As we close out 2019, it’s time to put together a few Top 10 lists based on my key entertainment passions – film, TV and film scores.
I’ve gone back and forth on decade lists but I suspect I’m just going to keep to 2019 releases on the blog, and maybe do something more with the decade on my Twitter or FB, so stay tuned in that regard.
Next up – TV shows. I’ve watched *loads* of TV this year, perhaps more than any other year I can remember, so I have plenty of series I can rifle through to decide what constitutes the best of the bunch. It’s been a cracking year for telly, all told, so this wasn’t the easiest list to compile, but here we go…
Honorary Mentions: SUCCESSION / YEARS AND YEARS
I just wanted to squeeze this in as I suspect, were I up to date, Succession would have made the actual 10, but I’m only 5 episodes into a first watch that has been stymied by it no longer being available to stream. I will catch up soon and I can’t wait, as it’s already pretty terrific stuff.
Years and Years, however, just narrowly missed the cut. Russell T. Davies’ six-part series had its ups and downs but was never anything less than a bravura slice of socio-political melodrama, a Threads for the digital age (as I described it) and it had the balls to go places only a writer like RTD would. If you missed it, seek it out.
10. KILLING EVE (Season 2)
Honestly, to my surprise, Killing Eve only just squeezed its way onto the list.
The breakout critical and audience hit of 2018 adapted by the hot as mustard Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell had big shoes to fill in picking up from *that* S1 cliffhanger and continuing the story of MI5 agent Eve and international assassin Villanelle, and it doesn’t always come together this time around.
What swung it? The last few episodes, in which Fennell basically turns the show into Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, and it flips the cliffhanger of S1 in a very clever way. Hoping for a slightly more consistent S3 but this was still damn good TV for the most part.
9. CATASTROPHE (Season 4)
Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney’s acidic comedy about an unlikely Irish-American couple trying to raise a family in modern London has always quietly been a razor sharp joy, but Catastrophe came to a close this year with a delightfully bittersweet final season which upped the show’s game from a slightly more average S3.
It now will go down as having one of those deliberately ambiguous, The Sopranos-esque endings which will have people debating for quite some time. This is a show, mind you, I fully expect will come back for a revival someday…
8. MINDHUNTER (Season 2)
If there’s one show back for a new series that took a massive leap in quality, it’s David Fincher’s Mindhunter.
Two years after we met FBI criminal profilers Holden Ford & Bill Tench, the show returns with them on a long-term hunt for a racially-motivated serial killer in Atlanta, coveting killers such as David Berkowicz and Charles Manson (in one of 2019’s best episodes) for advice. It’s just so much more deep and thrilling this time around, with Bill’s character in particular going through a terrible family trauma.
Just terrific. I’m really excited for the eventual third season.
7. STRANGER THINGS (Season 3)
The first season of Stranger Things did little for me – an overrated, stolid slice of 80’s nostalgia, but the second season realised the show could be fun along the way.
Season Three doubles down on this approach, focusing the narrative of the teenagers in Hawkins, Indiana, who face Lovecraftian gribblies from the Upside Down around the Starcourt Mall, a sign of capitalist excess encroaching on small town suburbia. It may be flimsier in terms of plot but this feels like Stranger Things having found it’s kitsch, 80’s retro mojo and it was just enormous fun to blast through.
It feels like maybe a future fourth season should be it now though. Go out on a high.
6. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (Season 1)
Back in 2014, before the huge success of Thor: Ragnarok shunted him into the mainstream, Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows was a funny little mockumentary that hacked apart all of the classic vampire tropes from horror storytelling.
It’s a testament to Waititi that his spin-off series, set in the same universe but in New Jersey as opposed to New Zealand, is even better; a genuinely hilarious 10-part series about a group of centuries old vampires in America pretending to live among humans. The characters are funnier. The situations are stronger. The ideas are legion.
My hope is that this runs for many years because it is close to a work of comic genius.
5. RUSSIAN DOLL (Season 1)
You can’t beat a good time loop story and Russian Doll is a *very* good one.
It kind of came out of nowhere too at the top of the year, starring and co-written by Natasha Lyonne, co-star of Orange is the New Black who plays a damaged and self-destructive New Yorker who, Groundhog Day-style, finds herself reliving the same day again and again with acerbic, dramatic and often surprising comic results.
It’s coming back for a second season but it almost doesn’t need it. Hopefully it’ll be able to repeat the trick second time around…
4. GAME OF THRONES (Season 8)
Almost nobody is talking about Game of Thrones now, which is astonishing given how this was the most anticipated TV event probably of the entire decade.
The truth is, Season 8 was largely excellent. Episodes like The Long Night were breathtakingly exciting. The Bells was incredible at the point plotlines a decade in the making began to coalesce. If even had time to chill with characters in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms despite only six short episodes. Yes, finale The Iron Throne was rushed and the denouement was to a degree a predictable damp squib, but the journey getting there was truly fantastic.
It’ll get a revisionist moment eventually but Game of Thrones is, and always will be, one of the best shows in TV history and it largely ended with a flourish. And now this watch has ended…
3. CHERNOBYL (mini-series)
In any other year, Chernobyl would have been an easy winner for best show of the year. It just shows how strong 2019 has been.
Craig Mazin propelled himself to an instant creative talent to watch with this mini-series dramatic take on the 1986 Chernobyl incident in the Soviet Union, with Jared Harris the anxious scientist who investigates and exposes the human error at the heart of the worst nuclear accident in human history. Mazin’s lens is forensic but his script are exemplary in how they transform dry events into tense, moving dramatics.
It is truly a phenomenal piece of work and a real indication of what prestige television is capable of.
2. FLEABAG (Season 2)
Nobody imagined we would get a second season of Fleabag but star/writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge eventually surrendered and somehow managed the impossible.
Whether the second season is better than the first is perhaps too early to judge but Fleabag is now a two-season tragi-comic masterpiece as opposed to one. This is perhaps broader and more about faith than loss but it still exceptional; a skilled fusion of pure, in the vein sadness punctuated by lines you could only dream of writing. It won’t end in uplifting fashion but it never should. That wouldn’t be Fleabag.
No Season 3 please, which Waller-Bridge isn’t apparently planning. Two seasons of greatness is enough.
1. WATCHMEN (Season 1)
People throw the word masterpiece around too often these days but Watchmen truly—truly—qualifies.
I will be reviewing this nine-part TV sequel to Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1985 graphic novel in depth over the next few months but Damon Lindelof’s take on this, tackling the legacy of race in America, is stunning on a visual and narrative level, with a cast of talented performers adding nuance to what was already a fascinating piece of pop-culture mythology.
Utterly flawless storytelling. Watchmen could be the best TV show of the decade, let alone the year, and it’s a hell of a series to top the year off with.
Let me know your TV Top 10 in comments…