Funny and Astonishing: Top Ten TV for 2019
Part 2: 5–1
5. Barry (HBO)
I came late to this series as well, considering that Bill Hader was never a favorite comedian of mine. But the second season of this series about a contract killer who’s trying to become an actor was one of the most mesmerizing dramedies I’ve seen in years. We saw Barry try to leave his killing behind, but continuously was sucked back in by Noho Hank and Fuchs, who kept calling him and in a burst of violence showed he couldn’t leave it behind. We saw his girlfriend face the truth of her abusive relationship — only at the climax of the season to realize that the lie was more comforting for a public face. We saw Gene deal with the death of his girlfriend, not knowing until the last seconds that his favorite student was the one behind it. And all of this without discussing ‘ronny/lily’, the miniature kung fu movie that was one of the greatest accomplishments not only of this season, but of the entire decade. This is one of the most dazzling inventions I’ve seen in awhile, and Bill Hader more than deserves the two Emmys he’s gotten. He — and the series — have more in the future.
4. The Good Place (NBC)
We’re still four episodes from knowing for certain whether or not this incredible comedy-fantasy will be known as one of the greatest of all time — unlike most comedies, how it ends is crucial. But it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of work that broadcast television — hell, any television has ever tried. It deals with some of the deepest ethical questions in history, and makes some of the greatest twists that any series can possibly do. The third season finale, where Chidi had his mind wiped in order to save humanity, was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. Taking a look at just how bad the Bad Place was, revealed just how far Michael has come since the series began. And the mid-season finale in which we finally learned Chidi’s backstory was remarkable as we finally saw how Chidi lived his life and his afterlife(s) — and may have finally found the reason for life — was both hysterical and deeply moving. I’m not sure whether I care so much about whether Eleanor, Michael and company save humanity as whether Eleanor and Chidi end up together. But this series has more than proven its merit in showing their of equal value. Here’s hoping the Emmys see that as well.
3. Mr. Robot (USA)
This series has more than proven that it is the best of the decade. As it entered its final episodes, Sam Esmail seemed determined to up the already incredible game of the writing, directing and acting of this remarkable dystopia. We had an episode with no dialogue at all, an episode where Elliot, Tyrell Wellick and Mr. Robot did their own version of ‘The Pine Barrens’ — only darker. We had a literal five act play in which Elliot faced two demons — one of which led to the weirdest psychotherapy session in history. We saw Elliot and fsociety finally triumph over White Rose and everything they’d been fighting against. And in the last episode, Elliot finally realized that for all the struggles of the series, his greatest enemy had been himself. It’s significant that Esmail and company made the last two bits equally important. This was one of the great accomplishments in the medium’s history that justifiably made a superstar out of Rami Malek. I can’t wait to see what he and Esmail do next.
2. Fleabag (Amazon)
How do you like that? I actually agree with the Emmys choice for once. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has completed one of the great masterpieces in all of comedy, taking her title character — who spent the first season trying to be unlovable — and creating one that in the second season you found yourself rooting for, even though she’d barely change. The second season premiere was one of the most exceptional pieces of TV all season (trust me, the Red Wedding was less painful emotionally), and then went into one of the most unlikely romances in television history. (Hot Priest rules!) In the end Waller-Bridge managed to have her character have everybody have a happy ending but herself — unless, of course, you count the three Emmys she won this year, and the no doubt dozens of trophies she’s going to win for the rest of it. She’s says that Fleabag is finished. Maybe it is. But I can’t wait to see what Waller-Bridge comes up with next.
- Jane the Virgin (CW)
It was a battle to see which CW female led master class would end up winning the title ‘Greatest Series of the Decade’. And while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was by far the most original, this series was by far the most satisfying. From his opening episode, which played off one of the greatest twists in TV history (and led to a five-minute scene that should’ve at least gotten Gina Rodriguez an Emmy nod) to the tribulations of every character but especially Rafael and Jane — to the utter rarest of things in all of television a perfect happy ending, Jane the Virgin never stepped wrong in its entire final season. It even had the good sense to wrap up all the sturm und drang in the penultimate episode so the finale could be one of pure joy — which led to laughter and tears and the final revelation that the incredible narrator of this series had been none other than Mateo the whole time. This was an achievement that we have rarely seen on television anywhere, much less a network that is considered a fringe even among broadcast TV. If Jane and Crazy were the price we had to pay for so many messy comic book adaptations, then I will consider it a bargain. I just hope that one day the stars align and something as magical comes up. I know! That would be straight out of a telenovela!