If you’re wondering why your watchlist has been flooded with very important, must-see television programs, it’s just that time of year. The end of March and beginning of April brought a perfect storm of prestige TV premieres: The timing of the Emmy eligibility window (which closes in June) and the absence of former spring powerhouse Game of Thrones left room for a tsunami of shows, both new and returning, to make their mark on viewers. In other words, you have choices beyond Westworld’s Reddit-baiting robot Armageddon and Roseanne’s unsettling mash-up of Fox News and 1990s sitcom!
The best new show is Killing Eve (Sundays, BBC America), which is probably the most fun hour of television right now. Sandra Oh plays Eve, an American-born British agent on the trail of an ingenious and bloodthirsty assassin, Villanelle (an astonishingly good Jodie Comer), who’s leaving a trail of corpses across Europe. It’s refreshing to see the typically male-dominated cop-and-killer formula chucked aside in favor of the type of strong female characterizations that writer/creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge similarly exhibited in her acclaimed Fleabag. Only four episodes in, the show has already gleefully torn through entire seasons’ worth of plot—but more importantly, Killing Eve is hilarious and truthful, even as it moves within a tried-and-true TV formula.
The best old show on TV is Atlanta (Thursdays, FX), which is in the middle of a second season that’s just as surprising, weird, and hysterical as its first. Creator/star Donald Glover has largely stepped off to the side, allowing room for the show’s other characters—in particular Alfred, aka Paper Boi, played by the amazing Brian Tyree Henry—to take center stage. You’ve probably heard about the infamous “Teddy Perkins” episode, featuring Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield in an eerie visit to a Neverland-style mansion, but even without that landmark installment, Atlanta’s batting average is unbelievably high.
The biggest surprise is Trust (Sundays, FX), which tells the same story of the J. Paul Getty III kidnapping that Ridley Scott dramatized last year in All the Money in the World—but here, that relatively concise narrative has transformed into a baroque, sprawling show with overlong episodes, hopscotch timelines, and far too many characters. It’s insane and great. The first three episodes were directed by Danny Boyle and bore his madcap hallmark of kinetic excess. But in episodes since, we’ve gotten to know the indelible characters at the story’s periphery, like mustachioed psychopath Primo (Luca Marinelli), beleaguered butler Bullimore (Silas Carson), and Getty’s fixer, James Fletcher Chase, played by a shockingly good Brendan Fraser. With the tightly wound plot device of a kidnapping keeping things humming, Trust explores the story’s margins in fascinating and addictive ways.
Another show that’s miles better than it should have been is The Terror (Mondays, AMC), based on the novel by Dan Simmons and loosely inspired by the true story of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two warships that got trapped in the Arctic ice in an attempt to locate the Northwest Passage in the 1840s. Some of the show’s chills come from scary polar bear attacks (their iffy CGI is the show’s one weak point), but you’ll feel shivers even during the quiet parts. With a sterling cast led by Mad Men MVP Jared Harris, The Terror’s ability to impart palpable sensations of cabin fever and endless-winter madness is more knuckle-whitening than anything its characters might encounter out on the ice.
Along with Atlanta, a few other shows have kicked off strong second seasons: The Handmaid’s Tale (Wednesdays, Hulu) hasn’t eased up on its harrowing bleakness, and having left Margaret Atwood’s source text behind, it currently has the thrilling feeling of being off the map. Legion (Tuesdays, FX) is just as screwy and visually resplendent as ever, but the coils of its baffling plot are easier to navigate the less you think about them—it’s best to consider each episode as an impressionistic mood piece, centered by the show’s distinctly drawn characters and its penchant for sensory overload. And despite its surreal comic digressions and continual fourth-wall breaking, Dear White People (returning to Netflix on Fri May 4) is the show that comes closest to capturing how it actually feels to live in the year 2018. Sorry, Roseanne. You’re not even a distant second.