Top 25 scripted TV shows of 2019

 Top 25 scripted TV shows of 2019

I missed a lot of Big Event Television in 2019 (Chernobyl looked a bit too intense to snuggle up with before bed, and I still haven’t got round to the second seasons of Killing Eve and Succession or the final season of Veep), but I did watch a load of other great stuff, and I’m going to FORCE MY OPINIONS ON YOU below.

I’ve left out the soaps (conflict of interest!) and the unscripted shows (Race Across The World and The Circle would win too easily!), but here’s what else I’ve watched and loved since January. You can also check out my Top 50 pop singles here, and I’ll get to movies and albums before the year is out.

25. Bonding (Netflix)

I’m not sure if there’s more to come from this show, about a heterosexual dominatrix and her gay male assistant, but I hope there is: it’s been criticised for feeling too uneven in tone, but I think there’s a lot of potential. The dynamic between lead characters Tiff and Pete is great, and those extremely short episode lengths are a GIFT. I think it could really hit its stride in a second season, given the chance.

24. Manhunt (ITV)

Look sometimes I just like a big ol’ dollop of prime-time crime, and Manhunt scratched that itch in 2k19. Based on the true story of the horrific murder of Amélie Delagrange, I liked how it focussed almost exclusively on the procedural aspect, rather than the personal lives of everyone involved; and somehow made even the paperwork seem riveting. Martin Clunes is great in the relatively cold lead role.

23. Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic)

Without the huge mystery element of the first season, BLL 2.0 wasn’t quite as exciting second time around, but I still really rated it. Meryl Streep was obviously brilliant, Laura Dern got lots more to do, and digging deeper into Zoe Kravitz’s character was also a really good move. I’m intrigued to know how this would have looked without the (alleged) worrying post-production drama.

22. Catastrophe (Channel 4)

Honestly, WHAT a SHOW. Catastrophe went out on a big high, as far as I’m concerned, and I think it was a really great time to wrap things up. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are a fantastic team and I hope they work together again.

21. The Crown (Netflix)

I’ll get straight to the point: Josh O’Connor would absolutely fucking get it. Christ, I did not appreciate developing a crush on a young Prince Charles thanks to that fine slice of casting. But hot flushes aside, this was the first season of The Crown I’ve actually seen, and I liked it more than I expected: Olivia Colman isn’t actually in it much but she’s obviously brilliant, and everyone else is fab too; especially Helena Bonham-Carter and Tobias Menzies.

20. One Day At A Time (Netflix)

Cruelly cancelled by Netflix after its recent third season, it’s such a relief that ODAAT has been picked up elsewhere. It’s just so comforting, and the best studio sitcom being made right now. Honestly it doesn’t even make me laugh out loud that much, it’s just so endearing and heart-warming and kind-hearted. Long may it continue.

19. The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon Prime)

Midge and Susie continue to be unbeatable company in the third season of this gem. The dialogue still crackles, the performances across the board are still spot-on, and it’s all still so gorgeous to look at. Three years in, there’s still plenty of life in this easy-to-love show.

18. Special (Netflix)

Another of Netflix’s experiments with shorter-than-usual episode lengths, Special made a star out of Ryan O’Connell in the semi-autobiographical role of a gay man with cerebral palsy. What’s so great about this show is the fact that Ryan’s sex drive is put front and centre: to see any sexually-charged gay character at the forefront of any TV show is rare, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this buoyant comedy developed further in season two.

17. Pure (Channel 4)

Exploring a side of OCD that’s barely ever seen on TV, this under-rated comedy-drama is pitched perfectly. Charly Clive is brilliant as Marnie, a 24-year-old woman struggling with disturbing intrusive thoughts of a very sexual nature; and the writing cleverly sprinkles its tough subject matter with a sense of humour that never comes at the expense of compassion.

16. Sex Education (Netflix)

Aside from its obvious selling points (lush scenery, bold subject matter, Gillian Anderson playing a sex expert), Sex Education is great because of its strong supporting cast of nuanced characters; not least Eric (whose scenes needed much more screen-time, in my opinion), and alien erotica enthusiast Lily. It’s Asa Butterfield and Emma Mackey’s show, though, and their characters’ unlikely alliance works thanks to their performances and some clever scripts.

15. The Boys (Amazon Prime)

An irreverent take on the superhero genre, The Boys is dark and twisted but very light on its feet; habitually subverting expectations and delivering on heart and humour when the going gets rough. It is VERY gory, though; which I know is great for many, but for a squeamish wimp like me… let’s just say that seeing a guy’s head explode because a woman sits on his face with superhuman force is not a scene I would love to see again, but hey! Whatever floats your boat! The rest is exceptional.

14. Gentleman Jack (BBC One)

“Sally Wainwright writing about an iconic lesbian” is basically my idea of TV heaven, and Gentleman Jack was everything I wanted: throwaway humour, Suranne Jones with baffling hair, Sophie Rundle finally getting another great prime-time role… this show’s a corker, and I had just as much fun reading some of the scripts as I did watching the finished product.

13. The Other Two (E4)

This looked a little bit irritating in the trailers but I gave it a go based on word-of-mouth and… it’s right up my street. Following two adult siblings as they struggle to adapt to their teenage brother’s megastardom, its wisest move is not making the latter character an easy-to-hate brat. Its second wisest move is casting Molly Shannon and Wanda Sykes in supporting roles, and its third wisest move is just being very bloody funny (the P!nk gags in episode four? Inspired!!).

12. Shrill (BBC Three)

I’ve only just finished this one on iPlayer and it’s awesome: Aidy Bryant is a STAR as Annie, a woman navigating modern life as a plus-size wannabe journalist. Lolly Adefope is excellent too as her room-mate Fran, and the very last scene of the season – in which Annie confronts her vicious internet troll in person – is epic.

11. Dead To Me (Netflix)

Is this inspired by the Milo and Cindy story in Hollyoaks? I’m gonna go right ahead and assume YES! Dead To Me is a gloriously soapy drama, which allows Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini to just… be brilliant. I loved all the twists, the dark humour, James Marsden playing a dick… I’m cautiously optimistic about the second season.

10. This Way Up (Channel 4)

This from Aisling Bea is my favourite new British comedy of the year. Following a central character who’s funny and sharp but with an unmistakeable undercurrent of loneliness (we first meet her in the aftermath of a nervous breakdown), I also loved what it did with Sharon Horgan’s character (her sister), and Tobias Menzies was brilliantly cast too. More please!!!

09. Years And Years (BBC One)

The scariest show of the year? MAYBE SO! Years And Years was essentially a horror because it felt like it could so easily be real, and I struggled to sleep after pretty much every episode. Any time you just about get comfortable, so-and-so loses everything, or has an affair, or votes for a wanker, or fucking dies. Russell T Davies is a cruel genius.

08. Russian Doll (Netflix)

Put Natasha Lyonne in the right territory, and she’s unbeatable. She was exceptional in this; a show that took a clever concept (she keeps dying and “resetting” to her birthday party) and managed to make it last a full season without growing tiresome. It didn’t fully rope me in to begin with (it wasn’t until I properly sat and binge-watched the second half that I got really into it), but it’s a really phenomenal piece of TV. I hope the second season doesn’t muck it up.

07. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

Season six – while not the disaster many made it out to be! – was a rare dip in consistency for this now-iconic show, but the seventh and final season was an absolute triumph, in my opinion. The ICE stories provided some of the best stuff it’s ever done, and the vast majority of the characters got endings that felt dramatically ~right. I’ll miss them.

06. Glow (Netflix)

The third season of this criminally under-rated comedy-drama was another slam-dunk; this time following the wrestlers to Vegas and introducing a string of new dilemmas for Debbie (Betty Gilpin is still fucking brilliant), Ruth and Sheila, among others. Bash’s sexuality was also finally explored a bit more, giving Kate Nash some really meaty scenes as his wife Rhonda.

05. Fleabag (BBC One/Three)

I didn’t actually make it to the end of the first season of Fleabag – good as I thought it was – but I was all-in for season two; a water-tight dramedy with a razor-sharp script, some excellent gut-punches, and Andrew Scott being delicious. This is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s best moment yet. Believe the hype.

04. Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)

More of Moira being iconic, much more of Alexis being iconic… plus some more moving David and Patrick action and an exceptional shining moment for Stevie. The fifth season of this warm cuddle of a show was incredibly strong, and its upcoming final cycle is going to be HARD TO TAKE!!! I’ll just be over here mainlining A Little Bit Alexis until it premieres.

03. When They See Us (Netflix)

Ava DuVernay’s mini-series about the Central Park Five was… whew. Such a well-made project; from the performances (special shout-out to Jharrel Jerome) to the pacing to the writing. A masterclass in taking a real-life story and turning it into an engaging drama that’s as gripping as it is important. Show it in schools!!!

02. Derry Girls (Channel 4)

The best show of 2018 returned for a second series that was almost exactly as good as the first. These characters are just an absolute joy to spend time with, from the titular ensemble to the rich cast of supporting players. Aunt Sarah’s late arrival at a wedding at the top of one particular episode was side-splitting (the best TV wedding moment since “wrong church!” in Vicar of Dibley) and there was – wisely! – a massive uptick in appearances from Sister Mary. It was moving too: the bit with James in the finale? I wept!!

01. Pose (BBC Two)

Seasons one AND two aired in the UK this year, so we finally – finally!!! – got to see what the US had fallen in love with in 2018. Full of well-drawn characters and with a massive, beating heart, the show left me full of ~feelings~ after each and every episode. Engaging, funny, heartfelt, heartbreaking… it’s an absolute triumph, and the likes of MJ Rodriguez and Billy Porter are superstars. If you still haven’t seen it on iPlayer, do so iiiiiiimmediately.

Shaun Kitchener

Scriptwriter for the theatre and TV (currently Hollyoaks) and freelance entertainment ~reportage.