I am, I admit, not a fan of Best Of lists — or, at least, not a fan of writing them, because someone will always come along to tell you that you’re wrong because you forgot [Thing X] and you’ll go, “Ah, shit, I did.” And yet, here I am writing a Best of TV list for myself, even if it’s going under the more honest terminology of “Favorite.”
What gives? Nothing, really; I found myself wanting to keep a record of what made me happy this year on television, in part because it’s been a good year for TV, and in part because I feel like I’ve been watching more/better television this year and making more choices for myself about what I watch, so… it seemed like a good idea…?
That sounds like a segue, right?
Years and Years
I remember reading about this in The Guardian before it started in the U.S. and being suspicious of the hype; I thought about Russell T. Davies’ tendency towards cheap coincidence and tackiness as his Doctor Who went on and decided it might be worth checking out, but it probably wouldn’t be my thing. I was utterly wrong, and completely caught up in what ended up being essentially future horror porn for news junkies, right up until the admittedly overly sentimental last episode.
It shouldn’t have worked, but it really did. (I know more than one person who thinks that it shouldn’t even have existed, but it did.) As much a response to the failures of the comic as a sequel to it, every episode felt like a revelation, as well as the most contemporary take on superheroes seen in a long, long time. I can’t work out if I want more, or want this to remain as complete and perfect as it is. (Still: “Nothing ever ends,” after all.)
The other comics-to-TV triumph of the year, even if so few people saw it because of its platform. Maybe it’s because the Grant Morrison/Richard Case run that this is based on is so central to my teenage experience, or maybe it’s because of the gleeful messiness of the show itself, but this was appointment viewing very quickly, and became a surprisingly emotional experience before the season was done. I’m looking forward to the second year.
Talking about perfection, I can’t say enough good things about the second and final season of one of the most heartbreaking, funny, romantic and honest shows I’ve ever seen. Absolutely everything felt noteworthy, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing shining out with kindness and warmth that overcame the awkwardness and pain that surrounded everyone in the show. God, I loved it.
This Way Up
I called this Fleabag Lite to a friend, which was unkind, even though I didn’t mean it as an insult, just shorthand to explain its appeal. But it’s telling a different story altogether, despite the similarities. It’s perhaps sillier — the Cranberries’ “Zombie” bit may be my favorite stupid joke of the year — but also more… flawed…? in a way that feels as if it’s easier to dip into without potential emotional trauma. Between this and the ultimately unsatisfying Living with Yourself, Aisling Bea’s had quite a year.
The Good Place
Yes, the final year felt more piecemeal than what came before, as if it had too much to try to do and didn’t know how to get to where it needed to be for the first few episodes of the season, but I don’t care; it’s still smarter, funnier and more heartwarming than almost anything else around these days. (Kindness is an important component for everything I’ve truly loved this year, thinking about it.) Plus, you know, all the Chidi/Eleanor stuff kind of killed me, I have to admit.
Project Runway Season 17/Top Chef Season 16
And we return to the subject of kindness. I’m a fan of these kinds of shows, as I’ve said before, but these two seasons marked what I’ve called a post-Great British Bake-Off era, where contestants dropped the traditional “I’m not here to make friends!” posturing and instead… got along? Helped each other? Supported one another…? It was an unexpected, but welcome, surprise that was helped by both shows having more pleasant, charming contestants than has been the case for years, and in Project Runway‘s case, a rebooted host/mentor/judging panel that made it seem like a whole new (better, and yes, kinder) show. Both were guilty pleasures that were also just… good. More of this in 2020, please.