Here's a hot take from the get-go - this isn't a golden age of TV. Don't get me wrong, I love new programs and services popping up everywhere and how there's plenty to choose from. But quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality. There's a lot of garbage out there. A lot.
You can have groundbreaking premises, controversial casting and lots of unique devices, but at the heart of any good television show is a compelling story and multi-dimensional characters.
The TV landscape is full, and that's great. But how do you know what's worth watching? Don't worry, I'm here to help.
Let's get down to it...
HEARD THESE ARE GREAT BUT I HAVEN'T GOTTEN TO 'EM
The Kingdom (NETFLIX)
What We Do In The Shadows (FX)
Lodge 49 (AMC)
The Crown (NETFLIX) I need to be in the right mood for royalty
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
The first time I tried, it didn't take. The second time, my wife and I binged the entire thing. I'm all in on the fates of Axe and Chuck. Had a similar experience with Succession (which isn't as good) needing to come back a second time to enjoy it.
Bojack Horseman (NETFLIX)
Finally got to it this year. It's great. I'm taking my time with it.
MY WIFE AND DAUGHTERS MADE ME WATCH
I hate myself for watching this garbage. It is moderately entertaining bad television. I binged the second season in three days because I love my wife. But not in a Joe kind of way.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (NETFLIX)
This did not bring me joy.
Dead To Me (NETFLIX)
Love Cardellini and Applegate. Love them a lot more than this show. I liked the premise, but then it just got caught up in its own weirdness.
On Becoming A God In Central Florida (SHOWTIME)
Great start. Slowed down a bit as it progressed. Kirsten Dunst is excellent.
Big Little Lies (HBO)
Meryl Streep is amazing. This second season was anything but.
Modern Love (AMAZON)
Loved episodes 1, 5 & 7. The rest were not great. Good watch with the wife though.
Mad About You (SPECTRUM)
I'm amazed at how they pulled this off. My expectations were low, but the charm of the original series is intact. Looking forward to the next batch of eps.
DON'T LOVE THESE CRITICAL DARLINGS AS MUCH AS EVERYONE ELSE
Watched the first few episodes. Not bad. But not what I expected.
Russian Doll (AMAZON)
It's Groundhog Day. Good start, but really that groundbreaking? I don't think so. Got annoying by the end.
When They See Us (NETFLIX)
Compelling story that everyone should familiarize themselves with, but the Ken Burns documentary was much more interesting than this retelling.
I get it. I'm old and out of touch. Zero interest in this. Sue me.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (AMAZON)
Over-rated (clap, clap, clap clap clap). They clearly got a bigger budget and spent every dime on production numbers, set decoration and completely forgot about what made this show work. The characters are spread out all over the country in farcical (thanks, Al) situations. The charm is gone - and it's too bad. Because the acting is still top notch.
WORTH WATCHING BUT THIS SEASON WASN'T AS GOOD AS THE PREVIOUS ONE
Better Things (FX)
The Good Place (NBC)
The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
Killing Eve (AMC)
Last Chance U (NETFLIX)
Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (NETFLIX)
Black Mirror (NETFLIX)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
STRONG COMEBACK SEASONS
Stranger Things (NETFLIX)
Mr. Robot (USA)
DESERVES ITS OWN CATEGORY
Absolutely NAILED the landing. The final season was inconsistent but still pretty damn funny. Please create a Richard Splett/Jonah Ryan spinoff.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Look, I'm not saying it was a great final season, but an average season of GoT is better than 93% of what's on. We took this last season for granted, folks. Epic show, epic cast, epic fail with Dany not taking out Cersei, but still an all-time great.
MY TOP TEN TV SHOWS OF 2019
10. Succession (HBO)
I still think it's overrated, but the Roy family had a very good year. Pulling off the Walter White/Don Draper move of making horrible people likable is a tough task. The plot is relatively predictable, but who cares? Fantastic acting all around, and the minor characters outshine the major ones. Plus they shoot some of the show at my SNY offices, so it's always cool to see that.
9. The Kominsky Method (NETFLIX)
Another show that avoided the sophomore jinx. It helps if you're older to enjoy this dark comedy, but Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas are fantastic together. This Chuck Lorre gem deals with disease and death in an honest non-laugh track way.7. The Mandalorian (DISNEY+)
8. Barry (HBO)
Third one in a row with a surprisingly strong second season. Didn't think they could pull it off considering where things were after season one. I was wrong. Bill Hader has something special going on. The "Ronny/Lily" ep was some of the best TV of the year.
And the mouse gets on the board! Forget Baby Yoda - yes it's cute and blah blah blah. How about Jon Favreau creating the most interesting Star Wars story since The Empire Strikes Back? You don't need to be a Star Wars geek who knows who Darth Nihilus is to follow along. Wish I could binge it, but this series makes Disney+ worth buying (that Disney catalog doesn't hurt either). Don't waste your time on the disappointing films - these are the droids you're looking for.
6. The Act (HULU)
Joey King, Patricia Arquette - take a bow. The saga of Gypsy Rose and her mother is captivating. Watch the HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest to see how well this duo nailed these characters and this story. Easily two of the best performances of the year.
5. Watchmen (HBO)
Ah, Damon Lindelof, you've done it again. Damon loves TV - truly loves it. That's why he's so good at making it. Knowing the source material helps, but even if you don't, it's fascinating to watch a futuristic (is it?) superhero (are they?) story with such social bite and commentary. Nailed the ending, and there will be too much hype to resist a season two - thankfully!
4. Unbelievable (NETFLIX)
The first episode is tough to get through, but it sets the stage for this excellent series. Toni Collette is her usual self, but Merritt Wever steals the show as her fellow detective. This should have been the sequel to True Detective. The series improves with each episode until its satisfying conclusion.
3. Schitt's Creek (POP)
Consider me captivated by the Rose family. This Canadian gem has gotten better each season. Catherine O'Hara should have won an Emmy. Annie Murphy should have been nominated. Eugene Levy makes me laugh just walking on to the screen. And Daniel Levy has created funny, poignant characters and a wonderful saga to follow. This is the most charming show of the year. I'm really sorry to see it go after this season, but I look forward to catching up on "A Little Bit Alexis" eps. The first 5 seasons are on Netflix.
2. Chernobyl (HBO)
Riveting. Stirring. Insert your most dramatic adjective here. This chilling (there's another one) series should be must-see TV for everyone on this planet. Jared Harris is one of the most underrated actors on the small screen these days. This is old school HBO magic.
1. Fleabag (AMAZON)
I confess that I didn't love the first season in spite of how it improved as it progressed. I knew critics loved season 2, so I went in cynically, not expecting it to be the best thing I saw on TV this year. The series is funny, poignant, dark and moving. It's smart, but not preachy (pun intended). Admittedly not a unique top pick by me, but what can I say? The Emmys got it right for once.
Those are my favorites for the year. Let me know what I'm missing.
Happy holidays, and here's to a great 2020!