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5 films and TV shows to help you understand the 50-year battle over Roe vs. Wade

A woman in sunglasses and long hair
Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem in “Mrs. America.”
(Sabrina Lantos/FX)
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Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone in search of what to watch in the coming week.

In this edition of The Times’ curated roundup of TV and streaming movies, we expand our “What’s next” section (at bottom) for readers in search of listings.

Plus, as a leaked draft opinion this week indicates that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade and end federal protections for people seeking abortions, staff writer Meredith Blake offers a brief guide to films and TV shows that explore the long and continuing U.S. political struggle over the issue.

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All that and much more in Screen Gab no. 34. And, as always, we’re looking for reader recommendations: Send your TV or streaming movie recommendations to screengab@latimes.com with your name and location. Submissions should be no longer than 200 words and are subject to editing for length and clarity.

ICYMI

Must-read stories you might have missed

a woman and a man facing each other
May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly and Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector/Steven Grant in Marvel Studios’ “Moon Knight.”
(Gabor Kotschy / Marvel)

HBO’s new go-to director used to feel ‘replaceable.’ Not anymore: Salli Richardson-Whitfield is making her mark as a producer and director on two of the buzziest shows of the year so far, “The Gilded Age” and “Winning Time.”

Why ‘Moon Knight,’ a fresh twist on mummified tropes, still failed to catch fire: Despite exceeding expectations with its depiction of Egypt, the lack of buzz around “Moon Knight” signals a larger problem for Marvel: the casual fan.

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Robert Evans wouldn’t approve of the man playing him on TV. He would be wrong: Better known for enigmatic intensity, Matthew Goode captures the manic joy of the Paramount chief in making-of-’The Godfather’ drama ‘The Offer.’

River Butcher hasn’t found a ‘final form.’ That no one will fuels his subversive comedy: Transphobic jokes don’t play in every room, the comic says. “It’s a misconception that just because someone has a large platform, they are universal.”

Turn on

Recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times

A black and white photo of a surveyor in a meadow
William Mulholland.
(University of Southern California Libraries/California Historical Society)

I am a graduate of William Mulholland Junior High School in Van Nuys, named for the man who conceived and built the Los Angeles Aqueduct; our school paper was called the Pipeline, our yearbook the Cascade (after the project’s climactic man-made waterfall, lit up at night in those days and visible across the San Fernando Valley). One thing we were never told about Mulholland, besides the fact that the aqueduct drained the Owens Valley, whose residents were unhappy enough to occasionally blow it up, was the catastrophic failure, in 1928, of Mulholland’s St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, which sent more than 12 billion gallons of water coursing through the Santa Clara River Valley all the way to the ocean, leaving more than 400 dead. “Flood in the Desert,“ from the PBS series “American Experience,” available to stream from PBS.org (and with Spanish subtitles here), tells the interlocking story of the aqueduct and the dam, what such projects made possible and what they made awful; it’s a tale of vision, dispossession, construction, destruction, hubris, power, local and national politics and the imperial city, as well a thumbnail biography of Mulholland, an Irish immigrant and self-taught engineer who did much, for better and worse, to make Southern California what it is — a metropolis that maybe shouldn’t be here at all. —Robert Lloyd

Catch up

Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about

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A man in a suit and tie stands before a window.
Andrew Garfield as Jeb Pyre in “Under the Banner of Heaven.”
(Michelle Faye/FX)

There’s a moment in the opening minutes of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” Hulu’s superb new drama about the 1984 murders of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica, in which Andrew Garfield, as the fictional detective investigating the case, departs the realm of pure realism. When Jeb Pyre, a mainline member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the precipice of a terrifying encounter with violent fundamentalism, enters the grisly scene of the Lafferty killings, Garfield’s gestures are heightened — one might even say theatrical. And yet the hand that instinctively moves to his face, the torso that recoils in horror before reluctantly stepping into the breach, more swiftly and surely telegraph Pyre’s looming crisis of faith than hours of exposition.

Such is writer Dustin Lance Black’s transporting examination of his former faith and its intersection with extremism, based on the book by Jon Krakauer. Strung with flashbacks to the religion’s 19th century founder and prophet Joseph Smith, journeys to isolated outposts of plural marriage and antigovernment radicalism and glimpses inside a rarely seen Latter-day Saint ritual, the series is unafraid to make heightened gestures of its own. Anchored by ferociously effective performances from Garfield, Gil Birmingham as Pyre’s partner, Daisy Edgar-Jones as Brenda and Wyatt Russell as her menacing fundamentalist brother-in-law, it condenses the intertwined histories of American religion, political culture and patriarchy into a richly specific, character-driven crime drama. Ambitious but precise, exciting without ever feeling exploitative, “Under the Banner of Heaven” is, for my money, the best TV drama of the year so far. —Matt Brennan

Guest spot

A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching

Four women looking shocked at something in the back of a limousine
Paula Pell, from left, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sara Bareilles and Busy Philipps in “Girls5eva.”
(Heidi Gutman/Peacock)

“Girls5eva,” Peacock’s acclaimed comedy about a 1990s girl group that reunites after a present-day rapper samples their biggest single, swiftly emerged last season as one of the fledgling streamer’s most talked-about titles — and Season 2, which premiered Thursday with three new episodes, promises to be no different. Stars Renée Elise Goldsberry, who plays Wickie, and Paula Pell, who plays Gloria, stopped by Screen Gab to share what they’re watching, the girl groups they can’t do without and more. —Matt Brennan

What have you watched recently that you are recommending to everyone you know?

Goldsberry: “The Gilded Age” (HBO, HBO Max). It is wonderful, and I love marveling at the artistry of all that New York talent!

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Pell: It takes me a long time to finally sit down and watch stuff, but I really enjoyed “The Dropout” and “Summer of Soul” (both on Hulu).

What’s your go-to “comfort watch,” the movie or TV show you go back to again and again?

Goldsberry: Movie musicals! I’ll pick “The Wiz” (VOD). Always astounding.

Pell: My soaps on CBS! Medical dramas! “Shark Tank” (ABC) ! “Love it or List It” (HGTV)!

“Girls5Eva” broke out in Season 1 in part because of its loving-but-hilarious tributes to pop music. What Season 2 number is your personal favorite and why?

Goldsberry: G5E songs are all hilarious ear worms to me. My favorite is always the last one I heard. “Your Eyes Tell Me a Story” is the last one I heard so I’m picking it.

Pell: I think “Bend Don’t Break” because it’s inspired by my real knee injury and it’s about leaning on each other to get through the bad s—. It gives me what my niece calls a “heart itch.”

Lightning round: Your favorite real-life girl group of all time and their song you can’t live without.

Goldsberry: TLC is my go-to when asked about favorite girl group because they always shared the spotlight equally. One wasn’t using the group to launch and leave behind the rest. Revolutionary! They were the perfect artist together and they knew it! “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” is just one of their anthems that I love.

Pell: En Vogue “Don’t Let Go (Love).” I will never not be happy to hear that song. Also, Destiny’s Child’s version of “Emotion.”

Break down

Times staffers chew on the pop culture of the moment — love it, hate it or somewhere in between

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A doctor in blue scrubs holding a clipboard while meeting with a patient
Dr. Shelley Sella at an Albuquerque, N.M.. clinic in Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s “After Tiller,” a 2013 documentary about the last four doctors in the U.S. who provide third-trimester abortions.
(Oscilloscope Laboratories)

This week came the shocking — if not exactly surprising — news that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision ruling that rights to abortion are constitutionally protected. As Mary McNamara wrote this week, popular culture has often ignored or misrepresented the reality of a procedure that an estimated one in four American women will undergo in their lifetime.

This is beginning to change, perhaps too late: This year will bring a slew of projects that look backward while providing a possible glimpse into the future, including “The Janes,” an HBO documentary about the Jane Collective, an underground network that helped women obtain illegal abortions in pre-Roe Chicago; “Call Jane,” a scripted feature about the same subject; and “Happening,” a French film about a young college student attempting to terminate a pregnancy in the 1960s, when abortion was illegal in the country.

If you want to understand the political fight over abortion over the last five decades and how public discourse around reproductive rights has shifted, there are a few illuminating titles to consider — most of them documentaries:

“Mrs. America” (Hulu): While this limited series primarily focuses on the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment, it powerfully demonstrates how deeply rooted fear of societal change — including women’s ability to choose whether or not to become mothers, thanks to the increased availability of birth control and abortion — helped mobilize disparate flanks of the religious right and usher in a new era of conservative political dominance.

“After Tiller” (YouTube, Kanopy): In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, one of the few remaining providers of third-trimester abortions in the country, was shot to death by an antiabortion extremist while serving as an usher at his Kansas church. This documentary follows the four doctors left to carry on Tiller’s legacy despite the looming threat of violence, humanizing care providers who are denounced by their opponents as “baby killers” but who compassionately guide women through the wrenching decision to terminate advanced, and often wanted, pregnancies. It’s a vital watch on a widely misunderstood and emotionally charged dimension of the abortion debate.

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“AKA Jane Roe” (Hulu): Directed by Nick Sweeney, this documentary paints a nuanced portrait of Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case who came out against abortion in 1995, representing a huge symbolic victory for abortion rights opponents: “Jane Roe” had gone to the other side. But in this film, made months before her death in 2017, McCorvey makes a stunning “deathbed confession,” claiming she was paid by antiabortion groups, including Operation Rescue, and restates her support for abortion rights. The film is an empathetic portrait of a complicated, colorful woman who overcame abuse, neglect and poverty only to be treated as a pawn in a high-stakes political game.

“Abortion: Stories Women Tell” (HBO Max): Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, “Abortion: Stories Women Tell” chronicles the experiences of women at an abortion clinic in Illinois, just over the state line from Missouri, in the wake of the passage of a stringent law mandating a 72-hour waiting period. The women range in age, race, marital status and motivation, undermining the erroneous idea that abortion is something for careless twentysomethings. The documentary puts a much-needed human face on the statistics.

“Reversing Roe” (Netflix): Released in 2018, shortly after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, this documentary charts the increased politicization of an issue that was not always so starkly partisan. Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the film shows how, even though conservative stalwarts like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush once supported abortion rights, near total opposition to abortion became a powerful organizing cause for Republicans. —Meredith Blake

Mail bag

Recommendations from Screen Gab readers

A married couple sitting at a table with glasses of champagne before them
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in “Ozark.”
(Netflix)

“Star Trek: Discovery” (Paramount+) and “Ozark” (Netflix) have been rocking my world from the first show to the last! Engaging, riveting, high stakes, smart writing, meaningful relationships that help us reflect and grow. Whether I’m escaping a cartel or a galaxy-ending event, the storytelling is captivating! —Sean Hill

What’s next

Listings coordinator Matt Cooper highlights the TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on

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A bunch of teenage castaways on a beach.
A scene from Season 2 of “The Wilds.”
(Kane Skennar/Amazon Prime Video)

Fri., May 6

“Along for the Ride” (Netflix): Two young insomniacs meet cute — after hours, natch — in the 2022 romantic drama.

“The Big Conn” (Apple TV+): Meet an attorney who swindled the Social Security system out of a kajillion bucks in the new four-part docuseries.

“Bosch: Legacy” (Amazon Freevee): Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) trades his badge for a private investigator’s license in the new spinoff.

“Mamas” (Roku Originals): The new nature series celebrates the maternal instincts of creatures great and small.

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“Magnum P.I.” (CBS, 9 and 10 p.m.): The remake of the Tom Selleck classic wraps its season, as does the current Tom Selleck cop drama “Blue Bloods.

“Sheryl” (Showtime, 9 p.m.): All I wanna do is have some fun watching this intimate new rock doc about singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow.

“Tehran” (Apple TV+): Intrepid Israeli agent and hacker Tamar (Niv Sultan) is back in a second season of this espionage drama, which also features Glenn Close.

“The Wilds” (Amazon Prime Video): The teenagers-stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere mystery drama that isn’t “Yellowjackets” returns for Season 2.

Sat., May 7

“Bound by Blackmail” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): Unsuspecting participants in a self-improvement program find themselves in this new TV movie.

“Dear Evan Hansen” (HBO, 8 p.m.): Ben Platt reprises his Broadway role as the titular troubled teen in the 2021 adaptation of the Tony-winning musical.

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“Inspiring America: The 2022 Inspiration List” (MSNBC, 7 p.m.; NBC, 7:30 p.m.): Do-gooders get their due in the star-studded special hosted by Lester Holt, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie.

“Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 8:29 and 11:29 p.m.): Benedict Cumberbatch hosts and Arcade Fire performs.

“Warming Up to You” (Hallmark Channel, 8 p.m.): A personal trainer meets an action star who’s hunky but also a bit chunky in the new TV movie.

Sun., May 8

“American Ninja Warrior” (NBC, 7 p.m.): Fierce competitors vie for the title of women’s champion.

“Christina P: Mom Genes” (Netflix): It’s Mother’s Day, so don’t forget to call your mom and tell her to watch the new stand-up special.

“Love in the Jungle” (Discovery+): Sexy singles take courtship cues from inhabitants of the animal kingdom in the new reality show.

“Love Match Atlanta” (Bravo, 9 p.m.): Professional matchmakers in the ATL ply their trade in the new unscripted series.

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Mon., May 9

“American Song Contest” (NBC, 8 p.m.): See which tune comes out on top in the season finale. With hosts Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg.

“BBQ Brawl” (Food Network, 9 p.m.): Contestants get up in each other’s grills in new episodes. With Bobby Flay.

“Candy” (Hulu): Jessica Biel plays a not-so-sweet suburban housewife in the five-night true crime miniseries, co-starring Melanie Lynskey.

“Celebrity IOU” (HGTV, 9 p.m.): Comic Ali Wong does a solid for an old college chum.

“History’s Greatest Mysteries” (History, 9 p.m.): A new episode revisits the infamous 1932 kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son.

“Independent Lens” (KOCE, 10 p.m.): A Black man who survived a carjacking attempt finds compassion for his young Black assailant in “When Claude Got Shot.”

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“Breeders” (FX, 10 and 10:30 p.m.): Put-upon British parents Paul and Ally (Martin Freeman, Daisy Haggard) are back for Season 3.

Tues., May 10

“American Masters” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): Jason Momoa narrates a salute to Hawaii-born Olympic swimmer and surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku.

“Big Restaurant Bet” (Food Network, 10 p.m.): One contestant will walk away with a pile of chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s cash on the season finale.

“Beyond the Canvas” (KOCE, 10:30 p.m.): The arts and culture series hosted by “PBS NewsHour’s” Amna Nawaz returns with new episodes.

Wed., May 11

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“Married at First Sight” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): Find out who sticks around and who bails on the season finale.

“Nova” (KOCE, 9 and 10 p.m.): It’s dinosaurs versus asteroid — advantage, asteroid — in the two-part episode “Dinosaur Apocalypse,” hosted by David Attenborough.

“Operation Mincemeat” (Netflix): British spies cook up a scheme to change the course of World War II in the 2022 thriller. With Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen.

“Our Father” (Netflix): He’s the fertility doctor! He’s the sperm donor! He’s the fertility doctor and the sperm donor in the 2022 documentary.

“The Quest” (Disney+): Teenage contestants take LARP-ing — live action role-playing — to the next level in a reboot of the 2014 fantasy-themed competition.

“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” (Bravo, 8 p.m.): Drinks will be thrown, trash talked, indictments handed down, etc., in Season 12, which premieres tonight.

Thurs., May 12

“Commit or Quit” (WE, 10 p.m.): Judge Lynn Toler from “Divorce Court” helps on-the-fence couples decide in this new reality series.

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“Hacks” (HBO Max): A legendary stand-up comic and a Gen Z sitcom writer (Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder) walk into a second season of the buddy comedy.

“Piccadilly” (TCM, 5 p.m.): A three-film salute to Anna May Wong gets underway with the pioneering Asian American actor and native Angeleno in the 1929 silent drama.

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