‘Game of Thrones’
Let’s begin with an ending. The ending. “Game of Thrones” was the biggest TV show of the decade, and even though it may not have gone out with the bang everyone was hoping for (largely due to the fact that the two preceding seasons had dragged out certain plotlines for far too long, leaving way too much to cram into this final season), there were still some stellar scenes. Foremost among them was Arya’s last-gasp leap out of the Winterfell night sky to bring down the Night King and shatter (literally) his undead army. Even the most cynical viewer must have let out a cheer.
Set in the alternate history laid out in the acclaimed graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore (but years on from the events of the source material, and with different characters), Damon Lindelof’s show was complex, layered, sometimes confusing, but ultimately rewarding. Like Lindelof’s first hit, “Lost,” viewers were often required to bend their minds around some pretty major leaps of logic to follow this tale of masked police officers tackling masked vigilantes who are treated as outlaws. Along the way, the provocative, visually dazzling show also made some intense observations about race relations.
Aside from being a brilliant and revelatory ‘true-story’ miniseries, this often-gruesome, always-gripping retelling of the April 1986 meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Pripyat, Ukraine was also an incredibly timely reminder (in the UK and US particularly) of the lengths that individuals and institutions will go to, and the lies they will tell, to hold on to power. The inhumanity of those in charge was strikingly juxtaposed against the humanity and courage of those most at physical risk.
Jesse Armstrong’s dark comedy-drama will top many people’s list of 2019’s best shows — and deservedly so. Its second season continued to develop the sharp-tongued in-fighting of the contemptible-but-enthralling Roy family as Connor, Kendall, Siobhan and Roman all fought for prominence in ailing patriarch Logan’s media conglomerate. At its best, “Succession” is like “Dynasty” meets “Arrested Development” meets Shakespeare.
Bear with us here. We’re not suggesting “Jinn” was a great TV show. It demonstrably wasn’t. But Netflix’s first Arabic original series was the year’s most-discussed show produced in the Arab world, by some distance — nothing else came close. Granted, the vast majority of that discussion centered around the negative feedback created by how upset some people got about seeing teenagers acting like, well, teenagers. But negative publicity is still publicity. And once the dust has settled, this story of a group of high-school kids who encounter a malicious spirit on a school trip to Petra might just prove to be a milestone in the development of TV shows that actually address the youth of the Arab world.
‘When They See Us’
Ava DuVernay’s exceptional four-part miniseries — based on the true story of the unimaginably unfair prosecution and eventual exoneration of five teenage African-American boys convicted of the rape and assault of a white woman in New York’s Central Park in 1989 was a magnificent dissection of institutionalized racism that remains relevant today — and not just in the US. Beautifully shot, with powerful performances from its ensemble cast (including the villains of the piece), this was harrowing, heartbreaking, and important storytelling.
The third season of the Duffer Brothers’ Eighties-nostalgia-fest sci-fi horror was broad, funny and freaky in equal measure. It’s gone well beyond a cult smash now, and the showrunners seem to have realized that — staging some breathtaking set-piece showdowns not just between the Mind Flayer and Eleven, but between Russian agents and Sherriff Hopper. The whole season nailed the fine balance between the geeky cuteness of the show’s first outing and the darker, more dangerous vibe of the second.
Natasha Lyonne’s show might have been the year’s most left-field small-screen success. It was billed as a comedy-drama, and it’s hard to remember a show that has balanced the two quite so well. Lyonne plays Nadia — a cynical and not-that-easy-to-like videogame designer — stuck in a time loop in which she repeatedly dies. She respawns in the same spot, on the same night (her birthday party) every time, and sets about trying to resolve the loop.