End of Year Television Review: The Highlights of 2019
It's the end of another momentous year of television and there's plenty to digest. January kicked off with the return of Luther and an end to Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The streaming site also had plenty of new offerings, from You to The Umbrella Academy to Russian Doll and that was before the return of big shows like Stranger Things and Mindhunter and the low-key end to its Marvel shows with Jessica Jones.
2019 was the year that Game of Thrones came to a epic and somewhat decisive end, while Neil Gaiman had two big TV shows in American Gods' second season and a six-part adaptation of Good Omens. In the age of superhero shows, Legion continued to buck convention in its final mind-bending season, while Watchmen took up the mantle of something new and unique in the genre. The launch of Disney+, frustratingly delayed until March 2020 in the UK, saw the announcement of numerous Star Wars and Marvel TV shows, looking to expand both franchises on the small screen. Star Trek was a big thing again in 2019, with Star Trek: Discovery paying homage to classic characters in its second season, while the trailers for Star Trek: Picard promise an exciting start to next year. And with more live action and animated series announced, and Seth MacFarlane's The Orville carving its own little space, spaceship dramas are cool once again.
The BBC claimed its stake in Sunday night viewing with another riveting series of Line of Duty and adaptations of His Dark Materials and the disappointing The War of the Worlds. Russell T Davies delivered a disturbingly real TV drama in Year and Years and Phoebe Waller-Bridge gave us another astoundingly good series of Fleabag. The US delivered plenty of big event seasons, from the slasher-movie vibes of American Horror Story: 1984 to the harrowing Chernobyl, while everyone noticed just how damned good Succession really was in its second season. 2019 was the year of The Good Place kicked off its final season, The Big Bang Theory ended, more reboots were hinted at - from Frasier to Battlestar Galactica - and Apple TV+ launched to a somewhat middling fanfare.
But after the dust has settled, what really made the mark this year? Once again, we've assembled a band of The Digital Fix writers to reflect on the best of 2019, with a little bit of discussion on those show's that improved and those that didn't. There are some usual suspects in the list, but some new entries too. And if you feel like reflecting back on the last two year's end of TV reviews, take a look at the links below...
In addition to myself (TV Editor at The Digital Fix), I'll be joined by regular writers Chris Philp, Daniel Davies, Robert Turnbull, Steven Slatter, Gary Couzens, Becky Kukla, Omar Soliman and The Digital Fix chief editor Colin Polonowski.
So without further ado, allow us to present The Digital Fix's End of Year Television Review 2019...
Best TV News Item of 2019
Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series announced on Disney+ (Baz Greenland, Chris Philp and Colin Polonowski)
The Star Wars prequel trilogy has a few moments of redeem-ability, with a lot of disappointment too. But what character that arguably shone throughout all three films was Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi. Given better films, McGregor's Jedi could have been magnificent. While he was denied a spin-off movie when Disney pulled the plug on their Star Wars stories, giving him a TV series might be one of the best things to happen to the franchise. With meatier material and the long-form storytelling a TV series can provide, this might finally be the chance to give Obi-Wan Kenobi the chance he was always deserved (Baz)
Probably the worst kept secret in fandom, Disney finally announced they would be making an Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series to be shown on their new streaming service Disney+. More important was the news that Ewan McGregor would be returning to the role of the Star Wars icon. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the show is due to start filming next summer under the guidance of Deborah Chow who is fresh off Disney’s current Star Wars hit The Mandalorian. If she can capture half the magic of that show then it’s sure to be another winner! (Chris)
Obi-wan Kenobi finally get his own series with Ewan McGregor back in the role. The loss of the ‘Star Wars Story’ films in the post The Last Jedi idiocy is probably the worst thing to come out of that whole saga, so the fact that Ewan will get another chance on TV is great news (Colin)
The Prince Andrew Interview (Omar Soliman)
This is a late entry but was there anything more delicious than watching Prince Andrew being slowly dissected by Emily Maitlis? Was he really in a Pizza Express in Woking? Could he really not sweat? Who knows.
The return to Gavin and Stacey for a Christmas special (Daniel Davies)
The announcement that Gavin and Stacey would be back was a really positive one and came at a good time; it’s been nine years since we last saw arguably the most relatable show on telly. The trailer looks absolutely brilliant – as if nothing has changed "And oh, I thinks everybody loves a bit of nostalgia in their life I won’t lie to you" is what Nessa would probably say. For the way it was rumoured, confirmed by James Corden, hyped nationally and the timing, I think this has to be the best piece of TV news for 2019. You can catch Gav-la and Co on BBC One – Christmas Day at 8.30pm.
Disney + / The Mandalorian Coming to the UK in March 2020 (Steven Slatter)
Disney+ has been one of the most talked about streaming services for quite some time, and it’s no surprise why. Audiences, for a small monthly fee, will be able to access their favourite superhero movies and beloved Disney childhood classics among so much more. But for many the excitement didn’t stop there, as it was announced that a new live action Star Wars series The Mandalorian would be released on launch day. Once the initial disappointment set in of Europe having to wait four months past the November 2019 US release date, the excitement began to build. With Disney owning some of the largest properties in popular culture such as Pixar, Marvel and The Simpsons on Fox, the possibilities for new and improved content are endless. Bring on March 2020.
Brandon Routh to play Superman again in Crisis on Infinite Earths (Robert Turnbull)
My favourite bit of TV news this year - apart from Krypton being cancelled - was the surprise announcement that Brandon Routh would be returning to the role of Superman for the Arrowverse Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. While there have been some bigger, more long lasting announcements made for TV this year, on a purely personal, non-objective basis, this got me more excited and hopeful than any other bit of news. As a lifelong Superman fan who has been desperately disappointed with recent screen adaptations (yes, sorry, even you Tyler Hoechlin) the idea of seeing Routh in the role again has me more excited about the character than I have been for a long time and I can’t wait to see those red over-pants and spit curl and maybe hear a burst of John Williams (come on guys, give us some John Williams!) But more than seeing Routh’s Big Blue Boy Scout again, I’m excited to see his Clark Kent. We’ve not seen a really good, effective interpretation of Clark since Routh’s original run out in 2006’s Superman Returns and I can’t wait to revisit his mild mannered reporter. So thank you Arrowverse for unexpectedly bringing me my best bit of TV news this year!
RuPaul’s Drag Race Coming to UK (Becky Kukla)
After the disappointment of the last few seasons of Drag Race US, the news that the show was crossing the Atlantic was joy to many ears. Gone were any ideas of pageantry, poise or elegance, replaced instead with impressions of Kim Woodburn, clashing prints and a renewed idea of what drag really means. (Happily, Drag Race UK also lived up to the very high expectations)
Best UK TV show of 2019
His Dark Materials (Baz Greenland)
His Dark Materials recaptured the magic of my youth watching The Chronicles of Narnia on BBC One on a Sunday night. This latest book adaptation is a gourgeous looking show, with some real care and confidence in adapting Phillip Pullman's books for the screen. Growing in strength week on week, it boasts an impressive cast, all outshone by Dafne Keen's central character Lyra, who manages to out-act everyone. With the talent on display, that's no mean feat.
Check out Baz's reviews of His Dark Materials season one here.
Killing Eve (Omar Soliman)
Though it didn’t quite hit the level of the utterly perfect first season this was still the bloodiest of indulgent TV shows. Yes, the Americans love it too which is a pretty endearing endorsement. Yes, Jodie Comer is a national treasure. And yes, I did hope they would leave it to two seasons but we can’t have everything can we?
Line of Duty (Daniel Davies and Colin Polonowski)
In terms of what the UK has produced this year it has largely felt like a reality show overhaul which is becoming exhausting. But more positively, TV Dramas seem to be on the rise – in volume and quality. The BBC are coming out with a few gems and this year saw Line Of Duty season five – this was something of an epic season and delivered this ongoing suspense like a steam train that hadn’t aged. It was relentless in its lead to find out to was the infamous ‘H’. With some high quality acting and writing – Line of Duty set a bar high for future realistic shows – certainly for the BBC (Daniel)
Line of Duty continues to be one of the best TV series of recent years. Gripping, with enough twists and turns to keep you entertained. It helps that the central cast are all outstanding and this year’s guest stars of Stephen Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin and Rochenda Sandall all excel. Utterly brilliant TV (Colin)
Check out our interviews with actress Rochenda Sandall and series creator Jed Mercurio.
Years and Years (Gary Couzens and Becky Kukla)
Russell T Davies’s six-parter began right up to the minute. The serial moved into the near future, and follows the Lyons family (four children, their partners and their grandmother, formidably played by Anne Reid). At the same time, we follow the rise of a right-wing populist demagogue, Vivieene Rook (Emma Thompson giving her best performance in years). Funny, engaging, at times terrifying (especially the end of the first episode), Years and Years was a drama with plenty to say about our times and a likely future for us and this country. It didn’t really find an audience on BBC One, which is a pity; maybe it would have been better on BBC Two (Gary)
Dystopian near future nightmare meets family drama, with added sci-fi tech, oppressive regimes and eventual revolution - Russell T Davies BBC comeback series Years and Years ticked every single box. What made it so special, though, was it’s focus on showing how a country can stray so far from anything resembling humanity, through a family unit. The Lyons were the perfect vehicle to steer the show through 15 years... and unfortunately it looks like Davies might have predicted the future (Becky)
You can read Becky's reviews of each episode of Years and Years complete series here.
Sex Education (Steven Slatter)
While best is subjective, this show deserves the love because of how surprisingly entertaining it was. I initially expected a teen rom-com of sorts full of poorly executed sexual innuendos and awkward situations. While the story surrounded the sexual journeys young teens go through, it focused on characters, investing time developing their personalities, expanding on more than just their sexual preferences. The performances were outstanding, most notably from Emma Mackey who portrayed Maeve, the humour was spot on and the flow kept you wanting more.
Best US / Overseas TV show of 2019
Succession (Baz Greenland)
I only got into HBO drama Succession this year and it quickly became a binge watching obsession. While the first season, centred around Murdoch-inspired mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his family, boasted an impressive cast and some powerful narrative moments, the second season easily took things up another level. Fully recovered and as ruthless as ever, we saw Logan tighten his grip over his empire, controlling broken son Roy, playing with the dreams of daughter Shiv and every despicable character vying for power. As horrible as these characters are, the Machiavellian schemes and machinations were riveting, resulting in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that looked set to shake things up for its third season.
Watchmen (Chris Philp)
Damon Lindelof pulled off what most people thought was impossible. A direct sequel to the seminal comic Watchmen that is not only a worthy successor but is an absolute masterpiece in its own right. Eschewing the big city setting of the source material, we jump forward almost thirty five years to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a race war sparked by white supremacists wearing Rorschach masks is igniting. Costumed vigilantes are still banned, yet the police cover their faces. An outstanding cast headed by Regina King and Jean Smart lead us through a complicated but always intriguing narrative that entwines itself with the very fabric of the original comic. Surprises galore punctuate an always unpredictable plot as secrets are revealed and heroes redefined. Beautiful visuals and a soundtrack by Trent Reznor assist in making Watchmen an instant classic.
Check out Chris's reviews of Watchmen season one here.
Dark (Chris Becky Kukla)
With a lot of competition from the US, it’s Germany’s Dark which has won my vote for best US/Overseas TV Show of the year. Season two aired in 2019, which ramped up the tension, familial ties and headache-inducing time travel from season one - but in the best way possible. The series expertly shifts from dense science-fiction to drama, with an ensemble cast that gets even better with an additional time period (hello 2052) in season two. And, happily, it’s been renewed for a third season! I, for one, cannot wait to return to Winden (Becky)
Glow (Omar Soliman)
For consistency it has to be Glow as every episode is a delight. Sure, it’s a little trashy yet, there is more than just spandex on show.
Power (Daniel Davies)
In what is sadly the final season, albeit with a final five episodes to air in January 2020, Power’s season six this year has been truly epic. The whole series of Power historically builds up individual season-story arcs with the grand ending always looming. Season six began that part of the journey that is the end and it provided a motion of events that saw the stakes risen, deaths to many major characters and one almighty cliff-hanger for its five-episode return in January. Power is always fantastically written, producing a wealth of storylines and what it does so brilliantly is that it is near impossible not to root for the characters – despite their continuous criminal activity.
Check out Daniel's reviews of Power's final season here.
Russian Doll (Gary Couzens)
Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) is in the bathroom at her own birthday party, Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” on the soundtrack. How did she get here? She soon finds the answer: this night she dies, and returns back to this point in a continious loop. A spin on Groundhog Day, Russian Doll soon moves in its own direction, as Nadia tries to find the reasons why she is in this loop and how to break out of it. As well as playing the lead, Lyonne co-created this Netflix serial, eight half-hour episodes, co-wrote two episodes and directed one. Her performance anchors the show, which is funny, darkly cynical and at times quite sad. Netflix has commissioned a second season.
Living With Yourself (Robert Turnbull)
It’s been a very good year for returning shows and I have a huge list that could easily take this title - but I was really impressed by a new US show on Netflix this year, Living With Yourself. I was expecting an entertaining yet existentially dour show but Living with Yourself was upbeat, witty, optimistic and cleverly constructed. Not to mention it featured two (three?) of the most likeable leads of the year in Paul Rudd and Aisling Bea. Running full force with its ideas out in front it managed to keep the audience on its toes, taking unexpected paths and steering away from the obvious comedy beats, even if the finale was a little signposted. Unexpectedly feel good and low key high concept, its flashes of originality- or at least old ideas done in a fresh way - managed to make it my unexpected favourite this year.
Check out The Digital Fix's review of the first season here.
Most disappointing TV show(s) of 2019
The Flash (Baz Greenland)
One show that really fell off the ravine in 2019 was The Flash - specifically season five. If there was ever an argument for why superhero shows need to cut their 22-episode format down to 13 or less, season five was it. While previous seasons have had their ups and downs, the fifth was an utter bore, with a villain Savitar that was both terrible and dragged out far too long than necessary. While the rest of the Arrowverse shows had some good and some bad episodes, there was little to redeem The Flash this time round. This should be the most fun superhero show out there and it was just dull. Fortunately, the opening episodes of season six may have saved the show; that's a good thing too as I'm sure I wasn't the only one ready to give up on The Flash after season five (check out our reviews of both seasons here)
The War of the Worlds (Chris Philp)
The BBC adaptation of The War of the Worlds was a stinker. I wouldn’t say it disappointed me because I wasn’t expecting much anyway. Dreary and clunky with Z grade special effects, no wonder it apparently set on the shelf for almost two years. There it should have stayed.
You can read The Digital Fix review here.
Game of Thrones (Omar Soliman)
The warning signs were there on the faces of Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage when asked how season eight of Game of Thrones was shaping up as both had a deeply uneasy, uncomfortable, unconvincing look. Fingers point at Benioff and Weiss who oversaw the final chapters in what many hardcore fans saw as a rushed job, and that’s putting it mildly. With hindsight, seven episodes was never going to be enough to tie up such a behemoth of a show and though the show looked stunning, its execution was anything but.
Check out our reviews of the final season here)
Black Lightning (Steven Slatter)
The first season of Black Lightning had its ups and downs, but was forgivable as it was only the opening season. By its conclusion, while perhaps not great, it certainly showed potential and built towards a decent climax leaving some anticipation for its continuation. Disappointingly, season two was terrible. While it had a shining star in Marvin Krondon Jones III who portrayed Tobias unbelievably well, the story was scattered, characters weren’t given the attention they deserved and the action, both in effects and physical choreography were below par. It felt unfinished and unloved.
Check out Steven's reviews of Black Lightning season two here.
Star Trek: Discovery (Robert Turnbull)
Star Trek: Discovery was still my most disappointing show this year, I only stuck with it out of a weird Star Trek loyalty and after the first season I didn’t think I could be more disappointed. Ironically, Star Trek: Discovery did start to get a bit better, especially with the introduction of Anson Mount as Captain Pike, which set us up for more disappointment. It’s because of the improvements and flashes of proper-Star Trek fun giving me refreshed hope in the show that it ended up doubling down and becoming even more disappointing! Poor plotting, illogical narratives, unlikable characters and the show acting as if we cared about random characters all contributed to a terrible, wasteful piece of television.
See (Colin Polonowski)
It LOOKS lovely - you can see where all of the money went on the stunning cinematography and scenery (although it’s surprisingly effect light). Even the central idea is great, but there just wasn’t enough happening in the short eight episode first season and as a result it felt stretched and cumbersome as a result.
Check out our reviews of See's first season here.
His Dark Materials (Becky Kukla)
It’s not that this was the worst show of 2019, far from it, but His Dark Materials is so disappointing because it had the potential to be so good. From borrowing material from the ‘Subtle Knife’ (ergo ruining the parallel worlds plot twist) to baffling slow pace of every single episode, to the reluctance to focus on the important daemon/human relationship, His Dark Materials has great moments but overall is a let down. Ruth Wilson is phenomenal, however.
Most improved TV show(s) of 2019
The Orville (Baz Greenland)
The first season on The Orville was by no means disappointing. Once it found the right balance between comedy and drama, the sci-fi series became a welcome Star Trek: The Next Generation-eqsue feel good show. Season two built on that solid foundation, quickly emerging as far more than a Star Trek-inspired series into a sci-fi hit in its own right. With the big turning point in the Kaylon invasion two-parter, The Orville suddenly became must see TV and that confidence shone throughout, with meatier social themes, big character growth and sweeping action. Roll on season three (and check out our reviews of season two here).
A special mention to some other shows this year; Luther came back strong in its dramatic fifth series and Legion finally found the balance between drama and surrealism in its confident third and final season. After the frankly dire third season, Lucifer regained the magic of its season one days with a shortened, more focused season and added supernatural and spiritual elements.
The Flash - season six (Steven Slatter)
The fifth season of The Flash was slow and monotonous. It was always a fear that season six would continue in these footsteps but all seven episodes currently released have been a breath of fresh air. The writers have brought back humour reminiscent of season one, have focused more on the human element which has proved to be a dramatic positive but most importantly is delivering a constantly entertaining show, a great improvement from the last season. While this may change after the crossover event, the current content has been a joy to watch.
Archer (Robert Turnbull)
I felt like Archer really pulled itself back from its last couple of seasons. The new futuristic setting was more in keeping with the traditional Archer format and spy setting and the comedy and characterisation felt tighter and more on point. I felt like I was watching the characters I knew and loved, just in space. Finally reverting to the original, real world at the end of the season was a good choice as the anthology thing wasn’t as successful as the creators maybe had hoped.
Honourable mention to Star Trek: Discovery which made some real effort to be better but… wasn’t.
Star Trek: Discovery (Colin Polonowski)
Star Trek: Discovery’s introduction of Captain Pike and the Enterprise made the second season of the Star Trek prequel a much more enjoyable experience. It still has its detractors but almost everyone can get behind Anson Mount’s take on the earlier Enterprise Captain. It also helped fill in gaps in the Spock/Michael Burnham story that previously didn’t make sense.
Check out Colin's reviews of season two here.
Best TV Factual / Documentary of 2019
Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (Omar Soliman)
Let’s admit it, we have a dark, disturbing fascination with serial killers that Netflix has exploited to the max. For some reason we want to occupy their depraved minds and Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes delved right in there. What we found were hoards of fans willing to defend him, several women who found him compulsively charismatic and a man so removed from reality he tried to defend himself in court. Unsettling, revolting and wholly watchable.
Country Music (Gary Couzens)
Two years ago, I named The Vietnam War, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in this slot. Now it’s the turn of Country Music, directed by Burns solo though written by Dayton Duncan, and broadcast in the UK on BBC Four. As with Burns’s earlier series, the format is the same: contemporary interviews with archive footage and stills, and narration by Peter Coyote, telling its story in considerable depth from its beginnings to the present day. It’s a compelling slice of history, and the story of a particular American music that absorbed all sorts of influences from outside and made something its own. As with The Vietnam War, the BBC are showing a shortened, nine-episode version re-edited for international audiences. However, the full version of the earlier series, and others by Burns, are available on Netflix and I wouldn’t be surprised if Country Music turns up there too.
Seven Worlds, One Planet (Daniel Davies)
The legendary Sir David Attenborough is back at it again, narrating this heartfelt documentary around each continent of the marvel that is Planet Earth. Highlighting some truly important issues around the globe and in each respective continent, Seven Worlds, One Planet serves up some ice-cold truth around what is happening to our planet and the damages being caused. Of course – it doesn’t show all the negative aspects no, it instead opts with highlighting more of the beauty of the planet and what it is we could in-fact lose, should we opt against saving it. It is beautifully captured and portrayed – providing some simply breath-taking cinematography, plentiful enough to give chills down your spine.
The Game Changers (Steven Slatter)
This was an eye-opening documentary film outlining the nutritional benefits of a plant based vegan diet. Vegan activists can often be overbearing and come across as rude, accusing meat-eaters of murder, so watching a vegan based documentary without that prejudice was refreshing.The lack of bias plays a huge role in the success of this documentary as it allows the audience to make up their own mind based on the information given, so while many may not feel guilt for animals dying for sustenance, this offers, for some a whole new argument for veganism. The documentary itself was superbly made with the 90 minute run-time going by at a consistent enjoyable pace and most importantly has made me question my ethical and dietary choices.
Best TV DVD / Blu ray release of 2019
Doctor Who Season 10 blu ray (Baz Greenland)
With all episodes of classic era Doctor Who released on DVD and even a number of missing episodes reanimated, fans of the classic era and those who joined the show in the modern Nu Who era can finally experience the entirety of what Doctor Who has to offer. The special edition blu ray release are particularly special and Jon Pertwee's fourth season in the role is a wonderful addition. With anniversary special The Three Doctors, the Master's final appearance in Frontier in Space and the infamous giant maggots from The Green Death, this is one set that truly deserves classic status.
Game of Thrones complete Season 1-8 set (Daniel Davies and Colin Polonowski)
Game of Thrones has arguably been the biggest TV phenomenon of this decade and produced countless spectacles, also redefining the boundaries of a TV show – introducing the audience to a world of no limits. To finally be able to own each and every episode – alongside an abundance of extra content on DVD and Blu-Ray is simply a privilege. Seasons 1-8 offers 73 episodes to enjoy and relish and albeit released only on 2nd December – this is one for the ages (Daniel)
The Game of Thrones Complete Limited Edition is a sight to behold. Beautifully crafted with 7 seasons of the best television ever created. I even enjoyed Season 8, despite the fact that it was so rushed and full of cut corners (Colin)
At Last the 1948 Show / Do Not Adjust Your Set (Gary Couzens)
I’ve gone for a double-header. Broadcast between 1967 and 1969, At Last the 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set were major stepping stones towards what became Monty Python’s Flying Circus at the end of the decade. 1948 Show was late night and featured John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Marty Feldman and “the lovely Aimi MacDonald”. Do Not Adjust Your Set, supposedly a children’s show but one which adults watched, brought together Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, David Jason and Denise Coffey and in its second series featured animations by Terry Gilliam which point towards his later Python style. These DVD sets bring together all the surviving material from both shows, and much of it is still fresh and funny today.
Check out our reviews of At Last the 1948 Show DVD release here and Do Not Adjust Your Set DVD here.
Best New TV show of 2019
Russian Doll (Baz Greenland)
There's been a number of terrific new shows released this year, and Netflix has been at the forefront of some of the best, from You to The Umbrella Academy. But the real highlight has to be the Groundhog Day-esque Russian Doll. Natasha Lyonne has been phenomenal as gravelly-voiced, no nonsense Nadia who finds herself dying over and over again. Despite the established format, it doesn't play to expectation and the dark humour and surprise twists make this eight episode of riveting television.
The Umbrella Academy (Chris Philp)
Netflix proved yet again that it is leading the way for genre shows with its adaptation of The Umbrella Academy. Based on the comic book by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, this first season played out like a superhero movie directed by Wes Anderson. Quirky characters and settings brought to life the tale of a highly dysfunctional family of misfits that just might have to band together to save the world. Brilliant effects work from Weta Digital brought Pogo, the talking monkey to vivid life and with Cha-Cha and Hazel we were introduced to two of the more surreal villains to ever grace the screen. Violent and sweet in equal measure The Umbrella Academy quickly became one of the ratings hits of the year. With season two already in production and several more volumes of the comic to draw inspiration from hopefully the Hargreeves family will be around for many more years yet, especially after the intense cliffhanger that ended its inaugural season.
Watchmen (Omar Soliman)
While it dropped late into the year, Watchmen is one of few TV adaptations to truly match the hype. No episode feels the same and each leaves a resoundingly satisfying verdict. The direction has been bold and executed expertly with the plot building layers upon layers, week on week.
After Life (Steven Slatter)
With the plethora of new TV released in 2019, it’s hard to choose the best, but for me After Life left an everlasting impression. Ricky Gervais returned to the small screen to deliver an emotional roller coaster about a man dealing with the loss of his wife. Out of nowhere this show hits you hard. It tackles many different issues that numerous people can relate to and totalling just three hours over six episodes, it’s easily digestible. It never bores you with overbearing and overly complex characters; the story is simplistic and re-watchable but best of all it manages to inject some truly gut-busting comedy.
Check out Steven's review of season one here.
What We Do In The Shadows (Robert Turnbull)
What We Do in the Shadows gets my pick (it almost got my pick for best US/Overseas show). Apart from being a genuinely funny and effective adaptation of the film, it was a real international mix of talent; a US produced show from New Zealand creators staring UK performers. It was surprising how well it worked and the cameo filled episode with the Council of Vampires was a really unexpected and clever surprise. I’m looking forward to seeing where the show might go next.
Tuca and Bertie (Becky Kukla)
From the mind of Bojack Horseman producer Lisa Hanawalt, Tuca and Bertie felt like an absolute breath of fresh air when it hit Netflix this year. The two best friends (voiced by Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish) are a Tucan and a Songbird, learning to navigate life in their thirties. It’s about friendship, love, adulthood, trauma and everything in between - with heavy doses of hallucinogenic sequences and hard home truths. And, because apparently Netflix don’t understand what a precious gem they had on their hands, it’s also been cancelled.
Best TV Episode of 2019
Game of Thrones 6.03: The Long Night (Baz Greenland and Daniel Davies)
This was the moment Game of Thrones had been building to since the opening episode. The invasion of the army of the dead was nothing short of spectacular, from the thrilling charge of the Dothraki with their flaming spears to the battle between the Night King's dragon and Daenerys and Jon through the night skies. It was nail biting, gruesome and better than anything The Walking Dead has done. And while it ended all too quickly, Arya slaying the Night King was one of the best moments of television this year (Baz)
The Battle of Winterfell was perhaps one of the most anticipated episodes of television ever – yes, ever! Thinking about it – despite all the ongoing wars that were on show during Game of Thrones, it was all ultimately redundant because of the march of the dead. Having known ‘Winter was Coming’ from the very start – the first 69 episodes were all leading up to this moment and to see a culmination of the show’s greatest characters unite to take on this almighty threat brought real excitement to see how the events would unfold after all this time. The episode was long, but in the best way – providing immense detail into everything that took place from beginning to end – to have one episode purely dedicated to one battle was glorious. (Daniel)
Check out our detailed review of the episode here.
Fleabag 2.05 (Omar Soliman)
Would she, wouldn’t she? Of course she would. We truly are blessed to live in the same time as Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her third wall breaking ways in Fleabag. As soon as she hooked eyes on the ‘Hot Priest’ you knew what was coming and it was the getting there that was most fun. Turning up rambling about how fucked his life would be if they fucked, then they did. Brilliant.
Chernobyl: 1.05 Vichnaya Pamyat (Becky Kukla)
There were some phenomenal moments throughout the series, but the way in which Craig Mazin and his team pulled off what is essentially an hour of exposition, is unlike that’s ever been aired on TV before. The episode manages to simultaneously act as a nuclear-reactors-for-dummies lecture, without ever making the audience feel that they are in a science lesson. It’s utterly captivating and utterly devastating. Jared Harris is on point throughout, guiding us through a complicated but necessary explanation of what went wrong at Chernobyl that night. A remarkable and shocking end to a series which pushed the boundaries of television.
Best TV Performance of 2019
Martin Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (Baz Greenland)
There have been some pretty amazing performances this year. Brian Cox on Succession, Ruth Wilson in Luther and His Dark Materials, Dafne Keen for His Dark Materials too or Matt Stevens in Legion. But the real standouts for me have to be Martin Sheen and David Tennant who delivered the delightful odd couple Aziraphale and Crowley in Good Omens. This was Tennant's best role since the Doctor and his fading rock star-style sleaziness mixed with Sheen's bumbling aristocrat proved to be glue that held the show together.
Check out The Digital Fix's review of Good Omens full season here.
Robert Sheehan in The Umbrella Academy (Chris Philp)
This has been a banner year for small screen comic book adaptations. Legion, Watchmen, Happy! and The Umbrella Academy all showed what can be achieved if the right care and attention is applied to good source material. Standing out against a swathe of great performances across the board is Robert Sheehan’s portrayal of Klaus Hargreeves a.k.a. Number 4 in The Umbrella Academy. Sheehan’s depiction of the drug addicted hero with the ability to talk to the dead is a powerhouse performance. Klaus’ torture at the hands of Cha-Cha and Hazel is one of Sheehan’s finest moments as his forced withdrawal and sobriety allow his powers to manifest themselves. His depiction of the heartbreak Klaus feels after his boyfriend is killed during his accidental time travelling visit to the Vietnam war is both tragic and poignant. His subsequent rehabilitation and reconciliation with his family as they battle to save the world from destruction is a series high point.
Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones (Omar Soliman)
Okay. We all appreciate that the final season of Game of Thrones was a huge disappointment. However, one standout from that shambles was Peter Dinklage and his masterful depiction of the much maligned Tyrion. In my sweepstake of who’s going to get through to the end I couldn’t see him lasting long, not with Cersei after him and certainly not after he betrayed Daenerys. With a somewhat limited script, Dinklage somehow managed to strike a home run for the beloved character who truly had been through it all; the reunion with his brother then breaking him out of captivity only to uncover his and his sister’s bodies then realising he’d backed a tyrant. A well earned Emmy despite the show itself and not because of it.
Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll (Gary Couzens)
While she’s not the only person involved in Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne’s performance is at the heart of it. Cynical thirtysomething New Yorker Nadia, is a very flawed character but a compelling one, and you have to wonder how much Lyonne’s own history (including drug addiction) fed into the part. She started acting in her teens and this performance fulfils that early promise, at an age (mid-thirties) where strong roles for women start becoming sparse.
Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials (Robert Turnbull)
It’s been a great year for individual performances, it’s a tricky one for me to pin down – Joe Keery was especially good in season three of Stranger Things, Ted Danson’s comic turn in The Good Place continues to be top notch and Bill Hader is just superb in Barry. But I think Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials has been fantastic. It’s a scary, tender, complex performance and she’s effortlessly watchable bringing a depth and believability to the show’s world and her character’s motives. She excels at playing people on the edge of the emotional and mental precipice, there is so much at play under the surface of Mrs Coulter and Wilson allows us to see flashes of her conflicting emotions and allegiances with perfect control. Also, that monkey is creepy as hell.
Merrit Weaver as Detective Karen Duvall in Unbelievable (Becky Kukla)
This title should probably also go to the two other fantastic performances in Unbelievable (Toni Collette and Kaitlyn Dever), but it is Merrit Weaver’s subtle and understated journey through the horrific violence of a serial rapist which cinches the top title of best performance.Weaver is so authentic in her performance as the brilliant, yet struggling Detective Karen Duvall, that it made me want to watch everything she has ever been in.
Best TV Moment of 2019
Daenerys unleashes Drogon on King's Landing from Game of Thrones (Baz Greenland)
Followed closely by Arya slaying the Night King, the final season of Game of Thrones had some pretty spectacular moments. But few were as jaw-dropping as the moment Daenerys finally snapped in penultimate episode The Bells. I was on the verge of shouting 'don't do it!' as Daenerys's expression took a grim turn and the ensuing chaos that followed was horrific and jaw dropping - the moment that the 'heroine' became the villain. It is something we should have all seen coming...
The charge of the Dothraki at Winterfell from Game of Thrones (Daniel Davies)
Melisandre lighting up the screen with the Dothraki flaming swords as they charge into the army of the dead kicks off the Battle of Winterfell and with it, a defining piece of TV history.
Stath needs some sleep from Stath Let’s Flats (Becky Kukla)
You could choose literally any second from the season season of Stath Let’s Flats as the best TV moment of 2019 (Sophie performing Female Human Rights in the final episode) , but for me personally, it’s has to be the moment where Stath falls asleep in his Micheal & Eagle Lettings car for four hours in the middle of the road, only to wake up exclaim “I’ve been asleep for four hours!” It works better on-screen, trust me.
The Never Ending Story singalong from Stranger Things (Chris Philp)
Stranger Things, the massively popular supernatural 80’s nostalgia fest, continued on Netflix with arguably its best season yet. The Russians invaded Hawkins this time around as well as the usual nasties from the Upside Down. However, the greatest moment is not one filled with drama. Nor is it filled with action. The culmination of a subplot involving Dustin’s possibly imaginary girlfriend it is, of course, the moment when Dusty-bun and Suzie-poo sing the most glorious duet of The Never Ending Story. Relieving the tension of the final episode’s climatic battle of Starcourt Mall it never fails to bring a giant grin to my face. Limahl never sounded so good.
Hopper’s sacrifice from Stranger Things (Omar Soliman)
There are several beautifully crafted moments from Stranger Things and I’m struggling to pick just one. This was an ode to the 80s from The Duffer Brothers and while I truly enjoyed watching the gang watching Back to the Future there was the tension being ripped away by a truly impromptu rendition of The NeverEnding Story Song. It was Hopper’s final sacrifice that really got me.