I hope you all enjoyed the last festivities of 2019 and can reflect on the positives of the past year rather than any negatives.
2019 was an amazing year for TV, so in this post I’m reviewing my favourite shows!
I’m going to order them by release date and not by personal rating because I honestly can’t compare some of these to each other — there are too many different genres and ideas to consider. (As a note, I will be using ‘season’ and ‘series’ interchangeably, depending on whether the show has been distributed in the UK or US.)
Without further ado…
Sex Education (Netflix)
Synopsis: Otis is sixteen years old. His mum is a sex therapist. One day at school, with the persuasion of his friend Maeve, he sets up his own sex therapy clinic.
Sex Education is a beautifully hilarious story about adolescence and how we all bumble our way through it. It also highlights the importance of communication and honesty within relationships, sexual or not. I became really emotionally invested in the characters, particularly with Maeve because of her complex storyline and development. I assume Sex Education is meant to be set in present-day England but the fashion and some of the sets made it feel weirdly 1980’s/early 1990’s American to me, although I hardly noticed it after the first episode.
Highlight: Gillian Anderson masturbating a courgette. Yep, you read that correctly.
Fleabag (Series 2, BBC)
Synopsis: Fleabag meets the priest who is set to marry her dad and godmother.
I think the nation already loved Andrew Scott after his performance in Sherlock, but I’m not sure how prepared everyone was for the Hot Priest’s intense sexual chemistry with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. I don’t think I was the only one screaming at the TV each week for them to ‘JUST DO IT ALREADY’, nor do I think I was alone in blubbing into a mess of tissues at the final episode. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is a gift, and Fleabag will be sorely missed.
Highlight: ‘I sometimes worry that I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger tits.’
Game of Thrones (Season 8, HBO)
Synopsis: The final chapter in the fight for control over Westeros’ future.
There are so many things to love and loathe about this final season for me, but how could I leave it off my list? It was THE TV event of the year. It was an emotional goodbye from every viewer to the incredible cast and crew, and whether fans agreed with the ending or not, I don’t think anyone could deny that it was a huge rollercoaster. The internet was in chaos for months.
Highlight: Arya hiding from white walkers in the library during ‘The Long Night’ battle. Genuinely terrifying.
Years and Years (BBC)
Synopsis: We follow the lives of a family from Manchester from one night in 2019 and onwards.
A satirical but scarily realistic vision of our future political and social climates, Years and Years is far more chilling than any episode of Black Mirror I’ve watched — which is saying something. Years and Years draws on current conversations on technological advancement, economy, terrorism, asylum-seeking and more to offer us often bleak insights into what our future could look like. I loved watching the dysfunctional family dynamics between all the characters, and how their relationships fluctuated throughout the events of the six episodes.
Highlight: Muriel’s ‘This is the world we built’ speech. Goosebumps.
What We Do in the Shadows (BBC)
Synopsis: A mockumentary about the lives of three vampire housemates living on Staten Island.
After becoming a huge fan of Taika Waititi’s 2014 film, I was already beyond excited for this to come out after hearing whispers in previous years of a TV spin-off. I didn’t realise there would be three completely new main characters, but luckily it didn’t feel like an unwelcome change. The dynamics are pretty much the same as the film, except this time instead of two squabbling male vampires to counteract the main, ‘softer’ vampire (Kayvan Novak), we have a squabbling vampire couple — brilliantly played by Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou. Additionally, instead of the creepy Petyr of Waititi’s film, the housemate nobody wants to talk to this time is Colin Robinson, who proves that everyone knows an ‘energy vampire’ like him.
There were so many memorable moments in this for me: Nandor picking up ‘creepy paper’ from the craft section of the shop, the Baron’s big night out, and Nadja and Laszlo’s transformation into ‘shame bats’ to name but a few.
Highlight: The Trial conducted by the Vampiric Council. What a treat.
Good Omens (Amazon Video)
Synopsis: Armageddon is nigh and it’s up to an angel, a demon, a witch and an eleven-year-old Antichrist to stop it.
I was twenty-nine years late to the Good Omens book fan club, but I did thankfully read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s end-of-the-world comedy before the series came out. I was laughing aloud on my commute and getting some funny looks along the way but I didn’t care because I loved reading every sentence. I had high expectations for the Amazon series — and I was so glad it did not disappoint. I’ve never marvelled at how close an adaptation was to my imagining of the book. David Tennant and Michael Sheen are the on-screen dream team as Crowley and Aziraphale and hardly any detail is spared. I’m glad this was made into a series rather than a film as originally intended.
Highlight: Crowley driving his Bentley, all ablaze.
Killing Eve (Series 2, BBC)
Synopsis: Can Eve catch Villanelle, before she gets caught herself?
I love Killing Eve because it’s not just a simple cat-and-mouse chase. The second series kept me guessing in terms of who had the upper hand and who was losing control. Eve and Villanelle prey much more on each other’s vulnerabilities this time round, in a power play quite unlike any current on-screen female pairing. The first episode is intense. I enjoyed seeing Villanelle in a position of weakness which is such a contrast to how we’d seen her before.
I thought this series got quite hung up on its agent/double agent elements, however it still maintained its intensity, wry comedy, wit and cool. I’ll be interested to see what happens in series three, though, because I thought the last episode rounded things off well.
Highlight: Villanelle cringing before putting flowery Crocs on.
Stranger Things (Season 3, Netflix)
Synopsis: It’s the summer of 1985 and the town of Hawkins has a brand-new shopping mall which brings residents plenty of entertainment, but behind all the fun, a dark force is lurking…
I felt like season two of Stranger Things lost its way at times; season three felt more consistent and delivered better action and plot. The fact that Mike, Eleven, Will, Dustin, Lucas and Max are all nearing adolescence allowed for more freedom in terms of their humour and dialogue.
Dacre Montgomery’s portrayal of a possessed Billy is creepy as hell and every Hopper scene is fantastic. Also, the colours this season are awesome. I loved the neon vibes in contrast with the bleaker horror scenes.
Highlight: Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica’s operation. (‘You can’t spell America without Erica’.)
The Boys (Amazon Video)
Synopsis: Imagine if all the Avengers were actually total douchebags and Stark Industries was a corrupt corporation… After a huge personal loss, Hughie, (Jack Quaid), becomes embroiled in a plot to take down the superheroes who call themselves ‘The Seven’.
I saw the trailer for this and thought it looked, plainly put, WEIRD. Usually, I’m totally up for that, but this just seemed a different kind of WEIRD. However I can now happily report that it was the good kind of WEIRD. Someone stop me typing WEIRD in capitals.
The Boys is a refreshing twist within a saturated market of superhero spin-offs. In The Boys, ‘The Seven’ are guided by their agents. They are despatched to (sometimes planned) disasters and attend publicity events in order to keep up good appearances and act like they give a damn about the world, when behind closed doors they’re actually doing some pretty mucked up stuff. Homelander, The Seven’s leader (very obviously a parody of Captain America, with some of Superman’s powers), is the ultimate villain: complex and unpredictable.
I can’t wait for season two, which is out this year!
Highlight: Billy Butcher using the best escape method ever after raiding the lab.
Stath Lets Flats (Series 2, Channel 4)
Synopsis: Lettings agent Stath is struggling within his dad’s business, which is under new management.
Despite the first series coming out in 2018, I wasn’t aware of its existence until I saw one of my favourite actors, Dan Stevens, post about it on Instagram. I’ve never binged-watched anything so quickly in my life. When I’d watched it all, I went straight back and re-watched it. Most of the time the more you hear something, the less funny it becomes, but this just isn’t the case with Stath Lets Flats. Stath’s broken English is what makes this series hilarious. There are so many quote-worthy pieces of dialogue thanks to Jamie Demetriou’s writing talents, and I suppose we have to thank his and sister Natasia’s Greek-Cypriot upbringing for heavily influencing the script. (FYI, Jamie is in series one of Fleabag and Natasia is in What We Do in the Shadows! They’re a talented duo.)
This second series brought the characters much closer together and I felt that there was a stronger emotional undercurrent, which heightened rather than distracted from the comedy.
Highlight: ‘Thank you for your time.’
His Dark Materials (BBC)
Synopsis: In a world where people have daemons as spiritual counterparts, a young girl called Lyra acquires a contraption called an Alethiometer and is destined to undertake a journey of uncovering many dark secrets.
I went into this adaptation pretty much blind. I’ve yet to read the trilogy of Philip Pullman novels this is based on; I’d only seen The Golden Compass film and didn’t enjoy it much, so I was delighted to find I was completely sucked in by His Dark Materials. The CGI is amazing, particularly where the character of Iorek Byrnison is concerned, and the cinematography is mesmerising.
I found the sub-plot involving Will and his mother less engaging than the rest of it, but I understood its importance because clearly Will and Lyra’s worlds will converge in the next instalments.
Highlight: Mrs Coulter’s scream of fury at being locked in at Bolvangar. Ruth Wilson is incredible.
The End of the F***ing World (Series 2, Channel 4 & Netflix)
Synopsis: Two years after the events of series one, Alyssa is trying to build herself a new life without James, but Bonnie, recently released from prison, has other plans.
As the episodes are only about twenty minutes long, I binged series one of The End of the F***ing World in a day, and then thankfully the second series aired a couple of days later!
Like Sex Education, this is another series set in England but with a slightly American feel. Alyssa’s aunt owns a strange diner-type cafe in the middle of nowhere, and instead of seeking refuge in a Travelodge or run-down B&B, the characters end up in a creepy motel-posing-as-a-country-lodge. But again, these are minor scruples where plot and characterisation are concerned!
Bonnie is a great addition to the story; her deadpan facial expressions almost match those of Alyssa’s. The threat of violence throughout this series is ever-present and builds to a perfect crescendo in the final episodes. I found myself holding my breath because by the end I truly cared about the fate of each main character. I also admire how this series tackles the issue of trauma and its detriment to mental health. I cried a LOT.
Highlight: ‘Went for a swim. I feel better now.’
The Witcher (Netflix)
Synopsis: Destiny drives Geralt of Rivia, a lone monster hunter, towards a powerful sorceress, and a young Princess with special gifts.
This is a late addition to my list because I only finished watching it a few days ago and didn’t expect to like it! How wrong I was. I don’t usually delve into fantasy fiction — something I’m going to try and change this year — so I wasn’t aware of The Witcher books, or games for that matter. I purely watched this because I was bored and because of Henry Cavill!
There’s a lot going on in The Witcher and because there are different timelines involved it can become a confusing watch. I had to pause the beginning of the fourth episode and, helped by a spoiler-free internet search, retrace the steps of the previous episodes in order to get my bearings, but after that it was plain sailing. The Witcher offers magic, monsters, fighting, sex, Henry Cavill grunting after literally every bit of Geralt’s dialogue, and of course, Jaskier, the singing bard who becomes Geralt’s unwanted sidekick. I’m still finding it hard to get Toss a coin to your Witcher, o’ valley of plenty… out of my head.
I have high hopes for the second season.
Highlight: Jaskier’s face after receiving Geralt’s insult about his singing.
And that concludes my list!
I did miss out on two big shows last year — Peaky Blinders and Legion. I started re-watching Peaky Blinders with my boyfriend, who had never seen it before, and we didn’t even make it to series four before the new one aired and then got distracted by watching other stuff, so I’m hoping to finish it soon because series five is available on iPlayer! As for Legion, I’ve bought it on Amazon. I LOVED series one. I thought it was the most mind-bending thing I’d ever seen but then series two felt unnecessarily ‘bitty’, so I’m eager to see what happens in series three.
Anyway, what do you think of this list?
What were your favourite shows from 2019, and what are you looking forward to watching this year?
As always, thanks for reading!