Man, I really need to watch Succession, huh? 2019 was the end of the decade and it felt like it everything I loved had to end with it. In the last year, I said goodbye to the likes of Steven Universe, Broad City, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Catastrophe, Veep, Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, The Tick, Jessica Jones (and all Marvel Netflix), Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Legion, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, Silicon Valley, and Mr. Robot. That list doesn’t even include shows that are returning for brief final stretches this year, like Bojack Horseman and The Good Place. So yeah, that Succession is looking pretty good.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
The Other Two
As I’ve grown more accustomed to Steven Universe‘s disorienting release schedule, I’ve learned to appreciate it more when it’s around. 2019 was perhaps the most jarring year ever, with a run of episodes starting in December 2018 and continuing through January 2019 that served as a season finale and then were revealed to actually have been a series finale as well. Then the show came back with its delightful first movie in September, introducing a new beloved character. Then it went away again until December, when a new epilogue series called Steven Universe Future debuted, in wonderful anime fashion. Now it’s on hiatus again, and who knows when it will be back or how long it will go? But I love this affirmative, positive show and will certainly miss it dearly when it’s gone.
The Expanse finally returned at the very end of the year, and worked fast to make up for lost time (and lost “fucks,” boy this show likes being able to swear now that its on a streaming service). After season three brought pretty much everyone together, season four returns to Game of Thrones mode: lots of characters in lots of places dealing with difficult political and/or interpersonal problems. It’s a brutal reminder than temporary alliances don’t heal old wounds and moving beyond resentment takes generations, not on heroic act. So thanks Bezos? I hope you feel like you got what you paid for.
Speaking of great sci fi, The Mandalorian is the space western we’ve all been waiting for. Post-Return of the Jedi is the most interesting prequel Star Wars setting, and I greatly enjoyed seeing the fallout of the empire’s destruction. I’m also big on the show’s eclectic cast, which included Nick Nolte as a puppet(?), Gina Carano with her guns out in a big way, and Carl Weathers in his first notable role in a decade. The secret ingredient? An adorable baby. Having something extremely cute for our badass, masked man with no name to protect was the smartest decision anyone ever made in the history of television. I just hope we don’t somehow rush into a Teen Groot situation. I would very much like to keep seeing the baby.
The last bastion of network television continues to be The Good Place, which has also entered into its last act. I’ve marveled at how this high-concept comedy has continued to push itself in unexpected directions, making the story just as important as the comedy. In season four, the stakes were higher than ever, as the final battle between good and evil began, with all of existence hanging in the balance. Which is as ridiculous as it sounds, bringing many amusing moments with it. The decision to end The Good Place after four seasons rather than ever resting on its laurels was undoubtedly the right one, as the relentless, unexpected pace of the show has cemented it as one of the smartest, funniest sitcoms I’ve ever seen.
The final season of this brutally dark comedy from Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney had a lot of ominous clouds hanging over it. Not only did season three conclude with Rob’s alcoholism coming to the forefront in a shocking way, but also the show needed to address the death of Carrie Fisher, who played Rob’s mom on the show. Rob’s always been the punching bag of the show, but could he take this much punishment? Thankfully, this show knew exactly how to play Rob’s lowest moment equal parts hilarious and humiliating, and the farewell to Carrie Fisher was similarly fond and funny. I’ll miss Catastrophe and it’s deft ability to remind me that even if it feels like the world is ending, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
The second season of Barry doubled down on everything that worked about the first. Barry’s bizarre desire to give up on a life of crime and become an actor is as preposterous as it is endearing, as the show gives us a chance to see both how fucked up this guy is, and how hard he’s trying to find a way to live with himself. His own struggles are juxtaposed by Sally, who is forced to deal with her own past and the terrible price she’ll have to pay to succeed in Hollywood, and Fuches, Barry’s cowardly employer who is more desperate than I would have ever thought. Also, some of the goofier characters like NoHo Hank and Gene Cousineau hit low points and became a lot more human this year too. What terrors await this group in season three?
There’s some confusion online as to whether Mr. Robot was cancelled or if everything was always mapped out exactly like this by series creator Sam Esmail, but it seems like the latter is true. Mr. Robot was a lot of things over its four season: a more-accurate-than-most depiction of modern cybersecurity, an updated take on Fight Club, a conflicted reaction to capitalism post-Occupy. In it’s final season, it was all those things again too, delivering another sweeping master stroke from its hacktivists as they take on the top 1% of the top 1% one last time. But it’s the focus on relationships and how those define our views of society that made the biggest impact on me. I never would have guessed this show would have Rami Malek passionately arguing for the power of love, but when we actually got there, that moment was amazing. End of line.
This last decade saw a lot of renewed interest in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, giving it both a prequel and sequel comic series without the involvement of either creators. That sequel series, Doomsday Clock, saw its characters become integrated into the larger DC Universe, so they won’t be going away any time soon. HBO and Damon Lindelof went a different way with their TV sequel series, instead deciding to do a modern sequel to the comic – which inherently meant many of the original characters weren’t around and those who were have aged into very different people. It’s a bold decision, indicative of a proactive show that’s so much smarter than it sounds on paper. That sixth episode alone made the whole thing worthwhile.
It’s funny that Mr. Robot and Fleabag both had a moment in their final season when someone other than the title character breaks the fourth wall, because in both cases it’s so exhilarating when it happens. As an audience member, you get so used to having this private relationship with the main character, and suddenly you feel exposed when someone else acknowledges you. It’s really weird and cool. Anyway, given how nightmarish the first season of Fleabag ended, I was delighted as the positive direction the second season took. Even series villain Martin (Brett Gelman), someone who does not deserve even a hint of redemption, got the hilariously humanizing “I’m not a bad guy, I just have a bad personality” speech. What an asshole! Great show.
While we were watching Game of Thrones do whatever the opposite of sticking the landing is, HBO showed these spooky trailers for a new miniseries based on the 1986 nuclear accident as the Chernobyl power plant. It was immediately intriguing because those commercials felt like advertisements for a horror show, not a historical drama. And that’s part of what made the series so incredible, it’s commitment to showing just how existentially nightmarish this whole situation actually was. The sheer brutality of the show might make it too much for a lot of audiences. At the same time, it’s also the story of hundreds of incredibly brave people who were willing to sacrifice themselves to help save the world. And finally, it’s a lesson about the dangers of lying and self-interest, which is the type of thing people need to be reminded of over and over because we just keep making these same mistakes. Now I can’t wait for Russia’s politically correct version.