The 10 best TV shows this spring, from Ryan Murphy's 'Hollywood' to Cate Blanchett in 70s hair

Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY
·6 min read

This spring, we could use more great TV than ever.

The world is obviously different as we head into April and May due to the coronavirus pandemic. As movie theaters across the country close, and more of us practice social distancing, the promise of new spring TV shows raring to take our minds off coronavirus is even more welcome than it might have been. Movie releases are being delayed, Hollywood production is shutting down, but many series have already finished new seasons that will still be released on time and in full.

Among dozens of new series arriving between now and Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, 10 stand out. From singing cartoons to Cate Blanchett in her best 1970s attire to a new Ryan Murphy series, this spring has a wealth of strong choices to add to your streaming queues and DVRs. So while daily life has been upended for the time being, much of TV is still blessedly normal.

More great new TV: Witherspoon and Washington are fantastic in the ferocious 'Little Fires Everywhere'

John Turturro in HBO's "The Plot Against America."
John Turturro in HBO's "The Plot Against America."

'The Plot Against America'

HBO, (Mondays, 9 EDT/PDT)

This series premiered March 16, but there's still time to jump in. The six-episode miniseries is an alternate history based on Philip Roth's 2004 novel about a Jewish working-class family in 1940s New Jersey, when Charles Lindbergh is elected president. This version of America becomes fascist and deeply anti-Semitic, endangering the family. Deeply moving and troubling, the series is in the same genre as literary classics "1984" and "It Can't Happen Here," and feels especially relevant to the modern world.

Tiffany Haddish and Octavia Spencer in "Self Made."
Tiffany Haddish and Octavia Spencer in "Self Made."

'Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker'

Netflix (now streaming)

A stylized, modernist take on one of the most impressive historical figures you've never heard of, this Netflix miniseries is full of inspiration and knowing looks from star Octavia Spencer. Walker, who created a business empire with her products for black women's hair, became the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S.

More: Why it took so long to tell Madam C.J. Walker's story onscreen

Brooklynn Prince as Hilde in “Home Before Dark."
Brooklynn Prince as Hilde in “Home Before Dark."

'Home Before Dark'

Apple TV+, April 3

Brooklynn Prince ("The Florida Project") gets a role few young actors are precocious enough to pull off: kid journalist Hilde Lysiak, who investigated a murder in her small town. The series, also starring Jim Sturgess as Hilde’s father, has vibes of Nickelodeon's movie “Harriet the Spy” and the can-do attitude of the kids in “Stranger Things.” While a young girl is at the center, it’s not just for kids: It’s engaging for adults as a lesson in listening to our smallest voices. And the mystery is pretty good too.

Merritt Weaver and Domnhall Gleeson in "Run."
Merritt Weaver and Domnhall Gleeson in "Run."

'Run'

HBO, April 12 (Sundays, 10:30 EDT/PDT)

The promise of pairing talented stars Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson, with "Fleabag" creator/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an executive producer, is enough to pique our interest in this romantic comedy about two college sweethearts who have a secret pact to run away together if one of them texts the word "run," and they honor that promise 15 years later. Funny, moving and with a fascinating plot that feels like a real-life fantasy, "Run" has all the ingredients to blossom into a great show.

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in "Mrs. America."
Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in "Mrs. America."

'Mrs. America'

FX on Hulu, April 15 (Wednesdays)

This period piece about the battle for (and against) the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, feels timely in 2020. The limited series features an amazing cast as memorable figures – including Blanchett as conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem and Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm. The series has a smart structure, in which each episode takes a look at a different woman in the fight, creating humanity and context for viewers no matter how familiar they are with this period of history. Sharp writing and excellent acting carry the weighty topics.

Netflix limited series "Hollywood"
Netflix limited series "Hollywood"

'Hollywood'

Netflix, May 1

It's easy to spot Ryan Murphy's imprint on this campy limited series, his second for Netflix, about the dreamers in Hollywood's post-World War II Golden Age and the seedy underbelly of an industry selling glitz and glamour. "Hollywood" has several of Murphy's repertory players, including Jim Parsons, Darren Criss and Broadway legend Patti LuPone. The series is the rare and welcome kind of dramedy (often seen from Murphy) that is fun and silly but not lacking substance.

Robbie Amell in "Upload."
Robbie Amell in "Upload."

'Upload'

Amazon, May 1

A balm for anyone in withdrawal after the end of NBC's afterlife sitcom "The Good Place," this slightly darker take on post-death existence is created by Greg Daniels ("The Office"). "Upload" is set in a not-too-distant future, when your consciousness can be uploaded to a virtual heaven to spend eternity – for an exorbitant fee, of course. When a small-time coder (Robbie Amell, "The Flash") working on his own version of heaven "dies" in a mysterious car crash, the digital worlds start to look less like paradise. Part mystery, part absurdist comedy, in its early episodes "Upload" has enough emotional resonance to make it more than just a cool sci-fi world.

Catherine (Elle Fanning) in "The Great."
Catherine (Elle Fanning) in "The Great."

'The Great'

Hulu, May 15

This farcical historical drama (from a writer of "The Favourite") is a hilarious look at 18th-century Russia. Elle Fanning plays a young Catherine the Great, a wide-eyed idealist married off to the bawdy and ill-tempered Russian emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult). It's a bad match that works out better for Catherine than Peter. Fanning is charming, Hoult is obnoxious, and the show is a delight.

Matthew Macfadyen as Charles, Sian Clifford as Diana in "Quiz."
Matthew Macfadyen as Charles, Sian Clifford as Diana in "Quiz."

'Quiz'

AMC, May 25- 27 (9 EDT/PDT)

Most Americans probably haven't heard about the real case behind this wild true-crime drama from across the pond. "Quiz" is about an alleged cheating scandal on the U.K. version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the smash game show. A married couple, played by Sian Clifford ("Fleabag") and Matthew Macfadyen ("Succession"), is on trial for cheating their way to a million pounds by coughing. The three-part miniseries is riotously funny and superbly written, with great performances from the cast, which also includes an unrecognizable Michael Sheen as the "Millionaire" host Chris Tarrant.

The animated cast sings in "Central Park."
The animated cast sings in "Central Park."

'Central Park'

Apple TV+, May 29

This surprisingly sweet animated musical comedy from Loren Bouchard ("Bob's Burgers") is about a group of New Yorkers connected to the celebrated park, including a caretaker and a wealthy woman who hates it. The series has great music and a fabulous voice cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Tituss Burgess, Stanley Tucci, Kathryn Hahn, and two "Hamilton" stars: Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom, Jr.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Spring TV preview: 10 best shows, from Ryan Murphy, Blanchett and more