2019 Yearbook: David’s Top TV

10. Russian Doll (Netflix)

From my review: ” A clever co-creation from Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler, and Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll inspires easy Groundhog Day comparisons but proves to have deeper resonances than it first appears. It’s morbid, but not bleak. It’s funny, but not mean-spirited — it aims to teach its characters that the best thing one can do in this incomprehensible cosmic web is to simply be there for each other. It also prioritizes emotional resolution over fully explaining its mystery-box plot, which shouldn’t annoy you, because it never pretends it would do otherwise. Most importantly, Lyonne rules: She reminded me of a young, wiseass Carol Kane, but also shows a great gift for physical comedy as well as a keen eye for a memorable image.”

9. Documentary Now!, Season 3 (IFC)

From my review: “’Co-op’ is one of the most deliriously entertaining half-hours of 2019, whether via John Mulaney’s passive-aggressive Sondheim avatar, the sequence of battleaxe Paula Pell going full Elaine Stritch during an all-night session, or the music of Co-op itself, which captures just enough of Sondheim’s verbose wit and twisting melodies to be both loving homage and side-splitting parody. (Just bask in the glory of Renee Elise Goldsberry belting ‘The Brown and the Beige and the Brown,’ or literally anything Richard Kind does here.) Bathed in a haze of cigarette smoke, the intrepid cast struggles through the week knowing their show has already closed and they have nothing left to lose but their pride, slowly merging with their down-on-their-luck characters with every critique they’re given from the other side of the glass.”

8. Barry, Season 2 (HBO)

From my review: Barry Season 2 is every bit as good, perhaps better, because instead of taking the familiar ‘Am I a good man?’ path, we already know that he’s not, and are waiting for Barry to realize it himself. Hader’s performance has taken on added complexity this season, but others are benefitting from this season’s broader focus — no one more than Anthony Carrigan as the relentlessly positive NoHo Hank. Sarah Goldberg was also given an extraordinary moment in “The Audition,” an extended single-take monologue where all of her creative and personal frustration comes devastatingly to the fore. And then there was ‘ronny/lily,’ a screwball short story that plays like the Coen brothers directing Buster Keaton, and on its own elevates Barry from ‘This is a great show’ to ‘Holy hell, did you see this?'”

7. Fosse/Verdon (FX)

From my review: “What sets the series apart isn’t the attention it gives to Bob, but to the other half of the title: Tony-winning performer and Fosse’s muse/ex-wife/creative life partner Gwen Verdon. Astonishingly embodied by Michelle Williams (Sam Rockwell is extremely good as Fosse, but Williams is on another planet entirely), Gwen’s story makes a vital counterpoint to Bob’s: as his star rises, hers falls; as he cycles from glory to immolation and back again, she has to keep it all together not just for their daughter’s sake, but for their own. Every moment of her life she is performing the role of GWEN VERDON!, and those moments — about to pick up the phone, waiting for the elevator doors to open — where we see just behind the curtain are some of the show’s most powerful.”

6. When They See Us (Netflix)

From my review: “It’s hard to single out individual performances in such a deep and talented ensemble, but the MVP has to be Jharrel Jerome (Moonlight) as Korey, the only performer to portray both the younger and older versions of his character. The fourth episode is his showcase — unlike the others, Wise was tried as an adult and sent to Rikers where he spent years in solitary confinement, and every moment hits harder with the knowledge that Korey was only there because he didn’t want his friend Yusef to go to the police station alone. Each step on these young mens’ journey is harrowing and enraging, but critical to understanding the full scope of our systems’ brokenness. Whatever hope the ending provides is bitter because these men will never get those years back, but it is so important their story is told so maybe, just maybe, we can learn something. I’m sure, like me, you can think of a few people you know who should be forced to sit through it.”

5. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)

From my review: “Age of Resistance is a masterpiece. On every level. The astonishing production design, with the indefatigable puppeteers of the Henson Workshop pulling off impossible feats by the minute. The exceedingly likable voice cast. The top-flight fantasy storytelling, which is initially set up via a Sigourney Weaver-narrated prologue, then reinforced later in the season with an honest-to-goodness puppet show-within-a puppet show, the funniest sequence of the series. It even has an answer for that old prequel problem: How do you make audiences care when the outcome is already known, especially if that outcome is Gelfling genocide? By making the characters imminently adorable, rootable, and recognizably human; by leaning into the tale’s allegorical nature (Climate change! Anti-authoritarianism!); and by teasing that the future we think we know may not be written in stone.”

4. Succession, Season 2 (HBO)

From my review: Considering how many questions there were upon its debut last year (mainly ‘Do we really want to watch a show about horrible rich people?’), that it has wound up as the ideal show for this present moment is worth celebrating all on its own. The ensemble of misanthropes and power-mad doofuses are as finely tuned and balanced as a fancy watch you secretly give to a contractor because your children embarrassed him. From its exploits of the grotesquely rich to its depiction of corporate and personal malfeasance performed by desperate, doomed souls, to its endlessly quotable, battery-acid dialogue, Succession is the kind of show that you have to watch through your fingers but can’t stop thinking about it when its over. It’s like if Mamet had written Glengarry Glen Ross about a family made entirely of delusional Blakes, and I can’t get enough of it.”

3. Chernobyl (HBO)

From my review: “Craig Mazin’s five-episode miniseries had many great things going for it: A stupendous cast, exacting historical detail, exquisitely staged, and a tense (but so educational!) story that we kinda know already, but not really. I’m no nuclear physicist, but it’s to the immense credit of Mazin and the other writers that after watching the series, I almost feel like one. Harris and Watson make the jargon not just manageable, but enthralling, and their clinical testimony in the final episode’s trial — when Legasov lays out precisely what happened inside the core, moment by moment, with the aid of colored placards — is as must-watch for how it is filmed and performed as for what it signifies. The story of the Chernobyl disaster may be over three decades old, but its account of a government more concerned with saving itself from embarrassment than telling a life-saving truth is as vital as ever.”

2. Watchmen (HBO)

From my review: “Generational trauma is the underlying theme of HBO’s Watchmen, a ‘remix’ of the seminal Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, and one of the year’s most astonishing television series. Showrunner Damon Lindelof begins his story with a young boy surviving the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, and ends it with that boy’s granddaughter eating a raw egg to inherit the godlike powers of Dr. Manhattan. In between were moments of shock, awe, and pure comic book madness: catapulting clones and fetus swamps; inter-dimensional squids and a time-hopping blue deity; mirror rooms and millennium clocks; and, of course, Lube Man. It was a phantasmagoria of blissed-out mystery box storytelling, propelled by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s buzzing score. Whether HBO gets Lindelof to return for a Season 2, carries on without him, or lets the series end with Angela’s foot ready to walk on water, her power — and Watchmen’s power — is in the beautiful potential of the infinite.”

1. Fleabag, Season 2 (Amazon)

From my review:Fleabag is a special, wondrous thing, leaping up in its second season into truly rarified air — a series that is so confident and clever it transcends the medium along with its fascinatingly flawed heroine. Waller-Bridge and Scott’s chemistry is off the charts as they talk love and the divine over drinks, warily circling around each other. He knows he’s getting too close and dreads giving into his feelings; she is in love with the thought that someone finally sees her — really sees her, as Fleabag’s fourth wall-breaking motif, where Waller-Bridge consistently communicates deep wells of comedy and pathos just with a glance and the pop of an eyebrow, startingly (thrillingly!) folds in on itself. The series’s ending is simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful, altogether true to itself and the kind of story PWB has been telling all along.”

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