There is often talk of how much the TV landscape has changed in the past decade or so as creators embrace the shift towards streaming, A-list star vehicles and the impact of the short-form limited series.
Yet the world of TV has changed dramatically even in the short three year period that The College View has published this list. Almost every series included this year is in some way finite: a complete narrative, or the climax of one. Gone are the days of the endless, sprawling 10-season procedural or sitcom; this is the era of television that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Here are seven shows that were particularly compelling in 2019 that may not have crossed your radar.
HBO’s “Succession” kicked off its second season with high expectations and exceeded them almost instantly: the sharply-scripted black comedy following a billionaire media mogul (Brian Cox) and his clan of eccentric children as they take on company takeovers, whistleblower scandals and a disastrous presidential campaign has rapidly developed a reputation for its hilarious writing and equally funny acting.
Yet this season managed to achieve moments of genuinely dark emotional clarity as Jeremy Strong’s Kendall is faced with the trauma of a drug-fuelled tragedy from the end of season one. Consistently surprising and hugely meme-friendly, “Succession” is close to becoming one of the most iconic shows around as it spreads to a wider audience.
After years in development hell, John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” finally made it to the screen this year with a Hulu miniseries that’s been bizarrely overlooked by young viewers given that it’s one of the most moving, charming and fabulously-soundtracked teen dramas in recent times.
Charlie Plummer stars as awkward aspiring intellectual Miles, who transfers to a boarding school where pranksters run riot, and he meets the enigmatic Alaska (Kristine Froseth), falling madly in, something a lot like, love.
The series takes its time in adapting Green’s novel with a pace a feature film could never have managed; it’s a testament to the opportunities offered in the age of streaming television for novelistic storytelling that appeals deeply to modern adolescence and the very specific emotional trials of discovering yourself away from the comforts of home.
“Watchmen” sees Damon Lindelof, creator of “Lost” and “The Leftovers”, take Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel and creates something entirely modern and fresh for HBO.
Set in an alternate American present where police wear masks and African-American communities have been awarded reparations for slavery, it’s a highly postmodern response to the past two decades of superheroic saturation, analysing the logistics of a vigilante-run justice system while exposing the mystery of a comic-book narrative that borrows both from one of the mediums true classics, and from some forgotten pockets of American political history.
The cultural impact of “Fleabag” as a cultural bellwether for sexually outspoken young women cannot be overstated: Phoebe Waller Bridge has constructed for herself a prime position as an icon of frustrated, unreserved millennial femininity.
The acclaimed second season of her BBC series added Andrew Scott’s now infamous “hot priest” into the mix, as Waller Bridge’s titular heroine is forced to grapple with her complicated attitudes towards romantic relationships, as well as the fact that a Catholic priest is hardly ideal boyfriend material.
It takes masterful craft of storytelling to channel horrifying tragedy into highly addictive TV, but writer Craig Mazin achieved excellence in this regard with “Chernobyl”, a gripping dramatisation of the 1986 nuclear disaster that finds humanity and heroism in the horror.
The series follows Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgaard’s characters, a nuclear physicist and a government minister, as they travel to the site of the power plant where science clashes with state.
Though full of gruesome insight into the personal tragedies that occurred, there are qualities of warmth in the characters – predominantly based upon real people – who exhibit strength and professionalism in a particularly dark historical moment. A difficult yet rewarding watch.
With BBC drama “Years and Years”, Russell T. Davies applies his distinct brand of socially inquisitive melodrama to the current state of global political instability. The series follows a diverse English family and the trials they face over an extended period as a result of Brexit, a Trump-initiated nuclear war, the dawn of AI and more.
It’s profoundly heavy-handed in its lecturing and sometimes enters the realm of parody with its message of doom and gloom, but there are genuinely stunning moments scattered throughout: for example the visceral depiction of Russell Tovey’s character – a young gay council worker – being smuggled through Europe with hundreds of asylum seekers.
It shouldn’t take a show about white English people to help an audience understand the struggle of global refugees, but sometimes a story like this can be powerful in helping to shape people’s perspectives and perhaps change their minds.
“Modern Love”, the creation of Irish filmmaker John Carney, is a series of charming short stories inspired by various strands of sex, dating, marriage, friendship and family in the modern world.
Each episode has a different premise and characters, some being hits and some misses. The strongest follows a woman living with bipolar disorder (Anne Hathaway) trying to organise dinner with a handsome man while constantly facing crippling mood swings that are outside her control; it’s devastating and features Oscar winner Hathaway’s strongest performance in years. Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Andrew Scott and (bizarrely) Ed Sheeran also star.
Image Credit: Lucien Waugh-Daly