2019 Retrospective – top TV drama

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This post contains a quick waffle about the five best TV drama shows I’ve seen in 2019 and contains some spoilers. Every show featured here is highly recommended, and available on Amazon, Netflix, Sky or Britbox. I’ve provided some links in the lists to older posts where I talked about them in more detail where applicable.

  1. Chernobyl
  2. Mr. Robot Season 4
  3. Catch-22
  4. Westworld Season 2
  5. The Man in the High Castle Season 4

Chernobyl covers the real-life accident at a nuclear power station in April 1986. There have been some changes for dramatic purposes but the main facts are there – the hidden problem with the failsafe switch; the slowness of the authorities to deal with the fallout (literally) in a proper manner; the fight by the scientists and miners involved to stop the radiation spreading disastrously; and the horrific injuries and deaths caused by exposure to the radioactive debris and dust.

It’s a very good bit of television and when I downloaded it from Sky I also got a companion documentary called The Real Chernobyl (I think) which I guess would be an extra on a DVD or Blu-ray boxed set and was a good watch too. For anyone interested in the disaster then it’s a must-see and someone has told me that there is also an episode of Dark Tourist on Netflix which visits the exclusion zone in Chernobyl.

Mr. Robot Season 4 has only recently concluded (the final two episodes dropped on Amazon a few days before Christmas). The story of mentally ill hacker Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) reached a pretty satisfying conclusion in this final season of the show which has kept me entertained and confused for the last four years. My theories over what exactly White Rose’s machine was were very much in line with the same concept in the conclusion another of my top five shows –  The Man in the High Castle. This didn’t diminish the feeling of a cool payoff at the end of the show with the F-Society versus Deus Group hack concluded three or four episodes earlier.

The mixture of genres and tropes has been a recipe for success along with some great plotting and excellent cinematography. There were a couple of ‘filler’ episodes (as usual) in this season but even they took the story forward in some way. The final two episodes also go a long way in explaining pretty much exactly what the fuck has been going on and takes the viewer all the way back to the first season of the show. Sure there’s been a lot of slight of hand and I guess a few escape tricks just when you thought Sam Esmail had painted himself into a scriptwriting corner.

Catch-22 is a six episode adaptation of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel in which USAF WWII bombardier Yossarian is desperate to finish his tour of duty in a B-25 bomber, but every time he gets close, the number of missions he has to fly is increased. His squadron is based on an island off the coast of Italy. The titular Catch-22, which fell into common usage since the popularity of the novel, says that being willing to fly dangerous combat missions means you must be insane, yet if you request to be grounded on the grounds of insanity you must be sane, and so no such request could be granted.

All Yossarian’s attempts fail, sometimes causing more harm than good. I loved the novel but the TV show really brought home the irony of the situation and the building guilt Yossarian has over his own survival while everyone dies around him. There are some dark and desperate themes (it is WWII after all) but still laughs to be had with the strangely named Major Major being promoted to Major just because of an administrative mix up and Milo Minderbender (Daniel David Stewart) building up a business empire by selling anything he can. Also director George Clooney is excellent on screen in his comedic role as Lieutenant/Colonel/General Scheisskopf.

Westworld Season 2 was just as complex as Season 1. Some of the twists seemed like the unnecessary outcome of a writers’ room pissing contest and the mixed timelines in Bernard’s story deliberately complicated to perhaps obscure a rather weak story, but boy was it entertaining and good-looking.

All in all I really enjoyed the show despite my brain leaking out of my ear when trying to wrap it around the fragmented timelines. Does it need another season? In my opinion no, but that’s not stopping them doing one and I have read that they intend to make it simpler in it’s telling. TFFT.

The Man in the High Castle Season 4 predictably has Nazi bad guy John Smith travelling to alt-world to see the alternative version of his dead son. It explores his back story in a lot more detail and we’re led to believe that perhaps he might follow his wife’s sentiments against the dictatorship.

He doesn’t. It’s quite tragic in the end but he gets his just desserts. The other main characters Juliana Crain, Chief Inspector Kido and Americana dealer Robert Childan all get some form of ending to their character arcs, although quite how satisfying these are for the viewer is debatable. Also, the ending involving the portal to alt-world is one of the most ambiguous endings I’ve seen in a TV show for some time and if it wasn’t for the quality of previous episodes I might feel somewhat shortchanged. The Philip K Dick novel didn’t had a conclusive ending so it’s kind of fitting that the show doesn’t either. It’s still in my top five regardless!

In no particular order, honourable mentions go to mixed bag of sci-fi animations Love Death + Robots; outrageous Spanish ensemble heist show Money Heist; this year’s instalments of Charlie Brooker’s ‘sci-fi anthology show to beat’ Black Mirror, Luther and Peaky Blinders; and Netflix’s Ozark and Russian Doll.

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