Best of 2019 | Introduction

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So, here we go. You all knew it was coming, I suspect.

From now until the 31st, I’m going to be counting down the best television of 2019 – ten of the best TV shows, and ten of the best episodes of TV shows. That won’t always necessarily be the same thing; just off the top of my head now, I can think of a couple of ‘best episodes’ from shows that aren’t on one list, and a couple of ‘best shows’ that didn’t have any individual episodes make it onto the other list.

Immediately, though, a few caveats:

  • “Best”, in this case, is a fairly idiosyncratic term, here falling somewhere between the actual definition of best, favourite, and most memorable. Which is to say that there are absolutely some entries on these lists that are, in every qualitative sense, absolute rubbish – but it is my list, so I’m still going to call them the best. (There is, at the moment, only one entry I’m debating – it definitely wins out on memorability, but it seems to fly in the spirit of the list somewhat. We’ll see.)
  • Something like 700 new television shows debuted across 2019. At the end of 2018, I said I was hoping to watch 75 new shows across this coming year. I would be surprised if I watched (and, crucially, completed – there’s been a lot of things I’ve watched an episode of and never got around to finishing) even half that.
  • So, yes, there are a couple of very obvious omissions: I still haven’t had the chance to watch Chernobyl or Watchmen, or to finish The End of the F***ing World series 2, all of which I suspect would’ve been fairly likely to make this list.
  • Having said that! I am actually only a few days ahead in writing these – there are definitely going to be a few tight turnarounds, and I am more than a little worried I won’t be able to write all twenty articles to schedule – so, on the off chance I find the time to watch any of the above before I finish the list, I reserve the right to change everything to accommodate. We’ll see, I suppose.

I’ll also have a little sidestep article, a ranked list of all the movies I saw this year – which is similarly incomplete, I don’t really watch as many films as I should. That’ll come a little closer to the end of the month (mainly so I can include Star Wars – and maybe Cats, which I am desperate to see, but probably won’t be able to convince anyone to watch with me). I think that’ll end up being a top 20 or so? I’m fairly sure I’ve seen twenty films this year. Something like that.

The other thing worth noting: I’ve limited the list to stuff that was actually broadcast in 2019. Which feels obvious, admittedly, but given I spent quite a lot of this year catching up on things from a while ago, I’m cutting out a few personal favourites there. A moment of silence for Crashing (which I wish had taken off in the same way Fleabag did), 30 Rock (my new favourite of those NBC sitcoms) and The Good Wife (which has a few episodes that could be contenders for best of the decade), all of which really do probably deserve to have made this list.

You can find my favourites from 2017 and 2018 here (in one handy list) in case you’re interested in those. I probably won’t try and put together a best of the decade list, if only because I’ve not really been paying attention properly for long enough – there’s so many huge, huge gaps in my critical framework for the decade, given I only really started doing this properly in 2016ish. (I do kinda like the idea of being difficult and doing a best of the decade piece in 2026, or maybe 2023 for this website’s tenth anniversary. We’ll see.) What I will say, though, just to stake out my position on the 2010s: any best of the decade list that omits Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a fundamentally incomplete list and can be quite easily disregarded.

That, I think, is everything – so check back here tomorrow for the tenth best TV show of 2019, and the day after that for the tenth best episode of TV of 2019, and then… so on and so forth. You get the picture.

Click here to find the rest of the Best of 2019 list – or, click here to filter by television shows and here to filter by television episodes.

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Edward Norton on Motherless Brooklyn

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I think, had I made this film a long time ago, I might have had more of a commitment to the cynicism of the genre. Part of the benefit of me having a little more time with it, and the times we’re living in shifting and changing around us in certain ways, is that it gave me a real pause about the idea of being dark for darkness’ sake, you know? I didn’t want to communicate apathy or cynicism – I wanted to communicate that, when people encounter power and the dark things that power is doing, there’s a need to be heroic and act against it.

Not long after I finished this interview, I was suddenly struck by not only how extremely, extremely cool the things I get to do are, but also how intensely lucky I am to be able to do them. (I mean, there’s also a bit of hard work involved too, I suppose.) That was a really great feeling, just sitting and thinking about that for a moment.

Hope you all enjoy this, anyway – it was great to talk to Edward Norton about Motherless Brooklyn. It is, obviously, quite the passion project for him, a huge labour of love, so he was really engaged talking about it – which is always nice, as an interviewer!

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw on Motherless Brooklyn

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I always think you can’t really play a genre. You have to be grounded and real, and then the world – hopefully – is built around you. One of the things that I loved about Laura is exactly that: she’s not your classic femme fatale, she’s not a 50s housewife. She’s a layered, multifaceted human being, and you know we don’t often see that very often in female characters – and certainly female characters of colour in the 50s – so I just tried to bring as many emotional nuances to her as possible.

This is very exciting! Another in-person interview, and – crucially – my own on-screen debut! (Well, sort of, the Edward Norton interview was actually filmed first.)

I have no idea how the video is – I now suddenly understand why some actors never watch their own films, even the idea of watching this back feels too awkward – but I do remember Gugu being very lovely to talk to. (And myself getting a bit tongue-tied!)

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Film Review | Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

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As Lionel Essrog, Norton offers a characteristically precise performance – every tic and spasm of the 1950s gumshoe’s Tourette’s syndrome meticulously recreated, in many ways the pinnacle of the careful affect Norton is known for as an actor. But to focus on the precision of the performance obscures its sensitivity. What might at first be written off as an ostentatious display of overly attentive histrionics, justified only by itself to itself, belies something much more tentative and tender. There’s a lightness to Norton’s work here, something gentle not lost in his formal dedication to the psychical neuroses; Lionel is rendered with vulnerability and treated in turn with empathy. There’s a depth beyond the superficially impressive imitation of the rhythms of Tourette’s – a crumpled, weary interiority suggestive of a man always slightly out of step with his surroundings.

Another new review from me! Something I was conscious of particularly with this one was how I wrote about acting, specifically; actually engaging with the details of performances is something I find difficult to articulate, so I’m trying to work on that a little harder. Fairly pleased with what I wrote in the end, actually, so that’s nice!

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