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The Best of 2019
January 4, 2020  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Before we plunge too deeply into 2020, when we can expect the television weeds will continue to grow taller and thicker, it seems fitting to take one quick glance back at the ten best shows from 2019.

Television "best of" lists are far more gratifying these days because they so often include programs that are still available. In the olden days, last year's best shows were usually something that, sorry, you missed. Now, most of them are still all cued up for your "want to watch someday" list.

So, in no particular order, consider these:

Power (Starz) 
By happy coincidence, the final episodes of this intense series launch Sunday night with a "Who shot J.R.?" style mystery. But just in general, Power has stayed fresh for its whole run, weaving an urban crime-and-money drama into an unblinking look at the dark side of human behavior.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) 
Mrs. Maisel's only problem is herself. The first season was so good that some folks immediately started grumbling that the second and third seasons didn't reach the same level. Stop! Just stop! It's a delightful show, with a half dozen terrific characters even beyond Rachel Brosnahan's Midge Maisel.

The Good Place (NBC) 
Alas, The Good Place is heading for its final resting place. The last four episodes, ever, kick off on Jan. 9. If you haven't seen it and want a treat, quickly binge all previous episodes before watching these. Ted Danson and Kristen Bell lead a wonderful cast that we will desperately miss.

Country Music (PBS) 
Ken Burns' 18-hour, eight-part epic on one of America's own musical creations showed how country music is not an outlier niche but is woven deeply into the fabric of all American popular culture. Plus, the hours of great video clips are just sheer fun to watch.

Unbelievable (Netflix) 
Depressing and disturbing, this miniseries features two dogged female detectives, played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever, who are determined to track down a serial rapist that the male cops refuse to believe exists. The real star is Kaitlyn Dever, as a victim bullied by the law enforcement officers who are supposed to help her. Dark miniseries were everywhere in 2019. This one stood out.

Ray Donovan (Showtime) 
Another show that's been around for a while and kept it fresh. The techniques are standard, like shifting location from L.A. to New York and bringing in guest stars. Unlike with many other shows, here it has worked. On a network that specializes in dysfunctional families, the Donovans, from Liev Schreiber's Ray to Jon Voight's Mickey, always seem to find something new and interesting to screw up.

Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries (Acorn) 
This Australian series is a spinoff from the popular Miss Fisher series, jumping forward from the 1920s to the 1960s and starring the delightful Geraldine Hakewill as Ms. Fisher, long-lost niece of the original Miss Fisher. Is that clear? No matter. The series consists of four murder mystery movies where fashion, banter, comedy, and romance are as prominent as sleuthing. Popcorn TV at its breeziest.

Stumptown (ABC) 
The most engaging new drama of the broadcast season. Graphic novel adaptations don't always work, but this one does, thanks to Cobie Smulders' portrayal of a private investigator suffering from severe PTSD. Okay, almost every law enforcement person on TV is deeply troubled, but Smulders' Dex Parios brilliantly conveys the challenges while never letting us feel sorry for her.

Mr. Inbetween (FX) 
The stuff they make into comedy these days, y'know? Scott Ryan created the show and plays Ray Shoesmith, who's a caring Dad and a hitman. Like, a hitman who's involved in a lot of violence. It's an Australian series, only six half-hour episodes a season, and somehow it finds room to be both good action drama and comedy that you feel only slightly guilty to be laughing about.

Das Boot (Hulu) 
Back in 1981, the original five-hour Das Boot was cut in half to make a really good movie for American audiences. This series is a sequel whose focus is split between life on a World War II German U-boat and a woman who works as an interpreter at German military headquarters and has a brother in the service. That woman, Simone Strasser, played by Vicky Krieps, turns a solid series into an exceptionally good one. Dark, complex, and well worth the time. Good news: There will be a Season 2.

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PBS is revisiting Ken Burns' Country Music with two hour segments on Fridays. As always,your local station may not get involved. Locally,Philly's WHYY participates while Lehigh Valley's WLVT buries it,as they have done since the documentary started. I'm finding that an episode a week gives time to reflect and explore-Episode One features Jimmie Rodgers("The Singing brakeman") and the Carter Family. Compare and contrast. Burns seems to have a better handle on this music than he did with "Jazz" ,possibly because Country has a linear narrative with events in chronological order,especially needing radio and records to cultivate the fanbase. The Grand Ole Opry were like church services. Jazz had cities of strength but little encouragement in rural areas and radio was not as effective due to racism. Post swing era(and basically WWII) jazz was smashed into smaller segments (bop,postbop,West Coast,soul jazz,etc) with no one style taking center stage.
Jan 5, 2020   |  Reply
Joe mama
You miss "What they do in The Shadows" that show was great.
Jan 4, 2020   |  Reply
Mattt Potter
Huge miss, agreed. Just like poor JoJo Rabbit at the Golden Globes.
Jan 7, 2020
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