It has been a big year for small-screen offerings, with free-to-air, cable and streaming services all vying for eyes on them.
Choosing the top picks is tough – and, listen, this list changed many times – but here’s a smattering of 2019’s best TV shows.
Game of Thrones (Foxtel)
After eight long seasons and countless deaths – the internet reckons the body count is 5863 – winter finally came to the Seven Kingdoms. Fan reaction to some puzzling plot twists in the final six episodes was brutal. Still, the series finale was an undeniable pop culture phenomenon and, let’s face it, dissatisfaction with its epic conclusion was likely tied to grief that the complex, ambitious, lore-laden series was over.
The eight-episode crime drama explores the true story of a teenage rape victim (played by Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever) who gets gaslit into retracting her statement. Two female detectives across the country (Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver) are left to string it all together to track down the truth. Nuanced performances tell an unflinching, unforgettable and detailed story about the impact trauma and the heroics of hard work.
Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds (ABC)
Aside from the delightful odd-couple chemistry that comes of mingling Bluey’s fans with the blue-rinse set, the observational documentary is a sobering eye-opener about the loneliness faced by Australia’s ageing population. Seven weeks of facetime with plucky pre-schoolers (or “four-year-old personal trainers” as one of the 11 retirement home residents dubs them) proves to be transformative, but only inches towards addressing a much bigger issue. Important – and adorable.
I'm not crying, you're crying. 😭 #OldPeoplesHomeAU
Watch now on ABC iview. pic.twitter.com/CIb6Uc81XQ
— ABC TV + iview (@ABCTV) September 29, 2019
The five-part dramatised account of the events leading up to, during and after the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine is part horror movie, part political thriller. The tension of the unfolding catastrophe never lets up, despite already knowing the dire conclusion.
Fleabag, Season 2 (Amazon Prime)
The first six episodes were terrific, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s second and final season of the cynically hopeful dark comedy about a single lady living on the edge in London is outrageously enjoyable. The last two episodes throw up a parade of palpable lust, love, and an emotion-packed moment between Fleabag and the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) that is so real and bittersweet it’s almost hard to watch – until you find yourself watching it over and over to marvel at the acting and writing.
The Cry (ABC)
A crime drama about the disappearance of a newborn baby boy would seem to carry enough dramatic weight already, but this narratively tricky psychological mystery is more than just emotionally gripping. Information about characters is sketchy and time is fractured. The four twisty episodes are packed with disorienting shocks and a hauntingly good lead performance by Jenna Coleman, backed by excellent co-stars Ewan Leslie and Asher Keddie. Don’t. Read. Spoilers.
Dead to Me (Netflix)
Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play brand-new best friends who meet at a grief support group in the addictive half-hour black comedy-come-mystery with snappy, deadpan dialogue. Easy, fun and effortlessly binge-able with a cliffhanger set up for Season 2 in 2020. Eye-candy bonus? The drool-worthy Californian real estate.
Leaving Neverland (Network Ten)
Brisbane-born choreographer Wade Robson and Californian computer programmer James Safechuck’s plain-talking anecdotes of how Michael Jackson befriended them as children, sexually abused them for years, and swore them to secrecy, feels like hearing it for the first time. Without the sideshow of tabloid sensationalism or a courtroom circus, Dan Reed’s two-part, four-hour documentary seems like a real-time demonstration of how such grooming often occurs in plain sight. Jackson’s estate has denounced all allegations.
Back for its seventh and final season after a nearly two-year hiatus (the consequence of star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ cancer treatment) the caustic political parody plunges to new depths of black humour with no topic too touchy to tackle as the writers seem determined to outpace the real-life absurdity of US politics. With her ultimate act of betrayal, cut-throat candidate Selina Meyer has got to be a contender for the best worst character in TV history.
The Mandalorian (Disney +)
Season one of the streaming network’s big swing space-Western about a bad-ass, good-bloke bounty hunter in a galaxy far, far away isn’t even over yet, but so far Jon Favreau’s glossy and gritty chapter in the Star Wars canon feels both nostalgic and brand new. Utterly enjoyable, even putting Baby Yoda to one side – how could you!
OK. Talk to me about what you loved best.