March 2023 has been a big month for water-cooler TV. Succession and Yellowjackets kicked off seasons on the same night. A new Love Is Blind cast has had viewers fans hashing out heroes and villains on social media. Amazon’s Daisy Jones & the Six adaptation divided the book’s readers and Fleetwood Mac aficionados while inflaming advocates for better wigs on television. Then there was Swarm, a provocative stan-culture horror allegory that I couldn’t stop thinking about—and that has drawn criticism tied to co-creator Donald Glover’s ambiguous-at-best statements about and depictions of Black women. With so much going on, it’s been tough for new shows without best-seller name recognition or a Beyoncé hook to break into the conversation. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some great debuts this month. From a pitch-black British dramedy to an Australian post-apocalyptic comedy to a well-deserved Mel Brooks victory lap, here are my favorites.
Class of ’07 (Amazon)
Reunited at the Catholic school where they spent four years torturing each other in all the predictable teenage ways, dozens of young women get stuck overnight at their mountaintop alma mater due to torrential rain. The next morning, they discover that the school is now the sole island in an endless expanse of water. They don’t have to worry about finding shelter. But to survive long-term, they need food, medicine, a social contract. And they need to get along better than they did as kids. While the specter of cannibalism haunts Yellowjackets’ flashbacks, Class of ‘07 plays that survival trope—along with food poisoning, a lack of working toilets, and in one case murder—for macabre laughs. [Read the full essay on Yellowjackets, The Power, Class of ’07, and TV’s new matriarchies.]
Emergency NYC (Netflix)
From the creators of the excellent medical docuseries Lenox Hill, and featuring some of the same healthcare providers it profiled, comes this more expansive, faster-paced look at emergency care in America’s biggest city. Following patients of all afflictions and circumstances, Emergency NYC traces journeys that often begin with ambulance or helicopter rides, then progress through the ER, the OR, and beyond. Along the way, we spend time with everyone from paramedics and helicopter flight nurses to emergency medicine physicians and pediatric surgeons. For patients suffering from gunshot wounds or experiencing organ failure, every decision that every medical professional they encounter makes is crucial, and it’s inspiring to observe how seriously the series’ subjects take that responsibility. Emergency NYC is also educational; viewers get to witness such quotidian yet rarely documented miracles as the process of transporting and transplanting donated organs. (If you’re squeamish about blood and guts, this is not the show for you). While an even more comprehensive documentary might have explored the devastating financial costs of such heroism, and how they affect they families forced to shoulder them, this series strikes a sensitive balance between humanism and drama. And it stands as a well-deserved monument to healthcare workers.
History of the World, Part II (Hulu)
A collaboration between Mel Brooks, producer David Stassen (The Mindy Project, Blockers), and co-writers and stars Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes, and Ike Barinholtz, this 8-part sequel to Brooks’ 1981 romp History of the World, Part I makes a solid capstone to the 96-year-old legend’s career. While Brooks, who may be past his physical-comedy years, mostly limits his onscreen presence to narration, he recruited an enormous cast of extremely funny people to bring his sketches to life. Kumail Nanjiani, Quinta Brunson, Pamela Adlon, Jason Alexander, Jake Johnson, Jenifer Lewis, Zahn McClarnon, and Danny DeVito are just a few standouts among dozens of famous guest stars. Wonderfully intergenerational, the show is both an anointing of the many heirs to Brooks’ comedy throne and proof that he remains relevant after all these years. [Read the full review.]
Rain Dogs (HBO)
“SELBY—DON’T ANSWER.” These are the words that flash across Costello Jones’ cellphone screen when, in the debut episode of HBO’s excellent new dramedy Rain Dogs, she gets a call from Florian Selby. A working-class single mother, aspiring author, and peepshow dancer who has just been evicted from her London apartment, along with her adorable 10-year-old daughter, Iris (Fleur Tashjian), Costello (Daisy May Cooper) knows that letting Selby (Jack Farthing) back into her life would be a mistake. But it’s hard to stay away from her sometime best friend—a self-described “classical homosexual” from a posh family who’s just completed a year-long stint in prison—when he alone is willing and able to dig her and Iris out of desperate circumstances.
Named after Tom Waits’ booze-soaked record about “people who sleep in doorways,” Rain Dogs chronicles Costello’s desperate attempts to put a roof over her daughter’s head—and Selby’s desperate attempts to keep them both in his life, even if it means sabotaging her relationships, testing her new-found sobriety, and rooting against her success. [Read the full review.]
Up Here (Hulu)
Scripted by Dear Evan Hansen playwright Steven Levenson and sitcom vet Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (New Girl, The Carmichael Show), with Thomas Kail (Disney+’s Hamilton) in the director’s chair and songs by Disney stalwarts Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the series, which debuts on March 24, infuses the magic of Broadway into what might otherwise have been a mundane romantic comedy.
Mae Whitman stars as Lindsay, a habitual good girl with dreams of becoming a writer, who scrounges up the courage to dump her milquetoast fiancé, flee their sleepy Vermont hometown, and move to Manhattan to build a more exciting life, in the fateful year of 1999. While her glamorous roommate is hooking up with a stranger in a bar bathroom, Lindsay—clad in squeaky PVC pants and eager to pass as a real New Yorker—meets Miguel (Carlos Valdes), a sensitive finance guy struggling to fit in with fratty colleagues. They click, but things get complicated fast. [Read the full review.]