Best TV shows of 2019
- Brian Donaldson
- 9 December 2019
Featuring families from the Royals to the Roys, and locations including Derry and Chernobyl
Depending on who you speak to, we're in the second or third golden age of television, with an abundance of channels (and streaming sites) showing more and more programmes (or content). With everyone in the mood for annual reflection, we took a straw poll of the folk around The List office to see what floated their small-screen boats in 2019 and came up with this rather excellent top 10.
10. The Virtues
A truly bravura performance from Stephen Graham in this harrowing four-parter from Shane Meadows, with work which was his most traumatically personal to date. Throwing together repressed trauma, the meaning of family, simmering violence and the care system made for a cocktail of difficult but essential viewing.
Shows such as Making a Murderer and The Staircase made Netflix a go-to for fans of true crime, but their documentary strand this year was perhaps outshone by dramas based on actual events. This is the first of two entries here, with Unbelievable exploring the astonishingly awful ways in which rape cases are investigated in America.
8. This Time With Alan Partridge
There was barely an 'a-ha' in sight as Steve Coogan's creation took his spot on the sofa of a One Show-esque magazine programme. Everyone will have their favourite moment, but you could almost feel the anxiety and awkwardness felt by Partridge and his co-host Jennie Gresham (the tremendous Susannah Fielding) when an Alan-lookalike broke into some Irish rebel songs live on air.
7. When They See Us
Accompanied by an Oprah discussion featuring many of the real people involved in the true case of the Central Park Five, Ava DuVernay's four-parter became almost impossible to watch as the wrongful conviction (no matter what Trump said then and still says now) of a quintet of young black men offered another stark indictment on the US justice system.
6. Years And Years
Russell T Davies returned to our screens with a highly addictive family drama against the backdrop of a Britain (and world) slowly going down the tubes due to the rise of populism (Emma Thompson was in scarily fine form as an 'ordinary' businesswoman-turned- tyrannical leader Vivienne Rook) and a technological dystopia which feels all-too- inevitable. It also threw up one of the most shocking fictional TV deaths of 2019.
5. The Crown
The third series of Peter Morgan's regal affair received the worst possible slice of pre-publicity when the Duke of York impaled himself in that interview with Emily Maitlis. All a big shame given that Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies were in fine form as the monarchy moved through the 60s and 70s, with the Aberfan disaster and the rise of union power testing Buckingham Palace.
4. Derry Girls
Officially the most watched programme in Northern Ireland since records began, Lisa McGee's girls Erin, Clare, Orla and Michelle (plus token boy James) returned, proving that they were no one-season wonder. The 'cool priest' and his attempt to get a bunch of Catholic and Protestant kids to name some things they had in common was an uproarious highlight.
It's not just the future that's terrifying, as we delved back into the dire days of 1986 when the world seemed permanently on red alert over impending nuclear devastation. That sense of paranoia wasn't helped when the Chernobyl reactor leaked its toxic contents across Eastern Europe, and this mini-series starring the likes of Jared Harris, Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård and Paul Ritter potently dragged us back to those appalling events.
With a final twist that very few saw coming, the second season of Jesse Armstrong's satirical drama about the Murdoch-esque Roy clan (helmed by Brian Cox's monstrous Logan) has left fans chomping at the bit for more. Hilarious and horrible in roughly equal measure, the doings of a super-rich media family proved a hit, with the boardroom machinations and choreographed backstabbing never less than enthralling.
Now that the call of the 007 writers' room has proved too enticing for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2019 brought the curtain down on the project which brought her to our attention in the first place. After a wonderfully claustrophobic restaurant-set opening episode in its second season, the nation found itself going ballistic over Andrew Scott's 'sexy priest'. Following in the hallowed footsteps of Fawlty Towers and The Office, a mere two seasons of Fleabag have left an indelible mark on the British TV comedy landscape.
… honourable mentions go to Fosse/Verdon, Game of Thrones, Russian Doll, Stath Lets Flats and His Dark Materials.