What I watched in 2019: TV and Streaming

I spent 122 nights on the road last year, and between flights, hotel rooms, eliptical machines, and dining alone I get to read and watch a lot. I am not a cultural critic, I just watch a lot. Here is my TV and Streaming List (I’ll separately post my movie list). There was so much great TV this year.

Best of the Best

When They See Us (Netflix):  was a devastating, powerful, and tragic lens on systemic racism and how corrupt self justification and self preservation preserve the system.  The performances were so powerful. Watched the Ken Burns documentary also.

Chernobyl (HBO): I remember it, but I had no idea how horrible its effects were. Watched it around same time as When They See Us and thought they both captured how systems are willing to destroy people to preserve themselves.

Better Things (FX): I love Pamela Adlon and just love this show.  It’s life and I am captivated by her character and by each hour.

Country Music (PBS): Ken Burns strikes again. I loved how he brought is the role of African Americans in the development of Country, how he included Graham Parsons, Townes Van Zandit, and others outside the mainstream, and Marty Stuart was a great storyteller. Earlier this year watched his Jazz documentary beginning to end. Both are incredible.

Killing Eve (BBC) Villanelle is one of best characters ever, and Eve is a worthy adversary.

Our Boys (HBO) Sad and powerfully told true story inside of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with great acting all around. I was fully engrossed by every cast member’s performance.

Rami (Hulu) So original. I love how this show actually is about trying to integrate faith and modern life. There were so many amazing episodes and scenarios.

Reconstruction (PBS). Such important American history that is too little known. How the promise of Reconstruction got buried in Redemption and Jim Crow is so tragic. African Americans in 1960 were fighting for rights they had in 1875.

Russian Doll (Netflix). Loved Natasha Lyonne’s groundhog day deaths and resurrections cued by Harry Nillson’s “Gotta Get Up” and her attempt to learn her lesson.

Sex Education, The End of the F***ing World, and Derry Girls (Netflix). I love the fact that all 3 of these teen shows from across the Atlantic are so original. Sex Education had no subtlety, but wonderful characters especially Eric and his relationship with his father. The End of the F***ing World is the most punk rock show where an aspiring psychopath meets an actual sociopath and the love story and its quirky and comic turns are as great as the soundtrack. Derry Girls takes place amid Northern Ireland’s “troubles” in the 1980s and made me laugh out loud more than any other show.

Watchmen (HBO): After the first episode with the Tulsa massacre I was hopeful and confused. The next few episodes put me into a WTF space. Then I read a bit and listened to the HBO podcast, and saw the episode on the story of Hooded Justice. From there on I was hooked and loved the end. Hope they come up with more, but OK if they end it on that note (or toe).

Other shows I enjoyed to varying degrees:

  • The Act – Holy shit, and weird that Politician seemed to borrow from this story – Patricia Arquette great
  • Barry – I love Hank. Hader and Winkler are really good, too; great season end
  • Big Little Lies – Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep battling it out was an acting tour de force; Streep’s scream in the second episode should win an award
  • Chi – I like how every character is three dimensional, and how it shows that when people live between rocks and hard places, there are not a lot of great choices
  • The Crown – Olivia Coleman was a great successor to Claire Foy – unsympathetically cold and sympathetically thoughtful; I always google to confirm all the scandal and intrigue was real and am not surprised Meghan wants out
  • Fleabag – I love it like everyone else does, just wish there were more episodes!)
  • Game of Thrones – Arya’s big killer moment and Drinklage’s acting all season amazing; season overall just ok 
  • GLOW – Maron can act, and I appreciate the diversity and complexity of characters in a story context I would not normally find interesting.
  • Good Omens – Entertaining, and I liked Frances McDormand voice of God.
  • The Good Place – Favorite ensemble and love the way it delves into philosophy
  • Handmaid’s Tale – Feels stuck. Would love more backstory on how society transitioned from neutral to complicit to devoted to Gilead, and what is going on in Chicago?
  • His Dark Material – Entertaining. 
  • Jack Ryan – Entertaining and Wendell Pierce!
  • Kominsky Method – To me it is all about Alan Arkin
  • Living With Yourself – Interesting reflection on who your better self would be and why our imperfect selves are better
  • Loudest Voice in the Room – Roger Ailles was scum
  • The Man in the High Castle – I found this show alternately confusing and compelling over time. Thought the third season was the best.
  • Miracle Workers – Steve Buscemi and Daniel Radcliffe were good, the show was average.
  • Mrs Maisel – Entertaining
  • Orange is the New Black – Backstories have been my favorite part, thought it should have ended a few seasons ago. Appreciated last season’s dive into the topics of for-profit prisons, ICE detention, probation and parole
  • Politician – Entertaining
  • Sacred Games – Interesting and often surprising story from India of a police officer and a crime boss mixing underworld crime, religious fanaticism, and global terror
  • Series of Unfortunate Events – Entertaining, made me smile a lot
  • Schitt’s Creek – Catherine O’Hara’s accent always cracks me up
  • Silicon Valley – Thought it ended well and interesting the arc from its beginnings when tech was viewed positively and the end when we are now all skeptical and down on it
  • Spy – I thought Sacha Baron Cohen was great playing it straight in this true story
  • Stranger Things – Fun second season after too long a wait; but why don’t they ever call the FBI or someone else for help?
  • Succession – Gregory is the best. Tom second. Don’t love it but like it just enough
  • Unbelievable – Great acting and tragic to watch the difference between trauma informed policing and the alternative and how the lack of belief enabled more rapes
  • Undone – I liked the animation and appreciated how its blend of mental illness and quantum physics created a mystery about what was true or not. And Bob Odenkirk!
  • Veep – Great end. President Richard Splett, who was my favorite character on the show
  • Years and Years – a British lens on a road to dystopia or Gilead; felt like a more plausible future than it should

I still want to pass two laws: (1) That each season of a TV show must begin within 12 months of the previous season starting – traditional TV ran September to May and then began the next season four months later and now these long breaks between seasons get ridiculous; (2) UK series need to have more episodes! (I’m looking at you, Fleabag, Killing Eve, Derry Girls, etc)