Friday, January 17, 2020

2019 Year End Report: Best TV Shows

Shows I Really Should Have Watched:
I feel bad that I never started Pamela Adlon’s Better Things – because everything I hear about it makes me think I would love – but catching up on multiple seasons is just too hard these days. I still think I should watch Castle Rock – and haven’t yet. I cannot believe I never got around to Netflix’s Unbelievable but here we are. Ditto Veep – which I didn’t have HBO at the time it started, and didn’t have a wife nagging me to catch up (like Game of Thrones) – so I just never got there.
Shows I Gave Up On
Every year, I give up on a few shows, and this year was no different. I liked Black-ish at its peak, but it stumbled last year trying to get all serious with the marital crisis, and this year, I just never got on board. Without Black-ish, it left me also leaving its lead-in Modern Family – which was really good at its peak, but hasn’t been really good in about 5 seasons. I apparently forgot all about Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It in season 2 – but it seems like everyone else did too. I still watch a lot of The Simpsons – but I can honestly say I didn’t watch a lot of the current season, so I’ll probably just see them all in reruns all the time. I wouldn’t say I gave up on True Detective – I just was never inspired enough to watch Season 3, which resulted in the same thing. I would have loved to have given up on The Witcher (Season 1) but my wife wanted to watch it all, so I saw it all, and boy was it not good.
Other Shows I Watched All of (Runners-Up, I guess):
Big Mouth (Season 3) is one that I think needs to age its animated characters a little bit – yet still, it was still quite good throughout. Black Mirror (Season 5) was okay, I guess, but with only three episodes, one being bad, the other two being okay, I cannot really say it was all that great either. Dead to Me (Season 1) is a fine show, with fine performances by Christina Applegate and Linda Cardinelli – but if I’m being honest, had my wife not insisted, I probably would have given up on it. Dirty John (Season 1) had nothing on the podcast, but as a guilty pleasure it was quite good (had my wife not insisted we finish it though, I probably would have let it slide). Counterpart (Season 2) got far too complicated in its second season, and even if at its best it may have been better than Season 1, I know why it ended – it got too far up into its not that interesting mythology. The Loudest Voice (Miniseries) was a good overview of Roger Ailes career at Fox News – but it’s also fairly one note – as good as Russell Crowe is in the role, I’m not sure he ever really succeeds in making him into a real person – and he has the most depth of anyone. Madam Secretary (Season 5b/6) ended its run with a shortened season – and showed what a good network drama could still be – comfort food to be sure, but satisfying in its way. On Becoming a Good in Central Florida (Season 1) has a wonderful performance by Kirsten Dunst – but I’m not quite sure where this is going. Shrill (Season 1) was a fine showcase for Aidy Bryant – but needed more to be fully rounded show. The Twilight Zone (Season 1) was a very mixed bag, but when it worked, it worked really well – and I look forward to more (but please, go to half hour episodes). Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 4b) came to an end, probably a season too late, as I think the show naturally ran its course in two seasons, was still very good in its third, and felt like it was trying too hard in both halves of its final season – the best is still very good, but this was past its sell-by date. Years and Years (Miniseries) started out great, but regressed as it went along - and pulled too many punches in the finale.
23. The Big Bang Theory (Season 12)
Mock me if you must, but I have seen every episode of The Big Bang Theory, and have thoroughly enjoyed my time doing so. Is it brilliant TV? No, but it was remarkably consistent for 12 years, and was perhaps the last of a dying breed – the multi-cam, laugh track driven network sitcom that actually generated huge ratings. The networks would love to have a lot of these to keep them relevant, but they don’t. It will not go down as an era defining show, but it may well go down as an end of an era.
Best Episode: 12.23/24: The Change Constant/The Stockholm Syndrome – As we all know, it’s hard to end a long running series well, even when it’s a sitcom. In the two-part finale, I think The Big Bang Theory stuck the landing – letting us all know where all the characters are heading, giving Sheldon what he wanted all along, and then him finally recognizing what all his friends really mean to him. This is as about as good of a finale as you could expect from this show.
22. Orange is the New Black (Season 7)
Orange is the New Black was never my absolute favorite show – and its quite clear that it peaked a number of seasons ago. Still, I did watch every episode over its seven season run, and I do think that the last season is an improvement over some of the latter ones – if for no other reason than I think the show pretty much sticks the landing. It is not all happy endings, of course, but I think it does a good job of wrapping things up – and setting those left on a path for the future. It even cleverly, and empathetically, addressed #MeToo from the male point of view, not making him a villain, or a case of pure redemption, high lighting how complicated the issue can me. The show still spent too much time on Taylor Schilling’s Piper (did I hear correctly – she only served 18 months? So the six years we watched was all in a year and a half?) – but I had to make peace with that years ago. This is the show that really, truly kicked off the streaming era – and showed what it could be (yes, more than House of Cards). I’m glad it’s over – but I think they wrapped it up nicely.
Best Episode: 7.13: Here’s Where We Get Off – It’s hard to do a series finale for a show with this many people, to wrap up everyone’s story in a way that is satisfying. And so, even if the episode was way too long, you have to give it credit for being able to pull it off – from the happy to the tragic – including a fairly surprising murder, which makes complete sense (I could have done without the poor woman in the desert). Still, the show ended as it should.
21. Game of Thrones (Season 8)
There is no question that this shortened final season was deeply, deeply flawed. We can list the big flaws – how it turned The Night King and his snow zombies into an afterthought instead of the existential threat I had presumed they would be, valuing shock value over character development, meaning that Dany’s turn to the dark side, which could have been easily developed properly, was instead trotted out for maximum shock value, and the ending, which puts the most boring character on the Throne on the strength of his “story” – and that’s just the big ones. Yet, I think in all the fervor about the big picture, we missed what this show did remarkably well – all of this series looked amazing (I’m sorry, but I could make out the Battle of Winterfell just fine) and it does this large scale war and destruction better than we’ve seen on TV before. As well, the characters all got their moments – and if it’s fan service, and sometimes it’s not always good fan service – it’s still quite good. I will say this – I didn’t feel sorry for going on this wild ride for this series. Hate it if you want.
Best Episode: 8.2 – A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – The second episode is basically all fan service – bringing together so many characters that we want to see together for one long night of the soul – existential conversations as they all think they are about to die. There is hardly a scene here that doesn’t work – including the controversial Arya sex scene (I am confused as to why many seemed to shocked that Arya was all grown up – we’ve seen her kill people in cold blood people!). This was the peak of the season – and one of my single favorite episodes that didn’t contain mass slaughter in the shows entire run.
20. Undone (Season 1)
Undone is unique among shows on TV – it is a rotoscoped animated sci-fi show for adults. Rotoscoping allows you to animate over something you’ve shot with actors – it allowed Richard Linklater to make films like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, doing things more cheaply than it would take to do with CGI – but oddly, not many have taken up his mantle. Here, used for a TV show, it allowed the creators to get all trippy, as the show trips through time as a young woman, after a car accident, meets her long dead father, and helps to investigate his own death. The show is only 8 episodes long – all about 25 minutes – so it goes by fairly quickly. Still, I do think there is too much exposition and explaining of the dynamics of the time travel as it were. When it works though, it’s intelligent sci-fi, with a real emotional grounding. And no matter what, it looks great.
Best Episode: 1.2: The Hospital – The first episode was all setup – letting us get to know the main character. It is in episode 2 where we really get to the heart of the show. Really, all the explanation we need is in this episode – and it sets up the stakes, and holds your attention. It’s also right before the mid-season bulge (episodes 3-5 are so are that bulge). Here though, everything works – and its all satisfyingly mysterious.
19. GLOW (Season 3)
The third season of Glow did a very daring thing – other than the first and last episode of the season, they barely showed any wrestling at all. Instead, the show focused on the large ensemble cast – which has become increasingly important over the run, that kind of started out as almost a three hander with Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron, with a talented supporting cast, into a true ensemble. It’s about the difficulty of being in Las Vegas full time, away from your family, and either realizing that your chosen career is not working out, and finding a whole new path. In general, I think the season is quite good – I liked the deepening relationships – and how sometimes awkward they can become. I also think that the show got a little messy at times – trying to shoehorn everyone’s subplot in ways that didn’t always work – and a slowly inflating runtime of every episode. If this is the end of GLOW – it wouldn’t be shocking, and would end on an interesting note. If there’s more, I’ll certainly be back.
Best Episode: 3.2: Hot Tub Club – It’s kind of odd that after I just praised the show for being more of an ensemble piece, my favorite episode was Hot Tub Club – essentially a two-hander between Brie and Maron, which shows them both at their best. Their chemistry is real – and yet so is the way things don’t quite work, and the awkwardness that happens after (and lasts the whole season). I could have picked other episodes – I love how they started the season by setting up a challenge for themselves – but Brie and Maron make this my favorite.
18. Stranger Things (Season 3)
I don’t know if this is a popular opinion or not, but I think Season 3 was an improvement over Season 2 – which was still very good, but felt a little too diffuse. This time, the film is leaner and meaner – basically three (perhaps four) main subplots, with well-defined groups and goals for each them, which allows the show to do what it does best – let everyone engage in banter, pointless 1980s nostalgia, and a mixture of the styles of John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg and Stephen King for a small town horror show in the vein of the Body Snatchers. I’m not sold on the ending – which is setting us up for a “shock” when a “dead” character turns out not to be dead in Season 4 – and that characters note basically undermines the entire premise of the show, but hey, the show still works, it’s still fun, and I still want more.
Best Episode: 3.2: The Mall Rats – I know this isn’t the most popular opinion here, but for me, I think I’ll remember this episode – which was still lighter and more fun than the rest – well after the mechanics of the plot of the rest of the show has faded. But Max and Eleven at the mall shopping was fun, the boys having no clue just how they messed up is fun. Anything involving future star Maya Hawke is fun. And I come to Stranger Things for fun, so here we are.
17. The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3)
It is completely normal for TV shows to have “placeholder” episodes – episodes between hugely dramatic incidents in which the show rests a little, and sets up whatever is coming up next. Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the only examples I can think of a “placeholder season”. They advertised that Revolution was coming in season 3 of the show – I just don’t think anyway really expected it would take the entire 13 episodes to get there. So much of this season feels like it could have been done in a couple of episodes, before we get to the good stuff – but this time it took far too long. It’s a testament then to the strength of the series – the strength of the performances (particularly Elizabeth Moss’, who more than ever risks our sympathy this season) and the world they’ve built that the season was still involving and well made. It just took far too long to get to where it’s going. They have to pick up the pace here – and let’s be honest, get June out of Gilead – for the show to continue to be as good as it has been.
Best Episode: 3.13 – Mayday – It’s not surprising that in a season where I think it took far too long to get where it’s going that the final episode is clearly the best. Honestly, I kind of thought we’d be here early in the season, not this late – but here we are. Still, the season sticks the landing – and sets up what could be a great fourth season with this emotionally powerful episode, which is also incredibly intense. This is the episode we were waiting for all damn season.
16. What We Do in the Shadows (Season 1)
This delightful series is the one I didn’t know I needed. As someone who really enjoyed Taika Waititi & Jermaine Clement’s 2014 film of the same name, I kind of thought that they wouldn’t have much more to explore in the world of vampire mockumentaries about ancient vampires trying to fit into the modern world. I was wrong – the show was an absurdist delight, hilarious throughout, with every episode having a few instantly quotable lines. And the show does a couple of things right – that the film didn’t – adding a woman to the cast – including a woman in the cast was a great corrective (and then adding Beanie Feldstein as a recurring character was even better) and adding an energy vampire – who drains you of your energy by talking endlessly and boringly – seemed like a one joke premise that kept paying dividends. The best character though was Harvey Guillen’s Guillermo, a familiar, who really wants to be a vampire – and gets the shock of his life in the finale. A great, hilarious series.
Best Episode: 1.9: The Orgy. I could choose any number of episodes – I loved The Trial, which brought to together a bunch of pop culture vampires as a council for example. But my favorite was The Orgy – Season 1’s penultimate episode, in which they plan, well, an orgy. It delivered some of Guillermo’s best moments – as he grows increasingly frazzled, and has to betray a friend – and has my favorite line of the whole season – it’s about CrossFit, and its hilarious.
15. Big Little Lies (Season 2)
I’m not quite sure where the idea came from that Big Little Lies had a bad Season 2 came from. No, it wasn’t quite as good as Season 1 – and there were elements that they didn’t seem to know what to do with (Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz got the short end of the stick for sure. But this is still one of the best acted shows on television – MVP honors this year shared by Meryl Streep and Laura Dern, who between them had all the quotable lines, but did more with those characters than quotes. Perhaps it comes from the fact that people didn’t realize they were essentially watching a prime time soap opera in season 1. Perhaps it comes from the obvious mistreatment of the great Andrea Arnold, who directed this season, but was pretty much frozen out of post-production because they didn’t like her style as much. But this was still a hell of an entertaining season of television – the more it embraced the improbabilities in its story (the courtroom scenes for instance), the more I embraced it.
Best Episode: 2.2: Tell-Tale Hearts – As much as I enjoyed this season as w whole, I do think the first two episodes were the best – the first featuring Meryl Streep dress down Reese Witherspoon (you’re a wanter), and the second featuring her do the same thing again, even as she tried to apologize (the whole thing about short people). But it’s Laura Dern’s “I will not, not be rich” that sealed it for me.
14. Dear White People (Season 3)
I do think that Justin Simien’s Dear White People drifted a little bit in Season 3 – it lacked a little bit of focus this time around, eschewing the character centric episodes for a more freewheeling style, and dropping the narrator all together, because of their identity reveal in Season 2. Still, I find this entire cast of characters incredibly interesting, I find the writing hilarious, the performances great – and the shows continued refusal to wrap things up in neat packages, or provide easy answers satisfying. I do think that a fourth season, which should happen, should also be the show’s last – wrap up these characters and move on. Yet, Dear White People remains one of the most underrated Netflix shows – or really, any shows, currently going.
Best Episode 2.3 – Volume 3, Chapter III – The show felt less episodic this season, so narrowing down a specific episode was harder than it has been in the past. Still, I’ll go with this one, if for no other reason than it introduces us to Simien himself playing a Tyler Perry like director – and ends up truly surprising me my making a pretty convincing defense of him, even after showing his work (which would make Perry’s real work seem subtle).
13. Fosse/Verdon (Season 1)
They latest one season wonder from F/X was Fosse/Verdon, a look at the relationship – professional and personal – between legendary choreographer/director Bob Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon, a Tony Award winning actress in her own right, and someone who helped Fosse a lot along the way, and never got the credit that he did. Sam Rockwell is great as Bob Fosse – egomaniacal, driven, brilliant and self-destructive, but Michelle Williams is even better as Gwen Verdon, who was a huge star on Broadway, and helped to give Fosse his start – but as they age, he gets to be a “genius”, and she is shunted to the side. A big part of the reason for the show seems to be to correct the historic record, and finally give Verdon her due. But it’s also an intensely personal movie – both of these people (and everyone else in the film) are deeply, deeply flawed people – but also brilliant ones. It’s interesting to look back at these people through a modern lens – and it’s also hugely entertaining.
Best Episode: 1.8 – Providence – There is something almost sweet about the season finale – it skips ahead a few years from the Chicago days in the last episode, to the All That Jazz days of this one. It seems like the pair at its heart have made peace with each other – and as much piece as they can come to with themselves, even as they still repeat the patterns that drove people away (Fosse using a sweet moment with his daughter for the movie, Verdon ditching her longtime boyfriend to go on tour with Chicago). There is also a great cameo by the actor playing Roy Scheider in his All That Jazz outfit. All That Jazz has always been my favorite Fosse film – and the whole series is like that movie from an outside point-of-view. Only one complaint – Star 80 deserved better than to be referenced as a failure in a title card (and it would have been great to see him work on that complicated, real life film).
12. Bob’s Burgers (Season 9b/10a)
I think I have somewhat overlooked the greatness of Bob’s Burgers in the past two years (the only two years I made TV lists). It suffers from two things beyond its control – as both an animated show, and a network sitcom, it’s easy for every season to blur together, and treat it as one big show – especially since I see some many in syndication. But it must be said, that 10 seasons in, Bob’s Burgers is still churning out great episodes’ week in and week out – and is the really the only thing I’m tuning in on Sunday nights to Fox for. This was another fine year for the show. 
Best Episode: 9.15 – The Fresh Princ-ipal – We all have our favorite characters on the show – usually one of the kids – and I am certainly Team Louise on that one, so seeing her become Principal for the day as a blast – as she realizes its nearly ceremonial, and then doing everything possible to actually accomplish something. It’s also always nice to see her have to fight for her mortal enemy Mr. Frond. It’s always hard to picture an episode as the best for this type of show, but this one stood out for me.
11. Killing Eve (Season 2)
The absence of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the head writer/showrunner this year was felt in season 2, as this season really leaned into being over-the-top and ridiculous, but in ways that were so much fun. It seems like everyone involved realized that the show was at its best when Sandra Oh’s Eve and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle were in the same place at the same time, and even if it had to stretch credibility to make it happen so much more this season, you almost don’t care, because it’s still so much fun to see them poke, prod, flirt with each other as the sexual tension mounts. In Season 1, Oh was the standout, but this year, Comer really takes over the show – and delivers a deliciously over-the-top performance for the ages.
Best Episode: 2.8 – You’re Mine – Season 2 ended wrapping up all the storylines, and then forcing both Eve and Villanelle to make decisions that put the other one over their own interests. It features a grisly throat cutting, a great fight sequence featuring an axe, and then had two great scenes – one between Oh and Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn, and the other between Comer and Kim Bosnia’s Konstantin – before getting to the scene the whole show has been building towards – the two women laying their cards out in beautiful Roman ruins – and leaving us with a cliffhanger. Season 2 was certainly a different animal than Season 1 – and if I’m not sure I prefer it; I still say it was wonderfully entertaining.
10. Russian Doll (Season 1)
Perhaps the best new show of the year, Russian Doll was an inventive sci-fi, fantasy, comedy all built around the unique charms of Natasha Lyonne – as a New York woman, who keeps dying, and coming back to life again and again and again to the same birthday party – and gets increasingly frazzled, until she meets someone else doing the same thing, and they have to figure it out together. I’m not sure what else you can say about the show, except to say that as high concept as it is, it never loses sight of their characters. A truly unique show.
Best Episode 1.8 – Ariadne – As with almost all Netflix shows, this one kind of runs together in one large binge – but the two episodes that stand out are the first one, which does a brilliant job of setting up this world, and the final episode – which somehow finds the perfect, joyous note to end the season on. So take your pick of those two.
9. The Good Place (Sean 3b/4a)
I think that now that we’re fairly far into the endgame here – there are only five episodes left to air in 2020 – that the show will never quite be as great as it was in what was a perfect first season. Seasons 2 and 3 were brilliant, daring television in their own way – jumping from premise to premise, and just keep on going – but wasn’t quite up to that level. Season 4 has settled down somewhat – it’s mainly about the one-year test – which has added some consistency to the show, but also somewhat sidelined Chidi, and highlighting some new characters that weren’t quite as good. Still, that’s nitpicking on what is the best show on network television, that is still smarter, funnier and better acted that just about any other sitcom.
Best Episode: 4.9: The Answer: Much like last year, where their final episode of the year (before the mid-season break) was the brilliant Janet(s) The Good Place’s last 2019 episode was their best of the calendar year. With the judge about to end all of humanity, Michael needs to bring back Chidi – and all of his memories – to try and save them, and we get an entire episode in the space of that finger snap – a flashback to all of Chidi’s lives, and all he has learned in that time. It gave us the instantly iconic Esmerelda (Kate Berlant – who I know isn’t going to win an Emmy for what was probably less than 2 minutes of screen time, but damn well should) and one of the very most moments of the entire series – when Chidi reads the note he wrote himself before the memory wipe, and then looks at Eleanor’s hopeful face. That’s instant tears – and the kind of perfect moment that very few television shows ever have.
8. When They See Us (Miniseries)
Ava DuVernay’s heartbreaking, four part, nearly five-hour miniseries about The Central Park Five is powerful and devastating, and brilliantly structured. Each episode runs a little longer the one before it, and each episode has its own unique look at the case – the first being about the “crime” and the “confessions” the cops and prosecutors get from the suspects, the second about the trial, the third about the experiences about four of the boys in jail, and the fifth about the one kid sentenced to adult prison – and what he goes through for more than a decade. The film shows yet again what a great director DuVernay is – she uses close-ups particularly well, and she gets amazing performances from the entire cast – especially Jharrel Jerome, who delivers one of the best performances of the year, in any medium. A timely, and devastating story.
Best Episode – Part Four – I think each episode gets stronger than the lone before if – the first two telling the story we already know, wonderfully. But it’s the final devastating episode – centered on the remarkable performance by Jerome – is where this series becomes truly special.
7. Mindhunter (Season 2)
I don’t think Season 2 of David Fincher’s Netflix show about the birth of the BSU was quite as good as the first. For one thing, it didn’t have someone like Edmund Kemper (brilliantly played by Cameron Britton) quite so hanging over the whole season. For another, I could have done without the family issues of Bill Tench taking up so much time, and the show kind of didn’t figure out what to do with Anna Torv when the FBI was in Atlanta. But those are really my only concerns – the standalone interviews with subjects like Berkowitz and Manson were excellent (and to be honest, didn’t need the multi-episode Kemper treatment) – and even the less well known serial killers provided good episodes. Plus, the ongoing investigation in Atlanta – which became the backbone of the second half of the season – did something the first season didn’t – put them into the field, and in action. I also think it’s quite telling that they continue to flash to BTK throughout the show – because he is going to elude capture until 2005, and is the exact opposite of all these profiles they keep spitting out, which combined with the fact that the show embraces the likely fact that while Wayne Williams is guilty of some of the Atlanta murders – he’s unlikely to have done them all – may make Mindhunter a show about profilers, that doesn’t really buy into what they do entirely. It remains a fascinating, dark, disturbing show – without quite tipping over into exploitation. I eagerly await Season 3 – in probably 2-3 years (hopefully, you never know with Netflix).
Best Episode 2.9 – The season finale was probably the best episode (although I think you could argue for the Berkowitz or Manson episodes as the best standalones) because of the cumulative power of the series. It also gives us the fascinating Wayne Williams character (a great Christopher Livingston) – who had shown up before, but not much. It’s an unsettling performance because you know he’s guilty – but of what? He’ll haunt me like Britton’s Kemper did (not quite the same, but close)- and by ending with BTK, it’s showing they still don’t have a clue. A great end to a (mostly) great season.
6. Barry (Season 2)
I was one of the people who thought we didn’t really need a second season of Barry – the first season was just about perfect, as Barry (Bill Hader) keeps trying to leave his old life as an assassin behind, and never can – leading to deadly consequences for everyone around him, but never him. Barry is clearly a bad guy, who tries desperately to see himself as a good guy – and can never do. It’s also a show that brilliantly mixes together violence and comedy. And yet, while I think the first season would have been fine on its own, Season 2 is excellent in its own right – its blending together the different elements of Barry’s life in interesting ways. Season 1 all seemed like one whole thing – all on Barry. Season two expands it – and makes room for some interesting twists and turns, including Barry’s horrible secret from his past in Afghanistan, and the wonderful final cliffhanger.
Best Episode 2.5 – ronny/lily – This was a very good season, but the clear stand out episode was the brilliantly surreal ronny/lily – which is probably the best single episode of TV I saw this year. Barry does everything he can not to kill Ronny – but he’s kind of stuck when he attacks him. And Ronny’s very strange daughter shows up. The whole thing is a surreal, violent, comic masterwork – a bizarre episode, but a brilliant one.
5. Bojack Horseman (Season 6a)5
It’s impossible to judge the final season of Bojack Horseman completely – as we only got half of it this year and much of it – particularly the last episode – seem to be setting up the endgame of the series – which will involve Bojack finally having to face up to all the horrible things that he has done over the course of the series. What we do have though, is another excellent batch of 8 episodes, that sets everyone up in their own way for the end. Bojack is legitimately trying to get better – going to rehab, and staying there for too long, because he’s worried what he’ll be like in the real world (with good reason) and even screwing up when he tries to help. You have Diane, struggling with her book, but making a good faith effort in Chicago, and with a new boyfriend. Princess Carolyn struggling with new motherhood and her career at the same time. Mr. Peanutbutter struggling with his impending marriage – and infidelity. Todd is perhaps the happiest of all – finding his calling as a nanny – but still having to deal with his complicated family and sexual life. Once again, Bojack Horseman the show was hilarious throughout – but also addresses real themes, and darkness, and didn’t shy away from them. The endgame seems like it will more of the same – and I cannot wait for it.
Best Episode: 6.7 – The Face of Depression – I don’t think we quite got an individual episode as great as Free Churro or Time’s Arrow or as daring as Fish Out of Water in this group of episodes, but the second to last episode of the season – really, the last one we saw our main cast came the closet, as all the different characters struggle with their depression, and try their best to set themselves up for the future. Really, only the first episode of this season – with the flashbacks going further back to show when Bojack’s drinking became a problem – comes close to this one, for single episode impact this season.
4.Watchmen (Season 1)
I was certainly skeptical that we needed more Watchmen content – the graphic novel is, of course, a masterpiece and I liked Zack Snyder’s film adaptation, even if it wasn’t perfect – but I was of the opinion that while we could have comic book material that is serious, perhaps we needed to get away from assuming it had to be Watchmen and come up with new ideas. But what Damon Lindelof and company pulled off is truly great – a sequel to the series, set in the modern time, with only some of the characters from the book – and seeing what has happening in the interim. The star was the great Regina King – doing some of the best work of her career, as a masked hero in Tulsa, Oklahoma who grew up in America’s 51st State – Vietnam. The series was wide ranging – going back 100 years to the racist past of Tulsa, and then moving right up to very modern villains – and how little has changed. As much as Lindelof has a reputation for too many twists, and not being able to stick the landing – neither was true here – there were certainly twists here, but he didn’t play them up too much, and answered the questions it needed to as it went along. And then the season – perhaps (and probably correctly, series) finale was just about perfect – right down to that great final moment. I didn’t think we needed Watchmen – but what we got is a legendary season of TV.
Best Episode: 1.8 – A God Walks into Abar – The final is perfect, pretty much, but it was the penultimate episode of the series that I thought was truly amazing. The idea of Dr. Manhattan experiencing every moment of his life at the same time, which has been around since the graphic novel, was always something I didn’t think you could do in movies or television. And then, with this episode, they pulled it off brilliantly. And it was more than an intellectual exercise, or a triumph of structural screenplay (although it was both) thanks to the great performances by Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Certainly, this was the most ambitious hour of television of the year.
3. Chernobyl (Miniseries)
HBO’s brilliant five-episode miniseries is as harrowing as television can get. From the insanely intense first episode, that documents the explosion and the chaos and confusion that followed, through the rest of the series which focused on Jared Harris (in one of the very best performances in any medium this year) as a Soviet scientist tired of the lies. Chernobyl is as bleak as anything you will ever see. Just when you think it cannot get bleaker, episode four comes along, and has a subplot about the guys whose job is to kill dogs that have had too much radiation. The final episode is a courtroom thriller – and manages to breathe some life into what could have been a tired genre. The film is full of information, full of great period detail – and also, full of characters and heroism, and tragedy. You will see the best and worst of humanity in this show – which is one of the best miniseries’ I have ever seen.
Best Episode: 1.1 – 1:23:45 – You can probably make a case for any of the episode – seriously, while each episode is unique, they are equals. Still, I think the controlled chaos at which the first episode was directed, written and show is a brilliant way to get you right inside the series from the start. A brilliant example of sustained confusion and chaos on screen, that is still crystal clear in terms of plotting and character.
2. Succession (Season 2)
I had missed Succession Season 1 when it came out – even though it sounded interesting. When it became an phenom in Season 2, my wife and I binged both seasons fairly quickly. While the first season was excellent – truly it would have ranked high on my list had I seen it then – Season 2 really does bring everything to the next level. Brian Cox maybe delivering the best performance on television – certainly it’s become the most iconic (I could listen to him say “Fuck off” all day long) – but the entire ensemble is easily the best currently working on TV. One of the great things about the show is that they somehow find a way to keep all of these characters bouncing off each other every episode, each their own unique brand of horribleness. The show is funnier than just about any comedy on TV, and the high stakes drama is wonderful, in part specifically because you cannot cheer for any of these characters – they are all awful – so you simply root for chaos. This is one of the great new shows in recent years – and I wonder how long it will go on. The end of season 2 seems to set up the endgame – but maybe not.
Best Episode: 2.10: This is Not for Tears – I almost went with episode 8, if for no other reason that because Kendall (the great Jeremy Strong) rapping about his father, which may be the funniest single scene in anything this year – but it’s hard to deny the perfect way that they ended season 2 – deciding Kendall was going to be the fall guy – and him finally finding his killer instinct again in his final speech, before ending with the great final shot of Brian Cox. A perfect episode.
1. Fleabag (Season 2)
Like Barry and Killing Eve, we didn’t really need a second Season of Fleabag – which was brilliant as a standalone season back in 2016. But I am really glad we got one anyway. The second season starts with a brilliant, hilarious episode of awkwardness at a dinner party for the family – where we find out everything that has happened since we last saw these people. It then gets deeper and deeper throughout the season – as Fleabag’s friendship/flirtation/relationship with The Priest (Andrew Scott – brilliant, and I am usually not a fan) gets deeper. The show takes its premise – with Fleabag constantly addressing us in the audience – and challenges it, pushing it in a very clever, very real way – one that makes you realize that we in the audience, and Fleabag’s obsession with us is really what is holding us back. That is why this will certainly be the last season of Fleabag – because Fleabag realizes what she needs to do to grow and mature – and that’s to leave us behind.
Best Episode 2.6 – That first episode is a mini-comic masterpiece all of its own, and would be a fine choice for best in the series (it’s certainly the funniest). But I will go with what ended up the Series Finale – mainly for its final moments – the subtle, heartbreaking way the relationship between Fleabag and The Priest ends – and how Fleabag leaves us behind. It is the perfect way to end the series.

No comments:

Post a Comment