Skip to main content
opinion

What an uneasy month May turned out to be. If your brain switched off, you are forgiven. Across the TV landscape came the good, the forgettable, and the downright obscure and difficult. Netflix didn’t have a stellar month, loaded with teen revenge-horror drama, plus the hard-to-like miniseries Halston. Here are five standouts from an unmerry month.

The psychological thriller Way Over Me takes viewers inside the world of mental health care, with Dr. Justine Mathieu (Pascale Bussières, shown) following patients brought to her by emergency care front-line responders, Clara St-Amand (Sophie Lorain) and Gabriel Beauregard (Bruno Marcil).Yan Turcotte/Crave

Way Over Me (Crave) got attention as the first Canadian series to launch simultaneously in French (as Sortez-Moi De Moi) and in English with French subtitles. But it’s very significant as drama. A psychological thriller, it’s emphatically about psychological strangeness. The opening has a guy named David (Vincent Leclerc) trying to buy his way into a drug deal. Then he seems to self-detonate and he’s on top of a street light proclaiming that he can see all the harm and illness around him.

The 21 best TV series to stream so far in 2021

Social workers who specialize in mental illness are called in. David is taken to hospital where physician Justine Mathieu (Pascale Bussières) tries to assess him, and there’s a seething, intimate connection between these two. That’s the spine of the series – the mental-health specialist who cannot diagnose her own feelings about this man. The drama alights on a contemporary issue – what if mental-health professionals were sent first to emotionally charged situations, not the cops? There isn’t a false note in this little masterpiece.

From creator and writer Brad Ingelsby, the seven-part limited series Mare of Eastown follows Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), a small-town Pennsylvania detective who investigates a local murder as life crumbles around her.HBO / Crave

Mare of Easttown (HBO/Crave) started in April, finished in late May and became emblematic. Kate Winslet as the weary grandma-detective became iconic; everything from her clothing to her grave dedication to family and community was pandemic-era totemic. Winslet chooses her roles carefully and she would not be playing Mare Sheehan, a detective in an opioid-depressed Pennsylvania town, if it weren’t a miniseries with meaning and integrity. Her character is utterly lacking in glamour and you feel you know her, down to her aching bones.

If Mare’s home life is prickly, her hometown is a jaded place of pain and rage. The disappearance of one teenage girl and the killing of another puts the town under a microscope. It’s formidably well-crafted, this mystery, but the real point is an intricate, intimate portrait of a community, and in this place there’s pervasive despondency. Now that all episodes can be watched and savoured together, its gorgeously forlorn texture can be truly appreciated.

Thuso Mbedu plays Cora, a slave attempting to escape, in the Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime.Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Prime Video

The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime Video) is, in contrast, best watched one episode at a time. An intense, powerful work, a threnody and a critique of American culture and racial injustice, it is a formidably acute story of one central character, the young woman Cora (Thuso Mbedu) and her attempts to escape slavery. Based on the prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, a work that strays into magic realism, the series transcends “believability” by deploying a literary, Modernist approach to conveying generational trauma. Be aware then, it’s not an easy watch, nor was it meant to be.

The depiction of life on a Georgia plantation just before the Civil War is unsparing and graphic. The dangerous journey of escape from such a place makes a bleak situation bleaker. It’s about a literal and spiritual journey full of betrayals, and rooted in indomitable, intangible strength.

Talisa Garcia and Julia Goldani Telles star in the Girlfriend Experience, which explores the relationships between exclusive escorts and their clients.Aimee Spinks/Starz / Crave

The Girlfriend Experience (Starz/Crave) is one I wish I’d had more time to write about, since it dwells with unsettling intensity on the intersection of technology and desire. Each season is different in this uniquely perturbing, visually mesmerizing series. Here Iris (Julia Goldani Telles), an American PhD student of neuroscience, moves to England to work for a tech startup. Her area is “to look at what happens on a synaptic level when we intimately connect with another person.” Part of her learning curve is taking a job as an escort offering “the girlfriend experience” to wealthy men. She also fears she’s headed for the mental state her father is trapped in. Never has the erotic seemed so heinously anxiety-inducing.

Mark McKenna plays Wayne, a 16 year-old Dirty Harry with a heart of gold, who sets out on a small two stroke road bike from Boston to Florida with his new friend Del to get back his late dad's '79 Trans-Am.Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Wayne (Amazon Prime Video) is an absolute peach of a show. Utterly unique in style and attitude, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but some of you will find it adorable. A daft comedy that’s tender, it erupts in crazy violence and maintains a strand of social satire. It has a deadpan ambience that will remind you of the cool tone of the work of the Coen brothers.

Set in the Boston area, it’s about Wayne (Mark McKenna from the movie Sing Street), a 15-year-old who has this weird quirk. See, Wayne can’t see an injustice done and not do something about it. He gets beaten up often, but he’s okay with that. One day on his front porch arrives teenager Del (Ciara Bravo), who is selling cookies she shoplifted. She tells Wayne she’s raising money to run for mayor when she’s old enough. The duo set out for Florida. Essentially, this wonderfully droll, daft, dark comedy celebrates Wayne’s noble instincts – the pure instincts of youth – but mocks the violence.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.