As the year draws to a close, we look back at what we’ve done. We’ve scoured op-shops for bargains when people Kondo-ed their homes, we’ve suddenly regretted naming our children Khaleesi, and we’ve welcomed The Mouse into our house with Disney+. With a new decade looming on the horizon we close off 2019 with some of the best TV we’ve seen over the past year.
Honourable Mentions: Season 3 of Stranger Things made us long for cherry slurpees, The OA took a huge step up between seasons one and two, Get Shorty‘s all too brief third season remained compulsive viewing, and Russell T. Davies’ (Doctor Who) Years and Years made us even more afraid of what the future has to offer.
20. Upright S1
A neurotic 40 year old man-child and a troubled teen try and get a piano across Australia by road. The result is a funny and incredibly moving piece of television that showcases Tim Minchin and newcomer Milly Alcock’s talents, as they engage in a very emotional voyage. Part road movie, part buddy comedy, part vision quest – Upright manages to hit the right note.
– DAVID O’CONNELL
19. Kingdom S1
We thought we’d seen everything the genre had to offer, that zombies were dead and buried (again), but something came along that looks at things in a new light. Kingdom seamlessly melds those walking dead with Korean feudal drama, giving us something fresh – Asian courtly intrigue set against an oncoming zombie apocalypse. This is everything Game of Thrones season 8 should have been.
– DAVID O’CONNELL
18. Big Mouth S3
Just when you thought this show couldn’t possibly go any further over the line, the third season disappears way over the horizon. Big Mouth is simultaneously the most explicit thing you have ever seen on TV while maintaining an effective ability to educate pre-teens about the changes occurring in their bodies. Never has a show been able to relate to people about their sexuality through such side-splitting and creative metaphors. This unique take is made possible by the animated medium as viewers will experience countless scenes which would be R-rated otherwise! Netflix should be patting themselves on the back for taking the risk with this one.
17. The Righteous Gemstones S1
The latest series for actor, writer and comedy savant Danny McBride follows the lives of a famous yet dysfunctional family of televangelists who look to spread their word via an ever expanding network of megachurches. McBride plays Jessie who is more sinner than saint, as he bickers with his siblings for his father’s (John Goodman) attention. Edi Patterson is the show’s highlight with expert delivery and physicality as the often passed over daughter, who craves her time in the spotlight. The Righteous Gemstones is dark, hilarious, irreverent and self serving.
16. Catastrophe S4
Castastrophe (S1) opened by posing the question: could two strangers, forced together by the accidental outcome of a holiday fling, make it as successful parents? Over the last four seasons we’ve watched the family grow and overcome all obstacles. They’ve been through a lot. In its final season, we are brought full circle back to a will-they or won’t-they situation as life pulls the unlikely parents in different directions, culminating in new mistakes and louder laughs. Catastrophe takes the mundane day-to-day of a middle aged couple raising children and presents it so honestly that the viewer finds themselves emotionally invested. Which is what makes this ending such anxious watching. Such as life, there are no answers, only more questions.
15. The Handmaid’s Tale S3
While we have undoubtedly drifted far beyond the original novel by Margaret Atwood, it still resounds in this much awaited third season whereby our heroine, June, continues to make bad and infuriating choices. If nothing else, June is predictably propelling the narrative of her as a feminist badass, but it is beginning to tire. Thankfully, there were some moments of grace from the trauma of seasons one and two which are such blessed reprieves from some truly horrific moments.The other predictability of the series is Elisabeth Moss’ profound face acting. It is part of what makes the emotional trauma porn that is Handmaid’s Tale so supremely watchable. Blessed be.
– NATALIE GILES
In the #metoo era, we should all know better than victim blaming. But how would you feel if you simply weren’t believed? This crime-drama mini-series is based on real events, as detailed in the 2015 news article An Unbelievable Story of Rape. In a huge breach of trust, young Marie reports a break-in and sexual assault. Desperately seeking help, she is instead faced with denial and disbelief, and ostracised by those closest to her. Unbelievable ties the facts together in a way that has you shaking your head at each reveal of the floundering failure of the system. It is frustrating and, at times, difficult watching. The superb writing and performances ensure it’s endlessly compelling, despite leaving you in disbelief.
13. Morning Wars S1
Apple TV+’s flagship launch program, called The Morning Show everywhere else in the world, is the most star-studded production of 2019. What’s more impressive is, nine episodes in, it feels like we’re watching career-best performances from everyone on the cast led by Jennifer Aniston, Reece Witherspoon and Steve Carrell. Could it be that the script for this show about America’s highest rating morning show is just so outrageously good it brings out the best in its actors? Particular praise to Billy Crudup, whose smooth-talking executive Corey Ellison dominates the screen in a career-revitalising performance.
– HARVEY RAE
12. Better Things S3
Following a break in 2018 to rejuvenate following the departure of co-creator and serial creep Louis C.K., Better Things had no right to return with its best season yet. Pamela Adlon (Californication) remains a force of nature, and she translates the complete creative control she has gained losing C.K. into her character, Sam. Her trials and tribulations as a single mother and struggling actress raising three eccentric daughters swing from hysterical to profoundly moving within the space of a single 20 minute episode, making it one of the most compulsively watchable shows on TV.
– HARVEY RAE
11. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance S1
For fans of Jim Henson’s 1982 film, this prequel was eagerly anticipated but with that came a little trepidation, despite Toby Froud’s involvement. Toby you might remember as “the babe with the power (what power?)” in Labyrinth, and his father, famed illustrator Brian Froud, was the conceptual designer for both the original Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Thus his pedigree is impeccable, and it shows in the design of the puppetry for this 2019 expansion of a world we know well and hold dear. We weren’t disappointed, and hopefully it has reignited a love for puppetry in a world full of CGI and animation. Devoted fans may critique the storyline, but the attention to detail and world building? Flawless.
– NATALIE GILES
10. Legion S3
Probably the best piece of Marvel TV, certainly the most criminally under-watched, and arguably the best superhero show on TV (at least till this year – more on that later) wrapped up its final season. Legion was a consistently inventive show, that managed to challenge audiences both with its creative visuals, and its complex character arc for David Haller (Dan Stevens). Creator Noah Hawley’s (Fargo) take on the series is testimony that you don’t need to remain slavishly true to the original source material to do its spirit justice. A philosophy which thankfully carries through to Hawley and Jeff Russo’s equally inventive soundtrack.
9. The Loudest Voice
Once in a while, a person will shape the course of history forever, and do it right under everyone’s noses – this is what makes this underrated mini-series so powerful. What has been largely overlooked, but cherished by a few, is Russell Crowe’s jaw-dropping performance bursting right through your screen. For those in the know, Crowe makes viewers understand how Roger Ailes could achieve (and get away with) the despicable things he did, including starting the ultra-successful conservative news network, Fox News, helping to convince Americans the war in Afghanistan was not only necessary but patriotic, and ruining the lives of countless men and women for his personal benefit. A fascinating watch for anyone interested in learning how their world really works.
– SHAQUILLE STIRLING
8. Counterpart S2
Counterpart treats its high concept science fiction premise with utter integrity and conviction, forging one of the most realistic takes on science fiction we are ever going to see. This spy thriller, set between two alternate realities at a state of cold war is compulsory viewing, made unmissable by two central performances by J.K. Simmons, as he plays a dual role as both the Alpha and the Prime version of Howard Silk. This season expanded the mythology of the universes, giving us an insight into the creation of the Crossing, and the shadowy organisations that control it. Sadly this season also saw the cancellation of Counterpart, but at least these two seasons will stand testament to a gem of a show.
– DAVID O’CONNELL
7. Mindhunter S2
Television’s most outstanding crime drama continued the journey of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), travelling across America interviewing the world’s most vile serial killers. Using their insight to identify the relevance of trends across new cases, we even got an insane insight (literally into the mind of Charles Manson this year. David Fincher (Gone Girl, Fight Club) oversaw and directed the front third of the season, tormenting the viewer with anticipation as the detectives sparred with their subjects, who often feel like they’re going to burst out of their shackles and attack us at any moment.
I can think of no higher praise for this series than it is like reading the comic book for the first time. Creator Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers) has forged a multi-layered mystery that has unfolded with stunning artistic beauty, and has grown with each episode. Watchmen remains true to the themes of Alan Moore’s original work, allowing us a deconstruction of Superhero mythology, but updates them to the modern era, looking at pertinent issues such as race and the surveillance state. The results are truly breathtaking, an effect that’s only amplified by a brilliant score from Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross.
– DAVID O’CONNELL
5. The Boys S1
Based on a comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, The Boys works on a premise that is too hard to pass up. Turning the superhero genre on its head, this is a world where superheroes are owned by a multinational company, with a focus on creating feel good publicity for the heroes instead of saving lives. The Boys are a group of vigilantes that attempt to keep the corrupt and arrogant superheroes in line with varying success. If you crave characters that have potty mouths, loose morals and no shame then this band of superpowered egomaniacs is a must watch.
4. Sucession S2
Succession more than rose to the occasion following an infinitely promising first season, becoming HBO’s flagship program with its second season. A mix of power, intrigue and the blackest of black humour certainly makes Succession infinitely quotable, but it’s the plot intricacies and twists that constantly surprise, making this arguably the greatest show on TV right now. Add to that some of the best character building and relationship arcs on screen right now and Succession is the fictitious retelling of ultra-rich, ultra-right media moguls you didn’t know you needed. Season three can’t come soon enough.
– HARVEY RAE
3. Russian Doll S1
Natasha Lyonne is a goddamn powerhouse. After 99 titles under her belt as an actress and one short, she enlisted the incredible skills of the phenomenally talented Amy Poehler and Lesley Headland to create some of the most engaging television on our screens in 2019. Universally loved as a series, Russian Doll is intensely relatable for anyone who is a woman, or aware of their mortality – or enjoys partying and cats and sex. Party girl Nadia turns 36 and is suddenly killed, then resurrected. Rinse and repeat. Yet this Groundhog Day is anything but repetitive. The genius writing features some incredibly snappy dialogue, and is incidentally feminist purely through the honestly brutal portrayal of the experiences of women. Uplifting and hilarious, and wholeheartedly recommended for a Boxing Day binge.
The horrific circumstances of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster were put on display in this haunting miniseries, not shying away from showing the bodily destruction, the political manipulation, and the heroic work that surrounded this historical disaster. Though one of the shorter miniseries in recent memory, Chernobyl spends the right amount of time on detailing the disaster, its aftermath, the attempted cover-up, the attempts to fix it, and then finally the explanation of how such an event occurred. As depicted here, this disaster comes across as direct and matter-of-fact, though in setting its sights mostly on Jared Harris and Emily Watson’s characters, it reveals the heroism that unfolded from such a tragedy.
1. Fleabag S2
Just when you thought she couldn’t sink any lower, Phoebe Waller-Bridge returned in 2019 with the second season of her inappropriate BBC comedy, Fleabag. Like listening to your drunk bestie at a party, Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) intimately shares her stories of awkward – often hysterical – bad behaviour and bad decisions. Three years after its 2016 debut, season 2 finally arrived to follow the breakdown of Fleabag’s family relationships, but this time there’s more of an emotional pull to the loss and sadness that offsets her ridiculousness. The true genius here is the twist in on-camera commentary that blows the audience’s guilty little secret wide open. We are found out and exposed, and after six short episodes, we find ourselves alone. With just two seasons in its four year run, it’s hard to overstate the influence of Fleabag.