Monday, December 30, 2019

Top Ten Television Shows of 2019

10. Fosse/Verdon - Fosse/Verdon gave us the full spectrum of not only Bob Fosse's life, but most importantly, Gwen Verdon's. It was a slow burn of a miniseries, that jumped back and forth in time to connect the major moments in their lives, with the major productions that they created. As a big fan of their work, it was fascinating to see how these masterworks of film and theater were created. It was also an excellent acting showcase, particularly Michelle Williams. I said plenty about her when she won The Awards Psychic Television Award this summer, so I will not repeat myself. I will simply say that it was a jaw-dropping performance that kept me glued to the screen.

9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - I know critics weren't has high on Season 3 as previous seasons, but I still think it is a fantastic series. There are so few series that genuinely leave you with a smile on your face. Even most of the comedies these days are more dark comedies than feel good ones. I think that it will need to retool itself as it moves into future seasons, but I still love the zippy comedy, the excellent cast, led by Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein, and the feel-good adventures of these wonderful characters.

8. The Good Place - The Good Place goes out on top. I know its fans were disappointed that it was only going to have one more season, but you have to respect the decision its showrunners made. They wanted to go out while they still had quality material, while it was still good. So many shows run way past their prime. Even some of the greatest television series of all time had a season or a few that didn't quite click. The Good Place decided to avoid that fate, and it was a great move. The final season so for is everything we loved about the previous ones. It is funny, well-acted, brilliantly constructed, and an utterly unique television experience whose presence will surely be missed in prime time television.

7. The Deuce - With HBO attempting to become more mainstream, I fear that David Simon will no longer have a place at the studio that made him the underground hero of the last twenty years of American television. The Deuce was just the latest in a long line of excellent, underappreciated television shows from Simon. This time he tackled the growth of the porn industry in New York in the 1970's and 1980's. It was a slow burn series, with a sprawling cast of characters whose paths cross to built not just the porn industry, but our modern culture. It was a beautifully written, impeccably acted (particularly by Maggie Gyllenhaal), and a sad, important, sometimes funny, and always human look at our culture and our society. It too, will be missed.

6. Country Music - As a history major, I have always loved Ken Burn's documentaries. They are great looks at history, that are also incredibly accessible and wildly entertaining. This year, he gave us Country Music, which might be his best in years. As someone who grew up in the South, who grew up listening to this music, it was not just a documentary of country music, it was a documentary of my culture, my world, my life. Burns illuminates amazing artists, gives the due to the women and African Americans who built this uniquely American musical style, who are often forgotten, and connects the music to the large socioeconomic and cultural changes of the last century of American life. It is those touches that make Country Music the essential television documentary of this past Fall.

5. The Crown - It was a bold move to recast, reshoot, and completely upend a successful television series. It was also a brilliant gamble that paid off. The Crown continues to be essential television. This season was not the easiest one to watch, because it was not the easiest time in the Royal Family's history. But it is still an impeccably written series with incredible production values. Also, the actors easily filled their roles, and the performances by the great Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, Josh O'Connor, and others were just as engaging as their predecessors.

4. Better Things - Better Things is an apt title for a show that just keeps getting better. Without the presence of Louis C.K., I think this show had its best season. It was pure Pamela Adlon this time around, and the show took a decided turn towards greatness. The female relationships were more interesting, more engaging, more real than they were in previous seasons, and the cast leaned into their characters, each giving their best seasons yet. Particularly, the credit belongs to Adlon, not just behind the camera, but also in front of it. She is so raw, funny, and honest in her role as Sam, and it made this already amazing show even better.

3. Fleabag - Fleabag did have a first season that was pretty damn good. It has been so long since that season, that it seems like a lot of folks forgot about it. Because all of the sudden its second season happened, and it just exploded. It swept the Emmys, is probably going to sweep the guild awards, and has genuinely become a cultural phenomenon. Yet most people hadn't turned into the first one yet. Of course when you are that well-written and that well-acted it should not come as much of a surprise that it eventually caught on in the cultural zeitgeist. Fleabag will go down as one of those great series, and do so with only two seasons. It was just the perfect comedy for our times, and its flawed characters connected with so many of us.

2. Watchmen - All of those "I'm cancelling HBO after Game of Thrones is over" people are complete idiots. Of course, they were probably idiots beforehand, they are just now showing their cards. If you loved Game of Thrones, you should probably consider continuing to support the network that brought it to life. Especially now that it has launched yet another fantastic fantasy series. Watchmen had a lot going against it. The movie was terrible, and the showrunners decided to create a series that was an extension of the original story, not a direct adaptation. But all of that went away when people started watching it. It is a bold, haunting, entertaining series that challenges our thinking, creates amazing characters, and showcases that the power of a good story can continue far beyond its initial reach. Rumors are that there might not be a Season 2. I think that they could easily create a season 2 based in the original season's depth, but at least we have this one to keep in our memories, and I think it will be there for a long time.

1. (TIE) When They See Us and Chernobyl - I will simply repeat my commentary from the Awards Psychic Television Awards: Once again, I have to pose the question: how do you choose? I don't envy Emmy voters for having to only pick one. Chernobyl and When They See Us came blazing in to the Emmy race at the last minute, knocking out front runners that have been sitting in that status for months. Chernobyl is a quiet horror about one of the most tragic events in world history. It's slow build, beautifully haunting and meticulous script, and its cast, give Chernobyl both a sense of urgency, but also a subtle glance at the terrors of history. When They See Us is a bold, emotionally electrifying series that examines one of the darkest moments in recent race history in the United States. Its bold direction, powerful script, and knock-em-dead cast all bring a sense of urgency and continued relevancy to a story that still asks questions and still shocks to this day. These two series both are historical series that feel eerily modern and prevalent. That is the power of two captivating and must-see stories that both deserve as much recognition as they can get.

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