Best of 2020 | My Top 10 TV Shows of the Year

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Last year, I ended up being a bit over-ambitious with my Top 10 list. Rather than a single blog post, the plan was to write an article a day about ten different television shows, and ten different individual episodes of television too. Twenty pieces of writing proved more than a few too many – I managed five; the election threw me off rhythm and that was the end of that – and I never actually shared the full Best of 2019 list.

Until now! I’d thought about preserving the mystery, but better to just share it here, I think.

10) The Circle

9) Defending the Guilty

8) Stath Lets Flats

7) Superstore

6) Years and Years

5) The Good Fight

4) The Other Two

3) Russian Doll

2) Fleabag

1) Succession

10) The Good Place 4×9, “The Answer”

9) Derry Girls 2×05, “The Prom”

8) Daybreak 1×08, “Post Mates”

7) Veep 7×07, “Veep”

6) This Way Up 1×06, “Episode 6”

5) The Good Fight 3×5, “The One Where a Nazi Gets Punched”

4) Superstore 4×22, “Employee Appreciation Day”

3) Succession 2×4, “Safe Room”

2) Years and Years 1×4, “Episode 4”

1) Fleabag 2×01, “Episode 1”

In hindsight, several of those choices are more than a little questionable – outright bad! – but then I suppose the point of these lists is as much a historical record of my bad opinions as it is anything else. Speaking of which, you can also find my similarly questionable 2018 and 2017 list here. (I do seem to only complete these lists every other year.)

This year, the plan was to do the same again, but I ended up scaling that back pretty quickly – first from twenty blog posts to ten, ditching the individual best episodes list, and then again from ten daily posts to a single article. (This one.) Why was that? I spent ages writing Christmas cards, basically. Just got completely and totally carried away, doing little illustrations and everything. Kept me entertained, at least. Maybe next year I’ll be able to do the full run of twenty daily articles (more likely I will just write more Christmas cards; if you want one next year, now is the time to start trying to befriend me).

A word quickly on two notable omissions, before we begin. I skipped Normal People, because I loved the book so much I didn’t want to invite in another interpretation; I’ve never particularly been a “the book is always better” person, so that was something of an unusual choice. I also opted not to watch I May Destroy You, because of a personal discomfort with the subject matter (for the same reason, I didn’t watch Save Me Too, even though the first series of Save Me made 2018 list).

Anyway! Onto the list proper.


10). This Country

I keep double-checking the Wikipedia page for This Country, because I’m half-convinced I’m making a mistake here. Surely, right, if This Country Series 3 – the final season! – had aired in 2020, I would’ve seen it on more year-end Best Of lists, right? So, it must’ve been a 2019 series that I was a little late to, or maybe I didn’t even watch it this year at all and I’ve just completely lost all sense of linear time?

But, no, the Wikipedia page insists it aired in 2020, and frankly who am I to argue with Wikipedia?

When I was still debating whether or not to compile a list of Best Television Episodes of 2020, one of the few things I was certain had to be on that list was an episode of This Country. Specifically, it was the fifth episode of Series 3, The Station – a pared-back, even-simpler-than-usual episode about Kerry and Kurtan waiting for a train. There’s a lot to love about this series and the world it inhabits, but the reason This Country was one of my favourite television shows of 2020 is that central dynamic: Kerry and Kurtan bickering away about nothing in particular, all those little idiosyncrasies on full display, the dialogue sparkling even as it’s entirely mundane.


9). Us

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Us made the list almost entirely on the strength of Tom Hollander’s performance as Douglas Peterson, here somehow sympathetic even as it’s always obvious exactly why his life is falling apart around him. Hollander walks a careful line throughout – it would’ve been easy to make Douglas too much of any one thing, when the drama demands he be much more complex – and does so deftly. The series wasn’t perfect – the ending is too neat, telegraphed too early on; that close focus on Hollander’s character is sometimes borders on myopia, crowding out the rest of the cast – but I really do think Hollander was.

Without realising, I spent a lot of time on David Nicholls’ writing this year – watching both Us and his film Starter For 10, and reading One Day, finally. (He also wrote the Patrick Melrose adaptation a few while back, which was my favourite show of 2018.) He’s not perfect, I don’t think, and there’s some obvious recurring flaws in each – but he’s very good at nailing a particular style of emotion I ended up appreciating a lot this year.


8). The Crown

Look, I know, I know, but let me explain. I couldn’t stand the first series of The Crown; it always struck me as a very short-sighted programme, never quite confident enough to actually commit to criticising the monarchy. For all that it insisted it was about the difficulty of life as a member of the royal family, it always seemed to contort to find some redeeming feature or another, making the few critiques it did let stand feel trivial at best and hollow at worst. It’s not that I needed it to take a republican stance, exactly (I was altogether more lukewarm on the royal family in 2016 than I am now), just that

I watched a few episodes of the second series, but quickly fell off, and didn’t bother with the third at all; I caught up ahead of this year’s series and enjoyed each one more than the last. The fourth series, though, felt like a revelation (well, comparatively speaking), a show that had finally become what it always wanted to be, the introduction of Emma Corrin’s Diana bringing a certain clarity and momentum it had previously lacked. Something about The Crown finally clicked into place – Peter Morgan’s writing no longer clangingly unsubtle, but instead somehow admirably blunt – and the show was all the better for it.


7). The Good Fight

I cannot think what The Good Fight will look like when it returns. In part that’s because it’s always been so defined by the Trump era, which is now – in the most straightforward sense of the term, anyway – coming to an end. I worry it might lapse into a certain complacency under a Biden presidency, lacking the sense of direction that animated its wit and made it so sharp (which admittedly is not the worst trade-off in the world, all things considered).

Less obvious but more significant, though, is the loss of Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo, both of whom have always been such huge parts of the show. I could imagine The Good Fight reinventing itself successfully with them; it’s much harder to picture the series making that just adjustment without them. Still, though: this is the fourth year running that I’ve included The Good Fight on my Best Of list. This year it was still just as smart and as thrilling as it always has been – perhaps it’s about to falter somewhat, perhaps not, but either way that’s a really strong run.


6). Two Weeks to Live

The obvious point of comparison is The End of the F***ing World, but Two Weeks to Live leans much more heavily on its comedy than TEOTFW; it’s not funnier than its predecessor, exactly, but it’s less idiosyncratic, broader, more open and inviting in its laughs. It opts to be earnest more often than not, largely shying away from the tongue-in-cheek, detached sensibility found in so many ‘genre’ comedies. Two Weeks to Live is self-aware, yes, and often undercuts its own clichés – but it does so with a straight face rather than a roll of the eyes.

A big part of that is Maisie Williams, in one of the more straightforwardly comic roles of her career. It quickly becomes clear that she’s got great comic timing (“We need to call the World Health Organisation.” “The who?” “Exactly”) as much Kimmy Schmidt here as she is Arya Stark. Her performance is deceptively precise – sincere without losing any levity, heightened without becoming exaggerated, and witty without becoming quippy. Williams has great chemistry with the rest of the cast (Mawaan Rizwan and Taheen Modak in particular, both of whom are fantastic) and taken together there’s a lot to like about Two Weeks to Live.


5). Star Trek: Lower Decks

If you’d asked me in January which of the 2020’s three Star Trek shows would make the Best of 2020 list, I’d likely have said Picard. I might well have said Discovery, which I suspect in hindsight probably deserved a place on the 2019 list. There’s not a chance I would’ve said Lower Decks – I didn’t even think I’d watch it, beyond a cursory glance at the first episode. I can’t stand Rick and Morty, and this looked like the same with a Star Trek gloss.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I absolutely loved it. It’s very much Star Trek’s answer to The Curse of Fatal Death: affectionate but not reverent, fannish but not insular, mocking but not meanspirited. It was a consistent highlight of my week – bright and colourful and above all else just a ridiculous amount of fun. In its own way, Lower Decks feels like it justifies the ongoing franchising of Star Trek more than Picard, Strange New Worlds or Section 31 do, and I can’t wait for the second series.


4). The Umbrella Academy

It took me a while to get into The Umbrella Academy (outside of that long opening sequence where Elliot Page plays the violin, there wasn’t much of the first few episodes I enjoyed without caveat) but I’m glad I stuck with it. Not because the series was particularly innovative or anything like that – it’s exactly the fairly straightforward riff on the X-Men it looks from the outside, and its actually very charming second season retreads well-worn ground by returning to the Kennedy assassination. The Umbrella Academy is in a lot of ways a fairly middle-of-the-road genre piece, the Netflix algorithm responding to the end of their Marvel partnership and not a lot more than that. (Actually, I often found myself thinking this is what Doctor Who-by-Netflix would look like.)

The reason The Umbrella Academy made the list, though, is because I ended up watching it with some friends (and also Bethany), so there was a nice communal aspect to it. Felt like we’ve kinda lost that over the past few years, now television schedules are a bit less linear and everything drops at once and so on. It’s all a little more atomised and discrete, I suppose? So it was nice to have that and share that and so on. Especially this year!  


3). I Hate Suzie

I Hate Suzie features Billie Piper’s best performance, in a show not just written for her, but written very much to her strengths – a subtle distinction, and one that makes this such a striking star vehicle for Piper. There’s a sense perhaps that this sort of broadly autobiographical role might be a relatively easy one to play, but I doubt it: the frantic neuroses and layers of artifice on display here are fantastically realised, a really remarkable achievement on Piper’s part.

It’s a little bit of a shame, really, that I Hate Suzie had such a muted American debut – picked up by HBO Max but not available when the platform launched, then overshadowed somewhat by the arrival of movies straight from the cinema. In an ideal world, I Hate Suzie might prove to be something of a slow-burn hit, a series people stumble upon and then quickly fall in love with.


2). The Queen’s Gambit

On a moment to moment level, The Queen’s Gambit was likely the show I enjoyed most all year – the most slick, the most confident, the most glamorous and the most entertaining.


1). Small Axe

Is it film? (Yes.) Is it television? (Also, yes.) Does it really matter? (Well, not exactly, but it’s interesting to get into all the same.)

For the moment, though, let’s call it television. Small Axe is the best – let’s say “project” – project of the year, no question, and I included the individual episodes on my list of the best films of the year. That doesn’t feel like it entirely captures why and how they’re so good, though, because no one instalment is acting discretely – to take one in isolation from another is almost missing the point. Each part of Small Axe is in communication with another: Alex Wheatle’s depiction of childhood speaks to similar themes in Education; the music in Mangrove and in Alex Wheatle again lends Lovers Rock even more depth; the four biographical instalments inform and accentuate one another; so on and so forth.

On their own, any given episode of Small Axe would be a career best pieces of work – together, they’re something so much denser and so much richer. That, to me, is television (apart from when it’s film, anyway) – so Small Axe is the Best Television Show of 2020.


Special Mentions

As ever, there’s a handful of shows that – while they didn’t make the full list – still warrant a mention.

  • I spent most of May working my way through New Girl, which I’d seen stretches of before but never watched in full. Even though it ended in 2017, I debated putting it on this list anyway; it’s such a deeply charming programme, and a big part of the year for me.
  • After missing it last year, I finally caught up on Watchmen. I’m not convinced it quite stuck the landing with “more Black female superheroes”, but the first eight episodes were sublime – even as it faltered slightly at the end, it was one of the best pieces of superhero-adjacent drama we’ve had over the past decade. (Speaking of Watchmen, I really enjoyed this piece on it.)
  • I enjoyed Hugh Laurie’s Roadkill quite a lot, though it faltered in its final episode – I’d have really enjoyed a second series focusing on the leadership race, but the series skipped ahead a few months in its last minutes. Still not sure why.
  • Superstore was one I deliberated over; ultimately, I don’t think that fifth season was brilliant (perhaps because of the change in creative team, or maybe because anything would’ve felt a let-down after that finale), and too little of season six has aired for it to have made an impact in 2020. Perhaps next year, though, with its (far too soon) final season.
  • Finally, Quiz. The other 2020 show of the five special mentions, it would’ve been eligible for the above list – I still wonder if maybe I should’ve shuffled things around to include it. I really loved it, and I think the piece I wrote about it was one of my best bits of writing all year. (Also, James Graham is now a close personal friend twitter mutual, so it seems only polite, especially given how much I’ve slated some of his other stuff in the past.)

I’m not sure there’s anything else to make note of particularly; there were plenty of things I meant to watch but didn’t get round to (Lovecraft Country, Life, The Good Lord Bird, Westworld series 3, The Plot Against America, The Mandalorian, Raised by Wolves, so on, so forth) but that’s always the way. Is there anything I’m forgetting that you think I should’ve watched? Let me know, I’ll make a note, get round to it over the next few months.


2021

What am I looking forward to next year? This and that. Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin is the first big show of 2021 on my list – I’ve got something in the works for that at the moment, which I’ll be able to share more about in a few weeks’ time. I’m also cautiously optimistic about the new Marvel shows; Wandavision moreso than the other two, though I imagine I’ll watch all three of them anyway. (Loki I’m quite curious about too, Falcon and The Winter Soldier feels like it could really go either way.) There’s also, of course, my beloved Riverdale, returning after far too long away.

I’ll also be watching The Serpent, mostly for Jenna Coleman; I’m always very wary of that sort of true crime series, but I’m also always very fond of her, so. In theory, Doctor Who Series 13 is due in 2021, though I’m not entirely convinced that’ll actually be ready to air in September as planned – which is going to be the case for a lot of things I imagine. Is Moffat’s Inside Man still due for 2021? I assume not, because I don’t think they were able to start production this year. Hmm.

A broader 2021 target, I suppose, would be to try and watch less rubbish, and be faster to give stuff up when it’s not very good – like, the amount of time I knowingly spent this year on rubbish like Spitting Image and Space Force, or even something good-but-not-great like Catastrophe, long past the point I was getting anything out of it… not the best use of my time, I suspect.

Equally, on the flip side, I do also want to just try and watch everything next year, which surely means there’s gonna be some rubbish. We shall see!

Related:

Best of 2020 | Every film I watched this year

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this article – or if you didn’t – please consider leaving a tip on ko-fi.

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2018

I was trying to work out, before I wrote this post, how many television shows I’d actually watched all year. I am not completely sure the final tally was correct – my memory is awful, and it’s been a long year with a lot of television – but I think it came out to around 60 or so. (That’s mostly new shows, or new content at least, I didn’t include the programmes I rewatched. No idea how many it’d be then.)

Hoping to watch about 75 new programmes across 2019. That feels broadly achievable, I think – even if it’s still only going to be a fraction of the amount of actual television that’s put out. There’s so much of it! It’s like I’m drowning. In a good way, though. Or at least as good a way as drowning could feel, I suppose.

Anyway. Before we get into the 2018 list, here’s a quick recap of my 2017 list, since I never wrote a blog post about it in the end:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale
  2. The West Wing
  3. American Gods
  4. The Good Fight
  5. Doctor Who
  6. Legion
  7. The End of the F***ing World
  8. Babylon Berlin
  9. Yes, Minister / Yes, Prime Minister
  10. Motherland

The eagle-eyed among you will notice a couple of shows that didn’t premiere in 2017, but that’s when I first watched them, so it counts. (The inverse applies to The End of the F***ing World and Babylon Berlin, both of which had their debut in the UK in 2017 rather than 2018 – hence being on that list rather than this one.)

Looking back, I still feel basically alright with all of these choices. Legion surprised me a little bit, actually, but I suppose I did enjoy it quite a bit at the time, especially while I was still watching a lot more superhero television. And, actually, I’m a little uncomfortable with the inclusion of Motherland, much as I did love it, because of Graham Linehan’s involvement with it.

Anyway. Here, then, is the list of my favourite television shows of 2018.

10). Derry Girls

At the time, I was going to write an article about authenticity, and about how Derry Girls has such a strong voice, and that’s why it was quite as funny as it was. I never did get around to that piece in the end (as long-term fans who can recite everything I’ve ever written surely know) but now… well, it’s true, obviously. But I wonder if perhaps that doesn’t overemphasis certain aspects of the show, over-simplifying its strengths and making it seem as though the jokes are only good because of the accent they’re delivered in.

No, Derry Girls was – and is – so good because of the strength of its ensemble, the precision of its structure, and often quite how willing it is to push a joke and keep going. Granted, you could probably argue that it’s first and last episodes were the most impressive and memorable, with the stretch in the middle never quite hitting those heights – but then, that last episode is home to one of the best TV moments of the year, after all.

(The accents do help, though.)

9). Save Me

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It’s not a show I necessarily expected to put in my top ten at the end of the year, actually, but when I came to compose this list, it was difficult not to include Save Me, I quickly realised. It’s the only straightforward crime drama on the list, and the only missing child programme, in a year when I watched (and wrote about) quite a few of them – just off the top of my head, Innocent, Kiri and Safe all spring to mind. Each of those shows had their strengths, but none of them were particularly special – I gradually lost interest in that sort of crime drama across the year, really.

Save Me stands apart because it managed to do what I didn’t think was entirely possible – it took that basic standard of the crime drama, the missing child premise, and executed it with such confidence and such skill that it made the whole thing feel new again. There was no deconstruction of the genre, no attempt to juxtapose it with something different, just a ruthlessly well-constructed drama, set apart only by its building intensity. I’m looking forward to the next series – I’ve got my doubts, admittedly, about Save Me’s potential as a long runner, but I was so impressed by Lennie James in this that I’ll be paying attention to whatever he does next.

Here’s what I wrote about Save Me at the time.

8). Flowers

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I watched each of Flowers‘ two seasons this year, across the course of about a week. It’s difficult to capture exactly what’s so good about Flowers, I think – it’s a show that very much has to be seen to be understood, in a way I think quite unlike everything else on this list. “Olivia Colman is brilliant, Julian Barratt is brilliant, and Will Sharpe is brilliant” is true, of course, but not in a way that necessarily tells you a lot. “This is a brilliant crime drama” conveys a certain understanding of what a piece of television is and what it’s good at – it’s difficult to even explain what Flowers is exactly without being deeply reductive.

But it is brilliant, in its own idiosyncratic and distinctive way. Of the two seasons, I think the second was my favourite – after however many years of watching more and more television, and trying to watch and engage critically, I’ve become more and more attracted to the stuff that’s unlike anything else on television. Flowers series 2 is definitely that, a more confident elaboration on its predecessor, and an obvious choice for one of the best TV shows of the year.

Here’s what I wrote about Flowers at the time.

7). Superstore

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I started watching Superstore years back, actually, when it first aired – NBC put the first three episodes on YouTube for three, which I thought was a really clever way to draw eyes to the show, but then there was no way to watch it here in the UK. It’s finally turned up on ITV 2, though, and I absolutely loved those first three episodes, so obviously I made sure to sit and watch it each day it was on.

There is a lot to be said about Superstore, I suspect, and how and why it’s so good – like America Ferrara and the jokes (its second series had a better Brexit gag than any British show across the past two years can lay claim to) and the chemistry between the cast and the tone it strikes each week and the way it takes corporate America to task in a way, I suspect, rather unlike a lot of other workplace comedies.

For me, though, what’s probably the defining memory I have of watching Superstore is coming home in an absolutely foul mood and all of that just falling away, because Superstore is just so good and so wholesome and so wonderful.

6). The Good Fight

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Perhaps most notable, in this context at least, as the only show from the 2017 Top Ten to survive into the new year – indeed, and I hope I’m not jinxing it by saying it, I’d be very surprised if The Good Fight didn’t also make it onto the 2019 Top Ten. But I’m getting ahead of myself there.

The Good Fight is, in a joke I’ve tried to avoid making before, really, really good. There’s an elegance and a confidence to it, and it’s so much fun to watch. Christine Baranski is inimitable, Sarah Steele is a treasure, and Rose Leslie is so good I feel bad every time I remember she’s a Tory. (Zing!) I’m hoping 2019 is the year I finally get around to watching The Good Wife, but more than that, I’m really looking forward to Series 3.

Because it really, really is just that captivating.

Here’s what I wrote about The Good Fight at the time.

5). Succession

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I’d like to say I was an early adopter for Succession, appreciating it from the start, unlike the droves of people who abandoned it and then returned to it later. Of course, it didn’t air in the UK until months after that narrative had already formed in America, so I was going into the show expecting to dislike it at least a little initially. So, technically, I can’t quite say I was there for the show from the start.

I’m pretty sure I would’ve been, though, because I loved that first episode, and Succession had me in the palm of its hand till the end. And what an ending it was! Oh man. I sort of wish it had aired in the UK at the same time as it did in America, because I would’ve loved the chance to write about the whole series at the same time when everyone was still, you know, actually talking about (one of the more frustrating things about being a critic based in the UK is how totally America still drives the pace of the cultural conversation) because the way that series concluded was… well, there’s a few reasons why this show made it to the Top Ten, but that ending is the reason why Succession is as high up on this list as it is.

Here’s what I wrote about Succession (well, nominally about Succession, at least) at the time.

4). Wanderlust

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Wanderlust started on BBC One in the same week as Press, and I watched them both on the same day. I watched Wanderlust first, because I was expecting to like Press more – the general premise of Press being far more my ballpark than Wanderlust’s, my familiarity with Mike Bartlett and how much I’d enjoyed Trauma, and there were a few actors I liked in Press as well. Plus, Wanderlust seemed to be in the same vein as a lot of recent BBC family dramas (dramas about family, that is, I would hate to have watched Wanderlust with my family) that never quite gelled for me. In the end, I suspect I probably would’ve liked Press quite a lot more than I eventually did if it hadn’t been airing alongside Wanderlust, because the comparison was not at all flattering.

Part of why I watched Wanderlust was the expectation that it’d probably be unlike most of what I usually watched – an expectation that was met and surpassed, because Wanderlust blew me away. It was touching and charming and Toni Collette gave one of the best performances of the year (I know there’s some talk of awards nominations for Hereditary, but she really should win something for Wanderlust – several somethings, really). Not only that, Wanderlust probably also boasts one of the single best episodes of television of the year; I’m still thinking about the fifth episode and its central conceit, even now, months later.

3). The Assassination of Gianni Versace

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I think maybe people didn’t like this one that much? They’re all wrong, of course, but I was surprised to note that, because the strengths of this seem so self-evident to me. Darren Criss was brilliant, the script by Tom Rob Smith was brilliant, Cody Fern was brilliant in a supporting performance that really wasn’t celebrated enough. It was intense, and it was difficult to watch, and to be honest I doubt I’ll ever sit and watch it again – but by the same measure, I’m so glad I did, because it was such a standout series.

Genuinely, I think if you’re someone who likes television (and indeed movies and visual media and so on) and you went through 2018 without watching The Assassination of Gianni Versace, your experience of television this year was incomplete. That’s a big, big omission, and it’s worth going back to watch it as soon as you’re able – you won’t regret it.

Here’s what I wrote about The Assassination of Gianni Versace at the time; I put this piece in my portfolio as well, if you’d like to check that out, but I should probably get around to updating it sooner rather than later.

2). A Very English Scandal

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As is often the way with a Russell T Davies programme, this was obviously one of the best of the year pretty much as soon as the first episode finished airing. (I don’t wholly remember what was on at the same time as Cucumber, but I’m fairly certain it would’ve been one of the best of that year, too.) But, you know, don’t just take my word for it if you don’t want to – though I can’t think why you wouldn’t – it’s been appearing on plenty of year in review best lists for a while.

Rightfully so, because this is brilliant. It’s fun and anarchic and clever and I can keep listing adjectives, but honestly, it wouldn’t do it justice. I’m fairly sure it’s still on iPlayer – go, search it out. Watching these is a much better way to spend the next three hours than whatever you’ve already got planned. For even more fun, read Davies’ script at the same time as you watch the show; I did that with the third episode, and that really highlighted the strengths of the piece in a new way.

Here’s what I wrote about A Very English Scandal at the time, which I think is quite plausibly one of the best things I’ve ever written, and certainly one of the best of this year.

1). Patrick Melrose

patrick melrose benedict cumberbatch edward st aubyn sky atlantic showtime edward berger david nicholls best tv 2018 top ten

I’m still annoyed I didn’t find the time to write about this as it aired. I wasn’t expecting a lot from it, actually; the trailers in the week leading up to it gave the impression that Cumberbatch would be doing a sort of quasi-Sherlock caricature, which didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in the show.

When I watched it, though, I was blown away. It’s surely the best performance of Cumberbatch’s career – faintly reminiscent of Sherlock in a few clear ways, yes, but what Cumberbatch does with the material is far more complex than any comparison might suggest. “Benedict Cumberbatch’s best work” is a high selling point on its own, but that this performance was found in such a stylishly directed character study – a piece about love and loss and addiction and trauma, and coming to terms with them all as much as is possible – as Patrick Melrose is genuinely quite something.

If you’ve not seen it, seek it out; it’ll become very clear very quickly, I think, why I thought Patrick Melrose was the best TV show of 2018.

Honourable Mentions, Runners Up, and Notable Omissions

There are a few different programmes that are worthy of note, even though they didn’t quite make the top ten.

  • Chief amongst them are Sharp Objects and Black Earth Rising, both of which I loved; the only reason they didn’t make it onto the list, frankly, is the fact that I still haven’t actually had a chance to finish them.
  • (I preferred Black Earth Rising to Sharp Objects generally; Amy Adams would definitely be among the top ten performances of the year if I was making a list like that.)
  • I should probably also include Killing Eve here; I wasn’t quite as enamoured by it as everyone else was, but it was still obviously a highlight of the year. Oh, and I was also rather more enamoured by Westworld than everyone else was.
  • On the comedy front, I’d mention Stath Lets Flats, a very odd little show on Channel 4 that I enjoyed despite (and because of) how very odd it was, and Everything Sucks, which was so wonderfully charming. I was really disappointed when it was cancelled. Also, thinking about it, Brooklyn 99, which I’ve only really gotten into properly over the past few months; I was very pleased when it was un-cancelled.
  • And watching Riverdale is consistently one of my favourite things to do each week, because it’s just so mad, and so much fun because of it. No, I will not be taking any comments on how much I love Riverdale, this is my final word on the matter, thank you.

Disappointments

What disappointments were there in 2019? Well, I can think of a couple in my personal life, but let’s sidestep those and stick to the stuff that matters. And the stuff that we’ve been talking about for the past thousand words.

  • I think if I were inclined to be deliberately inflammatory, I might include Killing Eve here – not because it was bad, because it obviously wasn’t, but after Fleabag (one of the best television shows ever, frankly) and quite how rave the reviews were in America, I was expecting a little more. But, you know, that’s just being difficult, and unnecessarily so, frankly. Killing Eve was great.
  • No, in terms of disappointments there’s a couple of obvious contenders. Difficult not to talk about the two shows that fell out of the rankings from last year – The Handmaid’s Tale and Doctor Who, both of which were, unfortunately, vast steps down from their prior offerings. (I’ve not had a chance to catch up on Legion series 2 yet.) I wrote a little about The Handmaid’s Tale at the time, and I never really shut up about Doctor Who.
  • There’s also Jessica Jones, another programme that was a big step down from its stellar first season – indeed, the first series of Jessica Jones is one of the best pieces of ‘superhero’ media there is, and the second is… really not. I suspect the third season is going to be the last. I am not sure I’ll even watch it.
  • And, of course, there’s Who is America, the Sacha Baron-Cohen thing, which was just a load of nonsense really.

What I’m looking forward to in 2019

Let’s not end on a negative note, though! Positivity is a much better way to try and end the year. So, here’s a couple of shows that I’m looking forward to in 2019; I will, almost inevitably, forget something. Probably the one I’m looking forward to most, actually.

  • First and foremost, each of the various returning shows from this list – and my 2017 list, come to that. Quite a few of them will be back – The Good Fight, Derry Girls, I think Save Me, and hopefully Superstore series 4 will turn up on UK television sooner rather than later. From 2017’s list, the main one jumping out at me is American Gods; given all the nonsense that’s gone on behind the scenes, I’m more than a little worried about this series, but part of me is still really looking forward to it, however cautiously.
  • New shows! Gentleman Jack springs to mind first, because – since meeting her – I look forward to anything with Sophie Rundle in it. Otherwise, there’s MotherFatherSon, which I’m interested in because it’s written by Tom Rob Smith, who was also behind The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Plenty of others too, I’m sure.
  • I also, looking back through this list, probably need to try and branch out a bit more. It’s a very white list (and, actually, a pretty male one too) – not getting around to Atlanta this year and not finishing Black Earth Rising definitely didn’t help, but equally, that’s still only two shows. So, yes, something to try and pay a little more attention to over 2019.

Of course, there’s also plenty of stuff from this year I still want to catch up on, like The Long Song or Little Drummer Girl or This Country or Homecoming or Maniac or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or… oh, man, there is just so much TV, isn’t there? So much.

Have a wonderful 2019, everyone.

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How The Good Fight found clarity in chaos, and answers in absurdity

the good fight season 2 review essay diane lockhart christine baranski clarity chaos absurdity trump

The Good Fight’s title sequence is instructive. Set to a frantic score by David Buckley, it marries ordered elegance with violent disruption; a vase of flowers, phones, a gavel and so on all explode, their pieces scattered. A vibrant red claret from a shattering wine glass fills the screen, and dust and ash float across a dark background.

What it is, in effect, is a means to set the stage. It establishes chaos as the status quo. And then it begs the question: what next?

Where last year The Good Fight heralded a need to fight, it now turns to a different question: how can you fight? Again, the title sequence is instructive, having been fine tuned since last year; the television screens, added to the explosive line-up this season, juxtapose the absurdity of Putin’s overly macho image with the chilling horror of Charlottesville marchers. It’s a world where the awful and the absurd are so often the same; it’s a world ripped from the headlines, after all. As Diane Lockhart (The Good Fight’s inimitable lead, Christine Baranski) notes, “I used to laugh at the absurdity of the news. Now I’m all laughed out”.

I love love love The Good FightIt’s one of my favourite shows of the past two years; ahead of writing this article I spent a whole day rewatching episodes of season 2 and, while I normally hate binge-watching television, it was genuinely the most fun I’d had in ages.

The ending of this piece is perhaps a little weak; I think there’s a thread of connective tissue that I didn’t quite get right, which hampers that conclusion a little. A few days later I worked out how to fix it, though… and then promptly forget it, which is irritating.

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The Good Fight deserved an Emmy nomination – it’s the definitive piece of post-Trump television

the good fight christine baranski cush jumbo rose leslie black and white poster hd wallpaper trump review channel 4 cbs

Indeed, The Good Fight is shaped as an explicitly, brazenly post-Trump drama, intimately in tune with the concerns of the day. The series tackled police brutality, fake news, and the alt-right; it’s a bold, intelligent drama, one that fiercely and unrelentingly persists in its depiction of a post-Trump world. 

An article on The Good Fight, which was amongst my favourite new dramas of 2017. I genuinely, properly love this show – I’ve been massively enjoying the second season, too, which I’m planning on writing about in a few weeks. It’s genuinely just perfect.

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