[Editor’s note: The following contains light spoilers for each of the shows described.]
“The Carmichael Show” – “Yes Means Yes”
Season 3, Episode 1
Directed by Gerry Cohen
Written by Kevin Barnett & Josh Rabinowitz
“The Carmichael Show” has never been afraid to present its audience with an idea or moment that cuts through the belly laughs and goes right for something that feels, for lack of a better term, real. Now in its third season, that practice is inextricably woven into the show’s DNA. The best news for fans and potential newcomers alike is that once that sharp intake of breath the subsides, it’s still one of the funniest shows on TV. – Steve Greene
“Casual” – “Things to Do in Burbank When You’re Dead”
Season 3, Episode 2
Directed by Carrie Brownstein
Written by Zander Lehmann
In the second episode of “Casual’s” all-around excellent third season, Alex (Tommy Dewey) and Valerie (Michaela Watkins) flee their parents’ home in Burbank after being dealt some particularly shocking news. Rather than tackle the issue head-on, as is rarely the case in real life, the two spend the night — and the episode — wandering the streets of the northwest valley town where they grew up, drinking sparingly (given the circumstances) and visiting old haunts in search of former truths. It’s as much a showcase for the subtle powers of Dewey and Watkins as it is Carrie Brownstein’s breathtaking shots of Burbank (see above). Los Angelenos hold an opinion of the suburb-like city akin to Alex and Valerie’s overt dismissal, but the love and beauty illustrated by Brownstein’s camera serves as a polite, moving contradiction. Come for that A+ episode title, stay for the ending, which brings every formal highlight together.
“Downward Dog” – “Loyalty”
Season 1, Episode 3
Directed by Michael Killen
Written by Samm Hodges
The third episode of Samm Hodges’ talking dog ABC sitcom is where the delightful layers of the central bond start to set in. The way that the show pushes forward the idea of a pet/owner relationship being not that dissimilar to a romantic relationship, with all of its various emotional and psychological layers, is another way that “Downward Dog” gets to be about something more human. As Martin slowly journeys on progression from obedience self-sufficiency, it’s a helpful analogy for what it means to mature, regardless of what species you belong to. – Steve Greene
“The Handmaid’s Tale” – “A Woman’s Place”
Season 1, Episode 6
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Wendy Straker Hauser
With each episode of the Hulu adaptation, the brutal nation of Gilead originally created by Margaret Atwood has gotten bigger and more complex, with the history of both this society and the characters trapped within it revealed slowly. Episode 6, though, took that to new heights as we not only dug into the series of events which led to the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) becoming the architects of this new world order, but the intricacies of what was once a faithful marriage and is now a tormented partnership is unveiled. Plus, we also get a taste of the modern-day political issues that make Gilead seem all the more plausible. The episode even hints at the fact that not everything about Gilead is the worst. Sure, women have been stripped of their rights, but at least everyone’s eating organic. – Liz Shannon Miller
“I Love Dick” – “A Short History of Weird Girls”
Season 1, Episode 5
Directed by Jill Soloway
Written by Annie Baker & Heidi Schreck
The structure of Sarah Gubbins and Jill Soloway’s new Amazon series isn’t exactly conventional. The duo uses white block letters over a bright red backdrop to convey letters written in the future, past, and present. Later, we see how important the letters become, but we read them throughout the eight-episode first season, which also features fantasy sequences of, among other things, a shirtless Kevin Bacon carrying a baby lamb.
But Episode 5 hits the pause button on the story, and devotes the entire half-hour to women telling personal stories about their sexuality, passion, loves, and lusts. It’s powerful statement after powerful statement, told direct-to-camera with confidence, poise, and unflinching assertion from women of various ages, backgrounds, identities, and ethnicities. For as diverse as the group is, their fascinating stories are grounded in reversing the male gaze and taking back control from the patriarchy. It’s inspiring, exciting, and impeccably made. You can skip right to it without missing a beat, but don’t skip it.
Continue reading for the rest of the best TV episodes of May.