction, reckless distribution and abuse of synthetic opiates."
The revealing documentary is directed by Emmy and Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, presented in association with The Washington Post. Though the commentary on the opioid crisis often focuses on the victims, who were criminalized for so long, this version explains how the health crisis did not come from nowhere and how people were exploited for the sake of the government and big pharma.
"We've defined the opioid epidemic as an opioid crisis, like it's a wildfire," Gibney says. "It actually wasn't a crisis at all, it was a crime and the body count was extremely high." Part one premiers on May 10th.
The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime, May 14)
Barry Jenkins, Academy Award winning director of Moonlight and If Beale Street Can Talk, has been working on the highly anticipated adaptation of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. The 2016 novel was instantly acclaimed and won a Pulitzer Prize for its imaginative interpretation of history, a feat in both acknowledging the truths of slavery while imagining a world of possibility.
Jenkins is well-versed in adaptations, and his most acclaimed previous works have been adaptations themselves. And though Jenkins has worked on stories about pain and struggle — Moonlight a wrenching autobiographical account of being Black and gay, Beale Street a Baldwin novel about the prison industrial complex — Jenkins is adept at telling these stories with beauty and grace, rather than reveling in trauma, unlike previous Amazon productions such as Lena Waithe's Them.
Jenkins is aware of this tension. At a press event on Thursday March 29th, he said, "I think what's really beautiful about putting images into the world is that when someone's ready to find that image, it will be there. What we all did in creating this show, I think it honored our ancestors, we were respectful, respectful of the text and respectful of the audience."
The show stars newcomer Thuso Mbedu as the protagonist, Cora Randall, a 15-year-old enslaved girl who escaped a Georgia plantation to follow the rumors of an Underground Railroad — which, in this imagination, is a literal train system, a real railroad which follows a network of tracks and tunnels deep under the ground of the South.
Halston (Netflix, May 14)
Ryan Murphy is at it again with a new Netflix production, and we can only hope it is more like his masterwork American Crime Story than his insufferable, embarrassing teen-drama series The Politician.
This time, Murphy is at the helm of a series about the famed American designer Roy Halston Frowick, better known as Halston. The limited series explores the life and career of the designer, who is now one of the most prominent names in American fashion — a pertinent topic as the fashion world gears up for this year's Met Gala and its recently announced theme: American fashion.
Halston was not just famous for his designs and his striking minimalist style — though his designs became iconic early in his career when he designed the pillbox hat which Jackie Kennedy made iconic — but also for his legacy as a public figure. He reached the height of his career in the 1970s disco era and was active in the famed New York City social scene.
A regular at Studio 54 and friend of the rich and famous, Halston's personal life was as interesting as his professional life. Despite being disparaged early in his career for his sexuality, he became a household name and an icon to the biggest celebrities and to the youth, especially queer youth.
Ewan McGregor stars as Halston, which was caused some controversy and conversation around the constant casting of straight actors in gay roles, which the actor defended despite the backlash.
According to the synopsis, the show tracks "the designer's decline," delving into the "hostile takeover" of his namesake brand, which "forces him to battle for control of his most precious asset ... the name Halston itself." It premieres on May 14th on Netflix.
The Woman in the Window (Netflix, May 14)
The Woman in the Window is a long-delayed thriller which was set for theatrical release in October 2019 and is finally being released in May 2021. The two-year wait should be rewarded though, as anticipation has been high for the Amy Adams and Gary Oldman-led drama.
The Netflix movie is an adaptation of a screenplay by Tracy Letts, based on the 2018 novel of the same name by pseudonymous author A. J. Finn. The story starts with a now-familiar premise: a woman does not leave her house.
Amy Adams plays a psychologist who suffers from agoraphobia. While in her home, she watches the family across the street from her place in the window. While peering out at them, she sees something she shouldn't and becomes obsessed with them and fixated on solving the crime.
The thriller boasts an all star cast, with Amy Adams as Dr. Anna Fox as well as Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman and Anthony Mackie. It premieres on May 14th on Netflix.
Run the World (STARZ, May 16)
Remember the tyranny of Lena Dunham's Girls, the atrocious show about Lena Dunham living her whitewashed fantasy of Brooklyn in a poor imitation of the equally problematic Sex and the City without the fashion or the iconic cast?
Finally, we have a balm to fill the gap Girls promised to fill: a show about women underrepresented on TV living life in New York City. Run the World follows four Black, female friends who live in Harlem as they navigate their jobs and relationships.
It promises lightheartedness as well as drama, and, as Insecure announces its farewell season, it also promises to deliver the same energy and representation as the Issa Rae production. The show stars Amber Stevens West, Andrea Bordeaux, Bresha Webb, and Corbin Reid as drastically different types of women who have an enviable friendship despite their divergent personalities.
It premieres on Starz on May 16th.
Twenties (BET, May 21)
The exact opposite of her horror-anthology Them and even her urban drama The Chi, Lena Waithe's series Twenties is another unbridled celebration of Black joy
The show is a semi-autobiographical retelling of Lena Waithe's own experiences as a young, Black, queer woman trying to make it as a writer in Hollywood. Filled with Black pop cultural references and the protagonist's enviable collection of vintage tees adorned with Black musicians, the show is a collection of Waithe's own tastes and appreciation for Black arts and culture in its purest form.
The fictionalized version of Waithe is a twenty-something named Hattie, played by Jonica T. Gibbs, a queer and aspiring screenwriter and her two best friends, as they all navigate relationships and professional aspirations in Los Angeles. The show is lighthearted, funny, and heartwarming, celebrating the joy of Black female friendships.
Season two promises higher emotional stakes but also more comedic joy. It returns on May 21st on BET.
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