Sioux City Journal
The best TV of 2019: ‘Fleabag,’ ‘The Morning Show,’ ‘The Politician’ And More
By Bruce Miller
Dec 22, 2019
When there’s so much content to view (and, face it, you haven’t caught up), it’s difficult to say what’s best. Still, certain series, specials, and films tend to linger. When the dust settles, those are the projects that matter.
In 2019, these are the TV programs that made a difference:
1. Fleabag (Amazon Prime) – Phoebe Waller-Bridge packed so much into six episodes she didn’t need a 10-year run or a reason to go back to the well. The second season of “Fleabag” explained so much about relationships it will easily stand as a textbook example of television at its finest. In addition to her nods to the audience, Waller-Bridge gave us the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott), one of the most interesting characters in any series.
2. Watchmen (HBO) – If you were expecting another run at the bloated film that was also called “Watchmen,” you had to be surprised with this. Creator Damon Lindelof hinted at that other world but created his own – one that wasn’t afraid to comment on racism, criticize superheroes or point at the world that could be lurking. Regina King and Jean Smart turned in stellar performances as two strong women working in a world that wasn’t all that accepting.
3. Country Music (PBS) – Even those who aren’t fans of country music had to love what Ken Burns did with the genre. Digging into its roots – and talking to more entertainers than you’d think possible – he was able to show how there are no boundaries when it comes to excellence. Just hearing singers explain why they did what they did was enough to land this on anyone’s best list. “Country Music” was as addicting as a calorie-free all-you-can-eat buffet.
4. The Politician (Netflix) – Producer Ryan Murphy loves to take familiar situations and push them. With “The Politician,” he went full Alexander Payne and gave us an election to beat all elections. Ben Platt (Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen”) played an obsessive prep school student who would do anything to win an election. Pulling in everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Bette Midler, Murphy constantly shifted the status quo, ending with an episode that nicely set up yet another take on the world of popularity.
5. Fosse/Verdon (FX) – Director Bob Fosse got plenty of accolades during his lifetime. He even chronicled that life in “All That Jazz.” But he probably couldn’t have pulled off this sly look at the relationship he and actress Gwen Verdon shared. While she was a star in her own right, she also served as his muse and adviser. Sam Rockwell did right by Fosse, but Michelle Williams clearly gave viewers a reason to take another look at Verdon. Talented and smart, Verdon was just as vital to the hits as he was.
6. The Morning Show (Apple+) – What really went on behind the scenes at the “Today” show? We’ll never know, but this drama certainly offered fuel for the speculation fire. As a perky Katie Couric-like host of a morning television show, Jennifer Aniston captured the uncertainty when her co-anchor was abruptly fired for conduct unbecoming. To make sure her stature didn’t shift, she pulled in a rookie (Reese Witherspoon) and tried to upend a good ol’ boys’ situation. While Aniston was the best she has been in years, Billy Crudup stole the show as an oily network executive just looking to use the situation to his advantage. “The Morning Show” made its point better than “Bombshell” and gave us a behind-the-scenes look more telling than any documentary.
7. Succession (HBO) — It was hard not to find parallels between the Roy family and several media billionaires. Sensing the patriarch (nicely played by Brian Cox) was likely to die soon, family members jockeyed for position and showed just how dysfunctional relatives could be. Able to capitalize on a fiery first season, creator Jesse Armstrong made the second season the kind of must-see series television we haven’t had in decades.
8. Years and Years (HBO) – What kind of future do we face? Writer Russell T. Davies speculated with this six-part drama about a family over 15 years. It posed “what if” questions about politics, climate control, family and technology and edged so close it hinted at reality. Emma Thompson was spot-on as a grassroots politician who managed to change the conversation just by saying what others wouldn’t. Russell Tovey was heartbreaking as a man just hoping to live a quiet life.
9. On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime) – Were the 1990s really like this? If you looked closely at the Showtime series, you probably concluded yes, they were. Complete with teased hair, attitude and a desire to get rich quick, Kirsten Dunst brought a sense of humanity to Krystal Stubbs, a water park employee trying to realize the pyramid scheme dream. As her mentor, Theodore Pellerin introduced himself in a big way and helped make “On Becoming” a naïve view of achieving the American Dream.
10. Superstore (NBC) – Many series belong on the year’s best list (“VEEP” and “Game of Thrones” among them) but “Superstore” is that little comedy that could – and does. It captured life in quirky ways, but also managed to address hard-hitting issues like immigration and unionization. America Ferrera and Ben Feldman also gave us a different view of workplace romances and showed what matters isn’t status or income but loyalty and determination.
Also: “The Crown,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “VEEP,” “Barry,” “Dead to Me,” “PEN15,” “Documentary Now,” “Chernobyl” and “When they See Us.”