2019 was a banner year for television, as the small screen provided a bounty of memorable moments. It was also the year that streaming services reigned supreme, displacing traditional networks and their Boomer-approved appointment shows with programs that outclassed, outpaced and outmatched most prime-time programs. In 2019, a tech company went bobbing for audiences with original content, the Mouse launched a streaming service with the help of a Fox, a beloved series set its fanbase aflame with its finale, and traditional TV viewing habits went the way of the dinosaur. That said, here is a look at the good, the bad and the whatever as we tune out of 2019 and get ready for 2020 binging and purging.
THE BEST: Disasters, Dames & Disney
It was a stellar year for television with small screen content evolving past the canned laugh tracks and corny dramas of yesteryear. No longer the distant cousin to the big screen, television is an outstanding manifestation of artistic expression that at times even surpasses film. This is best exemplified by HBO’s Chernobyl, which is more of an event than a limited series. From the remarkable turns of its cast to its exceptional script, the series tackled the recounting of a catastrophic event to a new generation. By giving the historical event a narrative, the series explained how a cataclysmic incident could happen so easily and destroy so many. With that, Chernobyl became more than entertainment. It became an important achievement.
2019 was also the year of feisty femme fatales. From Amazon Prime’s Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Netflix’s Russian Doll, women were front and center in many of the top shows. As cops in Netflix’s Unbelievable, awkward teens in Hulu’s PEN15, or fed-up mothers in FX’s Better Things, women were represented throughout the tube in non-traditional roles. Fleabag stood out among the pack as the second season of the half-hour laffer proceeded to win audiences and awards with its cheeky writing, proving the clergy has more to offer than just scandals and judgement. Amen.
Also topping the year with a powerful female (Regina King) at the helm was HBO’s Watchmen, a show that tackled race relations, gender and bigotry in America while wearing the costume of a superhero show. In addition to making meaningful statements about society, the astounding series also managed to fit perfectly within Alan Moore’s landscape while expanding the universe of its source material.
In November, Disney+ put its best foot forward with a new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. The nod to the Westerns of yore not only unleashed Baby Yoda upon an unsuspecting public, but it saved a beloved franchise.
Perhaps in response, Netflix continued to create quality content at a neck-break speed. In addition to the aforementioned gems, the streaming juggernaut’s year included a history lesson on profiling serial killers (second season of Mindhunters), a cartoon horse more heartbreaking than any NBC tearjerker (the first half of the final season of BoJack Horseman), a sympathetic yet scary stalker (second season of You), and the first real contender for Game of Thrones’ throne (The Witcher).
In addition to these high-caliber series, shows such as Amazon Prime’s The Boys, FX’s What We Do In the Shadows and Fosse/Verdon, Disney+’s The Imagineering Story, HBO’s Barry and Succession, and Hulu’s The Act were trail-blazing and should be part of any “Best Of 2019” conversation. See our Best Of 2019 List TV list below.
THE WORST: Fantasy Flops & Sour Apple
With Game of Thrones ending its dragon tale, networks raced to put out the next big-budget, must-watch epic, forcing audiences to sit though one ill-conceived fantasy series after another. From horny fairies to post-apocalyptic landscapes filled with terrible dialogue, networks took complicated fantasy-driven concepts, threw a steampunk aesthetic on it, and called it a day. But no amount of money can cover up poorly-executed concepts and lazy world building. We’re looking at you, Amazon Prime’s Carnival Row, AppleTV+’s See, and HBO’s His Dark Materials.
Speaking of AppleTV+, the service tossed its hat into the original content ring this year, throwing gobs of money into new series featuring high-end talent. While some programs such as The Morning Show starring Friends siblings Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston made for interesting endeavors, many of the shows ranged from blasé to ridiculous. The world of See managed to squander Jason Mamoa while the weirdness of Dickinson opted to take a page from the Quentin Tarantino guide of historical storytelling, but sans anything remotely clever.
2019 was the year that HBO dropped the ball as the Game of Thrones’ showrunners made a mad scramble to the door, ignoring seven years of careful character building and story arcs with a rushed finale that still has fans screaming on the interwebs. The crushing disappointment of the final episode provided a perfect blueprint on how to destroy a legacy. If you feel terrible about the finale, just think on the bright side: At least you were not one of the poor souls who named a daughter “Khaleesi”? (And if you did, you can always call her Khali.)
Just Friggin’ Weird
Somehow, Fox’s The Masked Singer managed to evolve past the initial watercooler joke to become a full-fledged show. Based on a South Korean reality show, there is no rhyme or reason as to why Singer is a bonafide hit, other than to serve as an example of why we sometimes don’t deserve nice things.
2019 was the year that streaming services surpassed traditional television in viewers, awards, and critical hits. And within that field, Netflix is the year’s big winner, making an impact on both the small screen and the big screen. (More than one Netflix-produced film made L.A. Weekly‘s Best Films of 2019 list). Streaming television and cable networks evolved beyond providing ad-free content and binge-able material, creating experiences that can be controlled with a click of a button. It wins audiences and awards while traversing genres and creating conversation. And it is only getting better. Come on, 2020. Let’s see what ya got.
UnBinged’s Best of 2019 List
The Good Place