Steve Taylor-Bryant has a look back with square eyes at his Top 5 TV shows of 2019...
I’ve not written a “best of film” list this year because getting to the cinema is virtually impossible and to be honest, I’m a fat 44-year-old man now, my couch is my best friend and we want to do everything together. I watched lots of films, had many highlights but all from screeners or streaming, and none of them were Joker or The Irishman so nobody is really interested in my opinion anyway. What I did do was consume television quicker than I inhale cake and 2019 was fantastic. Well, I say fantastic, most of the first seven months was spent watching old shows so, unless I can include every episode of A Touch of Frost or three seasons of Travelers, my list of 2019 Television Highlights will consist of things watched from mid-August. I’ll do five shows, in reverse order like the old Top 40 used to be on the radio, and even in five short months you’ll see I watched five awesome and incredible series of TV. Some were emotional, some cinematic, some memory inducing, some a mixture of everything, but all of them not a minute wasted.
5 - The Loudest Voice
Created by Alex Metcalf and Tom McCarthy from Gabriel Sherman’s book, The Loudest Voice started Hollywood heavyweight Russell Crowe as Roger Ailes the powerhouse behind Fox News. Seven episodes of glorious writing and top notch acting showed you how Ailes became the unofficial leader of the Republican Party and how his biased way of bullying viewers into swallowing his crap pretty much led us to the polarised political world we live in now, and his eventual downfall due to sexual harassment charges. Crowe was phenomenal, I’ve always found him to be hit and miss, either award winning greatest actor of his generation or quickest guy to phone it in for buck, but Crowe as Ailes was just so good. Hateable but relatable, you could see how his rotten mind worked and whilst if you’re sensible you don’t agree with him you could at least see why he did what he did. The 9/11 episode where he decided to leave the image of the man jumping from one of the towers was the hardest part to stomach but some of Crowe’s finest acting.
4 - Killing Eve Season 2
Phoebe ‘can do no wrong’ Waller-Bridge’s female assassin show based on the Villanelle books by Luke Jennings returned after such a strong first run that many thought it would be impossible to top what we’d seen in season 1. Many were wrong as season 2 just leaped the bar set by season 1. Sandra Oh and the incredible Jodie Comer acted like they had the best jobs in the world and to be fair they probably have, and the way they bounced off each other, the chemistry between them needs to be bottled and sold. Some shows struggle to get one important female at the front of a story, this one has two which your entire world revolves around the entire time the show is on. Must watch is a label thrown around too liberally for my liking but if you aren’t all about Killing Eve do you really deserve a television?
3 - Watchmen
In a pop culture world saturated in comic book creations it’s hard to see the wood for the trees sometimes. Swamp Thing started strongly but faded quicker than me sprinting, not every film hit the mark and I was wondering if maybe over-saturated folk would give up on a genre that I firmly believed could offer more. One of the fine folks who found a way to reignite people’s passion for comic book entertainment was Damon Lindelof whose glossy big cast big budget interpretation of a world created by Watchmen was just magnificent. The show was set far enough apart from the novel and the film to stand on its own but was close enough to the source material to please old fans as well as impress new fans. It was daring, clever, cinematic, and more relevant to today’s society than maybe the novel was in its time. There was standout performance topped by standout writing at every turn but if you only watch one episode of television from 2019 then make it episode 6 of Watchmen. This Extraordinary Being was directed by Stephen Williams and written Cord Jefferson and is a slice of genius that is almost indescribable. Watch it, honestly watch episode 6 and then you can thank me later.
2 - Mr. Robot Season 4
Anyone who knows me (Nate) will be shocked to see anything Mr. Robot related not at number one in a list of things I love. Fear not dear reader (Nate, again) Mr. Robot is still what I consider the best television series of this new century, but this particular list is about shows from 2019 alone and Mr. Robot season 4 is more a fourth act of a play that started a while ago. It’s every superlative you can think of but it’s all those things because of the first three seasons. If it wasn’t for my next choice though it would have been number one (and not just to please Nate). Sam Esmail has a talent that is hard to sum up, but I’ll try. You know that bit in Sherlock Holmes where Sherlock refers to Moriarty as a spider who weaves a massive web and knows just which string of the web needs pulling at any time? That. That is what Esmail is, the Moriarty of television writers.
1 - Chernobyl
This show had a huge impact on me. Not just the way it was so tense at all times that I was a nervous wreck come the end, not just the way it was written, really dark and real but with a humanity missing from most dramas, and not just because it was a top to bottom perfectly cast show. No, it was because I remember Chernobyl clearly, like it was yesterday, and not just from the news. In episode 3 of this fascinating show, Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard), to show the audience how bad the spread of dangerous nuclear gas had become, remarks that children in Germany had been stopped from playing outside. They were worried that the harmful toxins would drift down from the sky and stick to the grass in the morning dew. I was one of those children, an 11-year-old boy who thought he was Hans van Breukelen and didn’t want to not be allowed to play football. I ignored the warnings and went straight outside onto the grass. I tell this story occasionally and always laugh as I thought my 11-year-old attempt at railing against authority was funny. Then I watched Chernobyl and by the time Skarsgard had muttered that sentence I was struck with the weight of my stupidity, and guilt for what I must have put my parents through at the time. Add this emotional reaction onto what Craig Mazin had created and onto what the cast achieved, and you can see why Chernobyl is my number one television experience of the year.
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Image by tookapic from Pixabay