My Top 10 TV shows of 2019

Here’s my annual top ten list of the shows which have most impressed and captivated me this year. As is becoming increasingly common, a lot of them come from Netflix, but not all.

As usual, I will keep the spoilers to a minimum – only oblique references to events, no details included.

10: His Dark Materials, Series 1: With a fantastic cast, His Dark Materials succeeded where the Golden Compass failed and did justice to the first book of Philip Pullman’s renowned trilogy. Dafne Keen proved, just like she did in Logan, that she’s arguably the best young actress out there at the moment (perhaps only rivalled by Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown). Backed up by great turns from Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda, His Dark Materials takes a few episodes to get going but eventually starts delivering great hours of TV, particularly episodes ‘the daemon-cages’ and ‘betrayal’ which was one of the best series finale’s I’ve seen in a while. It’s decision to bring forward elements of book 2 does slow things down a bit too much, but ultimately means that series 2 should hit the ground running. Can’t wait for it!

Rating: 4 out of 5

9: The Grand Tour, Series 3: The Grand Tour’s third outing (and final one – only specials from this point onwards) is by far its best. Its standout episodes involve Clarkson, Hammond and May building their own RV’s in America, going Wildlife Photographing in Colombia and, most memorably, building an off-road vehicle and driving across the great empty expanse of Mongolia. While not flawless, the series made several positive steps, including better use of test driver Abby, more reliance on natural rather than scripted humour and more diverse topics during episodes. There’s the occasional bit of naff banter or an overly scripted segment, but overall i’d happily rewatch most of these episodes again, which I couldn’t necessarily say about series 1 and 2. As the last run which will feature power tests, studio audiences, and the studio setup itself, it feels like Clarkson, Hammond and May ended things on a high. I’ll check out future specials, but if this was indeed the last full series for the trio, it was a fitting one.

Rating: 4 out of 5

8: Killing Eve: Series 2: Killing Eve might be the next spy drama I get hooked on, now that the Americans has finished and Homeland is winding down. Its superb leads Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are very compelling, flawed characters who its easy to root for. Their increasingly will they, won’t they relationship and mutual obsession makes for great television, even if series 2 perhaps gets a bit too bogged down by the emotional side of things – the plot isn’t as good as series 1’s, even if the characters are just as gripping. Quality varies between episodes, but overall series 2 was a good follow up, if a slight step back in quality, but with a new showrunner taking the reins in series 3, I’m definitely excited to see where Villanelle and Eve go from here… assuming they survive each other’s company that is…

Rating: 4 out of 5

7: Orange is the New Black, Season 7: Orange is the New Black may have increasingly split fan opinion since Season 5, but I’ve always found it to be an enjoyable, consistent Netflix series. Focusing on some issues we haven’t seen before (dealing with such difficult topics as FGM, treatment of illegal immigrants in the US, dementia etc.) it remains a hard hitting drama. There were plenty of lighter moments to balance out the seriousness, and new characters to complement the old. Ultimately I can’t say this season was a perfect send-off, but it was a good one which did justice to its characters and tied things up well, and didn’t cop out and give everyone an unrealistic happy ending (3 things a far more high profile TV show failed to do this year…). Orange is the New Black has always had one of the best ensemble casts on Netflix, and remains one of the best female-led shows you’re likely to have seen, with particularly good work from Taylor Schilling, Taryn Manning and Natasha Lyonne – though if you asked, I wouldn’t pick out a single weak link amongst the wider cast. The highest compliment I can give this show is that I’ll miss it now that its gone, but I’m glad it ended on a relative high.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6: Black Mirror, Season 5: Despite only having a three episode run this year, Black Mirror remained a highlight, as all three episodes were of very high quality, if not the very best that the series is capable of producing. Starring such talent as Anthony Mackie, Andrew Scott and, bizarrely, Miley Cyrus, all three have a star quality feel to them, but remain grounded as lesser known talents round out the casts in all three cases. All touch on different issues, from the possibilities of advanced VR to the tragic side effects of social media to auto-tuning and exploitation in the music industry. Striking Vipers and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too are quite easy to watch despite a couple of darker scenes, while those after the classic Black Mirror tension and sting in the tail should check out Smithereens – which features a masterclass in acting from a mentally tortured Andrew Scott. After the disappointing Bandersnatch, this was a timely return to form for Black Mirror, and I can’t wait to see what season 6 has in store, whether it comes with 3 episodes or 6. Hopefully Netflix doesn’t make us wait too long.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: Swamp Thing, Season 1: Swamp Thing was unjustly cancelled before episode 2 had even aired, which is both baffling and a crying shame, as its pilot was the best I’ve ever seen from DC, and the first season as a whole was a cut above the arrowverse’s recent efforts. Crystal Reed is excellent as lead character Dr. Abby Arcane, who gets drawn back to her hometown to investigate a viral outbreak, only to become increasingly tangled in local criminal machinations and the supernatural events occurring in the swamp, where she encounters the titular character. Swamp Thing himself is wonderfully realised onscreen and while the action scenes aren’t as common as you might expect, they are very strong when they occur. A darker tale than most superhero shows, this is definitely geared more towards adults rather than CW’s shows are, while its shorter episode count works wonders – there’s very little padding here, though perhaps 1 or 2 subplots could have been streamlined slightly. Overall I was very impressed, and disappointed that we probably won’t get a resolution to some of the cliffhangers the show ended on. But if you have Amazon Prime, I’d highly recommend checking it out anyway!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

4: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3: The third and final season was leaps and bounds ahead of the first two. Freed from the need to play a different version of Count Olaf in disguise every story, Neil Patrick Harris is better than ever here, while Esme and Carmelita are fabulous supporting villains. The episodes reduced runtimes also do the show a massive favour – whereas some installments in seasons 1 and 2 felt padded and stretched, everything feels tight and pacey here. Given the plots of books 10-13 all vary far more than 1-9, it feels like every story is its own special – not just variations on a recurring theme like the stories in the first two seasons. The show also adds flashbacks which fill in some of the gaps in the books narrative and show some of the events leading to VFD’s schism, which I found utterly enthralling. Overall, the show ended on a real high, which given its slow start, was quite impressive.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5:

3: Jessica Jones, Season 3: Jessica Jones’ third season is arguably the best of the three, with a stronger villain than season 2 and better pacing than season 1. The new characters are interesting, Jessica’s development goes in a different direction than before and Trish, Malcolm and Jeri get good material for their individual arcs. The direction and writing are as good as ever and while the main villain is less flamboyant than David Tennant’s Kilgrave, he’s far creepier and challenges Jessica in different ways. Trish arc’s is what the season hinges on, as her conflict with Jessica varies between reluctant cooperation and open hostility between the two, with the series good at keeping you guessing which way things will go till the last 3 episodes. Overall, it’s my favourite superhero show from this year, just edging out Swamp Thing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. The Crown, Season 3: The latest series of the Crown switches out most of the main cast, but remains as compelling as ever. Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham Carter nail the roles of Elizabeth, Philip and Margaret just as well as their predecessors. It has a very strong run of episodes in the early part of the season, until ‘Moondust’ which is quite dull, but the only damp squib in the 10 episode runtime. The new cast-members playing Charles, Anne and Prime Minister Harold Wilson are all superb additions and steal the show at times, and left me eager to see how the show will handle Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom will have key roles in Season 4. The show visually looks as good as ever, with excellent direction, location filming and editing. The new composer perhaps isn’t quite as good as his predecessor, but still does a solid job. Series Highlights include the Margaret’s visit to America, the Royal Family and the Government reacting to the Aberfan tragedy (which I must admit I knew nothing about previously) and Charles being sent to study in Wales and learn the language and history. This might just be the best of the three seasons so far. Keep it up!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Fleabag, Series 2: I wasn’t hugely enthralled by Fleabag’s first series, which started well but had an underwhelming second half. Nevertheless I decided to give S2 a go, and the premiere blew my socks off. Andrew Scott’s sweary, charismatic (and according to most women who’ve seen it, extremely hot) priest was just the addition needed to bring the best out of the existing cast, who all perform extremely well. Funnier and a touch more upbeat than series 1, this was great from start to finish, mostly due to Waller-Bridge’s performance and excellent writing. At a time when classic BBC series like Doctor Who and Top Gear have completely lost their appeal, it’s nice to know the national broadcaster can still sometimes produce the goods. Though that may just be because Waller-Bridge is working with them. For god’s sake BBC, don’t you dare lose her! Or the licence fee might as well be scrapped. But, thinking positively, this is the first time since 2015 that a British TV show has topped this list, so that’s an encouraging sign. Hopefully Waller-Bridge’s input reaps similar rewards for the upcoming James Bond film…

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Shows which narrowly missed out on this list included Big Mouth (lacked cohesion), Stranger Things (too light hearted), Game of Thrones (too divisive + weak finale), The Witcher (confusing timelines + boring Ciri plotline), Gotham (inconsistent) and iZombie (could’ve ended more strongly).

Best Actor: Henry Cavill (Geralt of Rivia – The Witcher)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)

Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (The Priest – Fleabag)

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Villanelle – Killing Eve)

Best Young Actor:  Lewin Lloyd (Roger – His Dark Materials)

Best Young Actress: Dafne Keen (Lyra – His Dark Materials)

Best Ensemble Cast: The Crown

Best Hero: Jessica Jones (Played by Krysten Ritter)

Best Villain: Lex Luthor (Played by Jon Cryer)

Best Direction: The Crown

Best Writer: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)

Best Special Effects: Game of Thrones

Best Composer: Lorne Balfe (His Dark Materials)

Best Soundtrack: The Long Night (Ramin Dwajadi – Game of Thrones)

Best New Theme Tune: His Dark Materials (Lorne Balfe)

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best Episode: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Bryan Cogman – Game of Thrones)

Best Scene: The Hound vs. The Mountain (Game of Thrones – The Bells)

Best Finale: Fleabag – Episode 6:

Next Up: You’ve had my film, video games and TV picks for the year, now it time for my thoughts on the best the past decade has had to offer…

Starting with my top ten films of the decade! Featuring Superhero smackdowns, cerebral character studies and fierce competition between the hits of DC and Marvel, hope you all check it out. Should be up in the next 3 days, depending on hangover status.

 

 

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