May 2016 is the month when Netflix becomes the 800-pound gorilla of streaming services — at least when it comes to original programming.
The company is launching seven original series, along with a handful of comedy specials and an Adam Sandler movie. The offerings range from the second seasons of some of its major 2015 debuts (Grace and Frankie, Bloodline, Chef's Table) to a new Maria Bamford comedy (Lady Dynamite) to … something in French (Marseille).
But even if you don't subscribe to Netflix, there are plenty of good options out there for your May streaming enjoyment. Summer is coming. Stay inside and watch something.
Here are five picks for each of the four top streaming services.
New in May on Netflix
Bring It On (available May 1)
All together now: Brrr! It's cold in here! There must be some Toros in the atmosphere! This comedy set in the world of high school cheerleading has become a minor classic in the "high school comedy" genre, and I still think it's a little underrated. Led by an effervescent Kirsten Dunst and directed by the perpetually (and unfairly) overlooked Peyton Reed, this is a delight, and the perfect comedy to watch when school is winding down.
Pleasantville (available May 1)
This movie — about two kids (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) who are sucked into an old, black and white TV show, and then start messing with its rigid set of rules — is not, shall we say, subtle. But it's also an affecting little parable about social change, the importance of art, and emotional repression. Plus, the visuals — with the black and white world turning to color — are gorgeous.
Marseille, season 1 (available May 5)
I normally only list shows and movies I've already seen in these monthly streaming roundups, but I've made an exception for Marseille, Netflix's first French-language original series. The company is branching out into non-English productions as it spreads its influence overseas — a strategy that should be fascinating to observe from afar — and this project (about the mayor of the titular town warring with his chosen successor) boasts a cast headed up by the great Gérard Depardieu.
Grace and Frankie, season two (available May 6)
I wasn't a huge fan of Grace and Frankie's first season, but many, many smarter people than I thought it was better than I gave it credit for. And after watching the first several episodes of season two, I'm a believer. This sweet-natured series about two women (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) who become friends late in life is a blissful hangout dramedy about what it means to grow older.
Chef's Table, season two, part one (available May 27)
Netflix creates so much original programming these days that it occasionally seems to have completely forgotten about some of the entries in its ever-expanding catalog. Such is the case with reality series Chef's Table, which debuted in 2015 with little fanfare. The show's debut season — which looked into the heads of people who create great meals — was appetizing, intelligent documentary TV. Season two should be more of the same.
New in May on Hulu
Airplane! (available May 1)
Joke for joke, Airplane! might be the funniest movie ever made. An elaborate spoof of disaster films, it also serves as a showcase for Leslie Nielsen's comedy prowess. When it came out in 1980, it led to a reinvention of the then-seemingly straitlaced actor's career.
Being Erica, the complete series (available May 1)
Looking for a new TV show to add to your rotation? May I suggest this frothy time-traveling dramedy from Canada? In it, a woman in her 30s despairs over her life choices to a therapist, who turns out to have the ability to send her back in time to revisit and even change those choices. Sadly, it does not consider whether she should have killed Hitler as a baby. All four seasons, which end with a very satisfying concluding chapter, will be available.
Here's an interesting way to structure a TV
series world: These two individual shows — which are both about gay men living in Manchester, England — take place in the same universe and feature some crossover (particularly with one character who regularly appears on both shows). However, they're also about different phases of life, and LGBTQ activism. Cucumber chronicles the trials of middle-age, while Banana is all about the exuberance of youth.
Election (available May 1)
It's never not a good time to watch Alexander Payne's scabrous political satire, set during a high school student government election, but an election year offers an especially prime opportunity to do so. It's possible Reese Witherspoon has never been better than as Election's overachieving Tracy Flick, and Matthew Broderick is great as the teacher who sets out to stop her.
The Path, complete season one (available May 25)
If you fell away from this series about a mysterious religion (which stars Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan!) or have been waiting to binge the entire first season, well, the finale arrives on May 25. The last three episodes try something surprisingly daring, and I'm casually interested in where season two might go. Watch and join me in cautious optimism!
New on Amazon Prime in May
Ghost World (available May 1)
So many movies about teens this month! This adaptation of a Daniel Clowes comic is a snidely terrific look at the sorts of under-the-radar youth who don't routinely turn up in movies about more popular kids. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson play a couple of girls obsessed with the hip and cool. Steve Buscemi is the older guy they start hanging out with. It's surprisingly empathetic.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (available May 1)
Director Steven Soderbergh broke through with this 1989 film, which was itself a major breakthrough for American independent film. When a married couple meets a man who likes to film women talking about their sexuality, their marriage starts to crumble. James Spader, Andie MacDowell, and Peter Gallagher star as the central trio.
When Harry Met Sally... (available May 1)
Can men and women just be friends? This romantic comedy has some thoughts on the matter. (It also has the eternally famous "I'll have what she's having" (faked) orgasm scene.)
99 Homes (available May 9)
If the bombast of recent Oscar darling The Big Short turned you off, consider this much smaller movie about the fallout from the bursting of the real estate bubble in 2008, one that keeps its eyes on those most hurt by the implosion. It's the story of a man who struggles to reclaim his foreclosed-on home by working for the real estate broker behind his ouster, and it features great performances and nice, low-key direction from Ramin Bahrani.
Lucky Louie (available May 21)
Before he changed television with his FX series Louie, Louis C.K. starred on this little-known HBO sitcom. Filmed before a live studio audience, it seemingly confused just about everyone, thanks to the disparity between its traditional sitcom format and its premium cable-friendly content. Is it consistently good? Not really. But it's always interesting, which counts for something.
New on HBO Now in May
The Grapes of Wrath (available May 1)
The Insider (available May 1)
Russell Crowe and Al Pacino are riveting in this story of a cigarette company whistleblower who tries to take his story to 60 Minutes — and is steamrolled by CBS's corporate timidity. (They're terrified of angering the tobacco industry.) In terms of "movies about behind-the-scenes scandals at 60 Minutes," it's a heck of a lot better than Truth.
Mr. Show with Bob and David, complete series (available May 1)
In the '90s, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross were behind one of the greatest sketch comedy series ever made, and though it's taken ages for HBO to make the series consistently available on streaming, it seems the time has finally come. It's home to some of the most inventive comedic sketches out there. Netflix semi-revived it last year, with solid results, but the original is still the best.
The Pianist (available May 1)
This is one of the best movies about the Holocaust ever made, and deservedly won star Adrien Brody an Oscar. (Sadly, his career since then has been a misfire.) Be forewarned, though: If you avoid the films of Roman Polanski because he's done horrible things, he directed this one.
Jupiter Ascending (available May 10)
Don't get me wrong: This movie is terrible. But it's the kind of terrible only visionary filmmakers (in this case, the Wachowskis) are capable of. Come for the eye-popping visuals; stay for Eddie Redmayne in a mind-bogglingly strange performance that must be seen to be believed.