SCREEN TIME: What will succeed ‘Succession?’
What’s the best show on TV in a streaming age?
The end of May brings an eventful week of television with the series finales of HBO’s “Succession” and “Barry” on the 28th and Apple TV+’s“Ted Lasso” on the 31st. They’re three of the most acclaimed shows on streaming/cable and their departures point to how the landscape of TV has changed.
It feels like a bookend of a particular era of prestige shows that began in the late 1990s, particularly with HBO’s debut of “The Sopranos” in 1999. The creative freedoms allowed by premium cable led not just to more violence and T&A, but to adult-oriented programming that could beat prestigious movies at their own game.
Many of the “appointment viewing” shows of the past two decades were rightly critiqued for focusing on white male antiheroes like Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White. The backstabbing family of “Succession” and the titular hitman-turned-actor in “Barry” feel like HBO’s latest heirs to that tradition. “Ted Lasso” embraces the more contemporary “nicecore” ethos, with a protagonist’s devotion to goodness slowly reshaping the community around him.
But a notable difference between these shows and their predecessors is their duration: “Succession” and “Barry” four seasons apiece, and “Ted Lasso” three, and they all seem to be smart to be wrapping up sooner rather than later. At a time when cinemas are dominated by special effects-driven franchises and horror, many cable and streaming shows feel like movie ideas retooled for the episodic format. That doesn’t make them worse than long-lasting shows, they’re just not built for marathons. It’s startling to recall that “The Sopranos” had 86 episodes – more than twice “Succession’s.”
Partly this is because streaming services, with their emphasis on adding new subscribers, don’t always have the same loyalty to long-running shows. Netflix is particularly notorious for canceling shows early, cutting down “G.L.O.W.” after three seasons and “Mindhunters” after two. Going forward, the best shows may only run for a few years rather than the better part of a decade.
With “Atlanta” and “Better Call Saul” concluding late last year and multiple programs ending in May, what will be the best show on television? What makes a show “the best” is a slippery concept, but a popular and critical consensus often gathers around a particular program like “The Sopranos.”
The successor for “Succession” is far from obvious, with shows like “Yellowstone” and “Yellowjackets” having ardent fans without feeling like the obvious lead. Promising newcomers like the corporate satire “Severance” and the restaurant dramedy “The Bear” had brilliant debuts, but feel more like short-term concepts. The elementary school comedy “Abbott Elementary” may be the most comforting show on TV, but delivers consistent warmth more than big laughs.
I suggest that the best show on TV is certainly the most overlooked. “For All Mankind” on Apple TV+ has an outlandish concept with an alternate history in which the Soviets beat the U.S. to the moon, so the space race never ended. Following astronauts and NASA administrators over the years, it’s like “Mad Men” in the way the characters dynamics reflect the changing American zeitgeist. Imagine if every few episodes of “Mad Men” had a white-knuckle space crisis like Apollo 13 or Gravity, and you’ll get a good sense of the show.
From some of the creators of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Outlander,” “For All Mankind” also offers a fresh perspectives on some of modern pop culture’s favorite subjects, including changing gender roles and the nature of public heroism. With the other shows leaving – and the prospect of a Hollywood writer’s strike looming – perhaps it’s time for viewers to make space for it.
Wed., May 3
Carrie — Brian DePalma’s chilling 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel advances the careers of both men and made U.S. pop culture a scarier place (in a good way). Sissy Spacek shines as Carrie White, a bullied teen whose prom becomes a night to remember.
1 p.m. Sat., Apr. 8. The Springs Cinema & Taphouse, 5920 Roswell Rd., Sandy Springs, 30328. springscinema.com
Thu., May 4
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back — Remember that blizzard nicknamed “Hothlanta?” The name derived, of course, from the ice planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, the best Star Wars movie. (You know it’s true.) Wax and Wane teams with the Plaza Theatre to say “May the Fourth be with you” with this screening.
8 p.m. Thu., May 4. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, 30306. plazaatlanta.com
Fri., May 5
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — The Marvel Cinematic Universe wraps up the adventures of the spacefaring rogues with this third installment, which promises a wrenching subplot about the talking raccoon, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). James Gunn, who also wrote and directed the prior installments, is now serving as creative head of the DC superhero movie franchise – can he stick the landing for the Guardians’ last outing?
Opens Fri., May 5. Atlanta area theaters
Wed., May 10
Bring It On — Wussy Mag co-hosts this screening of the 2000 cheerleading comedy starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union, which inspired six sequels and a stage musical that debuted at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. Fun fact: this was the debut film of director Peyton Reed, who’s helmed the three Ant-Man movies.
7 p.m. Wed., May 10. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, 30306. plazaatlanta.com
Sun, May 14 and Wed., May 17
Grease — A 45th anniversary screening of the hit musical doubles as a tribute to the late Olivia Newton-John, who stars opposite John Travolta as lovelorn high-schoolers in a highly nostalgic version of the 1950s.
Sun, May 14 and Wed., May 17. Atlanta area theaters. fathomevents.com/events
Fri., May 19
Fast X — Dom Torreto (Vin Diesel) and his found family of racing enthusiasts embark on yet another globetrotting caper, this time pitted against a flamboyant adversary (Jason Momoa). Supposedly the penultimate chapter in the 22 year-old franchise, Fast X saw plenty of behind-the-scenes drama as long-time director Justin Lin quit the project, forcing Louis Leterrier to be hired as his replacement.
Opens Fri., May 19. Atlanta area theaters
Wed., May 24
Dazed and Confused — Alright, alright, alright: every passing year burnishes the reputation of Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age movie set in the 1970s. The stacked cast includes Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and Matthew McConaughey in his iconic turn as “Wooderson.”
7:15 p.m. Wed., May 24. The Springs Cinema & Taphouse, 5920 Roswell Rd., Sandy Springs, 30328. springscinema.com
This May, 2023, column marks thirty years since Curt Holman first started writing for Creative Loafing. Many of you may remember his original, insightful "TV On The Edge." Thank you, Curt, from all of us here!