Tuesday 17 December 2019

My Top TV shows of 2019 - The Top Ten

I’ve listed my top 40 - 21 here, and my 20 to 11 here, not to mention my Lost Its, Never Had Its, and Hast Thou Got Crops In Jethro winner. Now for the Top Ten TV of the year.

10) Urban Myths (Sky Arts) - A hidden gem that, as far I know, nobody else has seen, now in its third series of one-off comedy dramas based on vaguely true stories. The best were Paul McCartney writing Yesterday, Freddie Mercury & Kenny Everett taking Princess Di to the Vauxhall Tavern, and the Trial Of Joan Collins. Excellent work by a raft of writers new and old, with stand-out casting and, from what I can see, being watched by fewer than 50,000 people, which is a tragedy.  

9) Zomboat (ITV2) - Another hidden gem, promoted up my list to give it a little oxygen of publicity. A comedy about zombies set on narrow boats on the canals of Birmingham by new writers (Adam Miller & William Hartley) tucked away on ITV2. This is the sort of stuff British TV should be proud to be producing.

8) When They See Us (Netflix) - Showing just how strong the work of a distinctive writer/director can be, given the right conditions, Ava DuVernay has taken the true story of the Central Park Five in 1989, and turned it into the most gripping drama of the year. Confident and consistent it just edged out the other true life story contenders.

7) Leaving Neverland (Channel 4) - Highest ranking documentary of the year, this show is most outstanding for the effect it hasn’t had. Since it was on, I’ve had more kids in schools suggesting Michael Jackson when I ask for a celebrity for my demonstration strip (see blogs passim) than before, and with no irony intended. Whatever the facts of this documentary, they don’t seem to have got through. Radio 2 still play his records and it looks likely that these revelations are being taken as seriously as all those stories about the Kennedy Assassination and the grassy knoll. 

6) The Boys (Amazon) - Just as you’re losing interest in Preacher, you tried an episode of Swamp Thing and it stunk, you can’t see Watchmen for technical reasons, you confess you’ve never watched any of the Marvel TV adaptations, and you think shows based on comic books are old hat, along comes the one that gets it right. Never having read Garth Ennis’s original Boys comics, I can’t say how faithful this is, but as its own series it worked perfectly. And who saw that end of season twist coming?

5) The Politician (Netflix) - The most delightfully cynical show of the year, mixing cheesiness and musical numbers with cartoonish political intrigue. If you can take a candy coloured world where people live in impossibly large Disney palaces, even the supposedly poor people, then this over-stylised wise-cracking camp comedy is smashing telly. I bet it loses the plot in season 2 (which it seemed to have started with a gear-change of scenario in the last episode of season 1), but fun while it lasted.

4) This Time With Alan Partridge (BBC) - I’ve missed Alan Partridge over the last few years, thanks to his shows being on Sky Atlantic, so his return to the BBC was always going to be a big deal. Steve Coogan’s co writers of recent years, the Gibbons brothers, work perfectly with him here. More sketch show than sitcom, this series was surprisingly loose as far as its story arc went, with some items being stronger than others. But those items, including the high point of the Irish Partridge lookalike singing an “advert for the IRA”, were so strong they’ll be being quoted for years to come.

3) The Marvelous Mrs Maisel 2 & 3 (Amazon) - I couldn’t leave this relegated to the Sequel Zone as it is simply too good. With season 2 at the start of the year and season 3 just started in December, it’s bookended our TV year in style. Amy Sherman Palladino and team’s writing is so sparkling and speedy it leaves its rivals in the dust. Season 2’s evocation of 1950s Paris and the Catskills, mixed with Midge’s consistently improbable stand up routines (wherein she’s forged a career by seemingly never doing the same line twice, and can be heard without amplification in almost any setting) are just brilliant. If you don’t love The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (and, yes, spellcheck tries to correct the spelling of “marvelous” every time) then you and I have very different tastes.

2) Ghosts (BBC) - Best British comedy of the year, which I hope will be reflected in awards season, the Horrible Histories team came together to create a treat which was greater than the sum of its parts. Team writing, spread between half a dozen writer-performers who have worked together as a unit for some years now, has forged splendidly original characters and managed to tell stories in a post-Watershed slot that, to their credit, would work as well on kids TV (with the closeted Captain and the MP with no trousers possibly needing some explaining away). A second and third series have been commissioned, which is great news.

1) Pose (FX) - It topped my “Hast Thou Got Crops In Jethro” list this year, being the show that shoehorns a social message in under the guise of drama. And, especially in season 2, some episodes have descended into cheesy on-the-nose point-making. In fact Season 2 had the hallmarks of a show with a troubled production process, with clashing styles mixed into episodes, one filler show just full of horrible musical numbers, and a final episode which included some of the worst writing I’ve seen on TV this year. (Let’s face it Season 1 was great, Season 2 fell off a cliff, and Season 3 looks unlikely). But when it’s good it’s so good. And such a significant milestone in TV in so many ways (need I mention it’s a predominantly trans, LGBT, black and latino cast and writing team?) that it couldn’t not be my TV of the year. Show me another show where a trans bondage dungeon mistress has a (spoiler alert) dead body in her closet and the characters are haunted by the ghost called Candy, half the leads have been diagnosed with HIV, and yet the tone is still as cheesy as The Kids From Fame, and I’ll let you put that at the top of my chart instead.

Hmm, good question. What was the Top TV of The Decade? I’ll give it some thought.

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