The Midwest is still seated at the cultural kids table. We’re “not for everyone,” apparently unlike New York and Los Angeles, so we don’t get to see a big chunk of the best movies from a given year until the start of the following year. It’s like how Canada is just now getting fidget spinners.
However, while my annual top 10 films list may still be brewing, Omaha is permitted to watch the same television at the same time as others. Seeing as how film and TV are now more closely related than hookups on Game of Thrones Tinder, it seems fair game for me to share what I loved most on the “little screen” this year. Also, just to get ahead of those dastardly coastal cultural elites, I’ll tell you what the best new shows of next year will be.
After my first cut, I had almost 30 shows still on my list. That tells you that (a) I watch a potentially dangerous amount of television and (b) it was a good year for “boob tubing.” Among the last shows I cut, in alphabetical order: Doom Patrol, Last Week Tonight, Legion, Mr. Robot, Perpetual Grace Limited, Primal, Shrill, Star Trek: Discovery, Stranger Things, What We Do in the Shadows and Years and Years. I recommend all of them, provided you love staying inside as much as I do. I also ruled out Chernobyl and When They See Us, because they were miniseries. That was done purely to make my life easier, as I am not afraid to abuse a technicality.
Top 10 TV Shows of 2019
10 – Righteous Gemstones (HBO)
Following a family of for-profit pastors, this satire not only skewers “Christians who ain’t really Christians,” it features the single best comedic performance of the year from Edi Patterson. Seriously, watch her monologue at Outback Steakhouse in the finale and message me when you laugh whizz.
9 – The Mandalorian (Disney Plus)
Featuring the most adorably baffling creature in the entire galaxy, Werner Herzog, as well as “baby Yoda,” I should mention that this show makes my list despite not having aired all its episodes by the time I had to write this. Please forgive me if the back half of the season goes all “midichlorian” or something, but thus far, this spaghetti space western is dripping in my favorite genre marinara.
8 – GLOW (Netflix)
This sweet, sincere show is a sporadically hilarious, nuanced and gentle exploration of a wide array of relationships between women. That those women are not involved in any kind of true-crime-related conceit only makes it that much better. I would not have predicted a 1980s-set professional wrestling show would make me cry repeatedly, but it did, and I don’t care who knows it.
7 – PEN15 (Hulu)
We live in an era of nostalgia profiteering in which most films and shows are content to just idly point at something and say “Hey, do y’all remember this?” PEN15 is smarter, weirder and funnier than that. Oh sure, it’s a double-barrel shotgun blast from the early 2000s, but it’s also uniquely clever, stridently authentic and blessed with Maya Erskine, who deserves to be infinity-times more famous.
6 – Barry (HBO)
I rolled my eyes when I first heard about yet-another quirky antihero show, this one featuring a hitman who wants to be an actor. How could I have known that we’d be treated to such delights as an entire episode about a feral child savagely gnawing on Stephen Root? Nihilistic in a way that’s not reductive or dismissive, this could have been a contender for No. 1 in most years. That’s how hard 2019 brought it, yo.
5 – The OA (Netflix)
The story of a possible angel who talks with a telepathic octopus and travels between dimensions through performative dance was never going to be for everyone, but it was always going to be for some of us. Mostly me. The legitimate anguish fans had at the show’s cancellation transcends any I’ve seen before, and for good reason. We’ll never see anything quite like this again.
4 – Russian Doll (Netflix)
This tight and quirky little Twilight Zone conceit made for a breezy watch, right up until its message walloped me in my heart parts. For a culture that fetishizes forgiveness, there are too few pieces of art that illustrate what actual reform and meaningful penance look like. Illustrating that instruction inside a kitschy spoonful of light sci-fi is how my medicine best goes down.
3 – The Good Place (NBC)
The folks from Parks and Rec taking on the afterlife was always going to be full of witty shenanigans. Still, no one could have predicted the abundant creativity of the whimsical plot or the emotional damage of the central relationship. I am not exaggerating when I say this show may articulate more genuine insights about the inherent truths of life than any religious text. Also, lots of Molotov cocktail jokes, which is a plus.
2 – Fleabag (Amazon Prime)
By now, you’ve certainly heard the praises sung by hot-priest-loving choirs and seen the army of Emmys that now crowd the mantle of the genius that is Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I can’t really say anything you haven’t heard already about this. I can just tell you that, yes, it is actually that funny, that powerful and that truly perfect. Only an idiot wouldn’t have this as his year’s best.
1 – Watchmen (HBO)
Damon Lindelof has made me that idiot. I was so frightened at the prospect of this show, which I thought would either tread over the same oft-trod-upon ground as the original comic or extend it in an unintentionally silly direction. Nope! This sophisticated extension of the core conceits of Alan Moore’s graphic novel tackles racism in a profoundly substantial way, which I’m gonna say is particularly important right now. From its brutally provocative black-and-white flashback episode to the shocking reveal of a major character’s identity, Watchmen has most firmly grasped the full potential of what live-action comic book material can be. And it’s technically a DC product, so people who claim I’m a hater must now legally suck it.
The Best New Shows of 2020
As an added bonus, in no particular order, here are the new shows debuting next year that I am most looking forward to seeing:
- Station Eleven: One of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels heads to HBO, which is great now that Weiss and Benioff are gone!
- Star Trek: Picard: We have never needed Jean-Luc’s leadership more, and both Michael Chabon and Data are on board. I’m already engaged.
- Lord of the Rings: If we don’t support this show, they’re going to remake the movies, so get hyped.
- Avenue 5: A Hugh Laurie-led space comedy from the folks behind Veep? OK, HBO, you got me again.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi series: Now that we know The Mandalorian doesn’t suck, we’re allowed to be excited for this.
- Snowpiercer: Even if it features 100% less Tilda Swinton than I prefer, it features 100% more Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly than other projects.
- Marvel shows: From Marvel to Moon Knight to … other shows not starting with the letter M, we’re all going to watch the crap out of these, right?