With 2019 just around the corner, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on some of the best that television has had to offer over the past 12 months. So here are just a few of my favourite picks that have made me laugh, cry, and kept me incredibly enthralled. I should make a point of saying that this list is by no means extensive – there are still plenty of series that I have not got round to watching (the final series of The Americans sticks out), but if you had any ideas of your own, don’t hesitate to comment below and let me know. So without further ado…
10: Barry – Season One
“Bill Hader as Barry is a particular standout, projecting fantastic character acting and genuine comedy”
The latest in HBO’s pantheon of dark comedy, Barry follows the story of a Mid-Western hitman who, after joining a Californian am-dram group, decides that he wants to turn over a new leaf and become an actor. It’s as weirdly hilarious as it sounds (particularly considering that Barry categorically cannot act), and an incredibly original idea pulled off very well.
Pitching itself just right between comedy and drama, this 8-episode series flies by at light-speed (in the best way possible). There are some really standout performances – Bill Hader as Barry is a particular standout, projecting fantastic character acting and genuine comedy in a somewhat muted performance – as well as some dramatic twists that will make Season Two very interesting indeed…
Standout Episode: Episode Seven – “Loud, Fast, and Keep Going”. For perfectly balancing the show’s unique blend of comedy and drama, as well as demonstrating how good an actor/writer Bill Hader actually is.
9: The Handmaid’s Tale – Season Two
“The imagery is fantastic, the soundtrack incredibly well-selected, but the real strength lies in the performances”
Last year’s champion of critics and awards, The Handmaid’s Tale doubles-down on its own bleakness and cruelty in its second season, making for some brilliant (if difficult to watch) television. Without spoiling too many of the revelations on show, the plot continues its slow-burn character-focused narrative, making good use of tailoring certain episodes to specific storylines. As such, the more dramatic moments feel truly impactful, giving a volatile edge to the series that leaves you feeling very uncertain about what might happen next.
The imagery is fantastic, the soundtrack incredibly well-selected, but the real strength lies in the performances. Elisabeth Moss is on top form as ever, yet the ever wonderful Ann Dowd and intrinsically complex Yvonne Strahovski more than hold their own opposite her. A haunting prospect that never feels tired, and is realised incredibly well with surprising relevance.
Standout Episode: Episode Six – “First Blood”. For encapsulating everything we thought we knew about the show and then shattering it within the last 5 minutes.
8: Doctor Who – Series Eleven
“Every aspect of the show feels new and energetic, with real kinetic energy riffing between the four main cast members”
As I had illustrated in my earlier review, I personally find Doctor Who one of, if not the, finest show on television. Jodie Whittaker’s ascension to the role has not been flawless, but has really captured the imagination and potential of the show’s concept in a way that’s been missing in recent years. The variety is exhilarating, and while perhaps not all of the ideas pay off, you’d be hard pressed to find other TV series that even attempt this style of storytelling on a week-by-week basis.
Every aspect of the show feels new and energetic, with real kinetic energy riffing between the four main cast members – each of whom brings something different and welcome to the TARDIS. To attempt a transition in the way that Doctor Who has is no small feat, and with this achievement, the prospect of subsequent series appears very exciting indeed…
Standout Episode: Episode Three – “Rosa”. For facing genuine issues head-on in a way that didn’t feel patronising, and still managed to tell a compelling story.
7: Westworld – Season Two
“The visuals are once again gorgeous, and thanks to some smart writing, the sets allow for some very new locations.”
Despite no Game of Thrones this year, HBO lend the torch for bug-budget genre series to the mind-bending talents of Westworld. With the robot revolution kicking off in full at the end of Season One, the show left us wondering what there was left to explore, and where it could go next. Fortunately, rather than playing it safe, the second season traverses entirely new ground, and shows some very different sides to characters we thought we already intimately knew.
The visuals are once again gorgeous, and thanks to some smart writing, the sets allow for some very new locations. Jeffrey Wright remains a standout as the park’s struggling Head of Behaviour, and Thandie Newton’s Maeve unleashes the best kind of hell (deemed worthy of an Emmy) in Shogun-era Japan. Following on from the narrative trickery of the first season, this latest outing still finds ways of keeping the storytelling fresh without it feeling repetitive. No matter how confused you may feel, this is essential viewing.
Standout Episode: Episode Four – “The Riddle of the Sphinx”. For presenting one of the most fascinating concepts in modern science-fiction and applying it with impeccable style.
“The show is beautifully shot, and the labours of four years of production pay off an absolute treat.”
The nation’s favourite voice returns for a new documentary series, following families of endangered species across the world – Chimpanzees, Penguins, Lions, Painted Dogs, and Tigers. Attenborough’s work is always something worth getting excited for, and Dynasties does not disappoint. By focusing on individual species as opposed to the range that we are used to from some of the more recent BBC Earth range, the show has a very different vibe to the likes of Planet Earth II. And that’s absolutely not a bad thing.
In this format, the connection between the audience and individual animals becomes all the more visceral, and each separate struggle is empathised with even further. Hell, David the Chimpanzee’s comeback was bigger than that of the Spice Girls! As ever, the show is beautifully shot, and the labours of four years of production pay off an absolute treat.
The behind-the-scenes look at the end of each episode are incredibly insightful, and say an awful lot about exactly what the human impact of the world is doing to such wonderful species. Of course, the final wondrous glaze comes from the man himself – Attenborough’s glazed voice shows no sign of ageing, and he once again solidifies himself as the national treasure we all know and love.
Standout Episode: Episode Two – “Emperor”. For reminding us that penguins are fantastic.