The Best TV Of 2019
2019 had 'Fleabag' season 2.
It’s fitting the year will end like it began — with a ridiculous amount of TV!
Since I began writing this article, two streaming services launched in Australia, which I take as a personal attack. It’s now physically impossible to watch everything. You could stay at home all day and try to watch it all, but you can’t because you now have multiple jobs to pay for all the subscriptions to watch all the TV.
You can try to watch a little old fashioned free-to-air- TV but, oh no, all the shows are on when you’re clocking on for the nightshift of your seventh job.
Christmas? New Years? Forget it! Gotta catch up on TV.
The battle for your attention is in full swing and the intensity grew in 2019. We also said goodbye to the TV juggernaut Game of Thrones, but it tripped over itself on the way out. We also got a look at the future of TV, which is beginning to explore new ways to tell stories using our phones and social media.
The number of streaming platforms also meant TV could get more personal and esoteric.
One thing is for sure: you can no longer check out the options and hope for the best. You’ve got to have a plan, or you’ll get caught in the neon claws of modern TV.
Here’s the best TV of 2019 to make it all seem less overwhelming.
The final season of Broad City gave us a long goodbye.
For once the series let its characters have a little personal growth, which felt like the perfect ending. Of course, it meant they’d be apart, but the final season found humour in denial and facing change.
The genius episode set on Instagram stories showed there was still a lot of life left in the series, but all good things must come to an end. Ultimately, Abi and Illana’s friendship wasn’t bound by location and its final note of a city of infinite BFFs was a fitting passing of the torch.
Stream Broad City on Stan.
The ‘male genius’ has been mythologised in pop culture but we’re beginning to explore what must happen for these creative visionaries to thrive and it ain’t pretty.
The partnership of Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams) exemplifies what was sacrificed, and endured for Fosse to succeed but it’s grounded in the exploitative nature of showbusiness. For all Fosse’s sins, he’s a victim too.
Fosse/Verdon loves the spotlight but it’s clever enough to step back and view the world it depicts as phoney.
Stream Fosse/Verdon on Foxtel.
Is this the future of TV? It’s too early to tell but Content is an ingenious way to tell a story about two best mates (Charlotte Nicdao and Gemma Bird Matheson) using only their phones.
Stream Content on ABC iView, YouTube and Instagram TV.
Bill Hader’s series about a hitman who decides to become an actor is tough to define. The second season crossed back and forth between comedy and drama so often it became dizzying. The show began to delight more in absurdity and took creative risks. The sublime episode ‘ronny/lily’ pushed a hit gone bad to extremes while remaining hilarious. Barry keeps getting better with its deconstruction of anti-heroes.
Stream Barry on Foxtel.
Tuca and Bertie
The biggest mistake Netflix ever made was cancelling Tuca and Bertie.
Lisa Hanawalt’s animated comedy was a pseudo BoJack Horseman spinoff but it was a little more eccentric while exploring the dynamics of friendship, anxiety and trauma. Netflix, bring back this show you cowards!
Stream Tuca and Bertie on Netflix.
Back to Life
The producers of Fleabag had another hit on their hands this year.
Back to Life focuses on Miri Matteson (co-creator/writer Daisy Haggard) who returns to her hometown after an 18-year jail sentence. We learn about Miri’s crime while she tries to start a new life. The community of her small British town are hostile, but her parents vow it’s going to work (Richard Durden is outstanding as Miri’s dad).
Back to Life is a heartbreaking story about second chances but it cleverly navigates its tricky subject matter with dry British wit.
Stream Back to Life on SBS On Demand.
The Good Fight
No other show on TV right now has its finger on the pulse like The Good Fight.
The spinoff of The Good Wife, now in its third season, continues to match the excellence of its predecessor. With storylines ripped from the headlines it has become the series that best synthesises the chaos of life in 2019.
Stream The Good Fight on Stan.
I Think You Should Leave
Tim Robinson’s thrifty sketch comedy series is an absurd masterpiece. That’s it. I have no more good TV show ideas.
Stream I Think You Should Leave on Netflix.
Ramy is one of those shows that brilliantly explores the tug of war between cultures.
Ramy (Ramy Youssef) is a first-generation American Muslim. In each episode his faith and way of life is challenged in awkward and hilarious ways. Ramy has a similar vibe to Master of None and its best episodes are the ones that shift focus to his family and it’s a refreshing take on faith and American life.
Stream Ramy on Stan.
We said goodbye to Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff.
Well, this is Veep so it was a fare-fucking-well. During Veep’s run it became hard to tell the difference between the show and the shitshow of politics in real life. Veep excelled in its final season because it was a cathartic way to process the absurdity of politics.
Stream Veep on Foxtel.
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney called it quits after four seasons with a stunning final season. I think about the final episode every single damn day. Catastrophe should be compulsory viewing for anyone considering spending a lifetime with another person.
Stream Catastrophe on Stan.
HBO’s dramatisation of the true story is a stunning allegory for what happens when a government values their own agenda over human lives.
The body horror is unrelenting as radiation slowly kills people and workers are put in nightmare scenarios in service of the Soviet Union. There’s also parallels between the environmental catastrophe the Soviet Union scientists faced in the 1980s and the one we’re grappling with in 2019: climate change.
Chernobyl is unsettling but it’s a timely series that forces us to seek at the truth in the age of fake news.
Stream Chernobyl on Foxtel.
A true crime dramatisation that excels because of its depiction of a rape case.
Cop shows usually push the personal trauma of its victims to the side while a case is investigated. Unbelievable focuses on the detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver make a great team) while showing how a crime impacts the lives of its victims (Kaitlyn Dever is incredible).
True crime can often be exploitative when its dramatised but Unbelievable gives this story the care and attention it deserves.
Stream Unbelievable on Netflix.
Breakfast TV dominates the news cycle in Australia, so it was a relief when Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney used Get Krack!n to rip the format to pieces.
The second season satirised the cheap gimmicks and hate bait breakfast TV uses to suck in an audience. All of it was underlined by the desperation to be liked; a stink that wafts off most breakfast TV in this country.
The season finale hosted by Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui was satire at its best that called out a lot of the Australian media’s bullshit. Kracking TV.
Stream Get Krack!n on ABC iView.
When They See Us
The story of the Central Park Five is a powerful examination of a crooked time in the New York City justice department.
Writer and director Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Winkle in Time) captures the innocence lost, the fractured legal system and the brutal tactics of the police department. Similar to Chernobyl, the series looks at the cost of lies and what happens when a narrative is spun to exploit bigotry.
Stream When They See Us on Netflix.
Pop culture is saturated with superheroes stories and Damon Lindelof’s sequel to the iconic comic book arrived at the perfect time. Watchmen is an expansion of the comic without being reductive. The series dismantles superhero mythology while examining racism, fear and paranoia in America.
Stream Watchmen on Foxtel.
The series stars Natasha Lyonne as a software engineer, Nadia Vulvokov, who gets stuck in a time loop on her birthday.
Russian Doll is an excellent series that confronts Nadia’s past to explain the patterns of her behaviour in each loop. The repetition highlights how hard it is to change as person, but the series never takes a sentimental approach; it’s dark, witty and existential.
Stream Russian Doll on Netflix.
Adult co-writers, creators and stars, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, play 13-year-old versions of themselves surrounded by real teenagers.
The show is set in the year 2000 so every detail must be perfect to help sell Erkine and Konkle as teens. The execution is risky, it feels dangerous at times, but the payoff is massive. PEN15 highlights the ups and downs of BFFs, and doesn’t shy away from topics like masturbation, bullying, casual racism (featuring The Spice Girls), the internet and emo ex-boyfriends.
Stream PEN15 on Stan.
Come thought Apple+.
The streaming service launched with Dickinson and it was the right move. The series depicts the early life of poet Emily Dickinson (Hayley Steinfeld) but it has a modern sensibility. Set in America at the turn of the 19th Century, Dickinson blends corsets with hip hop beats.
Dickinson avoids the nostalgic trappings of most teen stories with its ye olde concept while tackling the restrains of a conservative society on young women.
Stream Dickinson on Apple+.
Jeez, do you need another person telling you to watch this show? Yes! Fleabag already showcased the certified genius of creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge with its first season, but it became a spiritual experience in season two; enter the hot priest (Andrew Scott). A season so good it left Fleabag speechless.
Stream Fleabag on Amazon Prime Video.
HBO’s sleeping giant awoke in 2019.
Succession’s second season took the petty squabbles of the Roy family to new lows but it’s so much fun to eavesdrop on these arseholes. No one was ever the same after Logan Roy’s rap and the season finale showed he still had one more mic-drop left in him. Succession is so good it can absolutely fuck off!
Stream Succession on Foxtel.
In the first episode Annie (Aidy Bryant), a writer living in Portland, gets lectured by a woman in a café about her weight. In one scene the series captures the feeling of constantly being judged, and over the series Annie grows into confidence and comfort in her own skin. But it ain’t a smooth ride. Shrill is funny and authentic but never preachy.
Stream Shrill on SBS On Demand.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.