As the decade nears it end, it is quite possible that we have seen the best ten year stretch of small screen content that the medium has ever produced. And 2019 has been a perfect encapsulation of that.
This has been a year where we’ve said goodbye to old friends, assuming your friends were dragons, hackers, and nerds of both network and cable variety. We’ve also said hello to vigilantes, fairies, and more nerds.
Good shows became great and great show became, somehow, even greater. There is so much good programming, it’s difficult to believe that anyone would want to leave their house.
And then there’s Lil’ Yoda.
I’ve watched more television than I’m comfortable admitting. I feel like at any moment, the multitude of subscription services I use will send people to my door to ask if I have some sort of problem.
Here is the best and brightest that television gave us this last year.
5. Fleabag- “Episode 3” (Amazon Prime)
(Directed by Harry Bradbeer, written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge)
Where the titular character in Fleabag, as brilliantly played by the amazing Phoebe Waller-Bridge, feels most comfortable is beyond the fourth wall. The looks or quips or explanations she shares with us may be some of the only moments in the show when she’s truly herself. That’s why she is so terrified (and complexed) when Priest (Andrew Scott) is the only person in her universe who notices when she’s talking directly to us. It’s these moments that take the show from it’s usual meta-comedy into something else entirely. Rarely does a show make us think so much about what it means when a person can see someone talking to their audience, especially when that man is a priest dealing with his own issues with faith.
Also, this episode features an amazing appearance from Kristin Scott Thomas and is the first time we meet Claire’s crush, who is named Klare, and I find that to be absolutely silly and wonderful.
4. The Mandalorian- “Chapter 1” (Disney Plus)
(Directed by Dave Fioni, written by Jon Favreau)
I think anytime you’re dealing with anything in the Star Wars franchise, you have to be very careful to make sure to give the fans what they want, and that means walking a fine line of giving people what they expect while not trying to be too predictable.
For the majority of The Mandalorian, nothing that’s happening is overly surprising (save for a Brian Posehn cameo), but everything is being done wonderfully. Favreau’s script does a wonderful job telling us everything we need to know while also making it clear that the show would be keeping some cards close to its chest. It’s like his script is perfect Star Wars paint-by-number and Dave Fioni colors beautifully inside the lines.
Then we see what The Mandalorian’s bounty is, and unless you’ve stayed off of the internet for the last month, you know it’s Baby Yoda. That’s the moment when we understand that this show is going to be more than the travels of a bounty hunter. It’s possibly the moment when The Mandalorian gives every Star Wars fan exactly what they want: the comforts of what they know and some surprises that throw us for a loop.
3. Game Of Thrones- “The Long Night” (HBO)
(Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)
Game Of Thrones has always been been defined epic battles, specifically The Battle Of Blackwater and The Battle Of The Bastards. But there was no more anticipated war, perhaps all series, than the war of the collective forces of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen versus the army of the dead.
Sapochnik fills the episodes with fantastic contrast; one side fire and passion, the other side ice and shadows. Starting outside of Winterfell and eventually working its way into every part, “The Long Night” does an amazing job slowing down to allow a moment of silence or dialogue to happen in between all of the moments of total fucking chaos. Sometimes we’re allowed wide shots to see what’s happening, other times we’re taken right into the middle of pure insanity.
Oh, and the episode also shows why it’s a bad idea to hide people in a crypt when your enemy can summon the dead.
In the middle of all of the chaos, this battle ultimately comes down to the actions of one woman. For, when it’s all said and done, Arya Stark (the amazing Maisie Williams) is needed to save the day. Even though a bigger, supposedly greater war was still to come, the best moments in the farewell season of Game Of Thrones belonged to a stark, the House Of Winterfell, and the greatest battle the show ever had.
2. Barry- “ronny/lilly” (HBO)
(Directed by Bill Hader, written by Alec Berg & Bill Hader)
Sometimes, an episode of television feels like a Warner Brothers cartoon come to life, and we’re able to laugh at all of the insane carnage that takes place because it’s just so fucking funny. A prime example of this is “ronny/lilly” in Barry, a show that is somehow both critically acclaimed and still wildly underrated.
Sent to kill a man he doesn’t want to kill, Barry (Bill Hader) starts the episode trying to be reasonable. And that’s the last time reason rears it’s head for the rest of the episode.
Are martial arts involved? You bet there are. Does something embarrassing and silly happen with superglue? It wouldn’t be a live cartoon if it didn’t. And then there’s Jessie Giacomazzi as Lilly, the daughter of Barry’s target. She’s an absolutely human tornado who is both hilarious and terrifying at the same time.
From one of television’s best shows comes its best and most surprising episode. It left me silent for minutes, just having my mind blown at what I saw and experienced. If that’s not good television, I don’t know what is.
1. Watchmen- “This Extraordinary Being” (HBO)
(Directed by Stephen Williams, written by Damon Lindelof & Cord Jefferson)
Do you remember what I said about The Mandalorian, how it does everything you expect it to do and does it perfectly? Well, that very reason is why The Watchmen is the best show on television: because you have no idea what is going to be thrown at you, and it leaves you shocked, stunned, and wanting more. It’s only been a few years since we said goodbye to The Leftovers, but Damon Lindelof has been missed in television.
“This Extraordinary Being” does a whole bunch of things: it reminds us why Regina King is one of the best actresses alive, it shows us why some heroes had to wear masks on top of other masks, and it shows us how thin the line can be between our friends and enemies.
In a show that constantly surprises you, this episode takes you to a whole new place. In adding to the world of Watchmen, Lindelof has taken the universe somewhere new while forcing us to look at our own past.
What are your favorite television episodes of 2019? Leave your answer in the comments.