Peak TV is a perplexing time — filled so often with wildly exciting premises and wildly unfulfilled promises. Allow us to guide you, then — on a weekly basis — through this thicket of ideas towards some of the best. This weekend saw the arrival of the structurally divergent fifth season of Orange Is the New Black; later this week, you can, if you choose, devote a lot of time watching Oliver Stone admire Vladimir Putin (which sounds painful, but potentially fascinating); and you can catch the first-season close of two beloved new shows.
Any day of the week, at any hour: Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
At this point you may have already consumed all 13 chaotic hours of the new season of Orange Is the New Black — or you may be taking your time. The latter might be more advised for this season, in contrast to its almost-in-real-time narrative. Since the season is about an uprising at Litchfield — and the combination of empowering, morally unsettling, and entropic plot-lines that ensue from that event — spending 13 hours straight among the disarray can be dizzying, as can the fact that the series itself doesn’t seem to be grasping its tightened timeline as tightly as it should do. So spread this one out a bit. If you do, its tonal shortcomings may seem less dizzying, and you’ll be able to just revel in the fantastic performances, particularly by Danielle Brooks, Yael Stone, and Selenis Levya, and, okay, just about everyone with even a line of dialogue on this show.
Monday-Thursday: The Putin Interviews (Showtime)
You might have certain assumptions about what a series of Oliver Stone interviews with Vladimir Putin would try to achieve or expose. But it sounds like the result of the sessions he was granted with the Russian leader may have an unexpected angle: Stone apparently appears to advocate for the need for a clear view of Putin’s underrepresented subjectivity, as though the Russian leader were, say, one of the queer people whose rights he’s denied, or one of the Syrian children orphaned by the leader he’s backed. “He is a very rational man,” said Stone of Putin to the BBC, adding that he thinks it was right of Donald Trump to dismiss the “all smoke and no fire” Russia investigations. Regardless of your stance on that story, the insistence of Putin as a “rational” figure seems, well, misguided. (And, perhaps, guided by Putin himself.) These interviews might not inform you of anything you’ve wanted to be informed about, but it sounds like Putin’s wooing of Stone will, if nothing else, make for a bizarrely fascinating four-night-long arc.
Wednesday: The Handmaid’s Tale finale (Hulu)
Don’t expect everything to be tied together on the finale of The Handsmaid’s Tale next week; though it’s based on Margaret Atwood’s single, taut and finite novel (a book with its own share of cliffhangers), the series will, it seems, go on indefinitely: it’s already been renewed by Hulu for a second season. This episode, then, may offer hints as to how the show will attempt to expand its vision of Gilead, along with what’s in store for Offred, the now-vocally suspicious Serena Joy, the just-escaped Moira, et al.
Sunday: Veep (HBO)
In its last two seasons, Veep has had form-breaking, perfect penultimate episodes. Season 5’s Kissing Your Sister took place entirely within the documentary that Katherine had been making all season about her mom, and about her own burgeoning lesbian sexual awakening. Season 4’s ninth episode, meanwhile, was all seen within C-SPAN footage, with the Meyer administration being brought before Congress to testify about their allegedly fraudulent activities. I’m not exactly sure there’s been any lead-up to anything that could make for a similar change in perspective this season; it has already felt like episode-by-episode Veep fan fiction wish fulfillment, taking us into uncharted familial territory to which we might have thought the show would only ever allude. But if the show decides to follow the tradition it set forth in its last two seasons, we could be in for another hilariously different look at these characters. Regardless, the legacy of great ninth episodes leaves something to be excited about — as does the fact that it’s allegedly about the completion of Selina’s much-delayed memoir.
Sunday — American Gods finale (Starz)
The first season of American Gods has been short and sweet, a description that more shows should wish to court. But despite its eight-episode brevity, it paused for a poignant standalone episode about obsolete leprechaun Mad Sweeney last night, allowing for Pablo Schreiber’s and Emily Browning’s characters to show the extent of their burgeoning (yet also, we see, age-old!) connection. Because the second-to-last episode shifted entirely away from Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday, the show’s left us in a place to not know what the finale might bring — although even those who’ve read American Gods should now be expecting not to know what to expect from Bryan Fuller’s series adaptation.
Sunday: Twin Peaks (Showtime)
Though this isn’t a season beginning, finale, or any date that’s particularly of note, the next episode of Twin Peaks *could* feature more of Diane, who was introduced last night, after 25 years of anonymity and synecdochic portrayal by Dale Cooper’s recorder, as Laura Dern. Of course, since David Lynch is playing a game of episodically-not-giving-people-what-they-expect, he could wait for another episode or two to finally let Diane speak. Either way, the introduction of a Dern-Diane is not to be taken lightly.