The best television to watch in May 2020–Once Upon a Time in Iraq to Ricky Gervais's Afterlife

Plus the BBC adapts Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries
March 31, 2020
Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC Two, May 

The west’s defining foreign policy intervention of the 21st century—the 2003 invasion of Iraq—has been examined before, but this five-part series, made by award-winning director James Bluemel, promises a different perspective. Bluemel directed the BBC Two series Exodus: Our Journey, which put cameraphones in the hands of refugees fleeing to Europe. Once Upon a Time in Iraq is constructed from the voices of those who were there—on both sides of the conflict—and those who felt its world-altering impact.  

The Luminaries, BBC2, May 

Eleanor Catton’s vast novel set amid the 19th-century New Zealand Gold Rush is going to take some adapting. The original has multiple storylines and some head-spinning narrative devices; but it has been adapted by Catton herself—also a noted screenwriter, she worked on the recent film of Emma—so the urge to boil it down to basics should be avoided. Eve Hewson plays the young British adventurer who has sailed to New Zealand to begin a new life, and perhaps find a fortune. Himesh Patel, fresh from the Beatles drama Yesterday, plays the man she falls in love with.  

After Life, Netflix, April 24th 

Ricky Gervais’s sitcom is based on a simple premise. What if life lost all meaning—in the case of Tony (played by Gervais, below) because of the death of his wife—and you stopped caring about others and said what you really thought, however offensive? Some might say that describes Gervais’s career in a nutshell, but the series turned out to be a low-key charmer, with an ensemble cast of oddballs. The second series runs with that, to sweet effect.