2019: One Show For Every Kind of TV Viewer Part 1

Every year we see pretty similar lists pop up around the internet claiming the “Top 10 Best Great Shows Of All Time This Year.” But there’s a fundamental problem with that task: not everybody watches TV for the same reasons.

I love a list as much as the next person, and I think it can be a really valuable exercise in thinking about makes TV good. But I also think that we end up with a lot of the same shows in these lists and with so much TV to watch, people don’t have the time to try them out and see if they’re for them and they get overwhelmed and watch none of them.

I don’t want that!

I want people to enjoy TV (and I want to stand out so people read my stuff and think I’m cool) so I broke down the year into 10 categories based on the different kinds of TV-watchers:

  1. “I only have time for one show”
  2. “Please restore my faith in humanity”
  3. “Gut me, I’m dead inside”
  4. “At the end of the day, I just wanna laugh”
  5. “I’ll have the highs and lows and everything in between please”
  6. “What’s the most relevant to our society?”
  7. “I loooooove bad TV”
  8. “I want to see something I’ve never seen before”
  9. “I want to invest a lot and get a lot back”
  10. “Give me a binge, boy, and free my soul”

Hopefully, you see yourself in one of these categories! Today we’re going to go through the first 5 and next week we’ll finish them off. Let’s get to it.

“I only have time for one show”

Also known as the “Closest you’re going to get to a Best™ Show of 2019” from me.

The Candidates:

  • Succession (HBO)
  • Fleabag (Amazon)
  • Watchmen (HBO)

Succession follows the Murdoch-esque megarich Roy family, led by the bullying patriarch Logan and his children jostling for power beneath him. In its second season, Succession took the leap and now is in the captivating position where every scene has the capacity to go in any direction. Despite the show largely being a Shakespearean tragedy, nothing on TV this year made me laugh as hard as Connor Roy’s eulogy for an estranged family friend. If you want to watch one show to prep you for next year, this is the one. Mark my words, a lot of people will be watching Succession next summer.

Watchmen, Damon Lindelof’s remix of the classic 1986 graphic novel is another excellent candidate, existing at both times a love letter to its inspiration and a show that evolves the same great themes and storytelling to a place that is new, exciting, and relevant for 2019. It’s about heroism, the flawed people beneath the masks of vigilantes, and real world injustice, not just moustache-twirling villains. It can be a confusing and challenging watch, but it is an utterly thrilling show to turn off all the lights and live in.

But the choice here is actually really easy. Fleabag is not only the most easily digestible show on this list (its second season is about an hour shorter than The Irishman) but is also the richest. No scene, character, line, or even nod to the camera is wasted in this fourth-wall breaking masterpiece that follows Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s titular Fleabag through a love story that is as much about learning to love herself as it is about the love she finds in others. Fleabag is hilarious, heartbreaking, poignant, and perfectly written.

Verdict: Fleabag

“Restore my faith in humanity”

We’ve all been there. Maybe your coworkers sucked extra hard today. Maybe you ran into a terrible person on your commute. Maybe you’re facing the fact that life is fleeting and we’re all dying. Maybe you turned on the news today.

Tons of people reach for television as an escape from their life, and more than that, to feel better about it.

The Candidates:

  • Catastrophe (Amazon)
  • Sex Education (Netflix)
  • Single Parents (ABC)
  • Atypical (Netflix)

Catastrophe follows Rob and Sharon’s rocky, but charmingly realistic, marriage that started after a one-night stand turned into a pregnancy. The show ended earlier this year after four terrific seasons, filled with the absolute best married banter I’ve ever seen on TV.

Sex Education is ostensibly about a teenager giving sex advice to his high school peers since his mother is a sex therapist and he knows way too much about the subject. But in reality, the show is great because it taps into what sex is really about: understanding and deep connection with another person.

Single Parents is about five very different kinds of single parents and how they band together to, for all intents and purposes, co-parent each other’s children. It grows funnier on a line by line basis with every episode and often each story has pretty low stakes, making it an excellent comfort food.

But again, the pick here is pretty easy. If you haven’t watched Atypical, you’re missing out. Nothing makes me feel like people might actually be generally good like Atypical, the Netflix original centered around a family with a son with ASD.

Atypical could easily be seen as pandering or exploitative, except that it’s so damn earnest. There isn’t really a guiding theme for the show or an easy way to sum it up, because it’s ultimately just about people who love each other, living their lives and dealing with really, really common problems: fitting in at a new school, exploring romance for the first time, and dealing with changes in a marriage.

Verdict: Atypical

“Gut me, I’m dead inside”

Some people just want to watch the world burn, and it’s in the flames of destruction that they find beauty. Sometimes you just need something that feels so raw and real that it hurts.

The Candidates:

  • Chernobyl (HBO)
  • The Act (Hulu)
  • Years & Years (HBO)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO)

If you’ve ever cared about Game of Thrones, watch its final season and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m kidding. Kind of.

The Act is about the real-life, mind-blowing story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard — a young girl whose mother suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. That mental illness made Gypsy’s mother drug her and make her sick in order to take care of her until Gypsy came to fully realize the truth and was able to break free. It is an impressive performance by Joey King as Gypsy and an utterly difficult watch, but they all are in this category.

I detailed Years & Years in this video, the British dystopian show that periodically jumps forward in time to show us just how bad things are going to get on this trajectory, seen through the lens of one family. It’s only six episodes (because the Brits know what they’re doing with season lengths) and that’s about all I could handle before spiralling into a depression about how the Earth is dying and it’s all our fault.

Simply the name Chernobyl evokes eerie images of abandoned ferris wheels and nuclear reactors exploding. Oh, if only things had only been that bad. Chernobyl is about one of the worst mistakes in human history, one that cost unknown numbers of people their lives, not just in the moment, but over the next decades in the form of cancer and radiation poisoning. Today, the land is still unlivable and highly radioactive. The worst part is that it’s all incredibly real, with very little creative license.

Verdict: Chernobyl

“At the end of the day, I just wanna laugh”

The Candidates:

  • BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
  • Single Parents (ABC)
  • Fleabag (Amazon)
  • Succession (HBO)
  • You’re The Worst (FXX)
  • Big Mouth (Netflix)
  • Catastrophe (Amazon)

Wooo boy, this is a crowded field. What we’re looking for here is a show that is dependable and light. Fleabag and Succession are home to some of the best laughs of the year, but they have a lot of other stuff going on. They deserve a mention here, but they’re not really what we’re going for.

No, we’re looking for a show that is going to end your day on a high note. You’re The Worst has a similar problem to Fleabag and Succession, although it definitely leans towards comedy more than drama. Same goes for BoJack Horseman which, in all the talk of its handling of depression and other heavy issues, has kind of been forgotten as the best pun generator in the business.

That just leaves Single Parents, Catastrophe, and Big Mouth. Big Mouth has the best crude jokes that toe the line of what’s okay while poking fun at Netflix all the way. Single Parents is the most fast-paced of the group, and while not every joke is genius, you miss every shot you don’t take. There’s no wrong answer here, but I have to say that I genuinely look forward to Single Parents every week and it rarely fails to brighten my Wednesday.

Verdict: Single Parents

“I’ll have the highs and lows and everything in between please”

These are the emo shows. You get laughs, you get ugly ugly cries, and you get everything in between.

The Candidates:

  • BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
  • Fleabag (Amazon)
  • GLOW (Netflix)
  • Barry (HBO)

Fleabag deserves mention in every single category here (it is actually a masterpiece). GLOW is criminally underrated and has one of the best episodes of the year as it takes time to dive into a diverse cast of interesting characters, each with their own highs and lows. Barry is violent, heartbreaking, and hilarious all at the same time.

But sorry, there’s only one answer here and it’s BoJack. The swings of emotion from high to low in BoJack are unmatched in any show this year, seemingly toggling between genuine comedy and tragedy at the flip of a switch without taking away from either.

Verdict: BoJack Horseman 

Part 2 Coming Next Week:

  • “What’s the most relevant to our society?”
  • “I loooooove bad TV”
  • “I want to see something I’ve never seen before”
  • “I want to invest a lot and get a lot back”
  • “Give me a binge, boy, and free my soul”
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