From the highly anticipated adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends to the return of The Terror; these are the best shows to watch on TV this May
The story of Clark (Netflix, May 5) begins, as all stories do, inside his mother’s vagina. Here we find poor Bill Skarsgård’s face CGIed on to a foetus’s head, in an image that will linger with us far longer than Bill’s (already-terrifying) Pennywise the Clown. Jonas Åkerlund’s irreverent take on the career of Clark Olofsson, Sweden’s most notorious gangster and the man who inadvertently gave rise to the expression ‘Stockholm syndrome’, makes Guy Ritchie’s comedy crime capers look like the model of restraint. But that’s also kind of the point, as the show promises a mix of “truth and lies” told from our antihero’s twisted point of view.
The Staircase (Sky, May 5) opens on a 911 call, as Colin Firth phones the cops to say his wife has fallen down the stairs in their tastefully decorated mansion. When the rozzers show, his wife is dead – but how come there’s so much blood? So far, so Sunday-evening schadenfreude as rich people meet with sticky ends. (I mean, did you see that open-plan kitchen?) But this glossy crime drama, based on the true story of novelist Michael Peterson, adds a layer of intrigue by folding in the story of a French filmmaker who turned the ensuing trial into a 2004 documentary series. There’s also a supporting role for the wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg, AKA Elio’s dad from Call Me by Your Name, as a hotshot lawyer who picks up the case.
Apple TV’s quest to corner the market for prestige drama continues with The Essex Serpent (Apple TV, May 13), a six-part adaptation of Sarah Perry’s brooding novel with some heavyweight names in the mix: Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant, Ali & Ava) directs, and there are leading roles for Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston. Danes is impeccably accented as young London widow Cora Seaborne, who decamps to the Essex coast to investigate reports of a terrifying beast that is plucking children from the banks of the Thames. Is the serpent the devil? The figment of a grief-stricken community’s imagination? A premonition of ecological disaster? Whatever the answer, this should be a high-calibre take on the source material, a brooding slice of estuary gothic to slot alongside a recent revival in female-authored gothic stories.
What’s your licence fee getting you these days? Well, there’s a second dose of Sally Rooney in Conversations With Friends (BBC Three, May 15), adapted from the novel by the same writer-director team who gave us Normal People. And there’s a welcome return from The Terror (BBC Two, May 6), the Ridley Scott-produced anthology horror whose first series gave us the unspeakably grim – and unexpectedly beautiful – tale of a 19th-century Arctic expedition gone wrong. The follow-up is set in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during the second world war, a shameful chapter in US history which personally affected one of the show’s stars, Star Trek’s George Takei, who took on a supervisory role for historical accuracy.
For those who like their mafia stories served up with a side order of weird, Bang Bang Baby (Amazon Prime, May 21) shows promise as the (loosely true) story of a gum-chewing teenage girl who tries to win the love of her estranged father by joining the ’Ndrangheta. There are shades of Killing Eve in the pop-art style of this Italian series, brought to the screen by the producer who gave us The Young Pope and My Brilliant Friend, and there’s plenty of room for the characters to grow, Breaking Bad style, into three-dimensional figures if its writers show heart to match the comic-book visuals.